Internal communications optimization for small teams


Brett Lutz


Kensley Wigginton

Optimize communications with fewer resources

After a year of crisis comms and scrambling to keep employees continuously informed, how can your communications team get back to its original engagement priorities? Brett Lutz, VP of Global Communications at ADM, explains how to do this effectively even with a small or lean team.

Video Transcript

Kensley Wigginton:

Well, hello everyone. In the interest of time, I think we will go ahead and get started. I wanted to say thank you to everyone first of all, for joining our breakout session today, I’m hoping it’s going to be a really great conversation. I’m happy to introduce all of you to Brett Lutz, vice president of global communications at ADM. Brett is going to spend some time today talking about ADM’s program, which is ADM Inside News, and how it does really help them to optimize their communications. Before I fully let Brett introduce himself, I do just want to do a little bit of housekeeping here.

As we are going throughout the session, if you have any questions for Brett or for myself that are timely, and we would like to answer them right now, we are happy to do that throughout the session, don’t feel like we need to wait until the end. We are happy to take questions throughout the session. Additionally, if you have any technical issues, we do have a technician from Convene on with us as well, so please feel free to either put your issue directly into the chat, or you can write Patrick directly to help address any of those technical issues.

With that said, I am going to ask Brett to do some introducing of himself. Brett, if you could give us a little bit background about yourself as well as ADM, and then we will go ahead and get kicked off.

Brett Lutz:

Thanks, Kensley. And thanks for all of the folks who decided it was a relevant topic to come listen to and engage in today. And as Kensley said, I really do hope for your engagement throughout the conversation because the best questions come from the audience, and although Kensley and I have come up with an entire list of amazing things that we’re going to talk about, the best of the ones that answer the questions you have about the topic. And as somebody who’s been working with SocialChorus for the better part of five years now, I’ve run the gamut from understanding very nascent days what this is all about to now trying to really take it into virtual views of how we can really take advantage of the tool and really elevate performance from a communications function perspective, so I’m happy to answer questions you have.

As introduction, thanks, Kensley, Brett Lutz, I lead communications at ADM, Archer Daniels Midland. We are a global leader in human and animal nutrition headquartered here in Chicago, but we have facilities in 800 locations around the world. We have about 40,000 employees working at all time for the company, 20,000 of which have never left the operations side of the business through this pandemic and they’ve been working every day in our human nutrition and animal nutrition facilities and actually producing the food that we’re eating and producing those things that you may be feeding your pets, or if you have any livestock, you might be feeding those [inaudible 00:03:09] animals as well. So, hats off to them for that.

And several of us are in the process of coming back into the office right now, and have been receiving vaccines, and after receiving those, it’s been fun. I’ve actually been able to come back downtown Chicago. So although this is not the view behind me, it’s not too far away from the view that I’ve got here in Chicago. At ADM, we have a workforce that as I mentioned is comprised of about 50% or 20,000 employees that work in plants and facilities around the world, multiple geographies, multiple languages, lots of communication hurdles that you could imagine that we might be facing. And we have about 20,000 colleagues that work in offices and who have access to computers and other electronic and digital means of communication on a regular basis.

And our communications team is based as well globally around the world. And although we have 800 locations and 40,000 employees, we have a fairly nimble team of about 30 communications professionals that work inside of my organization. And our focus is across the full spectrum of communications from what I would consider to be business communications, so will be the topic we talk about mostly today, which is our focus on employees and executives and bringing the strategy to live for that audience of critical colleagues around the world so that they can really be engaged and inspired, and actually give back hopefully in lines with our strategies in organization.

But we also handle all of our external stakeholders. We’re on communications for Investor Relations, we run through communications in conjunction with our Government Relations team, work very closely with their marketing organization to communicate to customers, do our trade publications. And so a lot of things are going on in that domain as well. And it’s huge opportunity as we think about the external stakeholder group, for us to think about how we utilize even the communication platform we have inside the organization, ADM Inside News to extend and amplify the really great stories that we’ve got going on every day at ADM.

And so I’ll talk a little bit about that amplification through our advocacy network, which was one of the primary reasons that I ever got involved with SocialChorus way back in the day, and why we still think there’s still a huge advantage to the technology today as we go forward. The only last thing I’d say is we’ve been on a journey like many other companies, and I’m sure many of you are on, and that journey has been a journey of trying to both bring bigger impact to the communications that we’re actually delivering to the organization. So whether that’s form, or content, or channel, or actually trying to understand what people are needing more of, and being able to pivot and be agile in the way that we communicate to them.

And the other thing I’ll talk a lot about is how we become omni-channel because I always consider myself communication channel agnostic in some way, which is, whatever way people need to receive the information, I’m there to provide the information to them. And one of the greatest things about the SocialChorus ADM Inside News platform is it allows us to use that as a mission control to engage in nearly any digital platform, and in some cases, a non-digital platform, in more of an analog platform that our employee base is looking at, and our external stakeholders are engaging in as well.

So super excited to talk to you today. Hopefully that’s a good background. And I’m happy to talk about any part of the journey that we’ve been on. So Kensley, I’ll hand over to you because I know you have some good questions to start us out.

Kensley Wigginton:

Perfect. Thanks, Brett. You’ve set us up well. Obviously, a big part of what we want to talk about today is ADM Inside News, which is your program within the SocialChorus platform. And I think it’s interesting, when we first started putting together what we wanted to talk about, how we were going to really talk about optimizing your communications, my mind immediately went to what happened in February of March of last year, but as you pointed out to me, your journey on any ADM Inside News started actually earlier than that, launching back in July of 2019, working with your team to get that up and running.

And I think it’s also really interesting because ADM Inside News really did change how your company has been communicating. You’re 100 plus-year-old company, you have a lot of ways that you’ve already been communicating. So let’s start back in July of 2019, even before we hit the pandemic and how are we going to reach everybody, and let’s talk just a little bit, could you give us some background about why ADM Inside News and what that really positioned you well to do?

Brett Lutz:

Yeah. Great. And I’ll even rewind further than July of 2019, people can’t even remember that far back, I can barely remember January last year. But when I started at ADM, in fact, during my interview process at ADM, I had the opportunity to work with SocialChorus in my prior employer. I worked at Whirlpool Corporation for several years and we had implemented ADM Inside or SocialChorus as part of that platform of communication for employees there. And so during my interview process when I was interviewing with the CEO and several other members of the executive committee, one of the challenges that they mentioned that they were really trying to face is how to engage the colleague base and really do it in a more modern way and in a different way to really be able to understand a multi-way dialogue.

And so I literally pulled out my mobile device and showed them what SocialChorus looked like as a platform. And they got very excited and I don’t know that it got me hired, but thank you SocialChorus, it was probably part of the decision to get me hired as the vice president of comms at ADM. In any case, fast forward, in the first six months of the job, one of the first things that they put on my plate as a priority was to migrate our employee communications into the new world. And we hadn’t necessarily selected SocialChorus at the time, but a platform like SocialChorus was something that we knew was going to be necessary to make that happen.

And as I looked back at communications, I would imagine it’s very similar to things that you’re facing today. We had communications channels that were mostly in the United States that at least focused on email. In many cases, it was this very formal structured email with a brand logo at the top and very dry executive language that followed, and a super lengthy conversations that would go on, and we’d sit, send and have no idea what happened other than the automated responses that people are on vacation. And we also used an intranet like I’m sure many of you were. We were on a 2010 SharePoint platform. So what we could actually do technologically was very, very limited.

We were able to post about four stories that could be visible at any point in time a day. So that was the extent of our editorial calendar. As we did a little bit of research, we realized that we couldn’t get any data on the email, we had no idea how many people were reading that and consuming it, but we found out that we thought the intranet was hitting all people and they would say, “Hey, let’s post this up on ADM Inside, which was actually the old intranet platform and everybody’s going to see it.” Well, we found out after doing a little research that only about 1,800 people were ever looking at that out of a company of 40,000, and yet the executive team thought that we were really engaging every employee once we were putting something up on the intranet.

And so we needed to do something better. We needed to come to something where we could actually see and measure where things were going, we could actually engage people much beyond the push out and post. And the other thing we found out is of those 1,800, that was all US-based employees. So people outside of the United States, which makes up three fourths of the population of this organization, wasn’t even receiving that information, or if they were receiving it was like some weirdly translated version of it, two or three days later after we’d posted it, because that’s how much time it took to get it and translate it and get it out into the platforms being used there.

So timeliness of communications is really, really difficult for our colleagues and because many of them operate, although English is the business language, they operate in local language and they’re going to be much more confident and comfortable reading in that language and engaging in that language as well. So these were all challenges that we were facing on top of the fact that those 20,000 people who were working in the plants, we had no idea what was going on. We were not engaging them, we weren’t even planning to try to engage them. In most cases, it was engage their plant leadership and hope that the message gets cascaded. And that was the spray and pray methodology, I guess, is what you call it, and we weren’t sure it was working at all.

When we got to July and actually before July, when we still decided that we were in this mode of wanting to come to a new platform, it was really important for us to be able to address those barriers. And I look at it as barriers of reach, how do we get to a much broader reach, the barriers of relevance, how do we make the content really relevant and how do we respond? So how do we respond? So reach, relevance and response. And so our launch of the platform was really all about trying to get to a much broader audience from the very get-go. And we launched this at a global employee forum, I’m sure many of you have them. We had a big global town hall, we made a big deal out of it, launched it on that date, redirected some of the content that was coming into different channels to go to our ADM Inside News channel.

And what was amazing was, within a month, and I just looked back at the statistics today, we went from that 1,800 people looking at the content to 18,000 people looking at the content on a regular basis. So we met a massive improvement on reach from the very beginning. And that was a huge part of where we were really expected to see a lift. And we’d hoped to get to 25% adoption of registers users by the end of the calendar year, six months we thought we could get there, and that was even, Kensley, I think your advice to us, is that that may be lucky if you can get there based on programs. And we got to 25% adoption rate within the first two months.

We were really looking at trying to hit a 50% adoption rate or even higher as we got through that year, and luckily, we did continue to increase adoption, people were loving to see the new platform, getting the chance to actually interact, and see content that was relevant to them. And I’ll talk more about that and what it looked like, but I think one of the biggest things as we think about those non-English language native audiences out there was, we were really at the cusp of a fairly new feature that came into the SocialChorus platform at the time, which was the ability to auto translate content. And we’d gone through a huge process of coming up with a strategy for translations and saying, “When are we going to translate? What type of content?”

And we’d estimated that we were going to spend somewhere in the realm of like $300,000 a year on translations to strategic content and gotten easy level approval to spend money to go do all those translations. Well, we found out after using the SocialChorus platform for a year, we’d only spend about $50,000 on translations because most of that strategic content we did put out there in multiple languages when we needed to, but all of the rest of the content, we were allowing people to translate into the local languages at the click of a button. And that was both ways, it wasn’t that we were always posting English language content to be translated into their local language, it was a lot of times content coming straight into our corporate main channel that would be in Spanish, or Portuguese, or German, and we translate it to read it in English.

And we found that nine tenths of the time, that was a perfect solution, we didn’t need all of the specific nuances of the grammar tone to be able to get the key messages. And it was much better to have that fresh real-time content and have it available to people when they needed it so that they could engage in it. So that was our initial successes, and I think certainly set us on a path for what was to come and what we couldn’t have envisioned, which was COVID-19 and what happened in the coming year.

Kensley Wigginton:

Yeah. There’s a couple of questions in the chat that I want to make sure we address. I do, because I do eventually want touch on now that you have this expanded reach, that does change your communications team a little bit, but I want to address some of the questions that are coming in around just your overall adoption, what were the tactics that you really used to go from that initial 1,800 up to that almost 20K, was it the global town hall? And then even after the initial launch of the platform, how did you keep driving adoption with employees who didn’t initially sign up or might’ve been new hires?

And then I think there’s another one in here, did you have a change campaign to market ADM Inside News? And do you have open feedback? So basically, what was your launch and adoption strategy, not only at the very beginning, but then as you continue to grow.

Brett Lutz:

Sure. I think that through consultation with the SocialChorus team, we obviously had a marketing strategy to get ourselves ready, and we didn’t want to go too early to begin confusing anybody with what was going on, but we did want to give them a sense that something was coming. So it was a bit of a teaser strategy that led up to that July town hall to give a sense that there was a new way of communicating, and it was going to be new and fresh and exciting. And if you think about communications pre-SocialChorus, they were mostly text-based, there wasn’t a lot of visual. And if there was visual, it usually was a tiny little image that you couldn’t quite see.

So we made these communications much more aligned to this new way of looking and feeling in the way that we were going to communicate. And so that helped get the word out, get the buzz going. What I would say is a huge advantage that we had at ADM is that I have a global team that comprises all of the communications organization. So if it’s going to be an employee communication, it comes through my team, unless obviously, there’s communications between managers and employees, but those broad-based enterprise plan communications or even cross-region communications are coming through my team.

And so part of our change management process was quite honestly, an internal change management process, we went through for about six months prior to the launch of the new technology, which was how do we get rid of all of the old technology on day one and all of those channels that were basically going to be duplicative of ADM’s Inside News channel so that we literally didn’t have competing channels out there trying to bring additional noise or people saying, “I know where to look, I don’t know where to go for the content.” That was a huge advantage to us.

And it may not be the opportunity that every organization has because sometimes the communications function isn’t centralized and decision-making is a little harder to make, but I can tell you that I pitched this from the beginning. As I said, my interview process to the executive committee, they were all ready for it to happen, so at the leadership levels of the organization, they were all committed to moving everything into ADM Inside News. I got my team on board, we started to step away from other means of communication and the lead up to that. And then on the day of the launch, we essentially said that this is the point going forward that we’re going to use for the method of engaging communications with employees.

Now, that said, there are certainly still platforms that exist out there, and I know we’ll talk a bit about the mission control aspects of ADM Inside News, but the real opportunity that we had was even some channels that we knew we couldn’t do away with like digital screens and some of the plant locations, or even in common locations within facilities like cafeterias, if anybody can remember what a cafeteria in an office looks like, we wanted to take advantage of those because those are highly visible channels and places for people to go engage in content. And we actually were using ADM’s Inside News channel to push content directly there.

So we still have a single source of truth at the center, and all of the channels were being fed with that single source of the truth, including email. And that was a big advantage to us, as well as that we sent emails from the platform to employees and those emails nine times out of 10 directed people back into the platform for the deeper content. We would tease content and an email and drive them back in. So it did take us about six months to get adoption really moving, and I will say that we’re still in an adoption campaign. We’re always going to be on an adoption campaign, but given the numbers and the growth, I think we found that employees were so hungry and excited for some new way of engaging that they wanted to jump in and be with us on the journey.

So it’s been fun and certainly it’s evolved since then. And maybe one other question, I think somebody did ask, which was like, do we have this multi-way dialogue? That was part of it, the feedback that we got, we got directly from the platform. So people could comment directly now, they can like the articles, they can ask questions. And we were in those early days really paying a lot of attention to how do we engage really directly with that group. So if they’re going to put a comment in, we’re going to respond to that comment to make sure that they’re being heard. And that was a real intentional program that we put in place to make sure we were listening, gathering and asking for more, because it was a new way of them behaving.

People were not used to commenting on things or even liking things, and so there was even this behavioral change of like, how do I engage in content beyond read and delete? So, there we are, we are in a new era altogether.

Kensley Wigginton:

Yeah. And you bring up a good point. It is also about they’re able to comment and they’re able to like content that they really do find engaging. Of course, we also have polls that we can use, but it’s also the data you can get in the backend. So even if someone doesn’t want to take necessarily that next step action to comment on something, to like something, you’re still able to get the idea of what is actually being engaged with from a content perspective and who is engaging with that type of content. There’s been some questions in here a little bit around that I think we could address from talking about that mission controls.

The idea that we don’t want to necessarily force employees to only get their information through email, or only get their information through a mobile app, or only get it through intranet, but if we are trying to take a little bit of the burden off of your communications team, which my understanding is hasn’t grown since we launched ADM Inside News, we might be getting there, but how is it that we are still able to keep the expanded reach that you have, the expanded relevancy that you have, but still actually do it in a streamlined manner using, as you pointed out, that mission control idea, and being able to publish out to different systems?

Brett Lutz:

Sure. Actually, we have grown, so Kensley, it’d be nice to know that we’ve gone from, I think when I started, we had about 12 people on the team, we’ve got about 30 on the team. But it’s because we’ve been able to show some value from our communications in the back that there’s some really great stuff coming out of the organization. So I would attribute the growth of the team to the value we’ve been able to generate for the company and people interested in seeing more. So it’s been an exciting journey for us. What I’d say, this was always paramount to me, the fact that we have a new technology shouldn’t mean more work for our team. And in fact, it should optimize the work that the team is going through.

Now, there were things that we were not doing well as a team, as an organization and across region, across functional organization before this that we have still been working on getting better at. And I think part of it just lends itself to really good editorial planning. And I know many organizations regardless of the size of the team, do a really fantastic job of editorial planning because it’s important, especially when you have a very limited channel to know what’s going to make it to the top, like what’s going to be the thing that people really have to pay attention to versus all of the rest of the stuff that may be going on in the organization.

And so we had to get really good at that. And I’ll be honest, in the early days of editorial, we had a very much corporate communications and the old school corporate communications mindset, which meant that we sit here in headquarters, we hear a lot of things from our executive committee, that becomes the stuff that we ended up pushing into the channel. And it typically was very North America centric, US centric in many cases, English only, and it was very, very high level stuff. And so that’s where we started the journey. And it felt probably in some cases like we were communicating some of the same stuff, we were just doing larger volumes of it, and we had a new channel that looked a little sexier than it used to look in the beginning.

But what we realized is we were not doing the best job for what their colleagues actually wanted to follow. So what was really important is to watch what they were reading. And I think we were really paying attention to that in those first six months to say, “Where are they actually gravitating towards?” So we started this whole journey mostly focused on a really heavy push towards mobile usage, so people using mobile device to actually get under this. We obviously were using the web interface because it naturally just came as part of the solution package. And then we were pushing some of that content into the same old intranet, or maybe in a couple more spots into digital channels, like digital screens that people were looking at.

And we were trying to engage, like where are people actually making the changes? And where are they taking action? And what content are they looking at the most? And we found very quickly that mobile device usage was not growing as exponential as we thought it would. And honestly, I said, “I don’t mind. I don’t mind if not everybody’s downloading this app and not everybody’s looking at this thing on their mobile device. Most of us are spending 10 hours a day in front of a screen already. If that’s where they’re consuming that content, that’s a perfectly appropriate place for them to consume that content. If they’re just getting a snapshot of stuff, then they’re getting a snapshot of stuff in the cafeteria.”

But we started going through the process of saying like, what are those content pieces are people are really interested in and how do we start to collate those into digests? So we started to push because emails still, every intention of the world, I think is going to be the corporate communication vehicle of choice. Email was still what people looked at on a regular daily, multi-daily basis, and so by putting content there and directing it back, we found the highest levels of engagement. So we started with a Monday newsletter that would come in at eight o’clock in the morning in the US time Monday and say, “Here’s the news that you can use.”

And just went through a plethora of things that were interesting and engaging from an employee perspective in that sense. Then we realized, “Hey, why are we doing this at eight o’clock on Monday on US time zone? What about our Asia colleagues? What about our European colleagues?” So we turned that into a multi-regional thing that actually goes out at the same time, early start of the day on a Monday for every region. And that increased readership significantly as well and engagement in that content. And that allowed them to be more specific in what was their region really interested in and what was really important to them versus just a pure corporate sense of the word.

And then we’ve explored many other things and campaign features within SocialChorus to drive additional content. And what we found recently is that obviously people are interested in the things that our external stakeholders are interested in. So they wanted to hear great stories about ADM and our innovation that we were bringing to the market and the cool new customer wins we were getting, and what we were doing in this really funky space of alternative proteins and how we were leading the way in that arena and how we were doing cool new things in that arena. Well, that was the same stuff our external stakeholders were doing. So we actually started feeding content back in from LinkedIn and from Twitter, back into SocialChorus for them to be able to engage in that content.

And we created channels for those pieces of content, so that people who are uniquely interested in diversity equity and inclusion topics could go there and engage in that content. And if it’s innovation that you’re interested in, you go into that, and it’s a global conversation that’s going on in those channels. And then we have a lot of regional and even country specific channels where people can get into more of the business orientation, or even some of the specific language related things that they want to go do so that they can have the best correct connection with their audience is in that space as well. So that’s the main thing.

I think the core of this was editorial processes and then saying, “Listen, let’s not go create five more channels out there that then we have to manage against, use ADM Inside News and the SocialChorus platform is the single source of truth. And then push that content into various channels that pull people back into the experience that we’re trying to provide to them.” And that’s proved to be very successful, and we’re still growing as we go forward.

Kensley Wigginton:

Yeah. And one thing I’ve seen some questions in here about just leadership comms, and at the beginning of the attuned session, Malcolm Gladwell really talked about the difference between this hierarchical frame of mind that say a lot of the baby boomers are in their companies versus the millennials and the Gen Z’s who want a little bit more of this networking idea. So not necessarily that they have to be included in every decision that’s made, but they want to have more of that feel and relationship from their leadership and feel like they’re included in the messaging that is going out.

One of the cool things that I think you all have started doing, and you specifically working with your CEO, is a lot more of a Zoom-based video strategy to have one, your CEO out there a little bit more. So could you talk just a little bit more about that, because I think it fits really nicely with what Malcolm Gladwell was talking about, how we can get those leadership messages out there in a little bit better way too?

Brett Lutz:

Yep. Sure. Probably two points to that. I think there’s the one piece, which is about how our executive communications to the employee base evolved because they’ve evolved drastically. And I would imagine many people on this had that same sense of a pretty drastic evolution, which was really accelerated by COVID-19 and what was happening over the past year. And then I’ll talk a little bit about that user generated content, user generated opportunity to form communities, because I think that’s a huge part of another side of the success of this, because if a leadership communication is still leadership communication, it’s still somewhat top down.

As much as we want to make it inclusive and feel like it’s much more natural and all of that, it’s still this, I’m speaking from now the mountain, and you’re listening to me and hopefully you’re engaging a little bit more, but it’s still a little bit of that type of communication program. But I would say that it’s evolved drastically. And one of the comments that I got from the CEO and we were probably in the summer last year, and we were just taking stock of having gone through three or four months of really, really heavy communication, focused to colleagues to keep them safe, keep them healthy, keep them aware of all of the change in guidance that was happening all the time.

And I never thought that we would be the single source of truth for medical advice or like health advice for our employees, but we had to become it because there was so much information that people were having a hard time sorting through in the external world that we became that source of communication and truth for our folks inside the organization. But he said, “Listen, I can’t even imagine, if you imagine like a year ago, if we hadn’t ever implemented this technology, how would we be nimble enough to be able to get to either specific audiences with specific content or to a broad audience with content given the way we used to operate?” When we do shoot a video with Juan, our CEO, it was all a thing.

Scheduling took like a week and then we would go in and have a camera set up and that’d be a day in advance and testing everything. And then he’d sit down, and he needed his bullet points, and be ready to shoot, and then we’d do a couple of takes and then we’d edit it all together. And it took like six days to get a concept to outcome from a CEO, and it still felt very scripted and somewhat stodgy, no matter how natural he was trying to be in that dialogue. And we moved to real-time communication, literally saying, “Listen, let’s get on Zoom or MS Teams. I’m going to ask you six questions, we’re going to take about five minute responses each. And we’re going to spend those out of the course of the week so that on a daily basis…”

Before we were hearing from our CEO once a quarter on a macro level, enterprise level, and it was usually through some form of an email. Now during this COVID-19 situation when people were really desperately looking for leadership and guidance, he was out there on a daily basis, and many other executives on a daily basis sitting at their homes, talking at a very personal level to employees. And we were turning those things around in the matter of five shots in an hour. And that’s how nimble it became. And quite honestly, the bar lowered quite a bit from our expectation of how “professional” this content needed to look. And I don’t think that there was ever a high bar in the employee’s mind that they needed to have this really a steer environment with the perfect lighting, they were all like, they just want information, they want to be engaged.

And we found that once we got into that level, the engagement rates on that content skyrocketed, and that was one of the most things that were commented when we did surveys about how do people feel during this COVID-19, they were like, “Thank you so much for taking all the time to engage us on a regular basis in real ways.” And we took the comments and questions and fed those into the next clip, quick conversations we were having with the place. So that was a huge evolution for us, and I think the CEO recognized that and says, “Well, there’s no way we would’ve been there had we been using old technologies trying to do a similar thing in the COVID-19 era.”

That was huge part of it. And I’d say that now our executives have gotten much more very used to shoveling their own iPhone, little shoot, and sending it along, or getting on MS Teams and doing these things themselves. And it went from Brett was always the guy interviewing Juan or interviewing a senior leader in the organization, so I was the “star” of ADM Inside News for a while because I was always doing these interviews, to now, I look out there and leaders are interviewing leaders, leaders are interviewing their employees. They’re just having a conversation. We had a recent one on Asian descend discrimination, where our CFO just said, “I want to have this thing.”

And he got a group of people together and they had a live conversation and push it out on to ADM Inside News. And it was hugely impactful for the audience that was listening and engaging in that content. So that’s a huge difference. And we’ve also opened that channel for people to be able to feed their own content in. And sometimes we have to really request it so that they’ll do it, during like International Women’s Day, for example, submit your photo or your support for this. And people would do that, but more and more, we’re seeing people submit story ideas that then we can go out and with a little bit of support, turn that into a really cool, fun story that is authored by them, not by our communications organization.

And that’s when you know you really crossed the barrier, is that you’ve got people out there being the natural reporters and communicators inside their organization and actually feeding it to us in ways that it’s coming from their voice versus ours. And we love extending our team. My team of 30 is probably really a team of about 300 when you think about all those people that are out there on a pretty regular basis trying to engage and do more in the platform that way.

Kensley Wigginton:

And of course, that leads to the next question, which is, it’s a little scary to think of, we have a communications team of 30, but how do we now manage what is now essentially becoming a communications team of 300 because they do have a much more of a voice, they do have the ability to not only as leadership put out their own content and really manage it themselves, but even the ability of your employees to put out some content and comment and have that two-way type of engagement. How has your team really managed that and put the guard rails in place that are needed, but to still allow you to be successful in that regard?

Brett Lutz:

Well, I would say at least at ADM, there was a lot more fear versus facts, and allowing employees their own voice. I think there was this fear that like, we didn’t know what they would say, and it was going to be uncontrolled, and it’s going to be negative, and they’re going to be berating us for decisions that we’ve made or things that we’re doing. I don’t know. And yes, there are comments that are constructive, and there are comments, especially during when you’re having conversations about really controversial issues like vaccinations, you’re going to have a lot of opinions out there. We made a choice really early on that, unless it was really contrary to the values of this organization, we wanted people to have a free voice and an opportunity to be able to express themselves in the platform.

I think in the course of two and a half years now, nearly two and a half years, we’ve probably taken down two pieces of content because they were not aligned to our values. And we communicated directly to the people who we did that with to say, “Listen, this is why we’re taking this content now, and we hope you understand. We’re not trying to stop you from expressing yourself, but in this case, we can’t have that type of expression within a company that has certain values that we associate with.” Again, the fact was that there was really not that much of a risk involved in this, and there was a lot of concern and fear from our own part as a communications organization, and certainly there were some executives that were concerned about what they might see out there.

There was another part of it was just about getting people over the hump of being comfortable, because I would say that like many of our executive teams and especially those people who are been around for a long time in the workforce, remote work was something that you did on a really irregular basis when you had to like an emergency and you had to go do it, and were grossly apologetic of the fact that you were doing something from home. This is the mentality of some of the folks, and we were all put in the office environment into a remote work situation where we all had to do a few things. One is get used to the behavior of being remote.

The other was understand what it’s like to communicate with people when you’re in a remote situation, what it’s like to be receiving communication in that remote situation. The third was just to get used to technology. And I won’t say any names for the fear of being fired, but there are a lot of executives who I don’t think I understood how to operate some of the basic mechanics of virtual conferencing. And they’d still have people come in and set them up and do things for that, much less of recording and then posting a recording. But now they are eager participants and they feel like it’s a lot of fun. And I would say, some of the workforce that’s much more nimble and savvy from a technology perspective, never had that hurdle, but they had the hurdle of, am I supposed to be doing this or not?

And so, we’ve alleviated that, and we’ve created certain channels where you’re supposed to be out there doing it. So we’ve got a channel that’s really about life at ADM, and we want people to post things that are about what’s happening in their life, whether that’s, in a lot of times, in the past year, it’s been their personal life, what’s happening at home? What’s my home office look like? What’s my pet doing right now? And it’s just a fun way for people to continue to be engaged, especially on an international basis when you don’t get the chance to connect with people face-to-face often. So those two barriers were big ones, but I think that we’ve alleviated some of them. We still have a lot of people that need to get more comfortable and drive that out, but more will come.

Kensley Wigginton:

Awesome. Well, we are coming up on just about five minutes left, and I do want to make sure that we highlight the fact that while you are almost two years in on your journey now with ADM Inside News, obviously we’ve learned a lot from the past little over a year and how that might change communications. And you mentioned it at the top of the session, you all are actually in the process of moving back into some of your office space as people are getting vaccinated. So where are you going now with ADM Inside News? And what are the things that you’re going to take forward from a communications perspective and how you really continue to engage with your larger workforce?

Brett Lutz:

Sure. Well, a lot of it is continuous improvement once you’ve got a good base in place. So with our colleagues that sit in offices, or who’ve been in home office, it’s mostly about how do we really engineer those campaigns that we’re working on to be as effective as possible. And so we’ve come down to a science of how do you take something like a day, like International Women’s Day, where we’re going to celebrate women around the company. And maybe it’s a week-long celebration where we’re going to have some webinars and recorded things and content we want people to engage in. We’ve really gotten down to the science of like, how do we market that so that we get the most intake and get people engaged in doing it?

How do we get the most people to attend the live session? How do we get most feedback on anything that we’ve got there? How do we get the most engagement from personal people posting their own things into the SocialChorus platform? That’s been the big move this year is making these campaigns and picking about 10 campaigns through the year that we think we can really zero-in on and applying those rules of engagement to them so that we get the biggest bang for the buck. And it does cross workforces, but predominantly, seems to be our office-based workforce that’s engaging in those. And so it’s been cool to see.

We went from having, if you would had a standard webinar within the organization, you’d be lucky if you get five or 600 people to attend it live. We found ways to increase that participation rates up live to 5,000 pretty much on a regular basis. So we know we can get there, and we’d love to get that to 10, we’d like to get that to 15, so we’ve got ways we want to continue to increase and get more exposure. And then we certainly want people to be engaging in some of the asynchronous content as well so they don’t feel like they have to be there live, but they can get to it afterwards. But that’s the focus on one side of it.

The other side of it is still the intentional focus on how we really reach out to that 20,000 workforce that’s working in plant locations and finding ways for them to feel like this content is relevant to them, and that it’s actionable to them. And what we found probably through the course of COVID-19 was, it was our highest point of entry for those plant-based employees to get into the system because they knew it was the place they were going to get the information about what we were requiring at work or what they were going to be needing to do in the next day. And so, without access to that information real time, they’d be waiting for hopefully a supervisor to communicate it to them in the appropriate way.

So, to some extent, COVID really accelerated adoption rates for our plant-based employees to get on the platform, and they did it through their mobile devices because they don’t have computers necessarily to operate from. But we still have a long ways to go, we’re still looking for ways to get them really excited about it. And I think now we’ve got some convergence with other systems like our ERP is going live and global that are going to be really cool because we can begin to think about content that’s there and information that’s there that really would be difficult for them to have access to in any other manner, and feeding that through the platform.

So in a personalized way, they can see things like their schedule for the week, or what the cafeteria menu is going to be, or their pay stub, or things that are really data-driven that they can take action on or that they’re interested in consuming. And we think that’s going to be an unlock for us to be able to get much more adoption in those organizations. And then in general, we’re just looking for global dominance, man. I want to see that we continue to make this the best possible platform for communication and engagement for our employees that they have ever been a part of, that they want to be there, they want to be a part of it, and certainly, they want to advocate on our behalf and take it out into the communities.

We’re working on advocacy program that has launched last year, we’ve got some really great traction on, but more people taking that content and knowing we want you to share this because we’ve said, “It’s ready to be shared, go share that with your social networks and help build ADM’s reputation outside the organization as well.” So those are three areas we’re focused on.

Kensley Wigginton:

Great. Great. Well, we’ve got just about a minute left. I know we didn’t get to all of the questions in the chat, but thank you all so much for being so engaged. We will definitely be doing some follow up with you on some of the questions we weren’t able to get answered today. Brett, I really, really want to thank you for your time today. The insight you provided, the guidance you provided, I think is very, very timely right now, and it’s exciting to see where ADM Inside News is headed going forward.

Brett Lutz:

It’s exciting to be here. Thanks so much for the invitation and for the chance to talk. Anybody who’s out there that’s interested, hit me up on LinkedIn, I’m always happy to chat for 30 minutes, to talk about what we’ve been doing, and learn from you, and what cool things you’re doing. It’s helped me build a lot into what we do at ADM. So, let’s keep connected. Thanks so much.

Kensley Wigginton:

Excellent. Thanks, Brett. And for everyone that joined us today, thanks so much, we really appreciate your time. Coming up next, we have a 45-minute break, so feel free to grab a snack. I’m probably going to grab some lunch. And we will join us again at 2:00 PM Eastern for the second set of the break outs. So thank you all again. I appreciate your time.


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