Laura Petrolino

Employee Engagement: Prepare for Environmental Factors

By: Laura Petrolino | October 23, 2014 | 

Employee Engagement: Prepare for Environmental Factors

By Laura Petrolino

 Once upon a time, in a land far, far away (well not really, it was Florida) I learned a very important lesson in the school of SBSS (Stop Being Stubborn, Stupid).

Now if you know me at all, you’ll not be surprised that I’ve had multiple classes at Stubborn School.

And yet…being stubborn…I still need many more (and often a good smack).

Stubborn or Determined?

I was on vacation with my family, in one of my favorite spots in the world, Sanibel Island.

We’ve gone just about every summer since I was two and so it’s a bit of a home away from home.

During this particular year, I was going through my “I’m a crazy ultra runner” stage in life, so I was ridiculously excited about being able to be a crazy ultra runner on the beach.

Much to my dismay, a hurricane was rolling in making the beach a very windy place.

Being the unflappable (stubborn and stupid) chick that I am, I proclaimed that no hurricane was going to prevent me from running on the beach.

And so out I went, into the goodness knows what speed wind gusts, to go for my morning run.

I started out full of anger, energy, and adrenaline surging spit.

Not only was I going to run, I was going to run 20 miles, maybe 30…who knows. I’d show this force of nature who the force really was.

After all, who did this freaking hurricane think it was trying to ruin my vacation and my planned beach running?

I ran my heart out, I ran as if I was defending the right of every runner all over the universe to run in peace and harmony (or something…).

After about 45 minutes of all-out, hardcore sprinting in the wind, I decided maybe 20 miles was being ambitious and decided to turn back.

I stopped and tried to get some sense of where I was and how far down the beach I had gone.

And that’s when I realized, after almost an hour of running harder and more ferociously than I had ever run before in my life—I had gone backwards about 50 feet.


The wind had been picking me up and pushing me back with every stride.

Environmental Factors Affect Success

Here is the moral of this story: Don’t underestimate the power of the external environment to affect..well…EVERYTHING, including your employee engagement.

I’ve written before about how profoundly employee engagement and internal culture will affect your overall business goals and external operations.

The same holds true in reverse.

While many smart businesses might have a solid and tested crisis communications plan in place to communicate effectively externally in the wake of a crisis, very few put as much effort into understanding what communications measures need to be taken internally to prepare for when a “hurricane strikes” so your employee engagement doesn’t suffer.

A “hurricane” for your team might take many forms: It might be a down economy, a large lay-off at a company in your industry, a company acquisition, the loss of a key employee, or some other  employee engagement change.

Successful employee engagement requires you to recognize the hurricane (or even better preempt it when it’s just at tropical storm level) and adjust your internal AND external messaging accordingly (remember—your team is listening to what you say, and how you say it EVERYWHERE. Just like any other messaging outreach you must be consistent across all channels).

The same communication that could be completely benign or beneficial under sunny skies can take an entirely different interpretation when clouds roll in.

Employee Engagement Means Listening, Providing Answers, and Work through Resistance

A couple of nights ago, I was listening to an excellent interview by Debi Lewis with Randy Hall of 4th Gear Consulting.

He was discussing employee engagement strategies and mentioned, while everyone thinks people don’t like change, that isn’t really the case.

We invite change into our lives all the time knowingly and happily (getting married, having children, moving, to name a few examples).

Often, however, with internal change, lack of employee engagement and resistance comes from fear, habit, and other factors that create ambiguity among your team.

The key is to listen to that resistance, help provide answers where you can, support to work through the resistance, and look for the opportunity to use the “hurricane” to make the organization and team (both individually and collectively) better as a result. 

Doing this means not being stubborn and trying to push through the storm blindly and aggressively.

It means taking a step back, accepting what’s going on in the environment around you, and adjusting as needed to create the best result.

Did I push through that hurricane and end up getting a “run” (heavy quotation marks here) in?


Could I have been more productive and efficient (and not taken the chance of being blown to Cuba) for my long term goals by doing some cross-training instead?


In the end, awareness and acceptance how the external environment affects your employee engagement will help you communicate in a way that will support a stronger business.

About Laura Petrolino

Laura Petrolino is the chief client officer at Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She also is a weekly contributor to the award-winning PR blog, Spin Sucks. Join the Spin Sucks   community.

  • Stubborn?? You?! Wha????

    Seriously though. Great illustration. Can’t communicate in a vacuum, just like you can’t run in a hurricane (or you can, if you define jogging in place as running, but …)

  • Eleanor Pierce I can’t imagine a better illustration! Well done lkpetrolino !

  • I agree. I think the other factor that ties into people being open to change is knowing what is expected of them. It’s not always easy to have measurable objectives for everyone (and accompanying accountability) but when you do that makes it easier to explain/justify when changes have to happen (i.e., we will need to be making more widgets so we are expanding or we don’t have the same demand so we will be taking cost cutting measures. Widgets are probably a bad example in this environment because I know a lot of what we do is less concrete but when people fear losing their jobs based on a vague “things aren’t going well” vibe, that can really be a morale bummer ….

  • Such good stuff and the best illustration ever. We do tend to overlook the fact that there are other factors influencing us. Nice reminder.

  • biggreenpen Eleanor Pierce lkpetrolino That picture is most definitely worth the 1000 words. Really well done Laura!

  • Gini Dietrich

    That image is hilarious. She’s insane.

  • I would like to point to a much more recent example that proves Laura is stubborn. A zillion years ago, she requested half of this week off. In between her request and actually taking the time off, we won a new client who has a huge event this weekend. So she and I negotiated her time off. I said she was allowed to work on the client event, but that was it. No other work. She had to delegate the rest. On Wednesday afternoon, right before she was about to leave, she texted me to say she hadn’t finished everything she had to finish and she’d do it on the plane. I told her absolutely not, she had to delegate, that we had a deal, AND you can never count on being able to work on the plane because WiFi isn’t always available. 

    “Do you know what the annoying thing about you is? You are right waaaay too often. Guess who didn’t have wifi on the plane?” 

    Thank you and good night.

  • ginidietrich Hahahaha! OMG! When I got on that plane and figured it out I was so angry!!! 

    One of my favorites was last year when I was brutally sick with the flu, running a furious temperature, had almost passed out during a client call, and was barely able to drive myself to the emergency clinic. I left the clinic and filled you in on how I was doing. You informed me I was taking the rest of the week of. I protested, trying to negotiate my way through working on certain things…to which you continued to answer: “No,” but I kept trying and finally you said to me;

    “Laura, this is not a negotiation”

    I honestly didn’t know what to say or do. I’m fairly sure it was one of the first times I’ve ever been out stubborned 🙂

  • ClayMorgan I was so proud of my image. Canva is a dangerous thing for me!

  • biggreenpen Yep, you are exactly right. I think ClayMorgan recently mentioned in one of his blog posts about over communicating. And that’s really what you are touching upon here. I call it “structured over-communication.” It’s important because change makes people feel out of control. Feeling like they have a clearer sense of expectations and future helps.

  • Eleanor Pierce There is a big difference between accomplishing a task and making it worthwhile. You can run in place and still mark it off your list as “running”, but why? For what purpose? What did you really accomplish other than exhaust yourself. I ask myself these questions a lot when making choices.

  • LSSocialEngage biggreenpen Eleanor Pierce lkpetrolino LOL! Thanks ladies!

  • lkpetrolino

    biggreenpen thanks woman

  • lkpetrolino

    shanlee thanks Shannon. Have a great weekend!

  • lkpetrolino

    lawolf thanks Laura (great name)

  • lkpetrolino

    ImMarkBernhardt ginidietrich Hahaha! Oh Mark…..

  • lkpetrolino

    akeats thanks Adam!

  • lkpetrolino

    TenorSteve thanks Steve! Have a fantastic weekend

  • TenorSteve

    lkpetrolino You have a great weekend too, Laura.

  • Love that you addressed the need for the consistent messaging inside and outside the organization, LauraPetrolino. When employees are hearing a different explanation on the news than what they’re hearing in the town hall meeting it creates confusion and mistrust, not to mention the external mess it causes when something different gets leaked. One message, one voice, different channels.

  • MonicaMillerRodgers LauraPetrolino Exactly. We always preach consistent brand experiences…but people often forget that needs to be the case for your internal team as well. Nothing breaks down trust quicker!

  • What a story – and lesson to pull from it!  Thanks for sharing my issues management response flow chart!

  • lkpetrolino

    melissa_agnes thanks Melissa!

  • lkpetrolino

    CareerEngager Thanks folks! Much appreciated 🙂

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