Culture and CommTech: an interview with Grant McLaughlin

Design employee digital experiences for simplicity, inclusivity, and productivity


“Communication Technology should eliminate barriers to access and level the playing field for everybody. New tools and new technologies enable simplicity for employee communications – and are useful to run our operations and help us gain new employee insights,” says Grant McLaughlin. 

Grant McLaughlin, founder and Principal of Engaged Leadership LLC, a consultancy serving leaders in organizations small and large, is an employee engagement expert in the CommTech arena, driving revenue with metrics aligned to client insights and data-driven targeting.

As new technologies come fast and furious, one thing is certain: communication technology and culture are intertwined. Grant states, “It’s about identifying a new engagement model and not technology for technology’s sake. How do you help people quickly access the information they need to do their job? How do you connect them into a larger community? Going slow to go fast is key. Map out the process to truly understand — what needs to be done, how it needs to change, and will it land where I want it to land?”

When you’re thinking about communication technology, it’s critical to understand and educate others on the intent of the tool — and how it integrates with the existing technologies in your CommTech stack. Ideally, you are building a technology stack that has elasticity to shift as technology changes and meet future needs of your employees.

The key is to be thoughtful, intentional, and deliberate.

“It isn’t simply applying technology to an existing process; to truly do this right, you must rethink the entire process—and start from a user experience perspective.”

Rolling out new tools requires an understanding of the entire change adoption landscape within the employees’ world – the experience they currently have and the experience we want them to have; what’s changing and how those changes integrate into what already exists. To be most effective, it’s essential to designate a clear executive sponsor to champion the change, have the right conversations at the right levels, and command the necessary resources to implement the technology.

When assessing new communication technologies, key considerations include: 

Gain Consensus and Insights

The minute you start exploring a new technology, engage the chief information security officer (CISO), chief information officer (CIO) and chief data officer (CDO). Let them kick the tires with you in terms of user requirements. What are the features and benefits? What are the security risks? How will it fit into the existing technology stack? How will it connect with other tools? Will it replace existing capabilities? What data is being collected? Will the data flow into a data lake? Is single sign-on acceptable, or is multi-factor authentication required? Understand what the CommTech tool will do – and what it won’t do. Bringing the CISO, CIO, CDO along works best as you decide versus deciding and defending your decision.

Identify User Groups
  • Understand employee work experiences. Some are sitting in an office in front of a company-issued laptop every day. Others are not in front of a computer – ever! Some use their own personal cell phone, while others use a company-issued cell phone. Truly understanding their experience is key. Know what technology they are using today. Understand how the new commtech will fit into their experience. 
  • Gain an understanding of the different demographic types. How are they using technology? What are their expectations of technology? What is the shared technology experience we want? Once you have a clear picture, test it. Launch multiple pilots, in multiple environments, to test your understanding and the experience your employees have with the tool. Did you get what you expected?
Make Time to Listen and Learn 
  • Employee Focus Groups – Employees have opinions, and they want to share them. Create opportunities for them to talk and be prepared to listen. Minimize their risk within the organization so they can speak their truth and feel comfortable doing it. Ongoing dialogue yields better results – keep the focus groups going. Representation across all levels and demographics is key – which may mean you need to have multiple groups to ensure all voices are heard.
  • The Technology Ride Along – Understand the tools in your technology stack. Not just what they produce but how they work, and where the hand-offs are between tools and teams. Take the time to sit down with someone who knows the tools well. For example, I had an impression of the connectivity between a customer relationship management database and email automation tool and the relationship between the two. I did a ride along with an email automation manager and she reshaped my understanding on how the data flows and where the bottlenecks are – and how we could quickly adjust. 
Create Clear, Simple Messaging

From a communications perspective, share what the change is, what the features and benefits are, and when it’s going to take effect. Understand what’s important for the employee to know – what you want them to think, feel, do, or act on as a result of reading your message. If it isn’t clear, rewrite the message so it is.

The Rollout and Adoption
  • Be open to a soft launch versus a hard launch to get some additional feedback and buy-in 
  • Truly listen for feedback. Hear what your employees say and acknowledge it. It goes a long way in helping people adopt new technology 
  • Make sure the technology is viewed as an essential business tool – it is not a toy 
  • Establish the right incentives for people to use the data, and the right training to bring people along 
  • Align your metrics and measures to drive use and achieve the desired end state 
  • Once employees have been trained on the new tool and an appropriate time period has passed, sunset old ways (processes, tools) in order to strengthen new tools 

Almost every study shows that when employee engagement is high, especially in public companies, profits rise as well. Simple clear messaging, easy-to-use communications technologies, and great connectivity will ultimately support positive employee user experience and strengthen culture, employee retention, brand awareness and reputation health.

When CommTech is done right, everybody wins!

Kari McLean
Client Manager
As a marketing communications professional with a theater background, Kari coaxes ideas into reality through collaboration.
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