For mid- to large-size teams and organizations, regular newsletters can be one of the most effective management tools for building and maintaining a highly motivated, high-performance team – or for change management. They can be — but are not usually — because 95% of these newsletters wind up containing boring, poorly written, no-value content.
Maybe it is because my mother has been a newspaper editor (at one of South Texas’s largest neighborhood newspapers) for many years – but employee feedback has always been that my newsletters have been exceptional. I’ve found by trial-and-error that the trick to writing good newsletters is to always remember:
- newsletters are entertainment
- newsletters should be fun and exciting to read, often with surprising and unexpected content, always with photographs
- newsletters should leverage indirection and hidden content, to be most effective
If you can keep in mind just these three things, then you can use newsletters to powerful advantage for motivating, recognizing / rewarding, informing your teams.
Examples of newsletters I’ve created and managed
Unfortunately, the newsletters I created or introduced contain much confidential content that I cannot share. But I think it is no violation of confidentiality to showcase a few newsletters here, with the confidential bits hidden — so you can focus on the parts that make the newsletters exciting and worth reading.
- German Project Office – Hewlett-Packard, 2005 to 2008
- Sofia Delivery Organization – Hewlett-Packard, 2008
- Germany “Expertise” Delivery Organization – Hewlett-Packard, 2007 – 2009
- “NEWS@SERVICES” – Email newsletter, Swiss Federal Railways SBB/CFF/FFS, 2009-2012
Who should write newsletters?
This is some advice you won’t find everywhere: consider carefully whether newsletters should be owned and sent out by middle managers or individual contributors (preferred!), rather than by department heads or higher (generally not preferred!).
I’ve learned this by carefully watching newsletters fail and succeed at their true purpose: to steer and modify the culture of an organization. When a senior leader sends out a newsletter, usually they feel too much pressure to keep it serious, incorporating clear (not hidden) management messages, and with very low risk content. The newsletter becomes boring, it is not read – and newsletters that aren’t eagerly read can’t achieve their motivational purpose.
In contrast, a lower level manager or individual contributor is free to keep it exciting and dynamic and take risks. And if needed, a small section in the newsletter (such as “Message from the CIO”) can be very effective as a stamp of authenticity, at the same time reinforcing that the ownership is at a lower level in the organization.
(And from everything I’ve observed, if senior leaders are self-confident and secure in their roles and with their authority, then turning over ownership of such a high-visibility instrument to a less senior leader itself sends a strong but hidden message to the organization, ultimately re-affirming and strengthening their position as senior leaders.)