Fun people. Cool work. Real results.

Fun people. Cool work. Real results.

About Us

Passionate about making a difference

We help CEOs, HR execs, and other leaders use the power of communication to enhance the well-being and performance of their workforce.

Seasoned expertise

Our client service teams are led by senior consultants with strong technical knowledge about talent management, compensation, benefits, and other workforce issues.

Strategy and implementation

We help you create a plan that will achieve your goals. And our strategic point of view continues throughout execution of the plan, ensuring that all deliverables and messages are thoughtfully crafted to produce results that matter.

Integrated media

We’re good at using a mix of communication methods to connect effectively with all segments of your workforce — millennial, boomer, hourly, salaried, etc. Keeping the target audience in mind, we carefully create media, words, and visuals to grab attention and inspire action.

Proven approaches

We develop strategies based on our decades of experience and key research — not only from the communication discipline, but also from behavioral science, leadership, and business.

Easy to work with

Clients know they can count on us to get stuff done, with the right combination of helpful attitude and disciplined project management that makes their job easier. We don’t push products and services; we focus on understanding and solving clients’ challenges.

Loved by clients (and we love them too)

Doggone it, people like us! We’ve worked with many of our clients for 10-20 years or more. And most of our new clients come from referrals.

Responsive and nimble

We use a flexible team structure, world-class technology, and proven frameworks and processes. We provide big-firm expertise, customer service, and results at a reasonable cost.

Meet Our People

Get to know our co-founders, consultants, and creatives. Click each image for biographical information.

Laurie Barnes

Co-founder

 

Laurie Barnes is an involved auntie, animal lover and workforce communication expert. She uses her StrengthsFinder top five (developer, positivity, arranger, empathy, communication) to develop strategies that get results, write messages that inspire and engage, and build trust with leaders.

With more than 30 years in the biz, Laurie is a successful communication executive who is known for out-of-the-box thinking. She has made her mark with large and small clients by understanding the details and making them comprehendible to others.

Laurie has held leadership positions at three large, global consultancies — Willis Towers Watson, Deloitte and Mercer. In 2010, Laurie formed Maple Tree Lab, a communication boutique. She is a co-founder of Workforce Communication where she serves as a talent leader inside our firm and a creative strategist for clients.

Believing that talent management, performance and development are key levers that drive engagement and success inside good employers, Laurie likes to help clients reinforce these capabilities. She has developed communication strategies and comprehensive content during several organization-wide talent transformations.

Laurie also knows benefits communication inside and out. For example, she was recently “embedded” as benefits communications director for a consumer food products company. She reframed its enrollment and wellness messaging into an organizational business case and a personal health imperative, using bright graphics and everyday language.

Laurie’s bachelor’s degree is in communication arts with a journalism certificate from the University of Cincinnati. She’s won numerous awards of excellence in communications, published articles, and presented workshops on effective employee and HR communication.

Laurie Barnes

Jesse Lahey, SPHR

Co-founder

 

Jesse Lahey may be only above-average as an amateur triathlete, but he’s a top-notch communication expert with a passion for making a difference through smart and caring business practices.

Jesse has worked in leadership and workforce communications for over 20 years, including serving as HR communication leader at a Fortune 500 manufacturer with nearly 20,000 employees worldwide. His previous roles also include partner at Findley and communication specialist at Willis Towers Watson. In 2004, he launched Aspendale Communications, a team of consultants and creatives.

As a co-founder of Workforce Communication, Jesse provides leadership; shares principles and best practices for our team and clients; and provides strategic and creative advice for achieving client goals.

Creative and curious, Jesse is known for his ability to quickly understand a business problem and provide a practical solution based on the latest research, tried-and-true practices, as well as his business and technology acumen. His experience includes all areas of workforce communication in a wide range of industries, including banking, health care, manufacturing, mining, retail, and software.

In addition to consulting, Jesse is a public speaker and author appreciated for his humorous stories, groundbreaking insights, and practical takeaways. He hosts the podcast Engaging Leader, heard regularly by thousands of leaders since 2012. He is the author of 8 Communication Tools for Leaders: Become a Better Leader in Every Area of Life, co-author of Gamification: Engaging Your Workforce, and editor of Making Character First: Building a Culture of Character in Any Organization.

Jesse graduated with highest honors from Xavier University, where he studied English and business. Jesse has been certified since 2001 as a Senior Professional in Human Resources (SPHR).

Jesse Lahey

Catherine Smith

Co-founder

 

Catherine Smith is a life-long Michigan resident who is committed to harmonizing mind, body, and spirit and has a passion for strategic workforce communications. When she’s not holding a plank or striking a warrior pose, she focuses on helping clients achieve their goals by engaging, educating, and motivating their employees.

With over 25 years of experience, Catherine has a well-rounded set of skills and insights that combine innovative marketing principles with internal communications practices. She started her consulting career at Willis Towers Watson, where she served as a practice leader in the Michigan market. In 2002 she founded Requisite Communications, an independent consulting business and certified National Women's Business Enterprise. She is a co-founder of Workforce Communication, where she’s a strategic client advisor and team role model for client relationship management.

Catherine’s expertise enables her to build an extensive understanding of an organization’s strategies, culture, and workforce so she can help leaders develop credibility and trust, implement change, achieve buy-in, and engage employees at all levels. Her relationships with clients run deep, and her work with them often spans a decade or more communicating about total rewards, health care and retirement benefits, wellness programs, recruiting and onboarding, as well as performance management and pay.

While she’s worked with numerous mid- to large-sized organizations in a variety of industries, for-profit and non-profit, Catherine has particularly broad experience with health care systems. She knows the business initiatives as well as the HR and communication challenges in those environments.

Catherine has served on the Board of Directors for the Michigan Ontario Compensation Association (MOCA) as co-Vice President of Communications for four years. She has presented at local and regional events and has been published. She has received various awards, such as from the International Association for Business Communicators (IABC).

Catherine graduated with highest honors, earning a bachelor’s degree in merchandising management/marketing from Michigan State University.

Catherine Smith

Jamie Barnes

Client Services

 

Jamie Barnes is a creative builder. From restoring vintage furniture to crafting communications — she looks for the authentic connection to every endeavor. As a communicator, this inspires her to find the genuine voice that will engage employees and connect them to the goals of the organization.

In Jamie’s 10 years as a communicator, she’s worked in global firms and creative agencies. She’s built expansive and innovative strategies for Fortune 500 companies; educated Unions about ACA legislation; and inspired lively wellness cultures in manufacturing facilities across the rural Midwest. Throughout the spectrum — vital to each initiative — is a compelling story thoughtfully delivered.

Building and delivering effective communications is both art and science. Jamie’s methods are firmly rooted in proven practices learned from communications experts. She’s studied Behavior Change with renowned expert BJ Fogg, the Neuroscience of Learning with the NeuroLeadership Institute, and Change Management with Prosci. She studied Organizational Communications at the University of Chicago and has a BA in Social Science from National Louis University.

Jamie Barnes

Sharon Baseman

Creative Services, Graphic Design and Quality

 

Sharon Baseman cares deeply about the world around her — the collaborative strength of her community, the beauty of her garden, as well as the clarity and quality of her clients’ communications. In her work, she leverages a unique combination of both graphic design and proofreading skills that help her polish most any workforce message.

In the past 25 years, Sharon has worked in professional services and focused on HR communications at Willis Towers Watson, her own firm, and now at Workforce Communication. As a result, she knows the language and level of detail required to help employees understand wellness, health care benefits, retirement, compensation, performance, engagement, and more.

Sharon is a creative who truly blends content and design. She ensures that editorial standards are consistently followed and create clear messages. She combines specific brand fundamentals with clean organization, engaging colors, and purposeful visuals. She’s committed to meeting the needs of any reader in a variety of environments such as health care, manufacturing, entertainment, and financial services.

As a result of her attention to detail, she has contributed to large, complex projects with multiple audiences and variations. She’s developed long-term relationships with clients that have spanned decades, because they can’t imagine completing a project without her.

Sharon holds a bachelor’s degree in design from the University of Michigan and has received several awards for her work from the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC).

Sharon Baseman

Cyndi Gibson

Client Services

 

Cyndi Gibson may be petite in stature, standing 4-foot-11-inches tall, but she’s a big powerhouse when it comes to helping organizations communicate important changes. Cyndi knows how to inspire leaders and engage employees in ways that achieve strategic alignment and support the desired corporate brand and culture. She also has a green thumb when it comes to cultivating successful message platforms and her backyard garden.

Prior to establishing her own communication consulting practice and joining Workforce Communication as a senior consultant, Cyndi spent 30 years with Mercer. There, she led the communication practice for the Midwestern U.S. and worked with both regional and national clients to create and execute complex and large-scale communication strategies. She then helped Mercer establish a separate LLC to provide HR consulting to smaller organizations.

Cyndi is a super-powered C-Suite advisor who understands the big picture of change and the small details of how to make it go smoothly. She has helped organizations implement every facet of human resource strategy and is a subject matter expert in benefits, rewards and recognition, onboarding, company values, as well as diversity and inclusion. For example, Cyndi leveraged employee testimonials about internal values to create a multi-faceted campaign to drive engagement and improve culture for a large healthcare organization.

She has worked with clients in many industries including manufacturing and financial services and has deep expertise advising employers in healthcare and higher education.

Cyndi holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in English from Slippery Rock University of Pennsylvania.

Cyndi Gibson

Monica Harrison

Client Services

 

As an avid gardener, Monica Harrison longs for warm weather to arrive each spring so she can start planting. With a keen eye for seeing the big picture while focusing on important details, she produces beautiful flowers and healthy vegetables outside. Inside at her computer, she creates compelling, on-target messages for a wide range of audiences.

Monica began her communication career in B2B copywriting, with a focus on marketing for both the hardscape and nonprofit industries, before she moved into internal communications. Recently, she has served as a key contributor on employee education campaigns, rebranding efforts, merger implementations, as well as pay and benefits changes.

As part of the Workforce Communication team, she writes clear and engaging messages for online, mobile, print, video, and face-to-face delivery. It’s all carefully designed to drive leader commitment, employee engagement, and organizational results.

At the same time, she’s known for keeping projects organized and making sure everything stays on track to meet deadlines and achieve goals. With Monica in charge, no task goes uncompleted. Every person stays informed. Her clients are pleasantly delighted and come back for more.

Monica studied English writing and sociology at Spring Arbor University in Michigan. This combined focus developed a unique perspective on communicating and how messages are perceived.

Monica Harrison

Tom Hitchcock

Client Services

 

Tom Hitchcock believes virtually every aspect of our daily life hinges on communication — good and bad — and every problem can be solved by a brilliant marketing campaign.

Well-versed in developing communications strategy related to employee benefits, well-being, and employer branding for large and mid-size organizations, Tom crafts targeted messaging and creative content to influence action among key internal audiences.

Drawing on three decades as a marketing and communications professional, Tom has a broad range of experience gained in both the corporate and ad agency environments directing award-winning communications initiatives for health care providers, medical plans, and medical device companies.

Tom has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Bowling Green State University where his studies were focused on public relations and marketing.

Tom Hitchcock

Dave Johnston, ABC, CLU

Client Services

 

Dave Johnston is a barbeque pitmaster, teacher, grandfather, and communication consultant. He turned his lifelong love of words into a 40-year career making complicated topics easier to understand.

Clients tap into Dave for his technical knowledge and experience with a broad spectrum of global rewards programs. He is also an engaging presenter who has led more than 1,000 employee meetings (and counting) and speaks frequently to various professional associations.

Dave has advised senior managers and boards of directors in nearly every industrial sector, as well as in higher education and charities. In addition to creating and managing communication campaigns, he has served as an interim benefits communication manager for a large soft drink company.

A graduate of Iowa State University in journalism and mass communication, Dave first worked in broadcasting. After holding several marketing communication positions at The Principal Financial Group, Dave began a career in human resources by consulting at Towers Perrin and Watson Wyatt (now Willis Towers Watson) and at Aon Consulting. While at Watson Wyatt, he led the firm's Human Capital Communication practices in both the southeastern U.S. and western Europe, and he studied at the Harvard Business School.

Dave is a member of [email protected], where he teaches a course in Strategic Communication of Total Rewards. He is a past Director of the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC) and holds their Accredited Business Communicator (ABC) designation. Dave is also a Chartered Life Underwriter (CLU) and a Fellow of the Life Management Institute (FLMI). His work has won numerous awards from IABC, Business Insurance magazine, and other organizations.

Dave Johnston

 

Jenny Kolenda

Client Services, Graphic Design

 

With creativity infused into every part of her life, Jenny Kolenda knows how to design a room, create DIY home décor, and produce way-cool art projects. As a matter of fact, she has been featured in Better Homes & Gardens’ Make-it-Yourself three times.

Because she understands how the eye moves and how color communicates, Jenny’s design expertise crosses over to effective business and workforce communication. In the last 20+ years, she has been the senior art director on a variety of projects from initial brainstorming to the finished products.

Starting out, Jenny worked for marketing agencies and founded her own graphic design business. As an integral part of the Workforce Communication design team, Jenny collaborates with writers, illustrators, photographers, programmers, and printers to create communication that engages and inspires. She works with large and small clients in retail, health care, manufacturing, financial, and non-profit.

Jenny has won design awards, including a Special Judges’ award from the Printing Industry of the Carolinas, Inc. (PICA), a trade association. And, one of her designs was mass produced as part of a promotion for FOX RIVER SELECT® Papers - Neenah Paper.

Jenny’s bachelor’s degree is in visual communication from Ferris State University in Michigan.

 

Jenny Kolenda

JJ Lahey

Client Services

 

JJ Lahey is a marketing communicator who specializes in planning, graphic design, video production, and web design. He built his first website from code at age 10, and by age 13, he was creating music videos and learning to appreciate skilled editing from his favorite content creators. More recently, JJ has developed a passion for storytelling.

All of these interests have come together in his communication work, enabling JJ to create messages and marketing that engage with empathy and connect with audiences where they are. His recent work includes development of a series of scenario-based, animated videos that support the smooth implementation of compensation changes at a large health care system. He also produced a video series for a motivational speaker that has received hundreds of thousands of views.

In addition to working on Workforce Communication’s client projects, JJ manages the social media and develops marketing content for the firm. As a junior member of the team, he keeps his colleagues up to date and relevant to Millennials and younger generations.

Previously, JJ has worked with an apparel company, the world's largest online custom T-shirt platform, where he focused on social media marketing, managed advertising, and designed the layout of their retail stores.

JJ studied marketing and public relations at Spring Arbor University in Michigan.

JJ Lahey

Debi Lewis

Client Services, Graphic Design

 

Being a weekend downhill ski racer, sewing hobbyist, and community volunteer helps Debi Lewis hone her skills as graphic designer of internal communication and marketing materials – precision, speed, creativity, and connecting the dots. She is a visual strategist who can get to the core of a problem and create vibrant, effective, and fresh solutions, collaborating with clients, writers, photographers, and project managers.

For over 30 years, Debi has worked in agencies and design studios as creative director, designer, and layout artist. She’s not afraid to be unconventional, yet practical…create concepts that are loud, while subtle…implement with speed and quality to deliver graphics that attract the eyes, hearts, and minds of an intended audience.

Serving as lead design partner for several major human resource consulting firms for decades, Debi knows how to design clearly for HR change, employee engagement, and employment branding. She is also experienced in B2B marketing, annual reports, and corporate identity and has worked in a variety of industries including manufacturing, healthcare, higher education, and consumer products.

A graduate of The Art Institute of Pittsburgh, Debi is a founding partner of Creative Oxygen, an Ohio-based full-service marketing firm, as well as a creative partner of Workforce Communication. Through the years, Debi has won numerous awards from the Advertising Club of Toledo and the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC) in Detroit and Phoenix.

Debi Lewis

Jill Plamondon

Client Services, Graphic Design

 

As an ultrarunner competing in races that are 26, 50, and even 100 miles long, Jill Plamondon trains for going the distance after hours and between her kids’ soccer games. She also knows what it takes to go mile after mile in her work life, uniting design with content to tell a personalized story for each client through branding workforce communication. As a key player on many large campaigns, she’s designed infographics, brochures, flyers, posters, websites, mobile apps, and much more.

In her more than 20 years as a graphic designer, Jill has collaborated with writers, printers, designers, and photographers to make messages come alive in a variety of settings. Her clients have been both big and small names in retail, health care, manufacturing, nonprofit, and more.

Previously, Jill worked at Interlochen Center for the Arts, where she was the lead designer and design manager for more than 8 years. Since then, she has designed communications for internal employee and leader audiences for more than a decade, partnering with Workforce Communication founders and others.

Leveraging her own personal commitment to fitness and family, Jill brings a holistic health-and-wellness vibe to her work in HR and internal communications. She knows how to create strong visual identities that gain employee attention as well as create consistency and cohesion with clients’ existing brands.

Jill has a bachelor’s degree in visual communication from Ferris State University in Michigan. Her work has won recognition from the Detroit International Association of Business Communicators (IABC) Renaissance Awards and the Northern Michigan Advertising Club Max Awards.

Jill Plamondon

Deborah Weisman Sandlow

Client Services

 

Debbie is an identical twin and the mother of twins. She uses her twin power to manage her family’s activities, contribute to her community, and develop effective and creative communication strategies. When not on the search for the perfect taco, her goals are to engage, inform, and educate her clients’ employees.

With over 25 years of healthcare and retirement benefits communication experience, Debbie collaborates with clients to create customized approaches that meet their audiences’ needs.

Debbie addresses a wide-range of human resources issues including benefits enrollments (too many to count!), high deductible health plans, wellness programs, retirement program engagement, and company intranets. She helps clients launch new internal brands, including the development of effective images and messages, integrated media strategies, and implementation plans to targeted audiences.

Strategizing about communication delivery allows Debbie to recommend the right balance of print, video, web, radio, and mobile. Sometimes it’s creative video scripts, engaging websites, or clear summary plan descriptions. Other times it’s interactive online newsletters, savvy promotional print campaigns, or simple executive letters. The goal is always the same: Engage the reader.

She works with organizations of all sizes — large international companies, non-profits, and small businesses — in a variety of industries, including pharmaceuticals, manufacturing, financial and retail.

Debbie earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Michigan. She also completed course work through the University of Chicago Editing Program. She has held board positions for several charities and is an active member of her community garden, coordinating fresh produce delivery to the local food bank.

Deborah Weisman Sandlow

Kelly Skarritt-Williams

Client Services

 

By day, Kelly Skarritt-Williams is a passionate writer and editor. By night, she’s a creative mom conjuring up another bedtime story for her two young children. These two parts of her life have combined to help her develop a reputation as a powerful storyteller. She believes that if you can inform and entertain, you’re much more likely to captivate your reader. In addition, what we say and how we say it can influence how people respond.

With nearly 15 years of experience, Kelly has an eye for detail and a strict adherence to style and grammar that mean the final product is as flawless as possible. As a project manager, she leverages resources, time, and talent to ensure the best product is delivered to the client.

Kelly’s career has included roles in journalism, higher education, B2B, B2C, health care, and nonprofit industries. Since joining Aspendale Communications in 2014, she writes brochures, flyers, billboards, video scripts, AdWords, blogs, press releases, websites, magazines, social media, and more. This myriad of experiences has given her writing breadth and expanded her communication abilities — helping her to strategically identify the right media and messages to achieve the target outcomes for each audience.

Kelly holds a bachelor’s degree in communication with an emphasis on professional writing from Spring Arbor University in Michigan.

Kelly Skarritt-Williams

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