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Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

To Shift Culture, Be Honest About the Gap Between Reality and the Vision

Or “Defining reality and creating hope go hand in hand,” as the retired CEO of Yum! brands David Novak put it in a recent LinkedIn post. (FYI, Novak has recently published a book on recognition titled “O Great One!”) His comment was directed at the need for leaders to move past defining reality to “show people where that reality can take them.”

That need also extends to internal communicators. There’s sometimes a temptation for internal communicators to paint the culture a rosier hue than it actually is. People fear being negative. But employees know their culture, because they live the culture, and if you ignore the existing issues, you undermine their trust.

The first step to shifting culture is to acknowledge where you are now. It takes courage to be honest, because if we’re honest, most cultures aren’t where we’d like them to be. Yet human beings, and their resulting cultures, have a tremendous capacity for change.

When you use the reality as a starting point for a vision of what could be, you harness a tremendous amount of power for change. Or as Novak might say, hope.

As internal communicators, our job is to be clear about the first and inspirational about the second. In other words, this is where we are, and this is where we’re going to go. We own our reality, and we also claim our vision.

Interested in shifting your culture? Tribe can help.

 

 

 

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How to Strengthen Internal Communications with Home-Based Employees

Sometimes water cooler talk can be more productive than an hour-long meeting, but unfortunately, employees who work from home can be out of the loop. Strengthening communications with employees who work remotely can lead to improved collaboration, productivity and fulfilled deadlines.

Here are three ways you can increase communication with this employee population:

  1. Update your intranet. If nobody goes to your intranet, it’s not working for you. A strong social intranet can become a Main Street for the company, where employees can bump into each other. That doesn’t mean you have to spend the time and money for the huge undertaking of a new SharePoint site. Check out all the SaaS platforms available now, such as Igloo, Interact and Jive.
  1. Explore Collaborative Software Platforms. Advancement in technology is the main reason that companies are able to allow more of their employees to work from home and technology can help bridge the communication gap with off-site employees as well. Between Asana, eXo Platform, Slack, and Yammer, there are plenty of collaboration software platforms for work related discussion. Utilizing different technology can promote better collaboration between team members, associates and upper management alike.
  1. Prioritize On-Site Interaction. Hosting on-site employee events or finding other opportunities for remote employees to be onsite is a great way to reengage them in company culture and build bonds with coworkers they don’t see, but may work with every day. Making connections with the company and employees can reinforce a sense of purpose within their role and make them more comfortable when engaging with coworkers remotely in the future.

Interested in improving internal communications with home-based employees? Tribe can help.

 

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

Will Direct Mail Work On Millennials? The USPS Says So

The USPS is making a marketing push to convince advertisers that Millennials will respond to direct mail. Will they?

The first voice I hear in my head, in response to that question, is our son’s. He is very quick to point out that you can’t make gross generalizations about an entire generation and that people, regardless of their generation, must be seen as individuals. I’ve heard Millennial employees say the same.

Yeah, yeah, of course. But still, the world that surrounds any generation during their growing up and early adult years will have an impact on forming them as individuals. Boomers didn’t grow up with iPhones — or even the internet. Millennials are different in their experiences of communication.

The second voice I hear is that of my inner creative director. Too often, in my opinion, communicators embrace or eliminate a channel based on past success or the lack thereof. But you can’t dismiss television advertising as ineffective if you’ve only run bad TV spots. You can’t assume an employee magazine won’t work in your company if the ones you’ve done before were poorly written and badly designed.

It’s a matter of content. If you do beautifully designed and smartly written direct mail that engages Millennials on a topic that’s relevant to them, then sure, direct mail could be an excellent channel.

However, Millennials as a group tend to have an ability to sniff out anything inauthentic. For instance, our high-school junior (same son) has been getting a flood of direct mail from colleges in the past year or so. It took him about five minutes to figure out that the same direct mail agency was writing most of them, with similar schticks repeated for college after college.

Now even the direct mail from Harvard and Stanford lies unopened on the kitchen counter. The good news, for the post office,  perhaps, is that he doesn’t click on a lot of their digital ads either. He reads a lot online about the colleges he’s interested in, but seems to skip anything he views as marketing.

When he was about four, he was gazing out the window on a car trip and remarked, “Outdoor advertising doesn’t work for me.” (Yes, he said outdoor advertising instead of billboards because he’s the child of ad people.) I asked him why not and he shrugged. “I can’t read,” he said.

Interested in improving the content in your communication channels? Tribe can help.

 

Nick Miller

Employee Engagement: Communicating corporate values

Start by identifying values that are easy to understand and remember. It is a formidable task to take a leader’s vision for the company and narrow it down to a few words employees should use to guide their efforts. On the flip side, if you want employees to truly adopt the company’s values, they need to be able to remember them and easily discuss their meanings. At Tribe, we recommend no more than three to five values written in language a third grader would understand.

Target recurring occasions and communications to acquaint and connect your workforce to your values. Values shouldn’t live exclusively on the poster on the break room wall. When planning any communications calendar, think of opportunities to incorporate the values into existing internal communication pieces, company events or programs. Rotate your values as the themes of your newsletter content or publish value-focused blogs and leadership videos. We especially like desktop tchotchkes such as Legos that reinforce values while also giving employees something to tinker with while working. The more instances your workforce happens upon corporate values, the better.

Designate values champions throughout the organization. Review your organization chart and identify middle-level managers in each department who have a passion for and exemplify the values. Charge them with ensuring the values are included in internal communication pieces, events and programs. Ask them to recognize other employees who are using or living the values and highlight those associates as heroes of the business. Involve your champions in the gap evaluation process of the values and reward them for the extra work and commitment they are giving to the company.

Integrate the values into your hiring and employee evaluation process. It is easy to say that your values are integral to your company’s success but to show employees the true importance you place on them, they should be included in the hiring and evaluation process. Include values-based questions during the interview as well as a checklist for hiring managers to use to ensure a prospect exemplifies them. A pre-boarding package that introduces values prior to an employee’s start date allows them to feel familiar with the values before their first hour is logged. It can also communicate that company values are of equal importance as other included elements, such as corporate policy. Incorporating your values into your evaluation process will both fortify the significance of values and offer supervisors the opportunity to coach an individual on how they can better employ those values within their work.

Looking to communicate corporate values to your employees? Tribe can help.

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

The Three Levels of Collaboration: Teams, Silos and Customers

What does collaboration mean in your company? When we talk with clients about collaboration in their organizations, almost all of them will mention the strong collaboration between team members.

Work teams are the first level of collaboration. To get the day-to-day work of the company done, you need teams who work together and support each other collaboratively, whether that’s in an operational department or a manufacturing cell.

People often feel strong emotional ties to their team members. They speak of having each other’s backs, or even of it feeling like family. In research, they often tell us they feel a much stronger connection to their immediate work team than to the company overall.

Cross-functional teams take collaboration to the next level. In companies with a strong overall vision that engages employees, we’re likely to see the second level of collaboration. Aligned with a common goal, employees collaborate across functions or geography or business units. Rather than confining their perceived team as their immediate work group or department, the sales team will see the product engineers as collaborative partners. The North American division will look to their colleagues in the EMEA regions for ideas. One apparel brand of a parent company will collaborate with another brand on developing better sourcing strategies.

The holy grail is having employees see the customer as their collaborative partner. Whether you’re selling technology or toilet paper, financial instruments or musical ones, a customer-centric focus indicates a highly evolved company culture.

This is not just for those employees are customer-facing. If you can create a sense of collaboration with the customer throughout the organization, you’ll be unstoppable. In an ideal world, employees will see their jobs in the context of the customer experience. Whatever they’re doing, from building a website to manufacturing products to developing a pricing structure to scheduling work flow, the big win is for them to see what they’re doing through the eyes of the customer and to consider their point of view.

Interested in taking collaboration to a new level in your organization? Tribe can help.

Steve Baskin

Timely Internal Communications: The problem with imaginations

In the absence of fact, our imaginations are more than happy to fill in the blanks. As communicators, we put a lot of effort into crafting every word of every communication before pressing send and releasing our words and images to the masses. We have to. Words are important. Those that are misplaced can cause damage.

Accurate, well-written and engaging communications are critical in the work place. But timeliness is important too. We often put so much effort into crafting the words and gaining consensus from every key stakeholder, that by the time we press send, the information is old.

Or worse, we’ve taken so long that employee’s imaginations have gotten in the game. Last week, a young man – still early in his career – was in my office. Management at his company had communicated that his department would receive employment contracts for the upcoming year at noon that day. It was almost five o’clock, and he took the lack of communication as very bad news. He was preparing to close on his first house, and he was worried that he might be out of work.

In this fellow’s case, his imagination was getting the better of him (I hope). He was fairly sure that the person who approves the contracts had nefarious intentions. A power play designed to make the employees sweat it out. I assured him the company likely just needed to ensure that the information was correct, and it was taking more time than they’d anticipated. In the midst of our conversation, he received the contract. (Phew)

When companies have a track record delivering timely, transparent communications, there’s a much better chance of having engaged employees. When employees are engaged in their work and they feel that they can trust their leadership, imaginations don’t veer so quickly toward the dark side. And you avoid declining productivity since your employees aren’t grousing about the delay in the contracts they were supposed to receive.

The important point here is for us to remember that there are human beings on the receiving end of what we promise in our communications. Let’s do our best to strike a balance that delivers incredibly well-written communications and gets them to our folks on time.

Looking for help getting great communications out more quickly? Tribe can help.

Brittany Walker

Does Your Culture Support New Moms?

Brittany had planned to post a blog today on best practices in workplace lactation rooms — covering the issues that are important to breastfeeding mothers and how companies can best accommodate their needs, as well as the importance of a culture that offers the flexibility to make it easier for women to return to …

BUT SHE WENT INTO LABOR BEFORE POSTING!

Want to stay in the loop? See Tribe’s Facebook page for the latest news.

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

Using Guided Meditation and Visualization to Define a Brand Promise

Do you build a culture that will support your brand promise? Or do you base the promise on what your culture already delivers? In the case of a flooring manufacturer that Tribe worked with, the brand promise grew out of employee focus groups on what made their company different from any of their competitors.

When I say focus groups, what I really mean is guided visualizations. We met with employees in two manufacturing facilities and at corporate headquarters, holding several sessions in each location.

At each session, we began with a group meditation.
The goal was to get participants to let go of linear, logical thinking and promote a more creative, imaginative state. From the CEO to sales reps to forklift operators, we found a surprising willingness to play along with this somewhat unusual format.

When employees had reached a meditative state, we began the guided visualization.
We explained we were taking them on a symbolic journey and asked them to imagine the company as a fairy tale character, a handsome prince setting out to seek his fortune. As we told the story of this handsome prince, we stopped at key points and asked participants to open their eyes just enough to scribble an answer to a question we posed, and then return to their relaxed state.

For instance, when the prince came upon a dragon, we asked them what the dragon represented. When he slayed the dragon with his sword, we asked what the sword stood for. When he rode home to victorious to his village, we asked them to listen to what the townspeople were saying about them.

We asked them to complete the following sentence:
The story of this prince was told generation after generation, and the moral of the story is that the prince was successful because he _______.

The answers were interesting in their consistency. In a large majority of the responses, the moral was some version of “he does the right thing” or “he stands for what’s right.”

And in fact, the history of the company reflected this. In conversations after the visualization, employees often pointed to two situations in the company’s history where they felt the company had done the right thing. One was when a fire destroyed the company’s only factory early on. Rather than have so many employees go without paychecks white the factory was rebuilt, the company put employees to work on the construction so they could continue earning a living.

Another was when the company had to recall a product that had required a tremendous investment and new manufacturing machinery.
When the product was found to be defective, the company offered every customer a free replacement floor from their other product lines.

In their own jobs, employees said they felt the responsibility of doing what’s right. We heard similar statements across geography (three states) and function (operations, manufacturing, sales, support, residential and commercial). That’s what they felt differentiated them from their competitors.

The brand promise became Stand On Something Better. The consumer magazine and television campaign was built around the question “What do you stand on?” with consumers offering many answers to what they believe in, from social issues to personal ones. A cause marketing initiative awarded the Stand on a Better World prize to women making a difference in charitable organizations locally and globally. Employees spontaneously launched their own Stand on a Better World fundraisers, hosting bakes sales and carwashes to raise money for college scholarships for local students.

The brand promise resonated with employees. It became something that permeated every aspect of the company because it already was indigenous to the company. That makes it much more likely that employees will be aligned with delivering the intended brand experience. When the brand promise reinforces what employees already believe about the company, it’s second nature to uphold that promise.

Interested in developing an employee brand that delivers on the brand promise? Tribe can help.

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

Is it the channel that’s not working — or the content you’re pushing through it?

Before you decide that employees don’t ever open emails, read the monthly newsletter or pay attention to digital signage, take a good hard look at your content. If you compare the caliber of design, writing and messaging to the brand communications your company does for consumers, how does it stack up?

Emails continue to rank highly as a preferred method of communications in most of the employee surveys we’ve been involved in. Yet actual open rates are often quite low. Maybe what employees mean is that they like the channel of email but are not inclined to open things that look like junk mail.

The same notion applies to newsletters and employee magazines. Whether digital or printed, these publications can be highly visual and engaging. They can be an excellent way to keep employees in the loop; to share leadership views on the vision, values and important business developments; and to make heroes of the employees by featuring them in articles. But if it looks boring and sounds boring, chances are employees will take a pass.

Digital signage can be an incredibly useful touchpoint, because it takes so little effort on the part of employees. As they’re waiting for the elevator or walking to a meeting, they can absorb quick messages ranging from company vision and financial updates to wellness and HR housekeeping issues. We’re seeing these monitors in more and more companies, but they’re not always used as well as they could be.

Channels are merely vessels; it’s what you fill them with that matters most. This applies to all channels, whether they’re the newest technology or a poster in the break room.

Employees deserve the same caliber of communications as your customers. If they’re not engaging with one or more of your internal communications channels, don’t assume it’s the channel that’s not working. Maybe all you need is better content.

Interested in improving your content? Tribe can help.