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Brittany Walker

Managing Manager Communications: The Art of the Toolkit

Providing leaders with the resources needed for cascading consistent messaging is important. In many cases, the responsibility of delivering company news falls on managers. Without the proper guidelines and tools in place, it’s easy for information to be filtered through the lens of each individual. The problem comes in when their interpretation of the message changes, slightly or vastly, from the message the company intended.

Make it easy. The answer to this common communications strife may be easier than you think. Providing managers with simple communications tools, like talking points and FAQs, can go a long way towards keeping them on-message while also making their job easier. And making communications easier for managers will increase the likelihood of the message being delivered.

Everyone communicates differently, and that’s okay. Particularly for major initiatives, a communications toolkit can be an efficient solution. A range of communications styles can be accommodated by providing an electronic compilation of email templates, flyers they can print themselves, PowerPoint presentations, talking points, training guidelines and more.

Give managers a head-up. Communicating with managers in advance will allow them to process the announcement before cascading information to their teams. They should have a solid grasp of the upcoming change and how it impacts the company, their role and the individual roles of their employees. Providing information in advance will also give these leaders a chance to get onboard with the change. Once a manager is embracing the change, they can act as informers, as well as reinforcers.

Need help with manager toolkits? Tribe can help.

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

The Leadership Bubble: Are Your Top Execs Just Talking to Themselves?

Sometimes the top leadership of a company can be something of a closed system. The C-level and management a layer below tend to spend their days rubbing elbows with each other rather than employees in the rest of the company. Without a strong effort to create channels of communication between top management and rank-and-file employees, there’s sometimes very little information flowing between the two.

Leadership often thinks employees know things they don’t. Important things for engagement and alignment, like their vision for the company, their strategic plans for growth, the values they want the company to use in doing business.

Towards the end of the Recession, we did some research on this topic with a limited sample of four or five large companies. First we spoke with leadership about their plans for handling the economic downturn and coming out stronger on the other end of it.

Without a single exception, leadership from every company said they had a clear vision. When we asked if they believed the employees were aware of and understood this vision, they said, yes, absolutely, we talk about it all the time.

Then we asked the same two questions of employees at each of those companies.What we heard from most of them were comments like: “I don’t think they have any idea how to get us through this;” “There’s no plan, not that I know of;” and “I don’t thing there’s a vision and it scares me.”

Why would leadership think employees know these things when they clearly do not? It’s because they themselves hear about the vision every day. They’re all sitting in the same meetings, seeing the same Powerpoints and having the same discussions. They know the vision, and they know how their department or division of the company is expected to contribute to that vision.

 In short, they’re talking to themselves. What’s needed is a strategic approach to communicating top management’s strategic direction and vision to people at all levels of the company.

They’re also not hearing the views of employees outside the C-Suite. If there’s little to no communciation direct from leadership to employees, then there’s probably not an established two-way communciation channel either. So corporate management is missing out on all that employees could tell them — from suggestions and innovations to complaints and concerns. Both are useful for improving the company in a myriad of ways large and small.

Interested in establishing communication channels between your C-level and the rest of the company? Tribe can help.

Nick Miller

Equip Your Employees with the Tools They Need

This week, the popular instant messaging application Slack released a feature that allows communication across companies using shared channels. This functionality is the next step in Slack’s attempt to replace the most unnecessary of back-and-forth emails that clog the inboxes of workers all over the world. As of October 2016, there were nearly 5 million weekly active Slack users, so they are doing something right.

There are obvious benefits to applications like Slack and Yammer and intranets with similar functionalities built in. Besides a decrease in email traffic – especially the unnecessary copying of non-essential recipients – the instant messenger is just what it claims to be: instant. Yes, email is more or less instant, but inboxes fill up quickly and having to read paragraphs at a time can slow down productivity. Slack also has some other nifty abilities, like a robust search tool with filters, file sharing, and ways to collaborate on code.

But there is a gray area surrounding the use of a free service like Slack being used as a non-sanctioned business tool. We often hear from clients that employees have discovered the app on their own and have worked it into their day-to-day. Some companies don’t mind the addition and give their employees credit for finding solutions that make their jobs easier.

Others are concerned with a myriad of issues. Security is a concern when it comes to information leaking to those who shouldn’t have access, especially when sharing information across companies. Another is the ability for rumors to spread like wildfire due to the ease and speed with which information can be disseminated on an instant messaging app.

So, what does Tribe think the best solution is? Fill the gap before someone else does. We preach this all the time with our change communications, but it is relevant to any and all internal communicating.

If your employees are in need of a tool, they will search out a solution. Don’t wait for productivity tools to bubble up. Instead, charge your managers with identifying which tools are right for their groups and promote the use of that tool for productivity. Ask your employees directly what they need to make their job easier. A short and simple survey can provide all sorts of relevant information as well as benchmarking for future analysis of your tools.

Ensure that your communications are proactive to match the speed of your tools. Especially in times of change or bad news, combat false information by communicating to your employees first. Have a process in place for your leaders to cascade accurate communications across the company in the case of an emergency.

Interested in employing collaboration tools? Tribe can help.

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

Making Open Enrollment Less of a Drag: Four Communications Tips

Sure, employees often drag their feet on Open Enrollment, but who can blame them? Even though they realize their benefits decisions are important, nobody gets excited about that annual opportunity to wade through all that insurance language about out-of-network deductibles and qualifying events.

Our job as communicators is to make it easier for them. Yes, they need all the details included in the giant enrollment guide or on the website, but they could also use a little help at knowing what they need to pay attention to, what decisions they need to make, and what actions they need to take to be squared away until next year.

Employees are busy. Like the rest of us, their workdays are packed with, you know, work. Also like everybody else, they have many different demands on their time when they’re not at work.

What if you thought of the employees as CEOs? You wouldn’t hand your CEO a huge stack of benefits gobbledy gook without providing any sort of executive summary. You’d probably also outline the important decisions that need to be made and include a clear call to action.

  1. Try to summarize what they need to know with a headline and several bullets. If employees only had time to read one PowerPoint slide, what’s the most important stuff for them to know? Probably, that slide is about what’s different this year from last year.

2. Then give them a short list of the decisions in front of them. In the simplest, most human terms possible, outline the selections they’ll need to make. Do they need to decide between three possible healthcare plans and two possible dental plans? Is vision coverage optional? Instead of writing in HR-speak, say it the way you’d say it if you were emailing a friend.

3. Finally, what’s the Call to Action? Where do they go and what do they do to be able to check this whole Open Enrollment thing off their To Do list.

4. And then there’s the power of good design. Open Enrollment materials may be on the opposite end of the spectrum from pleasure reading, but that’s all the more reason to give them the benefit of good design. The enrollment guide and all the accompanying communications efforts  — whether that means emails, direct mail, digital signage or posters — can  be more effective with clean professional design that makes them easier to read and more engaging.

Benefits are part of taking care of employees, and Open Enrollment is how we present that smorgasbord of benefits to employees. Let’s make the communications around Open Enrollment a little more appetizing.

Interested in improving your Open Enrollment communications? Tribe can help.

 

Four Tips to Make Internal Communications Human

How are you communicating with your employees? Small companies have the benefit of easy, face to face interaction, but corporations with hundreds, or thousands, of employees can’t rely on a game of telephone. Communicating with a workforce that large means removing the personal touch a conversation gives. Making mass communication personal isn’t difficult, but it requires focus and effort. Here are four tips for adding a personal touch to your internal communications.

 

  1. Email is a popular avenue for internal communication, and for good reason. The majority of office employees have a company email, and in today’s world, emails are expected to be read. The issue is how the information is presented. A block of text is unappealing and won’t command anyone’s attention. Art directing your emails is a simple way to catch the eye. If the message is coming from someone in a leadership position, include their picture in the communication. Let employees connect a face to the message they’re receiving.

 

  1. Depending on the message, words alone might not be the answer. Shooting video of the CEO or an EVP delivering the message makes the communication more distinctive and puts a spotlight on the information. Just make sure the person talking on camera is comfortable with public speaking. If the confidence level of the speaker is low, employees will tune the news out. Admittedly, this is a riskier option, but done correctly, video is a refined way to communicate internally.

 

  1. Launch an anonymous employee feedback tool. Allowing employees the opportunity to provide critiques or compliments opens the door for honest communication. Their experiences are exactly what leadership needs to hear about — daily life in the company. To show employees that you’re listening, have a quarterly roundtable giving managers the chance to address employee concerns.

 

  1. Produce a podcast of executive or investor meetings. Giving all levels of associates an inside look at the company’s future and inner workings puts everyone on the same page. Providing that information helps promote transparency, and corporate transparency should always be at the forefront.

 

A successful communications strategy doesn’t have to include all of these tools, but it should incorporate elements of each to effectively reach your workforce. If these steps are implemented efficiently, your employees should feel like they’re working with you, not for you.

 

Interested in improving communication within your company? Tribe can help.

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

Why Is Compassion So Rarely Listed as a Corporate Value?

There’s a generic list of values we see over and over when companies articulate their culture. If I had a nickel for every time the words Integrity, Honesty or Respect showed up in corporate values, I’d have a whole bunch of nickels.

In the wake of Harvey, I keep thinking about the value of Compassion. I’ve watched with interest the huge disaster relief efforts of  H-E-B, the Texas-based supermarket. They provide concrete help in disaster areas. Sometimes that can be as simple as giving away bags of ice, but it also involves deploying their mobile kitchens to feed first responders and displaced storm victims, sometimes for days at a time.

How would the value of Compassion drive business? Some might say it’s too altruistic to be useful in a competitive marketplace. But in the case of H-E-B, customer loyalty is built over and over by these compassionate acts, offered when people are at their most vulnerable. That’s the kind of loyalty that will trump milk being priced a little lower at some other store.

Actually, compassion seems a logical strategy for building customer relationships. If companies were to include Compassion as a value, that might be the permission employees need to be kind  — to each other, to customers and to the community at large.

There’s been a lot of emphasis in recent years on running companies lean and mean. The economic downturn created the need for efficiency and cost-cutting and anything else businesses could do to remain competitive.

Compassion calls for the opposite of being competitive. It encourages the view that we’re all in this together, and that helping our neighbors is the way we’ll get through.

People buy from brands they trust. Treating people with compassion is a powerful means to gaining that trust. Maybe Compassion deserves a spot on that list of most-common corporate values.

Interested in evolving your corporate values? Tribe can help.

What Does your Office Say About your Culture?

No matter how your company describes its culture, job candidates and new hires will make snap judgments the second they walk in the door. The physical appearance of the work place provides several clues to what it’s really like to work there.

Consider what your office may be communicating about your culture:  

  • How is the space used? An office designed as open concept with public work spaces and lots of casual meeting areas might signal a team-oriented culture that promotes collaboration and a younger, more modern approach to business. In contrast, an office filled with row after row of cubicles says something else entirely. One is not necessarily better than the other; some employees actually prefer cubicles.
  • Is the place a hoarder’s delight? If someone walks into an office and finds that the hallways are filled with stacked file boxes and the flat surfaces filled with clutter, they may feel a sense of inefficiency and disorganization within the company. An office that’s well maintained and well organized gives a more professional, efficient vibe.
  • Do the furnishings accommodate various employee needs? A company with standing desks, treadmill desks, specialized back support chairs, or even larger monitors can show that the culture values employees enough invest in their health and wellbeing.
  • What color are the walls?  Vibrant colors can portray a creative driven and upbeat company. Muted and neutral tones will signify simplicity and focus. But dingy beige walls that haven’t been painted since the company moved in a decade ago will communicate a message as well.

Whether it’s intended or not, the physical appearance of an office will speak to your culture. It’s an interesting exercise to compare your stated culture with the state of the workplace.

 

 Interested in better ways to communicate your culture? Tribe can help.

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

In Employee Communications, Listening Is Part of the Conversation

Internal communications professionals at large companies work hard to produce engaging content. Then they make sure they push that content through an array of communication channels. But that’s only one-way communication.

In any conversation, it’s important to listen as well as speak. Ever had a conversation with someone who talks constantly and never lets you get a word in edgewise? Or someone who barely listens to what you’re saying because they’re thinking so hard about what they want to say next? After a while, you start to feel like they don’t care much about you or what you think.

Just because we don’t ask employees what they think, that doesn’t mean they don’t have opinions. Leadership can be oblivious to employee concerns, issues and questions without a day-to-day method for sharing them.

Those annual or bi-annual employee engagement surveys fill an important role, but they’re not an ongoing conversation. You might want to include a few other methods for engaging in a true conversation with the employee audience, like    one or more of the following:

  1. Pulse surveys: These are a great way to get bite-sized feedback from employees. Posted on the intranet or an employee app, they make it easy for employees to anonymously respond to questions ranging from “Do you feel like you have the information you need to make Open Enrollment decisions?” to “How did you feel coming to work today?” One-question surveys give us an opportunity to react quickly to events or major change and to feel out general trends or attitudes.
  2. Leadership Email: One of the simplest ways to support the employee conversation is to invite people to email the CEO or another top leader directly. But there’s a risk of failure here as well. If employees send emails and don’t receive a response, that’s communicating the opposite of what you want. You might set up a special email address for these leadership questions and have them reviewed and organized by someone in communications. Cue them up so that it’s easy for leadership to respond — authentically but efficiently.
  3. Q & A Page: This can be particularly useful in times of major change. On your intranet or a separate change microsite, provide a page where employees can ask anything they want with the promise that the appropriate person from the leadership team will respond within a certain amount of time, say, a week. You’ll likely get many similar questions and can post one response for that specific topic. In our experience, only a few questions will need an individual email response. The great majority of questions received are of interest to a wide range of employees.

Of course, the trick with all of these is a response mechanism. You don’t want employees to feel like they took the trouble to engage, only to have their question or response dropped into a black hole.

Interested in better employee conversations? Tribe can help.

 

 

Steve Baskin

Understanding Global Culture: You Don’t Have to Go It Alone

There’s been a recurring theme at Tribe regarding mergers, acquisitions and integrating cultures on a global basis. Tribe primarily works with North American companies and many of those organizations have a global footprint. We’ve had quite a number of conversations regarding acquisitions that required the communications team to have immediate global knowledge.

Sometimes the communications team can feel overwhelmed by this new challenge. But the advantage of acquiring companies with a footprint that goes beyond your current map is that you also acquire new employees who already have experience from that region in their pockets.

Employees in local markets will always understand things about their market that someone sitting in an office in the US will never know. The key to making these relationships work is the ability to offer subject matter expertise while learning from and taking advantage of your colleague’s local market knowledge. This allows the local markets to be a key part of the decisions.

Your new teammates are likely just as passionate about the business as you are. Tribe was recently working with a global diversified manufacturer to develop an internal brand strategy and communications materials. The US-based team was responsible for developing materials that would be used globally. So in addition to our weekly status calls with our US-based clients, we would regularly include team members from EU and Asia on our planning calls. They were smart, passionate and engaged folks who not only appreciated being included in the conversation, they added invaluable knowledge.

When integrating new businesses and cultures following an acquisition or merger, you have a wonderful opportunity. There will be a learning curve for figuring out how best to integrate communications and goals for the team. But you won’t be on the hook for all of the knowledge on day one.

Make your lack of local market knowledge an opportunity by opening the doors of communication with your new teammates. Be prepared to talk about the things that have worked well with your communications activities and start fresh by getting rid of elements that haven’t worked as well.

What’s really important is to remember that culture can’t be imposed. The acquired will not immediately become your culture. The acquisition means that there will be an evolved culture. The opportunity for your team will be to figure out what’s great about your culture and what’s great about their culture and work hard to capitalize on those things.

If the world has just become your (internal communications) oyster, don’t be intimidated. Pick up the phone. Get on Skype. It’s time to make some new friends.

Need help integrating new cultures into your organization? Tribe can help.

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

Consumers and shareholders are watching the CEO — but so are employees

That must have been one hell of a conference call. A Who’s Who of CEOs, including Indra Nooyi of Pepsico, Virginia Rometty of IBM, Mary Barra of GM, Douglas McMillon of Walmart and Laurence Fink of BlackRock, all dialing in to discuss the appropriate reaction to Trump’s remarks regarding the Charlottesville tragedy.

Consumers and shareholders were waiting to see how CEOs responded, but so were their employees. These companies depend on a diverse workforce of employees from all walks of life. If the company claims internally to value diversity and leadership, if the corporate values include things like integrity and respect, those principles theoretically  apply to the top executive as well as the rank and file.

But, in practice, does the CEO actually make business decisions based on those principles? Most employees of those companies will never meet their CEOs. They may have little understanding of what their chief executives do from day to day. They may not even bother to read the chief executive’s blogs or attend their town halls or watch their videos on the intranet.

But employees identify with the companies they work for, and they see the CEO as the figurehead for the company. As the heads of global companies, these CEOs were being watched not just by employees in the U.S. but in countries around the world.

These business leaders aren’t politicians. One could make the argument that serving on an advisory council for the president is a business decision and not a moral one.

But CEOs depend on the hearts and minds of their employees to move their companies forward. It matters to employees to know their CEOs took a stand against moving backwards in our country’s ongoing stop-and-start progress towards equality.

Interested in CEO communications for your employees? Tribe can help.