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Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

Balancing Collaboration and Efficiency

A premium is placed on collaboration in many, if not most, large companies. As knowledge and expertise become increasingly specialized, collaboration across functional areas becomes even more critical for successful business results.

At the same time, efficiency is also a priority. Companies feel the pressure of delivering improved speed to market, quick response to changing business factors and the ever-increasing demand to be faster than before.

The challenge is that collaboration and efficiency work against each other. To collaborate requires rounding up people in diverse roles across the company, and usually across geography. Coordinating the schedules of everyone in the group for an in-person meeting or conference call is no easy feat. It’s not always going to happen this week, or even this month.

It’s much faster for one functional unit to make decisions and move on. In Tribe’s national study on collaboration, many respondents cited this time drag as a reason why they often skip the step of getting input from other areas in the company.

But are the right decisions being made? There are no doubt insights the sales team can share about what customers are really looking for; that the programmers can clarify in regards to what the software can really do; or that one division of the company can offer regarding a key customer they share with another division.

This tension between collaboration and speed isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It forces people to set priorities, to weigh the need for one over the other. In most corporate cultures, the pendulum will swing towards one over the other.

One principle for maintaining a balance between the two is to separate the two functions of collaborating and making decisions. When people come together to collaborate, it should be for the purpose of providing their unique expertise, input and feedback. The collaborative meeting is not the place to make decisions. Trying to reach consensus on a decision is not only difficult, it’s unlikely to result in the best decision.

Give everybody a voice, but not a vote. The happy medium – or the Middle Way, as the Buddhists would say – is to invite many different perspectives but not give away the power to make the final determination. The responsibility for decision-making should remain with those who own the project or initiative under discussion.

Interested in balancing collaboration and speed in your company? Tribe can help.

Nick Miller

Fantasy Football in the Workplace: Productivity and Legal Concerns

Engagement experts can’t agree on whether or not fantasy football is a waste of time or a valuable tool. With the NFL season kicking off on September 8, over 57 million people across the United States and Canada have drafted or are preparing to draft their fantasy football teams. Chances are a significant number of your employees are taking part. So the question is: what effect does fantasy sports, especially football, have on your company’s productivity?

Time spent on fantasy football could lead to lost profit from an hourly productivity perspective. It is estimated by the Fantasy Sports Trade Association that 66% of full-time employees play fantasy and will spend an average of 12 hours in a full week on some fantasy related activity, whether it be researching, managing a team, or following coverage. Recent research suggests that only one hour per workday per employee who plays fantasy football could result in up to $16 billion in lost wages in the US over the 17 week-long NFL season.

But that doesn’t mean fantasy football leagues are entirely negative. In fact, there are multiple benefits to allowing or even promoting involvement in a league, including boosting morale, building camaraderie, and encouraging a horizontal introduction of employees who would otherwise not interact. When done in moderation, you may even notice fantasy football leads to an increase in productivity, since it is well documented that periods of focusing on work followed by short periods of rest actually lead to higher work efficiency.

If you plan to host office-wide fantasy leagues, double check to ensure that no laws are being broken and the company’s interests are protected. Most states do not allow online gambling so a pay-to-play policy could land you in hot water. Some states allow it under murky social gambling laws, but bragging rights are generally enough of a reward. In order to avoid issues with employment law, a published gambling policy that defines parameters of what is allowed and is consistently enforced is recommended. And with everything Tribe preaches, remember that this isn’t about fantasy football, it’s about employee engagement. So it’s key to offer other opportunities that bring employees together to avoid sport-apathetic associates feeling left out.

Are you interested in more employee engagement ideas? Tribe can help.

 

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

Intranets, Magazines and Emails are Only Envelopes

The medium, in fact, is not the message. (Apologies to Marshall McLuhan, the man who coined that phrase back in the 1960s.) Although we now have more possible internal communications channels than ever before, each channel is nothing more than an envelope in which we deliver content. Is your content fresh and relevant? Is the design appealing so people want to see what’s inside that envelope?

If a channel hasn’t worked before, maybe it just needs to be done better. Occasionally when Tribe recommends a new approach to an existing channel, a client will say nope, we’ve already tried that and it didn’t work. Maybe a bad magazine didn’t work, but one that’s beautifully designed with engaging articles just might.

For instance, it’s not the intranet’s fault if nobody goes there. Compare your content and design with what employees see online every day, from news sites to social media to retailers. Does your site seem pretty bleak in comparison? Even when you’re stuck with an existing platform, you can re-skin the graphic design and rethink your content.

Often the issue is not quality of content but quantity. If employees aren’t reading internal communications emails, could it be because they’re ridiculously long? Cutting the word count from 500 to 50 and adding some visual interest might make that channel highly effective. If you’re afraid a short email can’t possibly give employees all the information they might need, direct them to the intranet for more details.

Same goes for corporate videos. It takes discipline to keep them short, but when a video drags on and on, few people will watch all the way to the end. We once worked with a client on a collection of videos that was were one person talking about one topic for one minute. Employees loved them.

So don’t discard an old envelope just because it hasn’t been effective in the past. It’s what goes in that envelope that makes all the difference.

Interested in refreshing an existing channel? Tribe can help.

Brittany Walker

Three easy ways to improve your intranet

Your company’s intranet should be a reflection of its culture. Culture is not only about your mission, vision, values, logo and formal rituals, but it also includes employee beliefs about the company, myths and ancillary symbols that develop over time. Reviewing your intranet should shed some light on the intangible areas of your company’s culture. Analyzing your site doesn’t need to be a formal process, but by taking some time and reviewing a few basic elements, you will also gain a better understanding of your culture.

1. Site design should be reflective of your external brand and your desired internal culture.  Look at the design element of your internet and intranet.  Are they of the same quality? Do they look similar?  Does it appear that the company invested in both? Does your intranet reflect your desired culture in terms of being fun or potentially a more formal culture? If the answer to some of these questions is no, it may be a good time to improve the design.

2. If work/life balance is something your company values, give employees the opportunity to share information about their personality on the site. Rich employee profiles are a great way for employees to connect on a more personal level and improve their working relationships with co-workers. The underlying message that employees will receive is that the company cares about them as individuals, not just for the skill set they bring to the company.

3. Review your values, culture attributes and other brand elements to see if they are reflected in the site. Your intranet is a great tool to communicate and sustain elements of your brand, which in turn help develop your culture.  Look for interactive ways such as spotlighting employees that live your values or promoting events on the site that help build camaraderie.

Do you have other ideas of how to analyze your intranet for insights on your culture?  Tribe can help.

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

If you want collaboration, encourage conversations that aren’t about work

See that group of employees standing around the coffee maker chewing the fat? The ones talking about things that have absolutely nothing to do with work?

That sort of idle chit chat is exactly what you want if you’re hoping to build a collaborative culture. In Tribe’s national research on collaboration, respondents stressed how important it is to know the other people, at least casually, in order to feel comfortable sharing ideas and collaborating on work projects.

One of the major hurdles to collaboration is how vulnerable people can feel sharing fragile ideas that are still half-baked. But that’s exactly when you want to get those ideas out on the table so people with different expertise and perspectives can contribute to moving the idea forward.

Creating a culture where casual conversation and personal relationships are valued helps give employees that comfort level. Look for more ways employees can cross paths with those in other work teams and even business units. That might mean building more social hours into annual conferences or establishing an inter-departmental dodgeball tournament. It can be impacted by the architecture of your buildings. It can even be encouraged by stocking a really great break room with latte machines and coolers of energy drinks and bowls of fresh fruit.

The goal is to give employees, especially those in different disciplines, occasions to rub elbows. And then to encourage your managers to let those casual conversations happen. To some, it may look like employees are goofing off. But by establishing close social connections, your employees are doing something very positive for the company.

Interested in building a culture of collaboration at your company? Tribe can help.

 

 

 

Steve Baskin

Communicating Vision and Values: Give Your Employees Something to Do

Businessman opening hands

Tribe does a great deal of work communicating corporate vision and values. Quite often, the vision includes a grand statement about becoming the biggest, the best, the safest, the broadest, the fastest, the most caring company in the business. And while we’re becoming the “est”, let’s have integrity, passion and be innovative. That’s all fine. We all want to be the best at what we do and exude expected values while we’re doing it.

The problem with these broad goals and statements is that it doesn’t tell your employees what it has to do with them. If we’re communicating with employees and want them to engage in the conversation, we have to give them something to do.

Employee communications should provide instructions on what employees can do to contribute to the goal. When we talk about becoming the best in our industry, we take the ball out of employees’ hands since they can’t control what the competition is doing. When we can’t control or change the outcome with our actions, we’ll tend to ignore the communication and assume that it’s someone else’s responsibility.

Achieving broader company goals – or the company vision – doesn’t magically happen. It’s typically the result of the successful execution of internal business strategies. So when we’re communicating with employees, it’s important to be as specific as possible about what they’re supposed to do. They should be able to internalize the communication to understand how their actions should change after seeing/reading the communication.

Therefore, when we’re communicating corporate vision and values, it’s not enough to print a poster with the vision or send an email from the CEO that states the values. It’s a start, but we also have to provide context of how we’re going to achieve the vision or examples of how the values show up within the company.

Need help communicating Vision and Values inside your organization? Tribe can help.

Nick Miller

Videos for Internal Communications: How long is too long?

HiResIf you’re thinking several minutes, you may want to reconsider. You’re unlikely to have anyone watch all the way through to the end of the video.

Research shows that after 10 seconds, a fifth of your audience has already clicked away. After 30 seconds, a third are no longer viewing, and this drops to nearly half by the one-minute mark.

Get your main takeaway in with those first ten seconds or jeopardize your ROI. Think like a newspaper reporter and use the inverted pyramid formula. The highest priority information goes first, with the remaining content following according to the hierarchy of its importance. communicated to the most people.
Keep your overall length relatively short as well. It might seem logical that your audience would want more information in a longer video, but research shows that desktop viewers generally stick around for only two minutes or less, and mobile viewers have about a 30 second longer attention span. Limit the use of graphics and transition to what is necessary to make the video engaging. Viewers can be easily overwhelmed if the video is oversaturated with motion and graphic elements.

That does not mean long-form videos are never appropriate. Quarterly earnings reviews, training videos, webinars and any information that would best be communicated in a TED Talk format are all examples of videos where you might bend the rules a bit.

Lastly, stick to the subject. While you want to get the most out of your investment, include only one topic in each video. It is both confusing and unprofessional to try and squeeze HR enrollment information in a video on corporate culture or a quarterly earnings review.

Ready to produce your own internal communications videos? Tribe can help.

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

The Origin of Brainstorming: Or Why It’s Not Something to Squeeze into the Meeting Agenda

HiResBrainstorming happens to be one of my least favorite words. In the corporate world, the term usually means a bunch of people in a conference room shouting out things that someone else scribbles on a whiteboard or flip chart. In my experience, it’s not the best way to generate truly creative ideas. It’s too loud, for one thing, to hear that quiet voice of inspiration. That voice is more apt to raise its hand when just a couple of people are kicking around ideas, or later when one of those people is in the shower, or driving a car, or cooking dinner. But there’s something else that bothers me about this brainstorming thing.

At least I now know who to blame for coining this word. It was Alex Osborn, one of the founding partners of BDO, later to become the advertising giant BBDO. (Oldies quiz for those who’ve been in Atlanta for decades: Remember the ad shop known as BDA/BBDO? When the receptionist answered the phone, it sounded like someone falling down a flight of stairs.) Osborn’s ideas on brainstorming were later expanded upon by academic Sidney Parnes, with whom he partnered to develop what they called the Creative Problem Solving Process, or CPS.

I have a vague memory of my father explaining the phases of CPS to me as a child, saying that it mirrored the general process of the way his firm practiced architecture. The rules Osborn came up with for brainstorming were rules I remember my father using with young architects, particularly the first of those rules. They’re also second nature for most art director-copywriter teams in ad agencies, at least those in which I’ve been involved.

  1. No criticism of ideas
  2. Go for large quantities of ideas
  3. Build on each others ideas
  4. Encourage wild and exaggerated ideas

There’s a tradition in ad agencies that says creative ideas come out of the creative department only. Any account executive who didn’t know better than to pipe up with a headline was quickly schooled by his elders. The way we work now is far too fluid for rigid boundaries of responsibility, and I think most of us in the business of selling creative ideas will take a good one where we find it.

What’s useful about that ad agency tradition, to my mind, is a respect for the hard work of generating ideas. Before the brilliant idea that comes in a flash, there are generally many, many bad ideas. Before any of those bad ideas, comes a period of immersion in the subject matter. Even before those particular bad ideas, there are often years and years of experience trying to think up ideas for a living. There’s a certain way of thinking, of using the brain, that can be honed over a career in a creative business.

Which leads us back to the original meaning of the word brainstorming. According to CPS, it’s a process of 1. fact finding, 2. problem finding, 3. Idea finding, 4. solution finding and 5. acceptance finding. So maybe I’m fine with the word brainstorming. I’m just not a fan of thinking that the entire process is easy.

Want a more creative approach to your internal communications? Tribe can help.

Brittany Walker

4 Ways to Increase Engagement Through Employee Recognition

HiResEngaged employees are more likely to know that their role contributes to the overall success of the organization. When it comes to instilling that message throughout the company, Tribe often recommends a rewards and recognition program. From dedicated website portals, to a verbal “thank you,” there are many effective methods to increase confidence and morale through acknowledgment. Sometimes the smallest thing someone does can make the biggest difference for someone else.

  1. Verbally recognize standout employees during a regular meeting. Rewarding employees in front of their peers puts a little extra oomph in fostering pride. Schedule a few minutes into the agenda of your weekly or monthly meeting to spotlight an individual who deserves it.
  1. Establish a recognition item that can be passed on to others. The actual item can be determined by your culture – at Tribe we use a large jar – but the concept stays the same. Starting with the team leader, give it to someone who’s gone above and beyond. That person will keep the item for a month or quarter, and then pass it on to someone else on the team that deserves the spotlight for their accomplishments. It is important to let them know why they’re receiving the item, to set a standard for a job well done.
  1. Provide a sought-after treat to recognize employees’ contributions. This could be as simple as a quarterly breakfast with leadership, or a small gift or collectable token. The ability to attend an exclusive event or receive a keepsake can go a long way to make employees feel appreciated.
  1. Spotlight outstanding employees with a story of their accomplishments. Consider establishing an “employee of the month” program or a spotlight section in your newsletter or internal publication. Not only will it make that employee feel recognized for their contributions, but it will allow other employees to read why that person was selected and set their sights on how to be nominated in the future. It was also serve as a great reminder of your organization’s best practices.

Interested in developing a rewards and recognition program? Tribe can help.

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

Writing for internal comms: Three ways to look like an amateur

This is how my great aunt would do internal communications
This is how my great aunt would do internal communications

The field of internal communications has come a long way. As more companies have recognized the business advantages of communicating with employees, investment in internal online, digital and print communications has increased along with the technology that enables their delivery.

Still, a whiff of the amateurish persists in some of the writing. We have to recognize that employees are accustomed to consuming mainstream media. Our internal communications don’t exist in a vacuum. They compete for attention with all the websites, apps and magazines that employees encounter in their day-to-day lives.

Readers make snap decisions about the trustworthiness of sources based on the professionalism of the writing. If you’re reading a website filled with grammatical and punctuation errors, you’re more likely to think it’s the rantings of a crackpot than solid medical advice from the Mayo Clinic.

It’s hard enough to create trust in company leadership and in the veracity of internal communications. Readers notice small cues, consciously or unconsciously, that indicate the professionalism of the writing. Don’t shoot yourself in the foot with these three tragically common mistakes:

  1. Incorrect use of ellipses: The dreaded dot dot dot is frequently misused by people who should know better. If you’ve deleted part of a quote, an ellipsis is warranted. It’s how you indicate to the reader that you’ve omitted something that was previously in that sentence. It’s not for creating a sense of drama. If you want to do that, maybe a long dash is what you’re after. If you’re using it to create a pause in the reader’s mind, keep in mind that it indicates confused or faltering thought. The Chicago Manual of Style, for example, says “Ellipsis points suggest faltering or fragmented speech accompanied by confusion, insecurity, distress, or uncertainty.” Generally, that’s not the affect you’re after in internal communications. If you’re doing it just because you think it looks nice, you might want to rethink that.
  2. Incorrect use of quotation marks. Whenever I see this, it reminds me of letters from my great aunt. Quotation marks, besides indicating actual spoken words, can be used to indicate an unusual word or term, something the reader may not have encountered before. Aunt Etta used them liberally, as in hoping I have been “hitting the books” at college or that I would postpone marriage until I found “the right one.”  She would also draw little ballpoint hearts and sunshines in her notes. And sometimes include a twenty dollar bill. She was awesome. In internal communications, quotation marks are often used  in the same way, around words and terms that anyone not living under a rock would easily understand. You don’t see them doing that in the Harvard Business Review.
  3. Overuse of exclamation marks: We once had a client who demanded at least two exclamation marks in everything we wrote for her. It kind of made sense for her, at least in her blog, because that’s the way she talked. But in most professional communications, there just aren’t a ton of occasions that warrant an exclamation mark. There’s no reason to put one (or three) after a sentence, unless the building is on fire.

Interested in improving the professionalism of your internal communications writing? Tribe can help.