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Steve Baskin

The Predictive Nature of Change Communications

highway traffic on a lovely, sunny summer day. Cars are passing fast.

I love trying to predict when we’re going to get to the destination on a family trip. I figure out the distance. I estimate an average speed. I do the math on speed times and distance. Then I guess at how many rest areas or food stops we’ll have to make. I’m pretty good at it and amaze family and friends by guessing within a minute or two. I’m sure that makes me sound really, really cool.

What’s interesting about it to me is trying to make educated guesses given all of the possible variables. Traffic that no one expected. An extra bathroom stop. Thinking that the Starbucks is actually at the exit instead of a mile or two away. Of course, if something happens to slow the trip down, there’s always the option to speed things up a bit when we’re back on the highway. Or take the foot off the pedal if things are on schedule. The point is that by staying focused on the outcome, there are things we can do to help ensure that we get the proper result.

Change communications are very similar. When we’re working with a client on a change management project, we’re typically asked to make as educated a guess as is possible to determine what type of communication is going to elicit the desired outcome.

At Tribe we refer to this as Change Marketing. Our ability to get as close as is possible to the right communication strategy requires a great deal of discovery and immersion. Like the car trip, it’s about brainstorming over as many potential outcomes as we can imagine. Thinking through the purpose of the initiative. How the change might affect the lives of those involved. How the change affects the work environment. How the change aligns with the existing culture.

By the way, they call it change management, not change do-it-once-and-you’re-done. Change within organizations requires vision for where the organization is trying to go. And it requires time, effort and energy to make sure you actually get something done. Also, we call it Change Marketing, not change we-made-the-poster-so-we-must-be-done.

The answers may already exist, or we may have to go find them. But when we’re able to do our job at its highest level, we map out what is needed and work with our clients to the to the right result.

Tribe’s process typically involves conversations with leadership to understand the vision that supports the change. Focus groups with a diverse number of employees to get a picture of the existing mindset and to unearth obstacles that might be in the way. Employee surveys to quantify the direction of our thinking. By the way, these surveys can also serve as a baseline measurement for the initiative.

Good data plus intelligent planning equals better results. When you’re as educated as you can be about the trip you’re about to embark on, and you’ve thought through the potential detours along the way, you have a much better chance of knowing when and how you’ll get there.

Want some help with your change initiatives? Tribe can help.

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

Keeping Frontline Employees in the Loop: 4 Tips

How does your company communicate with employees on the frontline, the retail floor or the factory line? Many companies leave all internal communications with non-desk workers to their immediate supervisors. Tribe’s national study with the non-desk employee population indicates this is a missed opportunity to build engagement. What’s more, those employees who never hear from top management interpret that as a lack of respect for them and their contributions to the company’s success.

But how do you reach employees who are in stores, distribution centers, restaurants and out driving trucks all day? There’s no one-size-fits-all answer, as you must consider the physical realities of their days and think creatively to identify potential touch points. Generally, Tribe recommends a combination of high-tech and low-tech solutions to build channels from corporate to the front lines.

For starters, Tribe also recommends the following four approaches:

1.    LOOP THEM IN: Commit to at least one channel through which non-desk employees will hear from management. This could be a town-hall meeting via video for manufacturing employees, a recorded message accessed through an 800 number, or even a quarterly letter from the CEO mailed to employees’ homes.

2.    ASK THEM WHAT THEY THINK: Having corporate management talk to this audience is a good step, but you also need to create opportunities for these employees to share their comments and views. Two-way communication methods — from the ability to comment on changes in the company, to soliciting ideas for improving systems and processes — demonstrate management’s respect and the desire to understand the realities of these employees’ jobs.

3.    MAKE THEM HEROES: Spotlight frontline and field workers and celebrate their contributions, through regular bio pieces in a company publication, recognition programs or contests that highlight employee performance.

4.    TAKE THE CEO TO THE PEOPLE: Again, there’s no substitute for giving employees a chance to meet face-to-face with top management, and it’s particularly meaningful to non-desk employees. Look for opportunities to have members of your leadership team visit stores, plants and other facilities so they can rub elbows with the people doing the most important work of your company.

Interested in communication channels that work for your non-desk employees? Tribe can help.

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

Cascading Communications: Give Managers Communications Tools

In many, if not most, large companies, communication from corporate is cascaded through direct managers. For instance, corporate will email managers the news, and then managers are expected to share that news with their people.

This is particularly common with non-desk employees, like those on the retail floor, in the distribution centers, the manufacturing facilities and out in the field. Since these employees rarely have company email addresses, corporate deems them nearly impossible to reach, except through their managers.

In Tribe’s research, employees have two concerns about communications that come through their managers. The first is timeliness, in that some managers will share with their team right away, others will eventually get around to it, and still others may never do it. Corporate often has no way of knowing whether the information has in fact been shared or not.

The other issue employees often cite is inconsistency of message. Human nature being what it is, each manager will filter the information through their own lens. Employees in our research often referenced the childhood game of Telephone, where a message is whispered from one person to the next to the next until what the last person in line hears bares little resemblance to the original message.

Tribe’s research also indicates that many direct managers may struggle with this process. In our most recent study, 53 percent wanted online tools to help them communicate with their teams more effectively. This could be a comprehensive online tool kit of PowerPoint presentations, email templates and videos. Or it could be as simple as providing a one-pager of talking points and maybe another page of FAQ.

Either way, these communication tools address several issues at once. They increase the likelihood that direct managers will indeed share corporate communications with their teams. They promote consistency of message. And they help both the direct managers and their direct reports feel supported and valued.

Of course, in most cases Tribe would also recommend some corporate communications that go directly to employees rather than through their managers. In our research, 72 percent said that hearing from their top management is important to them. And 84 percent said they currently receive “not enough” information from corporate.

Even with employees who don’t have company email addresses, direct communication from corporate is quite feasible. If you’d like to know more, just ask us. Tribe can help.

Nick Miller

Keeping Employees in the Loop: 3 channels to supplement your stagnant intranet

If you frequent blogs and newsfeeds that specialize in internal communications, chances are you’ve come across an article or two that put your intranet to shame. Ideally, the significance of a corporation’s information hub would be enough to gather funding for a makeover. But not every company has the resources to build or renovate an intranet to be that beacon of collaboration and conversation that some companies have the luxury of operating. So for now, here are a couple of channels that provide some of the benefits of an up-to-the-minute intranet:

  1. WordPress
    We have worked with a variety of clients that use WordPress sites either as a primary intranet or as a microsite used to announce internal brand launches or major change initiatives. The interface is relatively easy to use, allowing communications and HR departments the ability to develop a site with minimal programming experience or consulting. WordPress offers apps that make it mobile responsive and can be password protected, though we advise clients not to upload information that shouldn’t exist outside of a firewall. The beauty of WordPress is that it is scalable to whatever size or complexity suits your needs. It only requires some familiarity and a little imagination. One tip to keep in mind: you’ll want the version of the software so that you can apply your own company branding.
  2. Blogging App
    In our national research, we’ve found employees are more willing to use their personal mobile devices for company communications when it means downloading an app rather than sharing their phone number. If you are able to regularly secure blog posts from your leaders, posting a handful a week on one of a number of available apps can create an authentic two-way communication channel where employees can post comments and questions.
  3. Digital Signage
    Assuming your work environment has TV screens available, this is a simple, economic channel to keep topics top of mind, ranging from company news to culture and values. While they’re waiting for the elevator or in line at the company cafeteria, they can get bite-sized information to keep them in the loop. Plus, you omit the hurdle of building traffic to your site, since the traffic walks right by every day.

Want to explore alternatives to your stagnant or non-existent intranet? Tribe can help.

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

3 Ways to Fumble When Communicating a Major Change

How does a company communicate a major change? In many cases, not well. Following are three sure-fire ways to get it wrong.

1. Don’t say anything at all until every single detail is final. This is an awesome idea if you want employees to feel insecure and uneasy. Especially if they somehow suspect change is afoot and begin to spread that suspicion via the grapevine.

2. Tell them what they want to hear. For instance, if there’s currently no plan for layoffs, go ahead and promise them that all their jobs are definitely safe and they don’t have a thing to worry about. If that changes, they probably won’t even remember the earlier communication.

3. If it’s bad news, don’t talk about it. If you don’t acknowledge that something has gone wrong, or that a difficult change is coming, then you can keep employees from knowing a thing about it.

What’s that? You prefer treating employees with respect? Then you might find the following tips more in keeping with your approach:

• Don’t patronize them by withholding negative news. They’d rather know what to expect than be left in the dark.

• Tell employees as much as you can as soon as you can. If aspects of the change are not yet decided, tell them that too.

• Don’t make the mistake of thinking employees get all their information about the company from the company. They have plenty of other sources, from the financial news to the local news and from social media to social connections.

Interested in change communications that are respectful to employees? Tribe can help.

Brittany Walker

Four Tips to Launch an Effective Ambassador Program

You’ve got an important initiative, big organizational change or great new communications channel. Now what? In most cases the next step is to start producing news and information to keep employees informed. Establishing a successful internal communications platform like a well-rounded intranet, newsletter or digital signage is great, but having internal resources throughout the company will keep you on track for success.

Tribe recommends an ambassador program. From gathering and editing content, to providing a face-to-face internal voice and guidance among employees, a team of ambassadors can take your communications efforts to the next level. Here are four of our suggested tips for a successful ambassador program launch.

  1. Recruit the right team. A program of ambassadors positioned throughout the company can be a natural source of support across functional silos, business units or geographically locations. However, the right employee is key. A successful ambassador is often a more junior employee eager to make a name for themselves. Energy level can be more important than experience.
  1. Spread the word. Tribe usually recommends an announcement from management to reveal their team’s new ambassadors. Communicating the news of the new ambassadors will have two purposes: letting employees know who they should go to with their questions, concerns and relevant content, while also giving the ambassador the recognition they deserve.
  1. Provide the tools they need to be successful. Before ambassadors can become successful representatives, they will need some guidance. Introducing training tools like FAQs, conversation starters, and resources for connecting with each other to share best practices will go a long way in the successful launch and longevity of your program.
  1. Emphasize the WIIFM factor. The role of ambassador often adds to the workload, so clearly outlining what’s in it for them is important. Good news for you, becoming an ambassador is a great opportunity for employees. Not only will they have the chance to stretch beyond their current job descriptions, they will be able to connect and learn from some of the people doing the most important work in the company.

Need help getting your ambassador program off the ground? Tribe would love to help.


Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

Using Video to Humanize the Leadership Team: Five Tips to Make It Easy

Video can be a great medium for helping employees feel a human connection with company leadership. We’re not talking about an-hour long presentation on finances. Try 60 to 90 second videos on topics that have some relevance to the culture of the company, like one of the values, or a new sustainability effort. Or maybe try a video that includes all the members of the leadership team answering the same few questions, from the business-related, like: “What’s the coolest project you’re working on right now?” to the personal: “Out of all our products, what’s your favorite?” or even “What was your first job ever?”

To get the most bang for the buck, it’s helpful to plan a series of videos and shoot them together. That might mean shooting six videos that are each a conversation with one member of the leadership team about how their function supports the vision of the company. The CFO will obviously have different answers from the CMO. Or it could mean creating a dozen videos that each include responses from several different members of the management team. Using the examples above, one video could have each one answering the coolest project question. Then the next video might be the one where they each talk about their favorite product. The other 10 videos could cover anything from how they see the values playing out in their everyday work to how each of their functions helps the company be more customer-centric.

Here are a handful of tips to make leadership videos simple and affordable:

1. Prepare carefully. If you plan to produce 10 videos, you might want to develop ideas for 12 or 14, in case one or two don’t pan out. For each video you plan to produce, have the questions prepared ahead of time. Sometimes it helps to give the people you’ll be shooting the questions beforehand so they can begin formulating answers. Think through the edit and create your shot list. Know how you plan to cut the footage together so you make sure to cover everything you’ll need to shoot.

2. Position the interviewer off camera. Rather than a talk-show setup with an on-camera interviewer, keep it simple. Keep the interviewer off camera, and cut that person’s questions out later. The interviewer is there just to prompt the interviewees to cover the desired topics.

3. Use a green screen. Especially if you’ll be shooting leadership in different locations, this allows you to keep the lighting similar and slip in any background you want. Just position the green screen far enough behind the interviewee that the green won’t reflect on their skin.

4. Have a second camera. This can be a locked-down camera on a tripod without a camera operator. The purpose of this footage is to provide cutaway shots, particularly when you’re planning to use just one person in each video.

5. Be efficient with your executives’ time. Even if you’re shooting a dozen videos with six or eight different members of the leadership team, try to get the footage you need in under 30 minutes for each of them. In most cases, it should take less than that.

Interested in producing a series of leadership videos? Tribe can help.

Steve Baskin

It’s Not About the Pizza: Aligning Employee Actions with Organizational Vision

Slice of a Pepperoni Pizza isolated on white background

At Tribe, we work with our clients on events of all types. It didn’t take long for us to learn that food attracts the crowds. It also didn’t take long to learn the importance of not running out of pizza.

Enjoying the work environment is a large part of employee engagement. It’s a lot easier to get out of the car and walk into the office when it’s a fun place to work. When you enjoy being around your colleagues. When you get a chance to laugh during the day.

But it’s not about the pizza. The pizza, the games, the entertainment are simply lures that help attract the crowd and make it more fun to learn the things that leadership believes are important for employees to know.

We constantly look for interesting opportunities and venues that promote internal communications. But the underlying purpose is always in helping employees understand the organizational goals and how their day-to-day actions help the company get there. For us, this is the real purpose of company events and meetings. The communications subjects might be more tactical than strategic – open enrollment, introducing the new intranet or learning a new process. But aligning corporate communications with organizational goals is what Tribe preaches every day.

For Tribe, the creative process is about business. It’s not fluff. We spend time working with our clients to clearly understand their business goals and communications needs. Then we work hard at staging those communications in interesting and unique environments and in fun and engaging ways. Then we figure out a way to measure the activity to see if achieved our goals.

We love to have fun at the office. But we believe that true engagement happens when employees understand where the company is headed and their individual role in getting there.

 Interested in events that align employees with company goals? Tribe can help.

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

Eliminating Ineffective Channels: Send Out Less Stuff, and Employees May Pay More Attention

Sometimes the best thing to do is to stop doing something. As you add more and more channels to your internal communications program, whether that’s updating the intranet to a more social platform or developing communications toolkits for managers to cascade messaging, you can reach a tipping point where too much is, well, just too much.

Stop and make an assessment of what’s working and what’s not. Are there six different newsletters from various division and regions? Maybe you could retire a few, or at least use a more targeted list of who gets what. Do employees have several different sites serving various functions of an intranet? Maybe you could shut one of those down, or migrate the content that’s actually being used to another internal site that gets more traffic.

Also consider the Use By date on communications meant for a specific time window. If you ship posters to all locations and ask them to put them up in the break room, do you also let them know when it’s time to take those posters down? When open enrollment is over, when the United Way campaign is complete, removing those posters leaves visual (and mental) space for other messages.

But don’t throw the baby out with the bath water. If a channel doesn’t seem to be working very well, consider updating what flows through that channel. That digital newsletter that nobody reads might be a winner with an updated design and improved content.

How do you know what’s working and what’s not? The best way is to do a communications audit, using any metrics you have plus an additional employee survey and possibly even some employee focus groups. When Tribe conducts such an audit, the resulting recommendations usually include some combination of 1) channels to keep because they’re working great as is; 2) channels to tweak because they need more strategic thought and/or more engaging content; and 3) channels that have served their time and are ready to retire.

The conundrum is this: there’s always the risk that you’re communicating too much. Just as there’s always the possibility that you’re not communicating enough. If this stuff was easy, it wouldn’t be so hard.

Interested in giving your portfolio of communication channels the once over? Tribe can help.




Nick Miller

Internal Communications: How to encourage your workforce to have more productive meetings

The late John Kenneth Galbraith, an acclaimed economist, wrote in 1969, “Meetings are a great trap. …they are indispensable when you don’t want to do anything.”

While we at Tribe are not quite that anti-meeting, we find that a handful of tips can reform these hour long escapes from doing actual work into sessions of decision and progress. Here are a couple pieces of advice for communicating good meeting habits to your employees:

  1. Communicate the importance of an agenda

Conducting a meeting without a list of points to cover can equate to herding cats. Simply by spelling out what will be covered during the meeting significantly increases the likelihood that attendees of a meeting will walk away with a clear plan of action. We suggest one is sent out before the meeting so that all involved have an understanding of the objective and are prepared with their input.

But telling your employees to use an agenda won’t change their bad habits overnight, so use subtle clues to encourage them. By installing an “Agenda” and “Desired Objective” section on your meeting room whiteboards or leaving blank agenda sheets on meeting tables, you are leaving a constant reminder to conduct meetings in a predetermined and organized fashion.

  1. Let employees know it’s okay to decline

It is important that associates understand that their time is their own to manage, and communicating to them that they are not required to accept every invite that comes their way will free up windows that are best spent elsewhere. Let them know that they have other options should they determine that their attendance is unnecessary. Communicate how it is acceptable to provide the input you may have on the subject by email prior to the meeting or send a substitute with similar proficiency. This is a point that can be emphasized during the onboarding process since new employees are more likely to feel discomfort declining meeting invites.

  1. Advise on how to limit wasting time in meetings

Periodic communications to associates about how to have more efficient meetings serves your workforce a benefit since most don’t know they need it. These can be in the form of dedicated communications or included in established communications such as a newsletter. Examples include:

“Try standing during meetings instead of sitting, so you are more likely to stay on schedule.”


“Recommend only one person conducts each meeting in order to avoid dysfunction.” 

Looking to communicate better meeting habits to your employees? Tribe can help.