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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.

Steve Baskin

The Fallacy of 100 percent. The good and bad of employees running full speed.

The Fight on the Cobblestones - Tour de France 2015No one can go 100 percent 100 percent of the time. It’s July, so I’m spending a fair amount of time watching the Tour de France, which has me thinking about endurance and maintaining high levels of performance for extended periods of time.

While it’s been scientifically proven that top Tour de France riders are actually aliens, the reality is that they only ride at maximum effort (or 100 percent) for a small percentage of any given race. Over a three-week period, the Tour de France includes twenty-one separate races covering almost 2,200 miles. The top riders try as hard as they can to use the least possible amount of energy until it’s time to shine. Even when the time comes, that maximum effort is over a small portion of the race.

My personal mantra for this is: Conserve. Conserve. Conserve. Explode!

If a company’s culture is a non-stop state of emergency and employees can never slow down and catch their collective breath, they’re performance will be underwhelming when they’re asked to shine. Importantly, they’ll never have enough time for thought, reflection or creativity.

In his 2002 book called Slack, Tom DeMarco examines the (sometimes-counterintuitive) idea that in trying to get more and more efficiency and effort out of fewer employees, the result can be the exact opposite of the intention. Your employees can easily become so busy that they’re under performing on every project. Speaking of aliens, I remember having a conversation with a former boss about DeMarco’s book, and the idea of building more Slack into our days. She just looked at me like I was one.

Many of the projects at Tribe involve immovable deadlines. Tribe is very efficient at executing large volumes of work, and we’re typically very good at anticipating work volume. But sometimes it happens, and we’re going full speed and running up against deadline for an extended period of time.

The good:

  • We get very focused.
  • The team pulls together and works as a single unit.
  • We get very inventive in finding solutions for specific issues.
  • We feel fantastic when we’ve delivered something great for our clients against tough odds.

The less good:

  • It’s stressful for everyone involved.
  • Available answers often turn into the best answers.
  • Creative thinking can quickly evaporate if this goes on too long.
  • Things can fall through the cracks – and if something does go wrong (regardless of fault), the options for correcting the issue can be very limited.
  • If it goes on for way too long, employees will get very cranky and start returning calls from recruiters.

There are times when your team has to buckle in and put in that super-human effort to get the job done. That’s ok. You rally the team and do what you need to do to meet your commitment. And you perform like a world-class Tour de France rider.

The moral to this story is that if your culture has your employees running at 100 percent all day every day (or if they just perceive that they are), they’re unlikely to have enough left in the tank to do something extraordinary when it’s time to shine.

But try to manage in a way that makes the need for super-human effort an exception to the rule. When it happens and the fan is hit, go back and reassess the project to figure out how you got into that situation in the first place and how to avoid it in the future.

Running too hard and need some help with internal communications strategy and execution? Tribe can help.

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

Authentic CEO Communications That Are Super Easy On the CEO’s Calendar

tCEOs are busy. They don’t always have the time, or the inclination, to pen their own material for employee communications. Having a leadership blog or letter to employees ghost-written by someone else, whether an internal communications professional or an agency, is a commonly accepted solution to that challenge.

But employees can smell fake a mile away. I was once in an elevator in a large corporation with the CEO’s latest blog posted on the wall. It was a nicely designed piece, with a photo of the smiling executive. Two employees who happened to be sharing the same elevator were chuckling at the ruse. “Oh yeah, like he really wrote that.” I glanced at the copy, and agreed with them. It read like a press release that had been revised by committee.

Yet it’s important to employees to know what the CEO is thinking. They want to know that he or she has a vision, that there’s a plan for the company’s future, that the work that they’re doing in their individual jobs contributes to some greater plan for success.

At Tribe, we’ve found a few ways around this conundrum. They all can be achieved with a very small chunk of time in the CEO’s calendar and result in authentic communications employees can trust. They also don’t require huge budgets.

1. The Q&A: This is the simplest possible solution. Rather than guessing what the CEO is thinking, just ask. Tribe has used this method for several clients on a quarterly basis. Here’s just how easy it is to do:

  1. Book 20-30 minutes on the CEO’s calendar once a quarter for a phone call
  2. Prepare a handful of questions related to the company vision, one of the values, a current business challenge or strategic objective
  3. Have a nice conversation with the CEO and record it (We usually use an iPhone and the Voice Memos app)
  4. Have the conversation transcribed (We use a professional transcriber, but any intern could handle it)
  5. Construct a Q&A column using quotes from the transcript (Most CEOs appreciate you cleaning up any stumbles or grammar faux pas)
  6. Have the CEO review it, make any minor tweaks, and you’re done

2. Leadership Video: Tribe recently shot a year’s worth of monthly videos in one day, requiring about 20 minutes per member of the leadership team. The CEO was interviewed on all 12 subjects, but that took only about an hour of his time. We covered everything from the Vision and Values to building a customer-centric culture to the balance between people and technology. That gave us enough material for more than a dozen ninety-second videos, each featuring the CEO and several other members of the leadership team commenting on the same theme. (We have a Tribe person off camera doing the interviewing, and then of course delete all that in the edit.)

3. Podcasts: If you don’t have the budget to shoot video, or if your CEO is shy about being on camera, use the same process above to record audio rather than video. Edit into short podcasts you can post on your intranet or email to employees.

Interested in trying some new forms of leadership communications? Tribe can help.

 

Nick Miller

Internal Communications: The 9 to 5 and what’s next

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Back in the early 1900s, Economist John Maynard Keynes predicted that by 2030, most of the workforce would be clocking less than 15 hours a week. We are still a long way from such efficient standards, but 100 years ago, the 9 to 5 was still a relatively fresh concept. The notion of this schedule in the American workplace wouldn’t become the standard until the unprecedented effects of Henry Ford’s assembly line manufacturing and FDR’s New Deal had reached every corner of the country, with much of the globe following suit.

Keynes must have foreseen the affects of globalization, Millennials and an increasingly socially progressive society. The world is smaller; videoconferencing has changed the meaning of a centralized workforce; freelancing and self-employment are on the rise, as is mandatory vacation and maternity/paternity leave. Millennials are demanding more flexible work schedules and research on sleep and the difference between early- and late-risers is justifying their cause. How can a company communicate effectively with all these factors considered? What happened to the days of every employee at his or her desk by 9 am?

The concept of 9 to 5, a defining corporate characteristic that every single person living today has known since birth, is actually just a stop on the highly fluid track of industrial development. Internal communications might be viewed with the same big-picture perspective, evolving to match the needs of the times. New channels and technologies will be vetted for usefulness and their executions measured in order to draw key insights. No one wants to be the company known for ignoring the next big thing (see: Kodak).

The constant need to evolve applies to messaging as well. Millennial priorities are different from that of the generations before them, and the generations to follow will define their own. It would have seemed silly to boast about efforts to be more environmentally responsible as a corporation or encourage employees to exercise through fitness competitions only a couple decades ago. These are not efforts that are obviously connected to an increase in productivity, but through trial, error and due diligence, companies all over the world are unlocking the cheat codes to efficient communications and an engaged workforce. In a universe like our own where everything is in a constant state of fluidity, it would make sense that your communications would be as well.

Are you interested in evolving your communications? Tribe can help.

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

Managers Want Tools to Help Cascade Communications

Do you use direct managers as a communication channel for non-desk employees? The default method for reaching employees on the production line, in the distribution centers and on the sales floor is usually to depend on their managers to communicate what corporate communicated to them.

The thing is, few managers in these settings would consider themselves communications professionals. In Tribe’s national research on non-desk employees, managers said they’d like more communications support in the form of tools and training.

When it comes to communications tools, putting them online can be best. Of those who said they wanted additional materials, 57 percent responded in favor of using online materials. Comments of respondents included,  “Printed material tend to be a waste unless you are going through them line by line,” and “I prefer [supporting materials] to be online reports.”

Other quotes included: “I would like [supporting materials] to be online resources,” “I think [support materials] should be online,” and “[I would rather] have online resources!”

 Providing tools like talking points or FAQs can be particularly effective. In fact, they address one of the few faults that the 2012 respondents found with communications delivered through direct managers: inconsistency of message.

These tools can be simple. In fact, they should be. No need for tons of paragraphs or pages. Give them a one-pager with the overall key message and a few bullet points. Maybe offer suggested responses to questions employees might ask.

Interested in developing communications tools for your company’s managers? Tribe can help.

 

Brittany Walker

3 Tips to Balance Print vs. Digital Communications

Many communicators have an option on high vs. low-tech solutions. Should we print? Or should we go digital? Tribe often recommends a mix of both. Especially within the same campaign. Providing messaging through multiple channels can increase the opportunity for engagement while reinforcing the communication at the same time.

Don’t always be so quick to rule out print. At Tribe, we often include print publications in our communication plans for clients, partly because employees receive so much digital communication. Print now breaks through just by being a different medium. Additionally, for communications intended to inspire company pride, communicate vision and share values, there’s something powerful about the relative permanence of print. People like to be able to hold the physical piece.

Digital has its advantages as well. A huge majority of employees technology daily in their everyday lives, even while they’re away from the office. Embedding printed pieces into a website, app or even on the company intranet gives employees the opportunity to reference materials whenever they want. Aside from convenience, there are many other benefits like analytic reports, adding music and photo galleries, embedding videos and more.

Reach different employee demographics. Millennials may be more likely to access an internal magazine from iPads and smartphones. Generation X and Boomers might prefer to view on their laptops or reach for a printed piece. Giving your employees flexibility and increasing convenience shows respect for them as individuals.

Interested in finding a balance of print and digital for your internal communications? Tribe can help.

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

3 Tips to Avoid Overloading Employees With Emails

HiResWhen someone talks too much, people tend to tune them out. By the same token, if you’re constantly emailing employees, they may not be paying attention to those messages.

Employees already get too many emails. Some of those emails are urgent; others are things they need to read to do their jobs. Many are CYA emails that copy everyone who could be even peripherally involved with the topic at hand. And then there are the internal communications emails — which often get left to open later. Which means never.

So your starting point is that your email is low priority. That means your emails need to be both engaging and easy to process to get any kind of attention at all. Here are three tips to increase the effectiveness of employee emails.

1.First of all, cut some copy. Nobody’s got time to read every possible detail you feel you need to communicate. Keep the message simple, and provide a link for more information to satisfy the few who will actually want to know more.

2. Don’t bury the call to action. Employees will be scanning the email to see what they’re supposed to do, so get that call to action in early. The first line, first subhead or even the subject line will work fine. If you think they’re going to read paragraphs of text to figure out what they need to do in response, you’re probably mistaken. Even worse is an email that tosses the call to action in somewhere in the middle of the email where it gets completely overlooked.

3. Make it visual. You know what that say, a picture is worth a thousand words. In an inbox that’s filled with text, a strong visual can be the difference in an instant delete or a cursory look. And a cursory look is the gateway to actually reading the copy.

I’m not saying email isn’t a useful channel. Especially in employee populations where people are sitting in front of computers most of the day, email is often the most direct channel — and the one most preferred by employees.

The challenge is to get your email read. Don’t make the mistake of thinking employees are sitting there waiting for the next internal communications email to pop up. And don’t be so quick to decide that email doesn’t work. It’s possible that you haven’t yet figured out how to make email work.

Want to make your internal communications more effective? Tribe can help.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Stephen Burns

4 tips to make Podcasts your employees can actually use

itunes-podcast-app-logoTribe has always been a big proponent of Podcasts. And they’ve never been been a more effective communication tool. We covered the benefits of having a conversational tone with employees, and how Podcasts can help you make that connection and deliver pertinent information to large employee populations in a way that is easy and accessible. But simply having a Podcast does not equal more engagement. It’s a communication channel that needs to be used effectively in order to get results.

Here are a few tips to make your Podcast top notch:

1) Know your audience’s interests. What do your employees want to know about? It might help to send out a survey with possible topics, so you can see what people want to hear and create an editorial calendar. This can also act as an awareness campaign, and employees will feel more attached to the project if they feel they have had input. Above all, this is an employee resource. They don’t want to hear an executive pontificate in corporate platitudes. They want to hear about specific issues, the direction of the company and things that matter to them personally.

2) Have a plan. This tip is two-fold. First, have a subject itinerary for each show, so you don’t have “dead air”, inconsistent timing, or someone searching for what to say (umm, uhhh) on your recording. You can edit the content in post production, but if you have to go in and cut a lot, it can be time consuming. Outline what topics you want to cover and make it solid.

Second, have a plan for when you want to release the Podcast. One of the reasons the top Podcasts are so popular is because they put shows out regularly, usually on the same day every week, bi-weekly or monthly. The audience knows when a new one is coming out and will check back on their own volition. It’s helpful for you too to develop a rhythm to have that push to continue making content. But you also need to be prepared to stick to your plan if you make one.

3) Let the authority speak. It might be good to have a “host” for the company Podcast, someone who does it regularly and becomes a familiar voice, but it’s crucial for engagement for employees to hear the information straight from the horse’s mouth. If there is a financial Podcast, try and have the CFO speak about it; if it’s a marketing theme, have the CMO. You get the idea. This channel allows employees unique insight into the subjects that you cover, and having someone they don’t normally converse with speaking on such an intimate platform will make it seem like more of an insider’s view. The information will be more pertinent and valuable to employees.

4) Make it listenable. A good quality recording can make all the difference in how the Podcast is perceived and received. Loud background noises, hums, pops and breathing all detract from the content. They’re distracting, even on a subconscious level. Invest in a nice microphone, a pop filter and maybe even a shock mount to make your recordings sound as nice as possible. As we outlined in the aforementioned blog, a few companies are making USB microphones specifically for Podcasters and this would be a good, inexpensive way for you to make your recording sound as professional as possible.

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

84% of Employees Say Change Management Communications Handled Poorly

In Tribe’s employee research, 84 percent feel that communications about major changes in their companies are handled poorly. If you’re interested in your employees falling into that 84 percent, here are three sure-fire ways to completely blow it with employees:

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.

Want some guidance in handling change communications? Tribe can help.

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

Connect Employees to Something Bigger by Telling the Company Story

Do your employees feel like they’re helping to write the story of the company? Perhaps the most important goal of internal communications is to help employees see how their individual roles connect to the big picture. They need to connect the dots between the work they do every single day and the success of the company.

The company story can be an invitation for employees and prospects to join the experience. Make the story relevant for corporate employees but also those in the manufacturing facilities, distribution centers and other production jobs. People on the factory floor should know that they’re creating a product that provides people with something that makes their lives better in some way.

Look for the golden thread of purpose that has always run throughout the company’s history. Although business strategies and even the organization of the business may have changed dramatically since the beginning, there’s likely a perennial purpose that’s been there year after year. For instance, an IT company may be using entirely different technology and providing new sorts of services than it was even a few years ago. But look for the reason why the company exists, the need it fills for its clients. In that example, maybe the company purpose is and was to help clients’ technology work flawlessly so they can focus on their own business instead.

What channels would you use to tell the company story? Tribe often creates what we call vision books for clients, in which we help the company articulate the vision and values of the company. This is an ideal tool for telling the company story, for a variety of reasons.

The company narrative can also be told in almost any other channel. Tell it in the employee magazine, on the intranet, as part of a company anniversary event. We’ve even incorporated colorful gems of company history in digital signage.

The importance of the story is that it connects employees to something larger than themselves. Being an integral part of the whole makes work more meaningful, and more meaningful work builds employee engagement.

Interested in telling your company’s story? Tribe can help.