2009 Inspire Awards for Internal and Employee Communications Announced

The 2009 Inspire Awards for Internal and Employee Communications winners were just announced. According to their website, the competition drew one of the largest number of submissions ever. It’s encouraging to see so many companies make an effort to engage employees. Submissions came from all over the globe, so it’s a great snapshot of what’s happening in the world of internal communications.

The winners are facing the same issues that many companies deal with. For instance, American Express was recognized for engagement around an experiential promotion to “rebuild organizational trust at American Express.” Many top companies are facing this very same issue as they come out of the recession. Tribe’s research has revealed that there is often a gap between leadership’s vision and employee understanding of how that vision plays out on a day-to-day (or project by project) basis.

Qualcomm, Inc. won an award for most inspirational piece for their 2008 Annual Report about People. This is a separate piece from their corporate annual report and centers on celebrating and connecting employees. It’s one more step towards giving employees the recognition they crave, and employees who feel unappreciated are likely to be disengaged from their work.

Unfortunately, the site itself doesn’t give in-depth information on many of the pieces described. But you are able to browse images of many of the award winners, so it’s definitely worth a look.

We’re hearing from many companies that attracting top talent will be a huge issue as the recession comes to an end. One manager for a global brand said that when recruiting became an issue, leadership realized that they had to invest time and energy into improving their culture. While many people right now are just happy to have a job, that won’t last forever. Some companies are starting to worry that employees that have just been waiting it out will leave once more companies are hiring again. If so, companies like the Inspire Awards winners are probably positioned to capture that top talent down the road.

Nestle: Chocolate-covered Fan Fail

Before your company starts a Facebook fan page, there are two rules you should know:

  • Rule #1: Don’t alienate your fans
  • Rule #2: Don’t forget rule number #1

Nestle forgot the first two rules. It’s unfortunate because Nestle has something that all brands in social media want: a brand that gets people excited. People love chocolate. They get excited about chocolate. They talk to their friends about chocolate. A company that makes hydraulic pumps can’t say the same thing. So what did Nestle do wrong?

Here’s a link to an article with the specifics (and one to Nestle’s Facebook Fan page for good measure), but here’s a short synopsis of what happened.

  1. Greenpeace released a video accusing Nestle of destroying rainforests and endangered species.
  2. People started lashing out at Nestle through the fan page, using altered logos of the Kit Kat logo that read “Killer.”
  3. Nestle told Facebook fans to stop using altered versions of logos in their pictures, or else their comments would be deleted.
  4. People weren’t thrilled about being told what to do.
  5. Nestle tried to explain themselves, but the tone was more sarcastic than friendly.
  6. The fan page has become an open forum for people trashing the company.

Basically, they forgot the first rule. And it went viral. The Fan page is now full of expletive-filled comments about the company. On a more positive note, they’re getting a lot more “fans,” but many of these new fans are just people who want to jump on the bandwagon of Nestle bashing.

Nestle was put in a tough spot, and found themselves hosting a site full of angry comments about the company. It seems they’ve taken themselves out of the conversation for now. We’ll see how things work out.

Gen Z: Welcome toThe Working World

At Tribe, we’re interested in how different generations interact in the workforce. We’re currently conducting follow-up research on how the recession has affected the different generations, so look for that to be released soon. Additionally, we’re conducting research on Gen Z, the generation born roughly between 1995 and 2009. As their future employers, we have a head start knowing some of the drivers that have shaped their lives into the people and workers they will become. Gen Z is just now starting to enter the workforce, primarily in the retail and restaurant industries. Here are a few key traits to look for in this group:

They’ve grown up with technology. Perhaps the most important thing to point out about this generation is that they are truly the first generation to not know what life is like without technology. They were born into the age of the Internet, cell phones, Facebook and TiVo, so technology provides the background for a lot of their predominant characteristics. Expect this group to adapt very quickly to new tools and technologies at work, although they may prove to be overly dependent on these tools.

They show signs of becoming fantastic multi-taskers. Because they are used to handling so many forms of technology in their daily lives, they are fantastic multi-taskers. This might present a problem once they are working since the challenge will be to keep the Gen Zs motivated and focused on the task at hand.

Gen Z is highly educated. This will be the most educated generation to date. With this prestige comes strong opinions on everything and they might not do so well at taking suggestions. Even though they are well educated, they may not be drawn to the same types of jobs. What we think of as prestigious professions, like doctors and scientists, might not hold much value for this group.

They process information quickly. Thanks to the internet, Generation Z is used to instant results – and can be very impatient when they don’t get them. With instant results also comes the ability to process information very quickly, which can be an extremely valuable trait in the workforce.

They prefer informal communications. Gen Z is typically self-directed, individualistic and private. But when it comes to sharing their lives on the internet, they are much less restricted than other generations. They interact primarily through the digital world and as a result they might lack in interpersonal skills, verbal communication and expression—which can come across as a lack of confidence. This contrasts with Gen Y, who are typically seen as people pleasers and team players.

Gen Z is just now getting their first jobs. And in the coming years as Boomers begin to retire, Gen Z will get a chance to show the working world how their skill set will drive business forward.

Are Your People Stuck in Neutral?

Now’s the time to help your employees get out of the recession rut. And the business can’t move forward if your employees aren’t.

Is your company losing money because people are in a holding pattern? Corporate employees across the country are experiencing a resigned sense of stagnation. Tribe fielded research in the first quarter of 2010 with corporate employees in three generations, Boomer, Gen X and Gen Y, and found a lethargic do-nothing spirit among workers of all ages. Typical comments from respondents include, “Nothing’s getting better or worse,” “I’m just going through the motions,” and “I’m sort of stuck in neutral.” When asked if they thought it was more likely they’d be promoted or fired in the next year, 77 percent responded “neither one.”

Management has a plan, but employees don’t know it. One internal communications manager with a Fortune 100 company described a dangerous divide between the great majority of employees and those at the top with clear plans for how they’re transforming the company for more profitability. When asked if he thought the management at his company (a global brand) had a strategy for recovery, he said, “No, I don’t think they have a plan. It worries me.”

During qualitative interviews, many top leaders revealed that they thought employees understood the business reason behind layoffs. In reality, employees aren’t always so clear on the reasoning behind many changes. One reason for this is that employees have trouble separating changes caused by the recession from necessary changes that need to happen, recession or not. The recession is becoming the scapegoat for necessary business transformations to grow the business.

They want to know what’s going on. Especially the younger employees. Tribe’s survey asked “If your company could do one thing to make you feel better about where you work, what would it be?” The two most common answers, in almost equal numbers, were more money and more communication. New Generation employees offered twice as many comments as Boomers about wanting increased or improved communication.

One way to open communication is a leadership blog. It’s relatively simple to establish a leadership blog, by the CEO or another top visionary. Tribe’s process for developing a leadership blog includes a topic matrix and editorial calendar, to give key topics the right visibility across the year.

The risk in not having frequent communication from the top down is that employees assume no news is bad news. A leadership blog can efficiently fill that vacuum of communication and help employees feel in the loop and on board.

Professional vs. Off-the-cuff Videos for Internal Communications

If a picture is worth a thousand words, imagine how powerful a video of your CEO passionately explaining the company mission can be for employees. As blogging becomes more popular, so does video blogging (also know as v-blogging or vlogging). In internal communications, video blogs can give a face to top leadership in a more casual and friendly forum. A good example of this comes from eBay’s CEO John Donahoe. In a recent guest blog for the Wall Street Journal, Donahoe—flip cam in hand—interviews one of eBay’s merchants.

Donahoe’s video is a success because it comes across so genuinely. And rather than being a video about eBay’s CEO, it’s a video he made while interviewing a vendor. In fact, Donahoe only appears for a brief moment when he turns the camera on himself. You can also tell that there weren’t layers of approval behind the video—it’s just Donahoe behind the camera, interviewing this merchant about his business and his inventory. It’s much more interesting to see him make a star out of someone else than insist the focus be on him. Had this been a “big budget” film, it probably would have seemed very “put on” and much less sincere than what we see here.

While this video is very effective, it can be risky to approach video so casually. Simple things like using a tripod and choosing good lighting can go a long way towards making a video look more professional (and less shaky). For Donahoe, it works well in this context, but a different video with different messaging may lend itself to a more polished video.

Video can be a great tool for engaging employees because it truly gives leadership a face both quickly and candidly, and you can’t always get that through picture or text alone. If a CEO sets the example, it could even open the door to more active participation and encourage employees to use video more often in communications. And while we’ve heard employees voice before that they may feel uncomfortable watching video at work, the fact that the CEO is the one speaking can raise that comfort level.

For more on this topic, visit the “Professional vs. off-the-cuff videos for internal communications” discussion on our LinkedIn discussion group.

Change Management: 5 Keys for Launching ERP/SAP

More and more companies are seeing the advantages of integrating all of their data and processes into a single, unified system. Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems are the method of choice, and the most popular provider is SAP.

Unfortunately, ERP systems are lacking buy-in from companies. According to a survey conducted by Forrester Research, only six percent of 500 companies surveyed considered their ERP systems effective, while 79 percent said they were not effective or only somewhat effective. And five of the top ten Corporate Information Technology Failures cited by Computerworld involve ERP projects.

Here are five tips for successfully launching ERP at your company:

Don’t try and implement it during your busy season. People need time and training to successfully implement ERP. It’s best to launch the program during your slow season so people can get a feel for it. Hershey learned this the hard way when they tried to launch SAP during Halloween. The new system was implemented so poorly that huge customers like Walmart simply ordered from Hershey’s competitors because they weren’t getting their orders. This resulted in a 19% drop in that quarter’s earnings.

Put your best people on the job. Make sure that your implementation partner is giving you their best people. Request to see resumes, to make sure their consultants aren’t there for on-the-job training. ERP implementation requires a highly competent (and experienced) team on both ends, so you’ll need to be teaming your best people with theirs.

Top management has to be involved with the project throughout. Top leadership has to communicate their vision for the project. Another company can’t just guess at your business objectives and implement changes. The project needs full support from leadership, and sustaining communications on the business reasons and benefits that the change will bring. Getting employees to embrace the project is critical to its success.

Mistakes are costly. Customer orders aren’t processed, bills aren’t paid and bankruptcies sometimes follow failed implementations. This is one of those projects that you can’t afford to get wrong.

You can’t just do things the same way. Many companies run into a lot of problems when they want to customize ERP. If you’re going to make the switch to ERP, be prepared to start looking at processes through the ERP lens. ERP is not a vehicle to run your current system the way it’s always been run.

This isn’t an IT project—you have to involve people from across the business for it to be a success, and the launch date is just the start. If done well, ERP can be hugely efficient and valuable to a company. If done poorly, it can be an extremely costly mistake that extends far beyond the cost of the project.

You’ve Just Launched Social Media. Now What?

Finally getting your company’s social media plan off the ground can be very rewarding. You put in a lot of time and energy and are excited to see things really start to take off. It starts off slow at first, but you eventually start to see some action. You continue with what you’re doing, but it seems like things just start to stall. So what are the next steps? Here are three ways to refresh your social media presence:

Respond to comments. Many of the most successful blogs are driven by user comments. The reason for this is that the articles spark conversation among readers. That’s why a blog shouldn’t be about just you or your company. People generally will not take the time to participate in a conversation that you started about how great you are. Instead, engage readers by shifting the conversation to their needs. Whatever you do, don’t be afraid to jump into the conversation. Otherwise, all you have is a media site without the social part.

Listen to feedback. First the bad news: You’re probably not going to get your blog right on the first try. For any number of reasons, your content is getting the readership that you would. But that’s also the good news. Many people just throw in the towel thinking, “Social media is just a waste of time.” You have to take the time to listen to feedback, but that’s only the first step. Then, you need to make changes to create a more positive user experience. Readers will feel much more engaged if you respond to their comment and make changes based on their suggestions.

Be prepared to evolve. Quicken Loans’ WHAT’S THE DIFF blog is written by employees for employees and clients, so what you read is what you get if you’re a potential client trying to get a feel for the company. The blog was started about three years ago as a tool for HR recruiting, to reach out to potential employees and show them what it’s like to work at Quicken Loans. “That has become less of a focus, said Kelly LaVaute, Quicken Loans’ social media manager and one of the blog’s editors, “but a lot of people who come in to interview have read THE DIFF.” (For more on Quicken Loans’ WHAT’S THE DIFF blog, read “Employees are a powerful voice in social media.”)

Now that you’ve launched your social media plan, you have to follow through and keep posting new content. Social media has to be timely, so if you’re not updating your content, it won’t be long before people stop coming back.

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

Flexibility: The Holy Grail of Employee Benefits

For companies both large and small, flexibility is the holy grail of employee benefits. The good news for employers stymied by the Recession, and not in the position to be giving out raises and bonuses, is that offering flexibility can trump financial benefits – or the lack thereof.

Tribe’s recent research with New Generation employees indicates that the younger employees may expect flexibility even more than their Boomer colleagues. Although a story on NPR this morning pointed out that the employees who need flexibility most are the low-wage workers, a disproportionate number of which are single moms.

A family-care focus is a common theme among the companies listed on Fortune’s latest list of Best Companies To Work For. “They don’t just take care of the employee, they take care of their whole families,” said my colleague Jennifer Bull in her Good Company Blog.

One of the things families need most is flexibility. Jennifer Ludden, the NPR correspondent responsible for the piece I heard this morning, describes one example of family-friendly flexibility on the part of Family Fare grocery near Grand Rapids, Michigan. Tina Burgess, mother of two boys, had been a part-time employee at the grocery for years when she was offered a full-time position.

“Burgess wanted the benefits that came with that job, but there was a problem: it started at 5 a.m. Her husband left for work at 5:30, so Burgess needed to be home to get her children to school. Her manager worked it out.”

Burgess goes into work at 5, but calls her teenage sons at 7 to wake them up. (The boys sleep with their cell phones on their pillows.) She then takes her 30-minute lunch break at 7:15 in the morning, to drive home, pack lunches, and get her kids out the door to school. Although the boys are old enough that they might be able to handle the morning routine on their own, Burgess feels strongly about being there.

“’Sometimes in the morning, I get a feel for if it’s going to be a bad day,’ she says. ‘Maybe they want to say something before they go to school. If I wasn’t there, they wouldn’t be able to.’”

What’s more, offering flexibility could make your employees healthier and contribute to the bottom line of the company’s profitability. Ludden cites a recent NIH study on the correlation between job flexibility and employee health, indicating that those employees with more flexible management had both better physical health reports and higher job satisfaction.

The best news for employers? Flexibility is cheap. Even with hourly workers, there are ways to accommodate employees’ family responsibilities, from allowing workers to trade shifts to giving them five minutes to call home to make sure the kids got home from school okay. As we come out of the recession, and the competition for workers heats up again, you can bet flexibility will remain one of the best ways to both recruit and retain talent.

Your Talent for the Future is Ready to be Hired

I was recently reading Michael Winerip’s “Time, It Turns Out, Isn’t on Their Side” article in The New York Times. The article is a follow-up to an article Winerip wrote a year ago about out-of-work Baby Boomers looking for jobs in this tough economy.

One year later, things had not improved much for most of the job-seekers. Of the 16 people who were followed up with, only one had a higher paying job and nine said they are still struggling. While unemployment is a little less than the national average among workers older than 45, it takes much longer for this group to find work after being laid off.

Historically, Boomers are hit hardest when they reenter the workforce. After the recession in the early ‘90s, rehired workers age 55 to 64 faced a 27% wage loss and a 23% wage loss after the recession in the early 2000s. For employees age 25 to 34, those numbers are 7% and 6%, respectively. Perhaps because they have accomplished less thus far in their careers, Generations X & Y are more resilient when searching for a new position.

These numbers could suggest that older employees have built up so much equity within their companies, it’s hard to quickly reach that same level of achievement at a new job. A common trend among top companies is the way they take care of their employees. Many made it through the recession without having to layoff large numbers of employees (or any at all). These companies may not offer the highest paid positions within their industries, but they do offer the security in knowing that the company sees them as more vested in the business, and subsequently less expendable.

Another obstacle that Boomers face is that they are overqualified for many of the positions out there. For many, this is the most difficult part of being out of work. But the good news for employers is that this is one of the best times to grab top talent for when the economy improves. Companies that are actively hiring right now have a pool of well-qualified and experienced employees to choose from. And as we emerge from the recession, these companies have positioned themselves to have a real advantage over the competition in the future.

Tribe is currently conducting research on Boomers and the workplace. Look for the findings to be released soon.

When Was Your Last Employee Appreciation Event?

2009 was a tough year. Record layoffs, dismal profits and pessimistic news coverage really do a number on employee morale. But 2010 shows a lot of promise, and it’s time to let employees know that you value their contributions. So when was the last time your company had an employee appreciation event? If you can’t remember, chances are your employees don’t either.

How companies handle the transition from recession to recovery will have a lot to do with their ability to harness employee engagement for future success. Now is an excellent time to take the pulse of employee morale. How much damage has the economic downturn done? What issues do you need to address in employee communications? How do you help employees get ready for the opportunities the upturn will bring?

At Tribe, we use a process called Mythological Branding. Based on an anthropological approach and rooted in the work of psychologist Ira Progoff and noted mythologist Joseph Campbell, its purpose is to give companies a new perspective on what employees believe about the brand, their management and the company’s future success, as well as insights on how to communicate through the upcoming transition and the better times ahead.

Employee appreciation doesn’t have to be expensive. Bringing in a healthy lunch one day for employees and inviting a few top leadership people to come and thank employees for all of their hard work can go a long way towards increasing employee morale.

Although it’s not a perfect measure, voluntary turnover is one indicator of employee morale. If your company’s turnover is higher than the industry average, you’re probably not doing a great job of engaging employees. And those people who are leaving may be some of your employees with the highest potential. After all, by leaving, they are proving they are go-getters who take action to get what they want, rather than just treading water in a non-ideal job position.

An honest survey for employees voluntarily leaving the company can be a great eye-opener when it comes to genuine feedback. And if the first question on the survey is, “Do you feel appreciated for your contributions at work?” the answers will probably not be so positive.

Honest appreciation goes a long way in any relationship. So make sure that your company is putting in the time and effort to make sure that employees feel appreciated. An employee appreciation event can be a great way to raise morale, but only if it’s sincere. You’re much better off not even trying an event if it’s going to come across as insincere because you’re bound to cause more harm than good. But as morale and engagement increase in a company, profits tend to be quick to follow.