Discovery is The First Step Towards Communicating Change

Before you can effectively communicate change to employees, you need to understand their point of view. And although employee surveys are the most common way to collect data, they don’t necessarily get at the heart of what employees feel about the brand. At Tribe, we take all of our clients through the Discovery phase to get a better understanding of the people behind the brand. Here are three suggestions for developing more engaging questions for employees:

• Employee Interviews: Interviews with a dozen employees in a variety of functions is a great starting point. From these interviews, we ask questions that will reveal what employees want most in terms of content and how willing they are to share their voice. From there, we develop strategies to close that gap. Qualitative interviews tend to reveal much more valuable information than a bunch of numbers from a poll. And by asking questions in a different way, you can often get a more “real” response, not just someone repeating back to you what they think they’re supposed to say.

• Leadership Interviews: How well does leadership see their vision being communicated to employees? When it comes to a new project or initiative, ask questions that will help foster a greater understanding of what motivates management to not only becomes engaged with a project, but become ambassadors for it. The most important group to interview may be the fulcrum group, that critical group of managers just under the leadership team who lead the general employee population. If the fulcrum group jumps on-board with your project, it’s much more likely to be a success. The findings in this phase will help guide future communications around the project.

• Communications audit is the next step. Once you’ve finished with interviews, it’s time to develop your communications strategy. Take a look at your existing channels and determine the best way to communicate your message. This often involves using multiple channels to reach different internal audiences.

Once the Discovery phase is complete, it’s time to develop tactics and content from the information you gleaned during interviews. Communicating change is more likely to be successfully if you anticipate and explain any hurdles that employees expect to face along the way.

Follow the Leader?

What makes a great company? Is it the leader or the employees performing the tasks set forth by the leader? I suppose there can’t be one without the other. A recent Fast Company article makes an interesting argument. They claim that we have a leadership obsession. Is this true? Are we making too much of leadership and not enough of the little guy?  True, a leader does steer the company’s vision, but where would the leader be without having followers to implement their vision?  How far would Napoleon have gotten without an army of followers?

The article says that our obsession with leadership is very problematic because we are telling everyone to be leaders and not followers. After all, who wants to be a follower? If we learned anything in 5th grade flag football, not everyone can be quarterback. There has to be an entire team to implement a plan and reach a goal.

We all want to encourage our children to be great leaders and to change the world. We tell them every day to be your own person and not be a follower. The reality is there is value being a trusted follower. Not everyone can be a CEO. For example, the Administrative Assistant may be the most important person in a company. This person is oftentimes the voice of the brand. They are the first person a client encounters when they call or stop by the office. They are the company’s first impression. Think how much damage can be done if the Admin is rude to a potential new client. The Admin may be performing what people consider to be menial tasks like making coffee and running errands but if the CEO did these things they wouldn’t have time to lead the company. The Admin makes the CEO’s job possible.

The bottom line is that everybody needs to praise the little guys as much as the great leaders. The leader wouldn’t be able to lead if they had no followers and the followers wouldn’t have anybody to follow if there wasn’t a leader. It is a constant give and take. If there is mutual respect in the office between the leader and the followers and everyone understands their role to play then it is much easier to reach a common goal.

What If Management Has a Vision for the Future and Employees Don’t Know About It?

The Gap: In large companies across the country, there’s a major communications gap. In recent research with large employers nationwide, we found a troubling gap between what management thought employees knew and what employees said they did. In interviews with management-level people in Fortune 100 and other large companies, Tribe heard glowing reports of the vision the leadership team had formulated to lead the company to increased stability and growth. In most cases, management also indicated that they felt employees had a good understanding of their vision.

When employees don’t hear about the vision, they assume there is none. When we asked employees about management’s vision and plans for how to move the company forward, the reports were much different. Some comments included:
• “I don’t think they have a plan. It worries me.”
• “Leadership has a plan but nobody knows how to execute it.”
• “We don’t know what’s going to happen over the next few years.”
• “I think it’s more likely they don’t have a plan.”
• “They have a plan at the higher levels, but nobody at lower levels knows about it.”
• “I don’t think our top three leadership has a plan and that makes me nervous.”

It’s a problem that doesn’t have to be a problem. The problem is not that corporate management does not have a plan, or even that employees don’t support that plan. There’s a plan in place for moving the company forward, possibly a brilliant one, yet employees are often completely unaware of it. Some earlier research we did indicated that employees want more communication from the top, not less. Even if the news is not great news, employees feel less anxious and more confident in the company’s future when high-level management keeps them in the loop.

The solution is easy: Communicate from the top down. 
Some CEO’s feel giving an occasional town hall meeting or speech to employees means they’ve checked the box of top-down communications. For better employee engagement, morale and productivity, not to mention progress toward company goals, a solid communication strategy might include a leadership blog, a regular presence on the employee website or internal portal, or a monthly update to employees. These communications vehicles don’t have to be difficult or time consuming for management.