Cascading Information to the Front Lines

After you’ve developed your cascading communication plan and begin sending out messages to managers, what guarantees do you have that they’re actually making it all the way to the frontlines? This is a challenge many internal communicators face every day, and one that has many different solutions.

One of the goals of cascading communications is that it creates a face-to-face interaction between managers and employees. This provides frontline workers with opportunities to ask questions, share feedback and expand their knowledge of the topic being discussed. When the information doesn’t make it to its intended targets, the breakdown can affect employee performance and prevent companies from reaching their objectives.

The reasons for the communication breakdown are things everyone has encountered before. Some mangers are too busy and honestly don’t have time to have a sit-down with their team. Some filter the information based on what they think is important for their people to know. And another group simply doesn’t care what they are “supposed” to do, they just make up their own rules.

This is an area covered in Tribe’s white paper, Communicating with Non-Desk Employees. The previously stated reasons why cascade communications sometimes fail contributed to one of the main insights from the paper: Depending solely on supervisors to communicate is a mistake.

However, not all of the blame should be put on the managers themselves. Before you start pointing the finger and playing the blame game, first you may want to consider your own role in all of this as a communicator. Is the information you provide important enough that you would spend time discussing it? What about the message itself? Is it written in a clear and concise way that’s easily absorbed by its target audience?

If the answer to any of these questions is “no,” it may be time to go back to the drawing board. There are many different message delivery channels to use, and many creative elements to incorporate that will help guarantee your communication reaches its intended audience.

Are you encountering these challenges with your communications? Tribe is well versed in developing solutions to help connect your messages with their intended audience. Feel free to reach out and let us know how we can help.

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

What do you do with the old values when you want to introduce new ones?

Companies are not static. They are dynamic entities, and so it makes sense for desired employee behavior to change over time. To alter behavior, it helps to give employees the reference points of values to guide their actions and decisions day to day. There might be a need for a new set of values internally.

So what do you do with the old values? Although there’s nothing wrong with replacing the existing values with new ones, many companies hesitate to do it. At Tribe, our recommendation would generally be to do just that, primarily in order to avoid employee confusion and/or overload of messages.

However, companies often prefer to keep the existing values and call the new values something else. For instance, you might call the new values a set of principles or tenets or beliefs. We worked with one client to launch principles when the values being introduced were specific to one department of a large brand. Calling them the IT Principles helped distinguish them from the overarching and long-established values of the brand itself. We’ve also worked with clients to name these service values something that is indigenous to their specific brand. I’m making this up, but an example might be for a basketball company to call their service values their game plan.

Sometimes the new values are directed at improving the customer experience. In that case, the solution might be to frame them with that sort of language. The new values might comprise the Guest Service Promise or the Customer Experience Goals.

What you call them is not as important as what you do with them. If you introduce these new values and never say another word about them, there was probably no need to bother naming them in the first place. In an ideal world, you would provide sustaining communications to support these values; create engagement opportunities to bring them to life for employees; and then integrate them throughout your organization, from hiring to performance reviews to training.

Things I Am Not Good At

When it comes to operating things that involve technology, I am the absolute worst. Sometimes its just a general lack of knowledge but mostly, I just don’t get it.

Things I struggle with on a daily basis:

Turning the TV and cable on with the Comcast remote. Push the button that says ALL ON. This is what happens: one turns on, the other turns off, the TV turns blue, or, nothing happens. This is why I like books.

My wireless router. It hates me. I don’t want to talk about this.

My DVD player. (Currently missing the remote.) Has no buttons to select the episode or chapter you want to watch directly on the box. You can press play. Sometimes this works. This thing also can connect to the Internet and has Netflix built in. Getting that to connect is never going to happen. I’m ok with that. Other people can make it go. I however, cannot.

Plugging the DVD player into the TV. Hilarious. And its color coded. Still can’t make it work. Let’s not discuss what it takes to switch the TV from cable to the part of the tv that lets you actually watch the dvd player. Impossible. Again, another reason I like books.

My iphone. The volume buttons might be broken, I am not really sure, but most days when I look at it there is a speaker icon in the middle of the screen. Also if you happen to get the volume to turn down, watch out ears because it turns itself up at random times. I cannot seem to get my itunes moved over here but have successfully been able to figure out Pandora (yay me!) and now have that working smoothly. Except when I want to connect it to my jambox using Bluetooth. This takes me about 10 mintues everytime. Luckily I have my canjo to play. And there are always books.

My computer, all computers, hate me. Fonts disappear. Programs crash, spinning wheels of death, and things moving very, very slooooowly. All day, everyday, part of my life. Luckily I almost never have to use a computer. Haha yeah right.

So basically, anything requiring electricity or batteries to power it, I probably cannot get it to work.

Except my fancy Colgate toothbrush. So far, I’ve been successful operating that. There is hope!

Creating a Culture of Appreciation

Showing appreciation in the workplace is critical to building engagement. A simple “thank you” or “job well done” can often hold the same value to an employee as a monetary reward. Employees want to feel valued and know that their efforts are appreciated. But creating a culture of appreciation is something that happens over time and involves all levels of employees.

It starts at the top. Regardless of the type of culture a company is trying to create, leadership sets the tone for the entire organization. Call it the trickledown effect. If the team working under leadership notices a change in how they’re approaching the company’s culture, they will adopt many of the same behaviors. From there, they set the example for the next level of employees and this trickledown effect permeates throughout all employee groups.

Change how employees view recognition. Many companies make the mistake of thinking that appreciation must take the form of a full-blown, company-wide recognition program. While these are good short term solutions to showing how employees are valued, they’re often not sustainable. Instead of constantly trying to cycle recognition programs over and over, let employees see how recognition continues after these have run their course. Even if it’s in the form of a simple verbal acknowledgement, employees will understand that it doesn’t take a recognition program to show appreciation for their good work.

Look for opportunities to spotlight all levels of employees – even down to the part-time, hourly workers. In doing so, you’re creating a culture of equality. No one employee is more valuable to the success of the company than another; we’re all a team working together towards a common goal. Employees value seeing their peers recognized on a broad scale and will use the indirect appreciation as motivation to be the next one.

What tactics has your company taken to develop a culture of appreciation?  We’d love to hear from you.

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

Breaking down silos over lunch — and looping in non-desk workers

Innovation and collaboration are hot business objectives for many companies now. But how do you get your engineers to rub shoulders with your finance folks? How do you encourage employees to spend time with people in other business units?

A new app called Lunch Roulette takes a creative and practical approach to breaking down those silos. Employees enter a date they’re free for lunch and the place they’d like to meet, and the app randomly matches them with another employee.

The app went from idea to prototype in just a couple of days. To read more about that, you might like to see this Harvard Business Review blog or this piece from

This idea could also have powerful possibilities for non-desk workers, who often feel alienated from headquarters and invisible to executive management. If the CEO devoted just one lunch a month to meeting someone from the distribution center or the retail floor or the manufacturing plant, imagine what that could mean.

It could even go completely low-tech. It could be as simple as employees putting their names in a jar and having one of their names picked randomly for a lunchdate with the CEO or another high-level leader. This is an incredibly simple way to create the opportunity for a conversation between two people in the organization who would otherwise never be in the same room, much less sitting across the table from each other eating sandwiches.

This program would speak volumes to employees, and not just the ones who get picked for lunch. One of the most important messages it would send is that management values the non-desk employees and wants to hear what they have to say. In Tribe’s research with this part of the workplace population, we’ve found a widespread feeling that top management has no idea what’s it like on the front line or out in the field.

Besides, the CEO might actually learn something. The people who are actually making the widgets or creating the customer experience have valuable insights to share about the realities of the business.


Crazy Love

Since December, I have been asking my husband for a lapdog. Now you have to keep in mind that we already have three big golden retrievers and a cat. There was no rhyme or reason to this desire, I just wanted a little dog to cuddle. At first my husband said, “no.” Then he said we would have to go down another dog to add a dog. Then he agreed to start thinking about it, and maybe after our summer vacation we could consider it.

Meanwhile, one of my college-aged sons has been showing signs of allergies that seem to get worse and worse every time he comes home for a visit. He was suspecting he had developed an allergy to our cat. The big dilemma became finding a home for our 7-year-old cat; and then maybe we could consider a puppy in June.  But who would want a 7-year-old cat?

On Valentine’s Day, I decided to make a trip to the local pet store to just “look” at puppies. It was something to do on my day off. My daughter kept saying she wanted a Yorkie so I started looking at the Yorkie puppies. Then I spotted this cute little puppy in another window and he was looking at me too. I asked to hold him and found out he was a Yorkie and bichon mix. I fell in love immediately! I spent over an hour just holding him and playing with him. He loved to be cuddled. I had found my lap dog.

I asked if they could hold him until later that day so I could show my family and they agreed. Then, as I was driving home, a friend called and said she found someone that wanted our cat! Maybe my husband would agree to get the
dog now!

When I called to tell him, he agreed to go see the puppy and off we went that night.  We spent more time with the puppy and with several others to determine if he had the right personality. None of the other puppies compared and finally my husband said OK.

So yes, we now have four dogs! The puppy’s name is Milo and he’s my buddy. He loves everyone but especially me. He makes me laugh when he runs around on his short little legs and I love when he gets tired and just curls on my lap and falls asleep. It’s really fun to watch him play with our big dogs. Despite their size, they know how to wrestle and play with him and not hurt him. What a miracle considering each weighs around 55 pounds and the puppy weighs only five.

Sometimes you just can’t put logic into the equation, you just have to go with your heart. I’m really glad I did. He has added such joy to my life! Oh and our cat is happily living in a new home and my son’s allergies are better. Life is good!

Overloading Middle Managers with Information

For most companies, middle management is the conduit for communication between corporate and lower level employees. Senior leadership relies on management to relay any and all pertinent information to their employees and is held accountable to ensure employees are not only receiving the message, but also understanding the message. Between the mass amounts of communication coming from both the upper levels and lower levels of employees, is it possible that middle management is overloaded with information?

The “Frozen Middle Management.” Middle managers can find themselves in a stressful place with lots of pressure to ensure all of the appropriate communications are reaching employees. With so much information coming from above, it can be difficult to decipher which information needs to go to employees versus which doesn’t. With their inboxes flooded, this can cause an information traffic jam. It becomes difficult to prioritize and to keep track of all of the information and requests they’ve been given.

Are too many emails counterproductive? Not only are middle managers receiving information to push from upper management, but they’re also receiving a continuous influx of requests that require attention or participation. There seems to be a growing issue of managers experiencing a lack of productivity due to the volume of emails they receive. When the managers become overwhelmed, it’s possible important communication slips through the cracks.

Is email overload costing the company? A 2012 Email Perception Study found that in addition to information overload, middle managers are most affected by emails that are irrelevant to their work – costing them an average of 100 wasted hours a year (and their companies, upwards of $1 million annually). So in this case, not only is middle management affected, but the entire company.

For tips and fixes for the “frozen middle management,” click here.

Have you experienced this issue at your company? If so, what are steps you’ve taken to resolve it?


Leveraging Your Network to Hire Quality Employees

Filling an open position can be a tall order. Despite your best efforts at a thorough interview, how much can you really tell about a candidate in a staged interview environment? Everyone puts their best foot forward for an interview and some people are a bit more reserved than their true personality.

That’s why it’s helpful to have the backing of a referral. Your own network and employees’ networks (who you presumably like and trust) can offer the benefit of a personal knowledge of the candidate and his or her working history and style. Obviously you need to make sure the candidate’s qualifications are right for the position, but your employees can tell you if their friend would be too wild for your conservative culture or if he or she would feel uncomfortable if you have an office of over-sharers.

So how do you leverage this network of quality candidates? It used to be that you’d go down the list in your Rolodex and make some phone calls, but with the advent of social media, one post to LinkedIn or Twitter can yield dozens of positive results in one fell swoop. Even Facebook, with its one billion (yes, with a “B”) users, can be a source for business networking.

The challenge is getting your employees to play along. You might need to incentivize them to tap into their social networks for you with a reward for anyone who recommends a friend (and not just rewarding those who refer an eventual
successful hire).

Keep in mind that it becomes extra important to be respectful and responsive to referred candidates. You risk making your employees upset with you if you blow off one of their friends for an interview or never respond at all. Put simply, it’s never a good idea to treat friends of employees poorly. Don’t forget that your hiring practices can create Brand Ambassadors – even the ones you don’t hire.

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

Training and development lessons from the Creek Indians

The workplace population today is rife with rich diversity, in terms of age, race, gender — not to mention personality types. When developing training and development programs, how can we address the strengths and weaknesses of both the introvert and the extrovert, of both female and male management styles, of generations that now range from Gen Y to Boomers?

The Creek Indians recognized the inherent polarities in personality types and structured their leadership to address them. They divided their towns and villages, and thus their chiefs, into Red Sticks and White Sticks. White towns were communities of peace, where no blood was to be spilled. Red towns were the defenders and fighters who would engage in war if needed.

Towns could and did change from red to white and back again, depending on circumstances and political climate. The community itself, populated with a full range of personality types, had the flexibility to adapt and adjust to the needs of the time.

Yet a red chief was always a red chief and a white chief ever white. Those whose leadership had started wars, or had led during wartime, were chiefs only so long as the village was actively engaged in hostilities. To negotiate peace, or to rule during peaceful times, the community turned to a different personality type for leadership.

Red chiefs weren’t considered better than white chiefs, nor vice versa. The strengths of each personality type were appreciated, and their weaknesses acknowledged. Other cultures have defined the range of personality types in terms of warriors and priests. We address a similar divide when we think of people in terms of introverts and extroverts.

An introvert might cringe in discomfort if asked to engage in a role play exercise. An extrovert may learn better in a social environment than when asked to journal about their management challenges. Hand a Gen Y employee a 3-ring binder of training materials and they’ll wonder why you wasted all that paper, especially since they’d find it much more natural to access that information online. Some employees are visual learners; others kinetic. One person may need to hear the information, while the one in the next cube needs to see it in writing.

The good news is that in our workplace populations we now have a tremendous range of strengths and perspectives. The challenge for training and development professionals is to provide the appropriate mix of programs and materials to maximize those strengths.


Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

“Your Mama Lit Her Trash Can on Fire Again.”

That’s a phrase you really don’t want to hear from the home-health aides assigned to the 24-hour care of your mother. Especially that last word, “again.” So it’s happened before and this is the first time we’re hearing about it?

But it also tells me that Betty Cogswell is still a force to be reckoned with. She’s a challenge for her caretakers, that’s for sure. Smoking in bed is probably one of the easier issues they deal with day to day.

Last summer we had a beach trip planned and she wanted to prepare with a base tan. She made her way out to the pool on her own with the help of her walker. Her caretaker ran to spread out a beach towel before Mama got there.

Then she looked up and noticed that Mama was topless. She said, “Miss Betty, did you forget something?” Mama settled back in the chaise with her paperback novel and said, “Oh, yeah. Run go get me a beer, please.”

She requested a new bikini for the beach trip. She’s always worn a lot of navy, so my sister got her a navy blue bandeau bikini from J. Crew. One of my favorite pictures of her ever is this one, taken on that trip.

I hope I’m sitting on a beach somewhere when I’m her age. Even better if I can still wear a bikini.