Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

To Shift Culture, Be Honest About the Gap Between Reality and the Vision

Or “Defining reality and creating hope go hand in hand,” as the retired CEO of Yum! brands David Novak put it in a recent LinkedIn post. (FYI, Novak has recently published a book on recognition titled “O Great One!”) His comment was directed at the need for leaders to move past defining reality to “show people where that reality can take them.”

That need also extends to internal communicators. There’s sometimes a temptation for internal communicators to paint the culture a rosier hue than it actually is. People fear being negative. But employees know their culture, because they live the culture, and if you ignore the existing issues, you undermine their trust.

The first step to shifting culture is to acknowledge where you are now. It takes courage to be honest, because if we’re honest, most cultures aren’t where we’d like them to be. Yet human beings, and their resulting cultures, have a tremendous capacity for change.

When you use the reality as a starting point for a vision of what could be, you harness a tremendous amount of power for change. Or as Novak might say, hope.

As internal communicators, our job is to be clear about the first and inspirational about the second. In other words, this is where we are, and this is where we’re going to go. We own our reality, and we also claim our vision.

Interested in shifting your culture? Tribe can help.

 

 

 

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Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

Will Direct Mail Work On Millennials? The USPS Says So

The USPS is making a marketing push to convince advertisers that Millennials will respond to direct mail. Will they?

The first voice I hear in my head, in response to that question, is our son’s. He is very quick to point out that you can’t make gross generalizations about an entire generation and that people, regardless of their generation, must be seen as individuals. I’ve heard Millennial employees say the same.

Yeah, yeah, of course. But still, the world that surrounds any generation during their growing up and early adult years will have an impact on forming them as individuals. Boomers didn’t grow up with iPhones — or even the internet. Millennials are different in their experiences of communication.

The second voice I hear is that of my inner creative director. Too often, in my opinion, communicators embrace or eliminate a channel based on past success or the lack thereof. But you can’t dismiss television advertising as ineffective if you’ve only run bad TV spots. You can’t assume an employee magazine won’t work in your company if the ones you’ve done before were poorly written and badly designed.

It’s a matter of content. If you do beautifully designed and smartly written direct mail that engages Millennials on a topic that’s relevant to them, then sure, direct mail could be an excellent channel.

However, Millennials as a group tend to have an ability to sniff out anything inauthentic. For instance, our high-school junior (same son) has been getting a flood of direct mail from colleges in the past year or so. It took him about five minutes to figure out that the same direct mail agency was writing most of them, with similar schticks repeated for college after college.

Now even the direct mail from Harvard and Stanford lies unopened on the kitchen counter. The good news, for the post office,  perhaps, is that he doesn’t click on a lot of their digital ads either. He reads a lot online about the colleges he’s interested in, but seems to skip anything he views as marketing.

When he was about four, he was gazing out the window on a car trip and remarked, “Outdoor advertising doesn’t work for me.” (Yes, he said outdoor advertising instead of billboards because he’s the child of ad people.) I asked him why not and he shrugged. “I can’t read,” he said.

Interested in improving the content in your communication channels? Tribe can help.

 

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

The Three Levels of Collaboration: Teams, Silos and Customers

What does collaboration mean in your company? When we talk with clients about collaboration in their organizations, almost all of them will mention the strong collaboration between team members.

Work teams are the first level of collaboration. To get the day-to-day work of the company done, you need teams who work together and support each other collaboratively, whether that’s in an operational department or a manufacturing cell.

People often feel strong emotional ties to their team members. They speak of having each other’s backs, or even of it feeling like family. In research, they often tell us they feel a much stronger connection to their immediate work team than to the company overall.

Cross-functional teams take collaboration to the next level. In companies with a strong overall vision that engages employees, we’re likely to see the second level of collaboration. Aligned with a common goal, employees collaborate across functions or geography or business units. Rather than confining their perceived team as their immediate work group or department, the sales team will see the product engineers as collaborative partners. The North American division will look to their colleagues in the EMEA regions for ideas. One apparel brand of a parent company will collaborate with another brand on developing better sourcing strategies.

The holy grail is having employees see the customer as their collaborative partner. Whether you’re selling technology or toilet paper, financial instruments or musical ones, a customer-centric focus indicates a highly evolved company culture.

This is not just for those employees are customer-facing. If you can create a sense of collaboration with the customer throughout the organization, you’ll be unstoppable. In an ideal world, employees will see their jobs in the context of the customer experience. Whatever they’re doing, from building a website to manufacturing products to developing a pricing structure to scheduling work flow, the big win is for them to see what they’re doing through the eyes of the customer and to consider their point of view.

Interested in taking collaboration to a new level in your organization? Tribe can help.

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

Using Guided Meditation and Visualization to Define a Brand Promise

Do you build a culture that will support your brand promise? Or do you base the promise on what your culture already delivers? In the case of a flooring manufacturer that Tribe worked with, the brand promise grew out of employee focus groups on what made their company different from any of their competitors.

When I say focus groups, what I really mean is guided visualizations. We met with employees in two manufacturing facilities and at corporate headquarters, holding several sessions in each location.

At each session, we began with a group meditation.
The goal was to get participants to let go of linear, logical thinking and promote a more creative, imaginative state. From the CEO to sales reps to forklift operators, we found a surprising willingness to play along with this somewhat unusual format.

When employees had reached a meditative state, we began the guided visualization.
We explained we were taking them on a symbolic journey and asked them to imagine the company as a fairy tale character, a handsome prince setting out to seek his fortune. As we told the story of this handsome prince, we stopped at key points and asked participants to open their eyes just enough to scribble an answer to a question we posed, and then return to their relaxed state.

For instance, when the prince came upon a dragon, we asked them what the dragon represented. When he slayed the dragon with his sword, we asked what the sword stood for. When he rode home to victorious to his village, we asked them to listen to what the townspeople were saying about them.

We asked them to complete the following sentence:
The story of this prince was told generation after generation, and the moral of the story is that the prince was successful because he _______.

The answers were interesting in their consistency. In a large majority of the responses, the moral was some version of “he does the right thing” or “he stands for what’s right.”

And in fact, the history of the company reflected this. In conversations after the visualization, employees often pointed to two situations in the company’s history where they felt the company had done the right thing. One was when a fire destroyed the company’s only factory early on. Rather than have so many employees go without paychecks white the factory was rebuilt, the company put employees to work on the construction so they could continue earning a living.

Another was when the company had to recall a product that had required a tremendous investment and new manufacturing machinery.
When the product was found to be defective, the company offered every customer a free replacement floor from their other product lines.

In their own jobs, employees said they felt the responsibility of doing what’s right. We heard similar statements across geography (three states) and function (operations, manufacturing, sales, support, residential and commercial). That’s what they felt differentiated them from their competitors.

The brand promise became Stand On Something Better. The consumer magazine and television campaign was built around the question “What do you stand on?” with consumers offering many answers to what they believe in, from social issues to personal ones. A cause marketing initiative awarded the Stand on a Better World prize to women making a difference in charitable organizations locally and globally. Employees spontaneously launched their own Stand on a Better World fundraisers, hosting bakes sales and carwashes to raise money for college scholarships for local students.

The brand promise resonated with employees. It became something that permeated every aspect of the company because it already was indigenous to the company. That makes it much more likely that employees will be aligned with delivering the intended brand experience. When the brand promise reinforces what employees already believe about the company, it’s second nature to uphold that promise.

Interested in developing an employee brand that delivers on the brand promise? Tribe can help.

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

Is it the channel that’s not working — or the content you’re pushing through it?

Before you decide that employees don’t ever open emails, read the monthly newsletter or pay attention to digital signage, take a good hard look at your content. If you compare the caliber of design, writing and messaging to the brand communications your company does for consumers, how does it stack up?

Emails continue to rank highly as a preferred method of communications in most of the employee surveys we’ve been involved in. Yet actual open rates are often quite low. Maybe what employees mean is that they like the channel of email but are not inclined to open things that look like junk mail.

The same notion applies to newsletters and employee magazines. Whether digital or printed, these publications can be highly visual and engaging. They can be an excellent way to keep employees in the loop; to share leadership views on the vision, values and important business developments; and to make heroes of the employees by featuring them in articles. But if it looks boring and sounds boring, chances are employees will take a pass.

Digital signage can be an incredibly useful touchpoint, because it takes so little effort on the part of employees. As they’re waiting for the elevator or walking to a meeting, they can absorb quick messages ranging from company vision and financial updates to wellness and HR housekeeping issues. We’re seeing these monitors in more and more companies, but they’re not always used as well as they could be.

Channels are merely vessels; it’s what you fill them with that matters most. This applies to all channels, whether they’re the newest technology or a poster in the break room.

Employees deserve the same caliber of communications as your customers. If they’re not engaging with one or more of your internal communications channels, don’t assume it’s the channel that’s not working. Maybe all you need is better content.

Interested in improving your content? Tribe can help.

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

Thread the vision and values through all your internal communications

Communicating the company vision is one of the most important roles of internal communications. We often recommend a vision and values book and/or a vision and values event to put a stake in the ground to launch or reinforce these cultural underpinnings.

But that’s only the beginning. Just because you’ve told employees once, doesn’t mean the job is done. In fact, the job of communicating the vision and values is never done. To truly embed those things in an organization, to have employees internalize them so that they use the vision and values as guidance for the actions they take and decisions they make in their day-to-day work, will require an ongoing effort.

It also requires using more than one channel. Or even more than one facet of each channel. The goal is to thread the vision and values through everything you do.

We recommend a simultaneous top and bottom approach.
Look for channels for leadership to communicate these topics in an authentic way. That might be through video, magazine articles, intranet updates, town halls and/or any other available channel.

At the same time, find ways to showcase employees using the vision and values. That could be through a recognition program. It could be employee spotlights on the intranet or in your employee publication. It might be digital signage, video, blogs, social media or any other channel at your disposal.

You can also look for ways to tie topics back to the vision and values. When you’re communicating news about the volunteer program, frame it with one of the corporate values such as teamwork or community. When you introduce a massive IT overhaul, maybe you can link it to the value of innovation or efficiency. In an article on two different manufacturing plants working together to revamp the order system, point to the value of collaboration.

We often calendarize the stream of communications to reflect the vision and values. Each issue of a quarterly magazine, or each video in a monthly series, for instance, might be themed with one element of that messaging. Not only does this help thread the vision and values through multiple channels over a quarter or a year, it also allows for a closer look at one element at a time and drives more interesting content.

Interested in incorporating the vision and values into more of your communications?
Tribe can help.

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

Measurement is great — but how are you using the results?

Are you tracking metrics on your internal communications? If you know what employees are clicking on, what they’re opening and how much time they’re spending there, that’s fantastic.

Now, how are you using that information? Being able to track long-term results over time is interesting, and can be helpful when you’re planning your communications strategy for next year.

But one of the best reasons to watch these metrics is to tweak what you’re doing as you go. It allows you to try smaller shifts and see how employees respond.

For example, we once launched a CEO Q&A feature in an employee publication.
Employees weren’t clicking on it very much. Rather than jumping to the conclusion that employees just weren’t interested in what leadership had to say about the business, we tried exploring the same topics in video. We also included other members of the leadership team, so that employees could see and hear not just the CEO but other top executives as well. Viewership was much higher than readership of the article had been.

For the holiday edition, we tried a blooper reel. It was the most watched video of the year. Now we’re experimenting with adding a few outtakes at the end of each video. So employees who watch the entire leadership video on a serious topic — like a recent acquisition or why a customer-centric approach is important to the business — are rewarded with a handful of funny bits at the end.

Sometimes people seem to view measurement as a pass-fail equation. Yes, it can show what’s succeeding and what isn’t. But communication is fluid and multi-factorial, and measurement allows us to fiddle with the dials before making a final call on whether something’s working or not.

Interested in using measurement to tweak your communications? Tribe can help.

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

Four channels for CEO communications

Don’t assume a blog is the answer. If your CEO wants to commit to writing his or her own blog on a consistent basis over the long term, say weekly or at least monthly, that’s great. If not, look at other options — but not the option of having someone else write a blog under the CEO’s name.

A ghostwritten CEO blog is worse than no blog at all. Employees smell fake a mile away. Fake is the enemy of authentic, and authentic is what you want in leadership communications.

There are of course, a few rare exceptions. If the ghostwriter works extremely closely with the CEO and has heard him or her talk on the relevant topics often enough to nearly parrot the wording, that can work. But otherwise, ghostwriting you can undermine any equity you’ve built in authentic communications.

The goal of leadership communications is two-fold. The first is to share important messaging and information with employees in a way that keeps them in the loop on where the company is heading. The second is to build a human connection with the CEO and create trust in company management.

So what do you do if your CEO doesn’t have time to write his or her own blog?
There are plenty of other ways to share with employees what the CEO is thinking without a huge chunk of time out of that executive calendar.

1. Article based on a CEO interview: We regularly write employee newsletter and magazine articles based on short telephone interviews with CEOs. We generally book no more than 20 minutes for the call and try to keep it under that. Some CEOs prefer to have prepared questions they can review ahead of time; others are comfortable talking on the fly.

How is this different from a blog? It’s written in the third person, with quotes from the CEO peppered throughout the article. It’s about a conversation with the CEO, rather than pretending it was written by the CEO.

2. Video of the CEO: The most efficient way to pull this off, especially from the CEO’s point of view, is to shoot a number of videos in one session. It also helps to include more members of the leadership team, so that the CEO doesn’t have to do all the talking. Plus the viewers get the benefit of a watching several people rather than one talking head.

Material for eight or ten videos can be shot in one day, if you can plan content that far in advance. We generally ask for 45 minutes on the CEO’s calendar and maybe 20 or 30 minutes with other members of the executive team.

3. Audio: Some people are just not comfortable on camera, and if that’s the case for your CEO, don’t push it. You could suggest a podcast, for instance, to be housed on your intranet. There are also platforms with which the CEO could record a message for employees that they can hear by dialing a toll-free number. At the end of the CEO’s comments, there’s an option for them to leave their own comments or questions, so it becomes a format for two-way communication.

4. Quotations: This one seems almost too easy, but sometimes less really is more. The format can be digital signage, email, an internet feature or any other visual channel. Use a photo of the CEO and a one-sentence quote. We often pull these quotes from interviews for articles or from videos, but you also can ask your CEO to create quotes specifically for this channel. For instance, if there’s a new initiative underway, you might ask for a comment on why it’s so important to the business. If there’s an internal push for a more customer-centric approach, or more innovation, or increased collaboration, or even reduced spending, perhaps the CEO can give you a one-sentence blurb on that.

Interested in finding the right channel for your CEO communications?
Tribe can help.

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

Millennials hate the word Millennials — and now they hate Simon Sinek too

If you want to make someone bristle, pick anyone in their early 30s or younger and call them a Millennial. We Boomers don’t seem to have a big issue with our label, and I haven’t heard many Gen Xers complain, but there’s a widespread and deep frustration shared by Millennial employees when all 75 Million of them are lumped into one generic category.

A recent video of Simon Sinek has many of them understandably riled. In his talk on Millennials in the workplace, he seeks to answer what he calls the Millennial Question.

The reason Simon Sinek really struck a nerve is that his generalization is so negative. He doesn’t hold back in his portrayal of Millennial employees as the unfortunate result of poor parenting, social media, impatience and environment. He refers to their reputation for feeling entitled to things they haven’t worked for. (Nota bene: Entitlement is one of those words that is pretty much guaranteed to make Millennials flinch and/or grind their teeth.)

He does say it isn’t Millennials fault. If you keep watching past the part where he lists everything that’s wrong with Millennials, he makes some great points about organizational and behavioral changes that could benefit all of us, not just Millennials. But he’s certainly not making a case for Millennials being the best thing ever to happen to the workplace.

In the Huffington Post, Jared Buckley makes an argument for why Simon Sinek is wrong. Buckley resists the notion that one can generalize about an entire generation. He also suggests that the Millennial Question can best be answered by asking more specific questions that relate to your desired outcome. Do you want to attract more Millennials to your company? Do you want to help them develop their careers faster? Are you trying to understand how they like to work?

In some sense, answering the Millennial Question is a moot point. From technology to manufacturing to the service industry, they’re carrying a tremendous share of our collective workload. They’re filling the ranks of middle management. They’re starting their own companies in record numbers. One can’t dismiss the entire generation as a bunch of entry-level workers with no experience to offer.

Perhaps the issues Sinek cites are less about a generation and more about a life stage. Complaining about the follies of youth is not a new thing. When the Boomers were coming of age, their elders complained about “kids these days.” Even the ancient Greeks griped about the young ones. Socrates wrote, “Children now love luxury. They have bad manners, contempt for authority, disrespect their elders, and love talking instead of exercise.”

Millennials are steadily aging out of one life stage and into another. Maybe it’s time to start complaining about the next generation.

Interested in better communication with the Millennials in your company? Tribe can help.

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

Nature Abhors a Vacuum: 3 Reasons Companies Fail at Communicating Organizational Change

Aristotle, portray,the philosopherWhat happens when a company undergoes major change and doesn’t communicate with employees? Aristotle may not have had internal communications in mind when he made his comment about a natural void being instantaneously filled, but the concept still applies. When management doesn’t explain the change, the information vacuum is filled by what employees speculate is happening.

The rumors are often worse than the reality. So why is this communications failure so common? What’s stopping companies from keeping employees in the loop?

Here are three possible reasons:

  1. Timing: When something major is going down, it often happens quickly. If both leadership and communications people have to scramble to decide if and what and how to tell employees, days or even weeks can pass before the communication goes out. In an ideal world, informing employees would be considered well before the change and would be part of the plan for rolling out that change.
  1. Consensus: In many large companies, the layers of approval can slow things down significantly. Making revisions to the communication after each person weighs in is not efficient. Often, one person’s revisions will undo the revisions of the one before. One solution to this is to gather everyone who needs to approve the messaging in one room at one time to hash it out. If people disagree on points, hash it out then and there to reach final approval of your communications.
  1. Denial: Unfortunately, this one is real. Top leadership will sometimes convince themselves that employees are not the least bit concerned about whatever change is underfoot. This situation is exacerbated by the insular environment of most C-suites. They’re not hearing employee concerns about the change, so they assume/hope there aren’t any. 

Of course, in reality, employees are filling the void themselves. Often with the worst things they can possibly imagine. Remind your leadership team that employees are talking about the situation, even if they’re not privy to those conversations. They can either contribute facts or let that vacuum be filled by the rumor mill.

Want to communicate change more effectively to your employees? Tribe can help.