Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

Note to internal communicators: We’re drawn to human faces even before birth

New research with third-trimester fetuses indicates that we are drawn to human faces, even before we’re born. Scientists in the U.K. used light to shine patterns of red dots into the womb while observing babies’ reactions. When the patterns represented human faces, the babies responded by moving their heads to keep watching the “faces.”

In internal communications, we talk frequently about the power of face-to-face interactions. When CEOs and other leadership show up in person — at offices across the world or the manufacturing floor or in a retail location — they’re able to build a stronger human connection with employees. When employees in far-flung locations or different business units are able to meet face to face, they find it easier to collaborate with each other later, even if it’s via email or phone.

But actual face-to-face interactions aren’t always feasible, especially for large workplace populations. That’s why we look for technology and other methods to reap some of those benefits without actual proximity.

For instance, a streaming Town Hall can allow employees all over the globe to hear what the leadership team has to say. When those are held monthly or quarterly, that human connection (as well as important information about the company’s achievements and plans for the future) can be reinforced over time.

At Tribe, we often use video to bring that human connection to life. For one client we do a series of monthly videos that give employees a chance to see the faces of their leadership team — and hear them discussing a wide range of topics, from values and vision to acquisitions and business strategies. A headshot on the company website can’t build that connection in the same way.

We also urge our clients to invest in photography of real employees doing their jobs. The objective is to show the people doing the real work of the company in a way that makes them look heroic. Employees respond to people like them being treated like celebrities — but they also respond to seeing those real faces.

This recent research indicates that our attraction to faces is innate. By the time the babies in this study are old enough to be employees, internal communications may be using holograms or telepathy rather than video and photos. But my money is on human faces continuing to be a unifying force in employee engagement.

Interested in building human connections with your internal communications? Tribe can help.

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

Boost collaboration with a culture of respect for expertise

Want to build collaboration across departments, disciplines or business units? The first step is to raise the visibility of the work being done and the expertise of the people doing the work. For employees to value ideas contributed by someone from another discipline or with a different expertise, they first need to respect what others bring to the table.

We’ve seen this connection between respect and collaboration with a couple of clients recently. Each of these two companies depend on innovation and bringing new ideas to market in order to remain competitive. Both involve manufacturing and technology. Both are incredibly impressive in the way they collaborate across silos to create better solutions for customers in their industries.

When interviewing high-level engineers at both companies, they speak with great excitement about their collaborative efforts. They heap praise on the expertise of partners from other business units or functions and stress how lucky they are to be able to work with the collaborative team they’ve formed.

How does that happen? These two companies have developed their shared admiration for differing expertise organically. But if that’s not already the climate at your company, you can use communications strategies and tactics to sow the seeds of respect.

Providing visibility is the catalyst. Employees can’t respect each other’s expertise if they don’t know about each other. One of the most important elements of collaboration is awareness of the work being done in other areas of the company.

Develop a channel or two that provide windows into other silos. There are numerous ways you can do this, including your intranet. One of the tactics Tribe often recommends is an employee culture magazine that features the work of individuals and teams across the range of functional divisions or business units or geographical locations.

A magazine can turn employees into celebrities. A feature article can explore a project or initiative in some depth, quoting several of the employees involved and sharing their successes and solutions. A spread of employee spotlights can showcase the work of three or four or even more employees in various functional areas. A roundtable article that includes management from several different silos can share their perspectives on topics like innovation or team building or leadership.

Shining the limelight on employees supports a culture of respect. A magazine or another channel with the same intention of showcasing the talent in your company communicates to all employees the value that each individual can bring to the company’s success. And a culture of respect helps create a work environment that fosters collaboration.

Interested in increasing collaboration in your organization? Tribe can help.

 

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

Successful Change Management Starts with Respect for Employees

Having employees embrace or accept change depends a great deal on whether they feel they’re being treated with respect.Overcome Resistance to Change with Two Conversations,” a fantastic article in the Harvard Business Review by two thought leaders from the Kellogg School of Management, suggests that feeling a lack of respect is one of three reasons behind those who resist organizational change. (The other two they discuss are disagreement and feeling rushed.)

Can their excellent strategies for one-on-one conversations be applied to internal communications? Yes and no. They’re correct that email and webcasts can’t accomplish what a face-to-face dialogue can. But those engineering a major change in large companies with thousands or tens of thousands of employees obviously can’t sit down with every single person the change will impact.

Still, the change communications can start from a place of respect for employees. The inevitable email, town hall, intranet articles and/or webcasts can all frame the transition in ways that acknowledge the difficulties of the change and communicate honestly about the downsides  — as well as the ways the change will benefit the company and its employees in the long run.

In addition, Tribe would recommend three key elements to the change communications:

  1. Have the CEO announce the change: In Tribe’s national research with employees of large companies, respondents said they wanted to hear about a big change first from the top brass. They want their leadership to be straightforward about bad news and not sugarcoat it or spin it. And they want to know the business reasons behind the change.
  2. Prep managers to answer questions: Employees in our research said they would likely follow up with their direct managers to ask questions, so help your managers be prepared with talking points, FAQs and possibly communication training on this particular change. You want each manager to be sharing the same messaging as the CEO — and as the other managers out there, so employees aren’t hearing different versions of the story depending on who they talk to.
  3. Give employees a feedback loop: Two-way communication is particularly important in times of major change. Give employees a way to ask questions and share concerns, and be sure they get responses in a timely way.

Interesting in improving acceptance of a major change at your company? Tribe can help.

 

 

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

Use Storytelling to Educate Employees on Cyber Security

Do your employees know what to do in case of a security breach? According to Deloitte Australia (as reported on CIO.com), employees of 43 percent of the country’s top brands don’t even know if their company has a procedure to follow in case of a data breach.

Perhaps even more importantly, do your employees know to avoid behavior that could lead to a major security breach? The recent Deloitte Global report titled “Cultivating a Cyber-Risk-Aware Culture” describes a hypothetical spear phishing attack that plenty of intelligent and worldly employees might fall for — if good cyber hygiene is not top of mind.

In this phishing scheme, an employee receives an email promising a gift card in return for answering a survey. The employee was not maliciously sharing sensitive company information. It looked like the email was sent by someone inside the company. And who doesn’t want a gift card?

Talking about cyber-awareness isn’t enough. To many of us, the term cyber sounds dated and vaguely humorous. Like when people joke about the World Wide Net or the InterWeb.

Bring it to life by telling the story. Employees need concrete examples of what risky behavior looks like, so paint the picture of a potential scenario. What sort of information would cyber attackers be looking for? What are some of the common techniques used by cyber-attackers? What are some of the potentially disastrous outcomes? Beyond just saying “Be careful,” we need to give employees a clear picture of what being careful looks like — and what it doesn’t.

Use internal communications to tell that story in ways that are engaging and interesting, not patronizing or scolding. Rare is the employee who would intentionally do harm to the company. But innocent mistakes can do real damage. And employees can’t sidestep a security risk if they don’t recognize the situation as risky.

Interested in engaging your employees in cyber-awareness? Tribe can help.

 

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

Change Management Communications: What’s the Worst That Can Happen?

What’s the biggest mistake you could possibly make in communicating change? The absolute worst would be to tell employees something that would make them feel better, but might not be true. For instance, saying there will be no layoffs with an impending merger, before management knows for certain that there won’t be. In the midst of change, there are many moving parts, and some early assumptions may be revised as more details and numbers are fleshed out.

On the other hand, it’s also a  mistake is to say nothing because the details haven’t yet been finalized. Employees can accept the fact that you can’t tell them everything right now. What causes them more stress is the sneaking suspicion that something’s afoot and management isn’t telling them anything. We advise clients that it’s perfectly fine to say, “We don’t know yet, but we’ll tell you when we do,” or “We can’t share that information, but what I can tell you is such and such.” In any case, you certainly want to avoid having your employees hear the news from someone outside the company, whether it’s a neighbor who’s related to top management or the business section of the newspaper.

You can also minimize stress for employees by acknowledging what we call the Two Big Fears. In the face of any major change in the workplace, employees worry about two major questions: “Will I lose my job?” If the answer to that is no, then the next concern is “Will this make my job more difficult?” Acknowledging those two issues can take some of the heat off them.

It’s human nature to imagine the worst. So in the absence of communication regarding the change, employees’ imaginations will fill in the gaps and rumours will begin seeping through your organization. Setting realistic expectations can be a relief. Most people would rather know what to expect, even if it’s not good news, than to be left in the dark.

The most important key to successfully communicating change is to begin with a foundation of respect for the employees. That means treating employees like the intelligent adults they are, as well as putting yourself in their shoes. We often talk about the Golden Rule of Change: If you were an employee impacted by this change, how would you want to be treated?

Interested in communicating change more effectively at your company? Tribe can help.

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

What to Tell Employees About Robots Taking Their Jobs

First the good news: A recent Forrester report estimates that automation will create about 15 million jobs over the next decade. Now the bad: the same report says it will also eliminate 25 million jobs.

It’s reasonable for employees to feel some anxiety about the prospects of automation in the workplace. For many companies, from paper mills to hotels, robots are already on the job.

So what do you tell employees? What you don’t tell them is that it will never happen in your company. It likely will, and you never want to promise employees an easy answer that could prove false.

Be honest. If there are ways automation can cut labor costs, it would behoove the company to take advantage of that. It will be better for employees, in the long run, to be working for a company that’s profitable and competing successfully in the marketplace.

But honest doesn’t mean the future’s all doom and gloom. Many experts believe this will be more of a transformation than a gutting of the workplace, and that automation will create new jobs that didn’t exist before. 

What’s more, these new jobs may be more fulfilling. The grunt work that people don’t enjoy is the work that’s easy to delegate to a robot. Rather than being replaced by robots, many employees will be working side by side with them. And while there are robots being developed that can interact with humans, the most important customer service will still happen person to person.

Person-to-person interactions will also remain a primary reason employees choose to stay at a company or leave it. Their relationships with their coworkers and their bosses will continue to impact whether they’re excited to get to work or dreading it.

Stress the importance of your company culture. As always, communicate the vision you’re trying to achieve. Point to real-life examples of the values being applied to day-to-day work decisions. Celebrate and recognize the people doing the important work of the company — not just in the C-suite but on the frontlines and manufacturing line as well.

Make certain your internal communications make employees visible. Interview them, photograph them, acknowledge their accomplishments. When employees know that their individual contributions to the company’s success are valued, they may be less inclined to fear automation.

Interested in internal communications that make employees feel recognized and appreciated? Tribe can help.

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

5 Faux Pas of Internal Communications

What are employees’ pet peeves about internal communications? In Tribe’s national research with employees on a variety of topics over the years — from change management to hiring practices —  we’ve heard a lot about what people do like and what they don’t. Here are five practices that seem to consistently annoy employees:

  1. Employee surveys with no follow up: When the company fields a survey asking employees to provide feedback on engagement, workplace issues, job satisfaction or other topics, employees would like the circle to be closed. They want to hear the results of the survey, and if there are issues that need addressing, they’d especially like to see management taking some action to make the changes needed.
  2. Intranets cluttered with outdated content: One of the primary goals of an intranet is to make it easier to find the information you need, not harder. When there’s no plan for removing old content after it’s past its shelf life, or no system for a regular flow of new content, employees lose patience with the site.
  3. Too many places to check for communications: Employees making this comment might mean having one intranet for the parent company and another for their brand and yet another for their HR stuff. Or they might mean email plus Yammer plus Slack.
  4. Managers bottlenecking information: Cascading communications is a perennial favorite for companies trying to reach frontline employees, particularly those without company email addresses or dedicated computers. But everyone (internal communications departments included) knows that some managers are great about this and others never seem to get around to it. Employees don’t like being out of the loop because their managers forget to clue them in.
  5. Conflicting information about a major change: Change is stressful, but one of the things that can lower employee stress is to have clear and consistent information about what the change means. If they hear one thing from the CEO and another from their manager and still another from what they read online, that can drive them a little crazy.

Interested in avoiding these and other practices that get on employees’ nerves? Tribe can help.

 

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

Should Your Internal Brand Guidelines Be a Mirror Image of the External Brand?

There’s a wide range in how various brands answer this question. A few companies Tribe works with use the exact same brand guidelines internally and externally. Once in a while we’ll work with a company that has a very different look internally than externally.

Our guidance is to see the internal brand as an in-the-family version of the external brand. While the external brand is how we represent the brand to consumers and the rest of the world, the internal brand is like having a conversation with your family members. It’s how we speak to each other, human to human, inside the company.

The external brand and the internal brand are two sides of the same coin. When a company makes a brand promise, the people inside the company are the ones charged with keeping that promise. Whether the brand promise is about delivering speed or quality or courtesy or anything else, the employees need to be steeped in communications that prepare them to deliver on that. In the same sense, the way those internal communications look and feel should reflect the external brand.

So when we’re building an employee brand, we start with the existing brand standards. But then we might add a few elements to make it convey a little more familiarity, in the sense that we’re talking amongst ourselves in the family rather than to the outside world. We might introduce a brighter, friendlier color palette. We might recommend including an additional font that’s more casual. We will lobby for photography of employees, so that the internal communications reflect the faces not just of leadership but also of people working in various parts of the organization. (We don’t ever advocate using stock photography to represent real employees.)

The tone of voice and choice of language might also be different for the internal brand. Of course, the vocabulary you use with consumers or clients regarding your products and services, the industry and your business should be mirrored internally. But when you’re speaking to employees, it’s more like sitting across the kitchen table than it might be for the rest of the world. The internal tone of voice might be a bit more casual, maybe even include a little more humor.

One important point that marketing folks sometimes don’t get at first is that an internal brand needs more range than the external brand. That’s an issue of context. Think about seeing a TV spot, magazine ad or online advertising for your company. It will be seen in the context of lots of other brands.

But imagine walking by the digital signage in your company. Although there may be a few dozen different slides, they’re all representing one brand. Without giving art directors some range in the brand design, those slides will all look very much the same — and won’t be very engaging.

Another example might be the employee magazine. If every article looks exactly like the others, it becomes a sales brochure. To keep employees’ attention from article to article, and to signal readers that the content is editorial rather than advertising, the brand has to allow for slightly different treatments of photography, illustration, fonts, color and maybe even icons.

That’s not to say we recommend that anything goes for the internal brand. Quite the opposite. We believe in setting internal brand standards, but having those standards include a range of options — all of which are on brand.

Interested in establishing internal brand standards? Tribe can help.

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

5 Ways to Recognize the Employees Who Do the Real Work of the Company

Photo credit: Chris Davis Photography

Giving visibility to leadership is important. People want to see the faces and know the humans behind the titles at the top of the org chart.

But it can be even more powerful to give visibility to the people in the rest of the organization. Unwittingly, internal communications often focus on the folks at the top and don’t give much coverage to the employees who are manufacturing the products; delivering the service; making the sales; coding the platforms — not to mention all the employees in HR, accounting, marketing and more who support all those people.

Here are five ways to create more visibility for the people doing the real work of the company:

  1. Quote them in articles: On the intranet or in your employee publications, use regular employees as sources rather than always quoting someone from the C-suite. When you’re covering a new product or a new plant, giving examples of collaboration or innovation, illustrating how the values of the company are used at work, the rank-and-file people will have insights and comments that other employees will be interested to read.
  2. Shoot employee photography: I’m not talking about snapping someone’s headshot standing against a beige cubicle wall. Invest in talented photographers to shoot employees in context of their work. Then use that library of employee photography to illustrate everything from your intranet to digital signage to the annual report. If you have a number of locations and types of workplaces, try shooting at three to five places a year and building the library over time.
  3. Build an employee culture team: Establish a small group of mid-level employees who represent diversity across the company, and task them with being conduits for the culture. You might start with an off-site where the team can bond, and have leadership join to talk about the culture, where they company is going, what it is the company stands for. Then use this team to give culture presentations to their colleagues and to report back to leadership on employee questions and concerns, progress and set-backs. When you have a major change down the road, you’ll be glad to have this community of peer influencers already in place.
  4. Create a peer-to-peer recognition program: Top-down recognition is great, but it can be just as powerful to be recognized by one’s coworkers. Establish a monthly or quarterly recognition program in which employees drive the process of who amongst them gets recognized.
  5. Help them see the value of their roles: This is the big one — and lies at the heart of employees feeling celebrated rather than invisible. If you can draw a line, in employees’ minds, that leads directly from what they do every day to the vision and success of the company, you create a powerful shift. Help employees see how their individual roles contribute, and make sure they see leadership recognizing their contributions as well.

Interested in giving your employees more visibility? Tribe can help.

 

 

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

15 Years of Internal Communications: What’s Changed and What Hasn’t

Tribe was founded as a creative branding boutique 15 years ago yesterday. And while our original focus was on traditional advertising, from the very beginning we were asked to take on internal communications projects for large companies. The industry has changed in many ways since 2002, and in others ways, it’s still exactly the same. Here are three observations:

  1. It starts in the C-suite: When CEOs believe communication with employees is important, they’ll create the budget to make it happen. Often we find some major organizational change — from the acquisition of another company to a shift in strategic priorities — will provide the trigger for stepping up internal communications. This is something we see more often now than we did 15 years ago. What hasn’t changed is the way an individual CEO will drive communications about vision and values — or not. If it’s not important at the top, it’s generally not seen as an important topic for the rest of the company.
  2. Technology has elevated our field. The advent of intranets was a major game changer, but the intranet game itself has changed dramatically over the years. Back in the day, UPS was our first client with an intranet (although they called it a portal and it was really just a collection of links). Then for years SharePoint was the only way to go and we used it for every site we built, from Porsche to PVH. Now, SaaS platforms make it much easier and more affordable — not to mention faster. We’ve been able to pull off sites in less than a month, without impacting the workload of the clients’ IT team.
  3. Print publications never died. Although digital communications fill the lion’s share of our clients’ communication channels nowadays, there’s still a place for print. In our early years at Tribe, we published a printed internal newsletter every month for Porsche. In black and white, because color was way too expensive. Today we do digital newsletters and magazines more often than print, but when there’s a large percentage of employees without dedicated computers, we still recommend printing. For one client, those printed magazines are mailed to each employee’s home. Expensive, yes, but it’s the only channel that goes directly from corporate to the folks in the manufacturing facilities.

One of the most interesting things about the internal communications field is that it’s changing all the time. New platforms, apps and technology provide nearly endless new possibilities for ways the company can communicate with employees. However, the most important element remains, whether you’re typing it up in black and white or shooting 3-D HD scented video to digital watches: it’s just human beings talking to human beings. Authenticity counts, regardless of the medium.

Interested in communicating more authentically to your employees? Tribe can help.