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.

 

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

4 Methods for Reaching Employees Without Computers

How does your company communicate with employees on the frontline, the retail floor or the factory line? Many companies leave all internal communications with non-desk workers to their immediate supervisors. Tribe’s national study with the non-desk employee population* indicates this is a missed opportunity to build engagement. What’s more, those employees who never hear from top management interpret that as a lack of respect for them and their contributions to the company’s success.

But how do you reach employees who are in stores, distribution centers, restaurants and out driving trucks all day? There’s no one-size-fits-all answer, as you must consider the physical realities of their days and think creatively to identify potential touch points. Generally, Tribe recommends a combination of high-tech and low-tech solutions to build channels from corporate to the front lines.

For starters, Tribe also recommends the following four approaches:

1.    LOOP THEM IN: Commit to at least one channel through which non-desk employees will hear from management. This could be a town-hall meeting via video for manufacturing employees, a recorded message accessed through an 800 number, or even a quarterly letter from the CEO mailed to employees’ homes.

2.    ASK THEM WHAT THEY THINK: Having corporate management talk to this audience is a good step, but you also need to create opportunities for these employees to share their comments and views. Two-way communication methods — from the ability to comment on changes in the company, to soliciting ideas for improving systems and processes — demonstrate management’s respect and the desire to understand the realities of these employees’ jobs.

3.    MAKE THEM HEROES: Spotlight frontline and field workers and celebrate their contributions, through regular bio pieces in a company publication, recognition programs or contests that highlight employee performance.

4.    TAKE THE CEO TO THE PEOPLE: Again, there’s no substitute for giving employees a chance to meet face-to-face with top management, and it’s particularly meaningful to non-desk employees. Look for opportunities to have members of your leadership team visit stores, plants and other facilities so they can rub elbows with the people doing the most important work of your company.

Interested in improving communications with your offline employees? Tribe can help.

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

Building Leadership at All Levels

Does your company encourage leadership at every level in the organization? In some ways, this seems an oxymoron. If everyone gets to be a chief, who will be the Indians?

But leadership can be seen as a sense of responsibility for moving things forward. Leading, as opposed to following, may not have anything to do with one person bossing a group of people around.

One crucial aspect of leadership is this quality of taking the lead — not of people, necessarily, but in making things happen. Some companies think of this in terms of generating ideas, and they go so far as to call these people innovators or catalysts or even the big-company lingo for entrepreneurs: intrapreneurs.

A spirit of entrepreneurship is difficult to achieve in most large companies. Some corporations like to boast they have the structure and resources of a large company, yet are as nimble and innovative as a startup. Sounds good, but in reality, that’s tricky.

To promote this type of leadership, a company has to be able to give employees a large degree of autonomy. In many large company cultures, each level hesitates to make a move without the level above them — not only to tell them how to do it, but whether or not it’s okay to do it.

Perhaps a more attainable goal is to nourish a sense of leadership in one’s own work. To encourage employees to approach their own jobs as entrepreneurs. To figure something out and propose a solution, rather than waiting to be told what to do.

From the C-suite to the frontline, the people doing the work are best equipped to create new solutions. The drive-thru attendant might see a better way to organize condiments; the salespeople might discover a faster method of processing returns; the receptionist might suggest rearranging the furniture, after noticing that waiting visitors are seated where they look straight at the break room garbage.

How do you get employees at all levels to take the lead? It starts with the C-level folks demonstrating that they respect employees — especially the oft-ignored frontline people — and value their input. Then you open channels of two-way communication so employees can share their ideas with management. You demonstrate that direct managers — and those in the C-suite — are listening. And you showcase the results of this type of leadership.

That all starts with the right internal communications. Need help with that? Tribe‘s ready when you are.

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

3 Ways to Survey Employees Without Computers

How do you survey non-desk workers? Online surveys are great for employee populations sitting in front of computers, but they aren’t very good at capturing responses from all those on the manufacturing line, in retail stores and in other non-desk positions.

Some companies ask non-desk workers to visit a shared computer in a break room or at a kiosk. Without some serious motivation, hourly employees are not going to be lining up on their break time to answer a company survey.

As in most non-desk employee communications, you need to be a little more creative. Here are three ways to make surveys more accessible to employees without dedicated computers:

  1. Scannable paper surveys:  How did they do surveys before online surveys? Right. On paper. You print the survey; make it available to employees at a time and place that’s convenient for them; and establish a process for collecting those surveys. For scanning, you can contract with a vendor for scannable surveys, or use software that allows you to scan responses in house.
  2. 800 number: Here’s a low-tech solution that’s non-desk friendly, although you’d want to keep the number of questions limited. Employees call a toll-free number, respond to multiple choice questions by pressing a number and to open-ended ones by recording their response.
  3. Text surveys: In many non-desk employee populations, more people own smart phones than home computers. If you offer employees the chance to opt in to text surveys, many of them will likely be willing to answer one to three question surveys at regular intervals.

One caveat to all the above: respect the limits of the non-exempt employee’s workday. You’ll probably want to make it very clear that employees are not expected to answer these surveys on their own time, and to construct a way for them to participate while they’re on the clock.

Interested in finding ways to reach your non-desk employees? Tribe can help.

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

Forget Millennials: It’s Time to Prepare for Gen Z Employees

Now that Millennials are hitting their 30s, it’s time to think about the generation that’s right on their heels. Generation Z, born between 1995 and 2002, is beginning to fill our entry level positions.

Competition for Gen Z employees will be fierce. As Gen Y continues to move up the org chart, there will be smaller numbers of Gen Z to replace them.

It’s time to prepare your company to recruit and retain Gen Z. While many workplaces are still adapting to accommodate Gen Y, the oldest among those employees are in their mid-30s. Rather than being entry-level employees, many of these Millennials are now somebody’s boss.

Gen Z employees have never lived in a world without the Internet. Technology is so indigenous to their life, it’s like breathing air to them. They don’t even notice it’s there, unless it’s not.

Here’s what us Boomers may find counterintuitive about Gen Z and technology. We came of age in a world where Joni Mitchell lamented that they’d “paved paradise and put up a parking lot.” While we grew up thinking of technology as cold and inhuman, Gen Z finds this attitude (to use a phrase Gen Z would use only ironically) completely wack.

Gen Z uses technology to express their humanness. They depend on technology to build relationships, to collaborate, and to bring creative ideas to life. They use technology to be continuously learning and to find solutions to problems.

 All of the above are qualities of highly engaged employees. If one of the key roles of internal communications is to reduce barriers to employee effectiveness, then we better get ready to provide Gen Z with all the technology tools and channels they could possibly want.

Gen Z is ready to change the world. And their tool of choice in technology. When Tribe interviewed Gen Z kids in 2010, they were extremely confident in their abilities to solve problems of both the marketplace and the planet.

“Technology will make it much easier,” said a 14-year-old respondent who’s now in college at University of Pennsylvania. “I think technology will advance enough that environmental issues will be something that can be solved. Like energy needs can be solved. We’ll have easy ways to make energy. Then we can move on to things like world hunger.”

By all means, let’s get them going on those issues. Interested in increasing your company’s strength in attracting and keeping Gen Z employees? Tribe can help.