Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

Keeping Frontline Employees in the Loop: 4 Tips

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 communication channels that work for your non-desk employees? Tribe can help.

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

Cascading Communications: Give Managers Communications Tools

In many, if not most, large companies, communication from corporate is cascaded through direct managers. For instance, corporate will email managers the news, and then managers are expected to share that news with their people.

This is particularly common with non-desk employees, like those on the retail floor, in the distribution centers, the manufacturing facilities and out in the field. Since these employees rarely have company email addresses, corporate deems them nearly impossible to reach, except through their managers.

In Tribe’s research, employees have two concerns about communications that come through their managers. The first is timeliness, in that some managers will share with their team right away, others will eventually get around to it, and still others may never do it. Corporate often has no way of knowing whether the information has in fact been shared or not.

The other issue employees often cite is inconsistency of message. Human nature being what it is, each manager will filter the information through their own lens. Employees in our research often referenced the childhood game of Telephone, where a message is whispered from one person to the next to the next until what the last person in line hears bares little resemblance to the original message.

Tribe’s research also indicates that many direct managers may struggle with this process. In our most recent study, 53 percent wanted online tools to help them communicate with their teams more effectively. This could be a comprehensive online tool kit of PowerPoint presentations, email templates and videos. Or it could be as simple as providing a one-pager of talking points and maybe another page of FAQ.

Either way, these communication tools address several issues at once. They increase the likelihood that direct managers will indeed share corporate communications with their teams. They promote consistency of message. And they help both the direct managers and their direct reports feel supported and valued.

Of course, in most cases Tribe would also recommend some corporate communications that go directly to employees rather than through their managers. In our research, 72 percent said that hearing from their top management is important to them. And 84 percent said they currently receive “not enough” information from corporate.

Even with employees who don’t have company email addresses, direct communication from corporate is quite feasible. If you’d like to know more, just ask us. Tribe can help.

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

3 Ways to Fumble When Communicating a Major Change

How does a company communicate a major change? In many cases, not well. Following are three sure-fire ways to get it wrong.

1. Don’t say anything at all until every single detail is final. This is an awesome idea if you want employees to feel insecure and uneasy. Especially if they somehow suspect change is afoot and begin to spread that suspicion via the grapevine.

2. Tell them what they want to hear. For instance, if there’s currently no plan for layoffs, go ahead and promise them that all their jobs are definitely safe and they don’t have a thing to worry about. If that changes, they probably won’t even remember the earlier communication.

3. If it’s bad news, don’t talk about it. If you don’t acknowledge that something has gone wrong, or that a difficult change is coming, then you can keep employees from knowing a thing about it.

What’s that? You prefer treating employees with respect? Then you might find the following tips more in keeping with your approach:

• Don’t patronize them by withholding negative news. They’d rather know what to expect than be left in the dark.

• Tell employees as much as you can as soon as you can. If aspects of the change are not yet decided, tell them that too.

• Don’t make the mistake of thinking employees get all their information about the company from the company. They have plenty of other sources, from the financial news to the local news and from social media to social connections.

Interested in change communications that are respectful to employees? Tribe can help.

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

Using Video to Humanize the Leadership Team: Five Tips to Make It Easy

Video can be a great medium for helping employees feel a human connection with company leadership. We’re not talking about an-hour long presentation on finances. Try 60 to 90 second videos on topics that have some relevance to the culture of the company, like one of the values, or a new sustainability effort. Or maybe try a video that includes all the members of the leadership team answering the same few questions, from the business-related, like: “What’s the coolest project you’re working on right now?” to the personal: “Out of all our products, what’s your favorite?” or even “What was your first job ever?”

To get the most bang for the buck, it’s helpful to plan a series of videos and shoot them together. That might mean shooting six videos that are each a conversation with one member of the leadership team about how their function supports the vision of the company. The CFO will obviously have different answers from the CMO. Or it could mean creating a dozen videos that each include responses from several different members of the management team. Using the examples above, one video could have each one answering the coolest project question. Then the next video might be the one where they each talk about their favorite product. The other 10 videos could cover anything from how they see the values playing out in their everyday work to how each of their functions helps the company be more customer-centric.

Here are a handful of tips to make leadership videos simple and affordable:

1. Prepare carefully. If you plan to produce 10 videos, you might want to develop ideas for 12 or 14, in case one or two don’t pan out. For each video you plan to produce, have the questions prepared ahead of time. Sometimes it helps to give the people you’ll be shooting the questions beforehand so they can begin formulating answers. Think through the edit and create your shot list. Know how you plan to cut the footage together so you make sure to cover everything you’ll need to shoot.

2. Position the interviewer off camera. Rather than a talk-show setup with an on-camera interviewer, keep it simple. Keep the interviewer off camera, and cut that person’s questions out later. The interviewer is there just to prompt the interviewees to cover the desired topics.

3. Use a green screen. Especially if you’ll be shooting leadership in different locations, this allows you to keep the lighting similar and slip in any background you want. Just position the green screen far enough behind the interviewee that the green won’t reflect on their skin.

4. Have a second camera. This can be a locked-down camera on a tripod without a camera operator. The purpose of this footage is to provide cutaway shots, particularly when you’re planning to use just one person in each video.

5. Be efficient with your executives’ time. Even if you’re shooting a dozen videos with six or eight different members of the leadership team, try to get the footage you need in under 30 minutes for each of them. In most cases, it should take less than that.

Interested in producing a series of leadership videos? Tribe can help.

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

Eliminating Ineffective Channels: Send Out Less Stuff, and Employees May Pay More Attention

Sometimes the best thing to do is to stop doing something. As you add more and more channels to your internal communications program, whether that’s updating the intranet to a more social platform or developing communications toolkits for managers to cascade messaging, you can reach a tipping point where too much is, well, just too much.

Stop and make an assessment of what’s working and what’s not. Are there six different newsletters from various division and regions? Maybe you could retire a few, or at least use a more targeted list of who gets what. Do employees have several different sites serving various functions of an intranet? Maybe you could shut one of those down, or migrate the content that’s actually being used to another internal site that gets more traffic.

Also consider the Use By date on communications meant for a specific time window. If you ship posters to all locations and ask them to put them up in the break room, do you also let them know when it’s time to take those posters down? When open enrollment is over, when the United Way campaign is complete, removing those posters leaves visual (and mental) space for other messages.

But don’t throw the baby out with the bath water. If a channel doesn’t seem to be working very well, consider updating what flows through that channel. That digital newsletter that nobody reads might be a winner with an updated design and improved content.

How do you know what’s working and what’s not? The best way is to do a communications audit, using any metrics you have plus an additional employee survey and possibly even some employee focus groups. When Tribe conducts such an audit, the resulting recommendations usually include some combination of 1) channels to keep because they’re working great as is; 2) channels to tweak because they need more strategic thought and/or more engaging content; and 3) channels that have served their time and are ready to retire.

The conundrum is this: there’s always the risk that you’re communicating too much. Just as there’s always the possibility that you’re not communicating enough. If this stuff was easy, it wouldn’t be so hard.

Interested in giving your portfolio of communication channels the once over? Tribe can help.




Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

Three Reasons to Shoot Your Employees

Stock photography is cheap and easy, but it’s not always a great idea. In certain situations, of course, it can be a good solution. When you want to communicate a concept, like collaboration or growth, you might use symbolic or metaphorical photography. If you want a simple visual to illustrate a topic like the 401K, you can find tons of nice shots of piggy banks or gold coins or other relevant objects.

But don’t use stock to represent your employees. It instantly communicates inauthenticity, but even more important, it’s forgoing a fantastic opportunity to build engagement.

Let’s start with the inauthentic part. People can spot a model a mile away. When you use stock in employee communications — to represent real employees — you’re not fooling anyone. Everybody knows those aren’t really employees on the intranet or in the brochure or wherever you’re using stock photos.

Then consider what happens when you photograph actual employees. All three of the following benefits make it worth considering the effort and expense of original photography.

1. Making heroes of your employees: Our culture is fascinated with celebrities, and when you use photographs of real employees, some of that show biz stardust falls on each of those individuals. But like a pebble in a pond, a heroic shot of one employee also creates a sense of pride for all those other employees out there who can look at that photo and say, “Hey, that person is just like me.”

2. Connecting employees across silos: One of the best ways to break down silos is to help employees develop human connections with the people in other silos. When you can put a face on a colleague, whether that person is down the hall or across the globe, you humanize them. Besides, employees love looking at photos of each other. Employee photos consistently get positive responses in all sorts of internal communications. If you’re creating a library of employee photography, or shooting numerous photos for a large project like a vision book, try to include as many silos as possible. Try also to cover a diversity of job function, seniority levels, ethnic backgrounds, age and gender.

3. The shoot itself builds engagement. When you have a professional photographer in the building — along with the accompanying lights, cameras and makeup stylists — it creates excitement. Employees want to know what’s going on, they want to be involved, and they will tell everybody they know about the shoot at work. Create more assets to use in internal comms with “behind the scenes” photos of the shoot in progress. Get shots of employees in the makeup chair, the photographer working with his subjects, the glamour of a working set. Those BTS photos are sometimes even more engaging than the professional shots by the real photographer.

Interested in the possibilities of employee photography in your organization?Tribe can help.


Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

Letter from the CEO: Tips to Get Employees to Actually Read It

Having the CEO or another leadership team member write a letter or email to employees is a huge opportunity to build engagement. But only if it’s done well. A 500-word missive that’s one long stuffy sentence after another is not engaging and will bore employees long before they get to that final paragraph. Here are a few tips to keep in mind when your communications plan includes leadership communications of that sort:

  1. Don’t ghostwrite it: Or at least don’t make it sound like someone ghostwrote it. If the exec doesn’t have the time or inclination to write the piece for himself or herself, do whatever you can to channel his or her voice. What are the words and phrases this person uses frequently? If they like something, are they more likely to describe it as really cool, awesome, outstanding, fabulous or terrific? Is there a word or phrase they use frequently to reinforce an idea,  like “absolutely” or “no doubt?” If you don’t have frequent contact with this particular leader, search online for videos of interviews or speaking engagements to pick up details of how they speak. Even better, get five minutes of their time to talk about what they want employees to get out of this communication.
  2. Show some personality: Tribe’s national research with employees indicates that they want a personal connection with their leadership teams. They want to feel like they know something beyond business facts about the person behind the title. Some more introverted leaders resist talking about themselves because they think it comes off as self-centered or bragging. Explain that it’s humanizing rather than hubris. If the big boss is training for a marathon or writing a detective novel on the side, that’s the kind of personal detail employees are craving.
  3. Cut roughly 20% of what you wrote: Or even 30%. Take a look at what you think is the final draft and figure out how to make it shorter. If it’s a letter, absolutely do not let it be more than one page, and try not to fill that page with ink. If it’s an email, three or four brief paragraphs is probably about as much as employees will read. For a blog, you can go a little longer, but still, short and sweet is more likely to be read.

Interested in improving your leadership communications? Tribe can help.


Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

Balancing Collaboration and Efficiency

A premium is placed on collaboration in many, if not most, large companies. As knowledge and expertise become increasingly specialized, collaboration across functional areas becomes even more critical for successful business results.

At the same time, efficiency is also a priority. Companies feel the pressure of delivering improved speed to market, quick response to changing business factors and the ever-increasing demand to be faster than before.

The challenge is that collaboration and efficiency work against each other. To collaborate requires rounding up people in diverse roles across the company, and usually across geography. Coordinating the schedules of everyone in the group for an in-person meeting or conference call is no easy feat. It’s not always going to happen this week, or even this month.

It’s much faster for one functional unit to make decisions and move on. In Tribe’s national study on collaboration, many respondents cited this time drag as a reason why they often skip the step of getting input from other areas in the company.

But are the right decisions being made? There are no doubt insights the sales team can share about what customers are really looking for; that the programmers can clarify in regards to what the software can really do; or that one division of the company can offer regarding a key customer they share with another division.

This tension between collaboration and speed isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It forces people to set priorities, to weigh the need for one over the other. In most corporate cultures, the pendulum will swing towards one over the other.

One principle for maintaining a balance between the two is to separate the two functions of collaborating and making decisions. When people come together to collaborate, it should be for the purpose of providing their unique expertise, input and feedback. The collaborative meeting is not the place to make decisions. Trying to reach consensus on a decision is not only difficult, it’s unlikely to result in the best decision.

Give everybody a voice, but not a vote. The happy medium – or the Middle Way, as the Buddhists would say – is to invite many different perspectives but not give away the power to make the final determination. The responsibility for decision-making should remain with those who own the project or initiative under discussion.

Interested in balancing collaboration and speed in your company? Tribe can help.

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

Intranets, Magazines and Emails are Only Envelopes

The medium, in fact, is not the message. (Apologies to Marshall McLuhan, the man who coined that phrase back in the 1960s.) Although we now have more possible internal communications channels than ever before, each channel is nothing more than an envelope in which we deliver content. Is your content fresh and relevant? Is the design appealing so people want to see what’s inside that envelope?

If a channel hasn’t worked before, maybe it just needs to be done better. Occasionally when Tribe recommends a new approach to an existing channel, a client will say nope, we’ve already tried that and it didn’t work. Maybe a bad magazine didn’t work, but one that’s beautifully designed with engaging articles just might.

For instance, it’s not the intranet’s fault if nobody goes there. Compare your content and design with what employees see online every day, from news sites to social media to retailers. Does your site seem pretty bleak in comparison? Even when you’re stuck with an existing platform, you can re-skin the graphic design and rethink your content.

Often the issue is not quality of content but quantity. If employees aren’t reading internal communications emails, could it be because they’re ridiculously long? Cutting the word count from 500 to 50 and adding some visual interest might make that channel highly effective. If you’re afraid a short email can’t possibly give employees all the information they might need, direct them to the intranet for more details.

Same goes for corporate videos. It takes discipline to keep them short, but when a video drags on and on, few people will watch all the way to the end. We once worked with a client on a collection of videos that was were one person talking about one topic for one minute. Employees loved them.

So don’t discard an old envelope just because it hasn’t been effective in the past. It’s what goes in that envelope that makes all the difference.

Interested in refreshing an existing channel? Tribe can help.

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

If you want collaboration, encourage conversations that aren’t about work

See that group of employees standing around the coffee maker chewing the fat? The ones talking about things that have absolutely nothing to do with work?

That sort of idle chit chat is exactly what you want if you’re hoping to build a collaborative culture. In Tribe’s national research on collaboration, respondents stressed how important it is to know the other people, at least casually, in order to feel comfortable sharing ideas and collaborating on work projects.

One of the major hurdles to collaboration is how vulnerable people can feel sharing fragile ideas that are still half-baked. But that’s exactly when you want to get those ideas out on the table so people with different expertise and perspectives can contribute to moving the idea forward.

Creating a culture where casual conversation and personal relationships are valued helps give employees that comfort level. Look for more ways employees can cross paths with those in other work teams and even business units. That might mean building more social hours into annual conferences or establishing an inter-departmental dodgeball tournament. It can be impacted by the architecture of your buildings. It can even be encouraged by stocking a really great break room with latte machines and coolers of energy drinks and bowls of fresh fruit.

The goal is to give employees, especially those in different disciplines, occasions to rub elbows. And then to encourage your managers to let those casual conversations happen. To some, it may look like employees are goofing off. But by establishing close social connections, your employees are doing something very positive for the company.

Interested in building a culture of collaboration at your company? Tribe can help.