Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

There are two-steps to two-way communications

The first step is asking for employee input.  Whether it’s a formal engagement survey, a questions-and-comments feature on the intranet or employee focus groups on particular issues, people like being asked for their opinion.

But you can’t forget the second step: responding to that input. Once employees have offered their thoughts and opinions, they tend to expect something to happen as a result. They need a response from management, if not in terms of actions taken, then at the very least an acknowledgement that the input was received.

Employees realize the company can’t say yes to everything. Clearly, every employee preference can’t be accommodated nor can every employee suggestion be implemented. By making one choice, the company opts out of others.

Still, employees need to know that they’ve been heard. If your intranet accepts employee suggestions for ideas and innovations, make sure you’ve got a process in place for someone to read those suggestions and to thank the employee, whether or not that idea is one the company could adopt.

They also want to know the business reasons behind decisions. When employee input has been solicited for a key decision at the company, from healthcare benefits to flex workdays to the platform for a new intranet, some employees will be taken aback when their recommendation is not the one adopted.

Tell them why the decision that was made is the best one for the business. Show how that decision best supports the company vision. Share how employee input helped shape the decision, but wasn’t the only consideration.

It also helps to discuss those options discussed but discarded. For lack of a better example, let’s say management decided to make chocolate ice cream the official dessert in the company cafeteria. Those who suggested vanilla and strawberry and butter pecan might feel their opinions were ignored. Just by acknowledging some of the other possibilities considered, you’re letting employees know that their input didn’t drop into a black hole.

Finally, make clear the difference between a voice and a vote. By giving employees a voice in upcoming decisions, management is not handing over responsibility for decision making. At some point, leadership has to make the call and move on.

Is your company working to engage employees in discussions about upcoming decisions? Tribe can help.

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

To reach non-desk employees, walk through a day in their shoes

Do you think your frontline, manufacturing or retail employees don’t notice that you’re not talking to them? They do, according to Tribe’s research with non-desk employees of large companies nationwide.

Even worse, they interpret a lack of internal communications as a lack of respect. When non-desk workers don’t hear from their company leadership, they assume it’s because their day-to-day contributions to the company’s success are simply not valued at the top.

Of course, it’s not easy to reach all those employees who aren’t sitting in front of computers all day. But that’s not a great excuse not to try. Just because it’s hard doesn’t mean it’s not worth doing.

At Tribe, we recommend looking for touch points that are unique to your employee population. It helps to go out to the plant or the store or the hotel. Walk in the employees’ shoes, go through the paces of their days. Where do they enter the building when they come to work? Where do they eat lunch? Where do they park? Are they driving a truck, operating machinery, loading boxes or standing on a retail floor? We look for touch points that might be less obvious than a poster in the break room.

Over the years, we’ve come up with some pretty weird touch points to reach non-desk employees. Can you pre-load the trucks the night before with a rearview mirror hangtag? Can you put signage inside the van they ride to work from the off-site parking lot? Can you use floor decals? Window clings on restroom mirrors? Fortune cookies?

You need to understand the physical environment to find those untapped touch points. The trick is to get out from behind your desk and go see what it’s like out there. If you’ve already done that and have come up with some really smart touch points, we’d love to hear about it.

Looking for new ways to reach your non-desk audience? Tribe can help.

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

When communicating major change, watch your step.


How does a company communicate a major change? In many cases, not well. Following are three sure-fire ways to completely blow it with employees:

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 communicating change more effectively? Tribe can help.

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

If You Want Employees on the Intranet, Skip the Spin

For intranet content that truly engages employees, think more like a newspaper editor than a PR exec. In public relations, you try to push the messages and information that you want the readers to know. As a journalist, you look for the stories your readers want to know.

A PR perspective* can result in the rose-colored glasses version of company news.Employees are sophisticated consumers of media, and they’ll see right through that rosy lens. A perpetual and obvious spin can erode trust rather quickly.

Taking a journalistic approach to content will mean thinking through the questions employees will want answered. Telling the whole story, without sidestepping the bits that might not be such good news, results in the sort of authentic content that employees crave.

That doesn’t mean you can’t promote company messaging on the intranet. Among other topics, it can and should contain content that helps employees align with the company vision; educates them on company accomplishments and the achievements of those in other functional silos; and connects employees across geography to remind them they’re part of something larger than their immediate work team.

The intranet is also an excellent place to tell the company’s side of any unsettling event or major change. It offers an opportunity to counteract the rumor mill by sharing the reasons behind a change or the company’s response to an unfortunate event. It can reduce employee stress by giving them the information they need to feel confident in the way management is moving forward. If you want employees to consider the intranet their go-to source for company information, give them an honest appraisal of what’s happening now, what will happen next, and how, and when and to whom.

Remember that an intranet is a pull medium. Employees have to want to see what’s posted, or you’ll never get them to go there. To make your intranet a must-read for employees, offer the news they want, delivered in a way that gives them credit for being intelligent human beings.

Interested in making your intranet the go-to source for employees? Tribe can help.

*This post is not intended to disparage the fine work of public relations professionals, many of whom we respect and admire to the nth degree.

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

The Leadership Bubble: Are Your Top Execs Just Talking to Themselves?

Sometimes the top leadership of a company can be something of a closed system. The C-level and management a layer below tend to spend their days rubbing elbows with each other rather than employees in the rest of the company. Without a strong effort to create channels of communication between top management and rank-and-file employees, there’s sometimes very little information flowing between the two.

Leadership often thinks employees know things they don’t. Important things for engagement and alignment, like their vision for the company, their strategic plans for growth, the values they want the company to use in doing business.

Towards the end of the Recession, we did some research on this topic with a limited sample of four or five large companies. First we spoke with leadership about their plans for handling the economic downturn and coming out stronger on the other end of it.

Without a single exception, leadership from every company said they had a clear vision. When we asked if they believed the employees were aware of and understood this vision, they said, yes, absolutely, we talk about it all the time.

Then we asked the same two questions of employees at each of those companies.What we heard from most of them were comments like: “I don’t think they have any idea how to get us through this;” “There’s no plan, not that I know of;” and “I don’t thing there’s a vision and it scares me.”

Why would leadership think employees know these things when they clearly do not? It’s because they themselves hear about the vision every day. They’re all sitting in the same meetings, seeing the same Powerpoints and having the same discussions. They know the vision, and they know how their department or division of the company is expected to contribute to that vision.

 In short, they’re talking to themselves. What’s needed is a strategic approach to communicating top management’s strategic direction and vision to people at all levels of the company.

They’re also not hearing the views of employees outside the C-Suite. If there’s little to no communciation direct from leadership to employees, then there’s probably not an established two-way communciation channel either. So corporate management is missing out on all that employees could tell them — from suggestions and innovations to complaints and concerns. Both are useful for improving the company in a myriad of ways large and small.

Interested in establishing communication channels between your C-level and the rest of the company? Tribe can help.

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

Making Open Enrollment Less of a Drag: Four Communications Tips

Sure, employees often drag their feet on Open Enrollment, but who can blame them? Even though they realize their benefits decisions are important, nobody gets excited about that annual opportunity to wade through all that insurance language about out-of-network deductibles and qualifying events.

Our job as communicators is to make it easier for them. Yes, they need all the details included in the giant enrollment guide or on the website, but they could also use a little help at knowing what they need to pay attention to, what decisions they need to make, and what actions they need to take to be squared away until next year.

Employees are busy. Like the rest of us, their workdays are packed with, you know, work. Also like everybody else, they have many different demands on their time when they’re not at work.

What if you thought of the employees as CEOs? You wouldn’t hand your CEO a huge stack of benefits gobbledy gook without providing any sort of executive summary. You’d probably also outline the important decisions that need to be made and include a clear call to action.

  1. Try to summarize what they need to know with a headline and several bullets. If employees only had time to read one PowerPoint slide, what’s the most important stuff for them to know? Probably, that slide is about what’s different this year from last year.

2. Then give them a short list of the decisions in front of them. In the simplest, most human terms possible, outline the selections they’ll need to make. Do they need to decide between three possible healthcare plans and two possible dental plans? Is vision coverage optional? Instead of writing in HR-speak, say it the way you’d say it if you were emailing a friend.

3. Finally, what’s the Call to Action? Where do they go and what do they do to be able to check this whole Open Enrollment thing off their To Do list.

4. And then there’s the power of good design. Open Enrollment materials may be on the opposite end of the spectrum from pleasure reading, but that’s all the more reason to give them the benefit of good design. The enrollment guide and all the accompanying communications efforts  — whether that means emails, direct mail, digital signage or posters — can  be more effective with clean professional design that makes them easier to read and more engaging.

Benefits are part of taking care of employees, and Open Enrollment is how we present that smorgasbord of benefits to employees. Let’s make the communications around Open Enrollment a little more appetizing.

Interested in improving your Open Enrollment communications? Tribe can help.

 

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

Why Is Compassion So Rarely Listed as a Corporate Value?

There’s a generic list of values we see over and over when companies articulate their culture. If I had a nickel for every time the words Integrity, Honesty or Respect showed up in corporate values, I’d have a whole bunch of nickels.

In the wake of Harvey, I keep thinking about the value of Compassion. I’ve watched with interest the huge disaster relief efforts of  H-E-B, the Texas-based supermarket. They provide concrete help in disaster areas. Sometimes that can be as simple as giving away bags of ice, but it also involves deploying their mobile kitchens to feed first responders and displaced storm victims, sometimes for days at a time.

How would the value of Compassion drive business? Some might say it’s too altruistic to be useful in a competitive marketplace. But in the case of H-E-B, customer loyalty is built over and over by these compassionate acts, offered when people are at their most vulnerable. That’s the kind of loyalty that will trump milk being priced a little lower at some other store.

Actually, compassion seems a logical strategy for building customer relationships. If companies were to include Compassion as a value, that might be the permission employees need to be kind  — to each other, to customers and to the community at large.

There’s been a lot of emphasis in recent years on running companies lean and mean. The economic downturn created the need for efficiency and cost-cutting and anything else businesses could do to remain competitive.

Compassion calls for the opposite of being competitive. It encourages the view that we’re all in this together, and that helping our neighbors is the way we’ll get through.

People buy from brands they trust. Treating people with compassion is a powerful means to gaining that trust. Maybe Compassion deserves a spot on that list of most-common corporate values.

Interested in evolving your corporate values? Tribe can help.

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

In Employee Communications, Listening Is Part of the Conversation

Internal communications professionals at large companies work hard to produce engaging content. Then they make sure they push that content through an array of communication channels. But that’s only one-way communication.

In any conversation, it’s important to listen as well as speak. Ever had a conversation with someone who talks constantly and never lets you get a word in edgewise? Or someone who barely listens to what you’re saying because they’re thinking so hard about what they want to say next? After a while, you start to feel like they don’t care much about you or what you think.

Just because we don’t ask employees what they think, that doesn’t mean they don’t have opinions. Leadership can be oblivious to employee concerns, issues and questions without a day-to-day method for sharing them.

Those annual or bi-annual employee engagement surveys fill an important role, but they’re not an ongoing conversation. You might want to include a few other methods for engaging in a true conversation with the employee audience, like    one or more of the following:

  1. Pulse surveys: These are a great way to get bite-sized feedback from employees. Posted on the intranet or an employee app, they make it easy for employees to anonymously respond to questions ranging from “Do you feel like you have the information you need to make Open Enrollment decisions?” to “How did you feel coming to work today?” One-question surveys give us an opportunity to react quickly to events or major change and to feel out general trends or attitudes.
  2. Leadership Email: One of the simplest ways to support the employee conversation is to invite people to email the CEO or another top leader directly. But there’s a risk of failure here as well. If employees send emails and don’t receive a response, that’s communicating the opposite of what you want. You might set up a special email address for these leadership questions and have them reviewed and organized by someone in communications. Cue them up so that it’s easy for leadership to respond — authentically but efficiently.
  3. Q & A Page: This can be particularly useful in times of major change. On your intranet or a separate change microsite, provide a page where employees can ask anything they want with the promise that the appropriate person from the leadership team will respond within a certain amount of time, say, a week. You’ll likely get many similar questions and can post one response for that specific topic. In our experience, only a few questions will need an individual email response. The great majority of questions received are of interest to a wide range of employees.

Of course, the trick with all of these is a response mechanism. You don’t want employees to feel like they took the trouble to engage, only to have their question or response dropped into a black hole.

Interested in better employee conversations? Tribe can help.

 

 

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

Consumers and shareholders are watching the CEO — but so are employees

That must have been one hell of a conference call. A Who’s Who of CEOs, including Indra Nooyi of Pepsico, Virginia Rometty of IBM, Mary Barra of GM, Douglas McMillon of Walmart and Laurence Fink of BlackRock, all dialing in to discuss the appropriate reaction to Trump’s remarks regarding the Charlottesville tragedy.

Consumers and shareholders were waiting to see how CEOs responded, but so were their employees. These companies depend on a diverse workforce of employees from all walks of life. If the company claims internally to value diversity and leadership, if the corporate values include things like integrity and respect, those principles theoretically  apply to the top executive as well as the rank and file.

But, in practice, does the CEO actually make business decisions based on those principles? Most employees of those companies will never meet their CEOs. They may have little understanding of what their chief executives do from day to day. They may not even bother to read the chief executive’s blogs or attend their town halls or watch their videos on the intranet.

But employees identify with the companies they work for, and they see the CEO as the figurehead for the company. As the heads of global companies, these CEOs were being watched not just by employees in the U.S. but in countries around the world.

These business leaders aren’t politicians. One could make the argument that serving on an advisory council for the president is a business decision and not a moral one.

But CEOs depend on the hearts and minds of their employees to move their companies forward. It matters to employees to know their CEOs took a stand against moving backwards in our country’s ongoing stop-and-start progress towards equality.

Interested in CEO communications for your employees? Tribe can help.

 

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

The Power of Not Doing: Improve Internal Communications by Doing Less

When’s the last time you did an audit of your internal communications channels? Most large companies use a myriad of channels and continue to add more, especially with emerging technology offering new options at a steady rate. You do need a varied mix of channels, because different employees like to be consume information in different ways, but do you have too many ways you’re communicating?

In “Strategy is Deciding What Not to Do,” Tim Williams describes Steve Jobs’  decision to cancel more than 300 ongoing projects in favor of focusing on just four. “By narrowing instead of expanding, Apple started down the path to becoming the most valuable company on the planet,” he writes.

Our experience at Tribe mirrors this, although on a vastly different scale. In 2009, we made the commitment to focus only on internal communications for large brands. When prospects or current clients asked for consumer branding, a field in which we’d built our careers, we referred them to other agencies we knew would do a great job for them.

The payoff was building a deep expertise in this narrow niche of internal branding.  The more we worked with large companies on specific employee communications issues, the more we learned. We began to see the same challenges repeated across companies and industries, and were able to take what we learned solving one client’s challenges as a shortcut to solutions for the next. There’s power in choosing not to do something.

The same can be true for your company’s internal communications mix. Most internal communications departments we see are stretched mighty thin. When you added a quarterly employee magazine, did you consider retiring the weekly newsletter? Do you still print posters even though you have digital signage in all your locations? Do you maintain multiple intranet-like sites? Are you still posting stuff on Yammer even though most employees aren’t using it anymore?

Discontinuing channels that aren’t working effectively is good discipline. Not only will it allow you to focus on doing a better job at fewer things, it can improve employees’ experience of internal communications. By limiting the places they feel like they’re supposed to check, you help them process communications more efficiently and effectively.

Interested in taking stock of your portfolio of internal communications channels? Tribe can help.