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.

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

Support Collaboration with Visibility Across Silos

If collaboration is a priority at your company, start by building respect across functional silos. 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 a 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

Prepare for Crises By Communicating Ahead of Time

hiresCrises will happen. Most companies have a plan in place for communicating with the media, customers and the outside world, but what about inside the walls of the company?

Employees are a critical audience, even more so in times of crisis. Not only will the crisis likely impact them personally, but they will also become unofficial spokespeople for the company, whether you like it or not.

Prior planning is also no substitute for building a foundation of trust before you need it. If in the regular course of business, you can establish a consistent history of honest communication that treats employees with respect, then you’ll be way ahead of any potential crisis. That equity of trust can reduce stress throughout the ranks in a crisis, as well as help employees feel they’re being kept in the loop as usual.

At Tribe, we advise clients to establish a practice of having executive leadership regularly share company news with employees. Cascading news through managers is fine for everyday, operational news, but it’s important to have some communication directly from the C-level to the frontline.

We’re not talking about giving employees the secret formula for Coke. Have execs share major developments in the company, as well as cultural communications regarding the mission, vision and values. Get employees accustomed to hearing from the big cheese, before there’s some crisis to communicate.

Perhaps ironically, sharing bad news is even better in terms of building employee trust. If earnings are down, if a major customer is lost, or if you experience some other blow to business, resist the urge to remain silent. Develop the habit of sharing both the highs and the lows with employees; then they’ll know they can trust the company to give it to them straight, no matter what.

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

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

Collaboration Quandary: Who Gets to Make the Decisions?

Why is collaboration getting so much attention in large companies? As knowledge and expertise become increasingly specialized, collaboration across functional areas becomes even more critical to successful business results.

But collaboration slows things down. It 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. In most cases, it’s not going to happen next week, or even next 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.

However, the collaborative meeting is not the place to make decisions. When people come together to collaborate, it should be for the purpose of providing their unique expertise, input and feedback. Trying to reach consensus on a decision is not only difficult, it’s unlikely to result in the best decision.

Everybody gets 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 fostering more collaboration in your company? Tribe can help.

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

Humanizing the Big Cheese: Help Employees Connect with the CEO

hiresEmployees want to know their top leadership as individuals. In Tribe’s research with employees of companies with more than 1,000 employees across the U.S., 84 percent of respondents want more communication from corporate, but they also want to see these people face-to-face.

Cascading communications through direct managers isn’t enough. Qualitative responses from our study on employee preferences in internal communications indicate the desire for communications directly from C-level.

Comments and write-in responses included:

“More direct communications from HQ.”

 “It’s important to have some communication directly from corporate instead of my direct manager.”

 “We want to hear from you. Tell us what’s going on.”

Employees also want to put faces to titles, and to interact on a human level.

 “Being able to put a face with a name would help make things more personable.”

“Increase the in-person, live communication.”

“Speak face to face.” 

Most CEO’s and other top executives are not going to have time to meet every employee face-to-face. But efforts in that direction, such as store or plant visits can go a long way towards communicating that he or she believes its important to connect with frontline employees. Town Halls that are webcast are another, although not all employees will sit through an entire one.

Your CEO can only be in one place at a time, but technology can help scale those human interactions. When the CEO visits a plant, shoot video of the visit. Maybe include plant employees by creating a Q&A opportunity where they ask a question and the CEO answers. Or shoot photos of the CEO shaking hands or talking with various plant employees to use in a CEO blog, or on the intranet, or in a digital magazine or newsletter.

The point is to help employees put a face to the name and title. Although an in-person experience has the most impact, there are other ways to build that human connection between employees and the leadership team.

Interested in humanizing your CEO? Tribe can help.