Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

Does your CEO talk to the people delivering your brand promise?

Who creates the customer experience? The employees working in retail stores, hotels, restaurants, and call centers, of course. The frontline employees represent the face of your brand and they’re the ones who deliver on the brand promise — or not.

If you can engage the frontline as ambassadors, you’ve got some real fire power. Cascading communications through people managers works well for some topics, but it often takes top management to inspire them, to lead them to a place where they truly feel ownership of delivering your brand promise.

Frontline employees want to learn the soul of the company from their executive management. In one of Tribe’s national studies,  58 percent of frontline employees indicated that they’d like direct communication from top management about the company’s vision and values. And when they don’t hear from their leadership team, they often make the assumption that it’s because the top executives don’t respect them or their contributions to the success of the company.

How often does your CEO communicate directly to the frontline folks? That communication doesn’t necessarily mean an in-person plant visit or retail store appearance. It could be a streaming town hall, a leadership video, an interview in an employee magazine, or a CEO Corner on a mobile-friendly intranet. It could even be digital signage or a letter mailed home or a podcast. The important thing is that some culturally relevant communication comes straight from the top to the people doing the real work of the company.

Reaching the frontline is not as easy as reaching their colleagues sitting in cubes. But there are numerous ways to make it happen, if your company is willing to invest the effort and budget.

What it takes to build non-desk communication channels is a drop in the bucket compared to your company’s ad budget. You can spend a zillion dollars on brand awareness, but the customer experience comes down to that fast-food worker at the drive-thru window. It seems reasonable to invest some time and money in communication channels for that frontline audience, in order for them to fulfill the customer expectations you create with your brand promise.

Interested in helping your CEO create brand ambassadors of the frontline employees? Tribe can help.

 

 

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

Building employee trust requires honesty — and proactive communication

Here’s the thing: trust is not about guaranteeing employees that nothing bad will ever happen. If building trust requires a guarantee of anything, it’s that the company will tell employees what’s really going on, even if it’s bad.

Employees are smart enough to realize that no company can promise lifetime employment anymore. Most employees don’t even want lifetime employment. They want interesting, challenging work, and in an ideal scenario, work that they find personally meaningful.

They start a new job with the expectation that eventually they’ll move on to another company. Ideally, this would be when they themselves decide it’s time for a change. But unless they’ve been living under a rock for the past decade, they recognize that sometimes companies have to lay people off, eliminate positions or somehow reduce head count.

Honesty, then, becomes the real building block of trust. Employees feel trust in their company — and thus do their best work and are most engaged — when they believe management is being honest with them. So how does a company go about doing that?

1. Tell employees about any significant changes in the company — and tell them fast, before the rumor mill and the media get a jump on you. Some CEOs and other leaders delude themselves into thinking that if they don’t say anything, the employees won’t notice that anything is going on. Wrong. Employees know when something is up, and in the absence of management communication, they’ll take their information wherever they can get it, often from each other.

2. Tell the truth, even when it’s bad news. Particularly when it’s bad news. If employees know that the company will be straight with them in communicating negative developments, then they tend not to worry so much. Ironically, sharing bad news makes employees feel more comfortable instead of less so.

3. Give employees credit for being smart enough to know business includes both ups and downs. Most people have experienced plenty of highs and lows in their own lives, and they have an understanding that things move in cycles. Just because the business is down today, doesn’t mean it won’t be up tomorrow.

4. Make room for employees to ask questions. You have to make this honest communication a two-way street. Provide an intranet page for submitting questions or employee Q&A in town hall meetings or some venue for your people to ask management about the tough issues. That gives the company a chance to respond to the concerns that you have to accept are swirling around the workplace. The other side of that coin is that employees need the information they need to make their own decisions –even if that means their decision will be to leave the company. Although by answering their questions, you make it less likely that they’ll feel in a panic to jump ship. Often, the reality is not nearly as bad as employees imagine it to be.

5. Share the management vision for the future. Most corporate management teams believe they’re doing this all the time, and it’s true that the people closest to them are familiar with the vision. But when we speak to the rank and file, there is most often a disconnect and the further away an employee is from the top, the less confident they are that the company leadership has a plan. There are many ways to do this, but one of the most effective is a management blog, which we at Tribe liken to “walking the halls, electronically.” A employee blog allows a CEO to communicate one on one with the entire workplace, and to reinforce the vision over and over, and to discuss a range of aspects of that vision.

Interested in communicating proactively and honestly about an upcoming change? Tribe can help.

 

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

The EVP: Addressing various life stages and personality types

The employee value proposition helps employees see beyond compensation and benefits to the larger picture. Although there are other elements of the EVP that attract top talent and keep your best employees in place, it’s safe to say all employees care about their pay and health insurance.

Beyond that, many elements of the EVP will be different for each individual. Some people are looking for a company where they can enjoy a better work-life balance. Other employees might secretly enjoy racking up air miles and staying in hotels all over the world. Some folks want to be able to wear T-shirts and flip flops to the office. Hourly workers in positions that don’t promise much career advancement might appreciate tuition assistance to get that college degree.

Although we can’t assume that diverse personalities will want the same things, people in certain life stages often want similar perks. New parents might particularly value the options of flex time or working from home. Those in the early stages of their careers will likely be looking for a company with a great deal of opportunity for growth. Although Gen Y employees often rank meaningful work high on their lists, that factor can also be a big deal to many Boomers.

The EVP provides answers to the employee’s question, “What’s in it for me?” It’s wise to remember, however, that the right answers will be different according to what any individual employee values most in life.

Ready to explore your employee value proposition? Tribe can help.

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

A strong agency partnership makes impossible deadlines possible

On Friday before I left the office, I posted a couple of sentences that have now had over a couple thousand views:

At Tribe, we like to think we can move fast when necessary, but I think we just broke our own record: Planned, wrote and designed an internal site in 72 hours. Our client gave us the assignment Tuesday afternoon and we handed off PSDs to the developers EOD today. Bam!

To be fair, that particular client deserves a tremendous share of the credit. I don’t want to give the impression that Tribe could do that large a project so quickly on just any account. When I stop to think about it, there are five ways this client enabled us to develop all the creative for a great-looking, content-rich site with some extra-cool functions so quickly.

1.    The client has let us learn their business. We know their organization inside and out, because they’ve let us in. They’ve given Tribe a great deal of time with their senior leadership team, particularly the CEO, but also the other key people driving the strategy and growth of the company. That gives us the ability to write intelligently about many aspects of the company, with a working knowledge of important nuances.

2.    They’ve built an internal brand. They’ve developed a very strong external brand and the internal brand is treated with the same importance. That makes it easy for us to design quickly, because we know where we’re going.

3.    They’ve invested in employee photography. There’s no substitute for photos of the actual people doing the work of the company. Because this client has a fantastic library of employee shots by talented photographers, the site we designed overnight expresses the reality of what it’s like to work there.

4.    They are super responsive at giving feedback. When we email them creative work, they don’t let it gather dust in their inboxes. That keeps us from sitting on our hands waiting to move ahead. We can only move quickly when our clients do too.

5.    They trust us to do good work. They know we’ve done this before and they assume we know what we’re doing, so they don’t feel the need to micromanage or to make multiple revisions. Besides, they don’t have time for that.

If any of those five factors were not in place when we were given the assignment, turning around the creative in 72 hours might not have been possible. Now, we’re counting on our developers to do their part on an equally demanding timeline.

Interested in building a strong agency partnership? Tribe can help.

 

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

Employees don’t trust your leadership? Here are 5 tips for changing that.

Here’s the thing: trust is not about guaranteeing employees that nothing bad will ever happen. If building trust requires a guarantee of anything, it’s that the company will tell employees what’s really going on, even if it’s bad.

Impending job reductions are a great example of the sort of bad news that companies occasionally have to share. But employees are smart enough to realize that no company can promise lifetime employment anymore. Most employees don’t even want lifetime employment. They want interesting, challenging work, and in an ideal scenario, work that they find personally meaningful.

Employees start a new job with the expectation that eventually they’ll move on to another company, ideally when they themselves decide it’s time for a change. But unless they’ve been living under a rock, they recognize that sometimes companies have to lay people off, eliminate positions or somehow reduce head count.

Honesty, then, becomes the real building block of trust. Employees feel trust in their company — and thus do their best work and are most engaged — when they believe management is being honest with them. So how does a company go about doing that?

1. Tell employees about any significant changes in the company — and tell them fast, before the rumor mill and the media get a jump on you. Some CEOs and other leaders delude themselves into thinking that if they don’t say anything, the employees won’t notice that anything is going on. Wrong. Employees know when something is up, and in the absence of management communication, they’ll take their information wherever they can get it, often from each other. And what they tell each other is often worse than the reality.

2. Tell the truth, even when it’s bad news. Particularly when it’s bad news. If employees know that the company will be straight with them in communicating negative developments, then they tend not to worry so much. Ironically, sharing bad news makes employees feel more comfortable instead of less so.

3. Give employees credit for being smart enough to know business includes both ups and downs. Most people have experienced plenty of highs and lows in their own lives, and they have an understanding that things move in cycles. Just because the business is down today, doesn’t mean it won’t be up tomorrow.

4. Make room for employees to ask questions. You have to make this honest communication a two-way street. Provide a place on the intranet for employees to ask questions and post leadership’s answers. Hold a town hall and have your CEO respond to those difficult questions on the spot. Or provide your people managers with a source for responses to the questions they’re bound to get. The advantage of fielding those employee questions is that it gives the company a chance to respond to the issues that you have to accept are swirling around the workplace. The other side of that coin is that employees need the information they need to make their own decisions –even if that means their decision will be to leave the company. But by answering their questions honestly, you make it less likely that they’ll feel in a panic to jump ship.

5. Share leadership’s vision for the future. Most corporate management teams believe they’re doing this all the time, and it’s true that the people closest to them are familiar with the vision. But when we speak to the rank and file, there is most often a disconnect and the further away an employee is from the top, the less confident they are that the company leadership has a plan. This vision isn’t something you announce once and then check it off the list. It should be woven into all your communications, from the CEO blog to internal videos to the employee magazine to digital signage — and maybe even to your recognition programs.

Interested in building trust in your organization? Tribe can help.

 

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

Middle-aged Millennials: Recruiting and retaining an experienced generation


Many Millennials are now more than a decade into their careers. Although the bookend birth years of the generation vary depending on the researcher and/or media outlet, 1980 to 1994 is the block we use at Tribe to define the Millennial generation. That means the first Millennials are turning 38 this year.

They’re no longer those fresh college grads hoping to get a foot in the door.  They’ve done stuff. They know things. They’ve maybe even learned how to manage others. They’re valuable employees, not just for their potential but for their experience.

They’re not kids anymore, and they’re not kidding around about what they have to offer. So what does your company have to offer them?

This is a good time to reexamine your employer brand and your employee value proposition. Since Millennial employees, especially those in the technology field, have plenty of job options, it’s worth investing time and money into making your company more competitive in the talent market.

What’s good for Millennials is often good for other generations too. For instance, Millennials value flexibility in terms of when and where they work. So do many Gen X and Boomer employees, whether they’re dealing with growing kids or aging parents or just the desire for work to accommodate the demands of their personal lives.

However, the most important element of the EVP for Millennials is the work they’re getting to do. Sure, they expect work-life balance and constant feedback and an ethical organization. As they begin having kids, they value solid benefits and competitive salaries even more than when they were younger. And they’re happy to have any extra perks, from a great coffee bar to mobile dental care that show s up on-site. But they care more about the work they’re doing and why.

The employer brand helps communicate that EVP, and that communication begins with recruitment. How are you building that brand with potential job candidates? What are you sharing about what it’s like to work for your company? Should they expect to be challenged with opportunities to grow their careers? Given the responsibility to run some projects of their own? Will they able to collaborate with other talented people? Will they work they do be recognized for contributing to the overall success of the company? And is the vision of this company something that makes them excited to get to work every day?

In terms of retention, it’s helpful to tell the stories of employees’ and their individual efforts. For instance, you might do a regular feature on your intranet or in your internal magazine or newsletter that interviews employees who are highly engaged in their work and excited about how it contributes to the company goals and vision. Or you can tell those stories through video or podcasts. Giving those concrete examples of real people thriving in their jobs is one of the best ways you can promote your employer brand.

Interested in defining your employer brand or EVP? Tribe can help.

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

2018 Resolution: Do less of something

What are your internal communications goals for the New Year? Most of us are great at adding one more thing to the list, but it’s equally important to edit that list from time to time. How about making a goal to not do something, to eliminate something or to do less of something?

Here are three potential New Year’s resolutions for internal communications professionals who want to start 2018 with less:

  1. Resolve to eliminate one channel: You’ve probably added channels over the years, but have you shut any down? If you haven’t done a serious audit of what’s working and what’s not, this might be a good time. Or if you have data that no one is reading a certain newsletter or blog, if posters are getting shipped out to locations but never making it to the break room walls, or if there’s some other channel that’s taxing your resources without much return, the most efficient move might be to delete it from your mix.
  2. Resolve to reduce word count: Take a look at the length of your intranet posts, magazine features, newsletter articles and even posters and digital signage. The longer the copy, the less likely employees are to read the whole thing. What do employees really need to know? What’s the key message? What’s the most interesting stuff? Be disciplined about cutting out the fluff and making the copy tighter and more effective.
  3. Resolve to set expiration dates: It’s hard enough to get employees to pay attention without the clutter of communications that are past their shelf date. Are there still posters about open enrollment out there, now that the deadline for that is behind us? Are there articles on the intranet about signing up for a Thanksgiving volunteer opportunity? Create a trigger to follow up with those folks you sent the posters to when it’s time to take them down. Enable expiry dates on the intranet and educate those who post content about using them.

Interested in doing less? Tribe can help.

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

Best Practices: 8 ways to make your digital signage work harder

What could be better than a steady drip of messaging that catches employees’ attention as they’re walking by? Digital signage can be an incredibly effective channel for keeping a wide range of topics top of mind, without the hurdles of clicking on an email, a video or the intranet. Here are eight suggestions for getting better results from digital signage:

1:Create a larger library: If you only have a handful of slides, they’ll get stale quickly. Shoot for 30 to 50 slides in rotation at any given time. And refresh the deck either weekly or monthly.

2. Build an editorial calendar: You can cover a lot of ground with digital signage, so map out your content with an editorial calendar. Include topics ranging from vision and values to HR programs, company news to financial recaps, employee recognition to leadership messages, wellness to IT security, volunteer programs to sustainability.

3. Limit the words: Think of this as a billboard, not a brochure. It’s not a good medium for paragraphs of copy or lists of bullets. Ideally, you’d have no more than a headline and possibly a subhead, with maybe a word or two in a top corner to indicate the department or program communicating the message.

4. Use the whole screen for one message: Sure, it’s cool that your digital signage can be divided into a bunch of different zones, but the disadvantage there is that you’re limiting the geography you give to any one message. Use the whole screen for one slide, if you can.

5. Include additional colors and fonts. Yes, you want the digital signage to be on brand, but give the designer any flexibility you can. The secondary color palette can be helpful at creating visual variety, as can having more than one font.

6. Vary the layout: It helps to develop a range of design templates so that your slides don’t all look the same. Some might have only a large visual and a headline. Others might have a headline and subhead type knocked out of a color field. Make some that work with vertical visuals, and some for horizontals.

7. Break one message into two slides: Two consecutive slides can be used to deliver the old one-two punch. For instance, you might use one slide for a question and then answer it on the next slide. Look for ways to make the slides more of a conversation to boost engagement.

8. Direct viewers to other channels: If there’s more information you want employees to have on any specific topic, send them to an article on the intranet or let them know to look for an email with more information.

Interested in creating better content for your digital signage? Tribe can help.

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

4 tips for a better end-of-year CEO letter

‘Tis the season for the year-end letter from the CEO or another executive team member. This can be a great way to build engagement and make a human connection, but only if it’s done well. A two-page composition that’s one long, dry sentence after another is not going to be read word-for-word by employees, if at all. Here are a few tips to keep in mind when working with leadership on an employee letter or email:

  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. Show some gratitude: Employees appreciate a little acknowledgement of their contributions. Whatever success the company has had this year, they’ve had a hand in it, so let them know the CEO recognizes that.
  4. 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. Employees are much more likely to read it if it’s short and sweet.

Interested in improving your leadership communications? Tribe can help.

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

The intranet launch is a milestone, not the finish line

Launching a successful intranet requires effective pre- and post-launch initiatives. At Tribe, we coach clients to consider the launch of a new intranet not the finish line but one milestone in a much longer process consisting of four phases.

Phase 1: Employee input: Building traffic to a new intranet begins long before the launch. Preferably before the development even begins, employees are involved in the process. You might do a survey on what features employees need to do their jobs more easily; how they’d like to connect with those in other functional silos; what sort of collaboration space would work best for them and other related issues. Focus groups are a good idea as well, to hear employee input in more depth.

Phase 2: Pre-launch: By foreshadowing the launch, you can create excitement about what’s to come and engage an initial group of employees to be early ambassadors. Use other internal communications channel to market the coming intranet. Find a group of early adopters for beta testing or assign launch communication responsibilities to influencers throughout the company. This is the time to build a critical mass of insiders who will help create buzz about the launch.

Phase 3: Launch: You only get one chance to launch, so it’s important to do it well. Make it big news with a launch event, desk drops, elevator wraps and anything else that will get employees’ attention. Make it easy for employees to test drive the intranet with quick-start guides and in-person or online training sessions. Motivate them to visit the intranet multiple times with online scavenger hunts or contests.

Phase 4: Sustaining: This is where many companies drop the ball. An intranet is not static, or at least a good one isn’t. You need fresh, relevant content day after day after day. This is more than most internal communications departments can handle on their own, so at Tribe we recommend establishing a content manager program. By recruiting and training content managers from a range of geographic locations and functional areas, you can build an army of content generators who post on an ongoing basis. To sustain this system, build in quarterly meetings to continue engaging this team, share best practices and provide recognition for those posting the best content.

Have an intranet launch on the horizon? Tribe can help.