Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

Change Management Communications: What’s the Worst That Can Happen?

What’s the biggest mistake you could possibly make in communicating change? The absolute worst would be to tell employees something that would make them feel better, but might not be true. For instance, saying there will be no layoffs with an impending merger, before management knows for certain that there won’t be. In the midst of change, there are many moving parts, and some early assumptions may be revised as more details and numbers are fleshed out.

On the other hand, it’s also a  mistake is to say nothing because the details haven’t yet been finalized. Employees can accept the fact that you can’t tell them everything right now. What causes them more stress is the sneaking suspicion that something’s afoot and management isn’t telling them anything. We advise clients that it’s perfectly fine to say, “We don’t know yet, but we’ll tell you when we do,” or “We can’t share that information, but what I can tell you is such and such.” In any case, you certainly want to avoid having your employees hear the news from someone outside the company, whether it’s a neighbor who’s related to top management or the business section of the newspaper.

You can also minimize stress for employees by acknowledging what we call the Two Big Fears. In the face of any major change in the workplace, employees worry about two major questions: “Will I lose my job?” If the answer to that is no, then the next concern is “Will this make my job more difficult?” Acknowledging those two issues can take some of the heat off them.

It’s human nature to imagine the worst. So in the absence of communication regarding the change, employees’ imaginations will fill in the gaps and rumours will begin seeping through your organization. Setting realistic expectations can be a relief. Most people would rather know what to expect, even if it’s not good news, than to be left in the dark.

The most important key to successfully communicating change is to begin with a foundation of respect for the employees. That means treating employees like the intelligent adults they are, as well as putting yourself in their shoes. We often talk about the Golden Rule of Change: If you were an employee impacted by this change, how would you want to be treated?

Interested in communicating change more effectively at your company? Tribe can help.

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

What to Tell Employees About Robots Taking Their Jobs

First the good news: A recent Forrester report estimates that automation will create about 15 million jobs over the next decade. Now the bad: the same report says it will also eliminate 25 million jobs.

It’s reasonable for employees to feel some anxiety about the prospects of automation in the workplace. For many companies, from paper mills to hotels, robots are already on the job.

So what do you tell employees? What you don’t tell them is that it will never happen in your company. It likely will, and you never want to promise employees an easy answer that could prove false.

Be honest. If there are ways automation can cut labor costs, it would behoove the company to take advantage of that. It will be better for employees, in the long run, to be working for a company that’s profitable and competing successfully in the marketplace.

But honest doesn’t mean the future’s all doom and gloom. Many experts believe this will be more of a transformation than a gutting of the workplace, and that automation will create new jobs that didn’t exist before. 

What’s more, these new jobs may be more fulfilling. The grunt work that people don’t enjoy is the work that’s easy to delegate to a robot. Rather than being replaced by robots, many employees will be working side by side with them. And while there are robots being developed that can interact with humans, the most important customer service will still happen person to person.

Person-to-person interactions will also remain a primary reason employees choose to stay at a company or leave it. Their relationships with their coworkers and their bosses will continue to impact whether they’re excited to get to work or dreading it.

Stress the importance of your company culture. As always, communicate the vision you’re trying to achieve. Point to real-life examples of the values being applied to day-to-day work decisions. Celebrate and recognize the people doing the important work of the company — not just in the C-suite but on the frontlines and manufacturing line as well.

Make certain your internal communications make employees visible. Interview them, photograph them, acknowledge their accomplishments. When employees know that their individual contributions to the company’s success are valued, they may be less inclined to fear automation.

Interested in internal communications that make employees feel recognized and appreciated? Tribe can help.

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

5 Faux Pas of Internal Communications

What are employees’ pet peeves about internal communications? In Tribe’s national research with employees on a variety of topics over the years — from change management to hiring practices —  we’ve heard a lot about what people do like and what they don’t. Here are five practices that seem to consistently annoy employees:

  1. Employee surveys with no follow up: When the company fields a survey asking employees to provide feedback on engagement, workplace issues, job satisfaction or other topics, employees would like the circle to be closed. They want to hear the results of the survey, and if there are issues that need addressing, they’d especially like to see management taking some action to make the changes needed.
  2. Intranets cluttered with outdated content: One of the primary goals of an intranet is to make it easier to find the information you need, not harder. When there’s no plan for removing old content after it’s past its shelf life, or no system for a regular flow of new content, employees lose patience with the site.
  3. Too many places to check for communications: Employees making this comment might mean having one intranet for the parent company and another for their brand and yet another for their HR stuff. Or they might mean email plus Yammer plus Slack.
  4. Managers bottlenecking information: Cascading communications is a perennial favorite for companies trying to reach frontline employees, particularly those without company email addresses or dedicated computers. But everyone (internal communications departments included) knows that some managers are great about this and others never seem to get around to it. Employees don’t like being out of the loop because their managers forget to clue them in.
  5. Conflicting information about a major change: Change is stressful, but one of the things that can lower employee stress is to have clear and consistent information about what the change means. If they hear one thing from the CEO and another from their manager and still another from what they read online, that can drive them a little crazy.

Interested in avoiding these and other practices that get on employees’ nerves? Tribe can help.

 

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

Should Your Internal Brand Guidelines Be a Mirror Image of the External Brand?

There’s a wide range in how various brands answer this question. A few companies Tribe works with use the exact same brand guidelines internally and externally. Once in a while we’ll work with a company that has a very different look internally than externally.

Our guidance is to see the internal brand as an in-the-family version of the external brand. While the external brand is how we represent the brand to consumers and the rest of the world, the internal brand is like having a conversation with your family members. It’s how we speak to each other, human to human, inside the company.

The external brand and the internal brand are two sides of the same coin. When a company makes a brand promise, the people inside the company are the ones charged with keeping that promise. Whether the brand promise is about delivering speed or quality or courtesy or anything else, the employees need to be steeped in communications that prepare them to deliver on that. In the same sense, the way those internal communications look and feel should reflect the external brand.

So when we’re building an employee brand, we start with the existing brand standards. But then we might add a few elements to make it convey a little more familiarity, in the sense that we’re talking amongst ourselves in the family rather than to the outside world. We might introduce a brighter, friendlier color palette. We might recommend including an additional font that’s more casual. We will lobby for photography of employees, so that the internal communications reflect the faces not just of leadership but also of people working in various parts of the organization. (We don’t ever advocate using stock photography to represent real employees.)

The tone of voice and choice of language might also be different for the internal brand. Of course, the vocabulary you use with consumers or clients regarding your products and services, the industry and your business should be mirrored internally. But when you’re speaking to employees, it’s more like sitting across the kitchen table than it might be for the rest of the world. The internal tone of voice might be a bit more casual, maybe even include a little more humor.

One important point that marketing folks sometimes don’t get at first is that an internal brand needs more range than the external brand. That’s an issue of context. Think about seeing a TV spot, magazine ad or online advertising for your company. It will be seen in the context of lots of other brands.

But imagine walking by the digital signage in your company. Although there may be a few dozen different slides, they’re all representing one brand. Without giving art directors some range in the brand design, those slides will all look very much the same — and won’t be very engaging.

Another example might be the employee magazine. If every article looks exactly like the others, it becomes a sales brochure. To keep employees’ attention from article to article, and to signal readers that the content is editorial rather than advertising, the brand has to allow for slightly different treatments of photography, illustration, fonts, color and maybe even icons.

That’s not to say we recommend that anything goes for the internal brand. Quite the opposite. We believe in setting internal brand standards, but having those standards include a range of options — all of which are on brand.

Interested in establishing internal brand standards? Tribe can help.

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

5 Ways to Recognize the Employees Who Do the Real Work of the Company

Photo credit: Chris Davis Photography

Giving visibility to leadership is important. People want to see the faces and know the humans behind the titles at the top of the org chart.

But it can be even more powerful to give visibility to the people in the rest of the organization. Unwittingly, internal communications often focus on the folks at the top and don’t give much coverage to the employees who are manufacturing the products; delivering the service; making the sales; coding the platforms — not to mention all the employees in HR, accounting, marketing and more who support all those people.

Here are five ways to create more visibility for the people doing the real work of the company:

  1. Quote them in articles: On the intranet or in your employee publications, use regular employees as sources rather than always quoting someone from the C-suite. When you’re covering a new product or a new plant, giving examples of collaboration or innovation, illustrating how the values of the company are used at work, the rank-and-file people will have insights and comments that other employees will be interested to read.
  2. Shoot employee photography: I’m not talking about snapping someone’s headshot standing against a beige cubicle wall. Invest in talented photographers to shoot employees in context of their work. Then use that library of employee photography to illustrate everything from your intranet to digital signage to the annual report. If you have a number of locations and types of workplaces, try shooting at three to five places a year and building the library over time.
  3. Build an employee culture team: Establish a small group of mid-level employees who represent diversity across the company, and task them with being conduits for the culture. You might start with an off-site where the team can bond, and have leadership join to talk about the culture, where they company is going, what it is the company stands for. Then use this team to give culture presentations to their colleagues and to report back to leadership on employee questions and concerns, progress and set-backs. When you have a major change down the road, you’ll be glad to have this community of peer influencers already in place.
  4. Create a peer-to-peer recognition program: Top-down recognition is great, but it can be just as powerful to be recognized by one’s coworkers. Establish a monthly or quarterly recognition program in which employees drive the process of who amongst them gets recognized.
  5. Help them see the value of their roles: This is the big one — and lies at the heart of employees feeling celebrated rather than invisible. If you can draw a line, in employees’ minds, that leads directly from what they do every day to the vision and success of the company, you create a powerful shift. Help employees see how their individual roles contribute, and make sure they see leadership recognizing their contributions as well.

Interested in giving your employees more visibility? Tribe can help.

 

 

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

15 Years of Internal Communications: What’s Changed and What Hasn’t

Tribe was founded as a creative branding boutique 15 years ago yesterday. And while our original focus was on traditional advertising, from the very beginning we were asked to take on internal communications projects for large companies. The industry has changed in many ways since 2002, and in others ways, it’s still exactly the same. Here are three observations:

  1. It starts in the C-suite: When CEOs believe communication with employees is important, they’ll create the budget to make it happen. Often we find some major organizational change — from the acquisition of another company to a shift in strategic priorities — will provide the trigger for stepping up internal communications. This is something we see more often now than we did 15 years ago. What hasn’t changed is the way an individual CEO will drive communications about vision and values — or not. If it’s not important at the top, it’s generally not seen as an important topic for the rest of the company.
  2. Technology has elevated our field. The advent of intranets was a major game changer, but the intranet game itself has changed dramatically over the years. Back in the day, UPS was our first client with an intranet (although they called it a portal and it was really just a collection of links). Then for years SharePoint was the only way to go and we used it for every site we built, from Porsche to PVH. Now, SaaS platforms make it much easier and more affordable — not to mention faster. We’ve been able to pull off sites in less than a month, without impacting the workload of the clients’ IT team.
  3. Print publications never died. Although digital communications fill the lion’s share of our clients’ communication channels nowadays, there’s still a place for print. In our early years at Tribe, we published a printed internal newsletter every month for Porsche. In black and white, because color was way too expensive. Today we do digital newsletters and magazines more often than print, but when there’s a large percentage of employees without dedicated computers, we still recommend printing. For one client, those printed magazines are mailed to each employee’s home. Expensive, yes, but it’s the only channel that goes directly from corporate to the folks in the manufacturing facilities.

One of the most interesting things about the internal communications field is that it’s changing all the time. New platforms, apps and technology provide nearly endless new possibilities for ways the company can communicate with employees. However, the most important element remains, whether you’re typing it up in black and white or shooting 3-D HD scented video to digital watches: it’s just human beings talking to human beings. Authenticity counts, regardless of the medium.

Interested in communicating more authentically to your employees? Tribe can help.

 

 

 

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

To Shift Culture, Be Honest About the Gap Between Reality and the Vision

Or “Defining reality and creating hope go hand in hand,” as the retired CEO of Yum! brands David Novak put it in a recent LinkedIn post. (FYI, Novak has recently published a book on recognition titled “O Great One!”) His comment was directed at the need for leaders to move past defining reality to “show people where that reality can take them.”

That need also extends to internal communicators. There’s sometimes a temptation for internal communicators to paint the culture a rosier hue than it actually is. People fear being negative. But employees know their culture, because they live the culture, and if you ignore the existing issues, you undermine their trust.

The first step to shifting culture is to acknowledge where you are now. It takes courage to be honest, because if we’re honest, most cultures aren’t where we’d like them to be. Yet human beings, and their resulting cultures, have a tremendous capacity for change.

When you use the reality as a starting point for a vision of what could be, you harness a tremendous amount of power for change. Or as Novak might say, hope.

As internal communicators, our job is to be clear about the first and inspirational about the second. In other words, this is where we are, and this is where we’re going to go. We own our reality, and we also claim our vision.

Interested in shifting your culture? Tribe can help.

 

 

 

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Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

Will Direct Mail Work On Millennials? The USPS Says So

The USPS is making a marketing push to convince advertisers that Millennials will respond to direct mail. Will they?

The first voice I hear in my head, in response to that question, is our son’s. He is very quick to point out that you can’t make gross generalizations about an entire generation and that people, regardless of their generation, must be seen as individuals. I’ve heard Millennial employees say the same.

Yeah, yeah, of course. But still, the world that surrounds any generation during their growing up and early adult years will have an impact on forming them as individuals. Boomers didn’t grow up with iPhones — or even the internet. Millennials are different in their experiences of communication.

The second voice I hear is that of my inner creative director. Too often, in my opinion, communicators embrace or eliminate a channel based on past success or the lack thereof. But you can’t dismiss television advertising as ineffective if you’ve only run bad TV spots. You can’t assume an employee magazine won’t work in your company if the ones you’ve done before were poorly written and badly designed.

It’s a matter of content. If you do beautifully designed and smartly written direct mail that engages Millennials on a topic that’s relevant to them, then sure, direct mail could be an excellent channel.

However, Millennials as a group tend to have an ability to sniff out anything inauthentic. For instance, our high-school junior (same son) has been getting a flood of direct mail from colleges in the past year or so. It took him about five minutes to figure out that the same direct mail agency was writing most of them, with similar schticks repeated for college after college.

Now even the direct mail from Harvard and Stanford lies unopened on the kitchen counter. The good news, for the post office,  perhaps, is that he doesn’t click on a lot of their digital ads either. He reads a lot online about the colleges he’s interested in, but seems to skip anything he views as marketing.

When he was about four, he was gazing out the window on a car trip and remarked, “Outdoor advertising doesn’t work for me.” (Yes, he said outdoor advertising instead of billboards because he’s the child of ad people.) I asked him why not and he shrugged. “I can’t read,” he said.

Interested in improving the content in your communication channels? Tribe can help.

 

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

The Three Levels of Collaboration: Teams, Silos and Customers

What does collaboration mean in your company? When we talk with clients about collaboration in their organizations, almost all of them will mention the strong collaboration between team members.

Work teams are the first level of collaboration. To get the day-to-day work of the company done, you need teams who work together and support each other collaboratively, whether that’s in an operational department or a manufacturing cell.

People often feel strong emotional ties to their team members. They speak of having each other’s backs, or even of it feeling like family. In research, they often tell us they feel a much stronger connection to their immediate work team than to the company overall.

Cross-functional teams take collaboration to the next level. In companies with a strong overall vision that engages employees, we’re likely to see the second level of collaboration. Aligned with a common goal, employees collaborate across functions or geography or business units. Rather than confining their perceived team as their immediate work group or department, the sales team will see the product engineers as collaborative partners. The North American division will look to their colleagues in the EMEA regions for ideas. One apparel brand of a parent company will collaborate with another brand on developing better sourcing strategies.

The holy grail is having employees see the customer as their collaborative partner. Whether you’re selling technology or toilet paper, financial instruments or musical ones, a customer-centric focus indicates a highly evolved company culture.

This is not just for those employees are customer-facing. If you can create a sense of collaboration with the customer throughout the organization, you’ll be unstoppable. In an ideal world, employees will see their jobs in the context of the customer experience. Whatever they’re doing, from building a website to manufacturing products to developing a pricing structure to scheduling work flow, the big win is for them to see what they’re doing through the eyes of the customer and to consider their point of view.

Interested in taking collaboration to a new level in your organization? Tribe can help.

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

Using Guided Meditation and Visualization to Define a Brand Promise

Do you build a culture that will support your brand promise? Or do you base the promise on what your culture already delivers? In the case of a flooring manufacturer that Tribe worked with, the brand promise grew out of employee focus groups on what made their company different from any of their competitors.

When I say focus groups, what I really mean is guided visualizations. We met with employees in two manufacturing facilities and at corporate headquarters, holding several sessions in each location.

At each session, we began with a group meditation.
The goal was to get participants to let go of linear, logical thinking and promote a more creative, imaginative state. From the CEO to sales reps to forklift operators, we found a surprising willingness to play along with this somewhat unusual format.

When employees had reached a meditative state, we began the guided visualization.
We explained we were taking them on a symbolic journey and asked them to imagine the company as a fairy tale character, a handsome prince setting out to seek his fortune. As we told the story of this handsome prince, we stopped at key points and asked participants to open their eyes just enough to scribble an answer to a question we posed, and then return to their relaxed state.

For instance, when the prince came upon a dragon, we asked them what the dragon represented. When he slayed the dragon with his sword, we asked what the sword stood for. When he rode home to victorious to his village, we asked them to listen to what the townspeople were saying about them.

We asked them to complete the following sentence:
The story of this prince was told generation after generation, and the moral of the story is that the prince was successful because he _______.

The answers were interesting in their consistency. In a large majority of the responses, the moral was some version of “he does the right thing” or “he stands for what’s right.”

And in fact, the history of the company reflected this. In conversations after the visualization, employees often pointed to two situations in the company’s history where they felt the company had done the right thing. One was when a fire destroyed the company’s only factory early on. Rather than have so many employees go without paychecks white the factory was rebuilt, the company put employees to work on the construction so they could continue earning a living.

Another was when the company had to recall a product that had required a tremendous investment and new manufacturing machinery.
When the product was found to be defective, the company offered every customer a free replacement floor from their other product lines.

In their own jobs, employees said they felt the responsibility of doing what’s right. We heard similar statements across geography (three states) and function (operations, manufacturing, sales, support, residential and commercial). That’s what they felt differentiated them from their competitors.

The brand promise became Stand On Something Better. The consumer magazine and television campaign was built around the question “What do you stand on?” with consumers offering many answers to what they believe in, from social issues to personal ones. A cause marketing initiative awarded the Stand on a Better World prize to women making a difference in charitable organizations locally and globally. Employees spontaneously launched their own Stand on a Better World fundraisers, hosting bakes sales and carwashes to raise money for college scholarships for local students.

The brand promise resonated with employees. It became something that permeated every aspect of the company because it already was indigenous to the company. That makes it much more likely that employees will be aligned with delivering the intended brand experience. When the brand promise reinforces what employees already believe about the company, it’s second nature to uphold that promise.

Interested in developing an employee brand that delivers on the brand promise? Tribe can help.