Stephen Burns

The elements of a highly engaged employee

We often discuss the benefits of an engaged employee. And they are almost endless, as far as your company is concerned. A more engaged employee means increased productivity, creativity, collaboration and, in general, evolution of talent within the business. Employees also benefit from being engaged by feeling more appreciated and integral to the success of the company, and having a true voice with the power to create real change.

What actually makes an engaged employee engaged? This question usually conjures up visions of programs and brand new channels, some of which may be necessary to facilitate the types of communication necessary to engage. But there are much more basic elements that happen on a day-to-day basis that affect employees’ answer to the question, “Do you feel highly engaged?”

The good folks across the pond at Energi People have broken it down. And as you can see, most of the criteria are things that can be achieved without sweeping changes to your company’s infrastructure. They are small but powerful strategies that, with the right approach and coaching, can be incredibly effective in the engagement portion of your company’s communications.


via Energi People

Need help finding the best ways to implement these strategies? Tribe works with your company’s leadership and management to find the best ways to communicate and engage. Give us a call. We’d love to help.

Stephen Burns

Asking the age-old question: Should your company values stay the same?

In a perfect world, your company would start from day one with a firmly-rooted set of values. These values would be strong enough to sustain you through the first few stages of your business, and adaptable enough to apply as your company expanded and changed. After all, consistency is key in values and culture. Right?

But that’s a tall order. It’s hard enough to predict business from year to year. Foreseeing how your company will evolve five, ten years in the future is nearly impossible. Businesses, even entire industries, can alter in their trajectory in unpredictable ways. Your values need consistency, but they shouldn’t be written in stone.

Not all big changes in the company warrant a shift in values. There are a few times, though, when you may need to reexamine your company values and tailor them along the way. Here are a few questions Tribe recommends asking yourself if you’re considering a change in values:

Is there a new company vision?

Many companies reinvented themselves during the recession. Market conditions forced some reevaluation and that closer look often revealed new opportunities to redefine the business model — and a new vision for the future.

Do the employees understand the new vision and the role they play in reaching it? Do they know how they’re expected to change their behavior to meet this new vision? Values will be an important part of that equation. A new company vision may require slightly different values from the ones that were appropriate for the old way of doing business.

Has there been a change in leadership?

A new CEO will also generally mean a new vision for the company. A change in top leadership is a prime time to take a close look at the values and how they align with management’s vision for the future.

Has there been a merger or acquisition?

Since values are at the core of the company culture, merging two cultures will usually require some revamping of values. Occasionally, the acquiring company’s values will prevail, but it’s sometimes easier to create a cohesive culture if both companies are becoming part of something new. Evolving your values is a process that begins with defining and articulating what those values are and then moves to actually launching those values company-wide. But the job’s not done once the values are launched. In fact, it’s never done. For values to truly become guidelines for how business is done at your company, they have to be made relevant and meaningful to employees at all levels. Employees will need to see examples of their management putting the values into action. And those values must be communicated with sustaining efforts over a long period of time.

You’ll know you’ve succeeded when you see employees using the company values as the basis for the decisions they make in their work, day after day.

Want more insight? Whether you’re trying to call more attention to your current values or rewriting them completely, give Tribe a call. We would love to help your company communicate.

Stephen Burns

A cheaper alternative to the healthier standing desk

Tribe has long been a fan of Hootsuite. Not only for their great social media dashboard, which is the platform we use to run our Twitter page, but also for their fantastic company culture and the free resources they provide for small businesses and the general public. In many ways, the company is a model for success in the social media industry.

So, when we heard that HootSuite CEO, Ryan Holmes had developed a new standing desk, needless to say we were intrigued. Check it out here. It’s called the Oristand, and at $25 (or $100 for a 5-pack) the folding cardboard conversion is an inexpensive alternative to large, bulky and expensive standing desks. The idea came from HootSuite employees who were cobbling together their own versions out of Ikea furniture and shelves.

For a while now, we’ve been working with many of our clients to promote wellness in the office. A major point that always arises is detrimental act of all-day sitting. Studies have shown repeatedly that the amount of time that the average American office employee spends in a chair is unhealthy. How bad is it? According to the Washington Post, sitting heavily contributes to factors that increase heart disease, pancreas overuse, colon cancer, back injuries and leg disorders — just to name a few things.

Ideally, employees would have time to spend throughout the day to counteract these effects. But we all know that taking a leisurely walk to get the juices flowing is a luxury during a busy day. Sometimes, we simply can’t take the time away from our work. With that in mind, we need to do all we can to ensure that every employee has a way to fight the negative outcomes of sitting.

Many times, the healthier options in life are not always the most affordable. In a perfect world, when it comes to employee wellness, there would be no limit to that budget. But the reality is that standing desks range from $100 all the way to $700 for top-of-the line options. That just isn’t a viable option for many companies. On the other hand, a small business could nearly outfit an entire office with Oristands for the price of one nice standing desk.

Holmes’ innovation is a huge step forward in the standing desk movement. And we hope that it’s a harbinger of the affordable employee wellness revolution to come.

Want to start an employee wellness program at your company? Give Tribe a call. We’d love to help.

Stephen Burns

A brief history of Internal Communications

In 1940, a small group of self-described “industry relations specialists” met in Burlington, Vermont to discuss a novel concept that was emerging in the business world. That concept? Employee communication. The conference of a little under 150 people were tackling a subject that even today is still an issue at many companies, large and small, around the world.

One attendee, Alexander Heron would go on to write a book on the subject. Sharing Information with Employeesfirst published in 1942, was a groundbreaking text. It expanded on a subject that had only recently been theorized with incredible foresight. It took into account societal and cultural influences on employees and companies, and though its lessons wouldn’t be put into practice for decades, helped to define a new way of doing business.

Even at that time, certain companies had long been promoting a sense of community and company pride. And it’s not as though companies weren’t communicating at all. But Heron’s methods were the first to acknowledge the relationship between manager and employee as something human, emotional even. As Standford University’s Paul Eliel writes in the book’s Foreword, “The problem, as Mr. Heron so graphically points out, is not how to convey information but how to share it. Conveying is mechanical; sharing is personal.”

Being from 1942, there are obviously some dated tactics in the text, but here are some nuggets from Heron’s writing:

“The first element [in sharing information] … is the understanding by employees that facts about the enterprise are not being concealed from them.  The knowledge that they can get the information they want is more important than any actual information that can be given to them.”

“The program [of communication] should be a continuous one, a method of conduct rather than a campaign … it must not become an institution apart from the actual work or operation of the enterprise.”

“The American idea has no place for a class predestined to be wage earners incapable of understanding a world beyond the workbench, no place for a class which is denied the opportunity to reason its conclusions on facts which it helps to create, no place for a class which is happier because ignorant of anything beyond the daily task.  And those whose sense of superiority leads them to believe in either the necessity or the desirability of such classes are themselves enemies of the American idea or ignorant of its genius.”

So, next time you find yourself fighting for your communications budget, recall Heron’s words and remind any naysayers that these are ideas are as established as any other business practice. You can read the whole book online here. And if you need help, Tribe is happy to be on your side.

Stephen Burns

Millenials: Generational labels are not your identity

I’ve always thought that lumping everyone from a generation together under one archetype was a bit like Astrology. Everyone born around the same time has a similar personality and will succumb to the same fate as a result. Sure, there are coincidental truths and perhaps even some overarching trends that can be subscribed to, but it’s far and away from a definitive science. It certainly doesn’t define the individuals that make up that generation.

The etymology of “Millenial” is different from any of the preceding generational labels. The term “Baby Boomer,” describing the generation of children post-WWII wasn’t coined until 1977. And it was self-described. Gen X was a term coined and appropriated by the generation itself, the X being a symbol of not wanting to be labeled (they also called themselves the Blank Generation). With that precedent in place, it would seem shortsighted to label a generation still in the incubation stages of adulthood. The term Millenial was coined in 1991 in the name of market research. That was the year I was born. I didn’t even have a chance.

That’s why I tend to buck whenever I hear the word “Millenial” to describe me and my generation. Because already it has a stigma attached. Long before I entered the workforce, I was seen as an irreverent, tech-savvy know-it-all who expects the world and doesn’t want to put in the hours to earn it. In many professional settings, I have been talked down to because, I’m told, I don’t respect the way things are. My opinions are devalued from the moment my age becomes apparent even if, funnily enough, the topic is about reaching out to younger generations. I’m not saying that Millenials are the first generation to experience this, but it’s frustrating to individuals and it tends to push people away.

Millenials, we can’t get bogged by this label. Instead, we have to rep the good qualities. Millenials are known for valuing “craft, authenticity and strong values.” These are things that every company is looking for. Can we multi-task? Yep. Tech savvy? You bet. These are our advantages. And the negative attributes? Prove them wrong. Be the exception. Your prejudices are no better than their’s, and respect is a two-way street.

Employers, ignoring the nuances of a generation of employees will come back to bite you. Already, people are assigning attributes to Gen Z or, as they’re being called, the “iGeneration” (seriously). Now, don’t get me wrong. There is real, useful knowledge to be taken from identifying generational trends. But don’t confuse that with how you should interact with everyone from that generation. Regardless of age, people want to treated as individuals. Let them speak for themselves instead of allowing these labels speak for them. Only then will you be able to tap into the true value these upcoming generations have to offer.



Stephen Burns

Internal communications and change management

Internal communications are an integral part to any successful company. Truly communicating with employees is the key to creating a productive, creative and open office environment. Simply put, engaged employees are happy employees.

Perhaps the most important role they play is guiding employees through big company changes. When leadership is shifting, if the vision or the direction of your business is changing or even if the future of the company is becoming uncertain, communicating with employees can help reduce or alleviate your employees’ stress and reassure them that you’re looking out for their best interests. Here are six things you can do to help employees through company change.

1) Have respect for the employee. The most effective change communications are built on a foundation of respect for the individual. That means treating employees like the intelligent adults they are, as well as putting ourselves 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?

2) Be aware that knowledge is power. And it also makes people more comfortable. We recommend beginning communications to foreshadow the change as early as possible. Some companies feel they should wait until they know all the details of how things will shake out, but in our experience employees prefer to know earlier, even if there are gaps in the information you can share.

3) Know that it’s ok not to have all the answers. Employees can accept the fact that you can’t tell them everything right now. What causes them much more stress is the sneaking suspicion that something’s afoot and management isn’t telling them about it. We advise clients that it’s perfectly fine to say, “I don’t know yet, but I’ll tell you when I do,” or even “We can’t share that information, but I can tell you such and such.”

4) Acknowledge the two big fears. Why are people so afraid of change? In the workplace, it usually comes down to two major questions: Will this make my job more difficult? And will I lose my job? We encourage clients to talk about both. You can bet their employees are.

5) Recognize individual differences. Since they happen to be actual human beings, each employee is unique. They won’t have the same psychological or emotional reactions to change. They will also have their own individual preferences when it comes to how they like to receive information. To support a change, it’s helpful to offer communications in a wide range of channels. From a section on the intranet that’s frequently updated to printed materials to face-to-face interaction. You also may want some train-the-trainer tools to help people managers know how to communicate the change to their teams.

6) Remember: trust trumps all. Your most valuable asset in any change is the trust your employees already have in the company’s management. Without it, any change will throw people into a higher level of stress. If your company is fortunate enough to have built a strong equity of trust in its leadership, your job as a change manager becomes much easier.

Stephen Burns

What makes a company’s communications authentic?

This week, I heard an interesting discussion concerning authenticity in social media. Mark Schaefer, in his podcast “Marketplace Companion“, took a look at how companies carry themselves on social media, what appeals to viewers and customers as far as a company’s “character,” and if it was even possible to be “strategically authentic.”

This authenticity is key to connecting with customers, Schaefer asserts, and creating a celebrated brand. They described social media as a company’s public resumé, something that will stay visible as public record, track your behavior and exist as something you’ll always be measured against. With your brand in the public eye, everything you say, every conversation you have reflects on you. And, as Schaefer says, “You’re never off.”

It’s one thing to create a more personified company brand to consumers, it’s another entirely to create one that is internally-facing.  You can create a social media brand for your company, but consumers only see that side of things and it’s easier to control. Employees, on the other hand, see all sides of the company and understand all the dimensions of the business. Transparency is key, and inauthenticity is easier to spot.

What is the difference between transparency and authenticity? Schaefer describes transparency as your “words and actions being congruent with how things actually are.” That’s not entirely dissimilar from authenticity. The distinguishing factor, though is being intellectually honest versus simply disclosing everything.

How do you create an authentic company “persona”? Think about the public resumé precedent Schaefer sets. Having a smaller audience within a company, this record is going to be even longer, so consistency is key. To create a trusted internal brand, you have to pick a voice and a cadence and stick with it. That means maintaining thorough communications throughout company changes, but it also means keeping up with correspondence during down times.

It’s important to consider the source. In order to be authentic, your company communications need to come straight from the horse’s mouth. If your HR team is handling all internal communications, at times it will seem inauthentic. Let HR communicate HR issues, let the finance team relay financial news, encourage marketing to speak about their latest initiatives, and perhaps most importantly, let the executive team speak about company news and issues. If you have an executive blog, don’t allow someone who has never even met the CEO create his voice. Employees pick up on this kind of stuff fast, and once you lose their trust, it’s incredibly hard to re-gain.

Stephen Burns

Tried and true: Engaging non-desk employees with print material

At Tribe, we’re always looking for the best ways to engage the non-desk employee population. In some of our recent client work, we’ve been dealing with some of the most innovative and exciting ways to interact with this employee demographic that is notoriously challenging to reach. While there are plenty of awesome new technologies out there that have made the process easier, one of the oldest methods is still one of top choices: print material.

From magazines to break room posters, print is an effective and time-tested solution to relay company information to employees that don’t have a computer in front of them all day. Very often, non-desk workers don’t even have a company email address, let alone enough down time during the day to peruse the company intranet. Print pieces allow these employees to absorb the information on their own time. Posters, for example can convey refreshers of company values or announce team building events in a concise and digestible way. Company magazines can be picked up, taken home and read when employees have the time to invest in reading them.

How else can print materials help build employee engagement? Here are a few ways this timeless medium can help reach your employee population.

They make executive leaders visible – and human. In Tribe’s national research, we found that employees want to know their top management team as people rather than just titles. A regular magazine feature based on a CEO interview or even a series of profiles of everyone on the executive team can help employees feel that human connection.

They help align employees with the company vision. A magazine is an excellent venue for sharing the company vision with employees and helping them see how their individual roles contribute to that vision. This is a natural topic for articles involving executive leaders.

They provide a showcase for modeling values. Company values aren’t real to employees until they see them in action. In the magazine we developed for a hotel brand, we included three employee spotlights in each issue. This did three important things: made heroes of employees, gave real-life examples of applying the values, and shared some best practices in tackling common issues in the hotel business.

They can open windows into other silos. Magazines can help employees put faces on co-workers in other business units or locations, building the sense of being part of something larger than just their specific work groups. For a global parent company owning numerous apparel brands, we highlighted one of their brands in each issue. To counteract the feeling that the company was too U.S.-centric, we featured a different global location each quarter so employees could see behind the scenes at other offices.

They help non-desk employees feel in the loop. Although many companies have opted to reduce printing costs by distributing their magazines as digital publications via email or intranet, there are numerous companies still printing magazines and even mailing them to each employee’s home. For frontline, field, manufacturing and other employees who don’t work in front of a computer, these magazines can be their only substantial communication directly from corporate – and an important element of engaging them in the company vision and the desired customer experience.

Stephen Burns

Aligning your company’s internal communications with your business goals

Odds are, your company started out with a mission in mind. This is the reason you set out. It defines what makes you unique, what separates you from the competition and it gives you a purpose for your work. Your business as a whole needs an end goal in order to be successful. It’s crucial for you and your employees to be on the same path with their eyes on the same prize. Internal communications is what helps this initiative come together.

Your mission is your destination, but it’s also your foundation. A business goal is not something that one day you’ll achieve and your quest will be over. A business goal is the way that you’ve chosen to define your journey. It’s also the basis on which you should communicate with your team. How and when you reach out to your team should reflect the goals you’re trying to achieve.

Here are three benefits to starting with the end in mind:

1) You need a road map to know where you’re going. The strategic communications plan helps to keep everyone moving in the same direction. It’s what provides the structure on which you can build employee engagement in reaching those business objectives. As an example, let’s say one of your company’s business objectives is to increase innovation through collaboration. When you know that’s a focus, you can choose channels that support that goal, like an idea-vetting site or collaborative features on your intranet. Even before you start developing your messaging, you’ve begun to pave the way for changing employee behavior.

2) It allows you to be more proactive. There will always be late breaking news or changes that require turning on a dime, but with a plan in place, you’ll minimize your need to be reactive or tactical. A clear plan provides you with the luxury of being proactive. For instance, perhaps somewhere in the company’s future, there’s a strong possibility that you’ll be bought by another company. Well before you reach that juncture, you can lay the groundwork for smoother change by building employee trust in management. You might decide to add a weekly CEO blog to your mix, to provide two-way communication channels or even to find opportunities for leadership to share some bad news as well as the good, to assure employees that management communicates honestly and transparently.

3) It helps you create synergy. A well-developed plan helps your communications become larger than the sum of their parts. You can use some channels to build traffic to other channels, or look for places you can weave in underlying messages. Perhaps you’ll realize your recognition communications are a good place to include messaging on the company vision and values. There are any number of ways your communications can support or build on each other.

Stephen Burns

Communicating your vision to employees

True success as a company comes when you can align your employees with your vision. When employees feel connected to the direction of your company, they become ambassadors. They better understand their role in the structure of the company, and the merits of large company shifts. 

Employees need a common goal. When everyone is engaged and working in the same direction, the company works smarter and better. Your vision is that goal, that direction, and it’s up to you to communicate it to employees and continue those communications as the company that evolves.

Here are four ways that Tribe recommends sharing your vision with your company:

1) A vision book to put a stake in the ground. Tribe has created vision books as large as a paperback novel and as small as a passport. The goal of such a publication is to clearly articulate the vision, often along with the values that support that vision. We recommend vision books at the launch of a major cultural transformation or immediately following a large-scale change, such as a major acquisition or a new CEO.

2) Leadership communications to make it relevant. Before employees can walk the walk, they need to hear their top management talk the talk. In town halls and presentations, in blogs and intranet articles, the vision can anchor executive announcements of change, progress, challenges and successes. When those in the C-suite can tie difficult decisions back to the vision, it helps increase employee confidence in the company and trust in its management.

3) Manager communications to relate the vision to day-to-day work. Although leadership communication is important to set the bar for the vision, employees will look to their direct managers to understand how the vision impacts their individual jobs. Sometimes managers need help in knowing how to communicate that. Tools like discussion guides, talking points and other communication materials can make it easier for them to work vision into the conversation.

4) A culture magazine to share progress toward that vision. If the vision book puts the stake in the ground, a digital or print culture magazine sustains the relevance of the vision. Keep vision top of mind with articles on teams that have achieved important milestones or individuals that have contributed in some significant way to the company’s ability to realize that vision. Employees appreciate reading about the roles coworkers are playing in achieving the vision, whether those coworkers are in positions like to their own, or in completely different functional silos