Steve Baskin

Corporate Tone: Four ideas to increase readership of internal communications

“Why was that last email from corporate so cold and dry? I could almost hear the winds coming across the tundra.” One of the most common complaints we hear at Tribe is how impersonal corporate communications can be.

It’s important to be clear in internal communications. A company-wide email will reach an incredible diversity of audiences. There’s geographic diversity. Different levels of education. Silos based on job functions. The list goes on. Even the most carefully crafted messages can be interpreted in many different ways.

But that doesn’t mean corporate communications need to be watered down and filled with legal speak. Here are a few thoughts on how to ensure that communications remain engaging:

  • Be normal. Strive to write in a conversational manner. If you typically use Hereto and Wherefore in normal conversation, perhaps you should have someone else do the communications work.
  • Target your communications. If there’s an option to sending out an all-company memo, send a memo to the audience that is impacted by the communication. And have a designated location where interested employees can find all corporate communications.
  • Target your approach and message. If you have such a diverse workforce that a message that makes perfect sense to one part of the company is Greek to another, write separate communications to each. Figure out where the value is in the information and ensure that each audience gets something out of what you’re saying.
  • Humor helps. Advertisers use it all the time to engage the audience long enough to hear their sales message. In internal communications, a little wit can help humanize communications and sidestep the offputting qualities of legalese.

But be careful. Humor that offends will backfire. Often in humor, there are winners and losers. And people tend to take offense when they’re rounded up with the losers. While people being offended is pretty universal, your chances increase in larger, more diverse organizations.

Interested in striking the right tone in your internal communications? Tribe can help.

Steve Baskin

What’s the Difference in the Employer Brand and the EVP?

That’s the question we got from a leader at a global services company this week. Whenever he tried to explain and sell the concepts to his leadership team, the words seemed to overlap all over themselves.

At Tribe, the EVP and Employer Brand are part of the daily conversation, so we quickly got to an explanation that he could use. But getting this question from a key client reminded us that it’s a great idea to clearly define these concepts whenever we’re wading into a strategic internal branding discussion.

As the importance of effective employee communications has become a hot button for so many Fortune 500 C-Suites, it’s not surprising that the Employer Brand and the EVP has found its way into the lexicon. But confusion about the two exists. We see external and internal branding as two sides of the same coin. So to define the concepts, it’s helpful to compare the internal and external branding disciplines.

If a brand promise is what the company says that it will do for its customers, it’s up to every employee within the company to come in every day and work toward that commitment. Similarly, the Employee Value Proposition (EVP) is what the company promises its employees, and every day, the company has to uphold its promise.

The EVP is the sum of the benefits and values that attract, motivate and retain the best employees. It includes things like salary and benefits. But it’s also about pride in what the company does. How it’s leaders lead. How it makes the world a better place. A strong and well-defined EVP helps move the primary motivator for working at a company away from salary.

And if Brand is what the outside world thinks about a product or service – the sum, both positive and negative, of a product’s attributes – then the employer brand is what current and prospective employees think about the company. It’s their knowledge and expectations of the company.

From inside the company, the Employer Brand platform is a handy tool that communicators use to manage perceptions and align behavior of employees. Like a traditional branding campaign, the Employer Brand serves as a theme or platform that allows us to communicate and position all aspects of the EVP.

When built correctly, the Employer Brand is authentic to the existing culture of the organization. Like the external brand, the Employer Brand should be filled with nothing but the company’s existing DNA. It’s aspirational, yet realistic. It sets expectations of what prospective employees will find should they go to work at the company. It’s a differentiator that helps explain to employees why this company is the right choice for them.

When the Employer Brand is supporting the EVP, effective internal communications become easier to execute. Recruitment becomes more efficient. Employees become more engaged. Retention of the right employees is increased. The skies are blue, and the sun shines bright.

Working on an Employer Brand? Tribe can help.

Steve Baskin

Company Presentations: Who’s Doing the Work?

If you’re the person in charge of putting together the company meeting, there are a number of boxes you have to check off. Stage. Crystal clear sound. Big video screens. Excellent, up-to-date branding in the room.

You’ll organize the presentation to ensure that C-Suite leaders mirror their roles and seniority. They’ll cover the successes that occurred over the past fiscal period. Their vision for the near future. The challenges ahead. They’ll have a section on change. They’ll give the right nods to diversity and culture. And they’ll let employees line up and ask questions.

While it’s the easiest and most obvious approach, focusing solely on the most senior execs can give employees a feeling of exclusion and distance from the results that they’ve achieved. It works. But the approach most often misses an important opportunity. While the C-suite execs are certainly on the hook for the success or failure of the operation, the presenters at these meetings typically aren’t the ones who did the work being discussed. Thousands of arms, legs and minds contribute to the success of the company.

It pays to shine a light on the stars that did the work – not corporate leaders. Provide recognition. Give awards. Have employees from the ranks participate in the presentation. There are many ways to do it. But whenever possible, it pays dividends to make heroes out of employees who went above and beyond and found success.

Company presentations are a prime opportunity help employees understand how their individual roles contribute to the success of the organization. You had a successful product launch? Let the team talk about what made it work. You’ve struggled through some major change management issue? Let the folks talk about the benefits of the change. Someone had an innovative thought that helped a product succeed? Let that person talk about what sparked the idea.

And it’s important that leaders show evidence that they’re listening and walking the walk. Point out when employee comments helped drive decisions. Don’t just talk about diversity, show diversity. Recognize remote offices or support organizations that might not have client-facing roles.

It’s a lot easier to have seasoned execs stand up on the stage and present. Every time another speaker is added to a presentation, the presentation becomes more complicated. To come off in a seamless manner, this approach requires planning and practice. But with some preparation, companies can get a lot more bang for their buck from company meetings.

Looking for ideas for your corporate meetings? Tribe can help.

Steve Baskin

Timely Internal Communications: The problem with imaginations

In the absence of fact, our imaginations are more than happy to fill in the blanks. As communicators, we put a lot of effort into crafting every word of every communication before pressing send and releasing our words and images to the masses. We have to. Words are important. Those that are misplaced can cause damage.

Accurate, well-written and engaging communications are critical in the work place. But timeliness is important too. We often put so much effort into crafting the words and gaining consensus from every key stakeholder, that by the time we press send, the information is old.

Or worse, we’ve taken so long that employee’s imaginations have gotten in the game. Last week, a young man – still early in his career – was in my office. Management at his company had communicated that his department would receive employment contracts for the upcoming year at noon that day. It was almost five o’clock, and he took the lack of communication as very bad news. He was preparing to close on his first house, and he was worried that he might be out of work.

In this fellow’s case, his imagination was getting the better of him (I hope). He was fairly sure that the person who approves the contracts had nefarious intentions. A power play designed to make the employees sweat it out. I assured him the company likely just needed to ensure that the information was correct, and it was taking more time than they’d anticipated. In the midst of our conversation, he received the contract. (Phew)

When companies have a track record delivering timely, transparent communications, there’s a much better chance of having engaged employees. When employees are engaged in their work and they feel that they can trust their leadership, imaginations don’t veer so quickly toward the dark side. And you avoid declining productivity since your employees aren’t grousing about the delay in the contracts they were supposed to receive.

The important point here is for us to remember that there are human beings on the receiving end of what we promise in our communications. Let’s do our best to strike a balance that delivers incredibly well-written communications and gets them to our folks on time.

Looking for help getting great communications out more quickly? Tribe can help.

Steve Baskin

5 Cultural Issues to Keep in Mind When Companies Merge

For corporate executives, there’s nothing like the excitement of acquiring a new company. It’s a moment in time when the company can speed towards its overall goals. Most often a merger or acquisition is the result of months or years of due diligence and getting past hundreds or thousands of hurdles. For the executives of companies that are the target of an acquisition or merger, it can be just as exciting.

Mergers generally mean that a company will suddenly have improved resources. Improved capabilities. Expertise in a new market segment. Expanded geography. Efficiencies that they had not previously had access to. For those who have a thirty-thousand-foot view, the advantages and promise of a merger or acquisition are generally very clear.

For most employees, though, mergers and acquisitions can be a time of great anxiety. Will I like the new company? Will I have a new boss? Will my role become redundant? Will I lose my job?

There is no exhaustive list of things that corporate execs should check to ensure that a merger occurs sans the calamity. But here are a handful of things that can help the vast majority of your employees get through the process with a greater sense of excitement toward the future.

  1. Know thy culture. It’s critical to have a deep understanding of the culture of your organization. It’s also critical to have a deep understanding of the culture of the company you’re acquiring. Most importantly, it’s important to understand the differences between the two cultures and try to anticipate places where the two organizations may fit well and where they may not.
  2. Embrace benefits of the culture of the acquired company. There are things about the new company that made it attractive enough to acquire. There are reasons the company attracted and retained talent. Try to understand those things and adopt the most positive elements that might enhance your existing culture.
  3. Celebrate the vision for the new organization – not just the transaction. A merger of companies is the result of a ton of work. But all of that legal and financial rigmarole only gets you to the starting line. The heavy lifting that faces the new organization is about realizing the strength of the combined entity. This is a great opportunity to help employees understand how their individual roles will contribute to success of the new organization.
  4. Be transparent and move quickly regarding potential negative impacts on employees. Your employees are smart. They’ll soon understand where the redundancies are in the combined organization. As with any organizational change, in the absence of facts, employees will be more than happy to fill in the blanks with their imagination. Most often, our imagination will be much worse than the reality.
  5. Don’t forget that a merger affects legacy employees too. Often, companies are acquired because they’re in a desirable market or have some unique technology or process. Find ways to pay attention to and celebrate legacy employees – especially if the merger has disrupted their roles in any way.

Looking for help with change communications? Tribe can help.

Steve Baskin

Fortune telling and transparency: Communicating Change in the Corporate Environment

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Be as transparent and timely as is possible when communicating change with employees. It’s one of the most consistent pieces of advice and counsel our clients hear from Tribe – along with ensuring that the change communications are connected to the organizational vision and business strategies.

To maintain morale and keep employees engaged, it is important for communications to be out in front of change – especially when change might accompany bad news for some or all employees. In the absence of facts, employees are very happy to fill in the blanks with imagination and rumors. Most often, their imaginations provide worse outcomes than the reality of the situation.

Tribe’s research shows that the actual change is generally less stressful for employees than not knowing what’s going on. Once employees have an opportunity to acclimate to whatever news is out there, they have a much better chance of dealing with it and returning to their normal productive selves.

Appropriate transparency doesn’t require management to assume the role of Fortune Teller or Sooth-Sayer. If there are facts that will negatively impact some employees, communicate the facts with empathy and respect. Openness is good. But it’s rarely appropriate to theorize or conjecture about bad things that might happen.

And appropriate transparency doesn’t mean that you have every answer about what’s coming next. Explain the situation as well as you’re able and explain the plans for moving through the change. There are times when admitting to not knowing the answer is the best answer.

Similarly, it’s important not to promise that a change initiative won’t result in bad news for employees. Credibility will immediately evaporate when the bad news is revealed down the road.

When done well, change communication can get employees energized and engaged in their work. We shouldn’t be stymied by change – or by change communication. It’s simply a part of what keeps an organization moving forward and in the same direction, which means a more efficient and effective company.

Interested in better change communications? Tribe can help.

Steve Baskin

Echoing the Election: The Divide Between Corporate and Field Employees

Vector illustration of raised up hands in red white and blue.

Internal communications and presidential politics are in most cases completely unrelated. However, the surprise outcome of the 2016 election — and the surprisingly wide divide between red and blue states — may offer a cautionary note for communicators in large companies.

For this blog’s metaphor, it’s interesting to liken corporate headquarters (management and support services) to Washington, DC. Elected officials go off to DC to represent the people. In our analogy, this is where corporate decisions are made, and those decisions are doled out to the rest of the company. Here, executives are making decisions that will help the company move forward and achieve its goals. They’re working on the next big idea. They’re monitoring what’s happening and reporting the results. They’re almost always trying to figure out ways to get more done with less. These decisions have an effect on the rest of the company.

And so of course, then we would liken the red states to the field. These are the people who are building things, shipping things, selling things and servicing things. They’re in the manufacturing plants, distribution centers, call centers, retail stores and other non-centralized parts of the business. They’re on the hook for executing their jobs in a way that matches the expectation of leadership.

When everyone’s on the same page, things work smoothly. When leadership and the people aren’t aligned, things get tougher.

What I think we learned about this election is that a large percentage of people felt that leaders were not listening to their issues. When they voted, the country (red states) voted for change, which signaled that there was unhappiness with the status quo.

Tribe often see this same scenario playing out in the corporate environment – sometimes in limited pockets, but other times the issues are more pervasive. Regardless of best intentions from corporate leaders and communicators, this disconnect most often stems from a lack of effective communication – especially regarding non-desk workers.

Tribe’s recommended approach for minimizing the disconnect remains the same:

  • Leadership develops a vision that puts the company in the best position to succeed.
  • Leadership communicates how the individual roles of employees contribute to success of the organization – to achieving the vision.
  • When change is necessary, leadership explains why the change improves the company’s ability to achieve the vision.
  • Leadership prioritizes a dependable way for employees to safely provide feedback. This allows management to understand how decisions affect all areas of the company – a critical and often missing link.
  • Through the actions of leadership and through communications, the loop is closed so that employees know that their voices were heard.

The key to this formula is building a feedback loop to ensure the message is being communicated. We often see situations where corporate believes that it has checked the communications box. But when we start asking questions in the field, the communications were not received. This leaves employees feeling frustrated and disrespected.

Tribe’s study of non-desk employees in the US highlights the importance of communicating to this group. More than 70 percent of non-desk workers feel that communication from leadership – from the top – is important. More than 80 percent say that they don’t get enough information from executive leadership. Importantly, the study shows that fewer than a quarter of non-desk employees feel that their job is important to the company vision.

A company has a much better shot at getting its people engaged in their jobs and in the vision of the organization than the US government. Companies tend to have a defined mission and focused agenda. But as we’ve learned, if we don’t listen and give our people a voice, they will eventually find a way to let us know what’s not working for them.

Want some help communicating the vision to employees? Tribe can help.

Steve Baskin

The Predictive Nature of Change Communications

highway traffic on a lovely, sunny summer day. Cars are passing fast.

I love trying to predict when we’re going to get to the destination on a family trip. I figure out the distance. I estimate an average speed. I do the math on speed times and distance. Then I guess at how many rest areas or food stops we’ll have to make. I’m pretty good at it and amaze family and friends by guessing within a minute or two. I’m sure that makes me sound really, really cool.

What’s interesting about it to me is trying to make educated guesses given all of the possible variables. Traffic that no one expected. An extra bathroom stop. Thinking that the Starbucks is actually at the exit instead of a mile or two away. Of course, if something happens to slow the trip down, there’s always the option to speed things up a bit when we’re back on the highway. Or take the foot off the pedal if things are on schedule. The point is that by staying focused on the outcome, there are things we can do to help ensure that we get the proper result.

Change communications are very similar. When we’re working with a client on a change management project, we’re typically asked to make as educated a guess as is possible to determine what type of communication is going to elicit the desired outcome.

At Tribe we refer to this as Change Marketing. Our ability to get as close as is possible to the right communication strategy requires a great deal of discovery and immersion. Like the car trip, it’s about brainstorming over as many potential outcomes as we can imagine. Thinking through the purpose of the initiative. How the change might affect the lives of those involved. How the change affects the work environment. How the change aligns with the existing culture.

By the way, they call it change management, not change do-it-once-and-you’re-done. Change within organizations requires vision for where the organization is trying to go. And it requires time, effort and energy to make sure you actually get something done. Also, we call it Change Marketing, not change we-made-the-poster-so-we-must-be-done.

The answers may already exist, or we may have to go find them. But when we’re able to do our job at its highest level, we map out what is needed and work with our clients to the to the right result.

Tribe’s process typically involves conversations with leadership to understand the vision that supports the change. Focus groups with a diverse number of employees to get a picture of the existing mindset and to unearth obstacles that might be in the way. Employee surveys to quantify the direction of our thinking. By the way, these surveys can also serve as a baseline measurement for the initiative.

Good data plus intelligent planning equals better results. When you’re as educated as you can be about the trip you’re about to embark on, and you’ve thought through the potential detours along the way, you have a much better chance of knowing when and how you’ll get there.

Want some help with your change initiatives? Tribe can help.

Steve Baskin

It’s Not About the Pizza: Aligning Employee Actions with Organizational Vision

Slice of a Pepperoni Pizza isolated on white background

At Tribe, we work with our clients on events of all types. It didn’t take long for us to learn that food attracts the crowds. It also didn’t take long to learn the importance of not running out of pizza.

Enjoying the work environment is a large part of employee engagement. It’s a lot easier to get out of the car and walk into the office when it’s a fun place to work. When you enjoy being around your colleagues. When you get a chance to laugh during the day.

But it’s not about the pizza. The pizza, the games, the entertainment are simply lures that help attract the crowd and make it more fun to learn the things that leadership believes are important for employees to know.

We constantly look for interesting opportunities and venues that promote internal communications. But the underlying purpose is always in helping employees understand the organizational goals and how their day-to-day actions help the company get there. For us, this is the real purpose of company events and meetings. The communications subjects might be more tactical than strategic – open enrollment, introducing the new intranet or learning a new process. But aligning corporate communications with organizational goals is what Tribe preaches every day.

For Tribe, the creative process is about business. It’s not fluff. We spend time working with our clients to clearly understand their business goals and communications needs. Then we work hard at staging those communications in interesting and unique environments and in fun and engaging ways. Then we figure out a way to measure the activity to see if achieved our goals.

We love to have fun at the office. But we believe that true engagement happens when employees understand where the company is headed and their individual role in getting there.

 Interested in events that align employees with company goals? Tribe can help.

Steve Baskin

Engaging Financial Communications: Include Employees in the Story

Business chart with glowing arrows and world mapHow do we get employees engaged in corporate earnings announcements? The quarterly hand-wringing is loud enough to be heard outside just about every Fortune 500 company.

Short of learning if they’re more likely to get a bonus or get laid off, there’s very limited interest from the average employee without a C or VP in their job title. The language and terminology used when reporting financials to employees tends to be the same language that companies use when they’re reporting to shareholders and analysts. The trends and numbers that are reported tend to be high-level or global numbers that can be very hard for someone down in the business to understand or relate to.

Connection to the vision. Quarterly financial reporting is an opportunity to highlight progress toward company goals. If your company has a well-documented vision or business strategy, this is a great time to help employees connect the dots between the vision or strategy and financial performance.

We tend to be fans of teams. Professional baseball fans understand that their team is part of Major League Baseball, and they’re always happy to hear that the league is doing well. But they get animated about their team’s performance. Did they win last night? Will they make the playoffs? Will they finally get to the world series? Are they trading for the pitcher or batter that’s going to get them over the hump?

Companies are all about teams. Look for creative ways to bring the financial conversation down from corporate or global level to the team level. By segmenting the financial reports toward divisions or departments – smaller teams – within the organization, it becomes easier for employees to relate to the results. That can help them cheer on good news or to dig in and work harder if results were less than expected.

Connecting high-level financials to team or individual performance requires both creativity and a pretty deep understanding of company goals and departmental contributions. This doesn’t have to be an exact science. It’s simply a mindset of connecting actions and contributions of employees and team members to financial results. When you include employees in the financial conversation in more relevant ways, they’ll inevitably begin to care more deeply about the results.

Interested in connecting employee actions to financial results in your organization? Tribe can help.