Steve Baskin

Being The Best In Your Category Or Industry Is A Lot Like Being A Major League Pitcher

I’m in awe of Major League pitchers who can throw the baseball a hundred miles per hour. A few years ago, I was at an expo at a sponsorship event and stepped into a pitching cage to see how fast I could throw a ball.

Now I’m not completely un-athletic. But after lobbing the ball a few times to get warmed up, I wind up for the real thing –  forty-seven miles per hour. That couldn’t be right. So I wind up and give it everything I’ve got. Forty-six miles per hour. And now I have a newfound respect for major league hurlers.

So how does a major league pitcher make a ball fly at a hundred miles per hour and consistently hit an inches-wide target that’s ninety feet away? First, he practices pitching over and over for years and years. Then coaches and trainers meticulously hone the pitcher’s movements to ensure absolutely perfect form that won’t break down under pressure. Finally, and probably most importantly, the pitcher calls on every part of his body to participate in the process.

Sportscasters say, “that pitcher has a great arm.” But it’s not just the arm that throws the ball. Fingers have to hold onto and release the ball. The shoulder has to power the arm. The spine and hips have to generate torque to whip the arm around. The legs have to provide that forward propulsion for the movement.

The lungs can’t be seen from the stands, but if the pitcher couldn’t get air in him he wouldn’t be able to throw the ball. In fact, he’d die. The same is true with veins, arteries, blood and just about every other part of the body.

It’s a very similar story when we think about how high-performing teams deliver the brand experience at the best companies. There are front-line people delivering a service or selling the product. Typically, someone with a great pitch. But as important as they are, front-line employees are just the final connection to the customer.

Without the rest of the company, the brand experience falls completely apart. Someone invented the product or service. Someone figured out the operations requirements for building the product. Some actually worked on the assembly line or sewed on buttons. Someone made sure that the plant or office is a comfortable and safe place to work. Accounting figured out how to bill the customer so that employees could get paid and everyone would actually show up for work.

While the connection is not always obvious, everyone in the company has a role in the customer or brand experience. Everyone in the company contributes to making the product as good as it can be. Companies work at their peak when every part of the organization understands how his or her individual actions contribute to the company’s success.

Interested in communications that get every employee in the company aligned with your goals? Tribe can help.

Steve Baskin

Understanding Global Culture: You Don’t Have to Go It Alone

There’s been a recurring theme at Tribe regarding mergers, acquisitions and integrating cultures on a global basis. Tribe primarily works with North American companies and many of those organizations have a global footprint. We’ve had quite a number of conversations regarding acquisitions that required the communications team to have immediate global knowledge.

Sometimes the communications team can feel overwhelmed by this new challenge. But the advantage of acquiring companies with a footprint that goes beyond your current map is that you also acquire new employees who already have experience from that region in their pockets.

Employees in local markets will always understand things about their market that someone sitting in an office in the US will never know. The key to making these relationships work is the ability to offer subject matter expertise while learning from and taking advantage of your colleague’s local market knowledge. This allows the local markets to be a key part of the decisions.

Your new teammates are likely just as passionate about the business as you are. Tribe was recently working with a global diversified manufacturer to develop an internal brand strategy and communications materials. The US-based team was responsible for developing materials that would be used globally. So in addition to our weekly status calls with our US-based clients, we would regularly include team members from EU and Asia on our planning calls. They were smart, passionate and engaged folks who not only appreciated being included in the conversation, they added invaluable knowledge.

When integrating new businesses and cultures following an acquisition or merger, you have a wonderful opportunity. There will be a learning curve for figuring out how best to integrate communications and goals for the team. But you won’t be on the hook for all of the knowledge on day one.

Make your lack of local market knowledge an opportunity by opening the doors of communication with your new teammates. Be prepared to talk about the things that have worked well with your communications activities and start fresh by getting rid of elements that haven’t worked as well.

What’s really important is to remember that culture can’t be imposed. The acquired will not immediately become your culture. The acquisition means that there will be an evolved culture. The opportunity for your team will be to figure out what’s great about your culture and what’s great about their culture and work hard to capitalize on those things.

If the world has just become your (internal communications) oyster, don’t be intimidated. Pick up the phone. Get on Skype. It’s time to make some new friends.

Need help integrating new cultures into your organization? Tribe can help.

Steve Baskin

Internal Communication is Change Communication – Or Should Be

We talk about change communication as a category of internal communications. In fact, Tribe’s capabilities presentation has a page on Change Communications. But perhaps we should evolve our thinking on this a bit.

Every email, announcement, blog, post, recognition, video or podcast should be signaling some type of change. I read the email or watched the video. I learned something I didn’t know. I changed my behavior because of the communication. I’m now able to do my job better. That’s the real purpose of internal communications. Right?

Internal communications should be written to change behavior. Otherwise, we shouldn’t be wasting people’s time with yet another email, blog or article. What’s the point of asking someone to spend time reading or seeing what you’ve developed if it’s not designed to change behavior or help employees do their jobs more effectively.

I suppose this might add a bit of complexity or challenge to our jobs as communicators. To develop effective change communications, we need to know a few things. 1) What we want them to think or do after reading the message. 2) The gap between the existing and goal knowledge. 3) What the result will look like if we can get everyone to change a behavior.

If I read an article in the company newsletter or culture magazine, it should be more than just an interesting read. The article should educate me on what’s going on around the company and perhaps offer insights on things that I could be doing to help the company achieve its business goals or vision – and potentially change my behavior.

“I just need to make an announcement. How is announcing the winners of an internal contest change communication?” Quite often it may seem like there’s no opportunity to elevate a message beyond its basic points. In this example, instead of just announcing the contest winners, there’s an opportunity to revisit the original purpose of the contest. What were you trying to get employees to do? And how does that behavior support the goals of the company? There’s almost always an opportunity to tie the conversation back to the company’s goals.

But let’s be careful not to load these communications up with so much stuff that they stop communicating. There is beauty in simplicity. There are lots of important emails that communicate that something must be done before some date. And that’s a form of change. I didn’t know the date before I read the email. Now that I do, I’ve made a note in my to do list to have a conversation with my spouse and sign up for benefits before the window closes. That’s change too.

And keep having fun. Making your communications consistently strategic doesn’t mean they can’t also be fun. It’s important to be engaging and entertaining with your communications. But cute for the sake of being cute at the office can be quite a waste of time. We prefer strategically fun.

It doesn’t matter what you call your communications. What’s important is not missing the opportunity to affect change.

Want to make sure your communications affect change? Tribe can help.

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.