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

http://csaimages.com/images/istockprofile/csa_vector_dsp.jpg

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.

Steve Baskin

Communicating Vision and Values: Give Your Employees Something to Do

Businessman opening hands

Tribe does a great deal of work communicating corporate vision and values. Quite often, the vision includes a grand statement about becoming the biggest, the best, the safest, the broadest, the fastest, the most caring company in the business. And while we’re becoming the “est”, let’s have integrity, passion and be innovative. That’s all fine. We all want to be the best at what we do and exude expected values while we’re doing it.

The problem with these broad goals and statements is that it doesn’t tell your employees what it has to do with them. If we’re communicating with employees and want them to engage in the conversation, we have to give them something to do.

Employee communications should provide instructions on what employees can do to contribute to the goal. When we talk about becoming the best in our industry, we take the ball out of employees’ hands since they can’t control what the competition is doing. When we can’t control or change the outcome with our actions, we’ll tend to ignore the communication and assume that it’s someone else’s responsibility.

Achieving broader company goals – or the company vision – doesn’t magically happen. It’s typically the result of the successful execution of internal business strategies. So when we’re communicating with employees, it’s important to be as specific as possible about what they’re supposed to do. They should be able to internalize the communication to understand how their actions should change after seeing/reading the communication.

Therefore, when we’re communicating corporate vision and values, it’s not enough to print a poster with the vision or send an email from the CEO that states the values. It’s a start, but we also have to provide context of how we’re going to achieve the vision or examples of how the values show up within the company.

Need help communicating Vision and Values inside your organization? Tribe can help.

Steve Baskin

The Fallacy of 100 percent. The good and bad of employees running full speed.

The Fight on the Cobblestones - Tour de France 2015No one can go 100 percent 100 percent of the time. It’s July, so I’m spending a fair amount of time watching the Tour de France, which has me thinking about endurance and maintaining high levels of performance for extended periods of time.

While it’s been scientifically proven that top Tour de France riders are actually aliens, the reality is that they only ride at maximum effort (or 100 percent) for a small percentage of any given race. Over a three-week period, the Tour de France includes twenty-one separate races covering almost 2,200 miles. The top riders try as hard as they can to use the least possible amount of energy until it’s time to shine. Even when the time comes, that maximum effort is over a small portion of the race.

My personal mantra for this is: Conserve. Conserve. Conserve. Explode!

If a company’s culture is a non-stop state of emergency and employees can never slow down and catch their collective breath, they’re performance will be underwhelming when they’re asked to shine. Importantly, they’ll never have enough time for thought, reflection or creativity.

In his 2002 book called Slack, Tom DeMarco examines the (sometimes-counterintuitive) idea that in trying to get more and more efficiency and effort out of fewer employees, the result can be the exact opposite of the intention. Your employees can easily become so busy that they’re under performing on every project. Speaking of aliens, I remember having a conversation with a former boss about DeMarco’s book, and the idea of building more Slack into our days. She just looked at me like I was one.

Many of the projects at Tribe involve immovable deadlines. Tribe is very efficient at executing large volumes of work, and we’re typically very good at anticipating work volume. But sometimes it happens, and we’re going full speed and running up against deadline for an extended period of time.

The good:

  • We get very focused.
  • The team pulls together and works as a single unit.
  • We get very inventive in finding solutions for specific issues.
  • We feel fantastic when we’ve delivered something great for our clients against tough odds.

The less good:

  • It’s stressful for everyone involved.
  • Available answers often turn into the best answers.
  • Creative thinking can quickly evaporate if this goes on too long.
  • Things can fall through the cracks – and if something does go wrong (regardless of fault), the options for correcting the issue can be very limited.
  • If it goes on for way too long, employees will get very cranky and start returning calls from recruiters.

There are times when your team has to buckle in and put in that super-human effort to get the job done. That’s ok. You rally the team and do what you need to do to meet your commitment. And you perform like a world-class Tour de France rider.

The moral to this story is that if your culture has your employees running at 100 percent all day every day (or if they just perceive that they are), they’re unlikely to have enough left in the tank to do something extraordinary when it’s time to shine.

But try to manage in a way that makes the need for super-human effort an exception to the rule. When it happens and the fan is hit, go back and reassess the project to figure out how you got into that situation in the first place and how to avoid it in the future.

Running too hard and need some help with internal communications strategy and execution? Tribe can help.

Steve Baskin

Fire Hose Communications? A Smarter Approach to Internal Communications

Fire FightingJust to be clear, the fire hose approach isn’t working. Let’s stop with that nonsense.

People go to work to do a job. This job tends to make them quite busy. This limits our ability to communicate with these people.

The problem is that there’s a lot of important information that employees need in order to effectively do their jobs. They need to understand their job responsibilities. They need to understand the company’s vision and how their role supports that vision. They need to understand how to sign up for benefits. They need to know about things that are going on around the company. And many people are trying to tell them these things.

Because of this time conundrum, the common reflex is to try to cram the largest possible number of subjects and words into whatever time we have. Whether it’s an on-boarding conversation, a quarterly town hall or a weekly huddle, it sometimes feels like there were just five or six too many things on the agenda. And the PowerPoint slides always seem to be filled to the gills with dense paragraphs and numbers.

Normal human beings can’t learn everything about everything in a day. Subjecting employees to half-day meetings and an onslaught of communications and expecting them to retain any of it is pointless. Subjecting them to two thousand word emails that provide every detail of their health care offering is equally pointless.

From the employee’s point of view, it’s like trying to drink from a fire hose. There’s too much coming too fast to comprehend even half of what’s heard. Soon those quarterly meetings or daily huddles become a waste of time as employees learn to tune out before they even arrive at the meeting.

So how do we communicate all of this information in a way that it might actually stick? Here are four ideas:

  1. Build a plan and calendar-ize your communications. Map out your communications objectives and build a schedule that includes all of the communications that an employee is going to need over a quarter, a year, whatever.
  1. Dole out the communications in bite-sized chunks and with a dependable cadence. For example, allow an on-boarding program to last 60 or 90 days versus one day or a week. Slot in the various subjects and schedule out a weekly conversation while they’re getting hands-on experience in their role. Keep the initial conversation as simple and straightforward as possible. And always provide access (links or directions) to the details for those inquisitive and fast learners.
  1. Peel back the onion (Shrek, 2001). Start out with the broad strokes. If you’re communicating the company’s vision, go ahead and announce the goals and strategies. But know that the work has only just begun. Over the next several months, explain why the company’s strategy is a winner, and explain how employees’ individual roles will bring the vision to life. Do this by painting vivid imagery with concrete examples of people around the organization who are walking the walk.
  1. Be interesting. If your folks are going to take the time to watch your videos or read your articles, please don’t bore them to death. Reward the people who pay attention to the communications by providing something that they care about. Why do Facebook posts go viral? Because they move people in some way. They’re funny or they’re heartbreaking or they unearth a truth that you’ve always known, but never knew how to express. Go ahead and be interesting with your communications.

If executed appropriately, by the end of that period, employees will know more of what they’re supposed to know. And over time, they’ll learn how to apply corporate communications to their roles and responsibilities. Importantly, they’ll understand how they’re contributing to the success of the company and will have a much better shot at being deeply and actively engaged.

Need help figuring out a communications strategy? Tribe can help.