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.

Steve Baskin

Culture Is Not The Product

new product grunge retro blue isolated ribbon stamp

It’s good to keep in mind that culture is not the end goal. It’s the means to all sorts of desirable ends. But the culture is not the thing that your company is selling.

Remember when they came out with this thing called the World Wide Web? The Boomers and some Gen X-ers among us might remember the initial confusion in the business world about what the Internet really meant for business. Companies wasted millions as they chased ideas that didn’t make sense for them. Of course, over the past few decades, the Internet has changed the way we do just about everything in business.

But for 99.9 percent of businesses, the Internet is not the product. It’s simply a channel that makes conducting business more efficient. The Internet is an enabler.

Dealing with culture has some parallels. Culture, like the Internet, is a tool that we can use to make businesses operate more efficiently.

A culture that’s aligned with the vision is the best kind of enabler. It allows the ideas to flow through the organization more freely. It allows the products to get through the production process quicker and more efficiently. It allows the kind of communications that are necessary to insure that the products we’re making or the services we deliver align with our customer and client needs.

When a culture is toxic, unstable or unpleasant, it’s very difficult for company to work efficiently. We may have dreams of Google Fiber, but when the organizational culture is broken, things can move about as fast as dial-up speeds of the 1990s. But even in companies with happy and engaged employees, culture can be used as an excuse for not evolving to more effective tools or policies.

The culture determines whether the brand promise is fulfilled. When an organization goes about building its brand, it’s making a promise about what potential consumers should expect when they purchase the product or service. Inside the company, the employees are responsible for making sure that the promise is delivered. A strong and aligned culture helps make that happen.

Interested in communications that help align your culture? Tribe can help.

Steve Baskin

How different should your culture be?

Chimp Pic

Just about every company that Tribe works with is concerned with its culture. More specifically, they’re concerned about the degree to which the culture supports or inhibits achieving the goals of the organization. Of course, it’s important that companies are focused on this issue. Among many other issues, the culture can add to or detract from recruitment efforts. The culture impacts morale and potential productivity. And the culture certainly has an impact on retention.

Very different, but very similar. Tribe works with companies of all sizes – from a few hundred to hundreds of thousands of employees – and in many diverse industries. As you’d think, the cultures of these companies can vary dramatically. Still, the issues that we’re asked to help with are surprisingly similar from company to company. Our experience is that companies often overthink the issue of differentiating their internal culture.

At a glance, humans and chimpanzees are extremely different creatures. Among other things their height, size, shape, facial features, hairiness (often), agility, linguistic choices and clothing choices are all very different. Interestingly, humans and chimpanzees share 98.8 percent of their DNA. Even more interesting is that in the 1.2 percent that they do not share, there are 35 million differences. (According to the internet and the American Museum of Natural History)

Like humans and chimpanzees, companies (particularly those in related industries) share many more similarities than differences. In those differences, though, dramatically different cultures will emerge.

Being different shouldn’t be the focus of your efforts. Instead of focusing on being different, focus on providing employees the tools they need to do their jobs effectively. Focus on helping employees realize their full potential. Focus on strong inter-personal relationships. Most of all focus on helping employees understand how their individual efforts contribute to the company’s success.

Take the time and effort to figure out your company’s DNA. That DNA will ultimately define the culture. More importantly, ensure that the culture you have supports the vision of the company’s leadership.

By the way, from one human to the next, 99.5 percent of the DNA is the same. Doing quick math from the chimpanzee example above, there would be almost 15 million differences. Business being business and humans being humans, you’ll probably find that your culture is different from 98.8 percent of the other companies.

Interested in building your culture? Tribe can help.

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.