Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

When communicating major change, watch your step.


How does a company communicate a major change? In many cases, not well. Following are three sure-fire ways to completely blow it with employees:

1. Don’t say anything at all until every single detail is final. This is an awesome idea if you want employees to feel insecure and uneasy. Especially if they somehow suspect change is afoot and begin to spread that suspicion via the grapevine.

2. Tell them what they want to hear. For instance, if there’s currently no plan for layoffs, go ahead and promise them that all their jobs are definitely safe and they don’t have a thing to worry about. If that changes, they probably won’t even remember the earlier communication.

3. If it’s bad news, don’t talk about it. If you don’t acknowledge that something has gone wrong, or that a difficult change is coming, then you can keep employees from knowing a thing about it.

What’s that? You prefer treating employees with respect? Then you might find the following tips more in keeping with your approach:

• Don’t patronize them by withholding negative news. They’d rather know what to expect than be left in the dark.

• Tell employees as much as you can as soon as you can. If aspects of the change are not yet decided, tell them that too.

• Don’t make the mistake of thinking employees get all their information about the company from the company. They have plenty of other sources, from the financial news to the local news and from social media to social connections.

Interested in communicating change more effectively? Tribe can help.

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

It will take more than a new CEO to change the culture at Uber

Former Uber CEO Travis Kalanick

I didn’t find it particularly sexist when Uber board member David Bonderman commented that more women on the board would mean more talking. Before reading Susan Fowler’s blog about her time as an engineer at Uber, I assumed the culture there was  no worse than any company run by a bunch of smart-ass guys. Something along the lines of the ad agency world back in the day, like when my boss would flip through Playboy while I read my work aloud to him.

But Fowler’s account reflects a maddening experience in a culture of gender bias that’s deeply systemic. Ousting CEO Travis Kalanick is not going to instantly eradicate a pervasive attitude of permissiveness toward sexual harassment and discrimination. The board at Uber has a long uphill slog ahead if they’re hoping to change the culture in a meaningful way.

Having more women in top leadership positions would help, but high-level women have been leaving the company in droves. According to Fowler’s calculations, the Uber workforce was 25 percent female a year ago and now is at less than six percent. Whether women have left because of sexism or due to the chaotic state of the business, they’ve left a vacuum that may need to be filled by women coming from outside the company.

At Tribe, we often work with large companies interested in shifting their cultures. I’ve been thinking lately about what we would recommend Uber do now, and I have to tell you, just the thought of the work ahead of them makes me feel exhausted.  So much real change would have to happen, from new leadership all the way through operations, before the culture even begins to budge.

Communicating that cultural change will be easy enough — once the change is real. But slight improvements or superficial changes won’t move the needle. In this case, there will have to be a seismic sea change to change the reality of the culture at Uber.

It will be difficult, and it’s possible the board will decide such an uphill battle isn’t worth it. Maybe they’ll just let boys be boys and take the lumps.

The worst mistake they could make would be to claim the culture has shifted when it hasn’t. That would only backfire — and undermine whatever trust in leadership remains.

Have a cultural issue that’s not quite as bad as Uber’s? Tribe can help.

Four Tips For Improving Your Internal Communication

If you asked each employee what the corporate mission statement is, or if they feel appreciated, what do you think they’d say? The answer isn’t an obvious one, especially if your business crosses state or country lines, not to mention continents. The further away employees are from headquarters, the less connected to leadership they seem to feel.

 Internal communications is so much more than just updating employees with business information. It can be used as a way connect with and build up each department. Employee engagement increases productivity and retention, and creating that connection doesn’t have to be hard. Here are four ways to improve the way you communicate within your company.

  1. For starters, encourage employees to speak up. They should know they have a voice and that their opinion matters. If they believe a process or meeting can be handled more efficiently, provide a way for their feedback to be heard. They just might be right.
  2. Be clear with your communication. Don’t just inform people of change. Tell them why change is coming, and how it will help the supply chain, reduce overhead, or eliminate redundancies. Change is always scary at first, but addressing concerns before they have time to manifest helps reduce some employee stress.
  3. Be creative in the ways you communicate. Don’t always rely on walls of text to get your message out. Just because you can summarize your message in an email doesn’t mean that’s the best way. Mix up your content with videos, or introduce friendly employee competitions. Just don’t be boring.
  4. Give recognition where recognition is deserved. This is particularly important when your business has many different hands involved in the creation of your product. Make sure your warehouse workers know how they fit in with the business, as in, there is no business without them. Each piece of the company is integral to the work flow, make sure people in sales, marketing, or engineering know that.

Some of this might be new, and some of it might be a reminder. The goal is to follow through with these guidelines and be consistent. A constant employee complaint is always receiving mixed messages—or no message at all— from corporate.

Interested in improving communications within your company? Tribe can help.

 

Nick Miller

Employee Engagement: Communicating corporate values

Start by identifying values that are easy to understand and remember. It is a formidable task to take a leader’s vision for the company and narrow it down to a few words employees should use to guide their efforts. On the flip side, if you want employees to truly adopt the company’s values, they need to be able to remember them and easily discuss their meanings. At Tribe, we recommend no more than three to five values written in language a third grader would understand.

Target recurring occasions and communications to acquaint and connect your workforce to your values. Values shouldn’t live exclusively on the poster on the break room wall. When planning any communications calendar, think of opportunities to incorporate the values into existing internal communication pieces, company events or programs. Rotate your values as the themes of your newsletter content or publish value-focused blogs and leadership videos. We especially like desktop tchotchkes such as Legos that reinforce values while also giving employees something to tinker with while working. The more instances your workforce happens upon corporate values, the better.

Designate values champions throughout the organization. Review your organization chart and identify middle-level managers in each department who have a passion for and exemplify the values. Charge them with ensuring the values are included in internal communication pieces, events and programs. Ask them to recognize other employees who are using or living the values and highlight those associates as heroes of the business. Involve your champions in the gap evaluation process of the values and reward them for the extra work and commitment they are giving to the company.

Integrate the values into your hiring and employee evaluation process. It is easy to say that your values are integral to your company’s success but to show employees the true importance you place on them, they should be included in the hiring and evaluation process. Include values-based questions during the interview as well as a checklist for hiring managers to use to ensure a prospect exemplifies them. A pre-boarding package that introduces values prior to an employee’s start date allows them to feel familiar with the values before their first hour is logged. It can also communicate that company values are of equal importance as other included elements, such as corporate policy. Incorporating your values into your evaluation process will both fortify the significance of values and offer supervisors the opportunity to coach an individual on how they can better employ those values within their work.

Looking to communicate corporate values to your employees? 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.

Nick Miller

Be the source of information your workforce can trust


The world experienced a global erosion of trust in their traditional sources of information in 2016.
The rise of fake news, alternative facts, and echo chambers, whether it be partisan press or social media, has hindered factual information from being treated as such.

The consequences of a workforce that is, by default, skeptical of information has wide ranging implications to your company. Ensuring your internal communications are excluded from such doubt of validity could be a difficult, but necessary, undertaking.

The good news is that, as an employer, you already have a foundation of trust to build upon. The 2017 Edelman Trust Barometer, an annual analysis of global trust in organizations, paints a positive picture for the influence of business. Business, as an institution, experienced the least significant degradation in trust by percentage, over government, media, and NGOs. According to Edelman’s study, three out of four people agree that a company “can take specific actions that can both increase profits and improve the economic and social conditions in the community where it operates.”

But business is not entirely in the clear, and must act in order to retain their favorable position. Globalization and wildly unbalanced financial gain of executives are common sources of fear and distrust among the workforce. Edelman’s study has also uncovered a corrosion of trust in experts, regardless of field, with CEO credibility decreasing the most in the past year, dropping to an all-time low. Peer-to-peer communication is considered most credible as people seem to be most comfortable with a spokesperson that is akin to themselves.

A number of conclusions can be drawn for internal communications. One of Tribe’s takeaways is that, now more than ever, corporate communications are most effective when it is communicated in a manner that makes all employees feel like they have the most accurate and current information about the company. That means giving the business reasons behind a major organizational change, for instance. It also means sharing numbers, whether you’re discussing the engagement survey or financial results.

Interested in maintaining the credibility of your internal communications? 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

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.