Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

The CEO holiday letter: 3 tips for getting employees to actually read it

The year-end letter from the CEO or another executive team member can be a great way to build engagement and make a human connection. But only if it’s done well. A two-page composition that’s one long, dry sentence after another is not going to be read word-for-word by employees, if at all. Here are a few tips to keep in mind when working with leadership on an employee letter or email:

  1. Don’t ghostwrite it: Or at least don’t make it sound like someone ghostwrote it. If the exec doesn’t have the time or inclination to write the piece for himself or herself, do whatever you can to channel his or her voice. What are the words and phrases this person uses frequently? If they like something, are they more likely to describe it as really cool, awesome, outstanding, fabulous or terrific? Is there a word or phrase they use frequently to reinforce an idea, like “absolutely” or “no doubt?” If you don’t have frequent contact with this particular leader, search online for videos of interviews or speaking engagements to pick up details of how they speak. Even better, get five minutes of their time to talk about what they want employees to get out of this communication.
  2. Show some personality: Tribe’s national research with employees indicates that they want a personal connection with their leadership teams. They want to feel like they know something beyond business facts about the person behind the title. Some more introverted leaders resist talking about themselves because they think it comes off as self-centered or bragging. Explain that it’s humanizing rather than hubris. If the big boss is training for a marathon or writing a detective novel on the side, that’s the kind of personal detail employees are craving.
  3. Cut roughly 20% of what you wrote: Or even 30%. Take a look at what you think is the final draft and figure out how to make it shorter. If it’s a letter, absolutely do not let it be more than one page, and try not to fill that page with ink. If it’s an email, three or four brief paragraphs is probably about as much as employees will read. Employees are much more likely to read it if it’s short and sweet.

Interested in improving your leadership communications? Tribe can help.

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

Is it the channel that’s not working — or the content you’re pushing through it?

Before you decide that employees don’t ever open emails, read the monthly newsletter or pay attention to digital signage, take a good hard look at your content. If you compare the caliber of design, writing and messaging to the brand communications your company does for consumers, how does it stack up?

Emails continue to rank highly as a preferred method of communications in most of the employee surveys we’ve been involved in. Yet actual open rates are often quite low. Maybe what employees mean is that they like the channel of email but are not inclined to open things that look like junk mail.

The same notion applies to newsletters and employee magazines. Whether digital or printed, these publications can be highly visual and engaging. They can be an excellent way to keep employees in the loop; to share leadership views on the vision, values and important business developments; and to make heroes of the employees by featuring them in articles. But if it looks boring and sounds boring, chances are employees will take a pass.

Digital signage can be an incredibly useful touchpoint, because it takes so little effort on the part of employees. As they’re waiting for the elevator or walking to a meeting, they can absorb quick messages ranging from company vision and financial updates to wellness and HR housekeeping issues. We’re seeing these monitors in more and more companies, but they’re not always used as well as they could be.

Channels are merely vessels; it’s what you fill them with that matters most. This applies to all channels, whether they’re the newest technology or a poster in the break room.

Employees deserve the same caliber of communications as your customers. If they’re not engaging with one or more of your internal communications channels, don’t assume it’s the channel that’s not working. Maybe all you need is better content.

Interested in improving your content? Tribe can help.

Brittany Walker

Tribe’s Take on France’s “Right to Disconnect” from Email

Will corporate culture trump the law? Earlier this week, a new law went into effect in France giving employees the legal right to unplug. The law requires companies with more than 50 employees to establish hours when employees are not required to answer email. As we get more and more attached to our smartphones, tablets, and even our watches, the lines of business hours and expected availability will only continue to get blurrier. Below is Tribe’s take on the new regulation. Similar to non-exempt laws in the US restricting off-the-clock work for some types of employees, this law could be a launching pad for tighter restrictions across the board.

We’re curious to see if the law will actually work. It will take some time to determine significant impacts, but acceptance of these behaviors will rely heavily on individual company culture and direct manager-to-employee relationships. Instituting change in an established culture can be a daunting task, but certainly doable with the right communication and executive buy-in. It will be interesting to see if legal action accelerates these changes in behaviors.

A less stressed workforce can result in lower healthcare costs. Email overload, whether received day or night, has been reported as a significant source of workplace stress. As NPR highlighted, a group of Stanford business professors have estimated that work-related stress added between $125 and $190 billion dollars per year to America’s healthcare costs, amounting to between five and eight percent of total costs. Overwork accounted for $48 billion of that.

Decreased burnout can equate to higher engagement. With hopes of being more than just a ban on after-hours emails, the law anticipates making a real impact on work-life balance. The ability to unplug and detach from work-related responsibility could positively impact morale, engagement and productivity. Time will tell if other countries will join the movement, or if France will remain a lone trailblazer.

Interested in improving your culture’s work-life balance? Tribe can help.

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

Eliminating Ineffective Channels: Send Out Less Stuff, and Employees May Pay More Attention

Sometimes the best thing to do is to stop doing something. As you add more and more channels to your internal communications program, whether that’s updating the intranet to a more social platform or developing communications toolkits for managers to cascade messaging, you can reach a tipping point where too much is, well, just too much.

Stop and make an assessment of what’s working and what’s not. Are there six different newsletters from various division and regions? Maybe you could retire a few, or at least use a more targeted list of who gets what. Do employees have several different sites serving various functions of an intranet? Maybe you could shut one of those down, or migrate the content that’s actually being used to another internal site that gets more traffic.

Also consider the Use By date on communications meant for a specific time window. If you ship posters to all locations and ask them to put them up in the break room, do you also let them know when it’s time to take those posters down? When open enrollment is over, when the United Way campaign is complete, removing those posters leaves visual (and mental) space for other messages.

But don’t throw the baby out with the bath water. If a channel doesn’t seem to be working very well, consider updating what flows through that channel. That digital newsletter that nobody reads might be a winner with an updated design and improved content.

How do you know what’s working and what’s not? The best way is to do a communications audit, using any metrics you have plus an additional employee survey and possibly even some employee focus groups. When Tribe conducts such an audit, the resulting recommendations usually include some combination of 1) channels to keep because they’re working great as is; 2) channels to tweak because they need more strategic thought and/or more engaging content; and 3) channels that have served their time and are ready to retire.

The conundrum is this: there’s always the risk that you’re communicating too much. Just as there’s always the possibility that you’re not communicating enough. If this stuff was easy, it wouldn’t be so hard.

Interested in giving your portfolio of communication channels the once over? Tribe can help.




Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

3 Tips to Avoid Overloading Employees With Emails

HiResWhen someone talks too much, people tend to tune them out. By the same token, if you’re constantly emailing employees, they may not be paying attention to those messages.

Employees already get too many emails. Some of those emails are urgent; others are things they need to read to do their jobs. Many are CYA emails that copy everyone who could be even peripherally involved with the topic at hand. And then there are the internal communications emails — which often get left to open later. Which means never.

So your starting point is that your email is low priority. That means your emails need to be both engaging and easy to process to get any kind of attention at all. Here are three tips to increase the effectiveness of employee emails.

1.First of all, cut some copy. Nobody’s got time to read every possible detail you feel you need to communicate. Keep the message simple, and provide a link for more information to satisfy the few who will actually want to know more.

2. Don’t bury the call to action. Employees will be scanning the email to see what they’re supposed to do, so get that call to action in early. The first line, first subhead or even the subject line will work fine. If you think they’re going to read paragraphs of text to figure out what they need to do in response, you’re probably mistaken. Even worse is an email that tosses the call to action in somewhere in the middle of the email where it gets completely overlooked.

3. Make it visual. You know what that say, a picture is worth a thousand words. In an inbox that’s filled with text, a strong visual can be the difference in an instant delete or a cursory look. And a cursory look is the gateway to actually reading the copy.

I’m not saying email isn’t a useful channel. Especially in employee populations where people are sitting in front of computers most of the day, email is often the most direct channel — and the one most preferred by employees.

The challenge is to get your email read. Don’t make the mistake of thinking employees are sitting there waiting for the next internal communications email to pop up. And don’t be so quick to decide that email doesn’t work. It’s possible that you haven’t yet figured out how to make email work.

Want to make your internal communications more effective? Tribe can help.







Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

It’s Not Email That Wastes Time. It’s Poor Email Practices.

HiResEmployees spend 28 percent of their time managing email, according to McKinsey. If we consider email just another channel, like the phone and the intranet, then email is one of the ways people get work done. Yet in Tribe’s research and client work, employees consistently complain of email wasting their time.

The problem lies not in email itself, but in inefficient email practices. Those sending emails often make poor use of the To and CC lines, use vague subject lines and write long and rambling missives instead of clear and concise emails. Employees aren’t processing their incoming emails effectively, and find themselves bogged down in their inbox, letting messages collect there until they can figure out what to do with them or how to respond. In workplaces everywhere, employees are missing important emails because they’re overwhelmed with so many that don’t concern them at all.

It’s also easy to let email interrupt your concentration on work that requires real focus. The constant stimulation of incoming messages offers ongoing distraction from the job at hand. The studies on how long it takes to get back on task after an interruption suggest that this isn’t a very productive way to work.

In an attempt to eliminate those distractions, one company banned email completely. story in Fast Company described CEO Cristian Rennella outlawing all internal emails in his South American travel company. Instead, employees sign into a custom project management site that uses absolutely no notifications. The system is what Renella describes as “pull methodology” instead of “push,” since employees decide when they’re ready to read communications and field questions and requests from their co-workers.

The cultures of most companies might not support that “whenever” approach to response time. For those companies, Tribe would recommend training on efficient email practices to quickly and efficiently communicate with colleagues internally.

Does that sound like something your company needs? Tribe can help.

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

Three enemies of innovation in corporate life

The corporate world is big on innovation as the key to getting or staying ahead of the competition. Yet the culture of most large companies makes it difficult for employees to have time to think, collaborate and move new ideas forward. When Tribe interviews corporate employees in industries ranging from banking to philanthropy, we hear over and over about three major hurdles to innovation.

  1. Too many meetings: If it weren’t for all these conference calls, when would we get our online shopping done? Employees often attend meetings, in person or by phone, merely to show that they showed up. Few corporate meetings are hotbeds of creativity. When employees spend all day moving from one internal meeting to the next, they complain of not having enough time to get their work done, much less noodle on an innovative idea.
  2. Too much email: The other big time zapper in most corporate offices is a ridiculous amount of internal email, much of it of the CYA variety. Without training on how to efficiently process the overload in their inboxes, employees can feel they’re drowning in messages. Wading through that inbox becomes an endless chore, and a convenient diversion from real thinking.
  3. Trouble identifying potential collaborators: Innovation often depends on collaboration between subject matter experts from disparate disciplines, but when companies are siloed by function or division, it can be hard for employees to find their fellow experts.

Of course, meetings and emails have their benefits, and can also provide venues for collaboration. That’s the trouble, really. You can’t innovate with them; and you can’t innovate without them.

Interested in building a culture more supportive of innovation? Tribe can help.






Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

Internal communications for Millennial and Gen Z employees

Boomer and Gen X parents have learned what many workplaces still don’t get about Millennials and their younger siblings in Gen Z. If you send them an email, they might read it eventually. If you need to reach them right away, you better text.

At the moment, internal communications in many large companies are not serving this segment of the employee population very well. Yes, those static intranets are gradually being updated to provide more current and relevant content and features that allow for more social interactions.

But digital communications are just the first step. The next one is to make internal communications and enterprise-wide tools accessible on mobile devices.

Millennials and Gen Z are tethered not to their computers but to their phones. Although they may use their computers to create Powerpoint presentations or develop spreadsheets, to edit videos or add to Google docs, they do everything else with their mobile devices. In short, they create things on their computers, but they get things done with their phones.

Oddly, there’s a pervasive resistance to mobile technology in internal comms. Concerns include exposing sensitive company information; issues with non-exempt employees viewing communications outside regular work hours; and invading employees’ privacy.

There can be simple solutions to many, if not all, those concerns. The payoff for finding ways to make mobile work for internal communications is a significantly increased ability to engage employees — particularly those in the newer generations of the workforce.

It’s curious to me that adoption of mobile technology has been so slow in our industry. In companies where employees are spread across geography and time zones; where work is increasingly happening outside the office; and where the need for collaboration is greater than ever, mobile devices are one of the best tools internal communications could possibly have.

Interested in adding mobile capabilities to your internal communications? Tribe can help.

Get projects moving in the right direction with Flow

Are employees in your company using Slack, Basecamp or other project management software? At Tribe, we’re seeing this trend in large companies. Work groups or departments will adopt new software or apps for communication to sidestep their bulging email inboxes. The IT department may or may not support the software, or may not even realize that employees are using it.

One of the best of these project management tools is Flow. It allows team members to collaborate more easily and to keep track of each other’s progress in real time. Flow is intuitive and easy to learn, plus offers the satisfaction of being able to check a box when you complete a task.

Once you create a project in Flow, it allows everyone in your team to see and keep track of the project’s progress. If you need to see one or two colleague’s upcoming tasks, you can easily filter out all others to see exactly what you need. 

It’s very easy to make quick comments or add input. Each project has its own sort of chat room where all conversations regarding that particular project live. This can cut down on email overload significantly. If someone needs to get up to date on a project, they just go to that project in Flow and look at the discussion.

One person can also delegate tasks to multiple people and keep track of everything at once. This comes in handy for someone like a project manager. In a matter of minutes you can see who is working on what, if something is late, when projects are due, etc.

Small companies can benefit from this app as well. Tribe has jumped on board and now uses Flow to help us keep track of due dates. Instead of having a number of different projects listed, we have milestones or due dates. When we have a new creative project, we can assign the steps involved to the appropriate team members and organize those tasks in projects like Copy Due or Design Due. It makes it easy for art director and writers and account managers to see what’s due on any given day.

Looking for software to keep your teams on track? Tribe can help.