Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

Does your CEO talk to the people delivering your brand promise?

Who creates the customer experience? The employees working in retail stores, hotels, restaurants, and call centers, of course. The frontline employees represent the face of your brand and they’re the ones who deliver on the brand promise — or not.

If you can engage the frontline as ambassadors, you’ve got some real fire power. Cascading communications through people managers works well for some topics, but it often takes top management to inspire them, to lead them to a place where they truly feel ownership of delivering your brand promise.

Frontline employees want to learn the soul of the company from their executive management. In one of Tribe’s national studies,  58 percent of frontline employees indicated that they’d like direct communication from top management about the company’s vision and values. And when they don’t hear from their leadership team, they often make the assumption that it’s because the top executives don’t respect them or their contributions to the success of the company.

How often does your CEO communicate directly to the frontline folks? That communication doesn’t necessarily mean an in-person plant visit or retail store appearance. It could be a streaming town hall, a leadership video, an interview in an employee magazine, or a CEO Corner on a mobile-friendly intranet. It could even be digital signage or a letter mailed home or a podcast. The important thing is that some culturally relevant communication comes straight from the top to the people doing the real work of the company.

Reaching the frontline is not as easy as reaching their colleagues sitting in cubes. But there are numerous ways to make it happen, if your company is willing to invest the effort and budget.

What it takes to build non-desk communication channels is a drop in the bucket compared to your company’s ad budget. You can spend a zillion dollars on brand awareness, but the customer experience comes down to that fast-food worker at the drive-thru window. It seems reasonable to invest some time and money in communication channels for that frontline audience, in order for them to fulfill the customer expectations you create with your brand promise.

Interested in helping your CEO create brand ambassadors of the frontline employees? Tribe can help.

 

 

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

The EVP: Addressing various life stages and personality types

The employee value proposition helps employees see beyond compensation and benefits to the larger picture. Although there are other elements of the EVP that attract top talent and keep your best employees in place, it’s safe to say all employees care about their pay and health insurance.

Beyond that, many elements of the EVP will be different for each individual. Some people are looking for a company where they can enjoy a better work-life balance. Other employees might secretly enjoy racking up air miles and staying in hotels all over the world. Some folks want to be able to wear T-shirts and flip flops to the office. Hourly workers in positions that don’t promise much career advancement might appreciate tuition assistance to get that college degree.

Although we can’t assume that diverse personalities will want the same things, people in certain life stages often want similar perks. New parents might particularly value the options of flex time or working from home. Those in the early stages of their careers will likely be looking for a company with a great deal of opportunity for growth. Although Gen Y employees often rank meaningful work high on their lists, that factor can also be a big deal to many Boomers.

The EVP provides answers to the employee’s question, “What’s in it for me?” It’s wise to remember, however, that the right answers will be different according to what any individual employee values most in life.

Ready to explore your employee value proposition? Tribe can help.

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

Employees don’t trust your leadership? Here are 5 tips for changing that.

Here’s the thing: trust is not about guaranteeing employees that nothing bad will ever happen. If building trust requires a guarantee of anything, it’s that the company will tell employees what’s really going on, even if it’s bad.

Impending job reductions are a great example of the sort of bad news that companies occasionally have to share. But employees are smart enough to realize that no company can promise lifetime employment anymore. Most employees don’t even want lifetime employment. They want interesting, challenging work, and in an ideal scenario, work that they find personally meaningful.

Employees start a new job with the expectation that eventually they’ll move on to another company, ideally when they themselves decide it’s time for a change. But unless they’ve been living under a rock, they recognize that sometimes companies have to lay people off, eliminate positions or somehow reduce head count.

Honesty, then, becomes the real building block of trust. Employees feel trust in their company — and thus do their best work and are most engaged — when they believe management is being honest with them. So how does a company go about doing that?

1. Tell employees about any significant changes in the company — and tell them fast, before the rumor mill and the media get a jump on you. Some CEOs and other leaders delude themselves into thinking that if they don’t say anything, the employees won’t notice that anything is going on. Wrong. Employees know when something is up, and in the absence of management communication, they’ll take their information wherever they can get it, often from each other. And what they tell each other is often worse than the reality.

2. Tell the truth, even when it’s bad news. Particularly when it’s bad news. If employees know that the company will be straight with them in communicating negative developments, then they tend not to worry so much. Ironically, sharing bad news makes employees feel more comfortable instead of less so.

3. Give employees credit for being smart enough to know business includes both ups and downs. Most people have experienced plenty of highs and lows in their own lives, and they have an understanding that things move in cycles. Just because the business is down today, doesn’t mean it won’t be up tomorrow.

4. Make room for employees to ask questions. You have to make this honest communication a two-way street. Provide a place on the intranet for employees to ask questions and post leadership’s answers. Hold a town hall and have your CEO respond to those difficult questions on the spot. Or provide your people managers with a source for responses to the questions they’re bound to get. The advantage of fielding those employee questions is that it gives the company a chance to respond to the issues that you have to accept are swirling around the workplace. The other side of that coin is that employees need the information they need to make their own decisions –even if that means their decision will be to leave the company. But by answering their questions honestly, you make it less likely that they’ll feel in a panic to jump ship.

5. Share leadership’s vision for the future. Most corporate management teams believe they’re doing this all the time, and it’s true that the people closest to them are familiar with the vision. But when we speak to the rank and file, there is most often a disconnect and the further away an employee is from the top, the less confident they are that the company leadership has a plan. This vision isn’t something you announce once and then check it off the list. It should be woven into all your communications, from the CEO blog to internal videos to the employee magazine to digital signage — and maybe even to your recognition programs.

Interested in building trust in your organization? Tribe can help.

 

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

Middle-aged Millennials: Recruiting and retaining an experienced generation


Many Millennials are now more than a decade into their careers. Although the bookend birth years of the generation vary depending on the researcher and/or media outlet, 1980 to 1994 is the block we use at Tribe to define the Millennial generation. That means the first Millennials are turning 38 this year.

They’re no longer those fresh college grads hoping to get a foot in the door.  They’ve done stuff. They know things. They’ve maybe even learned how to manage others. They’re valuable employees, not just for their potential but for their experience.

They’re not kids anymore, and they’re not kidding around about what they have to offer. So what does your company have to offer them?

This is a good time to reexamine your employer brand and your employee value proposition. Since Millennial employees, especially those in the technology field, have plenty of job options, it’s worth investing time and money into making your company more competitive in the talent market.

What’s good for Millennials is often good for other generations too. For instance, Millennials value flexibility in terms of when and where they work. So do many Gen X and Boomer employees, whether they’re dealing with growing kids or aging parents or just the desire for work to accommodate the demands of their personal lives.

However, the most important element of the EVP for Millennials is the work they’re getting to do. Sure, they expect work-life balance and constant feedback and an ethical organization. As they begin having kids, they value solid benefits and competitive salaries even more than when they were younger. And they’re happy to have any extra perks, from a great coffee bar to mobile dental care that show s up on-site. But they care more about the work they’re doing and why.

The employer brand helps communicate that EVP, and that communication begins with recruitment. How are you building that brand with potential job candidates? What are you sharing about what it’s like to work for your company? Should they expect to be challenged with opportunities to grow their careers? Given the responsibility to run some projects of their own? Will they able to collaborate with other talented people? Will they work they do be recognized for contributing to the overall success of the company? And is the vision of this company something that makes them excited to get to work every day?

In terms of retention, it’s helpful to tell the stories of employees’ and their individual efforts. For instance, you might do a regular feature on your intranet or in your internal magazine or newsletter that interviews employees who are highly engaged in their work and excited about how it contributes to the company goals and vision. Or you can tell those stories through video or podcasts. Giving those concrete examples of real people thriving in their jobs is one of the best ways you can promote your employer brand.

Interested in defining your employer brand or EVP? Tribe can help.

Nick Miller

Company Intranet: Welcome your employees to do the communicating

Not all internal communications departments have the manpower to constantly post fresh content to their intranet. The perpetual search for news and blog topics is extremely time consuming and can lead to burnout, which inevitably causes your intranet to regress and become stale.

The key to avoiding a stagnant intranet is to welcome your employees to generate their own content. This can come in many forms. For example, we often suggest companies encourage their executives to publish blogs, a valuable top-down channel for topics such as corporate vision and values, operational success, and the roadmap for future business decisions. With the size of a typical leadership team, each member only needs to contribute once every month or so.

You can extract equally valuable content from employees at any level. Promote the opportunity to be a content provider by advertising it as a differentiator, whether that be a brand ambassador, company hero or organizational influencer. Increasing the visibility of these individuals with a desk tchotchke, such as a plaque or pennant, will both provide the employee with acknowledgement for their hard work and give others a person to offer their own ideas to.

Break down silos by giving departments, committees, and special interest groups a platform through which to distribute information. A designated spot on your intranet for each group to share monthly updates, such as current initiatives or new collaboration processes can do wonders for your overall engagement. Clubs and corporate responsibility groups can raise awareness and explain their own purpose and goals through periodic exposes. Even a general op-ed space for any associate to contribute content of all sorts is a way to make your workforce feel like their voices are being heard.

 

Administrating this network of user generated content can be a substantial job, so simplify the process by providing guidance, training, and organization. A quarterly schedule of posting responsibilities will ensure that your internal communications team isn’t still chasing content at the last minute. Short training sessions on news writing, AP style and company guidelines can eliminate much of the quality assurance work required before posting. By doing so through a webinar, you can record the sessions and provide your content creators with a resource through which to refresh their skills. A content author manual can also help to reinforce proper writing and the process through which to gain approvals and post articles.

Want to build a corps of internal content creators? Tribe can help.

 

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

4 tips for a better end-of-year CEO letter

‘Tis the season for the year-end letter from the CEO or another executive team member. This 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. Show some gratitude: Employees appreciate a little acknowledgement of their contributions. Whatever success the company has had this year, they’ve had a hand in it, so let them know the CEO recognizes that.
  4. 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

The intranet launch is a milestone, not the finish line

Launching a successful intranet requires effective pre- and post-launch initiatives. At Tribe, we coach clients to consider the launch of a new intranet not the finish line but one milestone in a much longer process consisting of four phases.

Phase 1: Employee input: Building traffic to a new intranet begins long before the launch. Preferably before the development even begins, employees are involved in the process. You might do a survey on what features employees need to do their jobs more easily; how they’d like to connect with those in other functional silos; what sort of collaboration space would work best for them and other related issues. Focus groups are a good idea as well, to hear employee input in more depth.

Phase 2: Pre-launch: By foreshadowing the launch, you can create excitement about what’s to come and engage an initial group of employees to be early ambassadors. Use other internal communications channel to market the coming intranet. Find a group of early adopters for beta testing or assign launch communication responsibilities to influencers throughout the company. This is the time to build a critical mass of insiders who will help create buzz about the launch.

Phase 3: Launch: You only get one chance to launch, so it’s important to do it well. Make it big news with a launch event, desk drops, elevator wraps and anything else that will get employees’ attention. Make it easy for employees to test drive the intranet with quick-start guides and in-person or online training sessions. Motivate them to visit the intranet multiple times with online scavenger hunts or contests.

Phase 4: Sustaining: This is where many companies drop the ball. An intranet is not static, or at least a good one isn’t. You need fresh, relevant content day after day after day. This is more than most internal communications departments can handle on their own, so at Tribe we recommend establishing a content manager program. By recruiting and training content managers from a range of geographic locations and functional areas, you can build an army of content generators who post on an ongoing basis. To sustain this system, build in quarterly meetings to continue engaging this team, share best practices and provide recognition for those posting the best content.

Have an intranet launch on the horizon? Tribe can help.

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

The “You’ve got chocolate in my peanut butter” theory of innovation

That old Reese’s commercial makes a valid point — a brilliant new idea is often just the collision of two unlike things. The magic is in creating that sweet spot of overlap between two previously unrelated elements.

That’s why innovation in any field so often depends on the combined expertise of people from two or more different disciplines. But before that sort of collaboration can occur, you need to provide visibility across the company of different functions and areas of expertise.

Beyond visibility, the goal is to build respect across functional silos. For employees to value ideas contributed by someone from another discipline or with a different expertise, they first need to respect what others bring to the table.

We’ve seen this connection between respect and collaboration with a couple of clients recently. Each of these two companies depend on innovation and bringing new ideas to market in order to remain competitive. Both involve manufacturing and technology. Both are incredibly impressive in the way they collaborate across silos to create better solutions for customers in their industries.

When interviewing high-level engineers at both companies, they speak with great excitement about their collaborative efforts. They heap praise on the expertise of partners from other business units or functions and stress how lucky they are to be able to work with the collaborative team they’ve formed.

How does that happen? These two companies have developed their shared admiration for differing expertise organically. But if that’s not already the climate at your company, you can use communications strategies and tactics to sow the seeds of respect.

Build awareness of the work being done in other areas of the company — using whatever channels you have at your disposal. You can do this on your intranet, you can use an app, you can produce podcasts. You can publish a cultural magazine with articles that provide visibility for leading thinkers in the organization. You could even use digital signage for employee spotlights that highlight the work of various innovators.

By showcasing the talent in your company, you provide visibility into the wide range of expertise in your organization. When you can make celebrities of employees across a wide range of disciplines, you support a culture of respect. And a culture of respect helps create a work environment that fosters unexpected collaboration —  and that leads to innovation.

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

 

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

Out of sight, out of mind: Helping remote employees connect with colleagues

It’s easy to forget about all those people out there in home offices. For those whose major interaction with colleagues in the corporate office is email and the occasional conference call, engagement may not be as high we’d like. By not being physically present, they miss out on a lot of relationship building that happens as a matter of course when people show up in the same place every day for work.

Here are three tips for helping this employee populations build their visibility:

  1. Put a face to a name: In the absence of in-person interaction, mere visibility can help. Just being able to visualize a face makes people feel more connected and familiar. Encourage profile pictures on the intranet, try an occasional video call, or even use FaceTime. (Millennial employees might be more comfortable with FT than those of us in their Boomer years.)
  2. Picture their environment: To help connect team members in a department that includes remote employees, or to introduce a new work-at-home employee, have people share a photo of their office or desk. Include everyone on the team, not just the remote folks. It’s always nice to be able to picture where someone is while you’re on the phone or emailing.
  3. Look for opportunities to meet face-to-face: In Tribe research with employees nationwide on cultivating collaboration, respondents told us that even meeting someone in person one time can help them feel more comfortable sharing ideas and working together. There may not be budget to have remote employees travel to corporate on a regular basis, but try to find a reason for them to do so once in awhile, and make sure they meet everyone they can on those visits.

Interested in engaging your remote employees? Tribe can help.