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.

Jeff Smith

Better discovery research lead to better design

When Tribe begins a client relationship, we usually spend time in discovery before developing a strategy. Account people from Tribe go out to various client locations and interview leadership and employees, hold focus groups, do surveys. The point of that is to understand the culture and to build a strategy that’s meaningful for the company.

But it’s also really important for the creative process. It’s very important in internal communications to get a total understanding of a client before jumping straight into creative work. Design for an internal brand doesn’t ring true if you just skim the surface. It requires depth and understanding, a total immersion, a feeling like you are now a part of that company.

 The bottom line is, the better the discovery process, the better the creative. With this understanding and fresh perspective, you’ll be able to not only get a full grasp on the business. But you will help push the creative process. A thorough discovery process will allow the creative team to understand nuances of the culture that aren’t apparent at first glance. Through that discovery process you’ll get a feel for the culture, business process, the tone of the company, and the type of people who you’re communicating to.

All that is essential to develop creative that truly speaks to your employee audience. With good discovery, the designers and writers have a deeper foundation to build on, so they can create work that will feel authentic, original, and fresh.

Interested in creative work that really speaks to your culture? Tribe can help.  

 

Jeff Smith

The Internal Brand Starts With The External Brand

Your external brand or consumer brand, lives in a competitive environment alongside thousands of other brands. In order to stand out among the competition, brands do their best to differentiate themselves from others while remaining consistent – same logo, same colors, same fonts.

Internal communications departments often use their external branding for emails, the intranet, digital signage, and the like. Internally, your communications aren’t seen in rotation with other brands. Your audience can tire of the same thing over and over because there are no other brands working in the space to break up that experience. Oversaturating your internal communications with your external brand will eventually make your efforts invisible to the workforce.

Leverage your internal brand to create a more engaging experience by developing an internal brand. By expanding and building upon your external brand, a unique branding will emerge that employees already recognize. Not only will a fresh and expansive internal brand renew their desire to be engaged with, but it also acts as a cue for them to know that those communications are meant for them only.

We suggest developing your internal brand by creating the following:

  • Employer brand rallying cry
  • Adding additional colors to the existing brand palette
  • Design motif for backgrounds and other uses
  • Building a library of original employee photography

The internal brand should be authentic, genuine, and support the external brand. A good internal brand can transform your internal communications and create a better experience for your employees.

Need help with an internal brand? Tribe can help.

Jeff Smith

The Second Pancake Theory of Design

Good design is like making pancakes. Most times, the first pancake gets thrown away. It’s burned or gooey, flipped too soon or too late. To get to the pancakes that are golden brown and perfectly fluffy, you’ve got to let the first one or two go.

 It’s another way of saying Fail Fast. We’ve all heard those tired clichés about how if you don’t fail you won’t succeed, and how the best thing for everybody is a good old-fashioned failure. And guess what: that’s absolutely true when it comes to design.

The first idea you have is rarely the best. You start with a blank piece of paper or an empty computer screen. And you take for granted that your first several tries will be bad. Or at least not great. And if you want to get to great design, you have to do the bad stuff first.

Let’s say you come up with something brilliant, but the client rejects it. That’s failure, in a sense, but it’s okay. It’s also an opportunity. Getting a fresh look at a project that you’ve already spent hours on is sometimes the best thing that could happen to your work.

 There’s always more than one right answer to a design problem. Even if the creative work rejected by the client was brilliant, there’s another brilliant idea out there just waiting for you to discover.

When you step back and reevaluate, you begin to see other design solutions. And sometimes, you might even like that solution better than the first. More importantly, your client might like it better. Put in the time, trust the process, and let the work speak for itself.

 Interested in better design solutions for your internal communications? Tribe can help.

The Internal Brand Includes Employee Email Signature

There are some aspects of business that can be improved by personal flare, but email signatures are not one of them. From neon colors to inspirational quotes, some employees can really cross a line when given too much freedom with their business signature. Each mandated email signature should include uniformity in logo, color, font, point size and format of information.

Companies who haven’t created or don’t enforce a branded company signature should reconsider, given the following benefits:

  1. Consistency in the internal brand will reflect on the external brand. It is hard to ask an employee to represent the brand well externally, when the brand is not established or enforced internally. Implementing a unified email signature helps train employees to be mindful with brand representation, which will be reflected in external business as well.
  1. Email signatures can help solidify employee roles within the company. Having to write an official title down for an email signature can help define a position or department within the organization. It can also reduce the chance of an employee misusing or embellishing their title.
  1. Employees feel more comfortable communicating with associates when they understand who they are. For companies with a few thousand employees, sometimes workers can feel intimidated when sending or receiving information from associates they don’t know in different departments. Emails signatures can help bridge that gap in making sure employees are aware of exactly who they are communicating with.
  1. Perhaps most importantly, it makes doing business internally and externally much easier. Having something as simple as a phone number at the end of an email makes it easier to reach one another so the business can run smoothly and more efficiently.

Need help creating internal brand standards for your company? Tribe can help.

 

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

Should Your Internal Brand Guidelines Be a Mirror Image of the External Brand?

There’s a wide range in how various brands answer this question. A few companies Tribe works with use the exact same brand guidelines internally and externally. Once in a while we’ll work with a company that has a very different look internally than externally.

Our guidance is to see the internal brand as an in-the-family version of the external brand. While the external brand is how we represent the brand to consumers and the rest of the world, the internal brand is like having a conversation with your family members. It’s how we speak to each other, human to human, inside the company.

The external brand and the internal brand are two sides of the same coin. When a company makes a brand promise, the people inside the company are the ones charged with keeping that promise. Whether the brand promise is about delivering speed or quality or courtesy or anything else, the employees need to be steeped in communications that prepare them to deliver on that. In the same sense, the way those internal communications look and feel should reflect the external brand.

So when we’re building an employee brand, we start with the existing brand standards. But then we might add a few elements to make it convey a little more familiarity, in the sense that we’re talking amongst ourselves in the family rather than to the outside world. We might introduce a brighter, friendlier color palette. We might recommend including an additional font that’s more casual. We will lobby for photography of employees, so that the internal communications reflect the faces not just of leadership but also of people working in various parts of the organization. (We don’t ever advocate using stock photography to represent real employees.)

The tone of voice and choice of language might also be different for the internal brand. Of course, the vocabulary you use with consumers or clients regarding your products and services, the industry and your business should be mirrored internally. But when you’re speaking to employees, it’s more like sitting across the kitchen table than it might be for the rest of the world. The internal tone of voice might be a bit more casual, maybe even include a little more humor.

One important point that marketing folks sometimes don’t get at first is that an internal brand needs more range than the external brand. That’s an issue of context. Think about seeing a TV spot, magazine ad or online advertising for your company. It will be seen in the context of lots of other brands.

But imagine walking by the digital signage in your company. Although there may be a few dozen different slides, they’re all representing one brand. Without giving art directors some range in the brand design, those slides will all look very much the same — and won’t be very engaging.

Another example might be the employee magazine. If every article looks exactly like the others, it becomes a sales brochure. To keep employees’ attention from article to article, and to signal readers that the content is editorial rather than advertising, the brand has to allow for slightly different treatments of photography, illustration, fonts, color and maybe even icons.

That’s not to say we recommend that anything goes for the internal brand. Quite the opposite. We believe in setting internal brand standards, but having those standards include a range of options — all of which are on brand.

Interested in establishing internal brand standards? Tribe can help.

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

5 Ways to Recognize the Employees Who Do the Real Work of the Company

Photo credit: Chris Davis Photography

Giving visibility to leadership is important. People want to see the faces and know the humans behind the titles at the top of the org chart.

But it can be even more powerful to give visibility to the people in the rest of the organization. Unwittingly, internal communications often focus on the folks at the top and don’t give much coverage to the employees who are manufacturing the products; delivering the service; making the sales; coding the platforms — not to mention all the employees in HR, accounting, marketing and more who support all those people.

Here are five ways to create more visibility for the people doing the real work of the company:

  1. Quote them in articles: On the intranet or in your employee publications, use regular employees as sources rather than always quoting someone from the C-suite. When you’re covering a new product or a new plant, giving examples of collaboration or innovation, illustrating how the values of the company are used at work, the rank-and-file people will have insights and comments that other employees will be interested to read.
  2. Shoot employee photography: I’m not talking about snapping someone’s headshot standing against a beige cubicle wall. Invest in talented photographers to shoot employees in context of their work. Then use that library of employee photography to illustrate everything from your intranet to digital signage to the annual report. If you have a number of locations and types of workplaces, try shooting at three to five places a year and building the library over time.
  3. Build an employee culture team: Establish a small group of mid-level employees who represent diversity across the company, and task them with being conduits for the culture. You might start with an off-site where the team can bond, and have leadership join to talk about the culture, where they company is going, what it is the company stands for. Then use this team to give culture presentations to their colleagues and to report back to leadership on employee questions and concerns, progress and set-backs. When you have a major change down the road, you’ll be glad to have this community of peer influencers already in place.
  4. Create a peer-to-peer recognition program: Top-down recognition is great, but it can be just as powerful to be recognized by one’s coworkers. Establish a monthly or quarterly recognition program in which employees drive the process of who amongst them gets recognized.
  5. Help them see the value of their roles: This is the big one — and lies at the heart of employees feeling celebrated rather than invisible. If you can draw a line, in employees’ minds, that leads directly from what they do every day to the vision and success of the company, you create a powerful shift. Help employees see how their individual roles contribute, and make sure they see leadership recognizing their contributions as well.

Interested in giving your employees more visibility? Tribe can help.

 

 

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

15 Years of Internal Communications: What’s Changed and What Hasn’t

Tribe was founded as a creative branding boutique 15 years ago yesterday. And while our original focus was on traditional advertising, from the very beginning we were asked to take on internal communications projects for large companies. The industry has changed in many ways since 2002, and in others ways, it’s still exactly the same. Here are three observations:

  1. It starts in the C-suite: When CEOs believe communication with employees is important, they’ll create the budget to make it happen. Often we find some major organizational change — from the acquisition of another company to a shift in strategic priorities — will provide the trigger for stepping up internal communications. This is something we see more often now than we did 15 years ago. What hasn’t changed is the way an individual CEO will drive communications about vision and values — or not. If it’s not important at the top, it’s generally not seen as an important topic for the rest of the company.
  2. Technology has elevated our field. The advent of intranets was a major game changer, but the intranet game itself has changed dramatically over the years. Back in the day, UPS was our first client with an intranet (although they called it a portal and it was really just a collection of links). Then for years SharePoint was the only way to go and we used it for every site we built, from Porsche to PVH. Now, SaaS platforms make it much easier and more affordable — not to mention faster. We’ve been able to pull off sites in less than a month, without impacting the workload of the clients’ IT team.
  3. Print publications never died. Although digital communications fill the lion’s share of our clients’ communication channels nowadays, there’s still a place for print. In our early years at Tribe, we published a printed internal newsletter every month for Porsche. In black and white, because color was way too expensive. Today we do digital newsletters and magazines more often than print, but when there’s a large percentage of employees without dedicated computers, we still recommend printing. For one client, those printed magazines are mailed to each employee’s home. Expensive, yes, but it’s the only channel that goes directly from corporate to the folks in the manufacturing facilities.

One of the most interesting things about the internal communications field is that it’s changing all the time. New platforms, apps and technology provide nearly endless new possibilities for ways the company can communicate with employees. However, the most important element remains, whether you’re typing it up in black and white or shooting 3-D HD scented video to digital watches: it’s just human beings talking to human beings. Authenticity counts, regardless of the medium.

Interested in communicating more authentically to your employees? Tribe can help.

 

 

 

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

To Shift Culture, Be Honest About the Gap Between Reality and the Vision

Or “Defining reality and creating hope go hand in hand,” as the retired CEO of Yum! brands David Novak put it in a recent LinkedIn post. (FYI, Novak has recently published a book on recognition titled “O Great One!”) His comment was directed at the need for leaders to move past defining reality to “show people where that reality can take them.”

That need also extends to internal communicators. There’s sometimes a temptation for internal communicators to paint the culture a rosier hue than it actually is. People fear being negative. But employees know their culture, because they live the culture, and if you ignore the existing issues, you undermine their trust.

The first step to shifting culture is to acknowledge where you are now. It takes courage to be honest, because if we’re honest, most cultures aren’t where we’d like them to be. Yet human beings, and their resulting cultures, have a tremendous capacity for change.

When you use the reality as a starting point for a vision of what could be, you harness a tremendous amount of power for change. Or as Novak might say, hope.

As internal communicators, our job is to be clear about the first and inspirational about the second. In other words, this is where we are, and this is where we’re going to go. We own our reality, and we also claim our vision.

Interested in shifting your culture? Tribe can help.

 

 

 

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Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

Using Guided Meditation and Visualization to Define a Brand Promise

Do you build a culture that will support your brand promise? Or do you base the promise on what your culture already delivers? In the case of a flooring manufacturer that Tribe worked with, the brand promise grew out of employee focus groups on what made their company different from any of their competitors.

When I say focus groups, what I really mean is guided visualizations. We met with employees in two manufacturing facilities and at corporate headquarters, holding several sessions in each location.

At each session, we began with a group meditation.
The goal was to get participants to let go of linear, logical thinking and promote a more creative, imaginative state. From the CEO to sales reps to forklift operators, we found a surprising willingness to play along with this somewhat unusual format.

When employees had reached a meditative state, we began the guided visualization.
We explained we were taking them on a symbolic journey and asked them to imagine the company as a fairy tale character, a handsome prince setting out to seek his fortune. As we told the story of this handsome prince, we stopped at key points and asked participants to open their eyes just enough to scribble an answer to a question we posed, and then return to their relaxed state.

For instance, when the prince came upon a dragon, we asked them what the dragon represented. When he slayed the dragon with his sword, we asked what the sword stood for. When he rode home to victorious to his village, we asked them to listen to what the townspeople were saying about them.

We asked them to complete the following sentence:
The story of this prince was told generation after generation, and the moral of the story is that the prince was successful because he _______.

The answers were interesting in their consistency. In a large majority of the responses, the moral was some version of “he does the right thing” or “he stands for what’s right.”

And in fact, the history of the company reflected this. In conversations after the visualization, employees often pointed to two situations in the company’s history where they felt the company had done the right thing. One was when a fire destroyed the company’s only factory early on. Rather than have so many employees go without paychecks white the factory was rebuilt, the company put employees to work on the construction so they could continue earning a living.

Another was when the company had to recall a product that had required a tremendous investment and new manufacturing machinery.
When the product was found to be defective, the company offered every customer a free replacement floor from their other product lines.

In their own jobs, employees said they felt the responsibility of doing what’s right. We heard similar statements across geography (three states) and function (operations, manufacturing, sales, support, residential and commercial). That’s what they felt differentiated them from their competitors.

The brand promise became Stand On Something Better. The consumer magazine and television campaign was built around the question “What do you stand on?” with consumers offering many answers to what they believe in, from social issues to personal ones. A cause marketing initiative awarded the Stand on a Better World prize to women making a difference in charitable organizations locally and globally. Employees spontaneously launched their own Stand on a Better World fundraisers, hosting bakes sales and carwashes to raise money for college scholarships for local students.

The brand promise resonated with employees. It became something that permeated every aspect of the company because it already was indigenous to the company. That makes it much more likely that employees will be aligned with delivering the intended brand experience. When the brand promise reinforces what employees already believe about the company, it’s second nature to uphold that promise.

Interested in developing an employee brand that delivers on the brand promise? Tribe can help.