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.

3 Ways to Build Your Employer Brand With Job Candidates

The impression you give during the application and interview process can have a significant impact your company’s employer brand. It’s easy to assume the task of making a positive mark falls in the interviewee’s court. However, displaying attentiveness and grace throughout this process can help attract the best and brightest potential employees. Below are three tips on how to amaze prospective job candidates and compel them to work for your company.

  1. Be thoughtful. No one likes to think they’ve wasted their time when applying for a job. From the research of the company to the cover letter to the resume, a job application is no easy task. Keeping this in mind, a simple courtesy like alerting the job candidate in a timely manner if you have to reschedule can make a decisive impact on your company’s employer brand.
  1. Make them feel comfortable. Pointblank: interviews are scary. Even if the jobseeker is a highly-qualified professional with years of experience, interviewing could easily turn them into a jumble of nerves. Show you care by making an effort to make them comfortable. Offering a coffee or a cold drink when they arrive, or giving a few minutes to use the restroom between multiple interviewers can help candidates feel relaxed and ready to put their best best foot forward.
  1. Take the time to say no. While it’s natural to focus on the candidate is offered the job, don’t forget to reach out to those who weren’t. Showing attentiveness to each and every interviewee can make positive waves on your company’s employer brand. In Tribe’s research with jobseekers regarding the hiring process, 87 percent of respondents said that in situations where they were not hired, but had a positive experience such as very personal or courteous treatment, they would be “likely to encourage others to apply to that company in the future.”

Interested in improving your recruitment culture? 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

Balancing Collaboration and Efficiency

A premium is placed on collaboration in many, if not most, large companies. As knowledge and expertise become increasingly specialized, collaboration across functional areas becomes even more critical for successful business results.

At the same time, efficiency is also a priority. Companies feel the pressure of delivering improved speed to market, quick response to changing business factors and the ever-increasing demand to be faster than before.

The challenge is that collaboration and efficiency work against each other. To collaborate requires rounding up people in diverse roles across the company, and usually across geography. Coordinating the schedules of everyone in the group for an in-person meeting or conference call is no easy feat. It’s not always going to happen this week, or even this month.

It’s much faster for one functional unit to make decisions and move on. In Tribe’s national study on collaboration, many respondents cited this time drag as a reason why they often skip the step of getting input from other areas in the company.

But are the right decisions being made? There are no doubt insights the sales team can share about what customers are really looking for; that the programmers can clarify in regards to what the software can really do; or that one division of the company can offer regarding a key customer they share with another division.

This tension between collaboration and speed isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It forces people to set priorities, to weigh the need for one over the other. In most corporate cultures, the pendulum will swing towards one over the other.

One principle for maintaining a balance between the two is to separate the two functions of collaborating and making decisions. When people come together to collaborate, it should be for the purpose of providing their unique expertise, input and feedback. The collaborative meeting is not the place to make decisions. Trying to reach consensus on a decision is not only difficult, it’s unlikely to result in the best decision.

Give everybody a voice, but not a vote. The happy medium – or the Middle Way, as the Buddhists would say – is to invite many different perspectives but not give away the power to make the final determination. The responsibility for decision-making should remain with those who own the project or initiative under discussion.

Interested in balancing collaboration and speed in your company? Tribe can help.

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

Writing for internal comms: Three ways to look like an amateur

This is how my great aunt would do internal communications
This is how my great aunt would do internal communications

The field of internal communications has come a long way. As more companies have recognized the business advantages of communicating with employees, investment in internal online, digital and print communications has increased along with the technology that enables their delivery.

Still, a whiff of the amateurish persists in some of the writing. We have to recognize that employees are accustomed to consuming mainstream media. Our internal communications don’t exist in a vacuum. They compete for attention with all the websites, apps and magazines that employees encounter in their day-to-day lives.

Readers make snap decisions about the trustworthiness of sources based on the professionalism of the writing. If you’re reading a website filled with grammatical and punctuation errors, you’re more likely to think it’s the rantings of a crackpot than solid medical advice from the Mayo Clinic.

It’s hard enough to create trust in company leadership and in the veracity of internal communications. Readers notice small cues, consciously or unconsciously, that indicate the professionalism of the writing. Don’t shoot yourself in the foot with these three tragically common mistakes:

  1. Incorrect use of ellipses: The dreaded dot dot dot is frequently misused by people who should know better. If you’ve deleted part of a quote, an ellipsis is warranted. It’s how you indicate to the reader that you’ve omitted something that was previously in that sentence. It’s not for creating a sense of drama. If you want to do that, maybe a long dash is what you’re after. If you’re using it to create a pause in the reader’s mind, keep in mind that it indicates confused or faltering thought. The Chicago Manual of Style, for example, says “Ellipsis points suggest faltering or fragmented speech accompanied by confusion, insecurity, distress, or uncertainty.” Generally, that’s not the affect you’re after in internal communications. If you’re doing it just because you think it looks nice, you might want to rethink that.
  2. Incorrect use of quotation marks. Whenever I see this, it reminds me of letters from my great aunt. Quotation marks, besides indicating actual spoken words, can be used to indicate an unusual word or term, something the reader may not have encountered before. Aunt Etta used them liberally, as in hoping I have been “hitting the books” at college or that I would postpone marriage until I found “the right one.”  She would also draw little ballpoint hearts and sunshines in her notes. And sometimes include a twenty dollar bill. She was awesome. In internal communications, quotation marks are often used  in the same way, around words and terms that anyone not living under a rock would easily understand. You don’t see them doing that in the Harvard Business Review.
  3. Overuse of exclamation marks: We once had a client who demanded at least two exclamation marks in everything we wrote for her. It kind of made sense for her, at least in her blog, because that’s the way she talked. But in most professional communications, there just aren’t a ton of occasions that warrant an exclamation mark. There’s no reason to put one (or three) after a sentence, unless the building is on fire.

Interested in improving the professionalism of your internal communications writing? Tribe can help.

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

The Origin of Brainstorming: Or Why It’s Not Something to Squeeze into that Meeting Agenda

osborn_foundationBrainstorming happens to be one of my least favorite words. In the corporate world, the term usually means a bunch of people in a conference room shouting out things that someone else scribbles on a whiteboard or flip chart. In my experience, it’s not the best way to generate truly creative ideas. It’s too loud, for one thing, to hear that quiet voice of inspiration. That voice is more apt to raise its hand when just a couple of people are kicking around ideas, or later when one of those people is in the shower, or driving a car, or cooking dinner. But there’s something else that bothers me about this brainstorming thing.

At least I now know who to blame for coining this word. It was Alex Osborn, one of the founding partners of BDO, later to become the advertising giant BBDO. (Oldies quiz for those who’ve been in Atlanta for decades: Remember the ad shop known as BDA/BBDO? When the receptionist answered the phone, it sounded like someone falling down a flight of stairs.) Osborn’s ideas on brainstorming were later expanded upon by academic Sidney Parnes, with whom he partnered to develop what they called the Creative Problem Solving Process, or CPS.

I have a vague memory of my father explaining the phases of CPS to me as a child, saying that it mirrored the general process of the way his firm practiced architecture. The rules Osborn came up with for brainstorming were rules I remember my father using with young architects, particularly the first of those rules. They’re also second nature for most art director-copywriter teams in ad agencies, at least those in which I’ve been involved.

  1. No criticism of ideas
  2. Go for large quantities of ideas
  3. Build on each others ideas
  4. Encourage wild and exaggerated ideas

There’s a tradition in ad agencies that says creative ideas come out of the creative department only. Any account executive who didn’t know better than to pipe up with a headline was quickly schooled by his elders. The way we work now is far too fluid for rigid boundaries of responsibility, and I think most of us in the business of selling creative ideas will take a good one where we find it.

What’s useful about that ad agency tradition, to my mind, is a respect for the hard work of generating ideas. Before the brilliant idea that comes in a flash, there are generally many, many bad ideas. Before any of those bad ideas, comes a period of immersion in the subject matter. Even before those particular bad ideas, there are often years and years of experience trying to think up ideas for a living. There’s a certain way of thinking, of using the brain, that can be honed over a career in a creative business.

Which leads us back to the original meaning of the word brainstorming. According to CPS, it’s a process of 1. fact finding, 2. problem finding, 3. Idea finding, 4. solution finding and 5. acceptance finding. So maybe I’m fine with the word brainstorming. I’m just not a fan of thinking that the entire process is easy.

Want a more creative approach to your internal communications? Tribe can help.

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

Including everyone: Scale employee events for smaller offices and remote employees

Employee events are a fantastic way to build engagement. At Tribe, we often recommend events at the launch of a new enterprise strategy, leadership vision or rebranding. They provide an experience for employees that is unlike anything we can do through print or digital or even video channels.

But it’s tempting to focus the event just on those working 9-5 at the corporate headquarters. Those in other geographic locations, or in call centers, or working night shifts are often deemed just to difficult to include for a wide range of reasons. Home-based employees are usually excluded as well. After all, how can you create an event for one person?

At Tribe, we’ve found ways to include all those employee populations in events in meaningful ways. Here are three tips to expanding your reach when planning an employee event:

  1. Scale the event materials by office: Although it may not be practical to stage an event of the same magnitude in every global outpost, you can scale back the materials and activities to suit. We recently worked with a client on a rebranding event. The corporate headquarters was the epicenter of the happenings, but we threw similar events simultaneously in another US office and in a few smaller European offices. Working with a representative from each location, we determined the appropriate number of elements and the right agenda for each.
  2. Find ways to accommodate employees who can’t attend when everybody else does: When we worked on a vision event with a large healthcare system on the west coast, we had to consider that all the doctors and nurses couldn’t come strolling over to the event at the same time. Likewise, those working the graveyard shifts would miss the whole thing. So instead of what otherwise have been a two-hour window for the event, we stretched the time period so that people could come whenever they had a break in the action. This approach is also helpful with call centers or other locations where somebody’s got to be manning the fort at all times. For the night shifts, we held a separate event and instead of serving lunch, we served midnight hotdogs and barbecue. You wouldn’t believe how much it meant to those people that we staged an event in the middle of the night, just to make sure they weren’t left out.
  3. Send remote employees a mini-event: Often we’ll ship individual events-in-a-box to home-based employees. It might include a letter from the CEO on the cultural or business milestone the event is meant to mark, the same branded swag available at the event — from t-shirts to travel coffee mugs — and even refreshments, such as a branded cookie or box of mints. Recently, we included a confetti cannon to add a festive note to the at-home celebrations. We’ve also included online scavenger hunts when launching a new intranet and themed photo contests. Home-based employees can participate in those activities the same way those in the corporate office do.

Interested in learning how to engage more people in your employee events? Tribe can  help.

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

Are you sharing your company’s story?

Every company has a story. If the narrative is not being shared, you’re missing a chance to engage employees in being part of both the company’s legacy and its future.

The company story can be an invitation for employees and prospects to join the experience. Make the story relevant for corporate employees but also those in the manufacturing facilities, distribution centers and other production jobs. People on the factory floor should know that they’re creating a product that provides people with something that makes their lives better in some way.

Look for the golden thread of purpose that has always run throughout the company’s history. Although business strategies and even the organization of the business may have changed dramatically since the beginning, there’s likely a perennial purpose that’s been there year after year. For instance, an IT company may be using entirely different technology and providing new sorts of services than it was even a few years ago. But look for the reason why the company exists, the need it fills for its clients. In that example, maybe the company purpose is and was to help clients’ technology work flawlessly so they can focus on their own business instead.

UPS, to use an actual company as an example, has been in business for the past century. Although today they not only deliver packages but also handle supply chain, logistics,  and run retail stores, they’re still focused on the same thing: helping their customers move things reliably from one place to another.

What channels would you use to tell the company story? Tribe often creates what we call vision books for clients, in which we help the company articulate the vision and values of the company. This is an ideal tool for telling the company story, for a variety of reasons.

The company narrative can also be told in almost any other channel. Tell it in the employee magazine, on the intranet, as part of a company anniversary event. We’ve even incorporated colorful gems of company history in digital signage.

The importance of the story is that it connects employees to something bigger than themselves. And it helps them see how their individual roles contribute to the overall success and ongoing legacy of the company.

Interested in telling your company’s story? Tribe can help.

 

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

Who wants what: Life stages and the EVP

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 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.