Steve Baskin

Fortune telling and transparency: Communicating Change in the Corporate Environment

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Be as transparent and timely as is possible when communicating change with employees. It’s one of the most consistent pieces of advice and counsel our clients hear from Tribe – along with ensuring that the change communications are connected to the organizational vision and business strategies.

To maintain morale and keep employees engaged, it is important for communications to be out in front of change – especially when change might accompany bad news for some or all employees. In the absence of facts, employees are very happy to fill in the blanks with imagination and rumors. Most often, their imaginations provide worse outcomes than the reality of the situation.

Tribe’s research shows that the actual change is generally less stressful for employees than not knowing what’s going on. Once employees have an opportunity to acclimate to whatever news is out there, they have a much better chance of dealing with it and returning to their normal productive selves.

Appropriate transparency doesn’t require management to assume the role of Fortune Teller or Sooth-Sayer. If there are facts that will negatively impact some employees, communicate the facts with empathy and respect. Openness is good. But it’s rarely appropriate to theorize or conjecture about bad things that might happen.

And appropriate transparency doesn’t mean that you have every answer about what’s coming next. Explain the situation as well as you’re able and explain the plans for moving through the change. There are times when admitting to not knowing the answer is the best answer.

Similarly, it’s important not to promise that a change initiative won’t result in bad news for employees. Credibility will immediately evaporate when the bad news is revealed down the road.

When done well, change communication can get employees energized and engaged in their work. We shouldn’t be stymied by change – or by change communication. It’s simply a part of what keeps an organization moving forward and in the same direction, which means a more efficient and effective company.

Interested in better change communications? Tribe can help.

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

Building Leadership at All Levels

Does your company encourage leadership at every level in the organization? In some ways, this seems an oxymoron. If everyone gets to be a chief, who will be the Indians?

But leadership can be seen as a sense of responsibility for moving things forward. Leading, as opposed to following, may not have anything to do with one person bossing a group of people around.

One crucial aspect of leadership is this quality of taking the lead — not of people, necessarily, but in making things happen. Some companies think of this in terms of generating ideas, and they go so far as to call these people innovators or catalysts or even the big-company lingo for entrepreneurs: intrapreneurs.

A spirit of entrepreneurship is difficult to achieve in most large companies. Some corporations like to boast they have the structure and resources of a large company, yet are as nimble and innovative as a startup. Sounds good, but in reality, that’s tricky.

To promote this type of leadership, a company has to be able to give employees a large degree of autonomy. In many large company cultures, each level hesitates to make a move without the level above them — not only to tell them how to do it, but whether or not it’s okay to do it.

Perhaps a more attainable goal is to nourish a sense of leadership in one’s own work. To encourage employees to approach their own jobs as entrepreneurs. To figure something out and propose a solution, rather than waiting to be told what to do.

From the C-suite to the frontline, the people doing the work are best equipped to create new solutions. The drive-thru attendant might see a better way to organize condiments; the salespeople might discover a faster method of processing returns; the receptionist might suggest rearranging the furniture, after noticing that waiting visitors are seated where they look straight at the break room garbage.

How do you get employees at all levels to take the lead? It starts with the C-level folks demonstrating that they respect employees — especially the oft-ignored frontline people — and value their input. Then you open channels of two-way communication so employees can share their ideas with management. You demonstrate that direct managers — and those in the C-suite — are listening. And you showcase the results of this type of leadership.

That all starts with the right internal communications. Need help with that? Tribe‘s ready when you are.

Steve Baskin

Echoing the Election: The Divide Between Corporate and Field Employees

Vector illustration of raised up hands in red white and blue.

Internal communications and presidential politics are in most cases completely unrelated. However, the surprise outcome of the 2016 election — and the surprisingly wide divide between red and blue states — may offer a cautionary note for communicators in large companies.

For this blog’s metaphor, it’s interesting to liken corporate headquarters (management and support services) to Washington, DC. Elected officials go off to DC to represent the people. In our analogy, this is where corporate decisions are made, and those decisions are doled out to the rest of the company. Here, executives are making decisions that will help the company move forward and achieve its goals. They’re working on the next big idea. They’re monitoring what’s happening and reporting the results. They’re almost always trying to figure out ways to get more done with less. These decisions have an effect on the rest of the company.

And so of course, then we would liken the red states to the field. These are the people who are building things, shipping things, selling things and servicing things. They’re in the manufacturing plants, distribution centers, call centers, retail stores and other non-centralized parts of the business. They’re on the hook for executing their jobs in a way that matches the expectation of leadership.

When everyone’s on the same page, things work smoothly. When leadership and the people aren’t aligned, things get tougher.

What I think we learned about this election is that a large percentage of people felt that leaders were not listening to their issues. When they voted, the country (red states) voted for change, which signaled that there was unhappiness with the status quo.

Tribe often see this same scenario playing out in the corporate environment – sometimes in limited pockets, but other times the issues are more pervasive. Regardless of best intentions from corporate leaders and communicators, this disconnect most often stems from a lack of effective communication – especially regarding non-desk workers.

Tribe’s recommended approach for minimizing the disconnect remains the same:

  • Leadership develops a vision that puts the company in the best position to succeed.
  • Leadership communicates how the individual roles of employees contribute to success of the organization – to achieving the vision.
  • When change is necessary, leadership explains why the change improves the company’s ability to achieve the vision.
  • Leadership prioritizes a dependable way for employees to safely provide feedback. This allows management to understand how decisions affect all areas of the company – a critical and often missing link.
  • Through the actions of leadership and through communications, the loop is closed so that employees know that their voices were heard.

The key to this formula is building a feedback loop to ensure the message is being communicated. We often see situations where corporate believes that it has checked the communications box. But when we start asking questions in the field, the communications were not received. This leaves employees feeling frustrated and disrespected.

Tribe’s study of non-desk employees in the US highlights the importance of communicating to this group. More than 70 percent of non-desk workers feel that communication from leadership – from the top – is important. More than 80 percent say that they don’t get enough information from executive leadership. Importantly, the study shows that fewer than a quarter of non-desk employees feel that their job is important to the company vision.

A company has a much better shot at getting its people engaged in their jobs and in the vision of the organization than the US government. Companies tend to have a defined mission and focused agenda. But as we’ve learned, if we don’t listen and give our people a voice, they will eventually find a way to let us know what’s not working for them.

Want some help communicating the vision to employees? Tribe can help.

Brittany Walker

How to Turn Post-Meeting Behaviors into a Productive Culture

It’s not about the meeting. It’s about what happens after. Establishing a culture of being productive before, during and after meetings can work wonders on efficiency. In this post, we’ll cover the behaviors that should immediately follow the meeting.

Encourage smart scheduling. Meeting times and scheduling can help or destroy productivity. We understand that calendars get booked and squeezing in those one-hour meetings can be the only way to move things forward. But instead of blocking calendars full and tackling the to-dos later, establish a culture of shorter meetings to leave time for the important steps that should follow immediately after. Tribe recommends scheduling 50 minute meetings instead of the traditional – and often default – 60 minutes. Getting those precious 10 minutes back to regroup and establish next steps can vastly improve output.

Capture action items. A great meeting just wrapped with a lot of deliverables for multiple parties. Instead of letting those tedious scribbles collect in a notebook, encourage employees to immediately record action items to get their team to the next milestone. At Tribe, we use Action Cards, a great low-tech solution that works well for us. Our Action Cards include due dates, details and the person responsible, taking the guess work out of what’s next.

Communicating decisions. The act of making decisions while in a meeting is as triumphant as important, but what’s next? Communicating the news of decisions to the appropriate person or team is just as significant as making the decision itself. Just as there should be clarity about who’s in charge of capturing the action items, make sure your post-meeting communicators know their responsibility in keeping everyone on the same page.

Interested in developing your productive culture? Tribe can help.

Nick Miller

Manager Communications: Coaching managers to engage employees

Coaching managers to empower and positively interact with their subordinates leads to higher morale, and therefore increased productivity and positive intention rates. Teaching managers to give their employees the freedom to make decisions also allows them to grow, resulting in a generation of future leaders. Here are four ways to increase the empowerment level of employees within your company:

  1. Encourage employees to take ownership of their jobs. Properly engaged employees will approach their job like they are working for their own company. When people take ownership of a job, they work with a higher level of dedication and deliver solid results. This also allows employees to take ownership of their mistakes, a very important step in professional growth.
  2. Don’t be a micromanager. A level of trust should be established that allows for an honest relationship with your employees. When people are trusted to do the job they are assigned to do, they generally rise to the occasion, increase performance levels and develop more respect for their leadership. Employees who are aware that a supervisor is constantly looking over their shoulder are much less likely to maintain high morale and will feel discouraged from offering their own ideas, both of which are detrimental to company growth.
  3. Present expectations clearly. When employee expectations are plainly presented, they are able to relax and focus their energy on the tasks at hand. Clear and established expectations between employee and employer allow people to not waste time worrying about job security or second-guessing their decisions.
  4. Balance coaching with listening. Creating an environment that allows people to share their opinions benefits the company as a whole. When leaders and employees are able to enter into a dialog, that is part listening and part coaching, both parties are able to educate themselves on the intricacies of the project and discover new solutions.

Are you interested in helping mangers engage employees? Tribe can help.

Nick Miller

Keeping Employees in the Loop: 3 channels to supplement your stagnant intranet

If you frequent blogs and newsfeeds that specialize in internal communications, chances are you’ve come across an article or two that put your intranet to shame. Ideally, the significance of a corporation’s information hub would be enough to gather funding for a makeover. But not every company has the resources to build or renovate an intranet to be that beacon of collaboration and conversation that some companies have the luxury of operating. So for now, here are a couple of channels that provide some of the benefits of an up-to-the-minute intranet:

  1. WordPress
    We have worked with a variety of clients that use WordPress sites either as a primary intranet or as a microsite used to announce internal brand launches or major change initiatives. The interface is relatively easy to use, allowing communications and HR departments the ability to develop a site with minimal programming experience or consulting. WordPress offers apps that make it mobile responsive and can be password protected, though we advise clients not to upload information that shouldn’t exist outside of a firewall. The beauty of WordPress is that it is scalable to whatever size or complexity suits your needs. It only requires some familiarity and a little imagination. One tip to keep in mind: you’ll want the WordPress.org version of the software so that you can apply your own company branding.
  2. Blogging App
    In our national research, we’ve found employees are more willing to use their personal mobile devices for company communications when it means downloading an app rather than sharing their phone number. If you are able to regularly secure blog posts from your leaders, posting a handful a week on one of a number of available apps can create an authentic two-way communication channel where employees can post comments and questions.
  3. Digital Signage
    Assuming your work environment has TV screens available, this is a simple, economic channel to keep topics top of mind, ranging from company news to culture and values. While they’re waiting for the elevator or in line at the company cafeteria, they can get bite-sized information to keep them in the loop. Plus, you omit the hurdle of building traffic to your site, since the traffic walks right by every day.

Want to explore alternatives to your stagnant or non-existent intranet? Tribe can help.

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

Using Video to Humanize the Leadership Team: Five Tips to Make It Easy

Video can be a great medium for helping employees feel a human connection with company leadership. We’re not talking about an-hour long presentation on finances. Try 60 to 90 second videos on topics that have some relevance to the culture of the company, like one of the values, or a new sustainability effort. Or maybe try a video that includes all the members of the leadership team answering the same few questions, from the business-related, like: “What’s the coolest project you’re working on right now?” to the personal: “Out of all our products, what’s your favorite?” or even “What was your first job ever?”

To get the most bang for the buck, it’s helpful to plan a series of videos and shoot them together. That might mean shooting six videos that are each a conversation with one member of the leadership team about how their function supports the vision of the company. The CFO will obviously have different answers from the CMO. Or it could mean creating a dozen videos that each include responses from several different members of the management team. Using the examples above, one video could have each one answering the coolest project question. Then the next video might be the one where they each talk about their favorite product. The other 10 videos could cover anything from how they see the values playing out in their everyday work to how each of their functions helps the company be more customer-centric.

Here are a handful of tips to make leadership videos simple and affordable:

1. Prepare carefully. If you plan to produce 10 videos, you might want to develop ideas for 12 or 14, in case one or two don’t pan out. For each video you plan to produce, have the questions prepared ahead of time. Sometimes it helps to give the people you’ll be shooting the questions beforehand so they can begin formulating answers. Think through the edit and create your shot list. Know how you plan to cut the footage together so you make sure to cover everything you’ll need to shoot.

2. Position the interviewer off camera. Rather than a talk-show setup with an on-camera interviewer, keep it simple. Keep the interviewer off camera, and cut that person’s questions out later. The interviewer is there just to prompt the interviewees to cover the desired topics.

3. Use a green screen. Especially if you’ll be shooting leadership in different locations, this allows you to keep the lighting similar and slip in any background you want. Just position the green screen far enough behind the interviewee that the green won’t reflect on their skin.

4. Have a second camera. This can be a locked-down camera on a tripod without a camera operator. The purpose of this footage is to provide cutaway shots, particularly when you’re planning to use just one person in each video.

5. Be efficient with your executives’ time. Even if you’re shooting a dozen videos with six or eight different members of the leadership team, try to get the footage you need in under 30 minutes for each of them. In most cases, it should take less than that.

Interested in producing a series of leadership videos? Tribe can help.

Steve Baskin

It’s Not About the Pizza: Aligning Employee Actions with Organizational Vision

Slice of a Pepperoni Pizza isolated on white background

At Tribe, we work with our clients on events of all types. It didn’t take long for us to learn that food attracts the crowds. It also didn’t take long to learn the importance of not running out of pizza.

Enjoying the work environment is a large part of employee engagement. It’s a lot easier to get out of the car and walk into the office when it’s a fun place to work. When you enjoy being around your colleagues. When you get a chance to laugh during the day.

But it’s not about the pizza. The pizza, the games, the entertainment are simply lures that help attract the crowd and make it more fun to learn the things that leadership believes are important for employees to know.

We constantly look for interesting opportunities and venues that promote internal communications. But the underlying purpose is always in helping employees understand the organizational goals and how their day-to-day actions help the company get there. For us, this is the real purpose of company events and meetings. The communications subjects might be more tactical than strategic – open enrollment, introducing the new intranet or learning a new process. But aligning corporate communications with organizational goals is what Tribe preaches every day.

For Tribe, the creative process is about business. It’s not fluff. We spend time working with our clients to clearly understand their business goals and communications needs. Then we work hard at staging those communications in interesting and unique environments and in fun and engaging ways. Then we figure out a way to measure the activity to see if achieved our goals.

We love to have fun at the office. But we believe that true engagement happens when employees understand where the company is headed and their individual role in getting there.

 Interested in events that align employees with company goals? Tribe can help.

Nick Miller

Internal Communications: How to encourage your workforce to have more productive meetings

The late John Kenneth Galbraith, an acclaimed economist, wrote in 1969, “Meetings are a great trap. …they are indispensable when you don’t want to do anything.”

While we at Tribe are not quite that anti-meeting, we find that a handful of tips can reform these hour long escapes from doing actual work into sessions of decision and progress. Here are a couple pieces of advice for communicating good meeting habits to your employees:

  1. Communicate the importance of an agenda

Conducting a meeting without a list of points to cover can equate to herding cats. Simply by spelling out what will be covered during the meeting significantly increases the likelihood that attendees of a meeting will walk away with a clear plan of action. We suggest one is sent out before the meeting so that all involved have an understanding of the objective and are prepared with their input.

But telling your employees to use an agenda won’t change their bad habits overnight, so use subtle clues to encourage them. By installing an “Agenda” and “Desired Objective” section on your meeting room whiteboards or leaving blank agenda sheets on meeting tables, you are leaving a constant reminder to conduct meetings in a predetermined and organized fashion.

  1. Let employees know it’s okay to decline

It is important that associates understand that their time is their own to manage, and communicating to them that they are not required to accept every invite that comes their way will free up windows that are best spent elsewhere. Let them know that they have other options should they determine that their attendance is unnecessary. Communicate how it is acceptable to provide the input you may have on the subject by email prior to the meeting or send a substitute with similar proficiency. This is a point that can be emphasized during the onboarding process since new employees are more likely to feel discomfort declining meeting invites.

  1. Advise on how to limit wasting time in meetings

Periodic communications to associates about how to have more efficient meetings serves your workforce a benefit since most don’t know they need it. These can be in the form of dedicated communications or included in established communications such as a newsletter. Examples include:

“Try standing during meetings instead of sitting, so you are more likely to stay on schedule.”

or

“Recommend only one person conducts each meeting in order to avoid dysfunction.” 

Looking to communicate better meeting habits to your employees? Tribe can help.

Steve Baskin

Engaging Financial Communications: Include Employees in the Story

Business chart with glowing arrows and world mapHow do we get employees engaged in corporate earnings announcements? The quarterly hand-wringing is loud enough to be heard outside just about every Fortune 500 company.

Short of learning if they’re more likely to get a bonus or get laid off, there’s very limited interest from the average employee without a C or VP in their job title. The language and terminology used when reporting financials to employees tends to be the same language that companies use when they’re reporting to shareholders and analysts. The trends and numbers that are reported tend to be high-level or global numbers that can be very hard for someone down in the business to understand or relate to.

Connection to the vision. Quarterly financial reporting is an opportunity to highlight progress toward company goals. If your company has a well-documented vision or business strategy, this is a great time to help employees connect the dots between the vision or strategy and financial performance.

We tend to be fans of teams. Professional baseball fans understand that their team is part of Major League Baseball, and they’re always happy to hear that the league is doing well. But they get animated about their team’s performance. Did they win last night? Will they make the playoffs? Will they finally get to the world series? Are they trading for the pitcher or batter that’s going to get them over the hump?

Companies are all about teams. Look for creative ways to bring the financial conversation down from corporate or global level to the team level. By segmenting the financial reports toward divisions or departments – smaller teams – within the organization, it becomes easier for employees to relate to the results. That can help them cheer on good news or to dig in and work harder if results were less than expected.

Connecting high-level financials to team or individual performance requires both creativity and a pretty deep understanding of company goals and departmental contributions. This doesn’t have to be an exact science. It’s simply a mindset of connecting actions and contributions of employees and team members to financial results. When you include employees in the financial conversation in more relevant ways, they’ll inevitably begin to care more deeply about the results.

Interested in connecting employee actions to financial results in your organization? Tribe can help.