Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

Can internal communications replace some of those dreaded conference calls?

Everybody loves to make fun of conference calls. A photo of conference call bingo has been floating around social media lately, and I particularly like the video pictured here of a real-life conference call with people sitting in a conference room together listening to hold music while other people walk in and announce “Beth (has joined the meeting.).” We hate conference calls but we can’t stop scheduling them.

And what are employees really doing during all those conference calls? According to a recent article in the Harvard Business Review, they’re doing other work, sending emails, online shopping, playing video games, exercising and taking other phone calls. Some report (and I apologize for putting this image in your mind) taking conference calls in the bathroom.

So if employees don’t like conference calls, and they’re not particularly engaged during them, should those of us in internal communications be offering an alternative? When work teams are located in different offices, or in other countries, an in-person meeting isn’t practical. But that hurdle of geography is indigenous to a global workplace, or even a national one.

At one point, it seemed that video conferencing would become the new conference call. Certainly being on camera would eliminate some of the temptation to be multi-tasking. And seeing the faces of other participants would shortcut some of those awkward start-stop interruptions and allow us to pick up on all those missed cues of body language. Although a number of Tribe’s clients have video conferencing capabilities, we don’t see it used very much. In fact, it seems to be avoided like the plague.

Theoretically, intranets could handle some of the informational exchange and collaborative work of conference calls. But in practice, they’re not replacing many of those calls clogging up employees’ calendars either.

So there’s always email. And an awful lot of business does get done through group emails. Yet employees consistently complain that they get too much email — which makes it an unlikely candidate for conference call replacement. 

What’s the answer? I don’t know. But if you do, I’d love to hear about it.

Want new ideas for internal communications other than a cure for the common conference call? Tribe can help.

 

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

What retail employees, airline attendants, hotel workers and other frontline people know that corporate doesn’t

Valuable customer insights go unrecognized in companies across almost every industry. Although large brands may expend considerable budgets on customer research and voice-of-customer initiatives, they may overlook the most direct source of knowledge regarding what customers want.

That source of knowledge is the frontline employee. The customer-facing employee can be a rich resource of ideas for small and large improvements.

In quick service restaurants, staff may notice a trend of customers mixing two packets of different sauces. That observation might lead to a product idea for a new sauce flavor. In the hospitality industry, hotel housekeepers might know that guests often remove a scratchy bedspread and toss it on the floor. That knowledge could influence the choice of fabrics in the next design prototype for room interiors.

The frontline employee also has firsthand knowledge of customer complaints. They see things corporate can’t, which not only stymies customer solutions but also frustrates these employees.

In Tribe’s research with non-desk employees, this frustration was a prevalent theme. They often see corporate as out of touch and ineffective at solving common issues. Respondents reported that corporate often doesn’t understand the realities of the business due to being so removed from customers.

In most companies, this valuable field intelligence is lost. Without a clear channel of communication between the front line and those back in the corporate office, none of this knowledge becomes actionable.

Establishing such a channel takes some doing. Communication to field employees generally flows in one direction only, cascading from managers to the front line. Although individual managers may be aware of these frontline insights, there are rarely established communications processes for sharing up the ladder.

An effective channel will be specific to the physical realities of those frontline employees. What works for hotel housekeepers may not work for garbage truck drivers. A solution appropriate for a high-end jewelry retailer may not suit furniture rental store employees.

Interested in collecting the field intelligence of your frontline? Tribe can help.

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

What we know about building employee trust in the CEO

One of the best ways a CEO can build employee trust is to first demonstrate that he or she trusts employees. A recent article in the Harvard Business Review addresses this dynamic from the perspective of managers, but the same principle applies at a higher level in the corporate hierarchy and to the organization overall.

How does company leadership show trust in employees?

  1. Share information. Not just good news, but the bad news as well. In fact, sharing bad news honestly can go a long way towards increasing employee trust. Of course there will always be business information that’s not appropriate to share, and it’s fine to say that. Employees can appreciate that distinction. But if you talk about transparency, make sure you follow up by truly keeping employees in the loop on news you can share.
  2. Avoid creating a risk-averse culture. This is a big ship to turn around, if your culture is already rife with policies and attitudes intended to put as many controls in place as possible. It’s popular now for companies to promote the idea of failing fast, but there’s sometimes a contradiction presented by punitive policies. Giving employees a little more autonomy and decision-making power demonstrates trust in their abilities and their judgment. That’s a first step in having them return the favor.
  3. Promote visibility for individuals responsible for innovation. Look for examples of leaders within the company who are spearheading new product developments or initiatives and celebrate them. Mention them in town halls, encourage your communications staff to feature them in the internal publications or on the intranet. Most success stories will include bumps and challenges along the way. Telling those stories reinforces the notion that the company leadership trusted those employees enough to let them hit a dead end or two before they got it right.

Interested in building trust in leadership at your company? Tribe can help.

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

It will take more than a new CEO to change the culture at Uber

Former Uber CEO Travis Kalanick

I didn’t find it particularly sexist when Uber board member David Bonderman commented that more women on the board would mean more talking. Before reading Susan Fowler’s blog about her time as an engineer at Uber, I assumed the culture there was  no worse than any company run by a bunch of smart-ass guys. Something along the lines of the ad agency world back in the day, like when my boss would flip through Playboy while I read my work aloud to him.

But Fowler’s account reflects a maddening experience in a culture of gender bias that’s deeply systemic. Ousting CEO Travis Kalanick is not going to instantly eradicate a pervasive attitude of permissiveness toward sexual harassment and discrimination. The board at Uber has a long uphill slog ahead if they’re hoping to change the culture in a meaningful way.

Having more women in top leadership positions would help, but high-level women have been leaving the company in droves. According to Fowler’s calculations, the Uber workforce was 25 percent female a year ago and now is at less than six percent. Whether women have left because of sexism or due to the chaotic state of the business, they’ve left a vacuum that may need to be filled by women coming from outside the company.

At Tribe, we often work with large companies interested in shifting their cultures. I’ve been thinking lately about what we would recommend Uber do now, and I have to tell you, just the thought of the work ahead of them makes me feel exhausted.  So much real change would have to happen, from new leadership all the way through operations, before the culture even begins to budge.

Communicating that cultural change will be easy enough — once the change is real. But slight improvements or superficial changes won’t move the needle. In this case, there will have to be a seismic sea change to change the reality of the culture at Uber.

It will be difficult, and it’s possible the board will decide such an uphill battle isn’t worth it. Maybe they’ll just let boys be boys and take the lumps.

The worst mistake they could make would be to claim the culture has shifted when it hasn’t. That would only backfire — and undermine whatever trust in leadership remains.

Have a cultural issue that’s not quite as bad as Uber’s? Tribe can help.

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

Successful Change Management Starts with Respect for Employees

Having employees embrace or accept change depends a great deal on whether they feel they’re being treated with respect.Overcome Resistance to Change with Two Conversations,” a fantastic article in the Harvard Business Review by two thought leaders from the Kellogg School of Management, suggests that feeling a lack of respect is one of three reasons behind those who resist organizational change. (The other two they discuss are disagreement and feeling rushed.)

Can their excellent strategies for one-on-one conversations be applied to internal communications? Yes and no. They’re correct that email and webcasts can’t accomplish what a face-to-face dialogue can. But those engineering a major change in large companies with thousands or tens of thousands of employees obviously can’t sit down with every single person the change will impact.

Still, the change communications can start from a place of respect for employees. The inevitable email, town hall, intranet articles and/or webcasts can all frame the transition in ways that acknowledge the difficulties of the change and communicate honestly about the downsides  — as well as the ways the change will benefit the company and its employees in the long run.

In addition, Tribe would recommend three key elements to the change communications:

  1. Have the CEO announce the change: In Tribe’s national research with employees of large companies, respondents said they wanted to hear about a big change first from the top brass. They want their leadership to be straightforward about bad news and not sugarcoat it or spin it. And they want to know the business reasons behind the change.
  2. Prep managers to answer questions: Employees in our research said they would likely follow up with their direct managers to ask questions, so help your managers be prepared with talking points, FAQs and possibly communication training on this particular change. You want each manager to be sharing the same messaging as the CEO — and as the other managers out there, so employees aren’t hearing different versions of the story depending on who they talk to.
  3. Give employees a feedback loop: Two-way communication is particularly important in times of major change. Give employees a way to ask questions and share concerns, and be sure they get responses in a timely way.

Interesting in improving acceptance of a major change at your company? Tribe can help.

 

 

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

Use Storytelling to Educate Employees on Cyber Security

Do your employees know what to do in case of a security breach? According to Deloitte Australia (as reported on CIO.com), employees of 43 percent of the country’s top brands don’t even know if their company has a procedure to follow in case of a data breach.

Perhaps even more importantly, do your employees know to avoid behavior that could lead to a major security breach? The recent Deloitte Global report titled “Cultivating a Cyber-Risk-Aware Culture” describes a hypothetical spear phishing attack that plenty of intelligent and worldly employees might fall for — if good cyber hygiene is not top of mind.

In this phishing scheme, an employee receives an email promising a gift card in return for answering a survey. The employee was not maliciously sharing sensitive company information. It looked like the email was sent by someone inside the company. And who doesn’t want a gift card?

Talking about cyber-awareness isn’t enough. To many of us, the term cyber sounds dated and vaguely humorous. Like when people joke about the World Wide Net or the InterWeb.

Bring it to life by telling the story. Employees need concrete examples of what risky behavior looks like, so paint the picture of a potential scenario. What sort of information would cyber attackers be looking for? What are some of the common techniques used by cyber-attackers? What are some of the potentially disastrous outcomes? Beyond just saying “Be careful,” we need to give employees a clear picture of what being careful looks like — and what it doesn’t.

Use internal communications to tell that story in ways that are engaging and interesting, not patronizing or scolding. Rare is the employee who would intentionally do harm to the company. But innocent mistakes can do real damage. And employees can’t sidestep a security risk if they don’t recognize the situation as risky.

Interested in engaging your employees in cyber-awareness? Tribe can help.

 

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

Change Management Communications: What’s the Worst That Can Happen?

What’s the biggest mistake you could possibly make in communicating change? The absolute worst would be to tell employees something that would make them feel better, but might not be true. For instance, saying there will be no layoffs with an impending merger, before management knows for certain that there won’t be. In the midst of change, there are many moving parts, and some early assumptions may be revised as more details and numbers are fleshed out.

On the other hand, it’s also a  mistake is to say nothing because the details haven’t yet been finalized. Employees can accept the fact that you can’t tell them everything right now. What causes them more stress is the sneaking suspicion that something’s afoot and management isn’t telling them anything. We advise clients that it’s perfectly fine to say, “We don’t know yet, but we’ll tell you when we do,” or “We can’t share that information, but what I can tell you is such and such.” In any case, you certainly want to avoid having your employees hear the news from someone outside the company, whether it’s a neighbor who’s related to top management or the business section of the newspaper.

You can also minimize stress for employees by acknowledging what we call the Two Big Fears. In the face of any major change in the workplace, employees worry about two major questions: “Will I lose my job?” If the answer to that is no, then the next concern is “Will this make my job more difficult?” Acknowledging those two issues can take some of the heat off them.

It’s human nature to imagine the worst. So in the absence of communication regarding the change, employees’ imaginations will fill in the gaps and rumours will begin seeping through your organization. Setting realistic expectations can be a relief. Most people would rather know what to expect, even if it’s not good news, than to be left in the dark.

The most important key to successfully communicating change is to begin with a foundation of respect for the employees. That means treating employees like the intelligent adults they are, as well as putting yourself in their shoes. We often talk about the Golden Rule of Change: If you were an employee impacted by this change, how would you want to be treated?

Interested in communicating change more effectively at your company? Tribe can help.

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

What to Tell Employees About Robots Taking Their Jobs

First the good news: A recent Forrester report estimates that automation will create about 15 million jobs over the next decade. Now the bad: the same report says it will also eliminate 25 million jobs.

It’s reasonable for employees to feel some anxiety about the prospects of automation in the workplace. For many companies, from paper mills to hotels, robots are already on the job.

So what do you tell employees? What you don’t tell them is that it will never happen in your company. It likely will, and you never want to promise employees an easy answer that could prove false.

Be honest. If there are ways automation can cut labor costs, it would behoove the company to take advantage of that. It will be better for employees, in the long run, to be working for a company that’s profitable and competing successfully in the marketplace.

But honest doesn’t mean the future’s all doom and gloom. Many experts believe this will be more of a transformation than a gutting of the workplace, and that automation will create new jobs that didn’t exist before. 

What’s more, these new jobs may be more fulfilling. The grunt work that people don’t enjoy is the work that’s easy to delegate to a robot. Rather than being replaced by robots, many employees will be working side by side with them. And while there are robots being developed that can interact with humans, the most important customer service will still happen person to person.

Person-to-person interactions will also remain a primary reason employees choose to stay at a company or leave it. Their relationships with their coworkers and their bosses will continue to impact whether they’re excited to get to work or dreading it.

Stress the importance of your company culture. As always, communicate the vision you’re trying to achieve. Point to real-life examples of the values being applied to day-to-day work decisions. Celebrate and recognize the people doing the important work of the company — not just in the C-suite but on the frontlines and manufacturing line as well.

Make certain your internal communications make employees visible. Interview them, photograph them, acknowledge their accomplishments. When employees know that their individual contributions to the company’s success are valued, they may be less inclined to fear automation.

Interested in internal communications that make employees feel recognized and appreciated? 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.