Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

Keeping Frontline Employees in the Loop: 4 Tips

How does your company communicate with employees on the frontline, the retail floor or the factory line? Many companies leave all internal communications with non-desk workers to their immediate supervisors. Tribe’s national study with the non-desk employee population indicates this is a missed opportunity to build engagement. What’s more, those employees who never hear from top management interpret that as a lack of respect for them and their contributions to the company’s success.

But how do you reach employees who are in stores, distribution centers, restaurants and out driving trucks all day? There’s no one-size-fits-all answer, as you must consider the physical realities of their days and think creatively to identify potential touch points. Generally, Tribe recommends a combination of high-tech and low-tech solutions to build channels from corporate to the front lines.

For starters, Tribe also recommends the following four approaches:

1.    LOOP THEM IN: Commit to at least one channel through which non-desk employees will hear from management. This could be a town-hall meeting via video for manufacturing employees, a recorded message accessed through an 800 number, or even a quarterly letter from the CEO mailed to employees’ homes.

2.    ASK THEM WHAT THEY THINK: Having corporate management talk to this audience is a good step, but you also need to create opportunities for these employees to share their comments and views. Two-way communication methods — from the ability to comment on changes in the company, to soliciting ideas for improving systems and processes — demonstrate management’s respect and the desire to understand the realities of these employees’ jobs.

3.    MAKE THEM HEROES: Spotlight frontline and field workers and celebrate their contributions, through regular bio pieces in a company publication, recognition programs or contests that highlight employee performance.

4.    TAKE THE CEO TO THE PEOPLE: Again, there’s no substitute for giving employees a chance to meet face-to-face with top management, and it’s particularly meaningful to non-desk employees. Look for opportunities to have members of your leadership team visit stores, plants and other facilities so they can rub elbows with the people doing the most important work of your company.

Interested in communication channels that work for your non-desk employees? 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.

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.

 

 

 

Brittany Walker

3 Tips for a Successful Culture Magazine

Culture magazines are a great resource for communicating across a multitude of functions and geography. Internal magazines are opportunities to bridge silos, create shared pride and boost recognition, all of which contribute to higher employee engagement.

At Tribe, we’ve created culture magazines for clients across industries ranging from consumer products to aviation to fashion. Especially in manufacturing, retail and other non-desk populations, magazines enable the company to make these frontline employees visible and even recognized as heroes throughout the organization.

Often produced as a quarterly publication, culture magazines don’t have to be a daunting or budget-busting. Here are three simple tips to keep your magazine on track.

  1. Develop an editorial plan. Establishing reoccurring topics and themes for each issue will take a load off the planning process at the beginning of each issue. Think through your messaging and communication goals for the publication, and be sure to work each of them into the plan. Allow for flexibility by including a feature story, but we would recommend at least three basics, like employee spotlights, leadership Q&A or wellness and volunteerism updates.
  1. Appoint an editorial board. This simple task has been a life-saver in ongoing magazines Tribe has produced in the past. At the start of each new issue, gather your established team composed of people from across different segments of the organization. All it takes is one organized conference call to discuss potential stories and features for the upcoming issue. By the time the call ends, you should have your identified editorial plan for the next issue, and the correct contacts to start producing the content.
  1. Keep revisions to a minimum. For best, and most efficient results, collaborate on the front end of the magazine, not the back end. A large part of this helpful hint is cutting down on the number of reviewers themselves. Once the articles are written and the issue is put into design, keep the circle as tight as possible. Multiple rounds of revisions can do damage to your timeline, and as a result, impact the budget.

Interested in developing a culture magazine? Tribe can help.

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

Letter from the CEO: Tips to Get Employees to Actually Read It

Having the CEO or another leadership team member write a letter or email to employees is a huge opportunity to build engagement. But only if it’s done well. A 500-word missive that’s one long stuffy sentence after another is not engaging and will bore employees long before they get to that final paragraph. Here are a few tips to keep in mind when your communications plan includes leadership communications of that sort:

  1. Don’t ghostwrite it: Or at least don’t make it sound like someone ghostwrote it. If the exec doesn’t have the time or inclination to write the piece for himself or herself, do whatever you can to channel his or her voice. What are the words and phrases this person uses frequently? If they like something, are they more likely to describe it as really cool, awesome, outstanding, fabulous or terrific? Is there a word or phrase they use frequently to reinforce an idea,  like “absolutely” or “no doubt?” If you don’t have frequent contact with this particular leader, search online for videos of interviews or speaking engagements to pick up details of how they speak. Even better, get five minutes of their time to talk about what they want employees to get out of this communication.
  2. Show some personality: Tribe’s national research with employees indicates that they want a personal connection with their leadership teams. They want to feel like they know something beyond business facts about the person behind the title. Some more introverted leaders resist talking about themselves because they think it comes off as self-centered or bragging. Explain that it’s humanizing rather than hubris. If the big boss is training for a marathon or writing a detective novel on the side, that’s the kind of personal detail employees are craving.
  3. Cut roughly 20% of what you wrote: Or even 30%. Take a look at what you think is the final draft and figure out how to make it shorter. If it’s a letter, absolutely do not let it be more than one page, and try not to fill that page with ink. If it’s an email, three or four brief paragraphs is probably about as much as employees will read. For a blog, you can go a little longer, but still, short and sweet is more likely to be read.

Interested in improving your leadership communications? Tribe can help.

 

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

Intranets, Magazines and Emails are Only Envelopes

The medium, in fact, is not the message. (Apologies to Marshall McLuhan, the man who coined that phrase back in the 1960s.) Although we now have more possible internal communications channels than ever before, each channel is nothing more than an envelope in which we deliver content. Is your content fresh and relevant? Is the design appealing so people want to see what’s inside that envelope?

If a channel hasn’t worked before, maybe it just needs to be done better. Occasionally when Tribe recommends a new approach to an existing channel, a client will say nope, we’ve already tried that and it didn’t work. Maybe a bad magazine didn’t work, but one that’s beautifully designed with engaging articles just might.

For instance, it’s not the intranet’s fault if nobody goes there. Compare your content and design with what employees see online every day, from news sites to social media to retailers. Does your site seem pretty bleak in comparison? Even when you’re stuck with an existing platform, you can re-skin the graphic design and rethink your content.

Often the issue is not quality of content but quantity. If employees aren’t reading internal communications emails, could it be because they’re ridiculously long? Cutting the word count from 500 to 50 and adding some visual interest might make that channel highly effective. If you’re afraid a short email can’t possibly give employees all the information they might need, direct them to the intranet for more details.

Same goes for corporate videos. It takes discipline to keep them short, but when a video drags on and on, few people will watch all the way to the end. We once worked with a client on a collection of videos that was were one person talking about one topic for one minute. Employees loved them.

So don’t discard an old envelope just because it hasn’t been effective in the past. It’s what goes in that envelope that makes all the difference.

Interested in refreshing an existing channel? Tribe can help.

Brittany Walker

Three easy ways to improve your intranet

Your company’s intranet should be a reflection of its culture. Culture is not only about your mission, vision, values, logo and formal rituals, but it also includes employee beliefs about the company, myths and ancillary symbols that develop over time. Reviewing your intranet should shed some light on the intangible areas of your company’s culture. Analyzing your site doesn’t need to be a formal process, but by taking some time and reviewing a few basic elements, you will also gain a better understanding of your culture.

1. Site design should be reflective of your external brand and your desired internal culture.  Look at the design element of your internet and intranet.  Are they of the same quality? Do they look similar?  Does it appear that the company invested in both? Does your intranet reflect your desired culture in terms of being fun or potentially a more formal culture? If the answer to some of these questions is no, it may be a good time to improve the design.

2. If work/life balance is something your company values, give employees the opportunity to share information about their personality on the site. Rich employee profiles are a great way for employees to connect on a more personal level and improve their working relationships with co-workers. The underlying message that employees will receive is that the company cares about them as individuals, not just for the skill set they bring to the company.

3. Review your values, culture attributes and other brand elements to see if they are reflected in the site. Your intranet is a great tool to communicate and sustain elements of your brand, which in turn help develop your culture.  Look for interactive ways such as spotlighting employees that live your values or promoting events on the site that help build camaraderie.

Do you have other ideas of how to analyze your intranet for insights on your culture?  Tribe can help.

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

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

HiResBrainstorming 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.

Nick Miller

Internal Communications: The 9 to 5 and what’s next

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Back in the early 1900s, Economist John Maynard Keynes predicted that by 2030, most of the workforce would be clocking less than 15 hours a week. We are still a long way from such efficient standards, but 100 years ago, the 9 to 5 was still a relatively fresh concept. The notion of this schedule in the American workplace wouldn’t become the standard until the unprecedented effects of Henry Ford’s assembly line manufacturing and FDR’s New Deal had reached every corner of the country, with much of the globe following suit.

Keynes must have foreseen the affects of globalization, Millennials and an increasingly socially progressive society. The world is smaller; videoconferencing has changed the meaning of a centralized workforce; freelancing and self-employment are on the rise, as is mandatory vacation and maternity/paternity leave. Millennials are demanding more flexible work schedules and research on sleep and the difference between early- and late-risers is justifying their cause. How can a company communicate effectively with all these factors considered? What happened to the days of every employee at his or her desk by 9 am?

The concept of 9 to 5, a defining corporate characteristic that every single person living today has known since birth, is actually just a stop on the highly fluid track of industrial development. Internal communications might be viewed with the same big-picture perspective, evolving to match the needs of the times. New channels and technologies will be vetted for usefulness and their executions measured in order to draw key insights. No one wants to be the company known for ignoring the next big thing (see: Kodak).

The constant need to evolve applies to messaging as well. Millennial priorities are different from that of the generations before them, and the generations to follow will define their own. It would have seemed silly to boast about efforts to be more environmentally responsible as a corporation or encourage employees to exercise through fitness competitions only a couple decades ago. These are not efforts that are obviously connected to an increase in productivity, but through trial, error and due diligence, companies all over the world are unlocking the cheat codes to efficient communications and an engaged workforce. In a universe like our own where everything is in a constant state of fluidity, it would make sense that your communications would be as well.

Are you interested in evolving your communications? Tribe can help.

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

Managers Want Tools to Help Cascade Communications

Do you use direct managers as a communication channel for non-desk employees? The default method for reaching employees on the production line, in the distribution centers and on the sales floor is usually to depend on their managers to communicate what corporate communicated to them.

The thing is, few managers in these settings would consider themselves communications professionals. In Tribe’s national research on non-desk employees, managers said they’d like more communications support in the form of tools and training.

When it comes to communications tools, putting them online can be best. Of those who said they wanted additional materials, 57 percent responded in favor of using online materials. Comments of respondents included,  “Printed material tend to be a waste unless you are going through them line by line,” and “I prefer [supporting materials] to be online reports.”

Other quotes included: “I would like [supporting materials] to be online resources,” “I think [support materials] should be online,” and “[I would rather] have online resources!”

 Providing tools like talking points or FAQs can be particularly effective. In fact, they address one of the few faults that the 2012 respondents found with communications delivered through direct managers: inconsistency of message.

These tools can be simple. In fact, they should be. No need for tons of paragraphs or pages. Give them a one-pager with the overall key message and a few bullet points. Maybe offer suggested responses to questions employees might ask.

Interested in developing communications tools for your company’s managers? Tribe can help.