Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

Is it the channel that’s not working — or the content you’re pushing through it?

Before you decide that employees don’t ever open emails, read the monthly newsletter or pay attention to digital signage, take a good hard look at your content. If you compare the caliber of design, writing and messaging to the brand communications your company does for consumers, how does it stack up?

Emails continue to rank highly as a preferred method of communications in most of the employee surveys we’ve been involved in. Yet actual open rates are often quite low. Maybe what employees mean is that they like the channel of email but are not inclined to open things that look like junk mail.

The same notion applies to newsletters and employee magazines. Whether digital or printed, these publications can be highly visual and engaging. They can be an excellent way to keep employees in the loop; to share leadership views on the vision, values and important business developments; and to make heroes of the employees by featuring them in articles. But if it looks boring and sounds boring, chances are employees will take a pass.

Digital signage can be an incredibly useful touchpoint, because it takes so little effort on the part of employees. As they’re waiting for the elevator or walking to a meeting, they can absorb quick messages ranging from company vision and financial updates to wellness and HR housekeeping issues. We’re seeing these monitors in more and more companies, but they’re not always used as well as they could be.

Channels are merely vessels; it’s what you fill them with that matters most. This applies to all channels, whether they’re the newest technology or a poster in the break room.

Employees deserve the same caliber of communications as your customers. If they’re not engaging with one or more of your internal communications channels, don’t assume it’s the channel that’s not working. Maybe all you need is better content.

Interested in improving your content? Tribe can help.

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

Thread the vision and values through all your internal communications

Communicating the company vision is one of the most important roles of internal communications. We often recommend a vision and values book and/or a vision and values event to put a stake in the ground to launch or reinforce these cultural underpinnings.

But that’s only the beginning. Just because you’ve told employees once, doesn’t mean the job is done. In fact, the job of communicating the vision and values is never done. To truly embed those things in an organization, to have employees internalize them so that they use the vision and values as guidance for the actions they take and decisions they make in their day-to-day work, will require an ongoing effort.

It also requires using more than one channel. Or even more than one facet of each channel. The goal is to thread the vision and values through everything you do.

We recommend a simultaneous top and bottom approach.
Look for channels for leadership to communicate these topics in an authentic way. That might be through video, magazine articles, intranet updates, town halls and/or any other available channel.

At the same time, find ways to showcase employees using the vision and values. That could be through a recognition program. It could be employee spotlights on the intranet or in your employee publication. It might be digital signage, video, blogs, social media or any other channel at your disposal.

You can also look for ways to tie topics back to the vision and values. When you’re communicating news about the volunteer program, frame it with one of the corporate values such as teamwork or community. When you introduce a massive IT overhaul, maybe you can link it to the value of innovation or efficiency. In an article on two different manufacturing plants working together to revamp the order system, point to the value of collaboration.

We often calendarize the stream of communications to reflect the vision and values. Each issue of a quarterly magazine, or each video in a monthly series, for instance, might be themed with one element of that messaging. Not only does this help thread the vision and values through multiple channels over a quarter or a year, it also allows for a closer look at one element at a time and drives more interesting content.

Interested in incorporating the vision and values into more of your communications?
Tribe can help.

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

Four channels for CEO communications

Don’t assume a blog is the answer. If your CEO wants to commit to writing his or her own blog on a consistent basis over the long term, say weekly or at least monthly, that’s great. If not, look at other options — but not the option of having someone else write a blog under the CEO’s name.

A ghostwritten CEO blog is worse than no blog at all. Employees smell fake a mile away. Fake is the enemy of authentic, and authentic is what you want in leadership communications.

There are of course, a few rare exceptions. If the ghostwriter works extremely closely with the CEO and has heard him or her talk on the relevant topics often enough to nearly parrot the wording, that can work. But otherwise, ghostwriting you can undermine any equity you’ve built in authentic communications.

The goal of leadership communications is two-fold. The first is to share important messaging and information with employees in a way that keeps them in the loop on where the company is heading. The second is to build a human connection with the CEO and create trust in company management.

So what do you do if your CEO doesn’t have time to write his or her own blog?
There are plenty of other ways to share with employees what the CEO is thinking without a huge chunk of time out of that executive calendar.

1. Article based on a CEO interview: We regularly write employee newsletter and magazine articles based on short telephone interviews with CEOs. We generally book no more than 20 minutes for the call and try to keep it under that. Some CEOs prefer to have prepared questions they can review ahead of time; others are comfortable talking on the fly.

How is this different from a blog? It’s written in the third person, with quotes from the CEO peppered throughout the article. It’s about a conversation with the CEO, rather than pretending it was written by the CEO.

2. Video of the CEO: The most efficient way to pull this off, especially from the CEO’s point of view, is to shoot a number of videos in one session. It also helps to include more members of the leadership team, so that the CEO doesn’t have to do all the talking. Plus the viewers get the benefit of a watching several people rather than one talking head.

Material for eight or ten videos can be shot in one day, if you can plan content that far in advance. We generally ask for 45 minutes on the CEO’s calendar and maybe 20 or 30 minutes with other members of the executive team.

3. Audio: Some people are just not comfortable on camera, and if that’s the case for your CEO, don’t push it. You could suggest a podcast, for instance, to be housed on your intranet. There are also platforms with which the CEO could record a message for employees that they can hear by dialing a toll-free number. At the end of the CEO’s comments, there’s an option for them to leave their own comments or questions, so it becomes a format for two-way communication.

4. Quotations: This one seems almost too easy, but sometimes less really is more. The format can be digital signage, email, an internet feature or any other visual channel. Use a photo of the CEO and a one-sentence quote. We often pull these quotes from interviews for articles or from videos, but you also can ask your CEO to create quotes specifically for this channel. For instance, if there’s a new initiative underway, you might ask for a comment on why it’s so important to the business. If there’s an internal push for a more customer-centric approach, or more innovation, or increased collaboration, or even reduced spending, perhaps the CEO can give you a one-sentence blurb on that.

Interested in finding the right channel for your CEO communications?
Tribe can help.

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

4 Methods for Reaching Employees Without Computers

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 improving communications with your offline employees? Tribe can help.

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

3 Ways to Survey Employees Without Computers

How do you survey non-desk workers? Online surveys are great for employee populations sitting in front of computers, but they aren’t very good at capturing responses from all those on the manufacturing line, in retail stores and in other non-desk positions.

Some companies ask non-desk workers to visit a shared computer in a break room or at a kiosk. Without some serious motivation, hourly employees are not going to be lining up on their break time to answer a company survey.

As in most non-desk employee communications, you need to be a little more creative. Here are three ways to make surveys more accessible to employees without dedicated computers:

  1. Scannable paper surveys:  How did they do surveys before online surveys? Right. On paper. You print the survey; make it available to employees at a time and place that’s convenient for them; and establish a process for collecting those surveys. For scanning, you can contract with a vendor for scannable surveys, or use software that allows you to scan responses in house.
  2. 800 number: Here’s a low-tech solution that’s non-desk friendly, although you’d want to keep the number of questions limited. Employees call a toll-free number, respond to multiple choice questions by pressing a number and to open-ended ones by recording their response.
  3. Text surveys: In many non-desk employee populations, more people own smart phones than home computers. If you offer employees the chance to opt in to text surveys, many of them will likely be willing to answer one to three question surveys at regular intervals.

One caveat to all the above: respect the limits of the non-exempt employee’s workday. You’ll probably want to make it very clear that employees are not expected to answer these surveys on their own time, and to construct a way for them to participate while they’re on the clock.

Interested in finding ways to reach your non-desk employees? Tribe can help.

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

Forget Millennials: It’s Time to Prepare for Gen Z Employees

Now that Millennials are hitting their 30s, it’s time to think about the generation that’s right on their heels. Generation Z, born between 1995 and 2002, is beginning to fill our entry level positions.

Competition for Gen Z employees will be fierce. As Gen Y continues to move up the org chart, there will be smaller numbers of Gen Z to replace them.

It’s time to prepare your company to recruit and retain Gen Z. While many workplaces are still adapting to accommodate Gen Y, the oldest among those employees are in their mid-30s. Rather than being entry-level employees, many of these Millennials are now somebody’s boss.

Gen Z employees have never lived in a world without the Internet. Technology is so indigenous to their life, it’s like breathing air to them. They don’t even notice it’s there, unless it’s not.

Here’s what us Boomers may find counterintuitive about Gen Z and technology. We came of age in a world where Joni Mitchell lamented that they’d “paved paradise and put up a parking lot.” While we grew up thinking of technology as cold and inhuman, Gen Z finds this attitude (to use a phrase Gen Z would use only ironically) completely wack.

Gen Z uses technology to express their humanness. They depend on technology to build relationships, to collaborate, and to bring creative ideas to life. They use technology to be continuously learning and to find solutions to problems.

 All of the above are qualities of highly engaged employees. If one of the key roles of internal communications is to reduce barriers to employee effectiveness, then we better get ready to provide Gen Z with all the technology tools and channels they could possibly want.

Gen Z is ready to change the world. And their tool of choice in technology. When Tribe interviewed Gen Z kids in 2010, they were extremely confident in their abilities to solve problems of both the marketplace and the planet.

“Technology will make it much easier,” said a 14-year-old respondent who’s now in college at University of Pennsylvania. “I think technology will advance enough that environmental issues will be something that can be solved. Like energy needs can be solved. We’ll have easy ways to make energy. Then we can move on to things like world hunger.”

By all means, let’s get them going on those issues. Interested in increasing your company’s strength in attracting and keeping Gen Z employees? Tribe can help.

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.