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

HiRes

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.

 

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

3 Tips to Avoid Overloading Employees With Emails

HiResWhen someone talks too much, people tend to tune them out. By the same token, if you’re constantly emailing employees, they may not be paying attention to those messages.

Employees already get too many emails. Some of those emails are urgent; others are things they need to read to do their jobs. Many are CYA emails that copy everyone who could be even peripherally involved with the topic at hand. And then there are the internal communications emails — which often get left to open later. Which means never.

So your starting point is that your email is low priority. That means your emails need to be both engaging and easy to process to get any kind of attention at all. Here are three tips to increase the effectiveness of employee emails.

1.First of all, cut some copy. Nobody’s got time to read every possible detail you feel you need to communicate. Keep the message simple, and provide a link for more information to satisfy the few who will actually want to know more.

2. Don’t bury the call to action. Employees will be scanning the email to see what they’re supposed to do, so get that call to action in early. The first line, first subhead or even the subject line will work fine. If you think they’re going to read paragraphs of text to figure out what they need to do in response, you’re probably mistaken. Even worse is an email that tosses the call to action in somewhere in the middle of the email where it gets completely overlooked.

3. Make it visual. You know what that say, a picture is worth a thousand words. In an inbox that’s filled with text, a strong visual can be the difference in an instant delete or a cursory look. And a cursory look is the gateway to actually reading the copy.

I’m not saying email isn’t a useful channel. Especially in employee populations where people are sitting in front of computers most of the day, email is often the most direct channel — and the one most preferred by employees.

The challenge is to get your email read. Don’t make the mistake of thinking employees are sitting there waiting for the next internal communications email to pop up. And don’t be so quick to decide that email doesn’t work. It’s possible that you haven’t yet figured out how to make email work.

Want to make your internal communications more effective? Tribe can help.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Stephen Burns

4 tips to make Podcasts your employees can actually use

itunes-podcast-app-logoTribe has always been a big proponent of Podcasts. And they’ve never been been a more effective communication tool. We covered the benefits of having a conversational tone with employees, and how Podcasts can help you make that connection and deliver pertinent information to large employee populations in a way that is easy and accessible. But simply having a Podcast does not equal more engagement. It’s a communication channel that needs to be used effectively in order to get results.

Here are a few tips to make your Podcast top notch:

1) Know your audience’s interests. What do your employees want to know about? It might help to send out a survey with possible topics, so you can see what people want to hear and create an editorial calendar. This can also act as an awareness campaign, and employees will feel more attached to the project if they feel they have had input. Above all, this is an employee resource. They don’t want to hear an executive pontificate in corporate platitudes. They want to hear about specific issues, the direction of the company and things that matter to them personally.

2) Have a plan. This tip is two-fold. First, have a subject itinerary for each show, so you don’t have “dead air”, inconsistent timing, or someone searching for what to say (umm, uhhh) on your recording. You can edit the content in post production, but if you have to go in and cut a lot, it can be time consuming. Outline what topics you want to cover and make it solid.

Second, have a plan for when you want to release the Podcast. One of the reasons the top Podcasts are so popular is because they put shows out regularly, usually on the same day every week, bi-weekly or monthly. The audience knows when a new one is coming out and will check back on their own volition. It’s helpful for you too to develop a rhythm to have that push to continue making content. But you also need to be prepared to stick to your plan if you make one.

3) Let the authority speak. It might be good to have a “host” for the company Podcast, someone who does it regularly and becomes a familiar voice, but it’s crucial for engagement for employees to hear the information straight from the horse’s mouth. If there is a financial Podcast, try and have the CFO speak about it; if it’s a marketing theme, have the CMO. You get the idea. This channel allows employees unique insight into the subjects that you cover, and having someone they don’t normally converse with speaking on such an intimate platform will make it seem like more of an insider’s view. The information will be more pertinent and valuable to employees.

4) Make it listenable. A good quality recording can make all the difference in how the Podcast is perceived and received. Loud background noises, hums, pops and breathing all detract from the content. They’re distracting, even on a subconscious level. Invest in a nice microphone, a pop filter and maybe even a shock mount to make your recordings sound as nice as possible. As we outlined in the aforementioned blog, a few companies are making USB microphones specifically for Podcasters and this would be a good, inexpensive way for you to make your recording sound as professional as possible.

Stephen Burns

Do employees like your company’s social intranet?

social-mediaImplementing a social intranet, also known as an enterprise social network or ESN, is tough for large companies. There isn’t a formula for success. Rolling out a companywide tool takes a lot of time, effort, communication and collaboration. It can be tricky, but if you pull it off, there is no limit to the benefits a solid internal communications network can bring to your culture and organization.

The social network for the office is still an evolving tool. The phenomenon is relatively new, as the latest extension of the time-tested company intranet. But enough companies have taken the leap and worked with the concept long enough to where we are finally seeing some conclusive feedback.

The wonderful folks over at Simply Communicate surveyed over 70 enterprises with a “Social Intranet Barometer” to examine emerging trends — “the good, the bad and the ugly.” Here is a summary of their findings. There were mixed reviews for certain, but there were also positive signs. And the majority of the pitfalls lay not with the technology, but adoption and rollout.

“Management increasingly understand the value of social and collaborative platforms”

“The survey results point to a growing use of social and collaborative platforms; however, they confirm… that adoption and demonstrable success are patchy.”

“…overall adoption rates reflect widespread concern that social and collaborative platforms are failing to realize the highest hopes of their most vocal advocates.”

“There is rarely adequate budget for launching and promoting use.”

The technology will evolve, but in order for a social intranet to truly work, your company has to evolve, too. And employees need to be prepared for what is and, should be treated as, an extensive company change. Internal communications can often be taken for granted, but when you’re investing so much in a tool that could be the edge you need for success, it’s worth doing the leg work necessary to make it connect with your employee base.

Still wondering an enterprise social network the right tool for your company? Maybe you’ve implemented an ESN that isn’t gaining much traction or perhaps you’ve been weary to take that first step. Tribe can help you build your own ESN survey or work with you to find the best ways to introduce these tools to your employees.

Steve Baskin

Culture Is Not The Product

new product grunge retro blue isolated ribbon stamp

It’s good to keep in mind that culture is not the end goal. It’s the means to all sorts of desirable ends. But the culture is not the thing that your company is selling.

Remember when they came out with this thing called the World Wide Web? The Boomers and some Gen X-ers among us might remember the initial confusion in the business world about what the Internet really meant for business. Companies wasted millions as they chased ideas that didn’t make sense for them. Of course, over the past few decades, the Internet has changed the way we do just about everything in business.

But for 99.9 percent of businesses, the Internet is not the product. It’s simply a channel that makes conducting business more efficient. The Internet is an enabler.

Dealing with culture has some parallels. Culture, like the Internet, is a tool that we can use to make businesses operate more efficiently.

A culture that’s aligned with the vision is the best kind of enabler. It allows the ideas to flow through the organization more freely. It allows the products to get through the production process quicker and more efficiently. It allows the kind of communications that are necessary to insure that the products we’re making or the services we deliver align with our customer and client needs.

When a culture is toxic, unstable or unpleasant, it’s very difficult for company to work efficiently. We may have dreams of Google Fiber, but when the organizational culture is broken, things can move about as fast as dial-up speeds of the 1990s. But even in companies with happy and engaged employees, culture can be used as an excuse for not evolving to more effective tools or policies.

The culture determines whether the brand promise is fulfilled. When an organization goes about building its brand, it’s making a promise about what potential consumers should expect when they purchase the product or service. Inside the company, the employees are responsible for making sure that the promise is delivered. A strong and aligned culture helps make that happen.

Interested in communications that help align your culture? Tribe can help.

Keyboard Illustration "BYOD - Bring Your Own Device"
Stephen Burns

Making BYOD work for your company

Bring your own device (BYOD) is a trend that has been building in the internal comms world for a while now. And why not? Just about everybody on the planet has a smartphone or other smart device. There are a multitude of great apps that can give your company a great channel for employees to connect and collaborate. Best of all, the apps are intuitive, and employees are becoming increasingly familiar with the interfaces, so training and other related expenses are at a minimum. Is your company taking advantage?

It might be time to do a sort of audit on your internal communication channels. In Tribe’s research, we’ve found that a lot of employees are already on board the BYOD train. It’s very likely that there are large groups in your company using one of the aforementioned apps to great effect. Surveying employees can help identify these trends that are already happening in your company, so that you can build on them and help officially promote them companywide.

Still worried about your company’s security? It could be time to stop. These apps and the information “clouds” that make them tick are becoming more and more secure. While it is important to keep a tight lid on trade secrets, personnel and customer information, you don’t need to sacrifice what could be a beneficial communication tool. You can maintain a secure, onsite channel to communicate about those topics, and reserve the mobile channel for day-to-day tasks and collaboration.

With all the options out there, it can still be a challenge to find the right way to connect your employees and their devices.  Start by having a conversation with your people. Find out what your employees want and what your company needs. And if you need someone to navigate the waters of BYOD, give Tribe a call. We’d love to help.