Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

Does your CEO talk to the people delivering your brand promise?

Who creates the customer experience? The employees working in retail stores, hotels, restaurants, and call centers, of course. The frontline employees represent the face of your brand and they’re the ones who deliver on the brand promise — or not.

If you can engage the frontline as ambassadors, you’ve got some real fire power. Cascading communications through people managers works well for some topics, but it often takes top management to inspire them, to lead them to a place where they truly feel ownership of delivering your brand promise.

Frontline employees want to learn the soul of the company from their executive management. In one of Tribe’s national studies,  58 percent of frontline employees indicated that they’d like direct communication from top management about the company’s vision and values. And when they don’t hear from their leadership team, they often make the assumption that it’s because the top executives don’t respect them or their contributions to the success of the company.

How often does your CEO communicate directly to the frontline folks? That communication doesn’t necessarily mean an in-person plant visit or retail store appearance. It could be a streaming town hall, a leadership video, an interview in an employee magazine, or a CEO Corner on a mobile-friendly intranet. It could even be digital signage or a letter mailed home or a podcast. The important thing is that some culturally relevant communication comes straight from the top to the people doing the real work of the company.

Reaching the frontline is not as easy as reaching their colleagues sitting in cubes. But there are numerous ways to make it happen, if your company is willing to invest the effort and budget.

What it takes to build non-desk communication channels is a drop in the bucket compared to your company’s ad budget. You can spend a zillion dollars on brand awareness, but the customer experience comes down to that fast-food worker at the drive-thru window. It seems reasonable to invest some time and money in communication channels for that frontline audience, in order for them to fulfill the customer expectations you create with your brand promise.

Interested in helping your CEO create brand ambassadors of the frontline employees? Tribe can help.

 

 

Nick Miller

3 Ways to Maintain a Strong Internal Brand

Many brands struggle with creating a clear and overarching internal brand that will be welcomed and accepted by every individual or department. This is, in part, because every brand has a subsidiary or individual that wants to feel unique and recognized as such. When they feel this way, it sometimes makes them go outside the guidelines that outline what they should and shouldn’t do to remain consistent with the internal brand. This can prove to be problematic because you open yourself to additional requests or potential loopholes that other individuals or departments will look to exploit and, in turn, de-rail the entire brand. Here are three different approaches for maintaining a strong internal brand:

1. Let the internal brand be your North Star: Meaning that it should serve as a guide to everything that you communicate, produce, stand for and go to market with as a brand. The easiest way to be true to your North Star is to avoid letting the process of breaking down the internal brand ever begin. What that means is, when the requests begin to pour in to provide a mini-brand or a brand-within-a-brand that assists in differentiating one department or individual from the others, you point them back to the internal brand and the guidelines that are in place and make sure the design stays within those guardrails.

2. Meet them in the middle: Just because someone in X department wants their own mini-brand or someone in Y department wants their own specific newsletter, doesn’t mean you have to go all in on the request and give them exactly what they’re asking for. A way to help bridge that gap is to get more information on the types of things they are looking for and where this will be applied and think of ways to satisfy their needs, while also remaining consistent with the internal brand. This can be through a variety of things such as a personalized channel, color palette, theme or icon that will differentiate them naturally from the others, while still satisfying their needs.

3. Give them what they want: Sometimes a case can be made for Human Resources or the volunteer program or some other group having their own look within the internal brand. In this case, have a designer familiar with the internal brand create that look in a way that supports the brand rather than breaking away into entirely new territory.

Depending on the culture of your company and other factors, you will have to make a choice on how far the internal brand can bend. However, remember the end goal is to maintain the integrity of the internal brand and have it guide everything that you do to avoid showing multiple iterations that will make it feel fragmented. If you don’t, you run the risk of your internal brand feeling disjointed and incomplete.

Interested in improving your internal brand? Tribe can help.

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

2018 Resolution: Do less of something

What are your internal communications goals for the New Year? Most of us are great at adding one more thing to the list, but it’s equally important to edit that list from time to time. How about making a goal to not do something, to eliminate something or to do less of something?

Here are three potential New Year’s resolutions for internal communications professionals who want to start 2018 with less:

  1. Resolve to eliminate one channel: You’ve probably added channels over the years, but have you shut any down? If you haven’t done a serious audit of what’s working and what’s not, this might be a good time. Or if you have data that no one is reading a certain newsletter or blog, if posters are getting shipped out to locations but never making it to the break room walls, or if there’s some other channel that’s taxing your resources without much return, the most efficient move might be to delete it from your mix.
  2. Resolve to reduce word count: Take a look at the length of your intranet posts, magazine features, newsletter articles and even posters and digital signage. The longer the copy, the less likely employees are to read the whole thing. What do employees really need to know? What’s the key message? What’s the most interesting stuff? Be disciplined about cutting out the fluff and making the copy tighter and more effective.
  3. Resolve to set expiration dates: It’s hard enough to get employees to pay attention without the clutter of communications that are past their shelf date. Are there still posters about open enrollment out there, now that the deadline for that is behind us? Are there articles on the intranet about signing up for a Thanksgiving volunteer opportunity? Create a trigger to follow up with those folks you sent the posters to when it’s time to take them down. Enable expiry dates on the intranet and educate those who post content about using them.

Interested in doing less? Tribe can help.

Brittany Walker

Three tips for cascading manager communications

Properly arming managers for cascading consistent communications can make or break your message delivery. In many cases, managers are responsible for delivering news to their teams. Without the proper guidelines and tools in place, managers will filter any information they receive through their own lenses. The problem comes in when their interpretation of the message changes, slightly or vastly, from the message the company intended.

The answer to this common issue can be easier than you think. Providing managers with simple communications tools, like talking points and FAQ sheets, can help them stay on message in face-to-face sessions. All while making things easier on managers. And making communication easier for managers will increase the likelihood that the message will be shared.

For major initiatives or change management issues, a communications toolkit can be an efficient solution. You can accommodate a range of manager communication styles by providing an electronic tool box of email templates they can copy and paste into their own emails, bulletin board flyers they can print out at work, PowerPoint presentations, videos, tip sheets, training guidelines and more. Many managers have different preferences when it comes to communicating, so providing multiple delivery methods will aide in a dissemination that is timely and authentic to their management style.

If you can, allow managers to receive the news of a big change before the rest of the company. For major change initiatives, giving managers a heads up will allow them to process the announcement before cascading information to their teams. Before they can lead their teams, they should have a solid grasp of the upcoming change and how it impacts the company. Providing this information in advance will also give these leaders a chance to get onboard with the change.  Once a manager is embracing the change, they act as informers, as well as reinforcers.

Interested in helping your managers cascade more efficiently? Tribe can help.

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

Best Practices: 8 ways to make your digital signage work harder

What could be better than a steady drip of messaging that catches employees’ attention as they’re walking by? Digital signage can be an incredibly effective channel for keeping a wide range of topics top of mind, without the hurdles of clicking on an email, a video or the intranet. Here are eight suggestions for getting better results from digital signage:

1:Create a larger library: If you only have a handful of slides, they’ll get stale quickly. Shoot for 30 to 50 slides in rotation at any given time. And refresh the deck either weekly or monthly.

2. Build an editorial calendar: You can cover a lot of ground with digital signage, so map out your content with an editorial calendar. Include topics ranging from vision and values to HR programs, company news to financial recaps, employee recognition to leadership messages, wellness to IT security, volunteer programs to sustainability.

3. Limit the words: Think of this as a billboard, not a brochure. It’s not a good medium for paragraphs of copy or lists of bullets. Ideally, you’d have no more than a headline and possibly a subhead, with maybe a word or two in a top corner to indicate the department or program communicating the message.

4. Use the whole screen for one message: Sure, it’s cool that your digital signage can be divided into a bunch of different zones, but the disadvantage there is that you’re limiting the geography you give to any one message. Use the whole screen for one slide, if you can.

5. Include additional colors and fonts. Yes, you want the digital signage to be on brand, but give the designer any flexibility you can. The secondary color palette can be helpful at creating visual variety, as can having more than one font.

6. Vary the layout: It helps to develop a range of design templates so that your slides don’t all look the same. Some might have only a large visual and a headline. Others might have a headline and subhead type knocked out of a color field. Make some that work with vertical visuals, and some for horizontals.

7. Break one message into two slides: Two consecutive slides can be used to deliver the old one-two punch. For instance, you might use one slide for a question and then answer it on the next slide. Look for ways to make the slides more of a conversation to boost engagement.

8. Direct viewers to other channels: If there’s more information you want employees to have on any specific topic, send them to an article on the intranet or let them know to look for an email with more information.

Interested in creating better content for your digital signage? Tribe can help.

Nick Miller

Company Intranet: Welcome your employees to do the communicating

Not all internal communications departments have the manpower to constantly post fresh content to their intranet. The perpetual search for news and blog topics is extremely time consuming and can lead to burnout, which inevitably causes your intranet to regress and become stale.

The key to avoiding a stagnant intranet is to welcome your employees to generate their own content. This can come in many forms. For example, we often suggest companies encourage their executives to publish blogs, a valuable top-down channel for topics such as corporate vision and values, operational success, and the roadmap for future business decisions. With the size of a typical leadership team, each member only needs to contribute once every month or so.

You can extract equally valuable content from employees at any level. Promote the opportunity to be a content provider by advertising it as a differentiator, whether that be a brand ambassador, company hero or organizational influencer. Increasing the visibility of these individuals with a desk tchotchke, such as a plaque or pennant, will both provide the employee with acknowledgement for their hard work and give others a person to offer their own ideas to.

Break down silos by giving departments, committees, and special interest groups a platform through which to distribute information. A designated spot on your intranet for each group to share monthly updates, such as current initiatives or new collaboration processes can do wonders for your overall engagement. Clubs and corporate responsibility groups can raise awareness and explain their own purpose and goals through periodic exposes. Even a general op-ed space for any associate to contribute content of all sorts is a way to make your workforce feel like their voices are being heard.

 

Administrating this network of user generated content can be a substantial job, so simplify the process by providing guidance, training, and organization. A quarterly schedule of posting responsibilities will ensure that your internal communications team isn’t still chasing content at the last minute. Short training sessions on news writing, AP style and company guidelines can eliminate much of the quality assurance work required before posting. By doing so through a webinar, you can record the sessions and provide your content creators with a resource through which to refresh their skills. A content author manual can also help to reinforce proper writing and the process through which to gain approvals and post articles.

Want to build a corps of internal content creators? Tribe can help.

 

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

4 tips for a better end-of-year CEO letter

‘Tis the season for the year-end letter from the CEO or another executive team member. This can be a great way to build engagement and make a human connection, but only if it’s done well. A two-page composition that’s one long, dry sentence after another is not going to be read word-for-word by employees, if at all. Here are a few tips to keep in mind when working with leadership on an employee letter or email:

  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. Show some gratitude: Employees appreciate a little acknowledgement of their contributions. Whatever success the company has had this year, they’ve had a hand in it, so let them know the CEO recognizes that.
  4. 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. Employees are much more likely to read it if it’s short and sweet.

Interested in improving your leadership communications? Tribe can help.

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

The intranet launch is a milestone, not the finish line

Launching a successful intranet requires effective pre- and post-launch initiatives. At Tribe, we coach clients to consider the launch of a new intranet not the finish line but one milestone in a much longer process consisting of four phases.

Phase 1: Employee input: Building traffic to a new intranet begins long before the launch. Preferably before the development even begins, employees are involved in the process. You might do a survey on what features employees need to do their jobs more easily; how they’d like to connect with those in other functional silos; what sort of collaboration space would work best for them and other related issues. Focus groups are a good idea as well, to hear employee input in more depth.

Phase 2: Pre-launch: By foreshadowing the launch, you can create excitement about what’s to come and engage an initial group of employees to be early ambassadors. Use other internal communications channel to market the coming intranet. Find a group of early adopters for beta testing or assign launch communication responsibilities to influencers throughout the company. This is the time to build a critical mass of insiders who will help create buzz about the launch.

Phase 3: Launch: You only get one chance to launch, so it’s important to do it well. Make it big news with a launch event, desk drops, elevator wraps and anything else that will get employees’ attention. Make it easy for employees to test drive the intranet with quick-start guides and in-person or online training sessions. Motivate them to visit the intranet multiple times with online scavenger hunts or contests.

Phase 4: Sustaining: This is where many companies drop the ball. An intranet is not static, or at least a good one isn’t. You need fresh, relevant content day after day after day. This is more than most internal communications departments can handle on their own, so at Tribe we recommend establishing a content manager program. By recruiting and training content managers from a range of geographic locations and functional areas, you can build an army of content generators who post on an ongoing basis. To sustain this system, build in quarterly meetings to continue engaging this team, share best practices and provide recognition for those posting the best content.

Have an intranet launch on the horizon? Tribe can help.

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

The “You’ve got chocolate in my peanut butter” theory of innovation

That old Reese’s commercial makes a valid point — a brilliant new idea is often just the collision of two unlike things. The magic is in creating that sweet spot of overlap between two previously unrelated elements.

That’s why innovation in any field so often depends on the combined expertise of people from two or more different disciplines. But before that sort of collaboration can occur, you need to provide visibility across the company of different functions and areas of expertise.

Beyond visibility, the goal is to build respect across functional silos. For employees to value ideas contributed by someone from another discipline or with a different expertise, they first need to respect what others bring to the table.

We’ve seen this connection between respect and collaboration with a couple of clients recently. Each of these two companies depend on innovation and bringing new ideas to market in order to remain competitive. Both involve manufacturing and technology. Both are incredibly impressive in the way they collaborate across silos to create better solutions for customers in their industries.

When interviewing high-level engineers at both companies, they speak with great excitement about their collaborative efforts. They heap praise on the expertise of partners from other business units or functions and stress how lucky they are to be able to work with the collaborative team they’ve formed.

How does that happen? These two companies have developed their shared admiration for differing expertise organically. But if that’s not already the climate at your company, you can use communications strategies and tactics to sow the seeds of respect.

Build awareness of the work being done in other areas of the company — using whatever channels you have at your disposal. You can do this on your intranet, you can use an app, you can produce podcasts. You can publish a cultural magazine with articles that provide visibility for leading thinkers in the organization. You could even use digital signage for employee spotlights that highlight the work of various innovators.

By showcasing the talent in your company, you provide visibility into the wide range of expertise in your organization. When you can make celebrities of employees across a wide range of disciplines, you support a culture of respect. And a culture of respect helps create a work environment that fosters unexpected collaboration —  and that leads to innovation.

Interested in building a culture of innovation? Tribe can help.

 

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

The CEO holiday letter: 3 tips for getting employees to actually read it

The year-end letter from the CEO or another executive team member can be a great way to build engagement and make a human connection. But only if it’s done well. A two-page composition that’s one long, dry sentence after another is not going to be read word-for-word by employees, if at all. Here are a few tips to keep in mind when working with leadership on an employee letter or email:

  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. Employees are much more likely to read it if it’s short and sweet.

Interested in improving your leadership communications? Tribe can help.