Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

There are two-steps to two-way communications

The first step is asking for employee input.  Whether it’s a formal engagement survey, a questions-and-comments feature on the intranet or employee focus groups on particular issues, people like being asked for their opinion.

But you can’t forget the second step: responding to that input. Once employees have offered their thoughts and opinions, they tend to expect something to happen as a result. They need a response from management, if not in terms of actions taken, then at the very least an acknowledgement that the input was received.

Employees realize the company can’t say yes to everything. Clearly, every employee preference can’t be accommodated nor can every employee suggestion be implemented. By making one choice, the company opts out of others.

Still, employees need to know that they’ve been heard. If your intranet accepts employee suggestions for ideas and innovations, make sure you’ve got a process in place for someone to read those suggestions and to thank the employee, whether or not that idea is one the company could adopt.

They also want to know the business reasons behind decisions. When employee input has been solicited for a key decision at the company, from healthcare benefits to flex workdays to the platform for a new intranet, some employees will be taken aback when their recommendation is not the one adopted.

Tell them why the decision that was made is the best one for the business. Show how that decision best supports the company vision. Share how employee input helped shape the decision, but wasn’t the only consideration.

It also helps to discuss those options discussed but discarded. For lack of a better example, let’s say management decided to make chocolate ice cream the official dessert in the company cafeteria. Those who suggested vanilla and strawberry and butter pecan might feel their opinions were ignored. Just by acknowledging some of the other possibilities considered, you’re letting employees know that their input didn’t drop into a black hole.

Finally, make clear the difference between a voice and a vote. By giving employees a voice in upcoming decisions, management is not handing over responsibility for decision making. At some point, leadership has to make the call and move on.

Is your company working to engage employees in discussions about upcoming decisions? Tribe can help.

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

The Leadership Bubble: Are Your Top Execs Just Talking to Themselves?

Sometimes the top leadership of a company can be something of a closed system. The C-level and management a layer below tend to spend their days rubbing elbows with each other rather than employees in the rest of the company. Without a strong effort to create channels of communication between top management and rank-and-file employees, there’s sometimes very little information flowing between the two.

Leadership often thinks employees know things they don’t. Important things for engagement and alignment, like their vision for the company, their strategic plans for growth, the values they want the company to use in doing business.

Towards the end of the Recession, we did some research on this topic with a limited sample of four or five large companies. First we spoke with leadership about their plans for handling the economic downturn and coming out stronger on the other end of it.

Without a single exception, leadership from every company said they had a clear vision. When we asked if they believed the employees were aware of and understood this vision, they said, yes, absolutely, we talk about it all the time.

Then we asked the same two questions of employees at each of those companies.What we heard from most of them were comments like: “I don’t think they have any idea how to get us through this;” “There’s no plan, not that I know of;” and “I don’t thing there’s a vision and it scares me.”

Why would leadership think employees know these things when they clearly do not? It’s because they themselves hear about the vision every day. They’re all sitting in the same meetings, seeing the same Powerpoints and having the same discussions. They know the vision, and they know how their department or division of the company is expected to contribute to that vision.

 In short, they’re talking to themselves. What’s needed is a strategic approach to communicating top management’s strategic direction and vision to people at all levels of the company.

They’re also not hearing the views of employees outside the C-Suite. If there’s little to no communciation direct from leadership to employees, then there’s probably not an established two-way communciation channel either. So corporate management is missing out on all that employees could tell them — from suggestions and innovations to complaints and concerns. Both are useful for improving the company in a myriad of ways large and small.

Interested in establishing communication channels between your C-level and the rest of the company? Tribe can help.

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

In Employee Communications, Listening Is Part of the Conversation

Internal communications professionals at large companies work hard to produce engaging content. Then they make sure they push that content through an array of communication channels. But that’s only one-way communication.

In any conversation, it’s important to listen as well as speak. Ever had a conversation with someone who talks constantly and never lets you get a word in edgewise? Or someone who barely listens to what you’re saying because they’re thinking so hard about what they want to say next? After a while, you start to feel like they don’t care much about you or what you think.

Just because we don’t ask employees what they think, that doesn’t mean they don’t have opinions. Leadership can be oblivious to employee concerns, issues and questions without a day-to-day method for sharing them.

Those annual or bi-annual employee engagement surveys fill an important role, but they’re not an ongoing conversation. You might want to include a few other methods for engaging in a true conversation with the employee audience, like    one or more of the following:

  1. Pulse surveys: These are a great way to get bite-sized feedback from employees. Posted on the intranet or an employee app, they make it easy for employees to anonymously respond to questions ranging from “Do you feel like you have the information you need to make Open Enrollment decisions?” to “How did you feel coming to work today?” One-question surveys give us an opportunity to react quickly to events or major change and to feel out general trends or attitudes.
  2. Leadership Email: One of the simplest ways to support the employee conversation is to invite people to email the CEO or another top leader directly. But there’s a risk of failure here as well. If employees send emails and don’t receive a response, that’s communicating the opposite of what you want. You might set up a special email address for these leadership questions and have them reviewed and organized by someone in communications. Cue them up so that it’s easy for leadership to respond — authentically but efficiently.
  3. Q & A Page: This can be particularly useful in times of major change. On your intranet or a separate change microsite, provide a page where employees can ask anything they want with the promise that the appropriate person from the leadership team will respond within a certain amount of time, say, a week. You’ll likely get many similar questions and can post one response for that specific topic. In our experience, only a few questions will need an individual email response. The great majority of questions received are of interest to a wide range of employees.

Of course, the trick with all of these is a response mechanism. You don’t want employees to feel like they took the trouble to engage, only to have their question or response dropped into a black hole.

Interested in better employee conversations? Tribe can help.

 

 

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

The Power of Not Doing: Improve Internal Communications by Doing Less

When’s the last time you did an audit of your internal communications channels? Most large companies use a myriad of channels and continue to add more, especially with emerging technology offering new options at a steady rate. You do need a varied mix of channels, because different employees like to be consume information in different ways, but do you have too many ways you’re communicating?

In “Strategy is Deciding What Not to Do,” Tim Williams describes Steve Jobs’  decision to cancel more than 300 ongoing projects in favor of focusing on just four. “By narrowing instead of expanding, Apple started down the path to becoming the most valuable company on the planet,” he writes.

Our experience at Tribe mirrors this, although on a vastly different scale. In 2009, we made the commitment to focus only on internal communications for large brands. When prospects or current clients asked for consumer branding, a field in which we’d built our careers, we referred them to other agencies we knew would do a great job for them.

The payoff was building a deep expertise in this narrow niche of internal branding.  The more we worked with large companies on specific employee communications issues, the more we learned. We began to see the same challenges repeated across companies and industries, and were able to take what we learned solving one client’s challenges as a shortcut to solutions for the next. There’s power in choosing not to do something.

The same can be true for your company’s internal communications mix. Most internal communications departments we see are stretched mighty thin. When you added a quarterly employee magazine, did you consider retiring the weekly newsletter? Do you still print posters even though you have digital signage in all your locations? Do you maintain multiple intranet-like sites? Are you still posting stuff on Yammer even though most employees aren’t using it anymore?

Discontinuing channels that aren’t working effectively is good discipline. Not only will it allow you to focus on doing a better job at fewer things, it can improve employees’ experience of internal communications. By limiting the places they feel like they’re supposed to check, you help them process communications more efficiently and effectively.

Interested in taking stock of your portfolio of internal communications channels? Tribe can help.

 

 

 

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.

 

Four Tips For Improving Your Internal Communication

If you asked each employee what the corporate mission statement is, or if they feel appreciated, what do you think they’d say? The answer isn’t an obvious one, especially if your business crosses state or country lines, not to mention continents. The further away employees are from headquarters, the less connected to leadership they seem to feel.

 Internal communications is so much more than just updating employees with business information. It can be used as a way connect with and build up each department. Employee engagement increases productivity and retention, and creating that connection doesn’t have to be hard. Here are four ways to improve the way you communicate within your company.

  1. For starters, encourage employees to speak up. They should know they have a voice and that their opinion matters. If they believe a process or meeting can be handled more efficiently, provide a way for their feedback to be heard. They just might be right.
  2. Be clear with your communication. Don’t just inform people of change. Tell them why change is coming, and how it will help the supply chain, reduce overhead, or eliminate redundancies. Change is always scary at first, but addressing concerns before they have time to manifest helps reduce some employee stress.
  3. Be creative in the ways you communicate. Don’t always rely on walls of text to get your message out. Just because you can summarize your message in an email doesn’t mean that’s the best way. Mix up your content with videos, or introduce friendly employee competitions. Just don’t be boring.
  4. Give recognition where recognition is deserved. This is particularly important when your business has many different hands involved in the creation of your product. Make sure your warehouse workers know how they fit in with the business, as in, there is no business without them. Each piece of the company is integral to the work flow, make sure people in sales, marketing, or engineering know that.

Some of this might be new, and some of it might be a reminder. The goal is to follow through with these guidelines and be consistent. A constant employee complaint is always receiving mixed messages—or no message at all— from corporate.

Interested in improving communications within your company? 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

15 Years of Internal Communications: What’s Changed and What Hasn’t

Tribe was founded as a creative branding boutique 15 years ago yesterday. And while our original focus was on traditional advertising, from the very beginning we were asked to take on internal communications projects for large companies. The industry has changed in many ways since 2002, and in others ways, it’s still exactly the same. Here are three observations:

  1. It starts in the C-suite: When CEOs believe communication with employees is important, they’ll create the budget to make it happen. Often we find some major organizational change — from the acquisition of another company to a shift in strategic priorities — will provide the trigger for stepping up internal communications. This is something we see more often now than we did 15 years ago. What hasn’t changed is the way an individual CEO will drive communications about vision and values — or not. If it’s not important at the top, it’s generally not seen as an important topic for the rest of the company.
  2. Technology has elevated our field. The advent of intranets was a major game changer, but the intranet game itself has changed dramatically over the years. Back in the day, UPS was our first client with an intranet (although they called it a portal and it was really just a collection of links). Then for years SharePoint was the only way to go and we used it for every site we built, from Porsche to PVH. Now, SaaS platforms make it much easier and more affordable — not to mention faster. We’ve been able to pull off sites in less than a month, without impacting the workload of the clients’ IT team.
  3. Print publications never died. Although digital communications fill the lion’s share of our clients’ communication channels nowadays, there’s still a place for print. In our early years at Tribe, we published a printed internal newsletter every month for Porsche. In black and white, because color was way too expensive. Today we do digital newsletters and magazines more often than print, but when there’s a large percentage of employees without dedicated computers, we still recommend printing. For one client, those printed magazines are mailed to each employee’s home. Expensive, yes, but it’s the only channel that goes directly from corporate to the folks in the manufacturing facilities.

One of the most interesting things about the internal communications field is that it’s changing all the time. New platforms, apps and technology provide nearly endless new possibilities for ways the company can communicate with employees. However, the most important element remains, whether you’re typing it up in black and white or shooting 3-D HD scented video to digital watches: it’s just human beings talking to human beings. Authenticity counts, regardless of the medium.

Interested in communicating more authentically to your employees? Tribe can help.

 

 

 

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

Will Direct Mail Work On Millennials? The USPS Says So

The USPS is making a marketing push to convince advertisers that Millennials will respond to direct mail. Will they?

The first voice I hear in my head, in response to that question, is our son’s. He is very quick to point out that you can’t make gross generalizations about an entire generation and that people, regardless of their generation, must be seen as individuals. I’ve heard Millennial employees say the same.

Yeah, yeah, of course. But still, the world that surrounds any generation during their growing up and early adult years will have an impact on forming them as individuals. Boomers didn’t grow up with iPhones — or even the internet. Millennials are different in their experiences of communication.

The second voice I hear is that of my inner creative director. Too often, in my opinion, communicators embrace or eliminate a channel based on past success or the lack thereof. But you can’t dismiss television advertising as ineffective if you’ve only run bad TV spots. You can’t assume an employee magazine won’t work in your company if the ones you’ve done before were poorly written and badly designed.

It’s a matter of content. If you do beautifully designed and smartly written direct mail that engages Millennials on a topic that’s relevant to them, then sure, direct mail could be an excellent channel.

However, Millennials as a group tend to have an ability to sniff out anything inauthentic. For instance, our high-school junior (same son) has been getting a flood of direct mail from colleges in the past year or so. It took him about five minutes to figure out that the same direct mail agency was writing most of them, with similar schticks repeated for college after college.

Now even the direct mail from Harvard and Stanford lies unopened on the kitchen counter. The good news, for the post office,  perhaps, is that he doesn’t click on a lot of their digital ads either. He reads a lot online about the colleges he’s interested in, but seems to skip anything he views as marketing.

When he was about four, he was gazing out the window on a car trip and remarked, “Outdoor advertising doesn’t work for me.” (Yes, he said outdoor advertising instead of billboards because he’s the child of ad people.) I asked him why not and he shrugged. “I can’t read,” he said.

Interested in improving the content in your communication channels? Tribe can help.

 

Nick Miller

Employee Engagement: Communicating corporate values

Start by identifying values that are easy to understand and remember. It is a formidable task to take a leader’s vision for the company and narrow it down to a few words employees should use to guide their efforts. On the flip side, if you want employees to truly adopt the company’s values, they need to be able to remember them and easily discuss their meanings. At Tribe, we recommend no more than three to five values written in language a third grader would understand.

Target recurring occasions and communications to acquaint and connect your workforce to your values. Values shouldn’t live exclusively on the poster on the break room wall. When planning any communications calendar, think of opportunities to incorporate the values into existing internal communication pieces, company events or programs. Rotate your values as the themes of your newsletter content or publish value-focused blogs and leadership videos. We especially like desktop tchotchkes such as Legos that reinforce values while also giving employees something to tinker with while working. The more instances your workforce happens upon corporate values, the better.

Designate values champions throughout the organization. Review your organization chart and identify middle-level managers in each department who have a passion for and exemplify the values. Charge them with ensuring the values are included in internal communication pieces, events and programs. Ask them to recognize other employees who are using or living the values and highlight those associates as heroes of the business. Involve your champions in the gap evaluation process of the values and reward them for the extra work and commitment they are giving to the company.

Integrate the values into your hiring and employee evaluation process. It is easy to say that your values are integral to your company’s success but to show employees the true importance you place on them, they should be included in the hiring and evaluation process. Include values-based questions during the interview as well as a checklist for hiring managers to use to ensure a prospect exemplifies them. A pre-boarding package that introduces values prior to an employee’s start date allows them to feel familiar with the values before their first hour is logged. It can also communicate that company values are of equal importance as other included elements, such as corporate policy. Incorporating your values into your evaluation process will both fortify the significance of values and offer supervisors the opportunity to coach an individual on how they can better employ those values within their work.

Looking to communicate corporate values to your employees? Tribe can help.