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.

Jeff Smith

Better discovery research lead to better design

When Tribe begins a client relationship, we usually spend time in discovery before developing a strategy. Account people from Tribe go out to various client locations and interview leadership and employees, hold focus groups, do surveys. The point of that is to understand the culture and to build a strategy that’s meaningful for the company.

But it’s also really important for the creative process. It’s very important in internal communications to get a total understanding of a client before jumping straight into creative work. Design for an internal brand doesn’t ring true if you just skim the surface. It requires depth and understanding, a total immersion, a feeling like you are now a part of that company.

 The bottom line is, the better the discovery process, the better the creative. With this understanding and fresh perspective, you’ll be able to not only get a full grasp on the business. But you will help push the creative process. A thorough discovery process will allow the creative team to understand nuances of the culture that aren’t apparent at first glance. Through that discovery process you’ll get a feel for the culture, business process, the tone of the company, and the type of people who you’re communicating to.

All that is essential to develop creative that truly speaks to your employee audience. With good discovery, the designers and writers have a deeper foundation to build on, so they can create work that will feel authentic, original, and fresh.

Interested in creative work that really speaks to your culture? Tribe can help.  

 

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

Out of sight, out of mind: Helping remote employees connect with colleagues

It’s easy to forget about all those people out there in home offices. For those whose major interaction with colleagues in the corporate office is email and the occasional conference call, engagement may not be as high we’d like. By not being physically present, they miss out on a lot of relationship building that happens as a matter of course when people show up in the same place every day for work.

Here are three tips for helping this employee populations build their visibility:

  1. Put a face to a name: In the absence of in-person interaction, mere visibility can help. Just being able to visualize a face makes people feel more connected and familiar. Encourage profile pictures on the intranet, try an occasional video call, or even use FaceTime. (Millennial employees might be more comfortable with FT than those of us in their Boomer years.)
  2. Picture their environment: To help connect team members in a department that includes remote employees, or to introduce a new work-at-home employee, have people share a photo of their office or desk. Include everyone on the team, not just the remote folks. It’s always nice to be able to picture where someone is while you’re on the phone or emailing.
  3. Look for opportunities to meet face-to-face: In Tribe research with employees nationwide on cultivating collaboration, respondents told us that even meeting someone in person one time can help them feel more comfortable sharing ideas and working together. There may not be budget to have remote employees travel to corporate on a regular basis, but try to find a reason for them to do so once in awhile, and make sure they meet everyone they can on those visits.

Interested in engaging your remote employees? Tribe can help.

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

To reach non-desk employees, walk through a day in their shoes

Do you think your frontline, manufacturing or retail employees don’t notice that you’re not talking to them? They do, according to Tribe’s research with non-desk employees of large companies nationwide.

Even worse, they interpret a lack of internal communications as a lack of respect. When non-desk workers don’t hear from their company leadership, they assume it’s because their day-to-day contributions to the company’s success are simply not valued at the top.

Of course, it’s not easy to reach all those employees who aren’t sitting in front of computers all day. But that’s not a great excuse not to try. Just because it’s hard doesn’t mean it’s not worth doing.

At Tribe, we recommend looking for touch points that are unique to your employee population. It helps to go out to the plant or the store or the hotel. Walk in the employees’ shoes, go through the paces of their days. Where do they enter the building when they come to work? Where do they eat lunch? Where do they park? Are they driving a truck, operating machinery, loading boxes or standing on a retail floor? We look for touch points that might be less obvious than a poster in the break room.

Over the years, we’ve come up with some pretty weird touch points to reach non-desk employees. Can you pre-load the trucks the night before with a rearview mirror hangtag? Can you put signage inside the van they ride to work from the off-site parking lot? Can you use floor decals? Window clings on restroom mirrors? Fortune cookies?

You need to understand the physical environment to find those untapped touch points. The trick is to get out from behind your desk and go see what it’s like out there. If you’ve already done that and have come up with some really smart touch points, we’d love to hear about it.

Looking for new ways to reach your non-desk audience? Tribe can help.

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

When communicating major change, watch your step.


How does a company communicate a major change? In many cases, not well. Following are three sure-fire ways to completely blow it with employees:

1. Don’t say anything at all until every single detail is final. This is an awesome idea if you want employees to feel insecure and uneasy. Especially if they somehow suspect change is afoot and begin to spread that suspicion via the grapevine.

2. Tell them what they want to hear. For instance, if there’s currently no plan for layoffs, go ahead and promise them that all their jobs are definitely safe and they don’t have a thing to worry about. If that changes, they probably won’t even remember the earlier communication.

3. If it’s bad news, don’t talk about it. If you don’t acknowledge that something has gone wrong, or that a difficult change is coming, then you can keep employees from knowing a thing about it.

What’s that? You prefer treating employees with respect? Then you might find the following tips more in keeping with your approach:

• Don’t patronize them by withholding negative news. They’d rather know what to expect than be left in the dark.

• Tell employees as much as you can as soon as you can. If aspects of the change are not yet decided, tell them that too.

• Don’t make the mistake of thinking employees get all their information about the company from the company. They have plenty of other sources, from the financial news to the local news and from social media to social connections.

Interested in communicating change more effectively? Tribe can help.

Jeff Smith

The Internal Brand Starts With The External Brand

Your external brand or consumer brand, lives in a competitive environment alongside thousands of other brands. In order to stand out among the competition, brands do their best to differentiate themselves from others while remaining consistent – same logo, same colors, same fonts.

Internal communications departments often use their external branding for emails, the intranet, digital signage, and the like. Internally, your communications aren’t seen in rotation with other brands. Your audience can tire of the same thing over and over because there are no other brands working in the space to break up that experience. Oversaturating your internal communications with your external brand will eventually make your efforts invisible to the workforce.

Leverage your internal brand to create a more engaging experience by developing an internal brand. By expanding and building upon your external brand, a unique branding will emerge that employees already recognize. Not only will a fresh and expansive internal brand renew their desire to be engaged with, but it also acts as a cue for them to know that those communications are meant for them only.

We suggest developing your internal brand by creating the following:

  • Employer brand rallying cry
  • Adding additional colors to the existing brand palette
  • Design motif for backgrounds and other uses
  • Building a library of original employee photography

The internal brand should be authentic, genuine, and support the external brand. A good internal brand can transform your internal communications and create a better experience for your employees.

Need help with an internal brand? Tribe can help.

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

If You Want Employees on the Intranet, Skip the Spin

For intranet content that truly engages employees, think more like a newspaper editor than a PR exec. In public relations, you try to push the messages and information that you want the readers to know. As a journalist, you look for the stories your readers want to know.

A PR perspective* can result in the rose-colored glasses version of company news.Employees are sophisticated consumers of media, and they’ll see right through that rosy lens. A perpetual and obvious spin can erode trust rather quickly.

Taking a journalistic approach to content will mean thinking through the questions employees will want answered. Telling the whole story, without sidestepping the bits that might not be such good news, results in the sort of authentic content that employees crave.

That doesn’t mean you can’t promote company messaging on the intranet. Among other topics, it can and should contain content that helps employees align with the company vision; educates them on company accomplishments and the achievements of those in other functional silos; and connects employees across geography to remind them they’re part of something larger than their immediate work team.

The intranet is also an excellent place to tell the company’s side of any unsettling event or major change. It offers an opportunity to counteract the rumor mill by sharing the reasons behind a change or the company’s response to an unfortunate event. It can reduce employee stress by giving them the information they need to feel confident in the way management is moving forward. If you want employees to consider the intranet their go-to source for company information, give them an honest appraisal of what’s happening now, what will happen next, and how, and when and to whom.

Remember that an intranet is a pull medium. Employees have to want to see what’s posted, or you’ll never get them to go there. To make your intranet a must-read for employees, offer the news they want, delivered in a way that gives them credit for being intelligent human beings.

Interested in making your intranet the go-to source for employees? Tribe can help.

*This post is not intended to disparage the fine work of public relations professionals, many of whom we respect and admire to the nth degree.

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.