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.

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

Making Open Enrollment Less of a Drag: Four Communications Tips

Sure, employees often drag their feet on Open Enrollment, but who can blame them? Even though they realize their benefits decisions are important, nobody gets excited about that annual opportunity to wade through all that insurance language about out-of-network deductibles and qualifying events.

Our job as communicators is to make it easier for them. Yes, they need all the details included in the giant enrollment guide or on the website, but they could also use a little help at knowing what they need to pay attention to, what decisions they need to make, and what actions they need to take to be squared away until next year.

Employees are busy. Like the rest of us, their workdays are packed with, you know, work. Also like everybody else, they have many different demands on their time when they’re not at work.

What if you thought of the employees as CEOs? You wouldn’t hand your CEO a huge stack of benefits gobbledy gook without providing any sort of executive summary. You’d probably also outline the important decisions that need to be made and include a clear call to action.

  1. Try to summarize what they need to know with a headline and several bullets. If employees only had time to read one PowerPoint slide, what’s the most important stuff for them to know? Probably, that slide is about what’s different this year from last year.

2. Then give them a short list of the decisions in front of them. In the simplest, most human terms possible, outline the selections they’ll need to make. Do they need to decide between three possible healthcare plans and two possible dental plans? Is vision coverage optional? Instead of writing in HR-speak, say it the way you’d say it if you were emailing a friend.

3. Finally, what’s the Call to Action? Where do they go and what do they do to be able to check this whole Open Enrollment thing off their To Do list.

4. And then there’s the power of good design. Open Enrollment materials may be on the opposite end of the spectrum from pleasure reading, but that’s all the more reason to give them the benefit of good design. The enrollment guide and all the accompanying communications efforts  — whether that means emails, direct mail, digital signage or posters — can  be more effective with clean professional design that makes them easier to read and more engaging.

Benefits are part of taking care of employees, and Open Enrollment is how we present that smorgasbord of benefits to employees. Let’s make the communications around Open Enrollment a little more appetizing.

Interested in improving your Open Enrollment communications? Tribe can help.

 

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

Consumers and shareholders are watching the CEO — but so are employees

That must have been one hell of a conference call. A Who’s Who of CEOs, including Indra Nooyi of Pepsico, Virginia Rometty of IBM, Mary Barra of GM, Douglas McMillon of Walmart and Laurence Fink of BlackRock, all dialing in to discuss the appropriate reaction to Trump’s remarks regarding the Charlottesville tragedy.

Consumers and shareholders were waiting to see how CEOs responded, but so were their employees. These companies depend on a diverse workforce of employees from all walks of life. If the company claims internally to value diversity and leadership, if the corporate values include things like integrity and respect, those principles theoretically  apply to the top executive as well as the rank and file.

But, in practice, does the CEO actually make business decisions based on those principles? Most employees of those companies will never meet their CEOs. They may have little understanding of what their chief executives do from day to day. They may not even bother to read the chief executive’s blogs or attend their town halls or watch their videos on the intranet.

But employees identify with the companies they work for, and they see the CEO as the figurehead for the company. As the heads of global companies, these CEOs were being watched not just by employees in the U.S. but in countries around the world.

These business leaders aren’t politicians. One could make the argument that serving on an advisory council for the president is a business decision and not a moral one.

But CEOs depend on the hearts and minds of their employees to move their companies forward. It matters to employees to know their CEOs took a stand against moving backwards in our country’s ongoing stop-and-start progress towards equality.

Interested in CEO communications for your employees? Tribe can help.

 

Jeff Smith

The Second Pancake Theory of Design

Good design is like making pancakes. Most times, the first pancake gets thrown away. It’s burned or gooey, flipped too soon or too late. To get to the pancakes that are golden brown and perfectly fluffy, you’ve got to let the first one or two go.

 It’s another way of saying Fail Fast. We’ve all heard those tired clichés about how if you don’t fail you won’t succeed, and how the best thing for everybody is a good old-fashioned failure. And guess what: that’s absolutely true when it comes to design.

The first idea you have is rarely the best. You start with a blank piece of paper or an empty computer screen. And you take for granted that your first several tries will be bad. Or at least not great. And if you want to get to great design, you have to do the bad stuff first.

Let’s say you come up with something brilliant, but the client rejects it. That’s failure, in a sense, but it’s okay. It’s also an opportunity. Getting a fresh look at a project that you’ve already spent hours on is sometimes the best thing that could happen to your work.

 There’s always more than one right answer to a design problem. Even if the creative work rejected by the client was brilliant, there’s another brilliant idea out there just waiting for you to discover.

When you step back and reevaluate, you begin to see other design solutions. And sometimes, you might even like that solution better than the first. More importantly, your client might like it better. Put in the time, trust the process, and let the work speak for itself.

 Interested in better design solutions for your internal communications? Tribe can help.

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

Your EVP is also your RVP: Recruiting Value Proposition

Even though we call it the Employee Value Proposition, the EVP does double duty in recruiting top talent. How do you sell the best candidates on the big picture of choosing your company? How do you position your company as an employer of choice? An attractive EVP can help you land the best candidates and keep them. If strong enough, the EVP can even help lure employees to less desirable geographical locations or help overcome higher compensation packages from competitors.

The caveat is that whatever you promise needs to be real. If recruits find their experience as new hires to be wildly different from what the EVP claimed, they won’t stick around for long.

There are lots of right answers to the EVP question. Different strokes for different folks, and all that. So stick to what’s authentic about your company and attract talented people who will also be great fits. Here are a few thoughts on areas you might stress:

  1. Meaningful work and/or an inspiring vision: Sometimes the work itself is meaningful to a candidate. To engineers, that might mean being able to play a major role in developing new technology. To an interior designer in the hospitality industry, it could mean working on the launch of a boutique hotel. Other times, an inspiring vision is what creates the meaning, even for work that supports that vision indirectly. An ace accountant might prefer to work for a company with a vision of improving lives for children  than one with the vision of being the largest real estate investor in the strip center niche.
  2. Brand prestige or industry cachet: Think of this one as the cocktail party question: Where do you work? When an employee is asked that question, is the answer one that people recognize? If your company name happens to be a household word, that counts for something. So does being in an industry that’s getting a lot of buzz, like artificial intelligence, for instance. Claiming insider status can be a point of pride that’s valuable to the EVP.
  3. A culture of autonomy or teamwork: Recognize which style is more prevalent at your company and promote it as a strength. If employees consistently say the company feels like family and they value their experiences of working as a team, then that’s a strength to reflect in your EVP. On the other hand, if the company tends to run lean, maybe one benefit of that is employees having the autonomy to take on roles that might be beyond their job descriptions. There will always be pockets of both styles in any company, but be honest about which way your culture leans.
  4. Flexibility: Although a culture can provide flexibility in many different ways, most employees seem to value flexibility in terms of work accommodating their personal lives — whether that means being able to work from home when a child is sick or taking time out in the middle of the day to fit in a long run or fitness class. If your culture doesn’t support that sort of flexibility, look for other kinds. Is the culture flexible about allowing employees to make lateral moves into other departments or divisions? Is there flexibility in terms of a condensed work week? Do you offer unusual options and flexibility in your benefits?
  5. High stress/high rewards or laid back/life balance: An environment of high stress and long hours isn’t always a negative. Some people thrive in that environment, especially when they feel like they’re part of something big. Maybe your company is at the forefront of the Industrial Internet or a major player in Fashion Week or on the verge of finding the cure to cancer. On the other hand, maybe your culture is one where people put in a reasonable day at work and then get out the door on time to be with their families. Either way, that can be an appealing element of the culture described in your EVP.

How do you know what recruits will value about your EVP? Ask them. Don’t stop at doing focus groups and other research with existing employees. It’s easy enough to field questionnaires or focus groups with new hires from the past year or so. It’s worthwhile to explore the reasons they chose La-Z-Boy. Their answers might be different from the responses of employees who’ve been at the company for years.

Interested in developing or refining your EVP? 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.