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.

 

 

Steve Baskin

Leadership may know all the words, but don’t assume employees have heard that song

Leadership is listening all day long to a radio station employees don’t get. Those top layers of company management hear the same songs over and over. They know all the words by heart.

Most often, that station isn’t even on the dial for employees. They’re not in those meetings with C-level and the one or two layers below. They don’t see the same PowerPoints their boss’s boss’s boss sees. They’re not rubbing elbows with other SVPs or bumping into the CEO in the hallway. And the email that gets pushed to all employees describing the company’s new vision and values will rarely capture the nuance behind the new direction.

Tribe’s national research on functional silos indicates that executive management is often detached from employees. Although we generally think of silos as vertical divisions, in many companies the leadership level exists in its own horizontal silo.  And this exists even in some of the smaller companies that Tribe works with.

This divide can make it difficult for leadership to know what employees don’t know.  The vision of the company is clear to leadership because it’s a focus of their work. The business reasons for major, disruptive changes in the company are apparent because they’re dealing with those business objectives every day. Employees are often left out of this communication loop.

Vision and change, however, are the two topics employees want to know about and want to hear directly from the top. In other Tribe research, employees shared that when there’s a major change afoot, they prefer to hear it first from executive leadership. And when the discussion turns to where the company is headed, employees want their top management to fill them in on that vision. For understanding the details and how the change affects their individual roles, they’re comfortable following up with their direct managers.

Ironically, the same barriers that keep employees out of the loop makes it difficult for leadership to recognize their isolation. When we do employee interviews during the discovery phase of our work with clients, it often comes as a surprise to leadership that their employees feel so out of the loop on the vision and the reasons behind change.

That recognition is often the first step to aligning employees with leadership’s plan for the company’s future. When channels are developed to communicate directly from those at the top to the rest of the company; when employees feel in the loop on leadership’s plans; and when they see how their individual roles support leadership’s vision, it can create powerful alignment that streamlines success of the company.

The goal is to teach everybody the words to the songs leadership hums all day long. If you’re not sure where to start, Tribe can help.

 

 

 

 

Jeff Smith

Internal Communications: Brand guidelines are for video too

Video is a very strong form of communication. It can humanize executives, it can break down silos, and there is a level of entertainment that will get employees to watch and listen. But before you jump in and create a video, there are a few important brand tips to take into account, to make sure your video not only communicates the right message but feels like your brand.

Brand guidelines are important, and the same goes for video. You want to have a set of video brand guidelines that will assist anybody in the company who is making an internal video. These guidelines should include tone and voice, logo, color, and font treatment, shooting guides, and also editing techniques. Each of these categories will help ensure that no video will stray from what the brand stands for and how it is portrayed to all employees.

Go beyond the basics. It’s obviously very important to make sure you’re using the right tone and brand voice, along with correct colors and logos. But two of the most important things to consider when creating video brand guidelines are shooting tips and editing tips.

Show people in their work environments. Shooting guidelines are different for each company, but when interviewing employees or leadership, you might want to shoot people on the job rather than in front of backdrops. You want to portray your brand as authentic and genuine, and showing the actual physical locations of your employees can help portray that. It also helps employees throughout the company to get a better feel for other locations and areas of operation.

Think about post-production as well. Editing guidelines don’t have to be as complex as shooting guidelines, but the main tip for editing is to, keep it real. Although there are many tricks and tools available for video editing, they may not be appropriate for your brand. When in doubt, keep it simple. Better for your video to come across as authentic and human than slick and hokey.

Internal videos are a great medium for storytelling, for making human connections, and showcasing the people who work at your company. You want the way you communicate with your employees to be as powerful as the way you share the brand with the rest of the world. A set of guidelines will help you be consistent and professional in the way you communicate internally through video.

Need help creating video guidelines? Tribe can help.

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

The EVP: Addressing various life stages and personality types

The employee value proposition helps employees see beyond compensation and benefits to the larger picture. Although there are other elements of the EVP that attract top talent and keep your best employees in place, it’s safe to say all employees care about their pay and health insurance.

Beyond that, many elements of the EVP will be different for each individual. Some people are looking for a company where they can enjoy a better work-life balance. Other employees might secretly enjoy racking up air miles and staying in hotels all over the world. Some folks want to be able to wear T-shirts and flip flops to the office. Hourly workers in positions that don’t promise much career advancement might appreciate tuition assistance to get that college degree.

Although we can’t assume that diverse personalities will want the same things, people in certain life stages often want similar perks. New parents might particularly value the options of flex time or working from home. Those in the early stages of their careers will likely be looking for a company with a great deal of opportunity for growth. Although Gen Y employees often rank meaningful work high on their lists, that factor can also be a big deal to many Boomers.

The EVP provides answers to the employee’s question, “What’s in it for me?” It’s wise to remember, however, that the right answers will be different according to what any individual employee values most in life.

Ready to explore your employee value proposition? Tribe can help.

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

A strong agency partnership makes impossible deadlines possible

On Friday before I left the office, I posted a couple of sentences that have now had over a couple thousand views:

At Tribe, we like to think we can move fast when necessary, but I think we just broke our own record: Planned, wrote and designed an internal site in 72 hours. Our client gave us the assignment Tuesday afternoon and we handed off PSDs to the developers EOD today. Bam!

To be fair, that particular client deserves a tremendous share of the credit. I don’t want to give the impression that Tribe could do that large a project so quickly on just any account. When I stop to think about it, there are five ways this client enabled us to develop all the creative for a great-looking, content-rich site with some extra-cool functions so quickly.

1.    The client has let us learn their business. We know their organization inside and out, because they’ve let us in. They’ve given Tribe a great deal of time with their senior leadership team, particularly the CEO, but also the other key people driving the strategy and growth of the company. That gives us the ability to write intelligently about many aspects of the company, with a working knowledge of important nuances.

2.    They’ve built an internal brand. They’ve developed a very strong external brand and the internal brand is treated with the same importance. That makes it easy for us to design quickly, because we know where we’re going.

3.    They’ve invested in employee photography. There’s no substitute for photos of the actual people doing the work of the company. Because this client has a fantastic library of employee shots by talented photographers, the site we designed overnight expresses the reality of what it’s like to work there.

4.    They are super responsive at giving feedback. When we email them creative work, they don’t let it gather dust in their inboxes. That keeps us from sitting on our hands waiting to move ahead. We can only move quickly when our clients do too.

5.    They trust us to do good work. They know we’ve done this before and they assume we know what we’re doing, so they don’t feel the need to micromanage or to make multiple revisions. Besides, they don’t have time for that.

If any of those five factors were not in place when we were given the assignment, turning around the creative in 72 hours might not have been possible. Now, we’re counting on our developers to do their part on an equally demanding timeline.

Interested in building a strong agency partnership? 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

Employees don’t trust your leadership? Here are 5 tips for changing that.

Here’s the thing: trust is not about guaranteeing employees that nothing bad will ever happen. If building trust requires a guarantee of anything, it’s that the company will tell employees what’s really going on, even if it’s bad.

Impending job reductions are a great example of the sort of bad news that companies occasionally have to share. But employees are smart enough to realize that no company can promise lifetime employment anymore. Most employees don’t even want lifetime employment. They want interesting, challenging work, and in an ideal scenario, work that they find personally meaningful.

Employees start a new job with the expectation that eventually they’ll move on to another company, ideally when they themselves decide it’s time for a change. But unless they’ve been living under a rock, they recognize that sometimes companies have to lay people off, eliminate positions or somehow reduce head count.

Honesty, then, becomes the real building block of trust. Employees feel trust in their company — and thus do their best work and are most engaged — when they believe management is being honest with them. So how does a company go about doing that?

1. Tell employees about any significant changes in the company — and tell them fast, before the rumor mill and the media get a jump on you. Some CEOs and other leaders delude themselves into thinking that if they don’t say anything, the employees won’t notice that anything is going on. Wrong. Employees know when something is up, and in the absence of management communication, they’ll take their information wherever they can get it, often from each other. And what they tell each other is often worse than the reality.

2. Tell the truth, even when it’s bad news. Particularly when it’s bad news. If employees know that the company will be straight with them in communicating negative developments, then they tend not to worry so much. Ironically, sharing bad news makes employees feel more comfortable instead of less so.

3. Give employees credit for being smart enough to know business includes both ups and downs. Most people have experienced plenty of highs and lows in their own lives, and they have an understanding that things move in cycles. Just because the business is down today, doesn’t mean it won’t be up tomorrow.

4. Make room for employees to ask questions. You have to make this honest communication a two-way street. Provide a place on the intranet for employees to ask questions and post leadership’s answers. Hold a town hall and have your CEO respond to those difficult questions on the spot. Or provide your people managers with a source for responses to the questions they’re bound to get. The advantage of fielding those employee questions is that it gives the company a chance to respond to the issues that you have to accept are swirling around the workplace. The other side of that coin is that employees need the information they need to make their own decisions –even if that means their decision will be to leave the company. But by answering their questions honestly, you make it less likely that they’ll feel in a panic to jump ship.

5. Share leadership’s vision for the future. Most corporate management teams believe they’re doing this all the time, and it’s true that the people closest to them are familiar with the vision. But when we speak to the rank and file, there is most often a disconnect and the further away an employee is from the top, the less confident they are that the company leadership has a plan. This vision isn’t something you announce once and then check it off the list. It should be woven into all your communications, from the CEO blog to internal videos to the employee magazine to digital signage — and maybe even to your recognition programs.

Interested in building trust in your organization? 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.