Nick Miller

Equip Your Employees with the Tools They Need

This week, the popular instant messaging application Slack released a feature that allows communication across companies using shared channels. This functionality is the next step in Slack’s attempt to replace the most unnecessary of back-and-forth emails that clog the inboxes of workers all over the world. As of October 2016, there were nearly 5 million weekly active Slack users, so they are doing something right.

There are obvious benefits to applications like Slack and Yammer and intranets with similar functionalities built in. Besides a decrease in email traffic – especially the unnecessary copying of non-essential recipients – the instant messenger is just what it claims to be: instant. Yes, email is more or less instant, but inboxes fill up quickly and having to read paragraphs at a time can slow down productivity. Slack also has some other nifty abilities, like a robust search tool with filters, file sharing, and ways to collaborate on code.

But there is a gray area surrounding the use of a free service like Slack being used as a non-sanctioned business tool. We often hear from clients that employees have discovered the app on their own and have worked it into their day-to-day. Some companies don’t mind the addition and give their employees credit for finding solutions that make their jobs easier.

Others are concerned with a myriad of issues. Security is a concern when it comes to information leaking to those who shouldn’t have access, especially when sharing information across companies. Another is the ability for rumors to spread like wildfire due to the ease and speed with which information can be disseminated on an instant messaging app.

So, what does Tribe think the best solution is? Fill the gap before someone else does. We preach this all the time with our change communications, but it is relevant to any and all internal communicating.

If your employees are in need of a tool, they will search out a solution. Don’t wait for productivity tools to bubble up. Instead, charge your managers with identifying which tools are right for their groups and promote the use of that tool for productivity. Ask your employees directly what they need to make their job easier. A short and simple survey can provide all sorts of relevant information as well as benchmarking for future analysis of your tools.

Ensure that your communications are proactive to match the speed of your tools. Especially in times of change or bad news, combat false information by communicating to your employees first. Have a process in place for your leaders to cascade accurate communications across the company in the case of an emergency.

Interested in employing collaboration tools? Tribe can help.

Brittany Walker

Three tips to optimize your employee survey

Employee surveys can be a great source of valuable insight into your company. Obtaining honest feedback from employees is an important step to improving overall engagement. However, a lot of the legwork comes after the survey is complete. Here is a list of our top three tips to get the most out of your employee survey.

1.  Slice and dice your findings. Asking demographical questions at the beginning of your survey like age, gender, tenure, work function, etc., will allow you to take your analysis to the next level. Knowing that 20 percent of your employees are unhappy with their work-life balance is good to know, but being able to pin point a specific department or office location where the problem is occurring could help solve the issue even faster.

2.  Keep your word on the survey’s anonymity. If the survey was advertised to employees as anonymous, it’s important that it is treated that way. Employees are much more likely to respond candidly and honestly if they know you won’t be able to trace their answers back to them. Working with a third-party vendor like Tribe can also contribute to employees feeling more secure in their responses.

3.  Deliver on your promise. One of the worst things you can do afterdeploying a survey is not following up. Communicating that your survey will affect change will empower your employees and managers to speak openly about their challenges and suggestions. Think of the reasons you are administering the survey and be prepared to take action on what you uncover. If nothing else, you can share the survey results with your employees.

Tribe specializes in crafting, executing and analyzing employee surveys. If you need help with your next survey, Tribe can help.

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

Thread the vision and values through all your internal communications

Communicating the company vision is one of the most important roles of internal communications. We often recommend a vision and values book and/or a vision and values event to put a stake in the ground to launch or reinforce these cultural underpinnings.

But that’s only the beginning. Just because you’ve told employees once, doesn’t mean the job is done. In fact, the job of communicating the vision and values is never done. To truly embed those things in an organization, to have employees internalize them so that they use the vision and values as guidance for the actions they take and decisions they make in their day-to-day work, will require an ongoing effort.

It also requires using more than one channel. Or even more than one facet of each channel. The goal is to thread the vision and values through everything you do.

We recommend a simultaneous top and bottom approach.
Look for channels for leadership to communicate these topics in an authentic way. That might be through video, magazine articles, intranet updates, town halls and/or any other available channel.

At the same time, find ways to showcase employees using the vision and values. That could be through a recognition program. It could be employee spotlights on the intranet or in your employee publication. It might be digital signage, video, blogs, social media or any other channel at your disposal.

You can also look for ways to tie topics back to the vision and values. When you’re communicating news about the volunteer program, frame it with one of the corporate values such as teamwork or community. When you introduce a massive IT overhaul, maybe you can link it to the value of innovation or efficiency. In an article on two different manufacturing plants working together to revamp the order system, point to the value of collaboration.

We often calendarize the stream of communications to reflect the vision and values. Each issue of a quarterly magazine, or each video in a monthly series, for instance, might be themed with one element of that messaging. Not only does this help thread the vision and values through multiple channels over a quarter or a year, it also allows for a closer look at one element at a time and drives more interesting content.

Interested in incorporating the vision and values into more of your communications?
Tribe can help.

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

Measurement is great — but how are you using the results?

Are you tracking metrics on your internal communications? If you know what employees are clicking on, what they’re opening and how much time they’re spending there, that’s fantastic.

Now, how are you using that information? Being able to track long-term results over time is interesting, and can be helpful when you’re planning your communications strategy for next year.

But one of the best reasons to watch these metrics is to tweak what you’re doing as you go. It allows you to try smaller shifts and see how employees respond.

For example, we once launched a CEO Q&A feature in an employee publication.
Employees weren’t clicking on it very much. Rather than jumping to the conclusion that employees just weren’t interested in what leadership had to say about the business, we tried exploring the same topics in video. We also included other members of the leadership team, so that employees could see and hear not just the CEO but other top executives as well. Viewership was much higher than readership of the article had been.

For the holiday edition, we tried a blooper reel. It was the most watched video of the year. Now we’re experimenting with adding a few outtakes at the end of each video. So employees who watch the entire leadership video on a serious topic — like a recent acquisition or why a customer-centric approach is important to the business — are rewarded with a handful of funny bits at the end.

Sometimes people seem to view measurement as a pass-fail equation. Yes, it can show what’s succeeding and what isn’t. But communication is fluid and multi-factorial, and measurement allows us to fiddle with the dials before making a final call on whether something’s working or not.

Interested in using measurement to tweak your communications? Tribe can help.

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

Prepare for Crises By Communicating Ahead of Time

hiresCrises will happen. Most companies have a plan in place for communicating with the media, customers and the outside world, but what about inside the walls of the company?

Employees are a critical audience, even more so in times of crisis. Not only will the crisis likely impact them personally, but they will also become unofficial spokespeople for the company, whether you like it or not.

Prior planning is also no substitute for building a foundation of trust before you need it. If in the regular course of business, you can establish a consistent history of honest communication that treats employees with respect, then you’ll be way ahead of any potential crisis. That equity of trust can reduce stress throughout the ranks in a crisis, as well as help employees feel they’re being kept in the loop as usual.

At Tribe, we advise clients to establish a practice of having executive leadership regularly share company news with employees. Cascading news through managers is fine for everyday, operational news, but it’s important to have some communication directly from the C-level to the frontline.

We’re not talking about giving employees the secret formula for Coke. Have execs share major developments in the company, as well as cultural communications regarding the mission, vision and values. Get employees accustomed to hearing from the big cheese, before there’s some crisis to communicate.

Perhaps ironically, sharing bad news is even better in terms of building employee trust. If earnings are down, if a major customer is lost, or if you experience some other blow to business, resist the urge to remain silent. Develop the habit of sharing both the highs and the lows with employees; then they’ll know they can trust the company to give it to them straight, no matter what.

Interested in improving your executive communications with employees? Tribe can help.

Steve Baskin

The Predictive Nature of Change Communications

highway traffic on a lovely, sunny summer day. Cars are passing fast.

I love trying to predict when we’re going to get to the destination on a family trip. I figure out the distance. I estimate an average speed. I do the math on speed times and distance. Then I guess at how many rest areas or food stops we’ll have to make. I’m pretty good at it and amaze family and friends by guessing within a minute or two. I’m sure that makes me sound really, really cool.

What’s interesting about it to me is trying to make educated guesses given all of the possible variables. Traffic that no one expected. An extra bathroom stop. Thinking that the Starbucks is actually at the exit instead of a mile or two away. Of course, if something happens to slow the trip down, there’s always the option to speed things up a bit when we’re back on the highway. Or take the foot off the pedal if things are on schedule. The point is that by staying focused on the outcome, there are things we can do to help ensure that we get the proper result.

Change communications are very similar. When we’re working with a client on a change management project, we’re typically asked to make as educated a guess as is possible to determine what type of communication is going to elicit the desired outcome.

At Tribe we refer to this as Change Marketing. Our ability to get as close as is possible to the right communication strategy requires a great deal of discovery and immersion. Like the car trip, it’s about brainstorming over as many potential outcomes as we can imagine. Thinking through the purpose of the initiative. How the change might affect the lives of those involved. How the change affects the work environment. How the change aligns with the existing culture.

By the way, they call it change management, not change do-it-once-and-you’re-done. Change within organizations requires vision for where the organization is trying to go. And it requires time, effort and energy to make sure you actually get something done. Also, we call it Change Marketing, not change we-made-the-poster-so-we-must-be-done.

The answers may already exist, or we may have to go find them. But when we’re able to do our job at its highest level, we map out what is needed and work with our clients to the to the right result.

Tribe’s process typically involves conversations with leadership to understand the vision that supports the change. Focus groups with a diverse number of employees to get a picture of the existing mindset and to unearth obstacles that might be in the way. Employee surveys to quantify the direction of our thinking. By the way, these surveys can also serve as a baseline measurement for the initiative.

Good data plus intelligent planning equals better results. When you’re as educated as you can be about the trip you’re about to embark on, and you’ve thought through the potential detours along the way, you have a much better chance of knowing when and how you’ll get there.

Want some help with your change initiatives? Tribe can help.

Stephen Burns

How do you determine your company’s culture?

In an ideal world, your company’s culture stems and grows organically from day one. It’s a grassroots force that spreads from employee to employee, that continues to grow and evolve to support your business.

But often, companies grow rapidly and culture gets lost in the hurried pace of business. Culture takes time to resonate with people. If a company is opening offices and acquiring new partners, especially globally, it can be hard to unite employees under a common culture.

Companies need to evaluate their culture in order to connect with employees. Elements of cultures are undoubtedly growing amongst employees. Your company can really gain an advantage from uniting what is already out there. From a cohesive culture, employees can communicate easier and more effectively. It also helps to ground your business and lets employees understand both your company purpose and their personal purpose within your company.

Here are three steps from Tribe to help discover what makes your company culture tick.

1) Leadership Interviews

Start at the top, by sitting down with members of the leadership team to discuss where they would like their culture to be. Ask about their vision for the organization, as well as their mission and values. Get them to talk about their one-year or five-year goals for the business. You can’t develop a communications plan to align employees with the vision if you don’t understand what that vision looks like.

2) Employee Interviews or Focus Groups

This can be done one on one, either in person or by phone, or in group sessions, although like any focus group, one strong personality can dominate the discussion without a skilled moderator to foster more inclusion. For a representative sample, make sure you’re including employees of different business units, geography, seniority, gender, ethnicity and from functions that cover the gamut from sales to enterprise services to manufacturing or the frontline. This is a time consuming stage, but will provide some of the most critical insights for strategic development.

3) Employee Survey

Surveys allow you to quantify the themes and issues you’ve uncovered in the qualitative stages of Discovery and to gather more general cultural statistics about the employee population. The most useful surveys are structured in ways that allow for a close look at the cultural differences between business units and other silos, geography and demographics. An effective cadence for a comprehensive survey is once or twice a year. Including a number of open-ended questions helps ferret out the intention behind the responses. But keep in mind that it’s important to build in an appropriate level of anonymity so that employees feel safe in answering openly. For a couple of reasons, employee surveys should be fielded regularly. First, these are important tools that measure changes or improvements and allow leaders to understand what’s going on inside the company. Second, if surveys only occur in the midst of major change, lots of angst and negative energy can become associated with an otherwise helpful tool.

Stephen Burns

The elements of a highly engaged employee

We often discuss the benefits of an engaged employee. And they are almost endless, as far as your company is concerned. A more engaged employee means increased productivity, creativity, collaboration and, in general, evolution of talent within the business. Employees also benefit from being engaged by feeling more appreciated and integral to the success of the company, and having a true voice with the power to create real change.

What actually makes an engaged employee engaged? This question usually conjures up visions of programs and brand new channels, some of which may be necessary to facilitate the types of communication necessary to engage. But there are much more basic elements that happen on a day-to-day basis that affect employees’ answer to the question, “Do you feel highly engaged?”

The good folks across the pond at Energi People have broken it down. And as you can see, most of the criteria are things that can be achieved without sweeping changes to your company’s infrastructure. They are small but powerful strategies that, with the right approach and coaching, can be incredibly effective in the engagement portion of your company’s communications.

employeeengagementproductivity

via Energi People

Need help finding the best ways to implement these strategies? Tribe works with your company’s leadership and management to find the best ways to communicate and engage. Give us a call. We’d love to help.

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

Do discovery to determine the gap

Do you know the gap between what you want employees to know and feel and what they actually think and feel right now? As you’re developing a communications strategy for any major initiative, whether the topic to be communicated is a major change or the company vision or anything else, you need to understand their current point of view.

The typical engagement survey may not tell you how far away your current reality is from your desired reality. To understand that, you need to ask questions specific to the issue at hand, and to listen for the nuances of what employees are really saying.  For that you need more than quantifiable data. You need qualitative conversations.

Time consuming though it may be, focus groups and personal interviews can help you get at the back story. For instance, we once worked with a company that had recently hired a very charismatic and energizing CEO. He was fantastic, and all the survey data indicated that employees’ opinions of him were very high.

But over the course of a handful of focus groups with employees in a wide range of functions, seniority and geography, an interesting theme emerged. Yes, employees thought the new CEO was awesome and they supported the new vision he brought to the organization. Although there also seemed to be an undercurrent of stress, not about the changes he was making, but about their own workloads.

This seemed curious, especially since there had been no layoffs associated with the new CEOs tenure. People still had largely the same job responsibilities they had under the former CEO.

As we invited employees to speak to this undercurrent of stress we had noticed, we learned something we would never have uncovered through survey questions. For one thing, we wouldn’t have known to ask about it.

Employees were stressed because they couldn’t keep up with the CEO. This was a man who seemed to need little sleep, who was at work early and stayed late, who could move from town hall to public appearance to site visits without ever seeming to tire. Although he had no expectation of employees keeping the same kind of schedules, they assumed he did.

That’s something we could address in the communications strategy. It revealed the gap between what leadership wanted employees to think and feel and what they really were thinking and feeling. Knowledge of that gap provided an important perspective for developing communications related to the culture the new CEO wanted to create.

Interested in learning more about your communications gaps? Tribe can help.

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

Employee surveys for manufacturing, hospitality, retail and other offline workers

How do you survey non-desk workers? Online surveys are great for employee populations sitting in front of computers, but they aren’t very good at capturing responses from all those on the manufacturing line, in retail stores and in other non-desk positions.

Some companies ask non-desk workers to visit a shared computer in a break room or at a kiosk. Without some serious motivation, hourly employees are not going to be lining up on their break time to answer a company survey.

As in most non-desk employee communications, you need to be a little more creative. Here are three ways to make surveys more accessible to employees without dedicated computers:

  1. Scannable paper surveys:  How did they do surveys before online surveys? Right. On paper. You print the survey; make it available to employees at a time and place that’s convenient for them; and establish a process for collecting those surveys. For scanning, you can contract with a vendor for scannable surveys, or use software that allows you to scan responses in house.
  2. 800 number: Here’s a low-tech solution that’s non-desk friendly, although you’d want to keep the number of questions limited. Employees call a toll-free number, respond to multiple choice questions by pressing a number and to open-ended ones by recording their response.
  3. Text surveys: In many non-desk employee populations, more people own smart phones than home computers. If you offer employees the chance to opt in to text surveys, many of them will likely be willing to answer one to three question surveys at regular intervals.

One caveat to all the above: respect the limits of the non-exempt employee’s workday. You’ll probably want to make it very clear that employees are not expected to answer these surveys on their own time, and to construct a way for them to participate while they’re on the clock.

Interested in finding ways to reach your non-desk employees? Tribe can help.