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.

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

Some non-desk employees come with PhDs

Non-desk employees are a hard-to-reach audience for internal communications, because they’re moving targets. Rather than sitting in front of computers all day, they’re generally up on their feet.

These non-desk employees are often frustrated by their lack of communication from corporate. In Tribe’s national research with non-desk employees, we’ve found that this is frequently interpreted as a lack of respect for their contributions to the success of the company.

The non-desk audience in most companies is predominantly made up of hourly workers. The employees out on the manufacturing line, in retail stores, behind fast food counters and out in delivery trucks sometimes feel corporate is out of touch with the realities of their work.

But the non-desk audience also includes people with advanced degrees pulling down major salaries. The nurses and physicians in hospital settings are generally interacting with patients more than they’re sitting behind desks. Engineers out on oil rigs or in heavy industrial settings fall into this group as well.

As with any non-desk audience, Tribe recommends looking for unique touchpoints. What are the physical realities of that particular non-desk employee’s day? Those working the ER will have a dramatically different physical environment than an engineer in a paper mill.

The point is that there’s no one-size-fits-all solution to non-desk communications. That’s why a period of discovery is so important a the beginning of strategic development.

We recommend approaching this with a sense of curiousity about how non-desk employees spend their days. Only when you understand what it’s like to walk a day in their shoes can you being to develop new solutions. Don’t let the hourly workers be right about corporate being out of touch with the realities of their work.

Interested in new touchpoints for reaching your non-desk employees? Tribe can help.




Steve Baskin

Avoiding the trap of treating employees like a second-class audience

Why would we treat employees any differently than we’d treat prospective customers? If it’s important to communicate a message to employees, then it’s worth putting the same attention to detail and quality of execution into the work as we would with external communications.

Tribe’s experience is that many companies don’t make this a priority. After getting to the finish line recently with a fairly complex internal communications piece, the timing of some of the marketing elements had shifted which rendered some of the details incorrect. Because of the expense of reprinting the physical piece, a decision was made to send a note accompanying the piece explaining the last-minute changes and that some of the information was incorrect.

The company wouldn’t send a note along with a TV spot explaining that some of the details are wrong. If the piece had been intended for consumers, you can be sure the materials would be revised – whatever the cost. I’ve been there and done that. Heads might roll, but the company would never knowingly send out consumer marketing that’s wrong.

Companies typically spend tens of millions, hundreds of millions, even billions of dollars per year to reach consumers. Research and results in the marketplace tell these marketers that this is money well spent. After all, we don’t know exactly who these consumers are, so it takes a large investment to find those consumers in order to build demand and loyalty for our products.

However, the inverse argument is a weak one. Some would say that since we know exactly who our employees are, we don’t need to assign the same importance, or budgets, for internal communications and the employee brand. This supports the view that employees are second-class citizens and a fine place to cut corners and costs whenever necessary.

At Tribe, we see the employer brand as the intersection of the consumer promise and whether that promise is kept. Employees are consumers. They’re bombarded with brand communications every day. They can discern thoughtful communications from boring mumbo jumbo. As internal communications professionals, our job is to understand what’s being promised externally and ensure that we’re matching that promise step for step internally.

We recommend the same high standards for internal communications as the company’s external marketing. As communications professionals, we need to understand the business need and objectives behind any internal campaign. It should be interesting and engaging. It should involve multiple channels to ensure that our audience is reached. We should be able to measure the effectiveness of the campaign in order to improve our efforts the next time around.

The great news is that we don’t need tens of millions of dollars to execute effective internal communications plans. We know who our target audience is. But effective internal communications does require a focused and intense effort to ensure that what we’re living internally matches what we’re saying externally.

Interested in improving the caliber and effectiveness of your internal communications? Maybe Tribe can help.







Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

CX depends on EX: The link between Voice of Customer and Voice of Employee

To improve your CX, work on your EX. The employees are the ones delivering that customer experience, so it makes sense to check in with them to see how it’s going. Do they have the tools and processes in place to make customers happy? Are there issues that come up again and again as customer complaints? Maybe they are frustrated by their inability to solve customer problems because they’re not empowered to make the decisions that could make it right.

Just like the company depends on Voice of the Customer, it’s helpful to listen to the Voice of Employee. When Tribe begins work with a large company, we often find that the top layer of management is a little out of touch with the rank and file employees. This isn’t because they don’t care – far from it – but because they don’t rub shoulders with frontline employees on a regular basis.

In our Discovery phase of a strategic communications plan, we recommend talking with employees as well as management. In focus groups, one-on-one conversations or phone interviews, we ask employees about their experiences. What do they love about their jobs? What are the challenges? How does the typical day unfold for them? What’s the culture like, compared to other places they’ve worked?

Hearing about the employee experience can reveal easy fixes and larger challenges. Most importantly, it suggests and informs strategies for closing the gap between the desired culture and the current reality.

A stronger culture and a better EX lead naturally to more engaged employees and thus an improved CX. In a 2014 study by the Temkin Group, highly engaged employees were “more than three times likely to do something good for their employer, even if it’s not expected of them; almost three times as likely to make a recommendation about an improvement at work; more than 2.5 times as likely to stay late at work if something needs to be done; and more than two times as likely to help someone else at work.” Those are exactly the sort of things that lead to above-and-beyond service and improved customer experiences.

It’s a logical chain of events. If you listen to the VOE, and improve the EX, then you’re more likely to hear from the VOC that you’ve created a better CX.

Interested in learning from the voice of your company’s employees? Tribe can help.

Brittany Walker

Three ways to get the most out of your employee survey

Employee surveys can become a source of invaluable information for your company. Obtaining honest employee feedback is an essential step to improving engagement and productivity. However, a lot of the legwork is necessary after the survey is complete. Tribe has developed a list of our top three tips to always keep in mind.

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 after delivering 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 would love to help.

Steve Baskin

Effective Internal Communications is Everyone’s Responsibility

During a discovery interview last week, a senior executive noted that if the communications team was left to manage this particular communications initiative, the outcome of the project was going to be far too narrow. His point was that internal communications is a company-wide issue rather than the prerogative of a single department. And as Jocabim Mugatu so wisely allowed in Zoolander, “He’s exactly right!”

Effective communications inside a company is the responsibility of every executive, every manager and every employee – everyone has a role. It’s leadership’s responsibility to prioritize the importance of consistent and appropriately transparent communications as well as ensuring that information is properly cascaded throughout the company. It’s the responsibility of managers to interpret the communications and relay it to front line and non-desk employees. It’s everyone’s responsibility to act on the communications and provide feedback whenever necessary.

To get this done, though, the communications team is critically important. Their role is to support business communications that enable the company to be as productive as possible. To provide the most effective channels for communications. And to ensure that barriers to open communications are minimized.

It starts with a keen understanding of the vision and values of the company’s leadership. What is the company trying to achieve? How will they go about it? How will individual employees and teams achieve the company’s goals? What do employees need to know on a daily basis to in order achieve the goals?

When an initiative or a significant change is happening, the communications team should understand how the initiative affects various demographics throughout the company – from business leaders to front line sales to production floor employees. It’s rarely a one-size-fits-all conversation. While everyone doesn’t need to know everything, there should be a broad understanding of what the company is doing, and how the initiative helps achieve company goals. There should be an understanding of how employees’ individual roles contribute to the success of the initiative.

Communications channels are a key consideration and will likely be different based on the target audience and the type of message. There are a number of questions that should be answered. Do employees use computers for their work? Do they have access to the company intranet? Do they have a dedicated email address? Do they have mobile access? What are the realities of the work environment? How involved or complicated is the message? Knowledge of the effectiveness of various channels for different types of employees (and for different kinds of communications) will minimize communications roadblocks.

The tone and positioning of the message must be appropriate given the subject matter and audience. Is this a serious communication? Clearly, it’s not appropriate to be too terribly funny when messages might have a negative impact on employees’ livelihoods. However, there are many times when a novel channel approach or a witty headline might help the message get through to employees. Keep in mind that these communications have a lot of competition for mindshare – even in the work place.

Finally, we should ensure that the communication worked as intended. Many times this will be obvious based on the actions of employees. Other times, internal research is required to measure improvement to understand if the message or changes are taking place as intended.

So yes, the entire company is responsible for effective internal communications. Most often though, having a skilled communications professional on board will ensure that the communications work as planned. Tribe can help.

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

With employee communications, a shotgun is better than a rifle.

When you’re talking to employees, should you be thinking rifle or shotgun? Marketing folks often refer to the advantages of a targeted rifle shot rather than a shotgun approach, but in internal communications, the reverse is more likely to get the job done.

You can reach some people with every channel but you can’t reach everyone with just one channel. Consider the differences in media preferences. Most millennial employees use their mobile devices more than their computers. Non-desk workers in manufacturing, retail and other industries where employees are largely offline are probably not going to be spending a lot of time on your intranet.

Besides generational differences and the physical realities of certain jobs, employees will have their own personal preferences. Just like some people prefer real books to Kindles, some employees still like to be able to touch and hold their communications. Some will welcome internal communications sent to their personal mobile devices; others will hate that. Almost all those employees with a company email address would prefer to receive less of it.

Even the same employee will prefer certain communications one way and other types of communications another. Is it urgent? Maybe a text or email is the right channel. Is the communication articulating the company vision and values? They might rather be able to flip through a printed piece for that. Is it a quick tip or nice-to-know company news? Some employees might click on that when they visit the intranet. Others, who don’t spend much time on the intranet, might rather see that information as they’re walking by digital signage.

Think also about a channel to give employees a voice. Make sure you’re providing at least one channel for employees to share a question, concern or idea with leadership. And put a process in place for employees to get a reply. Posing a question that seems to fall into a black hole is worse than not being able to ask the question at all.

Are you developing a communications plan to reach more of your employees? Tribe can help.

Using familiarity to break down silos

Silos are one of the most common issues Tribe encounters. For large organizations, it’s virtually impossible to completely eliminate them. Although, there are plenty of steps that can be taken to combat the negatives that are related to silos.

Often times, employees are reluctant to reach out to other coworkers. Either because they don’t know the right person to contact for potential collaboration, or for fear of their ideas being judged. Another disadvantage that comes with silos is not knowing how to tailor conversations to specific coworkers. When you get to know fellow employees, you get to know their likes, dislikes and how to talk to them.

One way to begin breaking down these silos is to get people familiar with each other, especially employees in different locations or departments. Coworkers that know each other are more willing to share ideas, be open and collaborate, without having the fear of being judged. Social intranets are a very common way of solving this problem, especially when it comes to geographical and departmental silos.

This is just a glimpse of how silos can effect your organization. For more information on how your organization could break down silos, please visit our Best Practices one-pager: 4 Ways to Connect Across Silos.

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

Two biggest hurdles for mobile internal communications

Making internal communications available on employees’ mobile devices is an increasingly promising option. More than two-thirds of Americans now have smartphones. And mobile allows us to reach employees wherever they are – even in the field or on the frontline.

It seems like an obvious solution, but there are two major challenges a company must address before launching employee communications via mobile. The first is that most companies are paying for fewer employee phones than ever, so communications would have to go to employees’ own devices. Some employees are fine with that; others are not so eager to share their personal phone numbers with the company.

The second challenge is the legal question of whether mobile communication requires employees to address company business when they’re off the clock. For high-level executives, this may not be an issue, but those are the folks who are easier to reach by computer anyway. For hourly workers, those least likely to have a computer at work, mobile could be overstepping the company’s bounds.

There are ways around both of these challenges, but each company must address them in ways appropriate to their industry and culture. An opt-in opt-out mobile program respects the privacy of those employees not willing to hand over their personal mobile numbers. For other companies, a custom app might be a more easily accepted solution since it sidesteps the issue of phone numbers completely.

There’s also more than one response to the legal question mentioned above. At some companies, it’s a non-issue. At others, the question alone is a deal breaker for any internal communications through mobile. There are also companies that have developed a reasonable approach in between the two extremes.

In the next issue of the Tribe Report, focused on non-desk communication, you’ll find a few best practices that could be useful for your own mobile strategies. If you’re not already receiving our magazine for internal communications professionals, please email [email protected] to request a print or electronic subscription.