Steve Baskin

Fire Hose Communications? A Smarter Approach to Internal Communications

Fire FightingJust to be clear, the fire hose approach isn’t working. Let’s stop with that nonsense.

People go to work to do a job. This job tends to make them quite busy. This limits our ability to communicate with these people.

The problem is that there’s a lot of important information that employees need in order to effectively do their jobs. They need to understand their job responsibilities. They need to understand the company’s vision and how their role supports that vision. They need to understand how to sign up for benefits. They need to know about things that are going on around the company. And many people are trying to tell them these things.

Because of this time conundrum, the common reflex is to try to cram the largest possible number of subjects and words into whatever time we have. Whether it’s an on-boarding conversation, a quarterly town hall or a weekly huddle, it sometimes feels like there were just five or six too many things on the agenda. And the PowerPoint slides always seem to be filled to the gills with dense paragraphs and numbers.

Normal human beings can’t learn everything about everything in a day. Subjecting employees to half-day meetings and an onslaught of communications and expecting them to retain any of it is pointless. Subjecting them to two thousand word emails that provide every detail of their health care offering is equally pointless.

From the employee’s point of view, it’s like trying to drink from a fire hose. There’s too much coming too fast to comprehend even half of what’s heard. Soon those quarterly meetings or daily huddles become a waste of time as employees learn to tune out before they even arrive at the meeting.

So how do we communicate all of this information in a way that it might actually stick? Here are four ideas:

  1. Build a plan and calendar-ize your communications. Map out your communications objectives and build a schedule that includes all of the communications that an employee is going to need over a quarter, a year, whatever.
  1. Dole out the communications in bite-sized chunks and with a dependable cadence. For example, allow an on-boarding program to last 60 or 90 days versus one day or a week. Slot in the various subjects and schedule out a weekly conversation while they’re getting hands-on experience in their role. Keep the initial conversation as simple and straightforward as possible. And always provide access (links or directions) to the details for those inquisitive and fast learners.
  1. Peel back the onion (Shrek, 2001). Start out with the broad strokes. If you’re communicating the company’s vision, go ahead and announce the goals and strategies. But know that the work has only just begun. Over the next several months, explain why the company’s strategy is a winner, and explain how employees’ individual roles will bring the vision to life. Do this by painting vivid imagery with concrete examples of people around the organization who are walking the walk.
  1. Be interesting. If your folks are going to take the time to watch your videos or read your articles, please don’t bore them to death. Reward the people who pay attention to the communications by providing something that they care about. Why do Facebook posts go viral? Because they move people in some way. They’re funny or they’re heartbreaking or they unearth a truth that you’ve always known, but never knew how to express. Go ahead and be interesting with your communications.

If executed appropriately, by the end of that period, employees will know more of what they’re supposed to know. And over time, they’ll learn how to apply corporate communications to their roles and responsibilities. Importantly, they’ll understand how they’re contributing to the success of the company and will have a much better shot at being deeply and actively engaged.

Need help figuring out a communications strategy? Tribe can help.

Brittany Walker

Four tips to launch a successful ambassador program

You’ve got a great new communications channel, now what? In most cases the next step is to start producing news and information to keep employees informed. Establishing a successful internal communications platform like a well-rounded intranet, newsletter or digital signage is great, but the content shared through these channels is what keeps employees coming back for more.

Tribe recommends an ambassador program. Gathering, sorting and editing content from all segments of a company is a seemingly impossible feat, but we’ve got a solution. Here are four of our suggested tips for a successful ambassador program launch:

  1. Recruit the right team. A program of ambassadors positioned throughout the company can be a natural source of news across functional silos, business units or geographically scattered locations. However, the right employee is key. A successful ambassador is often a more junior employee eager to make a name for themselves. Energy level is more important than experience.
  1. Spread the word. Tribe usually recommends an announcement from management to reveal their team’s new ambassador(s). Communicating the news of the new ambassadors will have two purposes: letting employees know who they should go to with their news, and giving the ambassador the recognition they deserve.
  1. Provide the tools they need to be successful. Before ambassadors can become content managers they will need some guidance. Introducing training tools such as ways to find news, how to connect with newsmakers and what makes information newsworthy will go a long way in the successful launch of your program.
  1. Emphasize the WIIFM factor. The role of ambassador adds to the workload, so clearly outlining what’s in it for them is important. Good news for you, becoming an ambassador is a great opportunity for employees. Not only will they have the chance to stretch beyond their current job descriptions, they will be able to connect and learn from some of the people doing the most important work in the company.

Need help getting your ambassador program off the ground? Tribe would love to help.


Nick Miller

Engaging Employees: 4 ways to get the most out of your interns

Group of happy business people

For companies across the country, May marks the onboarding of summer interns as campuses empty and students prepare for their first taste of the corporate world. Here is some advice on how to engage your interns in order for both parties to get the most out of the summer months.

  1. Include them in your corporate culture. Interns are temporary employees, but they are still employees. Treat them like you would any other employee and engage them in the company’s culture. Illustrate to them how their role is important in attaining the company vision like any other associate. Introduce them at town halls, feature them in the company newsletter, and invite them to after-hour events. You will get more productivity out of interns who feel like they are part of the company rather than fringe employees, not to mention benefits like future applications and positive word-of-mouth recommendations to friends.
  2. Allow them the opportunity to collaborate across silos. Internships are a good time for students to prove to themselves they are in the right field. Allow them to work with multiple departments in order to get a feel for what they want to do. There is often a large discrepancy between what a student will learn in class and how to apply that knowledge in a corporate setting. They may find that what they want to do is, in reality, very different. Communicate to them how that’s okay and help them hone in on what they are passionate about doing by giving them the chance to dip their toes into other departments and job functions. You may find that having a cross-departmental intern will improve general communication and collaboration between silos, even after they have returned to school.
  3. Send them away with tangible skills. An intern is always looking to bolster their resume. While general workplace skills are a valuable acquisition over the course of an internship, they won’t be able to put “fluent in corporate email lingo” on their resume. Depending on the field of work, give interns a chance to become an expert in a relevant software or trade such as Salesforce, Adobe Suite, or coding HTML. Even something as fundamental as basic Excel competency can make or break a future job application and take up a little more white space on their resume.
  4. Pay them. While it is perfectly acceptable to host unpaid interns, cover your bases to make sure that your internship program is legal. Under the Fair Labor Standards Act, it is against the law to employ interns in a manner that their work is a substitute for regular workers without paying them at least minimum wage and overtime compensation. Unless the employer is a non-profit organization, a company can only employ unpaid interns if their employment program is akin to an educational or training course. They can shadow employees and be taught workplace skills, but any production by the intern that leads to a direct profit without properly rewarding their efforts can land your company in hot water and is unfair to the intern.

Looking for more advice on how to engage and communicate to interns? Tribe can help.

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

Five ideas for engaging employees with wellness programs

HiResCompanies often launch employee wellness programs because of the health benefits, but these programs also can increase employee engagement. By activating the programs with initiatives that focus not just on the individual but help employees connect with their co-workers, build departmental and cross-departmental relationships and feel part of a group, wellness can foster a much higher level of employee engagement. Here are five ideas for how to make that happen:

1. Start a competition: This could be an annual fitness competition, based on sticking to individual exercise goals; it could be a weight loss challenge; it could be collecting miles walked or run to reach a collective mileage goal. 

2. Use your intranet to add a social element: Let your employee intranet make individual wellness efforts visible and create both a competitive spirit and a venue for support. Employees can establish individual fitness profiles with goals and report their progress against those goal; they can post their planned workout for the day; they can track their mileage or time,; or they could even find tennis partners or running buddies from the ranks of their colleagues.

3. Create a partner program: Whether employees are working on weight management or smoking cessation or just general fitness, studies show having a partner can increase success rates. That could mean pairing two people both working on the same sort of goals, or assigning a mentor who’s had success in that area to someone just beginning to make a change in their life. For instance, you might have an experienced runner mentor a co-worker just beginning to train for their first 5K. Or you might pair two people trying to quit smoking as support for each other. These partnerships can be established and maintained via the intranet.

4. Launch a virtual competition across locations: This can be a particularly strong program for companies with locations spread across the country or around the world. Competing against other locations helps employees realize they’re part of something bigger than just their own office, and can build great awareness of and engagement with far-flung business units and colleagues. 

5. Host a healthy lunch contest online: People love to post shots of whatever they’re eating online. Why not harness that same impulse for an employee competition? Employees snap a picture of what they brought for lunch, post it on the intranet, and then other employees can vote for it or simply “like” it. This could also include a recipe element, but doesn’t need to. Shots of hummus and raw vegetables or a healthy chili or big salad need little explanation for others to emulate — and could prompt some spontaneous online conversation as well, which can connect employees who might otherwise never have had any reason to interact.

Interested in more ideas for employee engagement? Tribe can help.

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

Time management tip: Start with a jar and some rocks

Here we are, looking at twelve fresh new months. There’s no telling what you can get done in 2016. Just as a little New Year’s door prize, I want to offer one of my favorite time management analogies. I’ve heard it from several sources, so I’m not sure who originated it, but it’s pretty darn brilliant.

Imagine you’ve got a jar in front of you. Into that jar, you want to fit several large rocks, a few handfuls of smaller stones, and a bunch of sand.

What happens if you put the sand in first? Maybe it fills up the first few inches of the jar. Then you put the stones in. And finally, you’re ready to add the big rocks on top.

The big rocks might not fit. That’s what happens when we run our days like that jar.

Your day is a jar, a finite space. Okay, not space, but time. It is what it is and cannot stretch beyond what it is.

The big rocks are the really important things you want to do. The stones are the less important but big things. The sand is all those little things that need to get done. Scheduling that meeting. Calling the plumber. Responding to that email. Sending that birthday card.

Put those big rocks in first. Make sure you find space for them in your day and your life. Don’t let them be an after thought, or an “if there’s time” item. Then you can fill up the rest with the stones and the sand. There’s almost always room for a little sand at the end. Just don’t let the sand be your first priority.

Interested in getting some big rocks in place for your 2016 internal communications? 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.

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

Gen Y employees and the pressure of finding one’s passion

Younger employees just entering the workforce are often preoccupied with finding their passion. Gen Y (not to mention Gen Z, which is right on their heels) has been told — by their parents, teachers and our culture in general — that this is what they should look for in a job.

But that’s a lot of pressure. Identifying one’s passion requires more self-knowledge than an entry-level employee might be expected to possess. It places a tremendous importance on choosing the exact right position. For some, this expectation can be paralyzing, or at the very least intimidating.

It also promotes what might be called belly button gazing. By definition, searching for one’s passion means focusing heavily on the self. Extreme self pre-occupation is probably not the best way to be happy, which would seem to be the whole point of finding one’s passion.

Instead, maybe we could encourage these younger employees to look for ways they can help. That puts a whole lot less pressure on finding a passion-filled job, and switches the emphasis to a willingness to be useful and a heart that’s open to opportunity.

The irony, of course, is that by looking for ways to help, one is apt to discover passion. By following the path that appears when one looks for a void to fill or a problem that needs solving, one can become fully engaged and find a personal passion exists where it might have been least expected. Accepting a job where one has the chance to be useful can lead unexpectedly to meaningful work.

Interested in engaging younger employees in your company? Tribe can help.

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

Five ways to educate employees on more efficient email habits

Email overload is epidemic in corporate America. When Tribe interviews and surveys employees in large companies, it’s almost always one of the top complaints regarding internal communications. Sometimes employees receive so many internal emails in a day that they begin to dread vacations, if only because the first day back at the office means a seemingly bottomless mailbox of waiting messages.

This is imminently fixable. There are concrete, practical steps employees can take to improve the efficiency of the emails they send and the methods they use to process their inboxes.

Let’s assume your employees have already mastered basic email etiquette, like not writing in ALL CAPS. Unfortunately, that’s where much of existing email education ends.

How do you teach them to move through their inbox efficiently so they don’t miss important messages or feel overwhelmed by the sheer quantity? And how do you help employees learn to compose emails that make it easier for recipients to respond? Here are five ways Tribe could help you do it:

1. Training: Whether it’s self-directed online tutorials or classroom sessions, the most thorough approach is a concentrated session focused on email efficiency practices.

2. Cheat sheets: A desk drop of laminated email tips or a downloadable PDF can communicate useful tricks to promote more productive email habits, either as a standalone communication or as a takeaway piece for training sessions.

3. Intranet: This could be its own web feature or content for an existing one, but the intranet is an ideal place to plant quick tips that change daily or weekly. It also provides content that truly can make employees’ jobs easier, which is a primary role for any successful intranet.

4. Digital signage: An engaging headline and a two-sentence explanation is plenty to communicate a useful suggestion for email efficiency.

5. Emails: Oh, the irony. But making a joke of sending email to reduce email could be part of what’s engaging about this communication. If you’re looking for a teachable moment, employees going through overflowing inboxes is probably an impactful touch point to promote better email practices.

Interested in communicating more efficient email processes to your employees? Tribe can help.

Improving communications with collaboration

Do you need to be face to face to collaborate? In Tribe’s national employee research on functional silos, 92 percent of survey respondents said it was “extremely to somewhat necessary.” In the qualitative portion of the study, we heard comments like, “When you have face-to-face interaction with someone, there’s just this level of trust that you don’t have otherwise.”

Yet we also heard from some respondents that they felt more free sharing creative ideas from the safety of their keyboard. Although the Tribe study didn’t look at introverts vs. extroverts, we suspect introverts are less likely to find face-to-face necessary. 

Simply Communicate published an article on a study titled “Exploring Creativity in The Glorious World of Internal Communications” that raises interesting points related to both collaboration and the introvert/extrovert issue.

90% of respondents said collaboration across the organization would support creative thinking. This is almost obvious and something most people know already – two heads are better than one. It’s very easy to get stuck on an idea but hard to break out of that mold and think of something fresh and unique. Collaboration is one way to achieve those fresh and unique ideas.

Their findings also indicate that different approaches are helpful when communicating with introverts. When communicating with introverts try to respect needs for space or privacy. Try to let them get a thought out/ don’t demand answers from them, they could be mulling over something great. Also, do not try to turn them into extroverts.

When communication with extroverts give praise in front of others. Show them their enthusiasm is appreciated and valued. Give them time and space to explore new solutions, projects or ideas.

Need help figuring out how to spark creativity and inspiration in your organization? Tribe can help!

Steve Baskin

Corporate leadership and two-way communications

Fast Company recently featured a study that examined the success ratios (and failures) of attempts on summiting Mt. Everest. To understand the impact of hierarchical cultures in high-pressure group situations, the study analyzed more than 5,000 expeditions and 30,000 climbers over the past 100 years. The researchers included Eric Anicich and Adam Galinsky from Columbia Business School along with Roderick Swaab of INSEAD, an international business school. Their focus was on expeditions whose climbers were from countries (27 of them) with a more hierarchical business approach.

In the simplest terms, climbers from more hierarchical countries had the highest rate of success in summiting Everest. Unfortunately, this same subset had the highest mortality rate on the mountain. The organization and leadership provided by hierarchical structures allow initiatives to move forward more efficiently and productively. However, hierarchy can also create an environment that inhibits low-ranking team members from speaking up and sharing their valuable and critical insights. These insights can mean the difference in life or death in certain high-risk situations.

The study speaks to examples of the wealthy, type-A adventurers who domineer the expedition team. (I’ve noticed that Europeans often call these Americans.) The one-sided relationships can cause experienced Sherpas to keep quiet when their wisdom might be needed to keep the team alive.

The reported lack of team coordination on the Asian Airlines crash in 2013 is a similar example. After months of analysis on equipment, weather and other factors, a lack communication (between very experienced pilots) received a large percentage of blame. In what is known as Cockpit Culture, the senior captain is viewed as supreme. In this instance, the co-pilot, who happened to have more experience with both the type of aircraft and the airport, did not feel that it was appropriate to override the Captain until the situation was beyond repair.

 We’re not all going to be climbing Everest or piloting a 777, but we see examples of this in more mundane workplaces. At Tribe, we regularly see instances of employees who are uncomfortable or unwilling to air issues or bring ideas to the table due to the fear of backlash or apathy from the feeling that they’re never listened to.

We work with health care organizations, where this lack of communication could indeed endanger lives. We work with engineering and technology groups where design errors and problem-solving issues could have significant longer-term consequences. More often, though, we work with retail and service organizations where a lack of two-way communications simply means that the company isn’t getting the most out of the knowledge base of its frontline organization.

Clearly, the goal is for a company’s leadership to drive toward a culture of open and productive communication throughout the organization. However there’s always going to be a percentage of an employee population that feels uncomfortable providing input on or critiquing management’s strategies or tactics.

Through engagement surveys and other feedback loops we can understand where communications roadblocks exist. We can develop a decent sense of the root causes of the issues or threats. As communicators, we can ensure that channels are in place that allows team members to provide timely input – anonymously if necessary – on projects or initiatives that are important to the company.

The research team sums the issue up very nicely. “Whether a team is climbing a mountain in the Himalayas or tackling a high-stakes business challenge in the boardroom, it’s critical to leverage the coordination benefits of hierarchy while also embracing an environment that encourages and rewards participation and input from all levels,” said Anicich.

Working on two-way communication strategies? Tribe can help.