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.

 

 

 

 

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

Building employee trust requires honesty — and proactive communication

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.

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.

They start a new job with the expectation that eventually they’ll move on to another company. Ideally, this would be when they themselves decide it’s time for a change. But unless they’ve been living under a rock for the past decade, 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.

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 an intranet page for submitting questions or employee Q&A in town hall meetings or some venue for your people to ask management about the tough issues. That gives the company a chance to respond to the concerns 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. Although by answering their questions, you make it less likely that they’ll feel in a panic to jump ship. Often, the reality is not nearly as bad as employees imagine it to be.

5. Share the management 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. There are many ways to do this, but one of the most effective is a management blog, which we at Tribe liken to “walking the halls, electronically.” A employee blog allows a CEO to communicate one on one with the entire workplace, and to reinforce the vision over and over, and to discuss a range of aspects of that vision.

Interested in communicating proactively and honestly about an upcoming change? 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.

 

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

When communicating major change, watch your step.


How does a company communicate a major change? In many cases, not well. Following are three sure-fire ways to completely blow it with employees:

1. Don’t say anything at all until every single detail is final. This is an awesome idea if you want employees to feel insecure and uneasy. Especially if they somehow suspect change is afoot and begin to spread that suspicion via the grapevine.

2. Tell them what they want to hear. For instance, if there’s currently no plan for layoffs, go ahead and promise them that all their jobs are definitely safe and they don’t have a thing to worry about. If that changes, they probably won’t even remember the earlier communication.

3. If it’s bad news, don’t talk about it. If you don’t acknowledge that something has gone wrong, or that a difficult change is coming, then you can keep employees from knowing a thing about it.

What’s that? You prefer treating employees with respect? Then you might find the following tips more in keeping with your approach:

• Don’t patronize them by withholding negative news. They’d rather know what to expect than be left in the dark.

• Tell employees as much as you can as soon as you can. If aspects of the change are not yet decided, tell them that too.

• Don’t make the mistake of thinking employees get all their information about the company from the company. They have plenty of other sources, from the financial news to the local news and from social media to social connections.

Interested in communicating change more effectively? Tribe can help.

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.

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

In Employee Communications, Listening Is Part of the Conversation

Internal communications professionals at large companies work hard to produce engaging content. Then they make sure they push that content through an array of communication channels. But that’s only one-way communication.

In any conversation, it’s important to listen as well as speak. Ever had a conversation with someone who talks constantly and never lets you get a word in edgewise? Or someone who barely listens to what you’re saying because they’re thinking so hard about what they want to say next? After a while, you start to feel like they don’t care much about you or what you think.

Just because we don’t ask employees what they think, that doesn’t mean they don’t have opinions. Leadership can be oblivious to employee concerns, issues and questions without a day-to-day method for sharing them.

Those annual or bi-annual employee engagement surveys fill an important role, but they’re not an ongoing conversation. You might want to include a few other methods for engaging in a true conversation with the employee audience, like    one or more of the following:

  1. Pulse surveys: These are a great way to get bite-sized feedback from employees. Posted on the intranet or an employee app, they make it easy for employees to anonymously respond to questions ranging from “Do you feel like you have the information you need to make Open Enrollment decisions?” to “How did you feel coming to work today?” One-question surveys give us an opportunity to react quickly to events or major change and to feel out general trends or attitudes.
  2. Leadership Email: One of the simplest ways to support the employee conversation is to invite people to email the CEO or another top leader directly. But there’s a risk of failure here as well. If employees send emails and don’t receive a response, that’s communicating the opposite of what you want. You might set up a special email address for these leadership questions and have them reviewed and organized by someone in communications. Cue them up so that it’s easy for leadership to respond — authentically but efficiently.
  3. Q & A Page: This can be particularly useful in times of major change. On your intranet or a separate change microsite, provide a page where employees can ask anything they want with the promise that the appropriate person from the leadership team will respond within a certain amount of time, say, a week. You’ll likely get many similar questions and can post one response for that specific topic. In our experience, only a few questions will need an individual email response. The great majority of questions received are of interest to a wide range of employees.

Of course, the trick with all of these is a response mechanism. You don’t want employees to feel like they took the trouble to engage, only to have their question or response dropped into a black hole.

Interested in better employee conversations? Tribe can help.

 

 

Steve Baskin

Understanding Global Culture: You Don’t Have to Go It Alone

There’s been a recurring theme at Tribe regarding mergers, acquisitions and integrating cultures on a global basis. Tribe primarily works with North American companies and many of those organizations have a global footprint. We’ve had quite a number of conversations regarding acquisitions that required the communications team to have immediate global knowledge.

Sometimes the communications team can feel overwhelmed by this new challenge. But the advantage of acquiring companies with a footprint that goes beyond your current map is that you also acquire new employees who already have experience from that region in their pockets.

Employees in local markets will always understand things about their market that someone sitting in an office in the US will never know. The key to making these relationships work is the ability to offer subject matter expertise while learning from and taking advantage of your colleague’s local market knowledge. This allows the local markets to be a key part of the decisions.

Your new teammates are likely just as passionate about the business as you are. Tribe was recently working with a global diversified manufacturer to develop an internal brand strategy and communications materials. The US-based team was responsible for developing materials that would be used globally. So in addition to our weekly status calls with our US-based clients, we would regularly include team members from EU and Asia on our planning calls. They were smart, passionate and engaged folks who not only appreciated being included in the conversation, they added invaluable knowledge.

When integrating new businesses and cultures following an acquisition or merger, you have a wonderful opportunity. There will be a learning curve for figuring out how best to integrate communications and goals for the team. But you won’t be on the hook for all of the knowledge on day one.

Make your lack of local market knowledge an opportunity by opening the doors of communication with your new teammates. Be prepared to talk about the things that have worked well with your communications activities and start fresh by getting rid of elements that haven’t worked as well.

What’s really important is to remember that culture can’t be imposed. The acquired will not immediately become your culture. The acquisition means that there will be an evolved culture. The opportunity for your team will be to figure out what’s great about your culture and what’s great about their culture and work hard to capitalize on those things.

If the world has just become your (internal communications) oyster, don’t be intimidated. Pick up the phone. Get on Skype. It’s time to make some new friends.

Need help integrating new cultures into your organization? Tribe can help.

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Steve Baskin

Internal Communication is Change Communication – Or Should Be

We talk about change communication as a category of internal communications. In fact, Tribe’s capabilities presentation has a page on Change Communications. But perhaps we should evolve our thinking on this a bit.

Every email, announcement, blog, post, recognition, video or podcast should be signaling some type of change. I read the email or watched the video. I learned something I didn’t know. I changed my behavior because of the communication. I’m now able to do my job better. That’s the real purpose of internal communications. Right?

Internal communications should be written to change behavior. Otherwise, we shouldn’t be wasting people’s time with yet another email, blog or article. What’s the point of asking someone to spend time reading or seeing what you’ve developed if it’s not designed to change behavior or help employees do their jobs more effectively.

I suppose this might add a bit of complexity or challenge to our jobs as communicators. To develop effective change communications, we need to know a few things. 1) What we want them to think or do after reading the message. 2) The gap between the existing and goal knowledge. 3) What the result will look like if we can get everyone to change a behavior.

If I read an article in the company newsletter or culture magazine, it should be more than just an interesting read. The article should educate me on what’s going on around the company and perhaps offer insights on things that I could be doing to help the company achieve its business goals or vision – and potentially change my behavior.

“I just need to make an announcement. How is announcing the winners of an internal contest change communication?” Quite often it may seem like there’s no opportunity to elevate a message beyond its basic points. In this example, instead of just announcing the contest winners, there’s an opportunity to revisit the original purpose of the contest. What were you trying to get employees to do? And how does that behavior support the goals of the company? There’s almost always an opportunity to tie the conversation back to the company’s goals.

But let’s be careful not to load these communications up with so much stuff that they stop communicating. There is beauty in simplicity. There are lots of important emails that communicate that something must be done before some date. And that’s a form of change. I didn’t know the date before I read the email. Now that I do, I’ve made a note in my to do list to have a conversation with my spouse and sign up for benefits before the window closes. That’s change too.

And keep having fun. Making your communications consistently strategic doesn’t mean they can’t also be fun. It’s important to be engaging and entertaining with your communications. But cute for the sake of being cute at the office can be quite a waste of time. We prefer strategically fun.

It doesn’t matter what you call your communications. What’s important is not missing the opportunity to affect change.

Want to make sure your communications affect change? Tribe can help.