Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

To Shift Culture, Be Honest About the Gap Between Reality and the Vision

Or “Defining reality and creating hope go hand in hand,” as the retired CEO of Yum! brands David Novak put it in a recent LinkedIn post. (FYI, Novak has recently published a book on recognition titled “O Great One!”) His comment was directed at the need for leaders to move past defining reality to “show people where that reality can take them.”

That need also extends to internal communicators. There’s sometimes a temptation for internal communicators to paint the culture a rosier hue than it actually is. People fear being negative. But employees know their culture, because they live the culture, and if you ignore the existing issues, you undermine their trust.

The first step to shifting culture is to acknowledge where you are now. It takes courage to be honest, because if we’re honest, most cultures aren’t where we’d like them to be. Yet human beings, and their resulting cultures, have a tremendous capacity for change.

When you use the reality as a starting point for a vision of what could be, you harness a tremendous amount of power for change. Or as Novak might say, hope.

As internal communicators, our job is to be clear about the first and inspirational about the second. In other words, this is where we are, and this is where we’re going to go. We own our reality, and we also claim our vision.

Interested in shifting your culture? Tribe can help.

 

 

 

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Nick Miller

Be the source of information your workforce can trust


The world experienced a global erosion of trust in their traditional sources of information in 2016.
The rise of fake news, alternative facts, and echo chambers, whether it be partisan press or social media, has hindered factual information from being treated as such.

The consequences of a workforce that is, by default, skeptical of information has wide ranging implications to your company. Ensuring your internal communications are excluded from such doubt of validity could be a difficult, but necessary, undertaking.

The good news is that, as an employer, you already have a foundation of trust to build upon. The 2017 Edelman Trust Barometer, an annual analysis of global trust in organizations, paints a positive picture for the influence of business. Business, as an institution, experienced the least significant degradation in trust by percentage, over government, media, and NGOs. According to Edelman’s study, three out of four people agree that a company “can take specific actions that can both increase profits and improve the economic and social conditions in the community where it operates.”

But business is not entirely in the clear, and must act in order to retain their favorable position. Globalization and wildly unbalanced financial gain of executives are common sources of fear and distrust among the workforce. Edelman’s study has also uncovered a corrosion of trust in experts, regardless of field, with CEO credibility decreasing the most in the past year, dropping to an all-time low. Peer-to-peer communication is considered most credible as people seem to be most comfortable with a spokesperson that is akin to themselves.

A number of conclusions can be drawn for internal communications. One of Tribe’s takeaways is that, now more than ever, corporate communications are most effective when it is communicated in a manner that makes all employees feel like they have the most accurate and current information about the company. That means giving the business reasons behind a major organizational change, for instance. It also means sharing numbers, whether you’re discussing the engagement survey or financial results.

Interested in maintaining the credibility of your internal communications? Tribe can help.

 

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

Nature Abhors a Vacuum: 3 Reasons Companies Fail at Communicating Organizational Change

Aristotle, portray,the philosopherWhat happens when a company undergoes major change and doesn’t communicate with employees? Aristotle may not have had internal communications in mind when he made his comment about a natural void being instantaneously filled, but the concept still applies. When management doesn’t explain the change, the information vacuum is filled by what employees speculate is happening.

The rumors are often worse than the reality. So why is this communications failure so common? What’s stopping companies from keeping employees in the loop?

Here are three possible reasons:

  1. Timing: When something major is going down, it often happens quickly. If both leadership and communications people have to scramble to decide if and what and how to tell employees, days or even weeks can pass before the communication goes out. In an ideal world, informing employees would be considered well before the change and would be part of the plan for rolling out that change.
  1. Consensus: In many large companies, the layers of approval can slow things down significantly. Making revisions to the communication after each person weighs in is not efficient. Often, one person’s revisions will undo the revisions of the one before. One solution to this is to gather everyone who needs to approve the messaging in one room at one time to hash it out. If people disagree on points, hash it out then and there to reach final approval of your communications.
  1. Denial: Unfortunately, this one is real. Top leadership will sometimes convince themselves that employees are not the least bit concerned about whatever change is underfoot. This situation is exacerbated by the insular environment of most C-suites. They’re not hearing employee concerns about the change, so they assume/hope there aren’t any. 

Of course, in reality, employees are filling the void themselves. Often with the worst things they can possibly imagine. Remind your leadership team that employees are talking about the situation, even if they’re not privy to those conversations. They can either contribute facts or let that vacuum be filled by the rumor mill.

Want to communicate change more effectively to your employees? Tribe can help.

 

Nick Miller

Change Management: Four Tips to Communicate Bad News Best

Yellow road sign saying changes ahead with blue cloudy skyHeraclitus said “Change is the only constant in life,” and that applies as much to a company as any individual. Stagnation will smother a company’s success and so change should be celebrated as a part of the corporate life cycle. But sometimes change can be bad news to members of your workforce.

That doesn’t mean they don’t want to be informed. It’s the obligation of a business to keep their employees up-to-date on news that can affect their daily lives. In those instances, leadership is given the opportunity to communicate change respectively.

Here are five best practices for communicating with employees during tough times in a manner that helps employees get the right message for how to move forward:

  1. Focus on what you can impact. In other words, don’t waste precious time on things you can’t control. As much as you’d like to, you can’t dictate someone’s response to a message, nor do you have the luxury of changing the message to suit each individual. The most sensible and kind way to handle difficult communications is to deliver messages and news in an appropriate and timely manner.
  2. It’s about tone. It’s tough to deliver bad news one day and then follow with neutral or even positive news the next, but that is essential for a healthy communications team. It’s as detrimental to dwell on the hard decisions made yesterday as it is to rest on your laurels. Think of a newscaster whose job it is to report on a tragedy and then talk about a random act of kindness. Changing your tone accordingly is part of the job.
  3. Have a post-announcement plan. If you’re communications plan stops after the message is delivered, you can lose control of how that message evolves. Plan one or multiple follow up messages in order to combat the rumor mill. Initiate checkpoints to gauge how it’s going and invite feedback. Employees will feel more engaged if you involve them in the process.
  4. Don’t be surprised if employees think change is bad. If you’re not properly prepared for a negative response, it can come across as though your employees’ feelings were not factored in. Acknowledge that the news is unfortunate, but it is a part of the business process.

Need help communicating change to your employees? 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.

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

Cascading Communications: Give Managers Communications Tools

In many, if not most, large companies, communication from corporate is cascaded through direct managers. For instance, corporate will email managers the news, and then managers are expected to share that news with their people.

This is particularly common with non-desk employees, like those on the retail floor, in the distribution centers, the manufacturing facilities and out in the field. Since these employees rarely have company email addresses, corporate deems them nearly impossible to reach, except through their managers.

In Tribe’s research, employees have two concerns about communications that come through their managers. The first is timeliness, in that some managers will share with their team right away, others will eventually get around to it, and still others may never do it. Corporate often has no way of knowing whether the information has in fact been shared or not.

The other issue employees often cite is inconsistency of message. Human nature being what it is, each manager will filter the information through their own lens. Employees in our research often referenced the childhood game of Telephone, where a message is whispered from one person to the next to the next until what the last person in line hears bares little resemblance to the original message.

Tribe’s research also indicates that many direct managers may struggle with this process. In our most recent study, 53 percent wanted online tools to help them communicate with their teams more effectively. This could be a comprehensive online tool kit of PowerPoint presentations, email templates and videos. Or it could be as simple as providing a one-pager of talking points and maybe another page of FAQ.

Either way, these communication tools address several issues at once. They increase the likelihood that direct managers will indeed share corporate communications with their teams. They promote consistency of message. And they help both the direct managers and their direct reports feel supported and valued.

Of course, in most cases Tribe would also recommend some corporate communications that go directly to employees rather than through their managers. In our research, 72 percent said that hearing from their top management is important to them. And 84 percent said they currently receive “not enough” information from corporate.

Even with employees who don’t have company email addresses, direct communication from corporate is quite feasible. If you’d like to know more, just ask us. Tribe can help.

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

3 Ways to Fumble When Communicating a Major Change

How does a company communicate a major change? In many cases, not well. Following are three sure-fire ways to get it wrong.

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 change communications that are respectful to employees? Tribe can help.

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

Managers Want Tools to Help Cascade Communications

Do you use direct managers as a communication channel for non-desk employees? The default method for reaching employees on the production line, in the distribution centers and on the sales floor is usually to depend on their managers to communicate what corporate communicated to them.

The thing is, few managers in these settings would consider themselves communications professionals. In Tribe’s national research on non-desk employees, managers said they’d like more communications support in the form of tools and training.

When it comes to communications tools, putting them online can be best. Of those who said they wanted additional materials, 57 percent responded in favor of using online materials. Comments of respondents included,  “Printed material tend to be a waste unless you are going through them line by line,” and “I prefer [supporting materials] to be online reports.”

Other quotes included: “I would like [supporting materials] to be online resources,” “I think [support materials] should be online,” and “[I would rather] have online resources!”

 Providing tools like talking points or FAQs can be particularly effective. In fact, they address one of the few faults that the 2012 respondents found with communications delivered through direct managers: inconsistency of message.

These tools can be simple. In fact, they should be. No need for tons of paragraphs or pages. Give them a one-pager with the overall key message and a few bullet points. Maybe offer suggested responses to questions employees might ask.

Interested in developing communications tools for your company’s managers? Tribe can help.

 

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

84% of Employees Say Change Management Communications Handled Poorly

In Tribe’s employee research, 84 percent feel that communications about major changes in their companies are handled poorly. If you’re interested in your employees falling into that 84 percent, here 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.

Want some guidance in handling change communications? Tribe can help.