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.

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

It will take more than a new CEO to change the culture at Uber

Former Uber CEO Travis Kalanick

I didn’t find it particularly sexist when Uber board member David Bonderman commented that more women on the board would mean more talking. Before reading Susan Fowler’s blog about her time as an engineer at Uber, I assumed the culture there was  no worse than any company run by a bunch of smart-ass guys. Something along the lines of the ad agency world back in the day, like when my boss would flip through Playboy while I read my work aloud to him.

But Fowler’s account reflects a maddening experience in a culture of gender bias that’s deeply systemic. Ousting CEO Travis Kalanick is not going to instantly eradicate a pervasive attitude of permissiveness toward sexual harassment and discrimination. The board at Uber has a long uphill slog ahead if they’re hoping to change the culture in a meaningful way.

Having more women in top leadership positions would help, but high-level women have been leaving the company in droves. According to Fowler’s calculations, the Uber workforce was 25 percent female a year ago and now is at less than six percent. Whether women have left because of sexism or due to the chaotic state of the business, they’ve left a vacuum that may need to be filled by women coming from outside the company.

At Tribe, we often work with large companies interested in shifting their cultures. I’ve been thinking lately about what we would recommend Uber do now, and I have to tell you, just the thought of the work ahead of them makes me feel exhausted.  So much real change would have to happen, from new leadership all the way through operations, before the culture even begins to budge.

Communicating that cultural change will be easy enough — once the change is real. But slight improvements or superficial changes won’t move the needle. In this case, there will have to be a seismic sea change to change the reality of the culture at Uber.

It will be difficult, and it’s possible the board will decide such an uphill battle isn’t worth it. Maybe they’ll just let boys be boys and take the lumps.

The worst mistake they could make would be to claim the culture has shifted when it hasn’t. That would only backfire — and undermine whatever trust in leadership remains.

Have a cultural issue that’s not quite as bad as Uber’s? Tribe can help.

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

Successful Change Management Starts with Respect for Employees

Having employees embrace or accept change depends a great deal on whether they feel they’re being treated with respect.Overcome Resistance to Change with Two Conversations,” a fantastic article in the Harvard Business Review by two thought leaders from the Kellogg School of Management, suggests that feeling a lack of respect is one of three reasons behind those who resist organizational change. (The other two they discuss are disagreement and feeling rushed.)

Can their excellent strategies for one-on-one conversations be applied to internal communications? Yes and no. They’re correct that email and webcasts can’t accomplish what a face-to-face dialogue can. But those engineering a major change in large companies with thousands or tens of thousands of employees obviously can’t sit down with every single person the change will impact.

Still, the change communications can start from a place of respect for employees. The inevitable email, town hall, intranet articles and/or webcasts can all frame the transition in ways that acknowledge the difficulties of the change and communicate honestly about the downsides  — as well as the ways the change will benefit the company and its employees in the long run.

In addition, Tribe would recommend three key elements to the change communications:

  1. Have the CEO announce the change: In Tribe’s national research with employees of large companies, respondents said they wanted to hear about a big change first from the top brass. They want their leadership to be straightforward about bad news and not sugarcoat it or spin it. And they want to know the business reasons behind the change.
  2. Prep managers to answer questions: Employees in our research said they would likely follow up with their direct managers to ask questions, so help your managers be prepared with talking points, FAQs and possibly communication training on this particular change. You want each manager to be sharing the same messaging as the CEO — and as the other managers out there, so employees aren’t hearing different versions of the story depending on who they talk to.
  3. Give employees a feedback loop: Two-way communication is particularly important in times of major change. Give employees a way to ask questions and share concerns, and be sure they get responses in a timely way.

Interesting in improving acceptance of a major change at your company? Tribe can help.

 

 

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

Use Storytelling to Educate Employees on Cyber Security

Do your employees know what to do in case of a security breach? According to Deloitte Australia (as reported on CIO.com), employees of 43 percent of the country’s top brands don’t even know if their company has a procedure to follow in case of a data breach.

Perhaps even more importantly, do your employees know to avoid behavior that could lead to a major security breach? The recent Deloitte Global report titled “Cultivating a Cyber-Risk-Aware Culture” describes a hypothetical spear phishing attack that plenty of intelligent and worldly employees might fall for — if good cyber hygiene is not top of mind.

In this phishing scheme, an employee receives an email promising a gift card in return for answering a survey. The employee was not maliciously sharing sensitive company information. It looked like the email was sent by someone inside the company. And who doesn’t want a gift card?

Talking about cyber-awareness isn’t enough. To many of us, the term cyber sounds dated and vaguely humorous. Like when people joke about the World Wide Net or the InterWeb.

Bring it to life by telling the story. Employees need concrete examples of what risky behavior looks like, so paint the picture of a potential scenario. What sort of information would cyber attackers be looking for? What are some of the common techniques used by cyber-attackers? What are some of the potentially disastrous outcomes? Beyond just saying “Be careful,” we need to give employees a clear picture of what being careful looks like — and what it doesn’t.

Use internal communications to tell that story in ways that are engaging and interesting, not patronizing or scolding. Rare is the employee who would intentionally do harm to the company. But innocent mistakes can do real damage. And employees can’t sidestep a security risk if they don’t recognize the situation as risky.

Interested in engaging your employees in cyber-awareness? Tribe can help.

 

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

Change Management Communications: What’s the Worst That Can Happen?

What’s the biggest mistake you could possibly make in communicating change? The absolute worst would be to tell employees something that would make them feel better, but might not be true. For instance, saying there will be no layoffs with an impending merger, before management knows for certain that there won’t be. In the midst of change, there are many moving parts, and some early assumptions may be revised as more details and numbers are fleshed out.

On the other hand, it’s also a  mistake is to say nothing because the details haven’t yet been finalized. Employees can accept the fact that you can’t tell them everything right now. What causes them more stress is the sneaking suspicion that something’s afoot and management isn’t telling them anything. We advise clients that it’s perfectly fine to say, “We don’t know yet, but we’ll tell you when we do,” or “We can’t share that information, but what I can tell you is such and such.” In any case, you certainly want to avoid having your employees hear the news from someone outside the company, whether it’s a neighbor who’s related to top management or the business section of the newspaper.

You can also minimize stress for employees by acknowledging what we call the Two Big Fears. In the face of any major change in the workplace, employees worry about two major questions: “Will I lose my job?” If the answer to that is no, then the next concern is “Will this make my job more difficult?” Acknowledging those two issues can take some of the heat off them.

It’s human nature to imagine the worst. So in the absence of communication regarding the change, employees’ imaginations will fill in the gaps and rumours will begin seeping through your organization. Setting realistic expectations can be a relief. Most people would rather know what to expect, even if it’s not good news, than to be left in the dark.

The most important key to successfully communicating change is to begin with a foundation of respect for the employees. That means treating employees like the intelligent adults they are, as well as putting yourself in their shoes. We often talk about the Golden Rule of Change: If you were an employee impacted by this change, how would you want to be treated?

Interested in communicating change more effectively at your company? Tribe can help.