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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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







Claiming the company treats employees like family can backfire

Does leadership at your company like to say the place is one big family? Although that can help employees feel they’re cared for and supported, sooner or later, it becomes painfully obvious that the company is actually a business.

Let’s say the company is forced by market conditions to reduce head count. That’s a business decision. By and large, people understand that sometimes companies have to restructure to remain profitable.

But it’s not something that typically happens in a family. When times are tough, you don’t expect parents to sit everybody down and announce that a few of the kids will no longer have roles in the family. They’ll be put out on the street, because there’s just not room for them at the table.

The irony is that employee reaction to bad news will likely be much worse if they’ve been sold on the family myth. It’s easy to understand how they would feel misled. They’ve been encouraged to believe something that just isn’t true. There’s an inherent contradiction in the promise and reality.

The intent behind claiming the company treats people like family is a good one. It implies respect and kindness and commitment, all of which are good ways to treat employees. But setting expectations that decisions will be made as if there were familial ties rather than a business relationship is unkind.

Interested in a more meaningful articulation of your employer brand? Tribe can help.

Keeping email effective

Email finally has legitimate competition. Sure, there have been email alternatives for years, but those always lacked something when matched against the time-tested channel. Today, though, more apps and programs have incorporated all of the big email features, address book, calendar synchronization, large file sharing, and in many cases have improved upon them.

But email isn’t going anywhere any time soon. The technology seems to have hit a wall, but there are still a lot of people who stand by the merits of email. It’s not a generational caveat, although it might become one once Gen Z moves in. It’s just an integral part of the corporate infrastructure, one that many employees have come to rely on. For that reason, it’s important that people continue to learn how to use it and how to use it right.

Here are some tips from the Tribe vault to help your employees keep email effective and efficient:

1) Are you using To: and Cc: correctly? Especially in companies with an unfortunate CYA culture, employees tend to copy everybody and their brother on messages that are truly relevant for just a few of the recipients. Train employees to use the To: line only for those people who’ll need to take action in response to the email. If they’re sending it as an FYI to their boss, their boss’s boss or to their own assistant, those names can go in the Cc: line. Then teach recipients to notice the difference and to give priority to those emails that are actually addressed to them.

2) Can the subject line tell the whole story? Train employees to summarize the message in the subject line. If the intranet launch has been pushed back to December 1, a subject line that reads “Intranet update” or even “Intranet pushed back” is not nearly as helpful as something like this: “Intranet launch pushed to Dec 1.” If the email is requesting something from its recipients, don’t bury that call to action deep in the body of the email. Let them know in the subject line. For instance, if someone needs a colleague to review a document, the subject line might read: “Your feedback requested on staffing strategy.” If the subject line can say everything that needs to be said, you may not even need any text at all. A good subject line can get the message across more effectively, can help others move through their inbox more quickly and makes searching for a saved email much easier.

3) Is it time to change the subject? It’s also helpful to train employees to update the subject line when the conversation has changed. If there’s an email thread that was originally about an employee recognition program but has now evolved into a discussion of how to recruit more engineers, someone could do the group a favor by replacing the subject line with one that’s more relevant. While they’re at it, they might remove some of the recipients who have nothing to do with recruiting.

Need more tips? Call Tribe. We’d be happy to help.

3 simple ways to refresh your HR site

As the HR technology market continues to boom, the way we communicate with employees continues to evolve. We’ve seen HR websites become an increasingly popular communications channel, and for good reason. While a full site build or redesign is sometimes needed, starting from the ground up can be quite an undertaking. For a more a la cart approach, here are a few ways tips to upgrade your HR site.

  1. Open the lines of two-way communication. Whether it’s an open Q&A or as simple as a dedicated email address for feedback, two-way communication is extremely important in all segments of a company, especially HR. From suggestions, to questions, to concerns, to plain old venting, your employees can provide valuable feedback on what’s working and what’s not. Don’t be afraid of negative feedback. These negatives give you the opportunity to address things other employees might be feeling as well.
  1. Make it easier for them. Employees are visiting your site for a few different reasons, most of which come back to the need for information. Whether it’s forms or performance review updates, if it’s hard for them to get what they need, they’ll give up and take another approach. Informational hierarchy can be critical to a successful website. Take a look at your site with a fresh perspective. If you can’t find what you need in less than three clicks, it’s time for a refresh.
  1. Centralize calendars to keep employees in the loop. Consider revamping your site to include a one-stop shop for upcoming events, deadlines and renewals. Providing employees with easy access to HR happenings will ease the stress of what’s coming up next. As long as your resources and details are frequently updated, employees will form a habit of going to the site for the details they need. Let’s not forget, well-informed employees lead to higher engagement and a more productive HR team.

Tribe works with a wide range of companies on HR communication tools and would love to help your team stay connected. Contact us for information on how to get started.

Aligning employees with company vision is especially important with Millennials

At Tribe, we like to say our highest goal is to help align employees with the vision of their company. People like to feel they’re part of something bigger, and they particularly like knowing that their day-to-day work contributes to the company’s overall success. And from a productivity perspective, there’s not much better than having everyone moving things ahead in the same direction every day.

With Millennials, this is even more important. A recent Deloitte study found that 60 percent of Millennials cite the company’s purpose as a reason for choosing to work for their current employer. If you look only at those Millennials who are most connected on social media, that number rises to 77 percent.

So how do you do that? The same study found that 75 percent of Millennials believe that companies are more focused on their own agendas than on the good of society. And of course, to stay in business, all companies necessarily must concern themselves with turning a profit.

The sweet spot is when a company manages to combine good business with doing good. Sustainability is a great example of this win-win scenario. As the company reduces energy usage, for instance, they’re cutting costs as well as benefiting the environment.

Those in Gen Z, the generation following Millennials, have an expectation of this win-win being relatively simple. In Tribe’s research, many of these young people mentioned in interview sessions that they expected to solve world problems their parents had not made much progress with. They cited their more global views and continuous improvement in technology as two advantages to finding those solutions.

As both Millennials and Gen Z fill more and more of our leadership positions, they’ll begin to mold the way their companies present themselves in the world. We’re likely to see a greater focus on company vision that serves the greater good in addtion to monetary business goals.  For them, this could be business as usual.

Interested in recruiting and retaining these new generations? Tribe can help.

Sharing Information with Employees (1942)

In 1940, a small group of self-described “industry relations specialists” met in Burlington, Vermont to discuss a novel concept that was emerging in the business world. That concept? Employee communication. The conference of a little under 150 people were tackling a subject that even today is still an issue at many companies, large and small, around the world.

One attendee, Alexander Heron would go on to write a book on the subject. Sharing Information with Employeesfirst published in 1942, was a groundbreaking text. It expanded on a subject that had only recently been theorized with incredible foresight. It took into account societal and cultural influences on employees and companies, and though its lessons wouldn’t be put into practice for decades, helped to define a new way of doing business.

Even at that time, certain companies had long been promoting a sense of community and company pride. And it’s not as though companies weren’t communicating at all. But Heron’s methods were the first to acknowledge the relationship between manager and employee as something human, emotional even. As Standford University’s Paul Eliel writes in the book’s Foreword, “The problem, as Mr. Heron so graphically points out, is not how to convey information but how to share it. Conveying is mechanical; sharing is personal.”

Being from 1942, there are obviously some dated tactics in the text, but here are some nuggets from Heron’s writing:

“The first element [in sharing information] … is the understanding by employees that facts about the enterprise are not being concealed from them.  The knowledge that they can get the information they want is more important than any actual information that can be given to them.”

“The program [of communication] should be a continuous one, a method of conduct rather than a campaign … it must not become an institution apart from the actual work or operation of the enterprise.”

“The American idea has no place for a class predestined to be wage earners incapable of understanding a world beyond the workbench, no place for a class which is denied the opportunity to reason its conclusions on facts which it helps to create, no place for a class which is happier because ignorant of anything beyond the daily task.  And those whose sense of superiority leads them to believe in either the necessity or the desirability of such classes are themselves enemies of the American idea or ignorant of its genius.”

So, next time you find yourself fighting for your communications budget, recall Heron’s words and remind any naysayers that these are ideas are as established as any other business practice. You can read the whole book online here. And if you need help, Tribe is happy to be on your side.

Tribe comic: Meeting Etiquette


What will Gen Z want in an employer brand?

If your company has found it difficult to attract and retain Millennials, get ready to work even harder to keep the attention of Generation Z. You’ll have to, because there will be fewer of these employees to go around.

In the workplace, Millennials have moved up and Generation Z is moving in. While many Millennials have worked their way into middle management, the oldest cohort of Gen Z, now aged 20, are holding down hourly jobs in retail, QSR and other industries that don’t require a college degree.

In fact, this generation isn’t convinced a college degree is the route to success. They’re more skeptical of the traditional career path, since they’ve seen their parents and older siblings suffer professional setbacks.

Growing up in the shadow of 9/11 and the Recession has made this group more cautious than Millennials. They’re likely to value employment in solid companies with proven staying power. They’ll care about benefits like healthcare and the 401K, and unlike most of their Millennial predecessors, they’ll actually contribute to their retirement accounts beginning early in their careers.

Like Millennials, Gen Z will also value work they find meaningful. They take a global perspective and care deeply about issues like sustainability, hunger, and disease. And they have great confidence in their ability to solve those world problems.

They use technology like the rest of us breathe air. These kids have never lived in a world without the Internet. They find technology fairly essential to making and building human connections, both one-on-one and in groups. It’s a given that they’ll expect to use the same technology at work as they do to communicate in their personal lives.

What else will Gen Z want? We’re hoping to find out, as Tribe’s annual employee research will focus this year on the new youngest generation. If you’ve seen our earlier research – on Millennials, Non-Desk Workers, and other topics relevant to large employers – stay tuned for results of the next study. And if you haven’t seen our white papers or research presentations, you can find them on this page of the Tribe website.

Interested in knowing more about how to make your employer brand more appealing? Tribe can help.

Tribe’s week with #Slack

Alright, I admit it. We here at Tribe are a bunch of Slackers. But it hasn’t always been like this. We just recently converted, and I’ve got to say it’s doing wonders for our productivity. Now, I can hear you saying, “I’m confused by all this clever wordplay!” So before we go any further, let me explain.

We’ve been using the messaging app Slack as our main communication channel this week. We’ve heard all the hubbub and started talking about it a while back, but more recently, we’ve seen a spike in employee advocacy of the app. Whenever employees are organically drawn to an app, it’s something worth investigating. People at your company may be using it already, and you can capitalize on the trend.

Why we love it: It’s incredibly simple, intuitive, fast and can be used on a variety of devices. We’ve had a few people out of the office and it’s been great in replacing quick or confirmation phone calls and emails. Their hashtag subject system makes it easy to keep all of our client accounts in order. Each project has a thread and only the people working on that project can chime in. Not only did it help to keep our correspondence subjects straight (and easily accessible from the search), but it also helped create a sense of team and conversation, as opposed to stagnate correspondence from one individual.

Our favorite feature: I know we have only been using the app for a week, so the more in-depth features have yet to be discovered. The individualized threads are great, and that seems to be the main thing Slack is touting. But one of the coolest things about Slack is the ability to upload and send files at lightening speed. Recipients of the file can then open a preview in the app or a browser instead of downloading the full file, taking up time and memory. This was particularly useful for quick approvals, small document updates or sending reference files. It’s always a pain downloading a 50-page .PDF when you only need it to clarify one small detail.

How it makes work easier: Simply put, it makes communication of all kinds easier. Before Slack, correspondence for one project could be dispersed between email, text messages and phone calls. Now, it’s all in one place. If you have an email thread in your inbox that is more than three emails long, you would benefit from using Slack. I don’t think email is going to be phased out any time soon, but when it finally goes, it will be because of apps like this.

Keys for a successful Content Manager program

Between your company’s intranet, ESN, blog, Twitter, Facebook and website, a lot of content needs to be generated. Your company has a lot to say, and it’s smart to take advantage of the wealth of channels out there to communicate with employees and consumers alike. But gone are the days where duplicate content was an acceptable route. In fact, duplicate content can really damage your SEO. Today, each page, each feed needs to be unique to reap the benefits of these channels and the exposure and communication that comes with them.

You could hire someone full-time or get a contractor to help generate content. But unless you have the budget to get someone good and dedicated enough to learning your company’s voice, history and vision, your content will feel flimsy and the messaging will be diluted. If employees don’t care about the content and people can’t invest themselves in the message, it’s just white noise.

A lot of Tribe’s clients have been charging employees with creating content. This is a fantastic solution. This way, you get unique perspectives of your company from multiple employees; you break down silos by sharing an insider’s view from other departments; you create opportunities for employees to connect, and above all else you’re giving employees the chance to promote work initiatives that they’re proud of.

That also means you need someone to manage that content. If your employees are helping you create content, you need someone else to corral it all, get it in the correct format and into the proper channel. For most companies, communications aren’t frequent enough to be a full time job. With the right training, any employee can become a successful content manager.

Here are four tips from the Tribe vault to create your company’s content manager network:

1) Recruit the right team. A successful content manager is often a more junior employee eager to prove themselves. Energy level is more important than experience.

2) Train the team. Content managers will need some education on where to find news, how to connect with newsmakers and what makes information newsworthy, as well as how to write an attention-grabbing headline and the classic journalistic inverted pyramid.

3) Build the team. In-person meetings or regular conference calls can help content managers feel part of a team rather than isolated, build accountability to the company and to each other and leverage the power of friendly competition.

4) Have them play inside the fence. This is about content, not clip art. You’ll need to limit the creative freedom available to this group in order to maintain the intranet’s branding and professionalism. Established web parts and clear branded templates for design and layout help nix the urges of amateur art directors.

Need more help? Give Tribe a call. We have a lot of experience creating these programs, and we would love to help you find a solution.