Authenticity in company communications

This week, I was shown an interesting discussion concerning authenticity in social media. Mark Schaefer, in his podcast “Marketplace Companion“, took a look at how companies carry themselves on social media, what appeals to viewers and customers as far as a company’s “character,” and if it was even possible to be “strategically authentic.”

This authenticity is key to connecting with customers, Schaefer asserts, and creating a celebrated brand. They described social media as a company’s public resumé, something that will stay visible as public record, track your behavior and exist as something you’ll always be measured against. With your brand in the public eye, everything you say, every conversation you have reflects on you. And, as Schaefer says, “You’re never off.”

It’s one thing to create a more personified company brand to consumers, it’s another entirely to create one that is internally-facing.  You can create a social media brand for your company, but consumers only see that side of things and it’s easier to control. Employees, on the other hand, see all sides of the company and understand all the dimensions of the business. Transparency is key, and inauthenticity is easier to spot.

What is the difference between transparency and authenticity? Schaefer describes transparency as your “words and actions being congruent with how things actually are.” That’s not entirely dissimilar from authenticity. The distinguishing factor, though is being intellectually honest versus simply disclosing everything.

How do you create an authentic company “persona”? Think about the public resumé precedent Schaefer sets. Having a smaller audience within a company, this record is going to be even longer, so consistency is key. To create a trusted internal brand, you have to pick a voice and a cadence and stick with it. That means maintaining thorough communications throughout company changes, but it also means keeping up with correspondence during down times.

It’s important to consider the source. In order to be authentic, your company communications need to come straight from the horse’s mouth. If your HR team is handling all internal communications, at times it will seem inauthentic. Let HR communicate HR issues, let the finance team relay financial news, encourage marketing to speak about their latest initiatives, and perhaps most importantly, let the executive team speak about company news and issues. If you have an executive blog, don’t allow someone who has never even met the CEO create his voice. Employees pick up on this kind of stuff fast, and once you lose their trust, it’s incredibly hard to re-gain.

Pairing digital and print pieces for maximum engagement

Many internal communications teams are minimizing print in favor of digital materials. At Tribe, we often include print publications in our communication plans for clients, partly because employees receive so much digital communication, print now breaks through just by being a different medium.

There are also some obvious advantages to print. For example, you don’t have to worry about your print magazine getting below 10% battery. And for communications intended to inspire company pride, communicate vision and share values, there’s something powerful about the relative permanence of print. People like to be able to hold the physical piece.

Digital has its advantages as well. Whether it’s Wi-Fi, your smart phone’s hotspot or an LTE signal, a huge majority of employees access the web daily in their everyday lives. Embedding printed pieces into a website, app or even on the company intranet gives employees the opportunity to reference materials whenever they want.

What if you pair both technologies? We believe this is one of the most powerful ways to display say, an internal magazine. Printed pieces can be sent out individually or placed strategically throughout your organization to increase impressions. Creating a digital publication of the same magazine can also help increase readership but grants access to it at anytime (as long as you have internet access).

This is good for targeting different employee demographics. Millennials may be more likely to access the magazine from iPads and smartphones. Generation X and Boomers might prefer to view on their laptops or reach for a printed piece. Giving your employees flexibility and increasing convenience shows respect for them as individuals.

We’ve recently reviewed a number of options for refreshing the way we provide digital versions of our internal communications magazine, the Tribe Report, on the Tribe website. After considering Adobe Digital Publishing Suite, FlipCreator, and FlipSnack (just to name a few) we decided on Joomag.

Joomag is extremely cost efficient compared to programs like FlipCreator and Adobe DPS, which come with costly licensing fees. It’s also very user friendly. All you need is a pdf of your publication. You don’t need any design background or skill to use the software. Although, it can help and they do offer magazine templates and an online editor which give you the option of creating a magazine entirely with Joomag.

There are many other benefits like analytic reports, charging subscription prices, adding music and galleries, embedding videos, and more. To view the published Joomag of the most recent Tribe report, follow this link.

Interested in finding a balance of print and digital for your internal communications? Tribe can help.

Employee feedback: Closing the loop

Asking for employee input is great. Whether it’s a formal engagement survey, a questions-and-comments feature on the intranet or employee focus groups on particular issues, people like being asked for their opinion.

But management needs to make sure they close the loop. Once employees have offered their thoughts and opinions, they tend to expect something to happen as a result.

Employees realize the company can’t say yes to everything. Clearly, every employee preference can’t be accommodated nor can every employee suggestion be implemented. By making one choice, the company opts out of others.

Still, employees need to know that they’ve been heard. If your intranet accepts employee suggestions for ideas and innovations, make sure you’ve got a process in place for someone to read those suggestions and to thank the employee, whether or not that idea is one the company could adopt.

They also want to know the business reasons behind decisions. When employee input has been solicited for a key decision at the company, from healthcare benefits to flex workdays to the platform for a new intranet, some employees will be taken aback when their recommendation is not the one adopted.

Tell them why the decision that was made is the best one for the business. Show how that decision best supports the company vision. Share how employee input helped shape the decision, but wasn’t the only consideration.

It also helps to discuss those options discussed but discarded. For lack of a better example, let’s say management decided to make chocolate ice cream the official dessert in the company cafeteria. Those who suggested vanilla and strawberry and butter pecan might feel their opinions were ignored. Just by acknowledging some of the other possibilities considered, you’re letting employees know that their input didn’t drop into a black hole.

Finally, make clear the difference between a voice and a vote. By giving employees a voice in upcoming decisions, management is not handing over responsibility for decision making. At some point, leadership has to make the call and move on.

Is your company working to engage employees in discussions about upcoming decisions? Tribe can help.

The importance of internal communications in change management

Internal communications are an integral part to any successful company. Truly communicating with employees is the key to creating a productive, creative and open office environment. Simply put, engaged employees are happy employees.

Perhaps the most important role they play is guiding employees through big company changes. When leadership is shifting, if the vision or the direction of your business is changing or even if the future of the company is becoming uncertain, communicating with employees can help reduce or alleviate your employees’ stress and reassure them that you’re looking out for their best interests. Here are six things you can do to help employees through company change.

1) Have respect for the employee. The most effective change communications are built on a foundation of respect for the individual. That means treating employees like the intelligent adults they are, as well as putting ourselves 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?

2) Be aware that knowledge is power. And it also makes people more comfortable. We recommend beginning communications to foreshadow the change as early as possible. Some companies feel they should wait until they know all the details of how things will shake out, but in our experience employees prefer to know earlier, even if there are gaps in the information you can share.

3) Know that it’s ok not to have all the answers. Employees can accept the fact that you can’t tell them everything right now. What causes them much more stress is the sneaking suspicion that something’s afoot and management isn’t telling them about it. We advise clients that it’s perfectly fine to say, “I don’t know yet, but I’ll tell you when I do,” or even “We can’t share that information, but I can tell you such and such.”

4) Acknowledge the two big fears. Why are people so afraid of change? In the workplace, it usually comes down to two major questions: Will this make my job more difficult? And will I lose my job? We encourage clients to talk about both. You can bet their employees are.

5) Recognize individual differences. Since they happen to be actual human beings, each employee is unique. They won’t have the same psychological or emotional reactions to change. They will also have their own individual preferences when it comes to how they like to receive information. To support a change, it’s helpful to offer communications in a wide range of channels. From a section on the intranet that’s frequently updated to printed materials to face-to-face interaction. You also may want some train-the-trainer tools to help people managers know how to communicate the change to their teams.

6) Remember: trust trumps all. Your most valuable asset in any change is the trust your employees already have in the company’s management. Without it, any change will throw people into a higher level of stress. If your company is fortunate enough to have built a strong equity of trust in its leadership, your job as a change manager becomes much easier.

Three ways to get the most out of your employee survey

Employee surveys can become a source of invaluable information for your company. Obtaining honest employee feedback is an essential step to improving engagement and productivity. However, a lot of the legwork is necessary after the survey is complete. Tribe has developed a list of our top three tips to always keep in mind.

1. Slice and dice your findings. Asking demographical questions at the beginning of your survey like age, gender, tenure, work function, etc., will allow you to take your analysis to the next level. Knowing that 20 percent of your employees are unhappy with their work-life balance is good to know, but being able to pin point a specific department or office location where the problem is occurring could help solve the issue even faster.

2. Keep your word on the survey’s anonymity. If the survey was advertised to employees as anonymous, it’s important that it is treated that way. Employees are much more likely to respond candidly and honestly if they know you won’t be able to trace their answers back to them. Working with a third-party vendor like Tribe can also contribute to employees feeling more secure in their responses.

3. Deliver on your promise. One of the worst things you can do after delivering a survey is not following up. Communicating that your survey will affect change will empower your employees and managers to speak openly about their challenges and suggestions. Think of the reasons you are administering the survey and be prepared to take action on what you uncover. If nothing else, you can share the survey results with your employees.

Tribe specializes in crafting, executing and analyzing employee surveys. If you need help with your next survey, Tribe would love to help.

Internal communications for Gen Z: Give them their technology already

What comes after X and Y? Generation Z, born between 1995 and 2002, is just beginning to enter the workplace.

Competition for Gen Z employees will be fierce. As Gen Y continues to move up the org chart, there will be smaller numbers of Gen Z to replace them.

It’s time to prepare your company to recruit and retain Gen Z. While many workplaces are still adapting to accommodate Gen Y, the oldest among those employees are in their mid-30s. Rather than being entry-level employees, many of these Millennials are now somebody’s boss.

Gen Z employees have never lived in a world without the Internet. Technology is so indigenous to their life, it’s like breathing air to them. They don’t even notice it’s there, unless it’s not.

Here’s what us Boomers may find counterintuitive about Gen Z and technology. We came of age in a world where Joni Mitchell lamented that they’d “paved paradise and put up a parking lot.” While we grew up thinking of technology as cold and inhuman, Gen Z finds this attitude (to use a phrase Gen Z would use only ironically) completely wack.

Gen Z uses technology to express their humanness. They depend on technology to build relationships, to collaborate, and to bring creative ideas to life. They use technology to be continuously learning and to find solutions to problems.

 All of the above are qualities of highly engaged employees. If one of the key roles of internal communications is to reduce barriers to employee effectiveness, then we better get ready to provide Gen Z with all the technology tools and channels they could possibly want.

Gen Z is ready to change the world. And their tool of choice in technology. When Tribe interviewed Gen Z kids in 2010, they were extremely confident in their abilities to solve problems of both the marketplace and the planet.

“Technology will make it much easier,” said a 14-year-old respondent who’s now in college at University of Pennsylvania. “I think technology will advance enough that environmental issues will be something that can be solved. Like energy needs can be solved. We’ll have easy ways to make energy. Then we can move on to things like world hunger.”

By all means, let’s get them going on those issues. Interested in increasing your company’s strength in attracting and keeping Gen Z employees? Tribe can help.


Effective Internal Communications is Everyone’s Responsibility

During a discovery interview last week, a senior executive noted that if the communications team was left to manage this particular communications initiative, the outcome of the project was going to be far too narrow. His point was that internal communications is a company-wide issue rather than the prerogative of a single department. And as Jocabim Mugatu so wisely allowed in Zoolander, “He’s exactly right!”

Effective communications inside a company is the responsibility of every executive, every manager and every employee – everyone has a role. It’s leadership’s responsibility to prioritize the importance of consistent and appropriately transparent communications as well as ensuring that information is properly cascaded throughout the company. It’s the responsibility of managers to interpret the communications and relay it to front line and non-desk employees. It’s everyone’s responsibility to act on the communications and provide feedback whenever necessary.

To get this done, though, the communications team is critically important. Their role is to support business communications that enable the company to be as productive as possible. To provide the most effective channels for communications. And to ensure that barriers to open communications are minimized.

It starts with a keen understanding of the vision and values of the company’s leadership. What is the company trying to achieve? How will they go about it? How will individual employees and teams achieve the company’s goals? What do employees need to know on a daily basis to in order achieve the goals?

When an initiative or a significant change is happening, the communications team should understand how the initiative affects various demographics throughout the company – from business leaders to front line sales to production floor employees. It’s rarely a one-size-fits-all conversation. While everyone doesn’t need to know everything, there should be a broad understanding of what the company is doing, and how the initiative helps achieve company goals. There should be an understanding of how employees’ individual roles contribute to the success of the initiative.

Communications channels are a key consideration and will likely be different based on the target audience and the type of message. There are a number of questions that should be answered. Do employees use computers for their work? Do they have access to the company intranet? Do they have a dedicated email address? Do they have mobile access? What are the realities of the work environment? How involved or complicated is the message? Knowledge of the effectiveness of various channels for different types of employees (and for different kinds of communications) will minimize communications roadblocks.

The tone and positioning of the message must be appropriate given the subject matter and audience. Is this a serious communication? Clearly, it’s not appropriate to be too terribly funny when messages might have a negative impact on employees’ livelihoods. However, there are many times when a novel channel approach or a witty headline might help the message get through to employees. Keep in mind that these communications have a lot of competition for mindshare – even in the work place.

Finally, we should ensure that the communication worked as intended. Many times this will be obvious based on the actions of employees. Other times, internal research is required to measure improvement to understand if the message or changes are taking place as intended.

So yes, the entire company is responsible for effective internal communications. Most often though, having a skilled communications professional on board will ensure that the communications work as planned. Tribe can help.

Involving home-based employees in collaboration efforts

Promoting a culture of collaboration is hard enough when employees are all in the same place. Even companies with only one location can be so siloed that people in the same building but different functional areas resist collaborating.

So how do you get employees working from home to collaborate with others? That starts with laying some groundwork that will be the foundation of future collaboration.

Employees are more likely to collaborate with people they know. In Tribe’s national research with employees of large companies, respondents told us they feel much more comfortable sharing ideas when they already have a relationship with their collaborative partners.

Home-based employees don’t get the opportunity to bump into people in the hallway. While office-based employees may exchange a few words in the elevator, the break room or the cafeteria, home-based folks probably see the UPS guy more than their co-workers.

Building human connections happens one conversation at a time. But even just having a face to attach to a name seems to help. In our research, employees said they’re better able to collaborate by phone and email with colleagues in other locations when they’ve met them in person at least once.

It’s important to provide home-based employees with opportunities to brush shoulders with their office-based colleagues. For major projects, try to have them attend some meetings in person, even if that means travel. If there’s an annual managers’ meeting or sales conference, they can build the beginnings of relationships there, especially during the non-meeting portions of the meeting where people have an opportunity to interact socially.

Another brick in the foundation for collaboration is to help home-based employees not feel invisible. Being the only voice on the Polycom phone in the center of the conference room table is tough when all the other meeting participants can see each other. Promote a meeting culture that’s consciously inclusive of remote callers and gives them a chance to weigh in on the conversation.

If there are company events they don’t customarily attend because of travel, don’t forget your home-based employees exist. When Tribe helped plan a global employee event that occurred on the same day in 28 offices around the world, we sent the small minority of home-based employees an event in a box. They received a package (no doubt delivered by their buddy the UPS guy) that included the same T-shirt everyone else received at the event, plus the themed collateral, printed buttons, a noisemaker and even a cookie.

Those sorts of tactics may not seem directly tied to promoting collaboration. They may even feel a little fluffy. But you can’t just tell people “Okay, now collaborate.” First, you have to help them feel comfortable doing so. Not so ironically, there’s a clear business benefit to treating all those office-based employees with common courtesy and kindness.

Interested in building engagement and collaboration in your work force? Tribe can help.


Slack: An app for the slacker in all of us

Slack is an app that just hit the market last February. The brainchild of founder and Silicon Valley celeb, Stewart Butterfield, the app promised to make “working life simpler, more pleasant and more productive.” It caught on quickly, with early adoption from companies like Sandwich Video and Buzzfeed, and started making waves in the tech world. It’s one of those ideas that is so simple, it’s surprising that no one beat them to the punch.

It organizes all of your messages in one, searchable portal. Slack is team communications for the 21st century, as they put it. It takes your email, G-Chat, and any other messaging system your company is using and creates channels based on content and teams.

To fans of the TV show, The Office, it might sound similar to Ryan Howard’s app WUPHF. But it’s a bit more refined than that.

Some big names are using Slack. Including The New York Times, airbnb, and Spotify. Their clientele consists mainly of younger companies that presumably have more of a penchant for emerging tech. The app is organized through hashtags, so it seems to be geared toward employees that are familiar with the interface and cadence of social media correspondence. Something to keep in mind for companies considering it, but it feels like the enterprise social trend is becoming the norm.

In a little over a year, the company’s value has doubled. On the one year anniversary of its launch, Slack announced that they sign $1 million in new contracts every 11 days. We live in a world of inflated valuation, especially in start-up tech companies, but just look at those numbers. This is real growth showing great promise in markets across the world. It doesn’t seem to be a flash in the pan.

If your company needs a way to streamline all of your company’s communication channels, Slack might work for you. It integrates with almost everything, including Dropbox, Google Hangouts, Twitter and MailChimp, and by all accounts it works very well in a variety of fast-paced business environments. It’s a simple, intuitive platform that has caught on for a reason. The best part? You can use Slack Lite with your company for free, with unlimited users until you decide to upgrade (which they assure you will).

Tribe comic: March Madness