4 Reasons to Communicate with Frontline Employees, Even When It’s Hard

Many companies with great internal communications have trouble reaching frontline employees. Why? Because communicating with employees who are hard to reach is difficult. Whether it’s your sales force, retail team, physicians, manufacturing line or delivery drivers, frontline employees are often those who need to hear from corporate the most.

1. Communication builds engagement. Many companies leave all internal communications with frontline employees to their immediate supervisors. Tribe’s recent research with the non-desk employee population indicates this is a missed opportunity to build engagement. What’s more, those employees who never hear from top management interpret that as a lack of respect for them and their contributions to the company’s success.

2. They often crave visibility from corporate. Field visits from top brass can make a world of difference in non-desk employee engagement –it also can boost their trust in management. Many employees in our research mentioned the desire for corporate to have a better understanding of the realities of frontline jobs. If your manufacturing facility runs 24 hours, think what it would mean to employees for someone on the leadership team to drop by during the graveyard shift.

3. Non-desk workers can have a tremendous impact on the customer experience. Whether the customer is an individual consumer or business, they’re interacting with those non-desk workers. It is up to these employees to deliver on your brand promise.

4. You can’t expect employees to be aligned with the vision if they don’t know what it is. It’s no secret that many companies overlook communicating with non-desk employees. But it’s a huge mistake not to engage your frontline employees in the vision of the company to make them feel part of something bigger. In fact, Tribe’s research on non-desk workers underlines the importance of communicating the company’s vision and values to this employee population.

Ready to communicate with your non-desk employees? Tribe can help.

Three reasons to shoot your employees: Or, when stock photos are a bad idea

In many situations, stock photography can be a great solution. It’s a cost effective and easy way to provide visuals for a multitude of communication materials.

But don’t use stock to represent your employees. It instantly communicates inauthenticity, but even more important, it’s forgoing a fantastic opportunity to build engagement.

Let’s start with the inauthentic part. People can spot a model a mile away. When you use stock in employee communications — to represent real employees — you’re not fooling anyone. Everybody knows those aren’t really employees on the intranet or in the brochure or wherever you’re using stock photos.*

Then consider what happens when you photograph actual employees. All three of the following benefits make it worth considering the effort and expense of original photography.

1. Making heroes of your employees: Our culture is fascinated with celebrities, and when you use photographs of real employees, some of that show biz stardust falls on each of those individuals. But like a pebble in a pond, a heroic shot of one employee also creates a sense of pride for all those other employees out there who can look at that photo and say, “Hey, that person is just like me.”

2. Connecting employees across silos: One of the best ways to break down silos is to help employees develop human connections with the people in other silos. When you can put a face on a colleague, whether that person is down the hall or across the globe, you humanize them. Besides, employees love looking at photos of each other. Employee photos consistently get positive response in all sorts of internal communications. If you’re creating a library of employee photography, or shooting numerous photos for a large project like a vision book, try to include as many silos as possible. Try also to cover a diversity of job function, seniority levels, ethnic backgrounds, age and gender.

3. The shoot itself builds engagement. When you have a professional photographer in the building — along with the accompanying lights, cameras and makeup stylists — it creates excitement. Employees want to know what’s going on, they want to be involved, and they will tell everybody they know about the shoot at work. Create more assets to use in internal comms with “behind the scenes” photos of the shoot in progress. Get shots of employees in the makeup chair, the photographer working with his subjects, the glamour of a working set. Those BTS photos are sometimes even more engaging than the professional shots by the real photographer.

Interested in the possibilities of employee photography in your organization? Tribe can help.

* Full disclosure: Tribe once put employee Stephen Burns’ head on a stock photo guy’s body, until we could get a full-body shot of him to match the other Tribe bio shots. Stephen did not like it much.





Three Ways to Supplement Employee Engagement Surveys

Employee engagement surveys are certainly useful. The well-known annual or semi-annual employee survey continues to be the mainstay for understanding the attitudes and perceptions of a large employee base. When thoughtfully executed, the survey can unearth hard-to-find issues and unknown potential. We generally walk away from an annual survey with a wealth of knowledge about current employee engagement and perceptions of how individual roles contribute to the company’s success.

But there’s a limit to how often one should go to the well with this type of information. It takes a great deal of effort to field a strategically relevant company-wide survey, so it’s best not to plan to go to the well too often. However, with the larger survey as a base, there’s opportunity to keep relevant questions in front of employees – particularly if the questions (or mini-survey) also provide a communications loop for the employee.

And perhaps there’s a chance to have some fun with the information gathering.

Here are three ideas:

1. Post a question and a feedback loop along with leadership communications. More than likely, the latest blog or memo from the leadership team is directly or closely related to the company’s vision. Asking questions and allowing employees to respond is a great way to get feedback to the leadership issue as well as gather information about employee attitudes.

2. Ask employees a question or two every week. Stake out real estate on the home page of your intranet for an on-going survey. Post a new question often enough so that the idea doesn’t become stale. To keep things interesting and drive participation, make a game or contest out of the responses. But always ask.

After a few months, you’ll have lots of data. By staying mindful and strategic with your questions, and you’ll also be providing great value to the company.

3. Keep it simple. Perhaps just ask employees how they feel today. Develop an easy way for employees to register their moods or attitude. How do employees feel in the morning versus the afternoon? Are there certain times of the day when happy or cranky moods pop up.  If their mood is extreme (good or bad), give them an open-ended option to say what’s going on.

There are a couple of potential benefits here. First you might get a heads up when attitudes are trending positively or negatively. You also may be able to spot regional or business unit trends before they become an issue. And of course, the open-ended responses would provide background or detail if something is going particularly right or wrong.

We shouldn’t be asking questions for the sake of asking questions. If employees are going to the effort of providing feedback, they should be rewarded with a sense (or tangible proof) that they’re being listened to – that their voices matter.

Got questions about asking questions? Or what to do with the answers?  TRIBE can help.

Doing Change Communications Right

In this month’s Tribe Comic, we joked about the scary aspects of communicating SAP to employees. Indeed, employees’ wariness around large company changes like SAP have reached comic proportions.

But SAP doesn’t have to be scary. In fact, the right communications can really help employees to manage the change. SAP is a big undertaking for your company, but preparing employees by communicating the details and their role in the process you can make the whole process a lot smoother.

Some SAP companies provide accompanying communications tactics. But for the most part, these are just templates that they provide all their clients. SAP is a huge investment for your company. It’s high-risk, but the benefits can be incredibly rewarding. You want to make sure your messaging sticks.

Change communications need to reflect your brand and your people. Unique and powerful communications tactics with SAP and other companywide changes can help ensure your investment is worthwhile.

Tribe specializes in communications that are effective because they’re meaningful to your employees. If your company needs help communicating change, give us a call.

Tribe’s Monthly Comic Strip: Change Is Scary


Employees can’t deliver the brand promise if they don’t know what’s been promised

How can you create the customer experience your brand is intended to deliver if your employees don’t know what that is? That’s the primary reason we treat the external and internal brands as two sides of the same coin at Tribe.

It takes consistent and meaningful internal communications for employees to understand and implement the brand promise. One of our favorite parables at Tribe is that McDonald’s can spend millions of dollars a day on advertising to build the brand and drive traffic, but the customer experience comes down to the minimum-wage worker at the drive-thru window.

Does that drive-thru attendant know what the brand promises its customers? Let’s take the McDonald’s example further. If the drive-thru attendant isn’t aware that the brand intends to deliver Quality, Cleanliness, Service and Value, then she may unwittingly undermine that promise in her day to day work. Maybe she thinks speed is more important than service, so she’s curt with her customers,  trying to move them along so she can deal with the next car in line.

Is she engaged in the company mission? McDonald’s mission is is to be their customers’ favorite place and way to eat and drink. That particular mission may or may not inspire her, but it’s more likely to make her work meaningful if she knows about it. And if internal communications help her understand how her job contributes to that vision.

The tricky part for quick service restaurant brands is that non-desk employees are the ones delivering that customer experience. They play a huge role in carrying out the brand promise and in supporting the mission, because they’re the ones preparing the product and interacting face-to-face with the customers.

Reaching all those non-desk employees who aren’t sitting in front of computers is tough. Most companies depend on cascading messages to the front line through their managers. That’s a useful method, but it has its limitations. Additionally, it’s not employees’ preferred channel for some types of communiciations.

For instance, when cultural ideals — like the mission, vision, values and even the brand promise — are cascaded, some of the emotional power of those ideals can be lost in translation. In Tribe’s research with non-desk employees, employees prefer to learn about those cultural ideals straight from the top.

That means finding channels that lead directly from corporate to the restaurant employees. Actually, McDonald’s does a terrific job of that. To reach employees in the restaurants, McDonald’s has used channels as classic as employee magazines and as innovative as McDonald’s radio playing in the kitchen, alternating music with internal brand messages.

McDonald’s does indeed spend millions every day on its advertising. But the global company also recognizes that its employees represent a crucial audience for their brand.

Want to do a better job communicating your company’s brand promise, mission, vision and value to your employees? Tribe can help.



When Should Your Company’s Values Evolve?

Company values, according to OpenX CEO, Tim Cadogan, must be “the solid bedrock of any group or organization and really matter to the individuals within the company”. It’s true, your values need to be unwavering. They support and define everything your company stands for. But as your company grows, those foundational values may have to evolve in order to accommodate the changes. If you’re thinking your company needs new values, there are a few questions Tribe recommends you ask yourself.

Is there a new company vision? 

Values support your vision, so if the vision for you company has changed your values might need an update. Employees need to know their role within the new vision and how they need to act to help the company achieve its goals. New values help to define that role and that behavior.

Has there been a change in leadership?

A change in top leadership often means a new direction for the company. Values could need some tweaking to align with the new leadership.

Has there been a merger or acquisition?

Merging two company cultures can be a huge challenge. Sometimes, the acquiring company will extend its values to acquired employees, but sometimes it makes it easier to create a cohesive culture if both parties are becoming part of something new.

How you evolve your values is up to you. But whatever your new values, good communications are key to making them widespread and successfully adopted. Tribe can help you articulate your new values to employees in creative and meaningful ways.

Could digital signage become the non-desk employee’s intranet?

How do you get non-desk workers to the intranet? Companies with workers in manufacturing plants and distribution centers — or with employees in other locations where they’re not spending their days sitting in front of computers —  often struggle with the issue of getting this segment of the workforce online. Some companies provide computer kiosks in natural gathering places, like break rooms. Others add a mobile platform to their intranet, hoping employees will access all that company news from their own phones. Still more companies depend on managers to cascade communications, supplemented with printed posters or flyers.

Another solution is to use digital signage to convey some of the same content employees would ordinarily find on the intranet. Of course, digital signage can’t replicate the social interaction possible online, and it can’t handle long articles or allow employees to download forms.

But digital signage can help connect this audience to the company in ways that posters and flyers just can’t. The topics covered in an editorial calendar for the year might include company values and vision, safety, new product introductions, sustainability, human resources, and employee recognition, among others. Brief videos can help non-desk employees feel connected to other parts of the company or their executive leadership team. Photos of your real employees help build authenticity and human connections across teams or silos, whether those shots are of employees pitching in on a community service project, the Halloween party or work-related achievements.

You can help make digital signage become a must-look medium by including information employees want to know with some regularity. The weather is a no-brainer, but you might also include the time and date, your current stock price, employee birthdays or anniversaries. You could include a live feed from a news source or from your company social media sites.

To better engage employees in digital signage, consider these three important tactics: professional design, limited copy and fresh content. Just because someone on your admin staff can figure out how to load Powerpoint slides on your digital signage doesn’t mean that’s a good idea. Your non-desk employees deserve the same caliber of design you apply to your intranet, which hopefully is several steps above the typical company Powerpoint.

By the same token, the text should be professionally written, and most of all, brief. Don’t give in to the temptation to cram a bunch of words on there. Employees are unlikely to stop and read the signage if it’s too text-heavy.

Lastly, you’ve got to keep that content coming. Live streams help add fresh content continuously but you also will want to refresh company content steadily. Think of each section of the sign as its own channel, and use varied playlists for each of those content areas. When employees see the same material over and over, they’ll learn to ignore the signage altogether.

Interested in using digital signage to communicate with your non-desk employees? Tribe can help.







Beyond collaboration, innovation and sharing best practices: the engagement benefit of connecting silos

When a company wants to encourage collaboration, innovation and the sharing of best practices, breaking down silos tends to be the go-to solution. With good reason, since helping employees connect with those in other departments, business  units or geographies is one of the best ways to promote these three business objectives.

There are also two other powerful benefits. Tribe’s recent research suggests that engagement is higher in employees who have built relationships with those in other silos and are aware of what role the other silos play in the company overall. Perhaps even more important, their sense of alignment with the company vision is stronger, as is their understanding of the part they play in supporting that vision.

Those two benefits, engagement and alignment, seem to build on each other. In other words, employees who experience more alignment also tend to be more engaged. And those who are highly engaged are more likely to feel aligned with the overall vision.

In Tribe’s employee study, we heard comments like these:

“The largest benefit of being connected (across silos) is creating value. Feeling like you create value in your perspective realm of influence gives you fulfillment in your job.”

“Everyone needs to see, feel and understand what the company does to better the world, and how their part contributes.”

“It makes work more fun. If you feel like you are directly contributing to the bottom line, you feel a sense of worth coming into the office. Collaborating between groups is the first step in getting to this.”

Engaged alignment is what Tribe calls this synergy between employee engagement and alignment with the company vision. Are you interested in increasing the engaged alignment in your company? Tribe can help.

Introducing Inbox, a New App from Google

“We get more email now than ever, important information is buried inside messages, and our most important tasks can slip through the cracks” That’s the thinking that spawned Google’s latest app simply called, Inbox. It’s a common issue, from individuals to large companies, and at Tribe, we deal with email overload in our client work regularly.

Google Inbox aims to eliminate the overload by putting what really matters on the forefront and organizing the noise in a way that doesn’t involve you scrolling through page after page of SPAM. Here are the key features of Inbox and how they could help you out.

+ Bundles

Inbox now automatically (or as they say, “automagically”, but we’ll just pretend they didn’t) groups together similar messages into categories like Promos, Travel and Purchases. You can even create your own. Now your flight info, rental car confirmation and hotel booking info can all be easily retrieved from one place.

+ Highlights

This seems like something that should have come about a while ago, but that’s often how you feel about fantastic tech. This feature simply lets you preview the key information in the message without actually opening it. Too cool.

+ Reminders

With Inbox, you can easily set reminders that align with the information in your inbox. And because this is a Google app, you can set your reminders with help from other Google tools for trip times, business hours, and they easily sync with your calendar.

+ Snooze 

Now here is a feature from which I could personally benefit. Too many times have I received an email notification on my phone at a time when I can’t reply. I close the message to get back to what I’m doing, and then don’t remember to respond until much (much) later, so I have to begin that email with an apology. This feature allows you to “snooze” email notifications, so you can schedule another notification when you know you’ll be free to respond.

If the next step for Inbox is an enterprise edition, we might be in for a revolution. And needless to say, we are ready. Email is so engrained in the corporate atmosphere, it’s clear that we aren’t ready for a replacement. We need improvement and evolution. It’s exciting to see Google taking strides with a communication channel that so many are dismissing as dinosaur technology., and this proves that it is anything but. I can’t wait to see how this app takes email into the future.