End Email Overload Part Deux: Reader Comments Support Use of Mobile Apps and Social Collaboration Platforms

The best way to reduce email is not to use it, according to many of our reader comments on the earlier post: End Email Overload with Protocol, Communication and Training. Sharepoint, Yammer and others were mentioned as potential solutions.

“Email is definitely one of those tools that is used inappropriately. How about a different approach utilising mobile Apps and platforms like SharePoint? I don’t think organisations have yet realised that this combination can be used to target information based on segmentation criteria such as department, location, language, job role etc. Mobile can also provide an effective two way communication channel and make it more personal the end user. This additional channel could ease the inbox overload,” comments Edward O’Brien of mobasure.

We think a great tool for decreasing email traffic is Yammer. It is an example of enterprise social software used only for private communications within a company. It enables you to set up groups and have all company or group discussions without sending emails. You can also share links, documents, praise and take polls. There is also a live chat function. We are just beginning to explore what we can use Yammer for, but so far, the winning argument seems to be decreasing email traffic!” says Sarah Mason of Brand Biology.

“There are more efficient and modern alternatives for e-mail, such as collaboration platforms/social intranets. It can be much more efficient (and also effective) to communicate e.g. messages/announcements on such a platform (in the cloud), then via e-mail,” commented Ingrid Swinkels of Vlisco.

Still, the problem of overload remains. Email sent by another means is still communication clutter when it’s not relevant to the employees on the receiving end. As Pam  Honeycutt of Emerson Network Power says, “We also funnel all internal comms through one channel and that channel is carefully managed so that employees are not overwhelmed with information.”

At Tribe, we recommend that our clients apply channel discipline programs. Whether the channel is email, mobile, a social/collaboration platform — or even face-to-face — an endless firehose of information is less helpful than carefully targeted and edited communications.

 

Videos for Employee Engagement

Video is becoming a language. Perhaps it has always been it’s own language, but it’s becoming vernacular. All smartphones take video, we speak to each other in .gif’s, and sites like YouTube, Vine and Skype represent our ever-growing penchant for the medium. It’s undeniable that video has a huge impact on our every day lives.

So, what does that mean for internal communications? Quite simply, videos have come to the point where they appeal to almost everyone. And with the technology available, it’s easier than ever to produce high quality, low budget videos. It’s a unique and high-energy way to communicate, to engage and bring employees together.

1. Use Your People

Engagement soars when people see familiar faces in company communications, and video is no different. Creating something together is a great way to promote team building, and who knows? Maybe you’ll find a new star in your very own office.

2. Make it Fun

I know, it sounds cliché, but if you don’t want this to turn into just another project (and you want the best results), the key is to make it not feel like work. Video is a medium that excites people and ignites an artistic passion that most people don’t get to experience in the office too often.  Making it a fun process also gives employees the opportunity to open up and voice their ideas.

3. Tell a Story

To make your video really engaging, tell a story. Make it compelling and relatable by using as many perspectives as possible. Whether it’s about your company history or the history of a new initiative you’re trying to promote, telling a common story helps to really draw people in.

4. Use Your Resources

Quality is everything in video, and it’s easier than ever to get professional* results. Dedicated video cameras, like the GoPro shoot unbelievably steady, clear, high def videos, and you can find them under $300 all day. Video editing makes the final product look much more polished, and now you can get pretty decent software for free. Add effects, filters and titles for a more professional look. You’d be surprised what these programs are capable of. Just be sure not to over-do it!

 

 

*No amount of technology or software can ever replace a true professional’s skill and expertise. These tips are great for short internal videos, but for the best possible results give Tribe a call. We would love to help tell your story.

 

 

Using MailChimp to Communicate with Large Employee Populations

How do you communicate with a large number of employees at once? National and global companies usually rely on email to reach their different and sizeable employee populations. The real question is, “Are people even reading these emails?” Wouldn’t it be nice to see analytics about who is opening, receiving and even engaging with those email communications?

That’s where MailChimp comes in. This email marketing service provider allows you to create emails, sign up forms, newsletters, etc. and send them to massive lists of employees.

There are a few variables that make sending an email to a big audience tricky. MailChimp makes this process almost seamless. They allow you to upload lists of respondents from a variety of outlets like Excel, Salesforce, Mac contacts, Google Drive, and more.

Once you have your list uploaded, you can schedule your campaigns. Say you have a communication that is recurring a few times during one month. MailChimp allows you to set times for your communications to be sent out so you don’t have to manually send it yourself. This feature comes in handy when you want to send something out frequently or at 3 am in the morning so it’s ready for people when they get to their inbox.

Another common issue is that when someone starts to receive emails that aren’t relevant to them, they start to ignore similar emails. While doing discovery work for a client, Tribe found one of the main issues was over-communication via email. As a result, some employees started to ignore later emails. MailChimp allows your recipients to unsubscribe from lists so they can pick and choose which communications are relevant to them and receive only those.

Arguably one of MailChimp’s most valuable features is its analysis tool. After an email is sent MailChimp tracks who opens the email, who clicks any link within the email, and how many times they open the email and click links within it. This is a great way to see, for example, what departments are finding your communications relevant or who is ignoring them. You can use the analysis to track what time emails were opened as well as see a global geographic breakdown of where they were opened.

Creating a MailChimp template is relatively easy which gives almost anyone the ability to make one. Although, some great custom or branded designs can be created if you have the resources (i.e. designers, art directors, etc). After you create your design, MailChimp automatically creates a mobile version. This comes in handy when you are able to reach your employees via their mobile devices.

Finally, MailChimp can be used as a channel. It’s ideal for sending monthly newsletters or even company-wide announcements. Tribe recently designed and coordinated a MailChimp blast for a client who was announcing the launch of a microsite regarding a coming change. The email had links and information directing employees to the new microsite so employees had virtually no excuse to not go to the site.

Need help planning, designing, or launching a MailChimp campaign? Tribe can help!

Early Numbers Surprising in Tribe Research on Silos

Silos seem to be a concern in most large companies. Several global companies we’ve worked with at Tribe struggle with silos created by one of two reasons: having numerous brands under one parent company, or due to rapid growth by acquisition.

But brands and acquisitions don’t appear to be the most common factors for companies divided by silos. Early results of our current national research with employees of companies with workforces of 5,000 or more show those two indicators trailing behind other reasons for silos.

Departmental silos are the most common, according to our early numbers. Over 55 percent of respondents so far selected departments as a cause of silos in their companies. This was the most frequently selected answer in a list of eight possibilities. (Respondents were asked to check all that apply.)

Brands were cited as a source of silos by only 8 percent of early respondents. We likely see more of this at Tribe because we’ve worked with several holding companies for multiple apparel brands as well as a global company in the travel industry with numerous hotel brands.

Acquisitions are also at 8 percent for early respondents. Aligning new companies with the vision and culture of the parent company is a perennial challenge faced by companies growing through acquisition. Connecting employees across those acquisition silos is an obvious first step there.

Business units were noted as silos by 40 percent of the early respondents. One possible note of confusion is that many companies refer to both their brands and their acquisitions as business units.

Geography is responsible for silos, according to 28 percent of these respondents. This number lags further behind the business units number than we expected.

One interesting note is that silos separating executive leadership from the rest of the company was moderately high at 19 percent. Actually, we just threw that option into the multiple-choice mix at the last minute, since we’ve often heard employees mention that their top management was out of touch with the day-to-day realities of the business. But apparently, employees across a wide range of companies feel disconnected from their executive team.

For more on silos, including employees’ recommendations for how to break them down, watch for Tribe’s white paper on the topic. The survey will close this week, with final results at available by September on the Expertise page of the Tribe website.

Need to connect employees in your company across silos? Tribe can help.

 

Communicating with Employees that Work from Home

Earlier this week, I had the pleasure of working from home. Okay, so pleasure might be the wrong word. But it was a nice deviation from the ol’ nine-to-five. I actually started work much earlier. Without my normal commute, I was able to start at around 8:00 AM. I finished up some writing for a client, worked on Tribe social media, played with my cat Jeffery (known to the Tribe office as the Dark Prince), and got a good deal of work completed before the time that I usually arrive at the office. “This is great,” I thought, “Why doesn’t everyone work from home?”

I soon answered my own question when I realized all that was absent from my daily routine. I wasn’t able to prepare my coffee in the kitchen and catch up with my co-workers about the happenings of the weekend. I missed the usual Monday debriefing in the studio. I don’t mind admitting that I felt a little left out.

But it wasn’t just the camaraderie that I missed. When I emailed the completed projects to the team, I wasn’t able to get their initial reactions, and when they responded with feedback it was hard to read emotion and emphasis in an email. When it came to next steps, I felt like I was always asking for clarification.

With most of the Tribe team in the office, we tend to take for granted the benefits of these human connections in the office. But we’ve all worked from home or on the road at one point or another. So I asked around, and jotted down a few communication tips that could help remote workers feel a little more in the loop and part of the office team.

1. Keep communication going even if it’s informal.

Through all of Tribe’s research and employee surveys, there is one thing that all employees seem to want: human connections. It gives you another reason to come into the office. By making these human connections at work, you put more emotion and purpose into what you do every day, which translates into better work.

While you certainly don’t want to create unnecessary distractions, it helps if throughout the day people reach out to those remote workers with something more than a request for work or feedback. Just a quick email to recap office happenings or inquire about their day can go a long way.

2. Be explicit in direction/instruction.

When you’re working in the office, there are these automatic micro check-ins that happen throughout the day. Most times it’s a quick exchange to see how a project is going, but other times those check-ins save people from going in the complete wrong direction.

Remote workers don’t have that benefit. They get their instructions and go, and they don’t stop until they run into a problem or they’ve finished. If you leave any room for imagination, there could be a deviation in message and it could end up costing a lot of time and money to fix.

3. Always close the loop.

I sent in my first batch of work for feedback at 9:15. The email didn’t ask any questions, so there was no real need to respond immediately. I sent it to three people, two of them responded almost immediately with a “Great!” or “Thanks!”, but the third person didn’t say a word. Although I originally felt I didn’t need a response, I started worrying that he didn’t get it. I waited, checked my email over and over, then I began thinking, “It’s terrible and he hates it. He’s typing out all these revisions instead of responding.”

Turns out he was at a doctor’s appointment. But I didn’t find that out until hours later. In a world where everyone is instantly accessible, silence can say a whole lot (and it generally doesn’t say very nice things). Be cognizant of this and always close the communications loop.

Having trouble communicating with remote workers? Give Tribe a call. We’d love to help.

Five Tips to Plan a Successful Launch Event

When announcing a new initiative or change, Tribe often recommends an event, big or small, to help create excitement and increase engagement around the communication. We’ve planned and executed all kinds of events from breakfast meetings to week-long barbecues, and in our experience, the same tactics always actualize success.

1. Treat everyone the same. From the new entry-level employee to the CEO, this is the time to level the playing field and treat all employees as equals. An event is the perfect opportunity to engage all employees, including leadership, and create that human connection employees need. The inclusion of all levels and work functions will also help break down silos and encourage future collaboration.

2. Include as many employees as possible. Employees who are seen and heard the least tend to appreciate inclusion the most. In planning a recent launch event for a heath care system, we made a point to have an event presence during the night shifts at the hospital. Communications and interactions at 2 a.m. were even more welcomed and enjoyed than those hosted during “normal” work hours.

3. Dedicate ambassadors to help spread the word. Have informed, excited ambassadors onsite to interact with other employees and answer their questions. Connecting with other employees to explain what you’re communicating will help the message catch on. After the communication is initially launched, your ambassadors will be a sustaining asset for continued communication.

4. Craft your message and make sure it’s seen. Producing engaging and clear messaging is essential to a successful launch. From digital banners to posters to tchotchkes, your message will stick with the right signage. When using images, we tend to recommend photos of actual employees to create authenticity and a sense of pride.

5. Have fun! Employees are more likely to participate and be engaged in your initiative if they are enjoying themselves. The trick is to thoughtfully include your messaging into the entertainment. Whether it’s through scavenger hunts, custom fortune cookies or a fun photo booth, your message will be well-received with fun.

Need help planning or executing your launch event? We would be happy to help.

End Email Overload with Protocol, Communication and Training

Email overload is one of the most common complaints we hear when Tribe interviews employees of client companies during Discovery. Inboxes are flooded at a ridiculous rate, so that employees either miss important messages or waste time scanning every line of messages that aren’t relevant to their work.

Clearly, it would be in management’s interest to create an email protocol, but surprisingly few companies have done this. A disciplined approach and clear guidelines can restore email as an efficient form of communication within your company rather than a frustrating quagmire.

Some companies use a preface to each email subject to help readers know which messages require a response or action on their part. For instance, your protocol might recommend starting the subject line with an acronym or abbreviation that acts as a clue for the reader. FYI, perhaps, might be consistently used at the beginning of subject lines for emails that are announcements or news items, while ACT, or some other short marker, indicates that the reader is expected to actually do something.

You also can encourage employees to use TO and CC to help recipients know what’s critical for them to read. If the recipient is expected to make a decision, take action or otherwise respond, then their name goes in the TO line. For managers and others that are being copied just to keep them in the loop, use the CC line. And then train employees to notice the difference in their own in-boxes.

More specific subject lines also make emails more efficient. Ideally, the subject line acts as a headline for the message, so that if employees read nothing but the subject, they’d still get the gist of the communication. For example, a subject line that reads “Intranet launch delayed until July 15″ is much more helpful than “Intranet update,” or even worse, some subject line that refers to the topic of the email back at the very beginning of a long thread.

For that matter, it’s important to remember that subject lines are not chiseled in stone. Teach employees to change the subject line when the topic changes over the course of the thread. Or better yet, start a new email with a new subject line. Accurate subject lines are not only helpful when employees are sifting through their inboxes; they’re also helpful when people are searching for that email later on.

Establishing your company’s protocol is just the first step, however. Having the protocol doesn’t do any good if nobody uses it, so the next steps are to communicate the protocol and train employees how to use it.

Is your company suffering from email overload? Tribe can help.

 

Best Chance for Executives to Succeed When Communicating

It’s technically impossible for everyone to be the best at everything. Executives aren’t going to be completely comfortable with every aspect of their job. Sometimes, we ask our executives to do things that we think should be a slam-dunk that becomes more of a struggle than we anticipate.

A decade ago, I was lucky enough to find myself on a stage with Cindy Wilson of the B52s while she sang for a theater full of people and for a national television audience. It was the first time in her twenty-five year career that she was doing a significant show without her band. On the same bill, Mike Mills of REM was playing his first solo gig since joining REM two decades earlier.

Although Cindy and Mike had played thousands shows to larger audiences, they were out of their element without the comfort of their normal surroundings – their bands. On stage and on camera, their fans may have never known it, but backstage, it was interesting to see that both were very nervous. Listening to the conversations, one would think they had never been on a stage before. Of course, they faced their fears and made it through the show admirably, but it was a truly surprising situation.

When you’re tasking your executives with communicating publicly, it’s very important to understand their comfort levels in various arenas. One may be completely comfortable in public conversations or fireside chats covering any topic, but uncomfortable writing blogs. One may be able to hold his/her own with a panel of peers, but terrified to deliver a keynote address. One may be comfortable with every detail of the business, but nervous when the recording light is on in a studio.

Before asking execs to step up to the microphone, make time for practice or run-throughs. Before committing execs to specific deadlines for blogs, interviews or presentations, make sure that they’re comfortable with whatever format they’re committed to.

Even though many executives exhibit nerves of steel on the outside, all people have things that make them nervous. The point here is that as communications managers, a big part of our responsibility is to be proactive in understanding the skills and talents of our execs before shining the spotlight on them.

Connecting Across Silos: What’s In It For Employees?

For companies, breaking down silos holds all sorts of advantages, from building efficiencies to collaboration. But what’s in it for employees? Why would they care about connecting with those in other business units, divisions, departments or brands?

The primary benefit is that it allows them to be part of something bigger. In a parent company with multiple brands or business units, it theoretically provides a more stable job environment, if only because it makes the company more stable. If one brand or business unit has a bad year yet the others are going gangbusters, it can even out the ups and downs of the company’s financial health as a whole. Additionally, there may be more career opportunity available by transferring from one brand or BU to another.

At Tribe, we also work to create collective pride across silos. In one technology company where the engineers were creating one mind-blowing invention after another, our strategy was to give more visibility to those new product developments and to engage other employees, from accounting folks to warehouse workers, in the role they play in bringing those products to market.

With Warnaco, parent company of Calvin Klein, Warner, Olga, Chap and Speedo,  we used an employee magazine to build that collective pride. Each issue highlighted different brands and locations, making heroes of employees throughout the company. Of course, since they’re in the apparel industry the art direction had to be on caliber with leading fashion magazines, so that helped make all company jobs look a little more glamorous.

But mostly, the point was to allow all brands to bask in the limelight of each other. For instance, when Speedo was developing a new speed suit for the Summer Olympics, those working for other brands could claim bragging rights as well.

Beyond that, there’s the simple benefit of making human connections. In Tribe’s national research with employees of large companies, we heard comments like these:

“There is something humanizing about putting a face and a story to a name.”

“I want to know what (employees in other divisions or locations) are doing that is working and I want to share what I’m doing.”

“People like connecting on a personal level with our peers in other locations.”

“Allows you to feel more connected and part of the organization.”

Soon we’ll know more. Look for the results of Tribe’s current employee research on connecting across silos, coming late this summer.

 

Giving Employees Feedback

“Giving and receiving feedback is a skill and most people aren’t naturally good at it.” That seems like a harsh truth, but Mary Shapiro, who teaches organizational behavior at Simmons College and authored the Harvard Business Review Guide to Leading Teams is absolutely right. At Tribe, we often help clients set up communication channels for employees to give and receive feedback. But this is only half the battle.

Recently, HBR sat down with Shapiro for an interview, and she had a few great points and tips about making feedback work for your company.  Here are a few that Tribe felt would be helpful to pass along.

1)Providing feedback isn’t solely the team leader’s responsibility”

This is something that a lot of companies don’t tend to think about. Feedback can come in the form of a recognition prize in front of the entire company, or it can just be a pat on the back after a good meeting. Recognition and feedback from managers and C-level is great, and it can make a huge impact, but finding ways to recognize peers can go just as far.

More recently, companies have been using their social intranets for peer-to-peer recognition. ESN’s like SocialCast, Jive and Yammer have started incorporating rewards programs that allow employees to give badges to their colleagues that will appear on their profile pages.

2) “Set expectations early”

Employees don’t like surprises. Unless it’s their birthday, and even that is pushing it. People need to know what they’re working toward, and they need to be able to define the goals they’re trying to reach. When you’re working as a team, you reach those goals by having the same mindset from the get-go.

It’s also very beneficial for teams to determine how they are going to work together. Outlining a structure, responsibilities and a way to voice feedback from the beginning is crucial to the success of the project. Which brings us to our next point.

3) “Create opportunities for regular check-ins”

This is where Tribe comes into play for a lot of our clients. Project managers assume that if people have a problem they’ll speak up, or if they’re happy with someone’s work they’ll voice that praise, but for one reason or another it never seems to work out that easily.

Employees need a channel to voice their opinions. Whether that comes in the form of a responsive Q&A on the intranet or a suggestion box that you open every Friday, there needs to be opportunity for feedback. And, most importantly, it needs to be regular and consistent.

4) Don’t ‘Praise in public, criticize in private.’ 

That’s always been the management tactic (or “mantra”, as Shapiro calls it), but there is a danger in keeping the dialogue of criticism in private. You start to foster an environment of mistrust. That can be detrimental, and could make employees feel like other people are talking about them behind their back.

Obviously, the criticism needs to be of the constructive nature. There is absolutely no benefit in shooting down an idea or initiative without reason or explanation. But criticism is a chance to grow. “Keep performance issues out in the open”, Shapiro encourages, “You alone can’t help people improve; there needs to be a group plan.”

 

Feedback is how people adapt and improve, and ultimately how companies can foster a team-oriented and collaborative environment. When companies allow feedback to become just a normal part of the office, ideas will start moving much faster, problems will be solved quicker, and employees can start growing and developing both personally and within the business.