What frontline employees know that corporate doesn’t

Valuable customer insights go unrecognized in companies across almost every industry. Although large brands may expend considerable budgets on customer research and voice-of-customer initiatives, they may overlook the most direct source of knowledge regarding what customers want.

That source of knowledge is the frontline employee. The customer-facing employee can be a rich resource of ideas for small and large improvements.

In quick service restaurants, staff may notice a trend of customers mixing two packets of different sauces. That observation might lead to a product idea for a new sauce flavor. In the hospitality industry, hotel housekeepers might know that guests often remove a scratchy bedspread and toss it on the floor. That knowledge could influence the choice of fabrics in the next design prototype for room interiors.

The frontline employee also has firsthand knowledge of customer complaints. They see things corporate can’t, which not only stymies customer solutions but also frustrates these employees.

In Tribe’s research with non-desk employees, this frustration was a prevalent theme. They often see corporate as out of touch and ineffective at solving common issues. Respondents reported that corporate often doesn’t understand the realities of the business due to being so removed from customers.

In most companies, this valuable field intelligence is lost. Without a clear channel of communication between the front line and those back in the corporate office, none of this knowledge becomes actionable.

Establishing such a channel takes some doing. Communication to field employees generally flows in one direction only, cascading from managers to the front line. Although individual managers may be aware of these frontline insights, there are rarely established communications processes for sharing up the ladder.

An effective channel will be specific to the physical realities of those frontline employees. What works for hotel housekeepers may not work for garbage truck drivers. A solution appropriate for a high-end jewelry retailer may not suit furniture rental store employees.

Interested in collecting the field intelligence of your frontline? Tribe can help.


Reaffirm your purpose by talking about your work

Over the past few weeks, Tribe has started working to create an internal magazine for one of our clients. One of my roles in these preliminary stages is to conduct employee interviews to find out more about them, projects they’re working on and day-to-day things about their job and role in the company.

Though I speak to people with vastly different backgrounds, experiences and personalities, one thing remains common. After just a few minutes, usually addressing the first questions briefly, they start to really think about the nuances of a job they do and have done day after day for years. And they open up; they start exploring aspects of their projects that they hadn’t thought about in a while, they remember conversations with team members, moments of breakthrough and the triumphs of their work. It’s why these interviews are one of my favorite things to do at Tribe.

Talking about your job to people outside your company reignites a sort of passion that might surprise you. Now, we talk about some aspects of our jobs with coworkers. We commiserate in our common woes. Sometimes we talk to our friends and family about our work, but we don’t want to bog down the conversation with details they may not not understand. Can you think of the last time you were talking to someone about your work and really got excited? If your answer is “no,” read on.

Don’t wallow in the negative. When we come home from work and have the motivation to talk to our significant others or even our kids, it’s usually negative. It’s been a particularly hard day and you’re venting. Otherwise, if someone asks about your day, even if it was great, your response is more like “good” or “fine.”

When that is the only side of your work you share extensively with your family and your friends, that in turn becomes your perspective. How you communicate with others about your job affects how you feel about your work. Remember the good parts of your day, even if they’re small.

Put yourself in context. What you do every day may not seem monumental, but it’s crucial to the foundation of something greater. If a line worker at a car factory only thought about the one part they put on the car, it would be easy to minimize their contribution. But if that same worker regarded that part as essential to the engine design, to the car’s reliability as a whole; as the vehicle that people need to get to work every day and drive their kids to school- that contribution isn’t easily swept aside.

Talk about what pushes you every day. There are a lot of different occupations out in the world, and a lot of ways to make a living. Why did you choose yours? Why do you come to your job every day? What brings you satisfaction in your work? When people consider their motivations, they remind themselves of their original passion and get excited about new projects.

Talk about your vision and have confidence in your future. Discussing your ambitions helps you realize the steps you need to take to get there. We all have great ideas, things that could change operations for your department or even alter the face of your industry. Sharing them with friends, family, people outside work that you know respect and support your growth, is a great way to get those ideas ideas out there, start the momentum and develop it into a plan that you can bring to the next meeting with confidence.

Inspire yourself by inspiring others. Talk to people who aspire to work in your field, and give them the advice you would’ve wanted on your first day. Discuss your job with people outside your industry and discover perspectives and methods that can apply to your work. Lobby your Internal Communications department to hire Tribe to write an internal magazine and describe your passions to a sincerely interested copywriter.

But whoever you speak with about your job, take pride in your work. It is important.


TRIBE TRIVIA: Change Management

Q: True or false: Most employees are satisfied with how their company handles communications about major change.

A: False: Not so much, according to Tribe’s national employee research. 84 percent of respondents said change management communications at their company are handled “poorly.”

For more information about this study, see Tribe’s white papers and other resources on the expertise page of tribeinc.com, or contact Steve Baskin, President and Chief of Strategy at Tribe. 

The power of a CEO video: Authentic communication employees crave.

In Tribe’s national research, employees have told us there are two topics they want to hear directly from the CEO. Although they’re comfortable with communications being cascaded through their managers for day-to-day information, when the topic is change management or company vision, they prefer to hear it first from the big cheese.

Our research also tells us employees are hungry for face-to-face interaction, and for human connection to their company leadership. The majority of employees will never bump into their CEO on the elevator or at the water cooler. Yet they want to put a face to the name, and even more than that, to feel like they know the CEO as a person and not just a title.

Blogs are not the answer. Employees know the CEO isn’t the one writing those things. Unless you have one of the rare CEOs who does actually pen his or her own blog posts, employees assume someone on the internal communications team ghostwrites them.

Employees tell us over and over again that they want authentic communication. If you’re faced with communicating a major change in the company, or with launching a new cultural initiative involving vision, purpose or values, short CEO videos can be a powerful tool.

Short is important. Under 60 seconds is good; anything solidly under two minutes is probably fine. But anything much longer and your chances of employees actually watching the video go down dramatically.

If it can’t be communicated in 60 seconds, try a series. Break your messaging up into several focused points, and address just one point in each video.

High production values can work against you here. You want human and real, not slick and highly produced. You might want something more professional than an iPhone for shooting, but don’t bring in a huge camera crew. When you put someone in front of lots of lights and cameras, they tend to get more nervous and awkward.

Use talking points instead of a script. The goal is for the video to feel as much as possible like the CEO is talking to the viewer, person to person. Once you put a script in front of someone, they become an actor, and usually not a good one.

You can fix it in post. There’s a reason that phrase is a cliché. Assure the CEO that it’s fine to mess up and start over, as many times as needed. In the edit, you’ll use the best stuff and the goof-up takes will never see the light of day.

What if your CEO just hates being on camera? Tremendous amounts of content are consumed via podcast now, and they’re a good option for authentic leadership communication. Although when first introduced years ago, podcasts didn’t gain much traction, they’ve recently become a highly popular medium. A CEO podcast could be as personable and engaging as an NPR interview with Terry Gross on Fresh Air.

Interested in creating authentic CEO videos? Tribe can help.


Get projects moving in the right direction with Flow

Are employees in your company using Slack, Basecamp or other project management software? At Tribe, we’re seeing this trend in large companies. Work groups or departments will adopt new software or apps for communication to sidestep their bulging email inboxes. The IT department may or may not support the software, or may not even realize that employees are using it.

One of the best of these project management tools is Flow. It allows team members to collaborate more easily and to keep track of each other’s progress in real time. Flow is intuitive and easy to learn, plus offers the satisfaction of being able to check a box when you complete a task.

Once you create a project in Flow, it allows everyone in your team to see and keep track of the project’s progress. If you need to see one or two colleague’s upcoming tasks, you can easily filter out all others to see exactly what you need. 

It’s very easy to make quick comments or add input. Each project has its own sort of chat room where all conversations regarding that particular project live. This can cut down on email overload significantly. If someone needs to get up to date on a project, they just go to that project in Flow and look at the discussion.

One person can also delegate tasks to multiple people and keep track of everything at once. This comes in handy for someone like a project manager. In a matter of minutes you can see who is working on what, if something is late, when projects are due, etc.

Small companies can benefit from this app as well. Tribe has jumped on board and now uses Flow to help us keep track of due dates. Instead of having a number of different projects listed, we have milestones or due dates. When we have a new creative project, we can assign the steps involved to the appropriate team members and organize those tasks in projects like Copy Due or Design Due. It makes it easy for art director and writers and account managers to see what’s due on any given day.

Looking for software to keep your teams on track? Tribe can help.

Tribe comic: Change Fatigue


Four steps to creating a cultural shift in your company

Let’s say your CEO decides the company needs a cultural shift. When the current culture isn’t creating the right results; or when the company acquires other companies; or when leadership develops a new vision for the company’s business goals; the existing culture might need to evolve to support the success of those changes.

Here are four elements of making that shift a reality:

  1. Define the desired culture: The first step is to develop the framework for where you want the culture to be. What is top leadership’s vision for where the company is going? What are the values that will support reaching that vision?
  1. Know the gap: A crucial step to creating a cultural shift is understanding the gap between the desired culture and where you are now. At Tribe, we do that during the discovery phase of strategic planning, through interviews, focus groups and surveys with employees representing a wide cross-section of functional areas, job level and geography.
  1. Articulate the desired culture: It doesn’t do much good for the C-level to agree on the culture they want if that’s not shared with employees. At the launch of a cultural shift, we often recommend a vision book to put a stake in the ground. Distribution might be timed with an employee event and/or other initiatives to communicate the vision and values.
  1. Help employees see their role in the vision. If the desired culture is customer-centric, for instance, those employees whose jobs aren’t customer-facing might assume it doesn’t apply to them. Communicate how every single person in the organization supports that vision in their day-to-day work. In the customer-centric example, employees in the call center will have an easy time understanding how they serve the customer, but those in other departments, from accounting to IT, might not find it obvious that their work supports internal customers and thus enables those people to serve the company’s customers.
  1. Reward those who demonstrate the desired culture: The goal is for the entire employee cycle to support this cultural shift. It means changing the way the company recruits new employees; onboards new hires; recognizes employees; and rewards performance.

Ultimately, the culture is defined by the qualities that are rewarded. If employees see that raises and promotions are tied to exhibiting the values, behaviors and accomplishments that align with the desired culture, they’ll get on board. If they don’t see that happening, the new culture will be a much tougher sell.

This is the critical follow-through that’s often out of our clients’ hands. No matter how much you communicate the desired culture, the reality of that shift is dependent on operational changes throughout the company.

Interested in creating a cultural shift in your company? Tribe can help.



Aligning employees with company culture

Is your desired culture becoming a reality at your company? You started out with an ideal company culture in mind, but for many companies, culture is one of the toughest things to implement. It needs a strong foundation, thorough communications and organic growth through employee champions at every level.

The effect of culture is even tougher to measure. A strong culture is incredibly important in supporting your vision, employee retention and overall engagement. But it’s a challenge to know exactly how your company culture is working for you. Through Tribe’s client work, we’ve found a few ways to see if your company culture is spreading and making the desired impact on your employees.

Here are the three stages Tribe recommends for the Cultural Discovery process:

1) Leadership Interviews

Start at the top, by sitting down with members of the leadership team to discuss where they would like their culture to be. Ask about their vision for the organization, as well as their mission and values. Get them to talk about their one-year or five-year goals for the business. You can’t develop a communications plan to align employees with the vision if you don’t understand what that vision looks like.

2) Employee Interviews or Focus Groups

This can be done one on one, either in person or by phone, or in group sessions, although like any focus group, one strong personality can dominate the discussion without a skilled moderator to foster more inclusion. For a representative sample, make sure you’re including employees of different business units, geography, seniority, gender, ethnicity and from functions that cover the gamut from sales to enterprise services to manufacturing or the frontline. This is a time consuming stage, but will provide some of the most critical insights for strategic development.

3) Employee Survey

Surveys allow you to quantify the themes and issues you’ve uncovered in the qualitative stages of Discovery and to gather more general cultural statistics about the employee population. The most useful surveys are structured in ways that allow for a close look at the cultural differences between business units and other silos, geography and demographics. An effective cadence for a comprehensive survey is once or twice a year. Including a number of open-ended questions helps ferret out the intention behind the responses. But keep in mind that it’s important to build in an appropriate level of anonymity so that employees feel safe in answering openly. For a couple of reasons, employee surveys should be fielded regularly. First, these are important tools that measure changes or improvements and allow leaders to understand what’s going on inside the company. Second, if surveys only occur in the midst of major change, lots of angst and negative energy can become associated with an otherwise helpful tool.

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

Using LinkedIn to build your internal communications community

People who work in internal communications don’t get out much. Or rather, their work doesn’t. If you work for a corporation, you’re not likely to see much of the internal communications that are produced in other large companies

In contrast, marketing professionals see the work of their peers all the time. If you’re in advertising at The Home Depot, you’ll probably see the television commercials created by your peers at Coke, and vice versa.

That’s why LinkedIn can be such a valuable community for internal communications. It gives us a place to share best practices, ask questions, learn about technology that others are using. There are countless relevant industry groups to join, some with hundreds of thousands of members and others with only a few dozen. Those are great arenas for asking advice and sharing your own knowledge.

LinkedIn has been the starting point for some of my most interesting relationships in our industry. Some of the people I count on as sounding boards or touchstones are people I’ve never met in person. They may be in Arizona or Australia, but they’re just a few clicks away when I need input.

When I’m travelling, I occasionally reach out to LinkedIn connections to meet in person. In Baltimore, I met my LinkedIn friend Dawn Brzezicki of T. Rowe Price for coffee on her way to the office. When Tribe had a meeting with clients in the San Francisco area, we stopped by Clorox to sit down for a few minutes with Patti Bond.

I’ve also continued relationships with past clients or business acquaintances over LinkedIn. I love reading blogs by Sharon McIntosh, formerly of Pepsi and now running her own company called And Then Communications. I like seeing posts of people I’ve worked with before but haven’t seen in ages.

Like any social media community, you get out of LinkedIn what you put into it. (For a take on how to make the most of your LinkedIn network, see this interview by our friend Gloria Lombardi of Simply Communicate with Chuck Gose of the digital signage company Stratacache.)

When I first joined LinkedIn, it was just to kill time on a shoot that was going on forever. The producer and I challenged each other to see who could be the first one to get to 300 contacts. I topped 3,000 long ago, and I’ll never have any interaction with the vast majority of them. But in a few dozen of those people I’ve found kindred spirits with a passion for our industry.


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.