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Nick Miller

Internal Communications Lessons from United Airlines

How should a PR crisis be communicated to employees? The United Airlines debacle this week has caused quite a stir across the globe, damaging the company’s stock and causing a loss of market capitalization in the billions of dollars. But this event is certain to have repercussions internally as well. While we don’t have an insider’s view of how UA has approached their communications to employees, we can infer quite a lot from their public relations strategy.

“We can afford to lose money – even a lot of money. But we can’t afford to lose reputation – even a shred of reputation.” This quote, penned by Warren Buffet in a memo to managers of Berkshire Hathaway, comes to mind whenever a large enterprise commits a major PR blunder such as UA’s. Buffet understands the concept of atoning for a mistake as opposed to justifying clearly wrong behavior, as his fortune and repute were on the brink during a scandal with his former company Salomon Brothers.

But Buffet’s counsel is not only relevant to public relations. A number of internal communications lessons can be drawn from this philosophy and the loads of examples of what happens when it isn’t adhered to. Consider the following tips on communicating to employees following an internal crisis in order to maintain your company’s reputation among the workforce and avoid as much internal damage as possible.

  1. Be on time with your communications. The longer it takes to inform your employees on the actual happenings of a crisis, the more time you give the court of public opinion to shape their own judgement. Buffet pens in the same memo that bad news can always been handled, but undesirable situations are made worse once the news has “festered for awhile.” Squash the rumor mill before it begins to churn by being straightforward and transparent about your internal crisis.
  1. Even though action must be swift, consider all angles before deciding how to communicate. This may seem obvious, but in the heat of a crisis it is easy to make a move you think is correct without deliberating each outcome. The end goal is for employees to feel like the situation is being handled correctly, not to think to themselves, “what were they thinking?”
  1. Don’t blame the victim. If an employee is affected by an internal crisis, coming to work is no longer a positive experience. Placing fault on an employee(s) that is not responsible magnifies the negativity tenfold. Once that loyalty to a company is damaged, there is no telling how long it can take to gain it back, if ever. This goes for employees on the sidelines as well, who are watching how their fellow associates are being treated and are wondering how long it will be until they’re next.
  1. Lastly, don’t let your apologies fall short of what is appropriate. Accept responsibility and apologize for the actual offense, as opposed to conditional or incomplete apologies. Take the opportunity to put a positive spin on your message. Include improvements in your statement and elaborate on how those changes will be reinforced. Give your employees the confidence that, while a misstep may have been made, it is being dealt with competently and will not be repeated.

Need help managing your internal communications during a crisis? Tribe can help.

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

5 Ways to Recognize the Employees Who Do the Real Work of the Company

Photo credit: Chris Davis Photography

Giving visibility to leadership is important. People want to see the faces and know the humans behind the titles at the top of the org chart.

But it can be even more powerful to give visibility to the people in the rest of the organization. Unwittingly, internal communications often focus on the folks at the top and don’t give much coverage to the employees who are manufacturing the products; delivering the service; making the sales; coding the platforms — not to mention all the employees in HR, accounting, marketing and more who support all those people.

Here are five ways to create more visibility for the people doing the real work of the company:

  1. Quote them in articles: On the intranet or in your employee publications, use regular employees as sources rather than always quoting someone from the C-suite. When you’re covering a new product or a new plant, giving examples of collaboration or innovation, illustrating how the values of the company are used at work, the rank-and-file people will have insights and comments that other employees will be interested to read.
  2. Shoot employee photography: I’m not talking about snapping someone’s headshot standing against a beige cubicle wall. Invest in talented photographers to shoot employees in context of their work. Then use that library of employee photography to illustrate everything from your intranet to digital signage to the annual report. If you have a number of locations and types of workplaces, try shooting at three to five places a year and building the library over time.
  3. Build an employee culture team: Establish a small group of mid-level employees who represent diversity across the company, and task them with being conduits for the culture. You might start with an off-site where the team can bond, and have leadership join to talk about the culture, where they company is going, what it is the company stands for. Then use this team to give culture presentations to their colleagues and to report back to leadership on employee questions and concerns, progress and set-backs. When you have a major change down the road, you’ll be glad to have this community of peer influencers already in place.
  4. Create a peer-to-peer recognition program: Top-down recognition is great, but it can be just as powerful to be recognized by one’s coworkers. Establish a monthly or quarterly recognition program in which employees drive the process of who amongst them gets recognized.
  5. Help them see the value of their roles: This is the big one — and lies at the heart of employees feeling celebrated rather than invisible. If you can draw a line, in employees’ minds, that leads directly from what they do every day to the vision and success of the company, you create a powerful shift. Help employees see how their individual roles contribute, and make sure they see leadership recognizing their contributions as well.

Interested in giving your employees more visibility? Tribe can help.

 

 

Steve Baskin

Company Presentations: Who’s Doing the Work?

If you’re the person in charge of putting together the company meeting, there are a number of boxes you have to check off. Stage. Crystal clear sound. Big video screens. Excellent, up-to-date branding in the room.

You’ll organize the presentation to ensure that C-Suite leaders mirror their roles and seniority. They’ll cover the successes that occurred over the past fiscal period. Their vision for the near future. The challenges ahead. They’ll have a section on change. They’ll give the right nods to diversity and culture. And they’ll let employees line up and ask questions.

While it’s the easiest and most obvious approach, focusing solely on the most senior execs can give employees a feeling of exclusion and distance from the results that they’ve achieved. It works. But the approach most often misses an important opportunity. While the C-suite execs are certainly on the hook for the success or failure of the operation, the presenters at these meetings typically aren’t the ones who did the work being discussed. Thousands of arms, legs and minds contribute to the success of the company.

It pays to shine a light on the stars that did the work – not corporate leaders. Provide recognition. Give awards. Have employees from the ranks participate in the presentation. There are many ways to do it. But whenever possible, it pays dividends to make heroes out of employees who went above and beyond and found success.

Company presentations are a prime opportunity help employees understand how their individual roles contribute to the success of the organization. You had a successful product launch? Let the team talk about what made it work. You’ve struggled through some major change management issue? Let the folks talk about the benefits of the change. Someone had an innovative thought that helped a product succeed? Let that person talk about what sparked the idea.

And it’s important that leaders show evidence that they’re listening and walking the walk. Point out when employee comments helped drive decisions. Don’t just talk about diversity, show diversity. Recognize remote offices or support organizations that might not have client-facing roles.

It’s a lot easier to have seasoned execs stand up on the stage and present. Every time another speaker is added to a presentation, the presentation becomes more complicated. To come off in a seamless manner, this approach requires planning and practice. But with some preparation, companies can get a lot more bang for their buck from company meetings.

Looking for ideas for your corporate meetings? Tribe can help.

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

15 Years of Internal Communications: What’s Changed and What Hasn’t

Tribe was founded as a creative branding boutique 15 years ago yesterday. And while our original focus was on traditional advertising, from the very beginning we were asked to take on internal communications projects for large companies. The industry has changed in many ways since 2002, and in others ways, it’s still exactly the same. Here are three observations:

  1. It starts in the C-suite: When CEOs believe communication with employees is important, they’ll create the budget to make it happen. Often we find some major organizational change — from the acquisition of another company to a shift in strategic priorities — will provide the trigger for stepping up internal communications. This is something we see more often now than we did 15 years ago. What hasn’t changed is the way an individual CEO will drive communications about vision and values — or not. If it’s not important at the top, it’s generally not seen as an important topic for the rest of the company.
  2. Technology has elevated our field. The advent of intranets was a major game changer, but the intranet game itself has changed dramatically over the years. Back in the day, UPS was our first client with an intranet (although they called it a portal and it was really just a collection of links). Then for years SharePoint was the only way to go and we used it for every site we built, from Porsche to PVH. Now, SaaS platforms make it much easier and more affordable — not to mention faster. We’ve been able to pull off sites in less than a month, without impacting the workload of the clients’ IT team.
  3. Print publications never died. Although digital communications fill the lion’s share of our clients’ communication channels nowadays, there’s still a place for print. In our early years at Tribe, we published a printed internal newsletter every month for Porsche. In black and white, because color was way too expensive. Today we do digital newsletters and magazines more often than print, but when there’s a large percentage of employees without dedicated computers, we still recommend printing. For one client, those printed magazines are mailed to each employee’s home. Expensive, yes, but it’s the only channel that goes directly from corporate to the folks in the manufacturing facilities.

One of the most interesting things about the internal communications field is that it’s changing all the time. New platforms, apps and technology provide nearly endless new possibilities for ways the company can communicate with employees. However, the most important element remains, whether you’re typing it up in black and white or shooting 3-D HD scented video to digital watches: it’s just human beings talking to human beings. Authenticity counts, regardless of the medium.

Interested in communicating more authentically to your employees? Tribe can help.

 

 

 

Stephen Burns

Get Out of Your Own Head: Evolving Ideas through Collaboration

Before you start reading this, watch this clip of Paul Simon on the Dick Cavett showCool, right? Now, think about how hard it is to share ideas with others. How often have you wanted to voice your opinion, but couldn’t collect your thoughts perfectly so you didn’t? Listen to how Simon completely, almost nonchalantly, surrenders his incomplete work, his sketched thoughts, to a national TV audience. That is bravery, you say.

But imagine if he hadn’t shared. Without his transparent process, we might never have gotten that brilliant key change into one of the most phenomenal bridges in songwriting history. Am I exaggerating? Maybe. But there are some big lessons that you and your team can take from his boldness. Sharing your ideas with others shines a new light on them, and it can open up a world of possibilities.

Collaboration is imperative to finding answers that work for everyone. When you put an unfinished idea out into the room, you allow others to have input early on. You don’t quite have everything defined, so you can change and evolve the idea as it works with the group. Together, you can shape a solution that will work for everyone. You also get the benefit of alternate perspectives, and this can really only improve your original thoughts.

Stop Editing. Start Creating. As songwriter Darrell Brown so eloquently wrote, “The ego of perfectionism will cut you off from the very cup you long to drink from.” Editing should occur well after ideation takes place. Separate these two processes as much as possible. Editing in your head to get a thought “more complete” is one of the biggest detriments to your idea flow. You’re stunting your own creative growth, firing down your own ideas, and undermining your methods.

Don’t let yourself get stuck. If you start to think you have a mental block, you’ll begin believe it’s there, and it will manifest itself in a matter of seconds. In writing workshops, instructors always tell you, “There is no such thing as writer’s block.” So, if you can’t think of anything, just starting moving your pen. Try an collaboration exercise to clear the cobwebs. Bukowski said it best when he said, “Even writing about a writer’s block is better than not writing at all.”

Give yourself time. Don’t come to a brainstorm cold. The longer you start thinking about a concept, the more you can bring to the table when the time comes to meet with your team. This allows your Eureka moments to happen, and it lets you develop ideas on your own to feel more comfortable speaking up with your team.

Need a hand building up your collaborative culture? Give Tribe a call. We’d love to help.

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

To Shift Culture, Be Honest About the Gap Between Reality and the Vision

Or “Defining reality and creating hope go hand in hand,” as the retired CEO of Yum! brands David Novak put it in a recent LinkedIn post. (FYI, Novak has recently published a book on recognition titled “O Great One!”) His comment was directed at the need for leaders to move past defining reality to “show people where that reality can take them.”

That need also extends to internal communicators. There’s sometimes a temptation for internal communicators to paint the culture a rosier hue than it actually is. People fear being negative. But employees know their culture, because they live the culture, and if you ignore the existing issues, you undermine their trust.

The first step to shifting culture is to acknowledge where you are now. It takes courage to be honest, because if we’re honest, most cultures aren’t where we’d like them to be. Yet human beings, and their resulting cultures, have a tremendous capacity for change.

When you use the reality as a starting point for a vision of what could be, you harness a tremendous amount of power for change. Or as Novak might say, hope.

As internal communicators, our job is to be clear about the first and inspirational about the second. In other words, this is where we are, and this is where we’re going to go. We own our reality, and we also claim our vision.

Interested in shifting your culture? Tribe can help.

 

 

 

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How to Strengthen Internal Communications with Home-Based Employees

Sometimes water cooler talk can be more productive than an hour-long meeting, but unfortunately, employees who work from home can be out of the loop. Strengthening communications with employees who work remotely can lead to improved collaboration, productivity and fulfilled deadlines.

Here are three ways you can increase communication with this employee population:

  1. Update your intranet. If nobody goes to your intranet, it’s not working for you. A strong social intranet can become a Main Street for the company, where employees can bump into each other. That doesn’t mean you have to spend the time and money for the huge undertaking of a new SharePoint site. Check out all the SaaS platforms available now, such as Igloo, Interact and Jive.
  1. Explore Collaborative Software Platforms. Advancement in technology is the main reason that companies are able to allow more of their employees to work from home and technology can help bridge the communication gap with off-site employees as well. Between Asana, eXo Platform, Slack, and Yammer, there are plenty of collaboration software platforms for work related discussion. Utilizing different technology can promote better collaboration between team members, associates and upper management alike.
  1. Prioritize On-Site Interaction. Hosting on-site employee events or finding other opportunities for remote employees to be onsite is a great way to reengage them in company culture and build bonds with coworkers they don’t see, but may work with every day. Making connections with the company and employees can reinforce a sense of purpose within their role and make them more comfortable when engaging with coworkers remotely in the future.

Interested in improving internal communications with home-based employees? Tribe can help.

 

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

Will Direct Mail Work On Millennials? The USPS Says So

The USPS is making a marketing push to convince advertisers that Millennials will respond to direct mail. Will they?

The first voice I hear in my head, in response to that question, is our son’s. He is very quick to point out that you can’t make gross generalizations about an entire generation and that people, regardless of their generation, must be seen as individuals. I’ve heard Millennial employees say the same.

Yeah, yeah, of course. But still, the world that surrounds any generation during their growing up and early adult years will have an impact on forming them as individuals. Boomers didn’t grow up with iPhones — or even the internet. Millennials are different in their experiences of communication.

The second voice I hear is that of my inner creative director. Too often, in my opinion, communicators embrace or eliminate a channel based on past success or the lack thereof. But you can’t dismiss television advertising as ineffective if you’ve only run bad TV spots. You can’t assume an employee magazine won’t work in your company if the ones you’ve done before were poorly written and badly designed.

It’s a matter of content. If you do beautifully designed and smartly written direct mail that engages Millennials on a topic that’s relevant to them, then sure, direct mail could be an excellent channel.

However, Millennials as a group tend to have an ability to sniff out anything inauthentic. For instance, our high-school junior (same son) has been getting a flood of direct mail from colleges in the past year or so. It took him about five minutes to figure out that the same direct mail agency was writing most of them, with similar schticks repeated for college after college.

Now even the direct mail from Harvard and Stanford lies unopened on the kitchen counter. The good news, for the post office,  perhaps, is that he doesn’t click on a lot of their digital ads either. He reads a lot online about the colleges he’s interested in, but seems to skip anything he views as marketing.

When he was about four, he was gazing out the window on a car trip and remarked, “Outdoor advertising doesn’t work for me.” (Yes, he said outdoor advertising instead of billboards because he’s the child of ad people.) I asked him why not and he shrugged. “I can’t read,” he said.

Interested in improving the content in your communication channels? Tribe can help.

 

Nick Miller

Employee Engagement: Communicating corporate values

Start by identifying values that are easy to understand and remember. It is a formidable task to take a leader’s vision for the company and narrow it down to a few words employees should use to guide their efforts. On the flip side, if you want employees to truly adopt the company’s values, they need to be able to remember them and easily discuss their meanings. At Tribe, we recommend no more than three to five values written in language a third grader would understand.

Target recurring occasions and communications to acquaint and connect your workforce to your values. Values shouldn’t live exclusively on the poster on the break room wall. When planning any communications calendar, think of opportunities to incorporate the values into existing internal communication pieces, company events or programs. Rotate your values as the themes of your newsletter content or publish value-focused blogs and leadership videos. We especially like desktop tchotchkes such as Legos that reinforce values while also giving employees something to tinker with while working. The more instances your workforce happens upon corporate values, the better.

Designate values champions throughout the organization. Review your organization chart and identify middle-level managers in each department who have a passion for and exemplify the values. Charge them with ensuring the values are included in internal communication pieces, events and programs. Ask them to recognize other employees who are using or living the values and highlight those associates as heroes of the business. Involve your champions in the gap evaluation process of the values and reward them for the extra work and commitment they are giving to the company.

Integrate the values into your hiring and employee evaluation process. It is easy to say that your values are integral to your company’s success but to show employees the true importance you place on them, they should be included in the hiring and evaluation process. Include values-based questions during the interview as well as a checklist for hiring managers to use to ensure a prospect exemplifies them. A pre-boarding package that introduces values prior to an employee’s start date allows them to feel familiar with the values before their first hour is logged. It can also communicate that company values are of equal importance as other included elements, such as corporate policy. Incorporating your values into your evaluation process will both fortify the significance of values and offer supervisors the opportunity to coach an individual on how they can better employ those values within their work.

Looking to communicate corporate values to your employees? Tribe can help.

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

The Three Levels of Collaboration: Teams, Silos and Customers

What does collaboration mean in your company? When we talk with clients about collaboration in their organizations, almost all of them will mention the strong collaboration between team members.

Work teams are the first level of collaboration. To get the day-to-day work of the company done, you need teams who work together and support each other collaboratively, whether that’s in an operational department or a manufacturing cell.

People often feel strong emotional ties to their team members. They speak of having each other’s backs, or even of it feeling like family. In research, they often tell us they feel a much stronger connection to their immediate work team than to the company overall.

Cross-functional teams take collaboration to the next level. In companies with a strong overall vision that engages employees, we’re likely to see the second level of collaboration. Aligned with a common goal, employees collaborate across functions or geography or business units. Rather than confining their perceived team as their immediate work group or department, the sales team will see the product engineers as collaborative partners. The North American division will look to their colleagues in the EMEA regions for ideas. One apparel brand of a parent company will collaborate with another brand on developing better sourcing strategies.

The holy grail is having employees see the customer as their collaborative partner. Whether you’re selling technology or toilet paper, financial instruments or musical ones, a customer-centric focus indicates a highly evolved company culture.

This is not just for those employees are customer-facing. If you can create a sense of collaboration with the customer throughout the organization, you’ll be unstoppable. In an ideal world, employees will see their jobs in the context of the customer experience. Whatever they’re doing, from building a website to manufacturing products to developing a pricing structure to scheduling work flow, the big win is for them to see what they’re doing through the eyes of the customer and to consider their point of view.

Interested in taking collaboration to a new level in your organization? Tribe can help.