Does your intranet read like a news article or a press release?

For intranet content that truly engages employees, think more like a newspaper editor than a PR exec. In public relations, you try to push the messages and information that you want the readers to know. As a journalist, you look for the stories your readers want to know.

A PR perspective* can result in the rose-colored glasses version of company news. Employees are sophisticated consumers of media, and they’ll see right through that rosy lens. A perpetual and obvious spin can erode trust rather quickly.

Taking a journalistic approach to content will mean thinking through the questions employees will want answered. Telling the whole story, without sidestepping the bits that might not be such good news, results in the sort of authentic content that employees crave.

That doesn’t mean you can’t promote company messaging on the intranet. Among other topics, it can and should contain content that helps employees align with the company vision; educates them on company accomplishments and the achievements of those in other functional silos; and connects employees across geography to remind them they’re part of something larger than their immediate work team.

The intranet is also an excellent place to tell the company’s side of any unsettling event or major change. It offers an opportunity to counteract the rumor mill by sharing the reasons behind a change or the company’s response to an unfortunate event. It can reduce employee stress by giving them the information they need to feel confident in the way management is moving forward. If you want employees to consider the intranet their go-to source for company information, give them an honest appraisal of what’s happening now, what will happen next, and how, and when and to whom.

Remember that an intranet is a pull medium. Employees have to want to see what’s posted, or you’ll never get them to go there. To make your intranet a must-read for employees, offer the news they want, delivered in a way that gives them credit for being intelligent human beings.

Interested in making your intranet the go-to source for employees? Tribe can help.

*This post is not intended to disparage the fine work of public relations professionals, many of whom we respect and admire to the nth degree.

Finding the balance between human and technology

In a recent interview with imgZine, eBay’s Head of Strategic Communications Ben Matthews shared some insight into the company’s data-driven internal communications. What seems to differentiate Matthews from other industry leaders is his decidedly moderate view on technology. Where some IC specialists are leaning heavily, even relying, on technology to engage employees, Matthews maintains a pretty old-school approach.

The balance between personal engagement and technology is crucial but hard to strike. There’s no denying the many benefits of technology, and Matthews’ work at eBay reflects that. He uses survey metrics and analytics, amongst other tech, but these tactics are only in support of the most basic yet effective form of engagement: human interaction. Here are some more of Matthews’ thoughts on internal communications. You can check out the full interview here.

On his preferred IC channels:

“I am a huge believer in ‘simple and often’. Also, technology could depersonalize the experience and cause confusion. That’s why I’ve built a ‘face first’ model, which encourages leaders to have a weekly team meeting.”

On engagement surveys:

“My point is that it’s dangerous to use general engagement surveys in an interpretive manner… Also, why do businesses routinely sample customer metrics on a daily/weekly basis, but when it comes to a key business enabler like employees, only sample them once or twice a year?”

On functional metrics:

“Culture is a huge driver of engagement, yet businesses tend to only measure functional or rational engagement. Take the classic question, ‘would you recommend this business to a friend?’ Asking someone a largely hypothetical question in that way is likely to generate an overly positive response as people rationalize their reply. What businesses should be asking is, ‘have you recommended this business to a friend?’ That would generate a much better view as it shows how many colleagues have actioned a perception.”

Matthews will also be speaking at this years’ BOC Internal Communications Conference in London. You can find more information about that here.

Corporate leadership and two-way communications

Fast Company recently featured a study that examined the success ratios (and failures) of attempts on summiting Mt. Everest. To understand the impact of hierarchical cultures in high-pressure group situations, the study analyzed more than 5,000 expeditions and 30,000 climbers over the past 100 years. The researchers included Eric Anicich and Adam Galinsky from Columbia Business School along with Roderick Swaab of INSEAD, an international business school. Their focus was on expeditions whose climbers were from countries (27 of them) with a more hierarchical business approach.

In the simplest terms, climbers from more hierarchical countries had the highest rate of success in summiting Everest. Unfortunately, this same subset had the highest mortality rate on the mountain. The organization and leadership provided by hierarchical structures allow initiatives to move forward more efficiently and productively. However, hierarchy can also create an environment that inhibits low-ranking team members from speaking up and sharing their valuable and critical insights. These insights can mean the difference in life or death in certain high-risk situations.

The study speaks to examples of the wealthy, type-A adventurers who domineer the expedition team. (I’ve noticed that Europeans often call these Americans.) The one-sided relationships can cause experienced Sherpas to keep quiet when their wisdom might be needed to keep the team alive.

The reported lack of team coordination on the Asian Airlines crash in 2013 is a similar example. After months of analysis on equipment, weather and other factors, a lack communication (between very experienced pilots) received a large percentage of blame. In what is known as Cockpit Culture, the senior captain is viewed as supreme. In this instance, the co-pilot, who happened to have more experience with both the type of aircraft and the airport, did not feel that it was appropriate to override the Captain until the situation was beyond repair.

 We’re not all going to be climbing Everest or piloting a 777, but we see examples of this in more mundane workplaces. At Tribe, we regularly see instances of employees who are uncomfortable or unwilling to air issues or bring ideas to the table due to the fear of backlash or apathy from the feeling that they’re never listened to.

We work with health care organizations, where this lack of communication could indeed endanger lives. We work with engineering and technology groups where design errors and problem-solving issues could have significant longer-term consequences. More often, though, we work with retail and service organizations where a lack of two-way communications simply means that the company isn’t getting the most out of the knowledge base of its frontline organization.

Clearly, the goal is for a company’s leadership to drive toward a culture of open and productive communication throughout the organization. However there’s always going to be a percentage of an employee population that feels uncomfortable providing input on or critiquing management’s strategies or tactics.

Through engagement surveys and other feedback loops we can understand where communications roadblocks exist. We can develop a decent sense of the root causes of the issues or threats. As communicators, we can ensure that channels are in place that allows team members to provide timely input – anonymously if necessary – on projects or initiatives that are important to the company.

The research team sums the issue up very nicely. “Whether a team is climbing a mountain in the Himalayas or tackling a high-stakes business challenge in the boardroom, it’s critical to leverage the coordination benefits of hierarchy while also embracing an environment that encourages and rewards participation and input from all levels,” said Anicich.

Working on two-way communication strategies? Tribe can help.

Collaboration means asking others for input, not giving them a vote

Why is collaboration getting so much attention in large companies? As knowledge and expertise become increasingly specialized, collaboration across functional areas becomes even more critical to successful business results.

But collaboration slows things down. It requires rounding up people in diverse roles across the company, and usually across geography. Coordinating the schedules of everyone in the group for an in-person meeting or conference call is no easy feat. In most cases, it’s not going to happen next week, or even next month.

It’s much faster for one functional unit to make decisions and move on. In Tribe’s national study on collaboration, many respondents cited this time drag as a reason why they often skip the step of getting input from other areas in the company.

But are the right decisions being made? There are no doubt insights the sales team can share about what customers are really looking for; that the programmers can clarify in regards to what the software can really do; or that one division of the company can offer regarding a key customer they share with another division.

However, the collaborative meeting is not the place to make decisions. When people come together to collaborate, it should be for the purpose of providing their unique expertise, input and feedback. Trying to reach consensus on a decision is not only difficult, it’s unlikely to result in the best decision.

Everybody gets a voice, but not a vote. The happy medium – or the Middle Way, as the Buddhists would say – is to invite many different perspectives but not give away the power to make the final determination. The responsibility for decision-making should remain with those who own the project or initiative under discussion.

Interested in fostering more collaboration in your company? Tribe can help.


The growing importance of mobile

This week, Cisco released it’s numbers on mobile devices in 2014. And the results were clear. We’re moving quickly toward becoming a majority-mobile society. You’ve seen the latest tech: wearable devices like Samsung and Apple’s smart watches; smart thermostats and smoke detectors from companies like Nest. We are becoming more and more dependent on the grid and the Internet of Things. Simply put, we have tech in almost every aspect of our lives, at home and on the go. Here are the numbers for average mobile users in 2014:

585 MB Traffic/month

  • 3 hours of video
  • 3 hours of audio
  • 10 video calls
  • 4 app downloads

But perhaps more interestingly, they also released their predictions for mobile use in 2019. Based on the trends for this year, Cisco surmised what the tech world will look like in five years. Initially, I was shocked at the results. But considering the leap we’ve made since 2010, the year of the first iPad and “check-in” apps, it is a plausible jump. Here are the predicted numbers for 2019:

4.4 GB Traffic/month

  • 30 hours of video
  • 10 hours of audio
  • 10 video calls
  • 20 app downloads

People are becoming more and more accustomed to doing almost everything on mobile devices. Cisco also sees wearable tech increasing by almost five-fold. It’s also interesting to note that though these numbers represent the average global user, the study suggests that North Americans will play a significant role in the increase.

This shows a huge potential for mobile in the workplace. Some of the main reasons companies are weary of investing in mobile is the fear that it will be underutilized, that people will be unable to take advantage of the features or that it will cost too much. And even though the future of mobile is impossible to see, these numbers should put to rest most of those concerns.

Employees need mobile. In an increasingly on-the-go society, employees need more options to receive company information. Tribe’s research shows that employees want and need to process information in different ways and through different channels. And especially for younger generations and non-desk workers, mobile is fast becoming the preferred alternate channel. If these trends continue (and we think they will) in the coming years, more options will become available and your company will be able to cater to what employees want.

Tribe comic: Grow Your Own Cube Farm


Communicating with non-desk workers

In the upcoming tenth issue of the Tribe Report, we’ll be discussing how some of the top companies in the world communicate with non-desk workers. This is a topic that is near and dear to our hearts, and something we deal with every day. Non-desk employees are a key part of companies, often they’re on the frontline and interacting with consumers. They need to be believers and carriers of your company’s vision and values. But because they’re in a factory or behind the wheel of a truck they’re one of the hardest demographics to target in terms of communication.

Letting employees choose how they receive company information is key to creating effective communications. And non-desk workers are no different. At Tribe, we believe there are three pillars of communication, and using them all effectively truly helps companies reach the entire employee population, especially non-desk. This is how some of the top companies are using to keep their non-desk workers informed and engaged.

1) Technology
Just because employees aren’t sitting at a desk in front of a computer doesn’t mean the intranet is out of the question. Many companies set up computer kiosks in break areas or in some other public area where employees can access the intranet and other online sources. Others use closed circuit TV or large monitors for videos that communicate cultural messages or company news. But perhaps the most direct way to reach field employees is by mobile. You can send short updates via text, provide call-in numbers to hear a recorded message from leadership or even create a smart phone app to keep these employees up to speed.

Who’s doing what:

• UPS has added a Twitter account for employees to their communications mix

• The Home Depot recently launched an opt-in texting program for associates

• IBM offers over 400 apps for employees in their internal mobile store

• McDonald’s has created their own employee radio station to play in their kitchens

2) Print
In many global companies, traditional print is making a comeback. Sometimes that means mailing a monthly or quarterly magazine to each employee’s home, but it also can be more economical solutions like printed newsletters or posters in employee break rooms. People like to have something they can hold in their hands, especially when they’re not connected by computer. Print can also serve as a support piece to online initiatives.

Who’s doing what:

• UPS, The Home Depot and Disney all mail their magazine to employees’ homes

• Embassy Suites recently published a book to communicate the finer points of their culture

• Porsche printed a how-to guide for the new intranet they recently launched

3) Face to Face
When it comes to human communication, there’s no substitute for face time. At Tribe, we’re seeing more companies shifting their focus back to in person meetings with employees. Top leadership is being charged with going out to meet with employees in the field and more communication from corporate is being distributed through conversations between people managers and their staff.

Who’s doing what:

• Zappos holds weekly zuddles for call center managers to discuss hot topics with team members

• Duke Energy executives visit plants and operation centers for informal conversations and Q&As with field employees

• LexisNexis had top management greet employees with hot coffee when they arrived at work

The Waffle House EVP: offering meaningful work by serving the community during disasters

How does your organization provide meaningful work? If your company is developing the cure for cancer or your non-profit is addressing world hunger, it’s easy to identify the higher purpose that’s part of your Employee Value Proposition. But for companies with less obvious contributions to making the world a better place, it’s sometimes a challenge to help employees feel that their work is truly making a difference.

Waffle House might not be the first company that comes to mind when you think of meaningful work. But their employees know customers depend on them 24/7. Sometimes all their customers need is eggs and bacon in the wee hours after some hard partying. Other times they turn to Waffle House for safe harbor in a storm.

So much so that FEMA has developed what they call the Waffle House Index. A recent story on NPR reports that FEMA uses Waffle House closings to track the impact of hurricanes and severe storms. If a Waffle House is not open, it’s a good indicator that things are pretty bad in that area. “It just doesn’t happen where Waffle House is normally shut down,” said Philip Strouse, FEMA’s private sector liaison for the Southeast. “They’re sort of the canary in the coal mine, if you will.”

It’s not by accident that Waffle House provides a refuge for the community. Company management has made disaster preparedness a part of their overall business strategy – and their employee culture.

There’s a Waffle House hurricane playbook, for instance. Pat Warner, VP of Culture at Waffle House, said the employees refer to the playbook when a disaster hits their community. Hurricanes and winter storms are also monitored at corporate, which will rent generators and send teams to areas where a storm is expected to hit.

Waffle House also has an emergency menu in place for such disasters. Developed by engineers, the menu makes the most of available electricity and other resources, while enabling the staff to dish up a lot of food fast for the overflowing crowds gathered there. Two items you won’t be able to order in an emergency are waffles (waffle makers use so much electricity they can tax the generators) and bacon (all those strips take up too much geography on the grill).

In Atlanta’s 2014 Snowpocalypse, commuters stranded on highways gathered at Waffle House restaurants all over the city. NPR interviewed William Palmer, manager of a Waffle House in Norcross, about that experience. “My day was pretty long,” he said. “Basically, make sure the customer area was safe, make sure we (de-)iced the road, and just make sure everything was great for the customers.”

Like emergency personnel from fire fighters to ER staffs, Waffle House employees put serving the community in an emergency ahead of being at home with their own families. That doesn’t happen without a culture that places a strong value on filling that role and creates employee pride in the community being able to count on them.

And like most defining elements of a company culture, that starts at the very top. “What we’ve found in discussions with Waffle house is that they really considered responding to emergencies part of their core mission to meet the needs of customers,” said Julie Swann, associate professor at Georgia Tech, who uses the example of Waffle House in her work.

 Interested in building your employee culture? Tribe can help.

Wellness in the workplace: Make it a competition

Around this time every year, Tribe starts its annual 12-week fitness competition. Anyone can compete, but no one has to. Those who choose to join set a personal weekly workout goal they have to stick with.

Each week you complete all your workouts, you get one point. Whoever has the most points after 12 weeks wins a cash prize. If you complete almost the number of workouts in your goal one week, you get zero points. No partial credit for even the best excuses.

At Tribe, we try to make our competition as democratic as possible without making it too easy. Participants create their own schedule that pushes their normal workout routine. So for instance, someone who never exercises can set a goal of 3 workouts per week but someone who works out 4 times a week already should probably up their goal to 5 or 6 days a week. This allows everyone to participate and have an equal shot at winning.

A new addition to Tribe’s fitness competition is a health screening. At the beginning of the 12 weeks we had Megan Hill, an exercise physiologist with A Stronger Workplace, take each participant’s Before Measures of BMI, body fat percentage, flexibility, grip strength, and a few others. She’ll come again at the end of the competition to help us pick a second winner this year – for most improved overall health score.

Many companies implement similar health assessments to help lower insurance costs and overall employee health. A recent article published on Yahoo news said, “One of the largest studies on workplace wellness programs involved 14,555 employees and spanned seven years at PepsiCo. After three years, the program was associated with lower health care costs. After seven years, the savings averaged $360 per employee.”

Wellness programs can be an extremely effective engagement tool and can have even more significant long-term effects. At Tribe we realize wellness is an important aspect of internal brand culture and a great way to build engagement.

Need help engaging employees through wellness? Tribe can help!

Internal communications isn’t always a priority until the C-level has a problem they want solved

How can we convince our executive management that we need internal communications? That’s the question I was asked by an attendee at a conference where I was a panelist last week. Without my glasses, I couldn’t see her nametag or company name.

But it was easy to imagine what things were like at her company. I would guess that she works for a company where executive management is siloed from the rank and file employee population. The top executives probably have a vision for the company, but have not communicated that vision to employees. There’s probably very little opportunity for employees to share questions, ideas or concerns through two-way communication with the top. And if they fielded an employee engagement survey, which they likely have not, the results would probably show fairly low engagement scores.

Unfortunately, that company isn’t likely to address employee engagement or internal communications issues until there’s a problem the C-level wants solved. Maybe that’s because new leadership sees that the culture doesn’t support the collaboration they need to be competitive in the market. Or a major change is coming that employees are not likely to welcome. Or the company is having trouble recruiting and retaining start talent. Or maybe they finally did an employee engagement survey and were concerned by the results.

At Tribe, we love being asked to help solve those problems. We know we can help; we see where we can add value; and we’ve had experience solving similar problems with other large companies.

Even better is finding a company that addresses employee engagement proactively. Europeans and Australians seem to be well ahead of Americans in understanding the power of internal communications. But more and more U.S.-based companies — like SAS, Quicken Loans, Klimpton Hotels, Zappos, the Container Store, Whole Foods Market and many others – are pointing to engagement as a key element of their success.

That helps executive management in other companies begin to see that internal communications isn’t something you do to be warm and fuzzy. It’s something companies do to be more competitive and more profitable.

Does your C-level have a problem internal communications can solve? Tribe can help.