Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

Building employee trust requires honesty — and proactive communication

Here’s the thing: trust is not about guaranteeing employees that nothing bad will ever happen. If building trust requires a guarantee of anything, it’s that the company will tell employees what’s really going on, even if it’s bad.

Employees are smart enough to realize that no company can promise lifetime employment anymore. Most employees don’t even want lifetime employment. They want interesting, challenging work, and in an ideal scenario, work that they find personally meaningful.

They start a new job with the expectation that eventually they’ll move on to another company. Ideally, this would be when they themselves decide it’s time for a change. But unless they’ve been living under a rock for the past decade, they recognize that sometimes companies have to lay people off, eliminate positions or somehow reduce head count.

Honesty, then, becomes the real building block of trust. Employees feel trust in their company — and thus do their best work and are most engaged — when they believe management is being honest with them. So how does a company go about doing that?

1. Tell employees about any significant changes in the company — and tell them fast, before the rumor mill and the media get a jump on you. Some CEOs and other leaders delude themselves into thinking that if they don’t say anything, the employees won’t notice that anything is going on. Wrong. Employees know when something is up, and in the absence of management communication, they’ll take their information wherever they can get it, often from each other.

2. Tell the truth, even when it’s bad news. Particularly when it’s bad news. If employees know that the company will be straight with them in communicating negative developments, then they tend not to worry so much. Ironically, sharing bad news makes employees feel more comfortable instead of less so.

3. Give employees credit for being smart enough to know business includes both ups and downs. Most people have experienced plenty of highs and lows in their own lives, and they have an understanding that things move in cycles. Just because the business is down today, doesn’t mean it won’t be up tomorrow.

4. Make room for employees to ask questions. You have to make this honest communication a two-way street. Provide an intranet page for submitting questions or employee Q&A in town hall meetings or some venue for your people to ask management about the tough issues. That gives the company a chance to respond to the concerns that you have to accept are swirling around the workplace. The other side of that coin is that employees need the information they need to make their own decisions –even if that means their decision will be to leave the company. Although by answering their questions, you make it less likely that they’ll feel in a panic to jump ship. Often, the reality is not nearly as bad as employees imagine it to be.

5. Share the management vision for the future. Most corporate management teams believe they’re doing this all the time, and it’s true that the people closest to them are familiar with the vision. But when we speak to the rank and file, there is most often a disconnect and the further away an employee is from the top, the less confident they are that the company leadership has a plan. There are many ways to do this, but one of the most effective is a management blog, which we at Tribe liken to “walking the halls, electronically.” A employee blog allows a CEO to communicate one on one with the entire workplace, and to reinforce the vision over and over, and to discuss a range of aspects of that vision.

Interested in communicating proactively and honestly about an upcoming change? Tribe can help.


Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

Successful Change Management Starts with Respect for Employees

Having employees embrace or accept change depends a great deal on whether they feel they’re being treated with respect.Overcome Resistance to Change with Two Conversations,” a fantastic article in the Harvard Business Review by two thought leaders from the Kellogg School of Management, suggests that feeling a lack of respect is one of three reasons behind those who resist organizational change. (The other two they discuss are disagreement and feeling rushed.)

Can their excellent strategies for one-on-one conversations be applied to internal communications? Yes and no. They’re correct that email and webcasts can’t accomplish what a face-to-face dialogue can. But those engineering a major change in large companies with thousands or tens of thousands of employees obviously can’t sit down with every single person the change will impact.

Still, the change communications can start from a place of respect for employees. The inevitable email, town hall, intranet articles and/or webcasts can all frame the transition in ways that acknowledge the difficulties of the change and communicate honestly about the downsides  — as well as the ways the change will benefit the company and its employees in the long run.

In addition, Tribe would recommend three key elements to the change communications:

  1. Have the CEO announce the change: In Tribe’s national research with employees of large companies, respondents said they wanted to hear about a big change first from the top brass. They want their leadership to be straightforward about bad news and not sugarcoat it or spin it. And they want to know the business reasons behind the change.
  2. Prep managers to answer questions: Employees in our research said they would likely follow up with their direct managers to ask questions, so help your managers be prepared with talking points, FAQs and possibly communication training on this particular change. You want each manager to be sharing the same messaging as the CEO — and as the other managers out there, so employees aren’t hearing different versions of the story depending on who they talk to.
  3. Give employees a feedback loop: Two-way communication is particularly important in times of major change. Give employees a way to ask questions and share concerns, and be sure they get responses in a timely way.

Interesting in improving acceptance of a major change at your company? Tribe can help.



Nick Miller

Change Management: Four Tips to Communicate Bad News Best

Yellow road sign saying changes ahead with blue cloudy skyHeraclitus said “Change is the only constant in life,” and that applies as much to a company as any individual. Stagnation will smother a company’s success and so change should be celebrated as a part of the corporate life cycle. But sometimes change can be bad news to members of your workforce.

That doesn’t mean they don’t want to be informed. It’s the obligation of a business to keep their employees up-to-date on news that can affect their daily lives. In those instances, leadership is given the opportunity to communicate change respectively.

Here are five best practices for communicating with employees during tough times in a manner that helps employees get the right message for how to move forward:

  1. Focus on what you can impact. In other words, don’t waste precious time on things you can’t control. As much as you’d like to, you can’t dictate someone’s response to a message, nor do you have the luxury of changing the message to suit each individual. The most sensible and kind way to handle difficult communications is to deliver messages and news in an appropriate and timely manner.
  2. It’s about tone. It’s tough to deliver bad news one day and then follow with neutral or even positive news the next, but that is essential for a healthy communications team. It’s as detrimental to dwell on the hard decisions made yesterday as it is to rest on your laurels. Think of a newscaster whose job it is to report on a tragedy and then talk about a random act of kindness. Changing your tone accordingly is part of the job.
  3. Have a post-announcement plan. If you’re communications plan stops after the message is delivered, you can lose control of how that message evolves. Plan one or multiple follow up messages in order to combat the rumor mill. Initiate checkpoints to gauge how it’s going and invite feedback. Employees will feel more engaged if you involve them in the process.
  4. Don’t be surprised if employees think change is bad. If you’re not properly prepared for a negative response, it can come across as though your employees’ feelings were not factored in. Acknowledge that the news is unfortunate, but it is a part of the business process.

Need help communicating change to your employees? Tribe can help.


Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

The most common mistakes in change management communications

What’s the biggest mistake you could possibly make in communicating change?  The absolute worst would be to tell employees something that would make them feel better, but might not be true. For instance, saying there will be no layoffs with an impending merger, before management knows for certain that there won’t be. In the midst of change, there are many moving parts, and some early assumptions may be revised as more details and numbers are fleshed out.

On the other hand, it’s also a  mistake is to say nothing because the details haven’t yet been finalized. Employees can accept the fact that you can’t tell them everything right now. What causes them more stress is the sneaking suspicion that something’s afoot and management isn’t telling them anything. We advise clients that it’s perfectly fine to say, “We don’t know yet, but we’ll tell you when we do,” or “We can’t share that information, but what I can tell you is such and such.” In any case, you certainly want to avoid having your employees hear the news from someone outside the company, whether it’s a neighbor who’s related to top management or the business section of the newspaper.

You can also minimize stress for employees by acknowledging what we call the Two Big Fears. In the face of any major change in the workplace, employees worry about two major questions: “Will I lose my job?” If the answer to that is no, then the next concern is “Will this make my job more difficult?” Acknowledging those two issues can take some of the heat off them.

It’s human nature to imagine the worst. So in the absence of communication regarding the change, employees’ imaginations will fill in the gaps and rumours will begin seeping through your organization. Setting realistic expectations can be a relief. Most people would rather know what to expect, even if it’s not good news, than to be left in the dark.

The most important key to successfully communicating change is to begin with a foundation of respect for the employees. That means treating employees like the intelligent adults they are, as well as putting yourself 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?

Interested in communicating change more effectively at your company? Tribe can help.

Steve Baskin

Effective Internal Communications is Everyone’s Responsibility

During a discovery interview last week, a senior executive noted that if the communications team was left to manage this particular communications initiative, the outcome of the project was going to be far too narrow. His point was that internal communications is a company-wide issue rather than the prerogative of a single department. And as Jocabim Mugatu so wisely allowed in Zoolander, “He’s exactly right!”

Effective communications inside a company is the responsibility of every executive, every manager and every employee – everyone has a role. It’s leadership’s responsibility to prioritize the importance of consistent and appropriately transparent communications as well as ensuring that information is properly cascaded throughout the company. It’s the responsibility of managers to interpret the communications and relay it to front line and non-desk employees. It’s everyone’s responsibility to act on the communications and provide feedback whenever necessary.

To get this done, though, the communications team is critically important. Their role is to support business communications that enable the company to be as productive as possible. To provide the most effective channels for communications. And to ensure that barriers to open communications are minimized.

It starts with a keen understanding of the vision and values of the company’s leadership. What is the company trying to achieve? How will they go about it? How will individual employees and teams achieve the company’s goals? What do employees need to know on a daily basis to in order achieve the goals?

When an initiative or a significant change is happening, the communications team should understand how the initiative affects various demographics throughout the company – from business leaders to front line sales to production floor employees. It’s rarely a one-size-fits-all conversation. While everyone doesn’t need to know everything, there should be a broad understanding of what the company is doing, and how the initiative helps achieve company goals. There should be an understanding of how employees’ individual roles contribute to the success of the initiative.

Communications channels are a key consideration and will likely be different based on the target audience and the type of message. There are a number of questions that should be answered. Do employees use computers for their work? Do they have access to the company intranet? Do they have a dedicated email address? Do they have mobile access? What are the realities of the work environment? How involved or complicated is the message? Knowledge of the effectiveness of various channels for different types of employees (and for different kinds of communications) will minimize communications roadblocks.

The tone and positioning of the message must be appropriate given the subject matter and audience. Is this a serious communication? Clearly, it’s not appropriate to be too terribly funny when messages might have a negative impact on employees’ livelihoods. However, there are many times when a novel channel approach or a witty headline might help the message get through to employees. Keep in mind that these communications have a lot of competition for mindshare – even in the work place.

Finally, we should ensure that the communication worked as intended. Many times this will be obvious based on the actions of employees. Other times, internal research is required to measure improvement to understand if the message or changes are taking place as intended.

So yes, the entire company is responsible for effective internal communications. Most often though, having a skilled communications professional on board will ensure that the communications work as planned. Tribe can help.

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

Change Management Best Practices: FDR’s Fireside Chats

“For the first time, a president seemed to speak to Americans one-on-one.” This intro for FDR’s microphone — from the Smithsonian Magazine’s recent “101 Objects That Made America” issue — stopped me in my tracks because it’s such a dead ringer for the latest best practices in corporate change management.

In times of major change, employees want to hear from the CEO. Tribe’s recent research with the national employee population indicates they not only want to hear more from their top corporate management; they also have a strong preference for more face-to-face communication from their leaders. Some corporate leaders dismiss that notion as impractical in terms of geography.

There are countless ways to create that sort of human connection without being in the same room. FDR was an early adopter of new technology when he used radio to reach out to the American public. Today’s C-level execs have an incredible range of options for speaking directly to the people — from webcasting to forums to blogging to yammering.

FDR’s message was as spot-on as his medium. “I want to tell you what has been done in the last few days, why it was done, and what the next steps are going to be,” he said in his initial fireside chat. That’s exactly what employees tell us they want to know in the midst of change: the truth about the change, the reasons for that change, and what they should expect next.

And talk about high engagement levels. His audience is said to have been 90 percent of the American public.

3 (Quick) Change Marketing Tips

Does the idea of change make you queasy? Are you spearheading a change initiative but don’t know where to start? Below are three tips to make change marketing as painless as possible.  Remember, change isn’t bad.  All good things were created out of someone changing how it was done before.

Prepare by developing a communication strategy.  The foundation of any change-marketing program is communication. As soon as you know the change could happen, begin developing a communication strategy. The plan doesn’t need to be super complex but should include a messaging matrix that addresses what messages will be released to which audiences and the frequency. Next, look at your communication vehicles. Change doesn’t need to be ugly and each employee will react to different messages in various vehicles.  Plan on having multiple vehicles that are visually appealing and easy to understand.

Train the leadership team – Gamify it! Leaders within the organization are likely going to experience the same fear and anxiety as other employees. Take the time to educate the leadership and management team on the changes – but make it interactive. Change doesn’t have to be presented in a fearful way; it can be upbeat and even fun. The leadership team will in turn, share the change message with employees in that same sentiment.

Let your employees be heard – and heard again. Once you have sent the change messages out, the leadership team needs to clear their calendars and be prepared to listen. Employees may be feeling uneasy about the change and by having the opportunity to ask questions and receive answers, it will not only ease their fears but it will slow down the rumor mill. Realize that each employee will process the messages at different speeds, so the listening phase make take a while. An open door and a compassionate ear will go along way in making the employees comfortable with what lies ahead.