Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

What to Tell Employees About Robots Taking Their Jobs

First the good news: A recent Forrester report estimates that automation will create about 15 million jobs over the next decade. Now the bad: the same report says it will also eliminate 25 million jobs.

It’s reasonable for employees to feel some anxiety about the prospects of automation in the workplace. For many companies, from paper mills to hotels, robots are already on the job.

So what do you tell employees? What you don’t tell them is that it will never happen in your company. It likely will, and you never want to promise employees an easy answer that could prove false.

Be honest. If there are ways automation can cut labor costs, it would behoove the company to take advantage of that. It will be better for employees, in the long run, to be working for a company that’s profitable and competing successfully in the marketplace.

But honest doesn’t mean the future’s all doom and gloom. Many experts believe this will be more of a transformation than a gutting of the workplace, and that automation will create new jobs that didn’t exist before. 

What’s more, these new jobs may be more fulfilling. The grunt work that people don’t enjoy is the work that’s easy to delegate to a robot. Rather than being replaced by robots, many employees will be working side by side with them. And while there are robots being developed that can interact with humans, the most important customer service will still happen person to person.

Person-to-person interactions will also remain a primary reason employees choose to stay at a company or leave it. Their relationships with their coworkers and their bosses will continue to impact whether they’re excited to get to work or dreading it.

Stress the importance of your company culture. As always, communicate the vision you’re trying to achieve. Point to real-life examples of the values being applied to day-to-day work decisions. Celebrate and recognize the people doing the important work of the company — not just in the C-suite but on the frontlines and manufacturing line as well.

Make certain your internal communications make employees visible. Interview them, photograph them, acknowledge their accomplishments. When employees know that their individual contributions to the company’s success are valued, they may be less inclined to fear automation.

Interested in internal communications that make employees feel recognized and appreciated? Tribe can help.

Steve Baskin

The Predictive Nature of Change Communications

highway traffic on a lovely, sunny summer day. Cars are passing fast.

I love trying to predict when we’re going to get to the destination on a family trip. I figure out the distance. I estimate an average speed. I do the math on speed times and distance. Then I guess at how many rest areas or food stops we’ll have to make. I’m pretty good at it and amaze family and friends by guessing within a minute or two. I’m sure that makes me sound really, really cool.

What’s interesting about it to me is trying to make educated guesses given all of the possible variables. Traffic that no one expected. An extra bathroom stop. Thinking that the Starbucks is actually at the exit instead of a mile or two away. Of course, if something happens to slow the trip down, there’s always the option to speed things up a bit when we’re back on the highway. Or take the foot off the pedal if things are on schedule. The point is that by staying focused on the outcome, there are things we can do to help ensure that we get the proper result.

Change communications are very similar. When we’re working with a client on a change management project, we’re typically asked to make as educated a guess as is possible to determine what type of communication is going to elicit the desired outcome.

At Tribe we refer to this as Change Marketing. Our ability to get as close as is possible to the right communication strategy requires a great deal of discovery and immersion. Like the car trip, it’s about brainstorming over as many potential outcomes as we can imagine. Thinking through the purpose of the initiative. How the change might affect the lives of those involved. How the change affects the work environment. How the change aligns with the existing culture.

By the way, they call it change management, not change do-it-once-and-you’re-done. Change within organizations requires vision for where the organization is trying to go. And it requires time, effort and energy to make sure you actually get something done. Also, we call it Change Marketing, not change we-made-the-poster-so-we-must-be-done.

The answers may already exist, or we may have to go find them. But when we’re able to do our job at its highest level, we map out what is needed and work with our clients to the to the right result.

Tribe’s process typically involves conversations with leadership to understand the vision that supports the change. Focus groups with a diverse number of employees to get a picture of the existing mindset and to unearth obstacles that might be in the way. Employee surveys to quantify the direction of our thinking. By the way, these surveys can also serve as a baseline measurement for the initiative.

Good data plus intelligent planning equals better results. When you’re as educated as you can be about the trip you’re about to embark on, and you’ve thought through the potential detours along the way, you have a much better chance of knowing when and how you’ll get there.

Want some help with your change initiatives? Tribe can help.

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

Cascading Communications: Give Managers Communications Tools

In many, if not most, large companies, communication from corporate is cascaded through direct managers. For instance, corporate will email managers the news, and then managers are expected to share that news with their people.

This is particularly common with non-desk employees, like those on the retail floor, in the distribution centers, the manufacturing facilities and out in the field. Since these employees rarely have company email addresses, corporate deems them nearly impossible to reach, except through their managers.

In Tribe’s research, employees have two concerns about communications that come through their managers. The first is timeliness, in that some managers will share with their team right away, others will eventually get around to it, and still others may never do it. Corporate often has no way of knowing whether the information has in fact been shared or not.

The other issue employees often cite is inconsistency of message. Human nature being what it is, each manager will filter the information through their own lens. Employees in our research often referenced the childhood game of Telephone, where a message is whispered from one person to the next to the next until what the last person in line hears bares little resemblance to the original message.

Tribe’s research also indicates that many direct managers may struggle with this process. In our most recent study, 53 percent wanted online tools to help them communicate with their teams more effectively. This could be a comprehensive online tool kit of PowerPoint presentations, email templates and videos. Or it could be as simple as providing a one-pager of talking points and maybe another page of FAQ.

Either way, these communication tools address several issues at once. They increase the likelihood that direct managers will indeed share corporate communications with their teams. They promote consistency of message. And they help both the direct managers and their direct reports feel supported and valued.

Of course, in most cases Tribe would also recommend some corporate communications that go directly to employees rather than through their managers. In our research, 72 percent said that hearing from their top management is important to them. And 84 percent said they currently receive “not enough” information from corporate.

Even with employees who don’t have company email addresses, direct communication from corporate is quite feasible. If you’d like to know more, just ask us. Tribe can help.

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

84% of Employees Say Change Management Communications Handled Poorly

In Tribe’s employee research, 84 percent feel that communications about major changes in their companies are handled poorly. If you’re interested in your employees falling into that 84 percent, here are three sure-fire ways to completely blow it with employees:

1. Don’t say anything at all until every single detail is final. This is an awesome idea if you want employees to feel insecure and uneasy. Especially if they somehow suspect change is afoot and begin to spread that suspicion via the grapevine.

2. Tell them what they want to hear. For instance, if there’s currently no plan for layoffs, go ahead and promise them that all their jobs are definitely safe and they don’t have a thing to worry about. If that changes, they probably won’t even remember the earlier communication.

3. If it’s bad news, don’t talk about it. If you don’t acknowledge that something has gone wrong, or that a difficult change is coming, then you can keep employees from knowing a thing about it.

What’s that? You prefer treating employees with respect? Then you might find the following tips more in keeping with your approach:

• Don’t patronize them by withholding negative news. They’d rather know what to expect than be left in the dark.

• Tell employees as much as you can as soon as you can. If aspects of the change are not yet decided, tell them that too.

• Don’t make the mistake of thinking employees get all their information about the company from the company. They have plenty of other sources, from the financial news to the local news and from social media to social connections.

Want some guidance in handling change communications? Tribe can help.

Steve Baskin

Leadership may know all the words, but don’t assume employees know the song

Leadership is listening all day long to a radio station employees don’t get. Those top layers of company management hear the same songs over and over. They know all the words by heart.

Most often, that station isn’t even on the dial for employees. They’re not in those meetings with C-level and the one or two layers below. They don’t see the same PowerPoints their boss’s boss’s boss sees. They’re not rubbing elbows with other SVPs or bumping into the CEO in the hallway. And the email that gets pushed to all employees describing the company’s new vision and values will rarely capture the nuance behind the new direction.

Tribe’s national research on functional silos indicates that executive management is often detached from employees. Although we generally think of silos as vertical divisions, in many companies the leadership level exists in its own horizontal silo.

This divide can make it difficult for leadership to know what employees don’t know. The vision of the company is clear to leadership because it’s a focus of their work. The business reasons for major disruptive changes in the company are apparent because they’re dealing with those business objectives every day. Employees are often left out of this communication loop.

Vision and change, however, are the two topics employees want to hear directly from the top. In other Tribe research, employees shared that when there’s a major change afoot, they prefer to hear it first from executive leadership. For questions and more details, they’re comfortable following up with their direct managers but that’s not where they want to get the breaking news. And when the discussion turns to where the company is headed, employees want their top management to fill them in on that vision.

Ironically, being isolated from the rest of the company makes it difficult for leadership to recognize their isolation. When we do employee interviews during the discovery phase of our work with clients, it often comes as a surprise to leadership that their employees feel so out of the loop on the vision and the reasons behind change.

That recognition is often the first step to aligning employees with leadership’s plan for the company’s future. When channels are developed to communicate directly from those at the top to the rest of the company; when employees feel in the loop on leadership’s plans; and when they see how their individual roles support leadership’s vision, it can create powerful alignment that streamlines success of the company.

The goal is to teach everybody the words to the songs leadership hums all day long. If you’re not sure where to start, Tribe can help.

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

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.

 

Brittany Walker

The importance of prepping managers for change communications

Providing the resources needed for cascading consistent communications is extremely important. In many cases, managers are responsible for delivering messages to their teams. While not necessarily a bad method at all, it’s easy for this technique to become less than stellar for accurate and timely communications. Without the proper guidelines and tools in place, managers will filter any information they receive their own lenses. The problem comes in when their interpretation of the message changes, slightly or vastly, from the message the company intended.

The answer to this common conundrum may be easier than you think. Providing managers with simple communications tools, like talking points and FAQ sheets to help them keep on message in face-to-face sessions, can go a long way towards making things easier on managers. And making communication easier for managers will increase the likelihood that the message will be shared.

For major initiatives or change management issues, a communications toolkit can be an efficient solution. You can accommodate a range of manager communication styles by providing an electronic tool box of email templates they can copy and paste into their own emails, bulletin board flyers they can print out at work, PowerPoint presentations, videos, tip sheets, training guidelines and more. The kit, delivered on a jump drive, included materials that were ready to use as-is as well as templates to be adapted by the individual brands. Direct managers will be able to communicate the sustainability messages as simply as copying and pasting prepared emails. They also can adapt newsletters, posters, FAQs, and more to their own brand standards.

If you can, allow managers to receive the news of a big change before the rest of the company. For major change initiatives, giving managers a “heads up” will allow them to process the announcement before cascading information to their teams. Before middle managers can lead, they need to be informed. They need to have a solid grasp of the upcoming change and how it impacts the company. They should be well versed on the direct influence the change will have on their department and how each employee in their team will be affected. Providing this information in advance will also give these leaders a chance to get onboard with the change. Once a manager is embracing the change, then not only can they act as informers, they can be reinforcers as well.