Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

When communicating major change, watch your step.


How does a company communicate a major change? In many cases, not well. Following 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.

Interested in communicating change more effectively? Tribe can help.

Nick Miller

Equip Your Employees with the Tools They Need

This week, the popular instant messaging application Slack released a feature that allows communication across companies using shared channels. This functionality is the next step in Slack’s attempt to replace the most unnecessary of back-and-forth emails that clog the inboxes of workers all over the world. As of October 2016, there were nearly 5 million weekly active Slack users, so they are doing something right.

There are obvious benefits to applications like Slack and Yammer and intranets with similar functionalities built in. Besides a decrease in email traffic – especially the unnecessary copying of non-essential recipients – the instant messenger is just what it claims to be: instant. Yes, email is more or less instant, but inboxes fill up quickly and having to read paragraphs at a time can slow down productivity. Slack also has some other nifty abilities, like a robust search tool with filters, file sharing, and ways to collaborate on code.

But there is a gray area surrounding the use of a free service like Slack being used as a non-sanctioned business tool. We often hear from clients that employees have discovered the app on their own and have worked it into their day-to-day. Some companies don’t mind the addition and give their employees credit for finding solutions that make their jobs easier.

Others are concerned with a myriad of issues. Security is a concern when it comes to information leaking to those who shouldn’t have access, especially when sharing information across companies. Another is the ability for rumors to spread like wildfire due to the ease and speed with which information can be disseminated on an instant messaging app.

So, what does Tribe think the best solution is? Fill the gap before someone else does. We preach this all the time with our change communications, but it is relevant to any and all internal communicating.

If your employees are in need of a tool, they will search out a solution. Don’t wait for productivity tools to bubble up. Instead, charge your managers with identifying which tools are right for their groups and promote the use of that tool for productivity. Ask your employees directly what they need to make their job easier. A short and simple survey can provide all sorts of relevant information as well as benchmarking for future analysis of your tools.

Ensure that your communications are proactive to match the speed of your tools. Especially in times of change or bad news, combat false information by communicating to your employees first. Have a process in place for your leaders to cascade accurate communications across the company in the case of an emergency.

Interested in employing collaboration tools? Tribe can help.

Steve Baskin

Internal Communication is Change Communication – Or Should Be

We talk about change communication as a category of internal communications. In fact, Tribe’s capabilities presentation has a page on Change Communications. But perhaps we should evolve our thinking on this a bit.

Every email, announcement, blog, post, recognition, video or podcast should be signaling some type of change. I read the email or watched the video. I learned something I didn’t know. I changed my behavior because of the communication. I’m now able to do my job better. That’s the real purpose of internal communications. Right?

Internal communications should be written to change behavior. Otherwise, we shouldn’t be wasting people’s time with yet another email, blog or article. What’s the point of asking someone to spend time reading or seeing what you’ve developed if it’s not designed to change behavior or help employees do their jobs more effectively.

I suppose this might add a bit of complexity or challenge to our jobs as communicators. To develop effective change communications, we need to know a few things. 1) What we want them to think or do after reading the message. 2) The gap between the existing and goal knowledge. 3) What the result will look like if we can get everyone to change a behavior.

If I read an article in the company newsletter or culture magazine, it should be more than just an interesting read. The article should educate me on what’s going on around the company and perhaps offer insights on things that I could be doing to help the company achieve its business goals or vision – and potentially change my behavior.

“I just need to make an announcement. How is announcing the winners of an internal contest change communication?” Quite often it may seem like there’s no opportunity to elevate a message beyond its basic points. In this example, instead of just announcing the contest winners, there’s an opportunity to revisit the original purpose of the contest. What were you trying to get employees to do? And how does that behavior support the goals of the company? There’s almost always an opportunity to tie the conversation back to the company’s goals.

But let’s be careful not to load these communications up with so much stuff that they stop communicating. There is beauty in simplicity. There are lots of important emails that communicate that something must be done before some date. And that’s a form of change. I didn’t know the date before I read the email. Now that I do, I’ve made a note in my to do list to have a conversation with my spouse and sign up for benefits before the window closes. That’s change too.

And keep having fun. Making your communications consistently strategic doesn’t mean they can’t also be fun. It’s important to be engaging and entertaining with your communications. But cute for the sake of being cute at the office can be quite a waste of time. We prefer strategically fun.

It doesn’t matter what you call your communications. What’s important is not missing the opportunity to affect change.

Want to make sure your communications affect change? Tribe can help.

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

Change Management Communications: What’s the Worst That Can Happen?

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.

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.

Stephen Burns

Internal communications and 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.

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.

The Vehicles to Communicate Change

A few weeks ago, Alan wrote a blog called The Right Words at the Right Time During Change. He discussed how change happens; it’s unavoidable and gave some great tips for what to say when. Now that you know what to say and when to say it, here are some tips on what vehicles to use to get the message out.

1. Use what you’ve got. Your intranet is a valuable resource and at Tribe, we talk about it a lot. This is a great central place where all the information can live and it’s a place employees are already familiar with. For long-term change, it’s a good idea to give the information its own page. Make sure it’s easy to access and think about giving it a widget or quick link on the landing page.

We also work with a lot of clients that have newsletters or internal magazines. Consider creating a dedicated column to talk about any changes. Consistency is key and your employees will start to recognize the column as a good place to look for updates.

2. Send it home. Whenever you have a large change initiative, we recommend doing a direct mail piece to the homes of your employees. This gives them the opportunity to get the whole family involved. It helps communicate how everyone fits into the change and gives them time to process the message.

3. Talk to your employees. Face-to-face communication is one of the best ways to communicate change. It gives employees the opportunity to ask questions and creates a dialogue. To help your managers, it’s a good idea to create some cascade tools like talking points. It’s also important to prepare managers for the questions and let them know what to do when questions are asked that they don’t know the answers too.

Hearing it from leadership is important as well. Employees need to know the whole company has bought into the change from the top down. Encourage your leadership to write a blog or send out an email talking about the adjustment in their words.

Change is always hard to accept, but as long as you have consistent communication you’ll come out the other side stronger and often with even more engaged employees.

When Was Your Last Employee Appreciation Event?

2009 was a tough year. Record layoffs, dismal profits and pessimistic news coverage really do a number on employee morale. But 2010 shows a lot of promise, and it’s time to let employees know that you value their contributions. So when was the last time your company had an employee appreciation event? If you can’t remember, chances are your employees don’t either.

How companies handle the transition from recession to recovery will have a lot to do with their ability to harness employee engagement for future success. Now is an excellent time to take the pulse of employee morale. How much damage has the economic downturn done? What issues do you need to address in employee communications? How do you help employees get ready for the opportunities the upturn will bring?

At Tribe, we use a process called Mythological Branding. Based on an anthropological approach and rooted in the work of psychologist Ira Progoff and noted mythologist Joseph Campbell, its purpose is to give companies a new perspective on what employees believe about the brand, their management and the company’s future success, as well as insights on how to communicate through the upcoming transition and the better times ahead.

Employee appreciation doesn’t have to be expensive. Bringing in a healthy lunch one day for employees and inviting a few top leadership people to come and thank employees for all of their hard work can go a long way towards increasing employee morale.

Although it’s not a perfect measure, voluntary turnover is one indicator of employee morale. If your company’s turnover is higher than the industry average, you’re probably not doing a great job of engaging employees. And those people who are leaving may be some of your employees with the highest potential. After all, by leaving, they are proving they are go-getters who take action to get what they want, rather than just treading water in a non-ideal job position.

An honest survey for employees voluntarily leaving the company can be a great eye-opener when it comes to genuine feedback. And if the first question on the survey is, “Do you feel appreciated for your contributions at work?” the answers will probably not be so positive.

Honest appreciation goes a long way in any relationship. So make sure that your company is putting in the time and effort to make sure that employees feel appreciated. An employee appreciation event can be a great way to raise morale, but only if it’s sincere. You’re much better off not even trying an event if it’s going to come across as insincere because you’re bound to cause more harm than good. But as morale and engagement increase in a company, profits tend to be quick to follow.