Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

Non-desk employees cite two issues with cascading communications

In most companies with non-desk workers, the default mechanism for communicating with them is through their direct managers. Frontline employees in manufacturing facilities, distribution centers, retail locations and the hospitality industry rarely have company email addresses, so using managers as human communication channels  a logical solution.

But using managers to cascade communications can be an imperfect channel. 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

Keeping Frontline Employees in the Loop: 4 Tips

How does your company communicate with employees on the frontline, the retail floor or the factory line? Many companies leave all internal communications with non-desk workers to their immediate supervisors. Tribe’s national study with the non-desk employee population indicates this is a missed opportunity to build engagement. What’s more, those employees who never hear from top management interpret that as a lack of respect for them and their contributions to the company’s success.

But how do you reach employees who are in stores, distribution centers, restaurants and out driving trucks all day? There’s no one-size-fits-all answer, as you must consider the physical realities of their days and think creatively to identify potential touch points. Generally, Tribe recommends a combination of high-tech and low-tech solutions to build channels from corporate to the front lines.

For starters, Tribe also recommends the following four approaches:

1.    LOOP THEM IN: Commit to at least one channel through which non-desk employees will hear from management. This could be a town-hall meeting via video for manufacturing employees, a recorded message accessed through an 800 number, or even a quarterly letter from the CEO mailed to employees’ homes.

2.    ASK THEM WHAT THEY THINK: Having corporate management talk to this audience is a good step, but you also need to create opportunities for these employees to share their comments and views. Two-way communication methods — from the ability to comment on changes in the company, to soliciting ideas for improving systems and processes — demonstrate management’s respect and the desire to understand the realities of these employees’ jobs.

3.    MAKE THEM HEROES: Spotlight frontline and field workers and celebrate their contributions, through regular bio pieces in a company publication, recognition programs or contests that highlight employee performance.

4.    TAKE THE CEO TO THE PEOPLE: Again, there’s no substitute for giving employees a chance to meet face-to-face with top management, and it’s particularly meaningful to non-desk employees. Look for opportunities to have members of your leadership team visit stores, plants and other facilities so they can rub elbows with the people doing the most important work of your company.

Interested in communication channels that work for your non-desk employees? Tribe can help.

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

Reaching offline employees on the manufacturing line, the retail floor and in other non-desk positions

Do you regularly communicate with your employees working on the frontline or out in the field? Most companies don’t. In Tribe’s national study with non-desk workers in a wide range of industries, employees reported receiving little to no communication directly from their corporate management.

Direct managers tend to be the  default channel for most communications with this group. However, respondents identified two challenges to this method: timing and accuracy. Not all direct managers will share information simultaneously, so some employees might know about a major change before others. And the message is filtered through the lens of each manager, so inconsistency is an issue.

The downside of corporate management leaving this employee population out of the loop is significant. The Tribe study indicated that production workers and other non-office employees interpret this absence of communication as a lack of respect for them and their role in the company.

Communicating with this group isn’t easy, but it can be done. What’s more, it can provide a competitive advantage in terms of employee engagement. When non-desk employees understand management’s vision for the company, when they understand leadership’s business objectives, and when they feel respected and valued by corporate, they can be more effective and productive employees.

Interested in finding new channels to reach your offline employees? Tribe can help.


Brittany Walker

Four reasons to communicate with frontline employees, even when it’s hard

Many companies with great internal communications have trouble reaching frontline employees. Why? Because communicating with employees who are hard to reach is difficult. Whether it is your sales force, retail team, physicians, manufacturing line or delivery drivers, frontline employees are often those who need to hear from corporate the most.

1. Communication builds engagement. Many companies leave all internal communications with frontline employees to their immediate supervisors. Tribe’s national study with the non-desk employee population indicates this is a missed opportunity to build engagement. What’s more, those employees who never hear from top management interpret that as a lack of respect for them and their contributions to the company’s success.

2. They often crave the visibility from corporate. Just because many companies aren’t talking to non-desk workers doesn’t mean they don’t want communication from top management regarding the internal brand. Trust us, employees who work the overnight shift often appreciate these communications more than anyone else. We know because they’ve told us.

3. Because non-desk workers can have a tremendous impact on the customer experience. Whether the customer is an individual consumer a business, they’re interacting with those non-desk workers. It is up to these employees to deliver on your brand promise.

4. You can’t expect employees to be aligned with the vision if they don’t know what it is. It’s no secret that many companies overlook communicating with non-desk employees. But it’s a huge mistake not to engage your frontline employees in the vision of the company to make them feel part of something bigger. In fact, Tribe’s research on non-desk workers underlines the importance of communicating the company’s vision and values to this employee population.

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

Latest Gallup data points to internal communications gaps with frontline and field employees

Gallup now provides compelling evidence that communicating with non-desk employees is critical. The recent Gallup report in its ongoing study on the State of the American workplace highlights the negative impact of the deficit of internal communications for frontline and field employees.

While other categories gained momentum in engagement between 2009 and 2012, the service worker job category dropped. Likewise, Gallup found that employees in manufacturing and production have some of the very lowest engagement levels. In contrast, engagement for other job categories increased over the same time period.

Although these employees are the ones making the products and delivering the customer experience, they often are unaware of the brand’s customer promise. Gallup found that 59 percent of employees (not just non-desk, but all employees) do not “know what their company stands for and what makes its brand different from its competitors’ brands.”

This data corroborates Tribe’s 2012 findings on non-desk workers, and underlines the importance of communicating the company’s vision and values to this employee population. Although reaching this group is more difficult than communicating with their colleagues in cubicles, there are numerous ways to do so.

Moreover, those communications about the company’s vision, values and the brand promise need to come from top management. Although direct managers are the common default mechanism for communicating with non-desk employees, new data from Tribe’s 2013 study on employee preferences in internal communications* indicate some issues with that process. According to Tribe data, there are two topics on which employees prefer to be informed by C-level rather than their direct managers; the company vision is one of them.

How do you do that, when you’re shooting at the moving target of frontline and field employees? There’s no silver bullet. One has to consider the physical realities of the employees’ days and think creatively about potential touch points.

But the payoff is big. Gallup counts the cost to the U.S. of active disengagement to be between $450 billion to $550 billion per year. Alternatively, high engagement is connected to higher customer ratings, productivity and profitability. Not to mention higher morale not just in the corporate offices, but for those out there interacting with your customers day after day.

*2013 national study by Tribe, Inc.  Full results to be released in September.