Nick Miller

Employee Engagement: Engraining recognition into your corporate culture

Communicating appreciation in the workplace, both top-down and peer-to-peer, is critical to building engagement. A simple “thank you” or “job well done” can often hold the same value to an employee as a monetary reward. Creating a culture of appreciation will let your employees feel valued and know that their efforts are appreciated, but it is something that happens over time and involves all levels of employees.

It starts at the top. Regardless of the type of culture a company is trying to create, leadership sets the tone for the entire organization. Culture cascades through the organization just like tangible communications, so appreciative behavior is likely to be mimicked as employees observe their managers. From there, they set the example for the next level of employees and this trickledown effect permeates throughout all employee groups.

Change how employees view recognition. Many companies make the mistake of treating recognition programs as a box to check without considering the requirements of keeping the program fresh, effective and sustainable. Launching a recognition initiative should be strategic in order to ensure that associates aren’t jaded by “just another program” that falls by the wayside. You might tie recognition to the company values or other objectives that you want to reinforce over the long haul.

Consider using perks to encourage recognition. Intranets and microsites are great solutions to track who is being recognized and why. We at Tribe promote gamification of your recognition program, such as points-based systems that can translate into giveaways or drawings. Engagement for programs like these are often higher – as it’s hard to beat free stuff.

Publicize recognition to the whole company. Part of fostering recognition within your corporate culture is to communicate it to everyone. Take specific examples and print them on posters, post them on digital signage or include them in your newsletter. Employees value seeing their peers recognized on a broad scale and will use the indirect appreciation as motivation to be the next one. Make sure to spotlight all levels of employees – down to the part-time, hourly workers. In doing so, you’re promoting equality and inclusion, key aspects of an appreciative culture.

Interested in showing your employees how much they mean to your company? Tribe can help.


3 Ways to Build Your Employer Brand With Job Candidates

The impression you give during the application and interview process can have a significant impact your company’s employer brand. It’s easy to assume the task of making a positive mark falls in the interviewee’s court. However, displaying attentiveness and grace throughout this process can help attract the best and brightest potential employees. Below are three tips on how to amaze prospective job candidates and compel them to work for your company.

  1. Be thoughtful. No one likes to think they’ve wasted their time when applying for a job. From the research of the company to the cover letter to the resume, a job application is no easy task. Keeping this in mind, a simple courtesy like alerting the job candidate in a timely manner if you have to reschedule can make a decisive impact on your company’s employer brand.
  1. Make them feel comfortable. Pointblank: interviews are scary. Even if the jobseeker is a highly-qualified professional with years of experience, interviewing could easily turn them into a jumble of nerves. Show you care by making an effort to make them comfortable. Offering a coffee or a cold drink when they arrive, or giving a few minutes to use the restroom between multiple interviewers can help candidates feel relaxed and ready to put their best best foot forward.
  1. Take the time to say no. While it’s natural to focus on the candidate is offered the job, don’t forget to reach out to those who weren’t. Showing attentiveness to each and every interviewee can make positive waves on your company’s employer brand. In Tribe’s research with jobseekers regarding the hiring process, 87 percent of respondents said that in situations where they were not hired, but had a positive experience such as very personal or courteous treatment, they would be “likely to encourage others to apply to that company in the future.”

Interested in improving your recruitment culture? Tribe can help.

Brittany Walker

3 Tips for a Successful Culture Magazine

Culture magazines are a great resource for communicating across a multitude of functions and geography. Internal magazines are opportunities to bridge silos, create shared pride and boost recognition, all of which contribute to higher employee engagement.

At Tribe, we’ve created culture magazines for clients across industries ranging from consumer products to aviation to fashion. Especially in manufacturing, retail and other non-desk populations, magazines enable the company to make these frontline employees visible and even recognized as heroes throughout the organization.

Often produced as a quarterly publication, culture magazines don’t have to be a daunting or budget-busting. Here are three simple tips to keep your magazine on track.

  1. Develop an editorial plan. Establishing reoccurring topics and themes for each issue will take a load off the planning process at the beginning of each issue. Think through your messaging and communication goals for the publication, and be sure to work each of them into the plan. Allow for flexibility by including a feature story, but we would recommend at least three basics, like employee spotlights, leadership Q&A or wellness and volunteerism updates.
  1. Appoint an editorial board. This simple task has been a life-saver in ongoing magazines Tribe has produced in the past. At the start of each new issue, gather your established team composed of people from across different segments of the organization. All it takes is one organized conference call to discuss potential stories and features for the upcoming issue. By the time the call ends, you should have your identified editorial plan for the next issue, and the correct contacts to start producing the content.
  1. Keep revisions to a minimum. For best, and most efficient results, collaborate on the front end of the magazine, not the back end. A large part of this helpful hint is cutting down on the number of reviewers themselves. Once the articles are written and the issue is put into design, keep the circle as tight as possible. Multiple rounds of revisions can do damage to your timeline, and as a result, impact the budget.

Interested in developing a culture magazine? Tribe can help.

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

Balancing Collaboration and Efficiency

A premium is placed on collaboration in many, if not most, large companies. As knowledge and expertise become increasingly specialized, collaboration across functional areas becomes even more critical for successful business results.

At the same time, efficiency is also a priority. Companies feel the pressure of delivering improved speed to market, quick response to changing business factors and the ever-increasing demand to be faster than before.

The challenge is that collaboration and efficiency work against each other. To collaborate 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. It’s not always going to happen this week, or even this 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.

This tension between collaboration and speed isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It forces people to set priorities, to weigh the need for one over the other. In most corporate cultures, the pendulum will swing towards one over the other.

One principle for maintaining a balance between the two is to separate the two functions of collaborating and making decisions. When people come together to collaborate, it should be for the purpose of providing their unique expertise, input and feedback. The collaborative meeting is not the place to make decisions. Trying to reach consensus on a decision is not only difficult, it’s unlikely to result in the best decision.

Give everybody 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 balancing collaboration and speed in your company? Tribe can help.

Brittany Walker

Three easy ways to improve your intranet

Your company’s intranet should be a reflection of its culture. Culture is not only about your mission, vision, values, logo and formal rituals, but it also includes employee beliefs about the company, myths and ancillary symbols that develop over time. Reviewing your intranet should shed some light on the intangible areas of your company’s culture. Analyzing your site doesn’t need to be a formal process, but by taking some time and reviewing a few basic elements, you will also gain a better understanding of your culture.

1. Site design should be reflective of your external brand and your desired internal culture.  Look at the design element of your internet and intranet.  Are they of the same quality? Do they look similar?  Does it appear that the company invested in both? Does your intranet reflect your desired culture in terms of being fun or potentially a more formal culture? If the answer to some of these questions is no, it may be a good time to improve the design.

2. If work/life balance is something your company values, give employees the opportunity to share information about their personality on the site. Rich employee profiles are a great way for employees to connect on a more personal level and improve their working relationships with co-workers. The underlying message that employees will receive is that the company cares about them as individuals, not just for the skill set they bring to the company.

3. Review your values, culture attributes and other brand elements to see if they are reflected in the site. Your intranet is a great tool to communicate and sustain elements of your brand, which in turn help develop your culture.  Look for interactive ways such as spotlighting employees that live your values or promoting events on the site that help build camaraderie.

Do you have other ideas of how to analyze your intranet for insights on your culture?  Tribe can help.

Steve Baskin

The Fallacy of 100 percent. The good and bad of employees running full speed.

The Fight on the Cobblestones - Tour de France 2015No one can go 100 percent 100 percent of the time. It’s July, so I’m spending a fair amount of time watching the Tour de France, which has me thinking about endurance and maintaining high levels of performance for extended periods of time.

While it’s been scientifically proven that top Tour de France riders are actually aliens, the reality is that they only ride at maximum effort (or 100 percent) for a small percentage of any given race. Over a three-week period, the Tour de France includes twenty-one separate races covering almost 2,200 miles. The top riders try as hard as they can to use the least possible amount of energy until it’s time to shine. Even when the time comes, that maximum effort is over a small portion of the race.

My personal mantra for this is: Conserve. Conserve. Conserve. Explode!

If a company’s culture is a non-stop state of emergency and employees can never slow down and catch their collective breath, they’re performance will be underwhelming when they’re asked to shine. Importantly, they’ll never have enough time for thought, reflection or creativity.

In his 2002 book called Slack, Tom DeMarco examines the (sometimes-counterintuitive) idea that in trying to get more and more efficiency and effort out of fewer employees, the result can be the exact opposite of the intention. Your employees can easily become so busy that they’re under performing on every project. Speaking of aliens, I remember having a conversation with a former boss about DeMarco’s book, and the idea of building more Slack into our days. She just looked at me like I was one.

Many of the projects at Tribe involve immovable deadlines. Tribe is very efficient at executing large volumes of work, and we’re typically very good at anticipating work volume. But sometimes it happens, and we’re going full speed and running up against deadline for an extended period of time.

The good:

  • We get very focused.
  • The team pulls together and works as a single unit.
  • We get very inventive in finding solutions for specific issues.
  • We feel fantastic when we’ve delivered something great for our clients against tough odds.

The less good:

  • It’s stressful for everyone involved.
  • Available answers often turn into the best answers.
  • Creative thinking can quickly evaporate if this goes on too long.
  • Things can fall through the cracks – and if something does go wrong (regardless of fault), the options for correcting the issue can be very limited.
  • If it goes on for way too long, employees will get very cranky and start returning calls from recruiters.

There are times when your team has to buckle in and put in that super-human effort to get the job done. That’s ok. You rally the team and do what you need to do to meet your commitment. And you perform like a world-class Tour de France rider.

The moral to this story is that if your culture has your employees running at 100 percent all day every day (or if they just perceive that they are), they’re unlikely to have enough left in the tank to do something extraordinary when it’s time to shine.

But try to manage in a way that makes the need for super-human effort an exception to the rule. When it happens and the fan is hit, go back and reassess the project to figure out how you got into that situation in the first place and how to avoid it in the future.

Running too hard and need some help with internal communications strategy and execution? Tribe can help.

Steve Baskin

Culture Is Not The Product

new product grunge retro blue isolated ribbon stamp

It’s good to keep in mind that culture is not the end goal. It’s the means to all sorts of desirable ends. But the culture is not the thing that your company is selling.

Remember when they came out with this thing called the World Wide Web? The Boomers and some Gen X-ers among us might remember the initial confusion in the business world about what the Internet really meant for business. Companies wasted millions as they chased ideas that didn’t make sense for them. Of course, over the past few decades, the Internet has changed the way we do just about everything in business.

But for 99.9 percent of businesses, the Internet is not the product. It’s simply a channel that makes conducting business more efficient. The Internet is an enabler.

Dealing with culture has some parallels. Culture, like the Internet, is a tool that we can use to make businesses operate more efficiently.

A culture that’s aligned with the vision is the best kind of enabler. It allows the ideas to flow through the organization more freely. It allows the products to get through the production process quicker and more efficiently. It allows the kind of communications that are necessary to insure that the products we’re making or the services we deliver align with our customer and client needs.

When a culture is toxic, unstable or unpleasant, it’s very difficult for company to work efficiently. We may have dreams of Google Fiber, but when the organizational culture is broken, things can move about as fast as dial-up speeds of the 1990s. But even in companies with happy and engaged employees, culture can be used as an excuse for not evolving to more effective tools or policies.

The culture determines whether the brand promise is fulfilled. When an organization goes about building its brand, it’s making a promise about what potential consumers should expect when they purchase the product or service. Inside the company, the employees are responsible for making sure that the promise is delivered. A strong and aligned culture helps make that happen.

Interested in communications that help align your culture? Tribe can help.

“Wealth: Is It Worth It?” by S. Truett Cathy

S. Truett Cathy is a great example of how top-down leadership creates a strong sustaining culture.  Cathy’s values are visible the moment you walk into a Chick-fil-A restaurant.  It is obvious that the employees understand hard work and how to treat customers. This book provided great insights into the financial principles that guide Cathy and his company.

Wealth is it worth it? –  Yes, if you do good things with it!   Isn’t that the truth with everything?  If you work hard, treat people right, do the right thing, it makes you proud of who you are, the company you keep and the work you do.  Creating a culture where people innately do the right thing stems from the top. Monkey see, monkey do.  Leaders need to illustrate integrity in everything they do, simply preaching it won’t cut it.

This book is filled with caution, because wealth has the power to build up and to destroy” according to S. Truett Cathy. Agree – wealth and words!  Just as wealth impacts people to do really amazing or really rotten things, so do words.  The power a leader has in his words alone is immeasurable.  Forgetting this power is detrimental to a culture.

If it is to be, it is up to me.  In these ten little words lies Cathy’s secret to success in this do-it-yourself world.  Yes, teams are important and yes, collaboration is key but creating a culture where people are empowered and believe they can make a difference is essential.

Spend wisely and save it reasonably  This was an impactful section of the book for me and a lesson that unfortunately most people struggle with.  Yes, it is great to have money and we all want more of it but just as important as focusing on how to make it, is learning how to manage risk and maintain focus on a long-term plan.  When employees see that their senior leaders are making decisions that provide a secure future, their level of engagement will sky rocket. 

Give it away  Companies can always accumulate more and more profits but if you are not giving back to employees and communities, does it really matter?  At Tribe, we work with companies to create cultures that value giving both time and money.   Doing so, not only creates good corporate citizens, but also creates pride in each employee that works for that company.

Moral of the story – Wealth and corporate cultures, what do they have in common?  Great ones are built on a solid foundation of doing the right thing.

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

Music Lessons: What Does It Take to Get Everyone to Lead?

Leadership is a hot topic right now. At Tribe, we hear many large clients talking about the need to teach leadership to people at all levels of the company. In small companies, like Tribe, for instance, we need everyone to be a leader in their area of expertise because we don’t have layers of people above them to call the shots.

A talented Atlanta singer-songwriter mentioned leadership to me recently, in terms of the members of his band. (Okay, full disclosure: the talented songwriter of whom I speak is my husband Steve Baskin.) He’s been trying different combinations of musicians lately and has added a few new members to the band.

The thing he’s been looking for is this: People who can play lead. In other words, he wants the guitar player to see himself as the lead. Same for the bass player. And the drummer. And the guy on keyboards. Instead of any of them considering himself a minor player, he wants every single guy on stage to play like he’s playing lead.

He says it’s working. When this new band was rehearsing in the basement the other day, a family friend upstairs said she felt like she had really crummy seats to a really great concert. Tonight’s his first time playing out with this new assortment of characters on stage, and I’ll be listening to see if this particular management metaphor holds.

Could it be a case of too many chiefs and not enough Indians? Maybe, but I think only large organizations have room for Indians. In a band of four or five people, or a company considerably smaller than a Fortune 500, the culture can generally accommodate, and in fact requires, a high proportion of chiefs.

For most larger companies, the culture doesn’t promote that sense of individual responsibility for each person to play lead. To achieve that level of ownership by the rank and file, an organization has to be imbued with the entrepreneurial spirit. Perhaps that’s one more way big companies might want to model themselves after small ones.

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

Cogswell Hausler Had Engagement Before Engagement Was Cool

What makes an office a good place to work? Nowadays we call it employee engagement, but when I was a kid hanging around my father’s architectural firm, it just looked like people having a good time doing work that would shape their careers. My father, Arthur Cogswell, was recently nominated for the Kamphoefner Award, and I noticed that one of his letters of recommendation mentioned that the way they ran their office decades ago would be a good model for companies today.

At Tribe, we look at five critical elements when we’re helping large companies build their engagement. I thought it might be interesting to interview my father to see how Cogswell Hausler Associates, founded in 1967, delivered on those five elements:

1. VISION (Leadership steering culture): “The vision? We just wanted to do the best design we could,” Cogswell said. “We were part of something bigger, the Modernist movement.” In my experience I’ve seen many small creative businesses, ad agencies particularly, where talented young employees are all about doing award-winning work while the ownership is more concerned with making enough money to grow the company — or at least keep the doors open. My father and his partner, Werner Hausler, were not those kind of business owners. “We were one of a kind.” Cogswell said. “The other firms were big and established and did mediocre work. And made more money.”

2. ACCESS (Sharing information, knowledge and feedback): “It was an open office with no walls. Everybody could see what everyone else was working on. That created a lot of give and take,” Cogswell said. “Lots of peer-to-peer interaction. Someone would say, ‘Hey, look at this. What do you think I should do here?’ Or one person would suggest something and the next person would play on it.” The managing partners shared a big glass office with their desks facing each other so they could talk easily and listen in on each other’s phone conversations with clients. But they both also kept a desk out in the studio and spent a lot of the day out there with everybody else.

3. ACKNOWLEDGMENT (Recognition programs and indirect recruiting): Cogswell Hausler hired mostly fresh graduates of the renowned School of Design in Raleigh (which had a faculty that read like an International Who’s Who of Modernist architecture, thanks primarily to Henry Kamphoefner, the first dean). “People wanted to work for us because we were doing good work,” Cogswell said. “We were recognized for it. Won a lot of awards.”

4. GROWTH (Training and development): “We ran the office like a design school,” Cogswell said. “We’d give them an outline of the problem and the general direction without telling them what to do. People had a lot of freedom in their work. Then they’d come back and we’d critique it. We’d say ‘That’s not good enough. Try it again.'” Although Cogswell points out that there was “no harsh criticism. We tried to follow the old Navy scheme. You never say ‘That’s a stupid idea.’ Instead we’d say, ‘Well, we might make that work if we did so and so.'”

5. IDENTIFICATION (Engaging employees with the culture): Employees at Cogswell Hausler may have identified with the culture even before their first day of work, since they had just stepped out of the Modnernist culture at the Design School. “It was a very free, creative atmosphere,” Cogswell said. “Someone once said that true happiness is doing work you know is really good. And I’ve always said that there’s nothing more exciting than working with talented young people who are just hitting their strides professionally.”

For many years they had a Friday lunch ritual that seems emblematic of their office culture. “We’d send someone out to pick up a chicken and then I’d put it in a big pot on the stove,” Cogswell said. “We’d put in some onion and celery and maybe some tomatoes. It would cook all morning, and once in awhile someone would walk over and give it a stir. Maybe add some rice. Then around lunchtime we’d pass a bunch of bowls around and open a bottle of wine.” That sort of esprit de corps does indeed provide a fantastic model for workplaces large and small.