Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

The CEO holiday letter: 3 tips for getting employees to actually read it

The year-end letter from the CEO or another executive team member can be a great way to build engagement and make a human connection. But only if it’s done well. A two-page composition that’s one long, dry sentence after another is not going to be read word-for-word by employees, if at all. Here are a few tips to keep in mind when working with leadership on an employee letter or email:

  1. Don’t ghostwrite it: Or at least don’t make it sound like someone ghostwrote it. If the exec doesn’t have the time or inclination to write the piece for himself or herself, do whatever you can to channel his or her voice. What are the words and phrases this person uses frequently? If they like something, are they more likely to describe it as really cool, awesome, outstanding, fabulous or terrific? Is there a word or phrase they use frequently to reinforce an idea, like “absolutely” or “no doubt?” If you don’t have frequent contact with this particular leader, search online for videos of interviews or speaking engagements to pick up details of how they speak. Even better, get five minutes of their time to talk about what they want employees to get out of this communication.
  2. Show some personality: Tribe’s national research with employees indicates that they want a personal connection with their leadership teams. They want to feel like they know something beyond business facts about the person behind the title. Some more introverted leaders resist talking about themselves because they think it comes off as self-centered or bragging. Explain that it’s humanizing rather than hubris. If the big boss is training for a marathon or writing a detective novel on the side, that’s the kind of personal detail employees are craving.
  3. Cut roughly 20% of what you wrote: Or even 30%. Take a look at what you think is the final draft and figure out how to make it shorter. If it’s a letter, absolutely do not let it be more than one page, and try not to fill that page with ink. If it’s an email, three or four brief paragraphs is probably about as much as employees will read. Employees are much more likely to read it if it’s short and sweet.

Interested in improving your leadership communications? Tribe can help.

Nick Miller

Keeping Employees in the Loop: 3 channels to supplement your stagnant intranet

If you frequent blogs and newsfeeds that specialize in internal communications, chances are you’ve come across an article or two that put your intranet to shame. Ideally, the significance of a corporation’s information hub would be enough to gather funding for a makeover. But not every company has the resources to build or renovate an intranet to be that beacon of collaboration and conversation that some companies have the luxury of operating. So for now, here are a couple of channels that provide some of the benefits of an up-to-the-minute intranet:

  1. WordPress
    We have worked with a variety of clients that use WordPress sites either as a primary intranet or as a microsite used to announce internal brand launches or major change initiatives. The interface is relatively easy to use, allowing communications and HR departments the ability to develop a site with minimal programming experience or consulting. WordPress offers apps that make it mobile responsive and can be password protected, though we advise clients not to upload information that shouldn’t exist outside of a firewall. The beauty of WordPress is that it is scalable to whatever size or complexity suits your needs. It only requires some familiarity and a little imagination. One tip to keep in mind: you’ll want the WordPress.org version of the software so that you can apply your own company branding.
  2. Blogging App
    In our national research, we’ve found employees are more willing to use their personal mobile devices for company communications when it means downloading an app rather than sharing their phone number. If you are able to regularly secure blog posts from your leaders, posting a handful a week on one of a number of available apps can create an authentic two-way communication channel where employees can post comments and questions.
  3. Digital Signage
    Assuming your work environment has TV screens available, this is a simple, economic channel to keep topics top of mind, ranging from company news to culture and values. While they’re waiting for the elevator or in line at the company cafeteria, they can get bite-sized information to keep them in the loop. Plus, you omit the hurdle of building traffic to your site, since the traffic walks right by every day.

Want to explore alternatives to your stagnant or non-existent intranet? Tribe can help.

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

Boosting attendance for the leadership’s all-company conference calls

I told this woman I was going to steal her idea — and now I’d like to share it with you. I spoke last week to Atlanta’s IABC on the topic of the Horizontal Silos: How to Bridge the Disconnect Between the C-Suite and the Rest of the Company. During the Q&A that followed, she stood up and offered this suggestion, which I think ranks right up there in the category of best practices.

The company she worked for was struggling through an acquisition with the customary discomforts associated with combining two cultures. To help unite the combined workforce and engage employees in the vision moving forward, the CEO gave regular conference calls to which employees of both legacy companies were invited.

Engagement in (and attendence of) these calls soared when the CEO began ending each call with a joke. Apparently, the first time the joke was his own.

Then employees starting suggesting jokes for him. Each week, people from both former companies would hang on until the end of the conference call, just to hear the joke.

If I have the story right, he would identify the contributor and their legacy company. That would give employees from both camps an opportunity to relate to each other as humans, and to feel a connection that was a little more personal, and more fun, than just work.

Then the communications department made the competition more interesting by awarding restaurant gift cards for the best jokes. That drove even more participation, of course.

Pretty brilliant. And the best part is that it happened organically at first, as one of the first collaborative efforts of the post-acquisition combined workforces.

Want more internal communications ideas? Tribe can help.



Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

3 Alternatives to the CEO Blog

It’s tough to convince CEOs to take the time it requires to write their own blogs. Even if they have the best intentions of writing their own material, their days are generally pretty full with running the company.

Ghostwriting blogs in a way that truly reflects the CEO’s thoughts and the nuances of their knowledge takes time as well. The CEO has to find room on the calendar for interviews with the ghostwriter, or to start a rough draft the ghostwriter can work from, or in some other way convey his or her relevant content that can then be crafted into maybe 300-500 words.

But who says it has to be a blog? Yes, employees crave communication from their leadership, and want to know the human beings behind the titles. But maybe your CEO or President would prefer another medium.

Here are three you might consider:

  1. Twitter: With only 140 characters, a tweet can provide meaningful communication with employees, as well as the rest of the world. A post might be as simple as “Honored to be speaking today in Houston at the #management conference.” It could be the link to a video of that speaking engagement with a quick caption. A link to an article about that conference. Even a food porn photo of the Texas barbecue served at the conference kickoff.
  2. Podcast: So much easier than a video, because it doesn’t matter if it’s a bad hair day. Many people are just more comfortable behind a microphone than in front of a camera, so making a podcast on a regular basis can be a much easier commitment than a video shoot. Southwest Airlines CEO Gary Kelly, for example, started a habit of recording an audio message for employees each Monday morning.
  3. Instagram: This can be a powerful way to offer employees a glimpse of the CEO’s human side. Although it may not be the best way to communicate the company vision or announce a major change, Instagram is an easy way for top management to let employees get to know them better. Biz Stone, for instance, a co-founder of Twitter and now the CEO of Jelly Industries, posts videos of his young son on carnival rides and playing a toy piano, photos of family vacations, interesting graffiti and quotes by inspirational thinkers.

Interested in other ideas for authentic executive communications? Join us at the IABC Atlanta luncheon on Tuesday, October 27. I’ll be giving a talk titiled “The Horizontal Silo: How to Bridge the Disconnect Between the C-Suite and the Rest of the Company.” Would be great to meet you, and to hear your best practices in this area.


Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

3 Worst Mistakes in Leadership Communications

Employees want to hear from the big cheese. In Tribe’s national research with employees of large companies, 72 percent want to hear directly from top management. Over 84 percent say they hear from corporate management “not enough.”

Unfortunately, when employees do hear from their leadership teams, the communications are not as authentic as one could hope. Of course, it’s far easier for everyone – not just the busy executives also the internal communications team – to have leadership simply sign off on communications that have been prepared by others.

But that’s missing a huge opportunity to engage employees with their leadership. Help your company management understand the impact they can have by speaking directly and authentically to employees.

At the very least, try to steer them away from these three common mistakes:

  1. Ghostwritten blogs: Employees aren’t fooled by the perfectly polished prose pretending to be something the CEO actually wrote. If your leadership team shows any inclination at all to pen their own blogs, reassure them that a few paragraphs they write themselves would be far preferable to three pages that have been manufactured for them. Remind them that blogs by their very nature are supposed to be human and imperfect.
  1. Scripted videos: Not only is a video of a talking head reading from a teleprompter incredibly boring, it also casts doubt on whether the speaker really means what he or she is saying. Video can be a powerful tool for leadership communications, when the executives are comfortable speaking to camera as if they were having a conversation. Give them talking points, not a script. Remind them that they can mess up as many times as they want and you can edit those parts out. Let them know that coming across as a real human being is more important than seeming rehearsed and flawless.
  1. Cascading only: Especially in companies with lots of non-desk employees, cascading information through direct managers can be an effective channel. But it’s a mistake to rely on cascading communications alone. Particularly in times of major company changes, employees want to hear directly from top management. Even if those executive communications are prepared by other people. Start there if you have to, but keep pushing for them to do at least some of the communicating themselves.

It doesn’t matter if it’s a town hall or a tweet, a letter or a podcast. Find a channel or two that are comfortable for your CEO, president and other company leadership. Which channel is not important. What is important is that employees experience leadership communicating with them directly and authentically.

Want to find more authentic ways for your leadership to communicate? Tribe can help.

Steve Baskin

Best Chance for Executives to Succeed When Communicating

It’s technically impossible for everyone to be the best at everything. Executives aren’t going to be completely comfortable with every aspect of their job. Sometimes, we ask our executives to do things that we think should be a slam-dunk that becomes more of a struggle than we anticipate.

A decade ago, I was lucky enough to find myself on a stage with Cindy Wilson of the B52s while she sang for a theater full of people and for a national television audience. It was the first time in her twenty-five year career that she was doing a significant show without her band. On the same bill, Mike Mills of REM was playing his first solo gig since joining REM two decades earlier.

Although Cindy and Mike had played thousands shows to larger audiences, they were out of their element without the comfort of their normal surroundings – their bands. On stage and on camera, their fans may have never known it, but backstage, it was interesting to see that both were very nervous. Listening to the conversations, one would think they had never been on a stage before. Of course, they faced their fears and made it through the show admirably, but it was a truly surprising situation.

When you’re tasking your executives with communicating publicly, it’s very important to understand their comfort levels in various arenas. One may be completely comfortable in public conversations or fireside chats covering any topic, but uncomfortable writing blogs. One may be able to hold his/her own with a panel of peers, but terrified to deliver a keynote address. One may be comfortable with every detail of the business, but nervous when the recording light is on in a studio.

Before asking execs to step up to the microphone, make time for practice or run-throughs. Before committing execs to specific deadlines for blogs, interviews or presentations, make sure that they’re comfortable with whatever format they’re committed to.

Even though many executives exhibit nerves of steel on the outside, all people have things that make them nervous. The point here is that as communications managers, a big part of our responsibility is to be proactive in understanding the skills and talents of our execs before shining the spotlight on them.

Big communications event on the horizon? TRIBE can help.