Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

The Power of Not Doing: Improve Internal Communications by Doing Less

When’s the last time you did an audit of your internal communications channels? Most large companies use a myriad of channels and continue to add more, especially with emerging technology offering new options at a steady rate. You do need a varied mix of channels, because different employees like to be consume information in different ways, but do you have too many ways you’re communicating?

In “Strategy is Deciding What Not to Do,” Tim Williams describes Steve Jobs’  decision to cancel more than 300 ongoing projects in favor of focusing on just four. “By narrowing instead of expanding, Apple started down the path to becoming the most valuable company on the planet,” he writes.

Our experience at Tribe mirrors this, although on a vastly different scale. In 2009, we made the commitment to focus only on internal communications for large brands. When prospects or current clients asked for consumer branding, a field in which we’d built our careers, we referred them to other agencies we knew would do a great job for them.

The payoff was building a deep expertise in this narrow niche of internal branding.  The more we worked with large companies on specific employee communications issues, the more we learned. We began to see the same challenges repeated across companies and industries, and were able to take what we learned solving one client’s challenges as a shortcut to solutions for the next. There’s power in choosing not to do something.

The same can be true for your company’s internal communications mix. Most internal communications departments we see are stretched mighty thin. When you added a quarterly employee magazine, did you consider retiring the weekly newsletter? Do you still print posters even though you have digital signage in all your locations? Do you maintain multiple intranet-like sites? Are you still posting stuff on Yammer even though most employees aren’t using it anymore?

Discontinuing channels that aren’t working effectively is good discipline. Not only will it allow you to focus on doing a better job at fewer things, it can improve employees’ experience of internal communications. By limiting the places they feel like they’re supposed to check, you help them process communications more efficiently and effectively.

Interested in taking stock of your portfolio of internal communications channels? Tribe can help.




Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

Intranets, Magazines and Emails are Only Envelopes

The medium, in fact, is not the message. (Apologies to Marshall McLuhan, the man who coined that phrase back in the 1960s.) Although we now have more possible internal communications channels than ever before, each channel is nothing more than an envelope in which we deliver content. Is your content fresh and relevant? Is the design appealing so people want to see what’s inside that envelope?

If a channel hasn’t worked before, maybe it just needs to be done better. Occasionally when Tribe recommends a new approach to an existing channel, a client will say nope, we’ve already tried that and it didn’t work. Maybe a bad magazine didn’t work, but one that’s beautifully designed with engaging articles just might.

For instance, it’s not the intranet’s fault if nobody goes there. Compare your content and design with what employees see online every day, from news sites to social media to retailers. Does your site seem pretty bleak in comparison? Even when you’re stuck with an existing platform, you can re-skin the graphic design and rethink your content.

Often the issue is not quality of content but quantity. If employees aren’t reading internal communications emails, could it be because they’re ridiculously long? Cutting the word count from 500 to 50 and adding some visual interest might make that channel highly effective. If you’re afraid a short email can’t possibly give employees all the information they might need, direct them to the intranet for more details.

Same goes for corporate videos. It takes discipline to keep them short, but when a video drags on and on, few people will watch all the way to the end. We once worked with a client on a collection of videos that was were one person talking about one topic for one minute. Employees loved them.

So don’t discard an old envelope just because it hasn’t been effective in the past. It’s what goes in that envelope that makes all the difference.

Interested in refreshing an existing channel? Tribe can help.

Steve Baskin

TRIBE TRIVIA: Do employees want to share feedback with corporate?

Q: What percentage of employees feel it’s “extremely” or “very” important to be able to communicate with their corporate leadership?

Answer: 84%, according to Tribe’s national research on employees’ preferences in internal communications.

For more information about this study, see Tribe’s white papers and other resources on the expertise page of tribeinc.com, or contact Steve Baskin, President and Chief of Strategy at Tribe. 

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

TRIBE TRIVIA: Employees Communicating Up to Top Management

True or False: Employees have little time or interest in communicating to their leadership.

False: Only 2 percent say a channel for them to communicate with corporate management is “not at all” important, according to Tribe’s national research on employee preferences in internal communications. Of the remaining respondents, 58 percent said it’s “extremely” important; 26 percent “very” important and 14 percent said it’s “somewhat” important to them.

For more information about this study, see Tribe’s white papers and other resources on the expertise page of tribeinc.com, or contact Steve Baskin, President and Chief of Strategy at Tribe. 

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

With employee communications, a shotgun is better than a rifle.

When you’re talking to employees, should you be thinking rifle or shotgun? Marketing folks often refer to the advantages of a targeted rifle shot rather than a shotgun approach, but in internal communications, the reverse is more likely to get the job done.

You can reach some people with every channel but you can’t reach everyone with just one channel. Consider the differences in media preferences. Most millennial employees use their mobile devices more than their computers. Non-desk workers in manufacturing, retail and other industries where employees are largely offline are probably not going to be spending a lot of time on your intranet.

Besides generational differences and the physical realities of certain jobs, employees will have their own personal preferences. Just like some people prefer real books to Kindles, some employees still like to be able to touch and hold their communications. Some will welcome internal communications sent to their personal mobile devices; others will hate that. Almost all those employees with a company email address would prefer to receive less of it.

Even the same employee will prefer certain communications one way and other types of communications another. Is it urgent? Maybe a text or email is the right channel. Is the communication articulating the company vision and values? They might rather be able to flip through a printed piece for that. Is it a quick tip or nice-to-know company news? Some employees might click on that when they visit the intranet. Others, who don’t spend much time on the intranet, might rather see that information as they’re walking by digital signage.

Think also about a channel to give employees a voice. Make sure you’re providing at least one channel for employees to share a question, concern or idea with leadership. And put a process in place for employees to get a reply. Posing a question that seems to fall into a black hole is worse than not being able to ask the question at all.

Are you developing a communications plan to reach more of your employees? Tribe can help.

Steve Baskin

How to be Compelling with Internal Communications (you’ll be floored by the fifth paragraph)

Different types of communications require different approaches. If you’re introducing a new executive or team member, perhaps a quick video interview with some accompanying text is the way to go. If you’re communicating quarterly earnings, then you’re probably better served to link to a PowerPoint or KeyNote document. It’s important to connect the message with the medium. It’s also important to understand that people consume information in different ways, so it’s nice to give them options.

An article on CNN.com or Rolling Stone or The Onion is just as likely to include video, sound or photograph as text. A USA Today article is going to have a simple infographic. Fast Company is going to give us interestingly complex graphics. And when we’re consuming this information, we don’t think twice about clicking on the accompanying video to get additional perspective on the article or linking from an email to the larger article in another location.

These folks think of media formats in terms of colors on a palette. They use the medium that will best communicate the story. And they’re sure to use complementary formats to enhance or amplify the message.

If CNN or Rolling Stone were hired to communicate to your employees, their approach would likely be different from most internal communications teams. Instead of mass emailing an important new policy or corporate direction to all employees (then consider the job done), they’d likely send a brief headline and teaser article that directs the audience to their website. They would give us the option to consume the information in multiple ways – read the article or maybe watch a video. They’d provide links to related articles. Because of inherent biases or differentiating points of view (we call these values inside corporations), the communications to would almost always lean in a specific direction.

They would organize the information on their sites in a way that allow the user to easily navigate to subject areas that interest them. Perhaps most importantly, because it’s important for them to know what their audience is thinking at any given time, they’d offer the opportunity for employees to provide feedback and become a part of the discussion.

Our experience is that corporate communicators can be very reluctant toward this more holistic approach to communicating. I have emailed, therefore I have communicated. They’re often time-pressed and are more concerned with getting to the next thing versus adequately communicating the first.

With the recent and dramatic advances in communications technology in the office environment, it’s much easier build communications structures that work more like the ones employees regularly consume outside of the office. The model’s out there.

If it’s important for employees to be aware of and in tune with what’s going on inside the company (alignment with management’s vision), it’s important to find the creativity, the budgets and the man-hours to ensure that our communications get and keep their attention.

Got questions about asking compelling use of channels? TRIBE can help.