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.

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

The Leadership Bubble: Are Your Top Execs Just Talking to Themselves?

Sometimes the top leadership of a company can be something of a closed system. The C-level and management a layer below tend to spend their days rubbing elbows with each other rather than employees in the rest of the company. Without a strong effort to create channels of communication between top management and rank-and-file employees, there’s sometimes very little information flowing between the two.

Leadership often thinks employees know things they don’t. Important things for engagement and alignment, like their vision for the company, their strategic plans for growth, the values they want the company to use in doing business.

Towards the end of the Recession, we did some research on this topic with a limited sample of four or five large companies. First we spoke with leadership about their plans for handling the economic downturn and coming out stronger on the other end of it.

Without a single exception, leadership from every company said they had a clear vision. When we asked if they believed the employees were aware of and understood this vision, they said, yes, absolutely, we talk about it all the time.

Then we asked the same two questions of employees at each of those companies.What we heard from most of them were comments like: “I don’t think they have any idea how to get us through this;” “There’s no plan, not that I know of;” and “I don’t thing there’s a vision and it scares me.”

Why would leadership think employees know these things when they clearly do not? It’s because they themselves hear about the vision every day. They’re all sitting in the same meetings, seeing the same Powerpoints and having the same discussions. They know the vision, and they know how their department or division of the company is expected to contribute to that vision.

 In short, they’re talking to themselves. What’s needed is a strategic approach to communicating top management’s strategic direction and vision to people at all levels of the company.

They’re also not hearing the views of employees outside the C-Suite. If there’s little to no communciation direct from leadership to employees, then there’s probably not an established two-way communciation channel either. So corporate management is missing out on all that employees could tell them — from suggestions and innovations to complaints and concerns. Both are useful for improving the company in a myriad of ways large and small.

Interested in establishing communication channels between your C-level and the rest of the company? Tribe can help.

Brittany Walker

4 Reasons Not to Give Up on Communicating to Frontline Employees

Many companies with great internal communications have trouble reaching their non-desk employees. Why? Because communicating to employees who aren’t behind a desk all day can be hard. Whether it’s your sales force, retail team, physicians, manufacturing line or delivery drivers, frontline employees are often those who need to hear from corporate the most. Here are four reasons why sticking with a non-desk communications strategy could benefit your business.

1. 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 could be a big miss not to engage your frontline employees in the vision of the company to make them feel part of something bigger. In fact, Tribe’s national study on non-desk workers underlines the importance of communicating the company’s vision and values to this employee population.

2. Consistent corporate communication builds engagement. Many companies leave most – if not all – internal communications with frontline employees to their supervisors. While cascading communications can successfully deliver messages when executed correctly, our research indicates this is a missed opportunity to build engagement. What’s more, those employees who never hear from top leadership interpret that as a lack of respect for them and their contributions to the company’s success.

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

4. Visibility from corporate is often something they crave. 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.

Need help with your non-desk communications strategy? Tribe can help.

 

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

5 Ways to Recognize the Employees Who Do the Real Work of the Company

Photo credit: Chris Davis Photography

Giving visibility to leadership is important. People want to see the faces and know the humans behind the titles at the top of the org chart.

But it can be even more powerful to give visibility to the people in the rest of the organization. Unwittingly, internal communications often focus on the folks at the top and don’t give much coverage to the employees who are manufacturing the products; delivering the service; making the sales; coding the platforms — not to mention all the employees in HR, accounting, marketing and more who support all those people.

Here are five ways to create more visibility for the people doing the real work of the company:

  1. Quote them in articles: On the intranet or in your employee publications, use regular employees as sources rather than always quoting someone from the C-suite. When you’re covering a new product or a new plant, giving examples of collaboration or innovation, illustrating how the values of the company are used at work, the rank-and-file people will have insights and comments that other employees will be interested to read.
  2. Shoot employee photography: I’m not talking about snapping someone’s headshot standing against a beige cubicle wall. Invest in talented photographers to shoot employees in context of their work. Then use that library of employee photography to illustrate everything from your intranet to digital signage to the annual report. If you have a number of locations and types of workplaces, try shooting at three to five places a year and building the library over time.
  3. Build an employee culture team: Establish a small group of mid-level employees who represent diversity across the company, and task them with being conduits for the culture. You might start with an off-site where the team can bond, and have leadership join to talk about the culture, where they company is going, what it is the company stands for. Then use this team to give culture presentations to their colleagues and to report back to leadership on employee questions and concerns, progress and set-backs. When you have a major change down the road, you’ll be glad to have this community of peer influencers already in place.
  4. Create a peer-to-peer recognition program: Top-down recognition is great, but it can be just as powerful to be recognized by one’s coworkers. Establish a monthly or quarterly recognition program in which employees drive the process of who amongst them gets recognized.
  5. Help them see the value of their roles: This is the big one — and lies at the heart of employees feeling celebrated rather than invisible. If you can draw a line, in employees’ minds, that leads directly from what they do every day to the vision and success of the company, you create a powerful shift. Help employees see how their individual roles contribute, and make sure they see leadership recognizing their contributions as well.

Interested in giving your employees more visibility? Tribe can help.

 

 

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

15 Years of Internal Communications: What’s Changed and What Hasn’t

Tribe was founded as a creative branding boutique 15 years ago yesterday. And while our original focus was on traditional advertising, from the very beginning we were asked to take on internal communications projects for large companies. The industry has changed in many ways since 2002, and in others ways, it’s still exactly the same. Here are three observations:

  1. It starts in the C-suite: When CEOs believe communication with employees is important, they’ll create the budget to make it happen. Often we find some major organizational change — from the acquisition of another company to a shift in strategic priorities — will provide the trigger for stepping up internal communications. This is something we see more often now than we did 15 years ago. What hasn’t changed is the way an individual CEO will drive communications about vision and values — or not. If it’s not important at the top, it’s generally not seen as an important topic for the rest of the company.
  2. Technology has elevated our field. The advent of intranets was a major game changer, but the intranet game itself has changed dramatically over the years. Back in the day, UPS was our first client with an intranet (although they called it a portal and it was really just a collection of links). Then for years SharePoint was the only way to go and we used it for every site we built, from Porsche to PVH. Now, SaaS platforms make it much easier and more affordable — not to mention faster. We’ve been able to pull off sites in less than a month, without impacting the workload of the clients’ IT team.
  3. Print publications never died. Although digital communications fill the lion’s share of our clients’ communication channels nowadays, there’s still a place for print. In our early years at Tribe, we published a printed internal newsletter every month for Porsche. In black and white, because color was way too expensive. Today we do digital newsletters and magazines more often than print, but when there’s a large percentage of employees without dedicated computers, we still recommend printing. For one client, those printed magazines are mailed to each employee’s home. Expensive, yes, but it’s the only channel that goes directly from corporate to the folks in the manufacturing facilities.

One of the most interesting things about the internal communications field is that it’s changing all the time. New platforms, apps and technology provide nearly endless new possibilities for ways the company can communicate with employees. However, the most important element remains, whether you’re typing it up in black and white or shooting 3-D HD scented video to digital watches: it’s just human beings talking to human beings. Authenticity counts, regardless of the medium.

Interested in communicating more authentically to your employees? Tribe can help.

 

 

 

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

Prepare for Crises By Communicating Ahead of Time

hiresCrises will happen. Most companies have a plan in place for communicating with the media, customers and the outside world, but what about inside the walls of the company?

Employees are a critical audience, even more so in times of crisis. Not only will the crisis likely impact them personally, but they will also become unofficial spokespeople for the company, whether you like it or not.

Prior planning is also no substitute for building a foundation of trust before you need it. If in the regular course of business, you can establish a consistent history of honest communication that treats employees with respect, then you’ll be way ahead of any potential crisis. That equity of trust can reduce stress throughout the ranks in a crisis, as well as help employees feel they’re being kept in the loop as usual.

At Tribe, we advise clients to establish a practice of having executive leadership regularly share company news with employees. Cascading news through managers is fine for everyday, operational news, but it’s important to have some communication directly from the C-level to the frontline.

We’re not talking about giving employees the secret formula for Coke. Have execs share major developments in the company, as well as cultural communications regarding the mission, vision and values. Get employees accustomed to hearing from the big cheese, before there’s some crisis to communicate.

Perhaps ironically, sharing bad news is even better in terms of building employee trust. If earnings are down, if a major customer is lost, or if you experience some other blow to business, resist the urge to remain silent. Develop the habit of sharing both the highs and the lows with employees; then they’ll know they can trust the company to give it to them straight, no matter what.

Interested in improving your executive communications with employees? Tribe can help.

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

Humanizing the Big Cheese: Help Employees Connect with the CEO

hiresEmployees want to know their top leadership as individuals. In Tribe’s research with employees of companies with more than 1,000 employees across the U.S., 84 percent of respondents want more communication from corporate, but they also want to see these people face-to-face.

Cascading communications through direct managers isn’t enough. Qualitative responses from our study on employee preferences in internal communications indicate the desire for communications directly from C-level.

Comments and write-in responses included:

“More direct communications from HQ.”

 “It’s important to have some communication directly from corporate instead of my direct manager.”

 “We want to hear from you. Tell us what’s going on.”

Employees also want to put faces to titles, and to interact on a human level.

 “Being able to put a face with a name would help make things more personable.”

“Increase the in-person, live communication.”

“Speak face to face.” 

Most CEO’s and other top executives are not going to have time to meet every employee face-to-face. But efforts in that direction, such as store or plant visits can go a long way towards communicating that he or she believes its important to connect with frontline employees. Town Halls that are webcast are another, although not all employees will sit through an entire one.

Your CEO can only be in one place at a time, but technology can help scale those human interactions. When the CEO visits a plant, shoot video of the visit. Maybe include plant employees by creating a Q&A opportunity where they ask a question and the CEO answers. Or shoot photos of the CEO shaking hands or talking with various plant employees to use in a CEO blog, or on the intranet, or in a digital magazine or newsletter.

The point is to help employees put a face to the name and title. Although an in-person experience has the most impact, there are other ways to build that human connection between employees and the leadership team.

Interested in humanizing your CEO? Tribe can help.

 

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

Letter from the CEO: Tips to Get Employees to Actually Read It

Having the CEO or another leadership team member write a letter or email to employees is a huge opportunity to build engagement. But only if it’s done well. A 500-word missive that’s one long stuffy sentence after another is not engaging and will bore employees long before they get to that final paragraph. Here are a few tips to keep in mind when your communications plan includes leadership communications of that sort:

  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. For a blog, you can go a little longer, but still, short and sweet is more likely to be read.

Interested in improving your leadership communications? Tribe can help.

 

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

Change Management: Avoid employee rumors by letting them know what’s really going on

 

Change Management: Avoid employee rumors by letting them know what’s really going on

Rumors are created to fill information voids. That’s number 17 of 21 “Internal Quotations for Internal Communications” included in a slideshare I stumbled across by Paul Barton of Phoenix, AZ. I don’t know Paul, but I like the way he thinks.

In fact most of the lines he quotes are things we say frequently at Tribe. Another of his slides, number 19, relates to the one above: “Employees should learn of important information affecting them and their organization from an internal source rather than an external source.” Number 18 as well: “In a crisis, internal communications is often the very thin thread that holds everyone and everything together.”

All three of these thoughts relate to the importance of being open and honest with employees during any major change. If you withhold information because you don’t want employees to know how bad it is, you can be fairly certain that what they’re imagining and telling each other is worse than the reality.

One of the best ways to destroy trust in your organization’s leadership is to share something big with the media, customers or shareholders before you tell employees. It’s easy to do unintentionally, especially when there’s time pressure to get out an announcement or press release to correlate with some major happening.

In fact, in Tribe’s research, that news needs to come from the top. In our national research with employees of large companies, major change was one of the few topics respondents said they strongly preferred hearing from company leadership rather than their direct managers.

This speaks to a measure of respect. In any major change or company crisis, beginning any internal communications from a place of respect for employees is the right place to start.

Does your company have a major change on the horizon? 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.