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

What retail employees, airline attendants, hotel workers and other frontline people know that corporate doesn’t

Valuable customer insights go unrecognized in companies across almost every industry. Although large brands may expend considerable budgets on customer research and voice-of-customer initiatives, they may overlook the most direct source of knowledge regarding what customers want.

That source of knowledge is the frontline employee. The customer-facing employee can be a rich resource of ideas for small and large improvements.

In quick service restaurants, staff may notice a trend of customers mixing two packets of different sauces. That observation might lead to a product idea for a new sauce flavor. In the hospitality industry, hotel housekeepers might know that guests often remove a scratchy bedspread and toss it on the floor. That knowledge could influence the choice of fabrics in the next design prototype for room interiors.

The frontline employee also has firsthand knowledge of customer complaints. They see things corporate can’t, which not only stymies customer solutions but also frustrates these employees.

In Tribe’s research with non-desk employees, this frustration was a prevalent theme. They often see corporate as out of touch and ineffective at solving common issues. Respondents reported that corporate often doesn’t understand the realities of the business due to being so removed from customers.

In most companies, this valuable field intelligence is lost. Without a clear channel of communication between the front line and those back in the corporate office, none of this knowledge becomes actionable.

Establishing such a channel takes some doing. Communication to field employees generally flows in one direction only, cascading from managers to the front line. Although individual managers may be aware of these frontline insights, there are rarely established communications processes for sharing up the ladder.

An effective channel will be specific to the physical realities of those frontline employees. What works for hotel housekeepers may not work for garbage truck drivers. A solution appropriate for a high-end jewelry retailer may not suit furniture rental store employees.

Interested in collecting the field intelligence of your frontline? 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

TRIBE TRIVIA: Non-Desk Employees’ Contributions to Company Success

Q: True or False: Non-desk employees, such as those on the manufacturing line or in the retail stores, see a direct link between their work and the success of the company vision.

A: False, for 78 percent of them, according to Tribe’s national research with non-desk employees. Only 22 percent of respondents said they feel their job is important to the company vision. Only 10% feel strongly connected to the company itself at all, with almost half, at 47 percent, saying they feel connected only to their immediate work group.

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

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.


Steve Baskin

TRIBE TRIVIA: Non-Desk Employees and Corporate Communications

Question:  Do non-desk employees feel that corporate is keeping them in the loop?

Answer: About 20 percent feel that the company shares only good news with them, according to Tribe’s national research with non-desk employees. Almost 40 percent indicated they “take all corporate communications with a grain of salt.

For more information about this study, see Tribe’s white papers and other resources on the expertise page of tribeinc.com, or shoot me an email.


Stephen Burns

Tried and true: Engaging non-desk employees with print material

At Tribe, we’re always looking for the best ways to engage the non-desk employee population. In some of our recent client work, we’ve been dealing with some of the most innovative and exciting ways to interact with this employee demographic that is notoriously challenging to reach. While there are plenty of awesome new technologies out there that have made the process easier, one of the oldest methods is still one of top choices: print material.

From magazines to break room posters, print is an effective and time-tested solution to relay company information to employees that don’t have a computer in front of them all day. Very often, non-desk workers don’t even have a company email address, let alone enough down time during the day to peruse the company intranet. Print pieces allow these employees to absorb the information on their own time. Posters, for example can convey refreshers of company values or announce team building events in a concise and digestible way. Company magazines can be picked up, taken home and read when employees have the time to invest in reading them.

How else can print materials help build employee engagement? Here are a few ways this timeless medium can help reach your employee population.

They make executive leaders visible – and human. In Tribe’s national research, we found that employees want to know their top management team as people rather than just titles. A regular magazine feature based on a CEO interview or even a series of profiles of everyone on the executive team can help employees feel that human connection.

They help align employees with the company vision. A magazine is an excellent venue for sharing the company vision with employees and helping them see how their individual roles contribute to that vision. This is a natural topic for articles involving executive leaders.

They provide a showcase for modeling values. Company values aren’t real to employees until they see them in action. In the magazine we developed for a hotel brand, we included three employee spotlights in each issue. This did three important things: made heroes of employees, gave real-life examples of applying the values, and shared some best practices in tackling common issues in the hotel business.

They can open windows into other silos. Magazines can help employees put faces on co-workers in other business units or locations, building the sense of being part of something larger than just their specific work groups. For a global parent company owning numerous apparel brands, we highlighted one of their brands in each issue. To counteract the feeling that the company was too U.S.-centric, we featured a different global location each quarter so employees could see behind the scenes at other offices.

They help non-desk employees feel in the loop. Although many companies have opted to reduce printing costs by distributing their magazines as digital publications via email or intranet, there are numerous companies still printing magazines and even mailing them to each employee’s home. For frontline, field, manufacturing and other employees who don’t work in front of a computer, these magazines can be their only substantial communication directly from corporate – and an important element of engaging them in the company vision and the desired customer experience.

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

Finding meaningful work, even in the most unlikely jobs

Meaningful work is not just for those employed by non-profits. It’s not something only the Millennial generation craves. Even those who mop floors and clean toilets want to know their work contributes to some greater good.

Research with hospital custodians illustrates that point. Barry Schwartz describes this study in his opinion piece “Rethinking Work,” appearing yesterday in the New York Times Sunday Review section. (His TED Book, “Why We Work” will be released tomorrow.)

These custodians found meaning in their work by helping patients and their families. “Though the custodians’ official job duties never even mentioned other human beings, many of them viewed their work as including doing whatever they could to comfort patients and their families and to assist the professional staff members with patient care. They would joke with patients, calm them down so that nurses could insert IVs, even dance for them. They would help family members of patients find their way around the hospital.

“The custodians received no financial compensation for this ‘extra’ work. But this aspect of the job, they said, was what got them out of bed every morning. ‘I enjoy entertaining the patients,’ said one. ‘That’s what I enjoy the most.’

Interested in helping employees find meaningful work in your company? Tribe can help.




Stephen Burns

Communicating with non-desk workers

In the upcoming tenth issue of the Tribe Report, we’ll be discussing how some of the top companies in the world communicate with non-desk workers. This is a topic that is near and dear to our hearts, and something we deal with every day. Non-desk employees are a key part of companies, often they’re on the frontline and interacting with consumers. They need to be believers and carriers of your company’s vision and values. But because they’re in a factory or behind the wheel of a truck they’re one of the hardest demographics to target in terms of communication.

Letting employees choose how they receive company information is key to creating effective communications. And non-desk workers are no different. At Tribe, we believe there are three pillars of communication, and using them all effectively truly helps companies reach the entire employee population, especially non-desk. This is how some of the top companies are using to keep their non-desk workers informed and engaged.

1) Technology
Just because employees aren’t sitting at a desk in front of a computer doesn’t mean the intranet is out of the question. Many companies set up computer kiosks in break areas or in some other public area where employees can access the intranet and other online sources. Others use closed circuit TV or large monitors for videos that communicate cultural messages or company news. But perhaps the most direct way to reach field employees is by mobile. You can send short updates via text, provide call-in numbers to hear a recorded message from leadership or even create a smart phone app to keep these employees up to speed.

Who’s doing what:

• UPS has added a Twitter account for employees to their communications mix

• The Home Depot recently launched an opt-in texting program for associates

• IBM offers over 400 apps for employees in their internal mobile store

• McDonald’s has created their own employee radio station to play in their kitchens

2) Print
In many global companies, traditional print is making a comeback. Sometimes that means mailing a monthly or quarterly magazine to each employee’s home, but it also can be more economical solutions like printed newsletters or posters in employee break rooms. People like to have something they can hold in their hands, especially when they’re not connected by computer. Print can also serve as a support piece to online initiatives.

Who’s doing what:

• UPS, The Home Depot and Disney all mail their magazine to employees’ homes

• Embassy Suites recently published a book to communicate the finer points of their culture

• Porsche printed a how-to guide for the new intranet they recently launched

3) Face to Face
When it comes to human communication, there’s no substitute for face time. At Tribe, we’re seeing more companies shifting their focus back to in person meetings with employees. Top leadership is being charged with going out to meet with employees in the field and more communication from corporate is being distributed through conversations between people managers and their staff.

Who’s doing what:

• Zappos holds weekly zuddles for call center managers to discuss hot topics with team members

• Duke Energy executives visit plants and operation centers for informal conversations and Q&As with field employees

• LexisNexis had top management greet employees with hot coffee when they arrived at work

Steve Baskin

Connecting front-line employees to the company vision

McDonald’s invests over $1 billion annually in advertising, but the business all comes down to the hourly worker at the register or the drive-through window. Early in my ad agency career, I worked on the McDonald’s Restaurants business. At the time, I didn’t realize the significance of what I was learning regarding internal communications issues, but this is the mantra that we repeated quite often.

It’s the major concern for many retail organizations whose point of contact with their customers happens in face-to-face meetings in a restaurant, at a drive-through window or on a sales floor. Whether its McDonald’s, Taco Bell, Wal-Mart, Target, BestBuy, Wells Fargo or the regional health care system, success depends on a knowledgeable and engaged frontline employee base.

Let’s face it, the revenue at these companies literally passes through the hands of hourly workers. These folks typically account for the majority of employees in the company. They’re also the most difficult to reach with internal communications. They’re the least likely to have a company email address or have regular access to the company intranet. They’re typically reluctant to allow the company to send work communications to their personal smart phones. And there is high rate of turnover on the front lines.

Most major retail organizations offer extensive training programs that tell employees what to do operationally. The programs help employees understand the proper way to execute their tasks and hopefully to help them grow into positions of greater responsibility. Most have communications systems that alert store employees when a new promotion will be advertised.

Less ubiquitous are programs that help employees understand why their individual roles are important – even critical – to the success of the organization. At Tribe, we’ve found that this knowledge is a key ingredient in employee engagement, and engagement is the key to individual success within an organization.

In a retail environment, there are many competing priorities when it comes to communicating with frontline employees. It’s a challenge to add another layer to the mix, but this is quite important. Here are some thoughts:

  • Make connecting the vision to frontline employee roles a corporate priority. We don’t just mean posting the corporate vision statement on the intranet. We’re talking about an ongoing communications campaign that peels back the layers that make up the company’s vision and values. With thought and planning, this conversation can be integrated into tactical communications and doesn’t necessarily require additional layers.
  • Provide tools for frontline managers that help start and maintain the conversation with their employees. These might include talking points for pre-shift meetings, presentation templates or a range of situational examples that help managers apply the values to the everyday work environment.
  • Recognize the employees that do it best. Strategic recognition programs offer several benefits for the organization: 1) Highlights best practices that already exist. 2) Provides real-world examples of the vision. 3) As employees learn about peers from other parts of the organization, the vision is reinforced. 4) Allows for a spark of competition since frontline managers will benefit from the halo of recognition as their employees are highlighted.
  • Understand the reality of communicating to frontline employees. As we mentioned, frontline employees can be almost as difficult to reach as customers. Posting on the intranet or posting a flyer in the break room just won’t cut it. As with consumer advertising, we have to approach this kind of communication with a campaign mentality. Ask your employees how they prefer to receive communications and offer interesting options. You’ll likely be surprised by their receptivity when you ask opinions and provide choices.

Do you have questions about communicating with non-desk employees? Give Tribe a call. Perhaps we can help.