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

3 Ways to Survey Employees Without Computers

How do you survey non-desk workers? Online surveys are great for employee populations sitting in front of computers, but they aren’t very good at capturing responses from all those on the manufacturing line, in retail stores and in other non-desk positions.

Some companies ask non-desk workers to visit a shared computer in a break room or at a kiosk. Without some serious motivation, hourly employees are not going to be lining up on their break time to answer a company survey.

As in most non-desk employee communications, you need to be a little more creative. Here are three ways to make surveys more accessible to employees without dedicated computers:

  1. Scannable paper surveys:  How did they do surveys before online surveys? Right. On paper. You print the survey; make it available to employees at a time and place that’s convenient for them; and establish a process for collecting those surveys. For scanning, you can contract with a vendor for scannable surveys, or use software that allows you to scan responses in house.
  2. 800 number: Here’s a low-tech solution that’s non-desk friendly, although you’d want to keep the number of questions limited. Employees call a toll-free number, respond to multiple choice questions by pressing a number and to open-ended ones by recording their response.
  3. Text surveys: In many non-desk employee populations, more people own smart phones than home computers. If you offer employees the chance to opt in to text surveys, many of them will likely be willing to answer one to three question surveys at regular intervals.

One caveat to all the above: respect the limits of the non-exempt employee’s workday. You’ll probably want to make it very clear that employees are not expected to answer these surveys on their own time, and to construct a way for them to participate while they’re on the clock.

Interested in finding ways to reach your non-desk employees? Tribe can help.

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

Keeping Frontline Employees in the Loop: 4 Tips

How does your company communicate with employees on the frontline, the retail floor or the factory line? Many companies leave all internal communications with non-desk workers to their immediate supervisors. Tribe’s national study with the non-desk employee population indicates this is a missed opportunity to build engagement. What’s more, those employees who never hear from top management interpret that as a lack of respect for them and their contributions to the company’s success.

But how do you reach employees who are in stores, distribution centers, restaurants and out driving trucks all day? There’s no one-size-fits-all answer, as you must consider the physical realities of their days and think creatively to identify potential touch points. Generally, Tribe recommends a combination of high-tech and low-tech solutions to build channels from corporate to the front lines.

For starters, Tribe also recommends the following four approaches:

1.    LOOP THEM IN: Commit to at least one channel through which non-desk employees will hear from management. This could be a town-hall meeting via video for manufacturing employees, a recorded message accessed through an 800 number, or even a quarterly letter from the CEO mailed to employees’ homes.

2.    ASK THEM WHAT THEY THINK: Having corporate management talk to this audience is a good step, but you also need to create opportunities for these employees to share their comments and views. Two-way communication methods — from the ability to comment on changes in the company, to soliciting ideas for improving systems and processes — demonstrate management’s respect and the desire to understand the realities of these employees’ jobs.

3.    MAKE THEM HEROES: Spotlight frontline and field workers and celebrate their contributions, through regular bio pieces in a company publication, recognition programs or contests that highlight employee performance.

4.    TAKE THE CEO TO THE PEOPLE: Again, there’s no substitute for giving employees a chance to meet face-to-face with top management, and it’s particularly meaningful to non-desk employees. Look for opportunities to have members of your leadership team visit stores, plants and other facilities so they can rub elbows with the people doing the most important work of your company.

Interested in communication channels that work for your non-desk employees? 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.

 

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.

 

 

 

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

Some non-desk employees come with PhDs

Non-desk employees are a hard-to-reach audience for internal communications, because they’re moving targets. Rather than sitting in front of computers all day, they’re generally up on their feet.

These non-desk employees are often frustrated by their lack of communication from corporate. In Tribe’s national research with non-desk employees, we’ve found that this is frequently interpreted as a lack of respect for their contributions to the success of the company.

The non-desk audience in most companies is predominantly made up of hourly workers. The employees out on the manufacturing line, in retail stores, behind fast food counters and out in delivery trucks sometimes feel corporate is out of touch with the realities of their work.

But the non-desk audience also includes people with advanced degrees pulling down major salaries. The nurses and physicians in hospital settings are generally interacting with patients more than they’re sitting behind desks. Engineers out on oil rigs or in heavy industrial settings fall into this group as well.

As with any non-desk audience, Tribe recommends looking for unique touchpoints. What are the physical realities of that particular non-desk employee’s day? Those working the ER will have a dramatically different physical environment than an engineer in a paper mill.

The point is that there’s no one-size-fits-all solution to non-desk communications. That’s why a period of discovery is so important a the beginning of strategic development.

We recommend approaching this with a sense of curiousity about how non-desk employees spend their days. Only when you understand what it’s like to walk a day in their shoes can you being to develop new solutions. Don’t let the hourly workers be right about corporate being out of touch with the realities of their work.

Interested in new touchpoints for reaching your non-desk employees? Tribe can help.

 

 

 

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

What frontline employees 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.

 

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

Four ways that end-of-year CEO message can reach non-desk employees

Is your CEO planning to send that ubiquitous annual holiday email to employees? If so, see this excellent blog by Sharon McIntosh. Sharon was a client of Tribe when she was at Pepsi, where CEO Indra Nooyi, who is awesome, likely made none of the mistakes Sharon advises against.

There’s one potential footfall Sharon doesn’t mention. Unless your company is all office workers, that mass email is leaving out an important audience: all those employees who work on the manufacturing line, the frontline, the retail floor or in any other job that doesn’t involve sitting in front of a computer.

In Tribe’s national research, 84 percent of these non-desk employees said they don’t receive enough communication from executive leadership. And over 72 percent said communication from top management is important to them.

Don’t think that cascading communications through their managers is going to do the trick. Non-desk employees cite two major downfalls with the cascading system. One is that different managers communicate at different times, or sometimes not at all, leaving some employees more in the loop than others. The other issue is the inconsistency of the message. More than one research subject likened it to the kids’ game of Telephone, where the message becomes increasingly garbled as it’s passed from one person to the next.

Employees especially want to hear directly from C-level when the communication is about vision and values. And one would hope the annual CEO letter at least touches on where the company is heading.

So what’s a CEO to do? Reaching non-desk workers is more difficult, but that’s not a good enough reason to skip it. Here are a few channels to consider.

1. Send a letter, not an email. The simplest possible solution is an actual printed letter from the CEO, in an envelope, mailed to each employee’s home.

2. While you’re at it, send a vision book. Tribe recently developed a vision book for a large healthcare organization that was delivered by mail to employees’ home addresses, accompanied by a letter from the CEO. This vision piece can help non-desk employees better understand the vision and how their individual jobs support that vision, which in turn raises engagement.

3. Create a year-end publication to inspire pride. Another recent Tribe project is an annual magazine for a large building materials and consumer products company. A letter from the CEO opens the publication, which covers a wide range of company accomplishments over the past year, from new innovations to acquisitions, from safety milestones to product introductions. The over-sized photography features employees — many of them non-desk workers — from a wide range of their facilities and plants. The photos are shot in a style that makes the employees look like the heroes that they are, out there in their hardhats operating the equipment that makes the stuff the company sells.

4. Use mobile to communicate with non-desk. If the year-end CEO communication needs to be digital, include non-desk employees by texting a link. Better yet, develop an app that keeps them in the loop all year long. About half of all US adults own smartphones, but the numbers for non-desk employees are often higher, particularly for those employees in lower-paying jobs who are less likely to have their own computer at home. Tribe recently surveyed employees of a retail client and found that a crazy huge group of them– 91 percent — have smartphones.

Ready to find ways to communicate with your non-desk employees? Tribe can help.