Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

Successful Change Management Starts with Respect for Employees

Having employees embrace or accept change depends a great deal on whether they feel they’re being treated with respect.Overcome Resistance to Change with Two Conversations,” a fantastic article in the Harvard Business Review by two thought leaders from the Kellogg School of Management, suggests that feeling a lack of respect is one of three reasons behind those who resist organizational change. (The other two they discuss are disagreement and feeling rushed.)

Can their excellent strategies for one-on-one conversations be applied to internal communications? Yes and no. They’re correct that email and webcasts can’t accomplish what a face-to-face dialogue can. But those engineering a major change in large companies with thousands or tens of thousands of employees obviously can’t sit down with every single person the change will impact.

Still, the change communications can start from a place of respect for employees. The inevitable email, town hall, intranet articles and/or webcasts can all frame the transition in ways that acknowledge the difficulties of the change and communicate honestly about the downsides  — as well as the ways the change will benefit the company and its employees in the long run.

In addition, Tribe would recommend three key elements to the change communications:

  1. Have the CEO announce the change: In Tribe’s national research with employees of large companies, respondents said they wanted to hear about a big change first from the top brass. They want their leadership to be straightforward about bad news and not sugarcoat it or spin it. And they want to know the business reasons behind the change.
  2. Prep managers to answer questions: Employees in our research said they would likely follow up with their direct managers to ask questions, so help your managers be prepared with talking points, FAQs and possibly communication training on this particular change. You want each manager to be sharing the same messaging as the CEO — and as the other managers out there, so employees aren’t hearing different versions of the story depending on who they talk to.
  3. Give employees a feedback loop: Two-way communication is particularly important in times of major change. Give employees a way to ask questions and share concerns, and be sure they get responses in a timely way.

Interesting in improving acceptance of a major change at your company? Tribe can help.

 

 

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

3 Ways to Fumble When Communicating a Major Change

How does a company communicate a major change? In many cases, not well. Following are three sure-fire ways to get it wrong.

1. Don’t say anything at all until every single detail is final. This is an awesome idea if you want employees to feel insecure and uneasy. Especially if they somehow suspect change is afoot and begin to spread that suspicion via the grapevine.

2. Tell them what they want to hear. For instance, if there’s currently no plan for layoffs, go ahead and promise them that all their jobs are definitely safe and they don’t have a thing to worry about. If that changes, they probably won’t even remember the earlier communication.

3. If it’s bad news, don’t talk about it. If you don’t acknowledge that something has gone wrong, or that a difficult change is coming, then you can keep employees from knowing a thing about it.

What’s that? You prefer treating employees with respect? Then you might find the following tips more in keeping with your approach:

• Don’t patronize them by withholding negative news. They’d rather know what to expect than be left in the dark.

• Tell employees as much as you can as soon as you can. If aspects of the change are not yet decided, tell them that too.

• Don’t make the mistake of thinking employees get all their information about the company from the company. They have plenty of other sources, from the financial news to the local news and from social media to social connections.

Interested in change communications that are respectful to employees? Tribe can help.

Brittany Walker

4 Ways to Increase Engagement Through Employee Recognition

HiResEngaged employees are more likely to know that their role contributes to the overall success of the organization. When it comes to instilling that message throughout the company, Tribe often recommends a rewards and recognition program. From dedicated website portals, to a verbal “thank you,” there are many effective methods to increase confidence and morale through acknowledgment. Sometimes the smallest thing someone does can make the biggest difference for someone else.

  1. Verbally recognize standout employees during a regular meeting. Rewarding employees in front of their peers puts a little extra oomph in fostering pride. Schedule a few minutes into the agenda of your weekly or monthly meeting to spotlight an individual who deserves it.
  1. Establish a recognition item that can be passed on to others. The actual item can be determined by your culture – at Tribe we use a large jar – but the concept stays the same. Starting with the team leader, give it to someone who’s gone above and beyond. That person will keep the item for a month or quarter, and then pass it on to someone else on the team that deserves the spotlight for their accomplishments. It is important to let them know why they’re receiving the item, to set a standard for a job well done.
  1. Provide a sought-after treat to recognize employees’ contributions. This could be as simple as a quarterly breakfast with leadership, or a small gift or collectable token. The ability to attend an exclusive event or receive a keepsake can go a long way to make employees feel appreciated.
  1. Spotlight outstanding employees with a story of their accomplishments. Consider establishing an “employee of the month” program or a spotlight section in your newsletter or internal publication. Not only will it make that employee feel recognized for their contributions, but it will allow other employees to read why that person was selected and set their sights on how to be nominated in the future. It was also serve as a great reminder of your organization’s best practices.

Interested in developing a rewards and recognition program? Tribe can help.

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

84% of Employees Say Change Management Communications Handled Poorly

In Tribe’s employee research, 84 percent feel that communications about major changes in their companies are handled poorly. If you’re interested in your employees falling into that 84 percent, here are three sure-fire ways to completely blow it with employees:

1. Don’t say anything at all until every single detail is final. This is an awesome idea if you want employees to feel insecure and uneasy. Especially if they somehow suspect change is afoot and begin to spread that suspicion via the grapevine.

2. Tell them what they want to hear. For instance, if there’s currently no plan for layoffs, go ahead and promise them that all their jobs are definitely safe and they don’t have a thing to worry about. If that changes, they probably won’t even remember the earlier communication.

3. If it’s bad news, don’t talk about it. If you don’t acknowledge that something has gone wrong, or that a difficult change is coming, then you can keep employees from knowing a thing about it.

What’s that? You prefer treating employees with respect? Then you might find the following tips more in keeping with your approach:

• Don’t patronize them by withholding negative news. They’d rather know what to expect than be left in the dark.

• Tell employees as much as you can as soon as you can. If aspects of the change are not yet decided, tell them that too.

• Don’t make the mistake of thinking employees get all their information about the company from the company. They have plenty of other sources, from the financial news to the local news and from social media to social connections.

Want some guidance in handling change communications? Tribe can help.

Stephen Burns

Time Warner Cable and the art of being upfront

time-warner-cable-change-hed-2016-1You may have seen Time Warner Cable’s new ad campaign about the company changing. “Changing for Good”, in fact. That’s the slogan. With access to more channels, newer technologies and a focus on customer service, there’s a sweeping effort coming from TWC, as well as Comcast, Charter and the other cable giants to show customers that cable companies are different now. Really and truly different.

Well, actually, they aren’t that different. Beside the new technology, which has updated consistently but glacially through the years, not much has really changed. They’ll still be late, but instead of a four-hour window of time for arrival, they give you a one-hour window. They’re 98.8% sure they can hit that. And they’ll send you a notification when they’re on the way. That seems to be it.

But there is a lot of merit in this particular campaign.  Sure, they aren’t making massive changes in policy, price or customer service — the important stuff. Regardless of (my) personal vendettas against the cable companies, one has to acknowledge the vast networks of employees, data and technology that these companies have to manage. Yes, I’m calling for sympathy for the much-maligned cable companies. Don’t shoot. They’re admitting that they’ve messed up. You may see the sentiment as “the least they could do,” communicating the fact that they have been terrible, but this is the first step. There may be real changes on the horizon. And as a customer they’re telling you one, very important thing: no matter the changes, they’ll be communicated to you.

Companies can take a lesson from the transparency demonstrated here. Change management is one of the toughest areas of internal communication. Even at the helm of the company, leaders may not know exactly how changes will unfold. You may feel like you can’t communicate unless you have all the answers. As a result, managers may not feel well informed about what’s happening, and employees will feel out of the loop. The truth of the matter is, no news does not mean good news in the corporate world. People need to know what’s happening, no matter what.

Hence, there is one cardinal rule in change management: communicate. So, you may not know what’s happening exactly. Tell employees everything you do know. Give your people a heads-up that there are certain possibilities on the horizon. What’s truly important is keeping everyone on the same page, and showing them that they can trust you to continue that communication. With that trust comes the confidence to weather the changes and even voice improvements and opinions as to how the changes can happen as smoothly as possible.

Want to find the best ways to communicate change with employees? Give Tribe a call. We’d love to help.

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

Who wants what: Life stages and the EVP

The employee value proposition helps employees see beyond compensation and benefits to the larger picture. Although there are other elements of the EVP that attract top talent and keep your best employees in place, it’s safe to say all employees care about their pay and insurance.

Beyond that, many elements of the EVP will be different for each individual. Some people are looking for a company where they can enjoy a better work-life balance.  Other employees might secretly enjoy racking up air miles and staying in hotels all over the world. Some folks want to be able to wear T-shirts and flip flops to the office. Hourly workers in positions that don’t promise much career advancement might appreciate tuition assistance to get that college degree.

Although we can’t assume that diverse personalities will want the same things, people in certain life stages often want similar perks. New parents might particularly value the options of flex time or working from home. Those in the early stages of their careers will likely be looking for a company with a great deal of opportunity for growth. Although Gen Y employees often rank meaningful work high on their lists, that factor can also be a big deal to many Boomers.

The EVP provides answers to the employee’s question, “What’s in it for me?” It’s wise to remember, however, that the right answers will be different according to what any individual employee values most in life.

Ready to explore your employee value proposition? Tribe can help.

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

Boost trust in top management by communicating change honestly

Here’s the thing: trust is not about guaranteeing employees that nothing bad will ever happen. If building trust requires a guarantee of anything, it’s that the company will tell employees what’s really going on, even if it’s bad.

Employees are smart enough to realize that no company can promise lifetime employment anymore. Most employees don’t even want lifetime employment. They want interesting, challenging work, and in an ideal scenario, work that they find personally meaningful.

They start a new job with the expectation that eventually they’ll move on to another company, ideally when they themselves decide it’s time for a change. On the other hand, they recognize that sometimes  companies have to lay people off, eliminate positions or somehow reduce head count. They know that job security is a relative term.

Honesty, then, becomes the real building block of trust. Employees feel trust in their company — and thus do their best work and are most engaged — when they believe management is being honest with them. So how does a company go about doing that?

1. Tell employees about any significant changes in the company — and tell them fast, before the rumor mill and the media get a jump on you. Some CEOs and other leaders delude themselves into thinking that if they don’t say anything, the employees won’t notice that anything is going on. Wrong. Employees know when something is up, and in the absence of management communication, they’ll take their information wherever they can get it, often from each other.

2. Tell the truth, even when it’s bad news. Particularly when it’s bad news. If employees know that the company will be straight with them in communicating negative developments, then they tend not to worry so much. Ironically, sharing bad news makes employees feel more comfortable instead of less so.

3. Give employees credit for being smart enough to know business includes both ups and downs. Most people have experienced plenty of highs and lows in their own lives, and they have an understanding that things move in cycles. Just because the business is down today, doesn’t mean it won’t be up tomorrow.

4. Make room for employees to ask questions. You have to make this honest communication a two-way street. Provide an online forum or town  hall meetings or some venue for your people to ask management the hard questions. That gives the company a chance to respond to the issues that you have to accept are swirling around the workplace.

5. Share the management vision for the future. Most corporate management teams believe they’re doing this all the time. It’s true that the people closest to them are usually familiar with the vision. But the further away an employee is from the top, the less likely they are to know anything at all about the vision for the organization. Being aware of leadership’s vision can help anchor employees drowning in a sea of change.

Interested in communicating change in a way that can build trust? Tribe can help.

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

Employee feedback: Closing the loop

Asking for employee input is great. Whether it’s a formal engagement survey, a questions-and-comments feature on the intranet or employee focus groups on particular issues, people like being asked for their opinion.

But management needs to make sure they close the loop. Once employees have offered their thoughts and opinions, they tend to expect something to happen as a result.

Employees realize the company can’t say yes to everything. Clearly, every employee preference can’t be accommodated nor can every employee suggestion be implemented. By making one choice, the company opts out of others.

Still, employees need to know that they’ve been heard. If your intranet accepts employee suggestions for ideas and innovations, make sure you’ve got a process in place for someone to read those suggestions and to thank the employee, whether or not that idea is one the company could adopt.

They also want to know the business reasons behind decisions. When employee input has been solicited for a key decision at the company, from healthcare benefits to flex workdays to the platform for a new intranet, some employees will be taken aback when their recommendation is not the one adopted.

Tell them why the decision that was made is the best one for the business. Show how that decision best supports the company vision. Share how employee input helped shape the decision, but wasn’t the only consideration.

It also helps to discuss those options discussed but discarded. For lack of a better example, let’s say management decided to make chocolate ice cream the official dessert in the company cafeteria. Those who suggested vanilla and strawberry and butter pecan might feel their opinions were ignored. Just by acknowledging some of the other possibilities considered, you’re letting employees know that their input didn’t drop into a black hole.

Finally, make clear the difference between a voice and a vote. By giving employees a voice in upcoming decisions, management is not handing over responsibility for decision making. At some point, leadership has to make the call and move on.

Is your company working to engage employees in discussions about upcoming decisions? Tribe can help.

Steve Baskin

Effective Internal Communications is Everyone’s Responsibility

During a discovery interview last week, a senior executive noted that if the communications team was left to manage this particular communications initiative, the outcome of the project was going to be far too narrow. His point was that internal communications is a company-wide issue rather than the prerogative of a single department. And as Jocabim Mugatu so wisely allowed in Zoolander, “He’s exactly right!”

Effective communications inside a company is the responsibility of every executive, every manager and every employee – everyone has a role. It’s leadership’s responsibility to prioritize the importance of consistent and appropriately transparent communications as well as ensuring that information is properly cascaded throughout the company. It’s the responsibility of managers to interpret the communications and relay it to front line and non-desk employees. It’s everyone’s responsibility to act on the communications and provide feedback whenever necessary.

To get this done, though, the communications team is critically important. Their role is to support business communications that enable the company to be as productive as possible. To provide the most effective channels for communications. And to ensure that barriers to open communications are minimized.

It starts with a keen understanding of the vision and values of the company’s leadership. What is the company trying to achieve? How will they go about it? How will individual employees and teams achieve the company’s goals? What do employees need to know on a daily basis to in order achieve the goals?

When an initiative or a significant change is happening, the communications team should understand how the initiative affects various demographics throughout the company – from business leaders to front line sales to production floor employees. It’s rarely a one-size-fits-all conversation. While everyone doesn’t need to know everything, there should be a broad understanding of what the company is doing, and how the initiative helps achieve company goals. There should be an understanding of how employees’ individual roles contribute to the success of the initiative.

Communications channels are a key consideration and will likely be different based on the target audience and the type of message. There are a number of questions that should be answered. Do employees use computers for their work? Do they have access to the company intranet? Do they have a dedicated email address? Do they have mobile access? What are the realities of the work environment? How involved or complicated is the message? Knowledge of the effectiveness of various channels for different types of employees (and for different kinds of communications) will minimize communications roadblocks.

The tone and positioning of the message must be appropriate given the subject matter and audience. Is this a serious communication? Clearly, it’s not appropriate to be too terribly funny when messages might have a negative impact on employees’ livelihoods. However, there are many times when a novel channel approach or a witty headline might help the message get through to employees. Keep in mind that these communications have a lot of competition for mindshare – even in the work place.

Finally, we should ensure that the communication worked as intended. Many times this will be obvious based on the actions of employees. Other times, internal research is required to measure improvement to understand if the message or changes are taking place as intended.

So yes, the entire company is responsible for effective internal communications. Most often though, having a skilled communications professional on board will ensure that the communications work as planned. Tribe can help.

Steve Baskin

In Times of Change, Employees Are Watching and Listening

When changes are happening within an organization, whether it’s replacing a CEO, changing healthcare benefits, or revising your Flip-Flop Friday’s dress code policy, employees are paying attention. Perhaps they’re not all paying attention. And perhaps the segments that you intended to reach aren’t paying attention. But people are paying attention and trying to figure out the reasons behind the change.

There was a time when things could happen in the world and nobody would ever find out. Before the 24-hour news cycle, if you wanted to announce a potentially controversial change, you’d just do it on Friday afternoon or around the holidays. By the time you got back to the office, it was generally forgotten.

The communication and connectivity of today’s world means that our actions – no matter how large or small – can find an audience. This is just as true inside a company as it is on CNN or Fox News. So when management takes action or announces change, as communicators, we have to be ever more careful about who is going to notice or care.

Over the years at Tribe, we’ve been told by company leaders that since the changes would only affect the top few layers of management, there was no reason to develop specific communications for frontline sales and factory workers. Another was surprised to learn that changes in the senior management ranks over a few-year period had caused a significant level of concern about the company’s future among frontline staff.

As we’ve said in many a blog and to many clients, when there is an absence of factual information surrounding change, our human brains are wired to fill in the gaps with our imagination. The imagination feeds the rumor mill, and suddenly, we have a communications issue on our hands that’s spreading like wildfire.

So when changes are being announced, let’s be sure that our communications plans consider a broader group than those who are directly affected by that message. If a job function or department is being eliminated or consolidated into another, let’s consider who else will be impacted or might care about that change. It isn’t just the affected department. There is a group of employees who worked directly or indirectly with the people who were reassigned or let go. There’s a group of employees out there wondering if their department is next.

We’re not suggesting a need to custom-tailor messages for every employee segment within the company whenever a change is announced. When developing communications plans, we think it’s very important, however, to be as thoughtful as possible about who will be directly and indirectly impacted by the change.

And whether it’s through the company intranet, a Q&A platform or well-informed managers, when your employees have questions or concerns about a change, it’s extremely important that they have an easy-to-find, easy-to-use channel for understanding what’s going on. Because somewhere out there, somebody’s watching and listening.

Got questions about change management? TRIBE can help.