Have you ever noticed how difficult it is for companies to get the word out to their employees? Talk to just about any C-suite executive or HR leader and you’ll find that in companies of 5 or companies of 50,000, getting the right information to the right people at the right time is a persistent problem. Talking to and with each other is much more challenging than talking to clients, partners or investors.
And yet, if you work inside a company and really look at the problem, you quickly discover that companies are their own worst enemies when it comes to guiding their people on everything from market strategy to company holidays and the availability of influenza vaccines.
This is why…
too many messages
In most organizations, employees receive official messages almost every day. Employees are bombarded with everything from strategy or policy statements to changing details about parking or benefit programs, IT alerts for time changes to blood drives and softball games. The vast majority of these messages are ignored and possibly deleted before they are read because employees see no value in them. In fact, most employees get so much email that unless it’s from their boss or immediate members of their team, they automatically get less attention.
Nobody seems to be in charge of editing or prioritizing messages. There is no contact strategy that determines how many contacts is too many contacts for effective communication. Most companies don’t have a posting schedule that can tell employees that C-level stuff is posted on Monday and HR postings always come on Friday.
One size fits all
Most corporate messages have a text and a flavor. Any given message may or may not apply to everyone, but it’s usually easier to get it across the company than to target the message or write variations based on relevance or responsiveness. The global blast also instantly satisfies a C-level query on how to get the word out.
But if you ask anyone, they’ll quickly tell you that finance people understand the process and prefer to get their information in different ways than salespeople or engineers. But hardly anyone acknowledges or acts on these known differences when crafting or conveying internal or employee messages.
Similarly, even data-centric companies don’t seem to be able to classify employees based on relevant facts. Most can’t just ping everyone who has a particular laptop model or quickly isolate those who have taken a certain dental plan option. So instead everyone receives all messages, which in turn trains the box to ignore all messages.
If you look at employee communications, everything is top priority. Few companies use different names or different fonts to distinguish between really important messages and routine information. As a result, everything is important and nothing is important. Employees treat the corporate messenger like the kid who cried “wolf.” As a result, price changes or new product introductions often receive the same weight and attention as birthdays, service anniversaries, and bake sales.
too much spin
Too many companies ignore the reservoir of good will, desire to believe and need to belong that exists among their workforce. In an environment that is overregulated, litigious and manipulated, leadership rarely speaks directly to the base. Every word is processed and the result is a transparent “party line” that is instantly discredited by people who actually know what’s going on because they show up to work every day, pay attention and care a lot more than you think.
No one really believes that the benefits of “right sizing” and “reengineering” are good for them. Everyone already knows which products are successful and which are not, long before any official announcement. Anyone who pays even the slightest attention has a pretty good idea of the interplay of profits, politics, and personalities within their own organizations, even mega-global ones. So why not talk more directly with the people who inevitably have to bear the burdens and implement the changes?
Typically, leadership feels they have to process internal messages to protect security and avoid any appearance or potential claim of “insider trading.” But there are very few real secrets other than intentions and timing. And most of them are already on the minds of employees interested in the future of their companies.
In every company there are people who have credibility or seniority who informally connect people with other people. These are the people who have lived through a thousand policy changes, who help you figure out how to get things done, who know who can streamline your spending, and who have friends and sources of information spread throughout the organization.
The “rumor mills” or “jungle drums” are informal communication networks that speak clearly, transmit faster and have more credibility than any official form of internal communication. They not only edit, filter and evaluate information, but also play on our need to know and our desire to have the true information about the events unfolding in front of our eyes. Sometimes these neural networks are connected to each other. They are often limited within a facility or within a team or business unit. however, they almost always trump the official employee communications system.
So what’s a forward-thinking company to do?
Take what we’ve learned in online and direct marketing and apply it to internal communications.
Consider these first steps.
1. Audience segment. Priority
Separate groups of people to receive relevant messages instead of sending the same message to everyone. Create separate lists to get separate messages. Write different versions of the same message with the goal of presenting the information in different ways to different types of personalities or work groups. Establish contact strategies that govern how many messages each employee can receive per month. These can be based on location, rank, or job assignment, but less is definitely more.
2. Get subscriptions and set preferences.
When people choose to receive messages, they pay more attention, open them faster, and act on them faster. Allow employees to opt in to messages and specify how often they are contacted or the medium used. Some people still prefer the phone or a brochure to email. All research shows that when marketers request subscriptions and provide preferences and then honor them, they build strong loyalty and higher customer lifetime value. It’s a lesson that easily applies to employees.
3. Use different formats.
We’ve learned from countless Internet retailers that different formats, headers, and copy can instantly signal to readers the urgency, importance, or importance of a message. Eliminating frequent posts by grouping information by topic and/or establishing an easy-to-follow posting schedule will also increase awareness, attention, and open rates.
4. Map Neural Networks.
Marketers and information architects have made remarkable strides in network mapping and analysis, so much so that it is possible and even easy to map the informal networks within your organization. Understanding which people are influencers and key opinion leaders gives you a high-priority target audience to educate, inform, or persuade about important company issues.