Most of us would have trouble remembering employee communications that didn’t reek of, well, employee communications, and that’s a problem.
Lots of factors conspire to inhibit or misdirect people who are otherwise talented and principled communicators, and obscure the often valid and important information they’re tasked with sharing.
There are three questions you could ask the next time you decide you’re going to tell you employees something:
First, do you see them as customers? If you talked about customers in terms of what they should know or do, or assumed they’d open or read and watch whatever you throw at them, you’d be laughed out of the next marketing meeting.
Employees have no obligation to consume or believe what you say and no opinion survey will tell how how, where, or when to address their needs and interests. In fact, they’re more critical consumers of information because they know more about your company, which also makes them potentially more valuable (and believable) as advocates when they embrace an idea or program.
So, that article on your glorious environmental program in the employee newsletter has no credibility if your people know that there’s little operational reality behind it. Those images of meetings populated with smiling, racially diverse stuntmen and women that flash across your intranet or internal digital signage carry no weight if employees know there’s no substance to your diversity claims. Celebrating teamwork holds no water when your policies reward those who are the loudest.
Effective employee communications starts with understanding and respect, not your branding or need to manage your people. Rethink your purpose before you strategize how to use process and tools.
Second, are you prepared to help them? There have to be immediately apparent uses for what you choose to tell employees; they have no time for ‘nice to know’ information, and content without an apparent self-interested value is going to be perceived as having an ulterior, perhaps devious motive. Or it’ll just get ignored.
It would be a fair guess that most employees are interested in 1) Their career success, satisfaction, and security, and 2) The impact their work has on their communities, countries, and planet. Most people want to do good by doing good, all things considered. The order of interests vary by individual, of course, but people are people.
What are they supposed to do with, say, that article about your latest trade show booth, or feature on some charity drive hosted at one of your facilities? Does that slick video full of branding blather give them a reason to pay attention, not to mention a call to action? When your CEO waxes poetic about your robust quarter results, have you considered how employees might unpack and review it?
That’s why what you tell them not only has to be credible — like in a world outside recognizing, third-party verified sort of way — but should be developed through a lens that asks how can our employees use this information, and why should they?
This means you have to be really rigorous, to the point of being ardently protective of their time and attention. Push back when business operators tell you things to tell them that have no utility. Challenge executives to talk like the rest of us do. Establish criteria for what and how content gets communicated, and stick to it.
Third, are your comms truly two-way? There’s really no company separate from the people who work there. Sure, you have policies, and some sort of institutional memory either buried on rarely used computer drives or etched into the consciousness of people your business has impacted over the years, but anything your company is currently doing is being done by employees.
If you’re tasked with employee communications, your work is kinda like trying to describe the fishbowl from inside it.
Why not rely on your fellow fish to do the describing?
This means throwing out the presumption that achieving email opens or dial-ins to webinars evidence engagement, and replacing it with the involvement of non-marketers in creating that content in the first place. It would also require you to throw out your expectations for glowingly perfect stories and replace them with messy, uneven, and otherwise human content that narrated the doing happening inside your company.
So, imagine an article about a new product offering, only told from the perspective of somebody who worked on the project. The news wouldn’t be limited to the thing, but expand to include insights into work habits, tricks of the trade, and other useful insights. What about a video about your latest trade show presence, only recorded by an employee who gives her perspective on what your competition was displaying? What about a story about how something didn’t work or generated more challenges your people are considering.
Consider skipping the next satisfaction survey about whether or not they like what you promote, and instead query them on what they’d like to help create. Is it reasonable to consider a large hunk of your employee communications editorial calendar as a platform that is open sourced?
Here’s a bonus question to ask before you distribute your next story or video:
If you saw it in your personal life, not as its creator or an employee, would you believe it or care?