I just cleaned out my bulging, messy inbox (the kind with papers, not multiple emails) and came across an article I had clipped months ago from The Economist.
The title, The Piggly Wiggly Way, refers to the Southern supermarket that pioneered self service. As the columnist Schumpeter (an alias; The Economist moves in mysterious ways) writes, “In 1916 Charles Saunders changed the face of retailing when he opened his first Piggly Wiggly supermarket . . . (Previously), shops had kept all their goods behind the counter: customers told the staff what they wanted, waited while their purchases were bagged up, then handed over their money. Saunders came up with the idea of self-service. Customers selected their own groceries from the shelves, and took their baskets to a cashier on the way out.”
The self-service revolution continues to roll on; The Economist column cites examples from an array of industries—including retail, travel, technology and media—which now require customers to haul their own bags, make their own arrangements and even check out their own merchandise.
But there’s a point at which self service becomes a burden. As The Economist puts it: “Being able to do one or two things for yourself can feel liberating; having to do everything can make you feel like a slave to the machine.”
It’s an apt lesson for employee communication as well. Although we don’t sell products, we do provide a service: news and information that employees can use. So if we make employees work too hard to get that information, we’re not delivering on our promise to help them understand issues or solve problems.
Here are three ways we make employees’ lives too difficult:
- Providing too much. I believe one of communicators’ most important role is to reduce the amount of information. That requires tough love (and being willing to be the bad cop). I agree with professional organizers (like Marie Kondo or Flylady): You can’t tidy your way out of clutter; the only way to be more organized is to reduce.
- Aggregating, not curating. When we give employees a full banquet of information, they quickly becoming sated (and lose their appetite for more). Much better to choose the few items that are most important rather than providing everything.
- Not labeling information. Richard Saul Wurman (who created TED talks, among other accomplishments) developed LATCH, which is a principle that any type of information can be organized by Location, Alphabet, Time, Category or Hierarchy. When communication is dumped on employees and isn’t labeled or categorized, it’s all a big jumble. But when you put things in order—sports with sports, socks with socks and benefits with benefits—employees can make sense of it all.
And isn’t that what it’s all about?