Several times this week, I heard clients express one of the most dangerous assumptions in communication: that just because you prefer a method of communication, so will employees.
This “If I like it, so will they” bias is more likely to occur if you spend a lot of time with senior leaders, corporate client groups (such as IT or HR) or at headquarters in general. This close proximity puts you in danger of “going native” and so identifying with your clients that you forget that most employees have very little in common with the well-dressed top 5% of the company.
The problem, of course, is that this kind of thinking is a trap: You build communication that meets the preferences of the few, instead of the needs of your employee customers.
Here are 5 examples of this kind of bias:
- “Email is preferred.” Those of us who are welded to our laptops and smartphones forget there are employees (in retail, manufacturing and transportation, for example) who use email very infrequently—or never.
- “We need to communicate early to get the word out.” This is a tricky one because, while it’s true that employees hate surprises, they also dislike being told about something that won’t take effect for weeks or months. So you need to find the right timing balance between heads up and just in time.
- “The message needs to come from the CEO (or other leader).” Another tricky assumption. While it’s true that some messages are more effective when the sender is a senior leader, many others are more credible coming from the person or team who “owns” the content. This bias often seems to me like a shortcut; rather than improving the content so it’s meaningful, it’s easier to simply use the boss’s email box.
- “Employees want all the details.” Actually, no. Most employees want you to sum up the message as succinctly as possible, providing only enough content to answer the questions, “What do I need to know? What actions do I need to take?”
- “People hate paper.” In a world where electronic communication is ubiquitous, how can you cut through the clutter? Marketers know there’s still a place for the tangible artifact: the communication you hold in your hand and interact with. This is the wrong time to rule paper out.
These are just a few communication assumptions. I’d love to hear your thoughts about other biases that occur when we don’t think enough about employee needs and preferences.