Those of us who spend our time communicating with employees may sometimes wonder whether the effort is worthwhile. After all, employees are quick to delete an email, daydream through a town hall meeting and ignore even the most important intranet content.
But here’s a fact that keeps me going: Effective communication has a significant effect on employee engagement. Since “employee engagement” is a term that’s a bit overused these days, I’ll provide a definition. Engaged employees are committed to the organization’s goals, understand how they make a contribution to the company’s success and are committed to doing their best work.
This desired end state simply can’t be achieved without robust communication. So I jump out of bed in the morning, eager to do my part to give employees the knowledge, enthusiasm and direction they need to be successful.
I’ve written many blogs, articles and even books about how to build an internal communication program that supports employee engagement. But since I know you’re pressed for time, I thought it would be helpful to share 10 essential strategies for communicating to create engagement:
- Make sure leaders and managers understand their critical communication roles. Senior leaders need to articulate where the organization is heading, clarify priorities and share progress and accomplishments. Key leaders must reinforce big-picture messages and provide specific objectives for their groups or functions. Managers need to define what their employees need to do to help the organization succeed and answer questions and address concerns.
- Keep working to help senior leaders be visible. Do leaders at your organization spend more time communicating with external stakeholders than with employees? Do employees report that they seldom see senior leaders? If so, your leaders need to improve their visibility. High-visibility leaders reach employees by holding face-to-face meetings, being interviewed in intranet articles, leading webcasts or web meetings, engaging in online conversations such as live chats or jams, and participating in social media.
- Provide managers with the information they need to understand key topics—and answer employees’ questions. One valuable approach: create a communication toolkit, a package of information that provides essential information and inspires busy managers to take action. Key elements often include a brief message from your CEO or other senior leader to reinforce the importance of the topic, expectations about how and when managers will communicate, a key message document that clearly outlines what’s happening, and FAQs (and answers) that help managers respond to team members’ questions.
- Develop a system for internal communication channels. Communication channels are just like tools in a carpenter’s workbench. Every tool—from the simplest to the most sophisticated—serves a purpose. A skilled carpenter knows there are two keys to using tools effectively. The first is to choose the right tool for the job. (Just as a hammer won’t tighten a screw or saw wood, neither will email meet every communication need.) The second comes in knowing how to use each tool. For example, a short video can illustrate and inspire. But if you try to pack too much information into the video, it won’t hold employees’ attention. Whichever tool you choose, make sure you define clear objectives for what you expect that channel will achieve: Are you trying to increase awareness about certain topics? Provide inspiration? Encourage action? Once you know your desired outcomes, you can build a channel that will get the job done.
- Create content that’s really compelling. As channels become less differentiated (Who even knows the name of your intranet or news vehicle?) and devices become interchangeable, the only thing that matters is content: fresh, unique, useful, personal, compelling content. That means your success will depend on your ability to create, curate or facilitate (by managing social media) content that employees are attracted to. And the best way to do that is to provide how-to information that will help employees solve a problem, learn what to do in certain situations and make their lives easier. I call that kind of information a “recipe,” not because you’re teaching people to cook something, but because you’re providing tips or instructions. As information architect Richard Saul Wurman famously said, “Half of all our communication is the giving and receiving of instructions.”
- Move the needle on meetings. Meetings are an essential communication form in organizations—whether face-to-face in a conference room or virtual via web, video or teleconference session. Yet meetings are universally reviled: For example, nearly 45% of leaders and managers believe that meetings accomplish nothing. So make meetings more compelling and meaningful, at least for the big-impact sessions (town halls, leadership forums, internal conferences). Two ways: change the chairs (to bring people closer together) and reboot timing (to create more opportunities for interactivity).
- Make a start with mobile. Repeat after me: “I need a mobile strategy.” Yes, there are certainly obstacles (including technology and budget), but no one can deny that mobile will become a reality. And employees will increasingly expect you to provide information “to go.” So even if you can’t develop an app, you can start with a simple step, like making sure your emails are accessible and readable on mobile devices.
- Move from describing (words) to showing (visual). It’s time to face the fact that images and visuals dominate external communication: 95% of marketers believe visual content is critical. On Facebook, for example, posts including photos generate 100% more engagement than the average post. That’s why every English major (including me) needs to realize that writing is on the wane. Visuals—photos, video, infographics, etc.—are the communication method that will pack the big punch.
- Embrace segmentation. Most employee communication follows the broadcasting model: send the same content to everyone. But too much of what’s shared is irrelevant to recipients, so they simply ignore it. What’s on the horizon? Narrowcasting, defined as tailoring communication to smaller, more selective audiences (even individuals). Seek opportunities to segment messages, even to significant groups (all managers, people in a certain location or those who do a certain type of job).
- Reduce friction. In communication, friction occurs when an audience member is intrigued by a topic, but then encounters resistance on his/her quest to engage with content. Whatever the source, friction always leads to the same result: When communication requires too much of a commitment, audience members abandon ship. So look at ways your communication is causing friction and plan fixes. Maybe email doesn’t open on mobile devices. Or content is impossible to find on your intranet. Or employees are frustrated by the search function. No, you can’t solve everything, but you can address low-hanging friction.