Engage employees with helpful internal communication content

Have you used the ride-sharing service Uber? I’d heard it was easy, but I had never tried Uber until I attended my niece’s wedding this summer in Orange County, California, and needed to get from the hotel to the reception (and, more importantly, back again).

So I had a bit of trepidation about what to do. Okay, I’ve downloaded the app, but how do I set it up? Okay, my credit card is linked, but which choice do I select to summon a driver?

Luckily, I was with some hipper people than me who showed me what to do. But if I hadn’t had that support system, I probably would have Google-searched “how to use Uber” and would have learned the steps I needed to take. (By the way, The New York Times recently published a very helpful article with tips on using Uber and other ride-sharing services.)

And that gets me to the point of this blog: If you’re trying to create content that employees will read, focus on being useful. 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. (The two little words I referred to earlier are, of course, “how to.”)

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.”

In your internal communication program, the percentage of how-to is probably much lower than 50 percent because your channels are disproportionately filled with announcements and other news. But announcements are not useful. They inform, but they don’t enlighten. And busy, stressed employees are looking for help, not another article about a new initiative.

So how do you provide how-to instructions? Start with the premise that effective instructions don’t make any assumptions about employees’ knowledge or ability. Yes, employees are smart, but today was someone’s first day at work. So don’t assume that employees know what a copay is, or the steps to sign up for required online training or what the initials EBITDA stand for (or mean). The best instructions start from scratch, like a completely empty page, and explain absolutely everything.

In his 1992 book, Follow the Yellow Brick Road: Learning to Give, Take, and Use Instructions, Mr. Wurman offers these six components required in creating instructions:

  • Mission. The purpose or aim of the instruction
  • Destination. The end result
  • Procedure. Step-by-step directions
  • Time. How long it will take the complete the process
  • Anticipation. Things you should expect along the way
  • Failure. How to know if something went wrong

Need more instructions about how to how to? I shamelessly recommend my book, Your Attention, Please. I think you’ll find it useful.

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