Recently my colleague @AlisonDavis and I were traveling from northern New Jersey to Boston to visit a client, and we decided to take Amtrak because of a forecasted snowstorm.

But as can be expected during any snowfall, our train was running late and soon we found ourselves sitting in Newark Penn Station watching the boards change from “delayed by 30 mins” to “delayed by 45 mins.” Ugh.

Being the wired, information-hungry communicators we are, Alison and I whipped out our cell phones to see if we could drudge up any information about why our train was delayed and when it might show up. I quickly found a helpful website, www.amtrak.com/track-your-train, which shows the live location of every Amtrak train currently running in the U.S. Awesome, right?

Well…it seemed nice, until 20 minutes later the website was still showing our train stuck in the same spot with no information why. And worse, the delay time shown on the website didn’t match what the boards at Penn Station said! I became more and more frustrated with every refresh of my browser until I finally shoved my phone into my purse and stopped checking.

This site that gave me hope had let me down, and all I wanted to know was: “When are we getting out of here???”

We finally departed an hour and a half late. And we found out from passengers already on the train that it had been stuck due to a frozen switch. How come I learned more from civilians than from official Amtrak communication?

The whole tiresome trek made me think about internal communication, and how frustrated employees must feel when they can’t find the information they want when they need it.

Lesson learned: No one wants to be left in the dark. Ever.

So what can we as communicators do to ensure employees are never out in the cold, refreshing their browsers for the latest news or clicking through search pages to find a document?

Here are four ideas we can all start with:

1. Make sure we’re tapped into the latest news. This means getting a seat at the table with top leadership to ensure we’re in the know. Communicators need to be tuned into the organization so we can prepare messaging ahead of time before the announcement needs to be made. We need to place ourselves in a position to send communication at exactly the right moment, fully confident that we’ve collected all the necessary information and planned our communication appropriately.

2. Have our ears to the ground for employee preferences. To deliver the information employees want, we first need to learn what that means. We need to regularly measure employee satisfaction, participation and knowledge of key topics.

  • Are employees getting the information they need?
  • What topics are they most interested in?
  • Do they have any suggestions for improving communication?

The only way to know is to ask. Check out our advice on surveys, focus groups and audits to hone your measurement skills.

3. Get to the point quickly. Employees want information, and they want it fast. That’s why we’ve got to make messages succinct and clear so employees can understand the main point within minutes (seconds would be even better!).

4. Improve intranet search already. You can’t keep avoiding it! It’s time to buck up and improve your intranet’s search functionality. While you’re at it, update its navigation as well. One of the most common complaints we hear in employee surveys and focus groups is that no one can find anything they’re looking for, and they’re tired of it!

People are used to the Google experience where the search engine seems to read minds. If we want to make employees happy and help them do their jobs, we need to invest in better navigation and search. Work with your IT team to upgrade your intranet, and collaborate with your content owners to tag every post and document with search-friendly key words.

Let’s turn on the lights

So I’m making a pledge to do my utmost every day to provide employees the information they want as quickly and as easily as possible. Let’s never again leave employees in the dark. Who’s with me?

And while we’re at it, let’s make another pledge: Never travel during a snowstorm!

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