Do employees need a Ph.D. in Finance to figure out how bonuses are calculated?

Are colleagues checking their inboxes and saying: “Why am I getting this?”

Are leaders competing for the-longest-email-ever award?

If employee communication in your organization feels like the Wild West, it’s time to lay down the law and create some ground rules. Creating internal communication guidelines ensures content is clear and engaging for all employees.

Here are three guiding principles that will improve content and help your communication system—your collection of communication channels—run more smoothly:

1. Write like a seventh grader
OK, this doesn’t mean you need to “dumb down” your content. It means you should write in a way that most employees will understand your key messages quickly and retain them. And the best practice is to aim for a seventh grade reading level.

How to do this
Reading levels tend to climb when you’re explaining a complicated topic, such as how profit sharing and bonuses work (yikes). So before you start writing, interview an expert and ask, “Could you explain this to me as if I were a 13-year-old girl?” This will help you keep the topic in perspective so everyone gets it.

2. Stop sending stuff to all employees
Don’t panic! I’m not saying you should completely get rid of company-wide emails. You just need to think strategically about what types of messages you send to everyone. Ask yourself, “Does everyone need to know this?” If not, consider using another channel that targets a specific group so your message gets the attention it deserves.

How to do this
Set standards for the types of content that are appropriate to send in an “all employee” email, such as a big change that will impact most employees. The latest cafeteria menu…not so much. This approach will ensure the message is relevant and it will cut back on email overload.

3. Give them a snack instead of a meal
People tend to be skimmers versus readers these days. Instead of a long news article (a meal), they’re happy with a short summary (a snack). So give employees what they want by keeping your word count in check: fewer than 200 words, not 500+ words.

How to do this
When senior leaders have something to say, they tend to say it in ten paragraphs (sigh). Try to take a more…digestible approach by encouraging leaders to write a short blog (< 150 words) or shoot a quick iPhone video (< one minute). Employees will be more likely to read (or hear) the message, and they’ll have the chance to give feedback by posting comments.


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