Friday, 6 June 2008

More thoughts on employee communication (part 1)

Here are the rest of my key learnings from the Internal Communication Summit that I have been attending over the last two days.

One point that was made several times is that there are increasing challenges in delivering communication that gets read by, and leads to new understanding or actions by employees. Firstly, it is growing harder to get people’s attention, particularly when they are picking up their emails on blackberries and other devices. Secondly, there is increasing cynicism over use of business-speak. People are sick of hearing from ‘suits’ who aren’t seen as authentic and end up playing bullshit bingo.

Organisations can respond to this new environment by:

1. Revising the way they talk about themselves

Organisations need to communicate using the normal language of employees. Jim Ylisela from Ragan pointed out that senior managers often think and talk in terms of long, fancy titles; a lofty vision statement: a set of core values: circles, pyramids, Greek temples.. Employees simply want to know what does it mean?; what does it mean to me?; what do you want me to do?; why should I care? And how can we help?

The 2006 Annual Edelman Trust Barometer explains that a “person like yourself or your peer” is seen as the most credible spokesperson about a company and among the top three spokespeople in every country surveyed.

We trust…
• Each other
• Independent subject matter experts
• NGOs

We don’t trust…
• Business
• Government
• Mainstream media

So we need to make the impersonal more personal. Organisations need to close the disconnect between what the strategy requires and the way organization works now.

This is particularly important while going through change. Marc Wright from Simply Communicate talked about: Disphasing between the CEO and employees going through the Kubler Ross change curve. It’s important that organisations don’t use the boss’ language with people when they’re in this position.

But changing the way we communicate isn’t enough – to be authentic, we also need to change what we’re communicating.

So, for example, Marc talked about Vodafone moving away from discussing its competitive positioning (“We want Vodafone to be number one”) to defining itself based upon what it is – looking into its soul and trying to identify its DNA (see my posts on meaning LINK).

2. Structured and creative communication planning

Communication professionals tend to focus on ensuring copy is safe and that it gets in on time. The result of this is that nobody reads it.

Jim’s process to avoid this is:

1. First, listen to your audiences. Learn what gets their attention
2. Next, create a strategy to reach them
3. Then, figure out the best way to deliver your messages

· Print explains “what” and “why” but not “how” and not information which needs to be timely
· E-mail alerts people to timely information and pulls them to the web
· Intranets allow you to provide timely news, link to more information, interact with the audience and use multimedia tools like podcasts and video
· Social media generates ideas, solves problems and gets people talking about what the organization is trying to do and how they can help.

Ellen Coomber from Cognac also emphasised the need to use visual communication and William Amuris from American Electric Power talked about emotional communication: “Design the personality you want your intranet to have”.

4. Finally, make sure it’s working. When it doesn’t, make adjustments.