The most important communications strategy you can have is your attitude toward your audience. Do you respect them? Give them full credit as sentient beings? Or do you assume they’ll ignore your message even at the expense of screwing up?
In other words, is your audience fourth-graders? High schoolers? College frat boys? Professionals?
In employee communications, the ROCI you experience (that’s Return On Communications Investment), as well as the overall long-term productivity of the company as a whole, depends on how you perceive your audience. Why? Because professional employees will not only resent being treated like irresponsible children, they’ll mimic your modeling behavior and treat others the way you do. Imagine being one of your professional employees. If you’re treated like a fourth-grader, in many micro ways you will begin to erode company value by acting like a fourth-grader.
Here’s an example that’s real but scrubbed to protect the guilty.
A company of 50,000 employees has a major new initiative about to roll out that changes the way health care insurance information for employees is tracked and paid. Before the new system kicks off, you have a two-week period in which employees cannot change any of their personal health care information.
How do you choose to deliver that message? For the sake of my example, you have three options:
- Insist that every single employee, insofar as is possible, gets the full message and understands all the details in case they have a change to make during the blackout.
- Broadcast a single simple message that allows employees to self-select whether they learn the details. Those who don’t anticipate making any changes during the blackout can ignore the message. Those who think they will can drill down for all the dirty little secrets.
- Let employees know on a demand basis — meaning only explain the situation fully to employees who want to make a health care information change during the blackout. And provide a couple of trained people on the Help Desk to help the most-insistent employees through the workaround.
Far too often, I see companies choosing Option #1. Why? Because it seems easier on the surface. Just blast and pound the message with all the details included and if employees are too foolish to miss it, then the executive in charge can wash his hands and say, “Well, we tried to pound it into their heads.”
If you work for a big company, I’m sure you’ve seen this kind of barrage communications technique: Waves of emails with all the details attached, pop-up message on the company intranet, mandatory meetings lined up for your manager to grind the information into you, video messages from senior leaders, posters on restroom doors — just about everything in the employee communications arsenal.
How did these make you feel? Were they efficient? Did you feel respected as a decision-making human being?
I call Option #1 the “Let’s Treat Everyone Like Little Children” solution. Option #2 at least treats gives a little respect and assumes they’re able to decide whether this message applies to them or not. But Option #3 is my favorite. I mean, do you really need to know there’s a two-week blackout if you have no personal health care information to change during that time? Not likely.
Good employee communicators have a natural ability to have empathy for employees and can intuit their reaction to messages (which does not mean you don’t have to ask questions and test — yes, you do). If you have a message that ultimately applies to only a small percentage of all employees, then do not send that message to all employees. It’s simple. It’s much easier in the long run. It reduces noise, so that truly important messages can get through. And it builds a culture of respect that results in greater productivity across the board.
What kinds of message have you received as employees of large companies that made you feel dis-respected, diminished, treated like a child?