Public Relations Tactics

Internally Yours: 3 Ideas to Strengthen Employee Communications

By Amy Kot

March 2, 2016

[gillian blease/ikon imates/corbis]
[gillian blease/ikon imates/corbis]

This is an edited version of a post that originally appeared on the Edelman website.

Now is the perfect time to evaluate how well you’re connecting with your own employees and consider new approaches for continued success. Based on our work with organizations and feedback from countless employee surveys, focus groups and listening sessions, here are three best practices to strengthen your employee communications and engagement programs:

1. Deliver content that employees crave.

Are employees merely reading your content, or are they actively responding, engaging and taking action? In today’s fast-paced and oversaturated communications environment, you need sharp, fresh, and to-the-point content to capture and hold employees’ increasingly limited attention. Try to do the following:

• Think short, snackable and visual. Short-form articles, videos, infographics, listicles and BuzzFeed-style quizzes are more engaging than traditional intranet articles. Our clients also host contests and challenges by asking employees to take a specific action (such as completing an online quiz or snapping a photo) and share their results via Yammer and other social platforms.

• Reach employees where they are. Today’s employees unlock their personal smartphones with a thumbprint and have 24/7 access to endless social and news feeds. Leading companies are capitalizing on this trend with internal news portals and apps that work on employees’ personal devices, with content that is curated in a newsfeed style so it’s easy to access, digest, and share with peers and external social networks.

• Empower employees as content creators. Employee communication functions no longer create the bulk of content themselves. Instead, they involve employees as citizen journalists to create and publish content. Consider a contest to select employees as real-time reporters at your next trade show or event. Have them interview leaders, blog, tweet, photograph and film their experience to bring it to life for their colleagues.

2. Reduce email overload.

The average U.S. worker spends roughly 25 percent of their day managing email, and some studies find that reading and addressing a single email can take up to 20 minutes. Clearly, employees receive far more updates, messages and alerts via email than they have time to open (let alone digest), increasing the risk of missing critical information. While email has its place, forward-thinking communication functions are taking these steps to deliver messages in a structured and prioritized way:

• Establish a centralized internal communications advisory group. Recognizing that email overload is often a symptom of too many one-off missives from disparate teams, leading companies create cross-functional internal communications advisory groups to align disconnected functions around consistent processes and core messaging. This group develops protocols to bundle similar messages from multiple senders and funnel them through a roster of fewer, more effective channels (e.g., all HR messages are included in a monthly e-newsletter).

• Build a master calendar of company-wide communications. One of the biggest challenges that an internal communicator faces is aligning the many stakeholders needing to reach employees at any given time. One way to rein everyone in is by maintaining an editorial calendar throughout the year. Ask content owners for ongoing input and partner with your advisory group to develop a holistic communications schedule using streamlined channels.

• Filter and prioritize content to make it relevant for employees across your organization. Create guidelines and checklists for content creators before they send one-off emails, and prioritize messages so that employees understand which ones require immediate attention and action.

We recently conducted an internal channel audit for a client and developed a four-tier message prioritization system:

Tier I: Highest-priority corporate initiatives and CEO communications

Tier II: Breaking external news, such as earnings releases and crisis communications and urgent messages for impacted employees, such as critical IT updates and weather closures

Tier III: Other corporate initiatives and priority divisional programs

Tier IV: Routine communications (staffing announcements, IT updates, local site communications, etc.)

3. Rejuvenate your all-hands meetings.

While it’s rare for companies to gather all employees together in one place at one time, it is possible to convene your workforce virtually or via smaller, in-person sessions in a way that encourages dialogue about your strategy and direction. Here are some tips:

• Ask for input before the meeting. Instead of dictating the agenda in a vacuum, use a virtual voting tool to ask employees which topics they think should be part of the program. Crowdsourcing the agenda enables leaders to focus on priority topics and engages employees from the start.

• Provide some of the content in advance. Share brief teaser communications, such as a video with the CEO and subject-matter experts introducing the meeting’s themes or posing questions for employees to weigh in on beforehand. Then, devote a section of the agenda to sharing key themes from the pre-meeting discussion.

• Scale back for success. Limit your meetings to less than two hours. This may require hosting multiple sessions by time zone or by region, which also forces you to be sensitive to a geographically dispersed workforce.

• Provide multiple ways to participate. Beyond a live Q-and-A, invite attendees to pose questions throughout the meeting via internal social channels, specific hashtags or a virtual real-time queue. Capturing questions can also serve as a metric for tracking engagement over time, including the number and type of questions.

• Shift the spotlight away from the CEO. Encourage leaders at all levels to have a voice. If you’re talking about product strategy, then arrange a panel discussion with the product development team.

• Talk less and listen more. Use the 70/30 rule: Devote no more than 70 percent of a meeting to presentation and reserve the remaining 30 percent for dialogue. Try to pepper in discussion time throughout the agenda instead of saving it for the end.

• Keep it going after the meeting. Make presentation materials available to employees, as well as a recap of key takeaways and the top questions asked.

• Assess and adjust. Quick feedback surveys and mobile polls, during or after a town hall, provide insight for planning future meetings and help track engagement.

These best practices can help transform internal communications from a top-down, one-way model to an employee-centric approach that inspires dialogue across traditional, social and in-person communications.

The end result is a framework that not only informs, involves and inspires, but also builds a community of high-performing and engaged employees.

Amy Kot
Amy Kot is a vice president in the employee engagement practice at Edelman, the world’s largest PR firm (www.Edelman.com). You can reach her at: amy.kot@edelman.com.

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