How to Get Employees to Read Your Internal Communications

One of our clients is in the midst of implementing some significant changes to its business strategy. I won’t dwell on the details (they aren’t mine to share anyway), but the shift is big enough that it affects everyone from sales to customer service, all of whom are now being asked to change how they do their jobs. Adding to the employees’ anxiety of being taken out of their comfort zones is the introduction of a relatively new leadership team that’s been formed to steer the organization through its transformation.

An employee survey conducted last year confirms that anxiety: there’s a general lack of confidence throughout the organization that’s affecting morale, and some are questioning the credibility of the company’s leadership. The problem is mostly due to a lack of information on why such sweeping changes have been made, and where the company wants to be once the dust settles. Surprise! It’s a communications problem. (I bet you didn’t see that coming.)

To address these issues we’ve been working on a detailed internal communications campaign designed to increase the transparency and regularity of information being shared with the employee community. It was during the content development phase of the project that our client provided the insight that “our people don’t like to read.”

As a copywriter, that kind of comment always stings (I’ve heard it before and surely will again.) But I’d wager that our client’s audience would amend that statement to say “we don’t like to read corporate jargon.“ Big difference.

Corporate communications and marketing communications both tackle a similar challenge: delivering a message to a specific audience, hopefully in such a way that it gets noticed and remembered. Despite that similarity however, marcom people tend to look for creative solutions whereas corporate communicators produce a steady stream of memos and policy documents. Which would you rather read?

While there’s no secret sauce to ensuring that your internal communications will be read, we can share some guidelines that have proven effective in our work with clients:

  1. Know your audience and speak their language.
    The first rule of advertising applies to internal communications as well. Your employees do read, but they may not read the same things you do. That’s why you can’t expect what appeals to you will automatically resonate with them. This is especially true for diverse, multi-generational workforces. Understand your audience’s perspective and tailor your messages accordingly.
  2. Respect the intelligence of your audience.
    People today—especially younger, media-savvy workers—are really good at detecting when they’re being sold a bag of magic beans. If your internal communications spend a lot of time in the spin cycle, your audience will respond by filtering out any future attempts to reach them. Respect your employees enough to communicate with them honestly and you will earn their respect and attention in turn.
  3. Let relevancy rule.
    In this, The Age of Communication, we’re all bombarded by more messaging than we can digest. Help your employees deal with information overload by making sure the information they’re receiving is relevant to their role. Use technology to your advantage: segment your audience into distribution lists and use targeted mailings to deliver the right message to the right people.
  4. If you want to engage, be engaging!
    There’s no reason the corporate communications environment has to be a creative wasteland. Take the time to develop an internal brand and voice. Apply the same standards to internal messaging that you do to your external messaging and you’ll see a lift in readership and message retention.

“I find it rather easy to portray a businessman. Being bland, rather cruel and incompetent comes naturally to me.” –John Cleese

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