Whether you're a professional communicator with an official title (like my favorite: "Director, Enterprise Communication") or you communicate in addition to your day job (as many of my HR friends do), I know you take your work seriously. After all, it's a big responsibility to provide employees with the information and insights they need to understand issues that are important to them.
So I know you can use all the help you can get. That's why I've recently revisited a handy little book called 73 Ways to Improve Your Employee Communication Program by Jane Shannon (who also co-authored an HR communication book with me.) Shannon, who spent decades at Unisys, CIGNA and Citibank and then worked as a consultant, knows her stuff--and she's got lots of great advice like:
Define your job in the broadest possible terms. Your job is not to produce a newsletter or a video or a website, although you may do one or all of these things. Instead, your job is to remove impediments so employees can work effectively.
Demonstrate how your work contributes to company goals. It may be difficult to point out how you add to the organization's bottom-line success. "However, you can measure how much "air time" you devote to topics that will help employees achieve organizational goals," writes Shannon. "After you've consistently produced communications, measure understanding."
Develop a communication plan to address an important issue. To be taken seriously, Shannon says that you must have ideas to contribute that will help the enterprise succeed. Identify the issues or challenges, think about what information is needed to help solve them and use that information to build a plan.
Make it easy for people to know what to do. "Whenever you need to communicate something that requires employees to take action, make it as easy as you possibly can for them to do the right thing," writes Shannon. She gives the example of when one company was introducing a disability program. The headline was this: "Protect your pay. Call 800-XXX-XXXX when you're out sick for more than five business days so your pay will continue." That's basically all employees needed to know.
Create a style guide. When it comes to communication, some of the smallest items can waste a lot of time. A style guide creates consistency and it avoids the ugly situation where real people, who earn lots of money, are agonizing over relatively unimportant items like the serial comma over, and over, and over again. Your style guide can be a combination of any existing guides (like The Chicago Manual of Style or the AP Style Guide) and should fit the . . . well, style, of your organization.
Start a network for communicators. Writes Shannon: "If there's even one more person in your company doing communications, you can form a network. A network offers huge advantages to all who participate. For example, you can share information about what's worked well in one part of the company, so you can apply that idea in other parts. You can solve problems, share resources and achieve collaboration simply because you know who to contact. You are much more powerful as a member of a network than you can ever be flying solo."
Share stories about how people learn from their mistakes. Interview a number of seasoned professionals in your company and ask each to describe a mistake they made at work and what they learned from it. "Every day in every enterprise, people make mistakes--and what they learn is invaluable," writes Shannon. "Think about how you can present information about "lessons learned" in a creative and helpful way. You can do so in articles in your newsletter, on your website or--best of all--through face-to-face communication."
Create opportunities for horizontal communication. Information flows from the top down in most organizations. Some companies are enlightened enough to want to know what employees think, and then information flows up through the company. But, what are doing to get information to flow across the organization? Email lists and websites can help in this process, but face-to-face meetings also represent a great way to help people in similar jobs in different departments or location share what's working and what's not.
Pretend you're marketing a product to employees. "If you were selling employees something--instead of sharing information with them--what would you do differently?," Shannon asks. "While we don't often think of our jobs as 'selling' to employees, many of the techniques that work best in advertising and sales promotion also work extremely well in employee communications." For example, apply the "personal endorsement" advertisement to a brochure, and it would feature employees talking about what they especially like about the company's 401(k) plan. Apply the "benefit" advertisement to the announcement of a new program and it would clearly tell employees what's in it for them.
Communicate bad news quickly, then focus on the future. A frequent problem with communication about downsizing, layoffs and other bad news is typically spend up front, explaining why something has happened, when employees really want to know what will happen right now and in future. They want to know the questions to questions like: What's my severance package? How long will it last? When do I receive it? What will the company do to help me get a new job? If you have bad news to communicate today, succinctly describe the why--what caused the bad news--and then focus on what will happen next.
Measure your efforts. For many of the projects you work on, you should measure the effectiveness of your work. Here's a simple way to do that. Prepare a short survey and invite employees in different locations and jobs to take the survey. Make the first question: "The goal of (name of project) was to (state the goal). To what extent did we meet that goal 1= not at all, 4 = to a great extent. Ask an open-ended question such as "What is the single most important improvement we could make?" Because it's a short survey, you'll get more response that you would from a longer questionnaire. "Plus," advises Shannon, "you'll get a combination of qualitative and quantitative information you can report on."