Take a time machine back to your company's headquarters in say, 1959, and you'd notice that so many things are so different from the way we work today. Back then, for instance, employees wore stiff business attire. They sat primly at their desks, using typewriters and adding machines to do their work. And they communicated in person, on the phone, or by composing a memorandum delivered via interoffice mail.

While nearly every aspect of the workplace has changed dramatically since the middle of the last century, one thing unfortunately has not: the tone that many companies use to communicate with employees.

Despite the fact that employees come to work dressed casually--or even stay at home in their pajamas--they receive internal communication that seems trapped in the past. Here, for an example, is part of an email that one company (we'll call it "Acme" to protect the guilty) sent to announce completion of an acquisition.

We are very gratified to complete this acquisition and look forward to the value it will create for Acme and our stakeholders, customers, and employees. Adding Beta Corporation to our leading composite business expands our product line with innovative, purpose-driven solutions that differentiate our company and strengthen our market position. Furthermore, we welcome Beta employees to our organization and our culture of high expectations, close collaboration, and stellar performance.

If you actually read the paragraph without your eyes glazing over, I'm sure you noticed that:

  • The message has a very formal, old-fashioned tone.
  • Sentences are long, and words are big.
  • It's all a lot of rhetoric (which is a nice way of saying that it's just meaningless BS).

I wish I could say that this approach is unusual...but it's not. Too often, internal communication is based on rules organizational leaders and lawyers set for external messages to shareholders, customers, and the media. As a result, employee messages are full of obscurity, authority, and corporate-speak--rather than providing the clear information, context, and friendly voice that employees need.

Employees hate this approach because it's:

  • Packaged and inauthentic. It seems to be crafted by committee, and approved by 17 layers of risk-averse corporate suits.
  • Value-free. Messages don't answer employees' questions or help them accomplish anything.
  • A waste of time.

What should you do differently? Well, everything, but let's start with these three things:

  1. Articulate your message as briefly as possible. Don't just add words to fill the space. If there's nothing substantial to say after "We completed our acquisition; more to come," then end there.
  2. Make your mission to help employees understand whatever you're communicating about. That means making things simple, and explaining and defining (in plain language) what they might not instantly understand.
  3. Be yourself. Employees don't want an impersonal communication; they want to feel like they're hearing from a living, breathing human being. If "the company" is communicating, decide on what tone of voice works for your organization. (Hint: Bureaucratic does not work.)