Another sweltering day, another sweaty conversation with a guy in a button-down shirt who knows that the way his company communicates with employees is oppressively stuffy.

"Our benefits communication is too wordy and technical," he says. "It's essential that employees understand their benefits, but they find the content difficult. We can't seem to break out of our box."

Gnarly, dude. I grew up spending summers in Surf City, New Jersey, not Surfrider Beach, California, but I can diagnose the problem just the same. Communication at too many companies is trapped in the stagnant air of climate-controlled headquarters. What's needed is to release communication from its narrow confines and give it a day at the beach.

Surf's up . . . which is why it's time for the Boogie Board Guide to Employee Communication.

Just to clarify, I'm talking about the original boogie board, the invention by way-cool beach dude Tom Morey, who wanted to give people a better way to ride the waves. Not all of us are coordinated enough to surf, but nearly everyone can scoot onto a boogie board (also known as a body board) and hang 10.

Lest you think I'm being flippant, I want to assure you that I'm serious. One of the biggest problems with internal communication is how stiff and somber it is. Corporate attorneys may not create the content, but their fingerprints are all over it. It's no wonder employees delete and ditch.

So consider the idea that a boogie board should be your role model for communicating with employees. Here are 7 attributes to aspire to:

  1. Easy. Any seven-year-old child can learn to boogie board. And every employee--the new hire, the gal in the manufacturing plant, the research scientist, even the CEO--should experience communication as easy to navigate and understand. But a lot of internal communication requires too much reading. Or information is too hard to find. So work on ways to reduce friction and create a smooth glide, not a bumpy ride.
  2. Fast. We don't go to a lake to boogie board; we find the best big-wave ocean beach we can find. That's because "humans are hardwired to want things--now," writes Neil Patel in Entrepreneur. "Instant gratification is the desire to experience pleasure or fulfillment without delay or deferment." And it's "fueled by modern devices and information exchange." How can you communicate so quickly that you take advantage of your audience's need for instant gratification--even if you only have three seconds to get your message across? Focus only on one thing, be briefer than you ever thought possible and use visuals to convey what words cannot.
  3. Friendly. The hard-core surfers may be intimidating, with their wetsuits and bro' lingo, but us boogie boarders always welcome you to our stretch of the beach. And the best communication is not formal or corporate, but relaxed and approachable. Stop writing official documents, and start creating communication that's like conversation.
  4. Simple. I wrote recently about how the smartest people know that the best communication is simple. Here, for example, is former NASA robotics expert Randall Munroe, author of Thing Explainer: "When I was in school . . . I learned how to use lots of big words for things like the shape of the world. Sometimes I would use those big words because they were different from small words in an important way. But a lot of time, I was really just worried that if I used the small words, someone might think I didn't know the big ones." And here's Bill Gates channeling Albert Einstein: "If you can't explain something simply, you don't really understand it."
  5. Colorful. Boogie boards are bright and bold for two reasons: You want to stand out when you're on top of the wave and you need to find your board after you wipe out. In communication, color helps you break through the clutter, bring attention to timely news, highlight important information or provide a call to action. For example, my colleague Patrina Marino suggests going bold to attract. "Whether your workplace signage is digital or printed, grab employees' attention when they leave their desks by using dramatic colors. Generate interest in your facility's upcoming employee event by creating signage with deep purple icons and titles."
  6. Fun. Your company may be located very far from the beach, but you can still make communication fun, especially in today's world where games and humor are part of our daily life. Here's my colleague Liz Leyland on the idea of play: "For my three-year-old daughter, play is the center of her world. It's how she learns new things and how to interact with the people around her. Play is also a great way to help employees learn new concepts. Our team created a colorful board game to help supermarket employees understand what company values really meant by applying them to their daily work. Employees loved the game and saw the values as much more than a poster on the break room wall. And who says learning company values can't be fun?"
  7. Unexpected. In this world where every workday can be depressingly similar to every other workday, we really need a beach escape. And communication needs to surprise, not repeat. So ask yourself how to make key topics fresh and unexpected. For example, don't review safety statistics; develop stories about how employees have taken steps to improve workplace safety. Show photos, play audio, create a video.

And remember--it's not rocket science; it's just communication. Don't over-engineer the experience. Just jump on your board and ride that wave.

Published on: Jul 17, 2018
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