I often facilitate focus groups with employees to ask them what they think about the current state of internal communication.

As you might expect, employees are eager to share their feedback--and tell you what they would change about the way their organization communicates. But there's one issue that employees always mention that might surprise you: Communication is too predictable.

What do I mean by "predictable"? I'll let employees explain:

  • "Every town hall meeting is just like every other town hall meeting. The CFO presents financials, the CEO talks about the strategy, and other leaders give too many details about a whole lot of initiatives."
  • "I'd visit the intranet more often but the content is always the same. A video showing a leader talking. Another article about an IT change. It just isn't that interesting."
  • "Outside work there are a lot of interesting tools and technology. But I feel like our internal communication program is stuck in 2004. For example, there's too much reading required. And we don't have any mobile tools. Can't we be more current?"

The good news is that you can improve employee communication to make it less predictable. Even if you don't have the budget or IT support to add new technology, you can make changes today that will make communication fresher, more lively and more interesting. Here are 5 suggestions:

  1. Reframe your content to answer employees' essential questions: "What does this mean to me?" and "What do I need to do differently?" Too much of internal communication content is corporate, created from the company's perspective. So employees don't see themselves in the story.  "Usually, the focus is on the big picture: what's happening at an organization-wide level," said one employee in a recent focus group. "That's interesting, but what I really want to know is how I'm affected. And if you expect me to take action, you need to make that clear."
  2. Help employees achieve an objective or solve a problem. Use a technique used by great consumer media like Good Housekeeping, Men's Health and HGTV called "service journalism." The idea is simple: You provide a service for employees by including helpful advice. This may sound quite different than traditional internal communication, but in fact much of the content you manage lends itself to this approach. After all, you're sharing information that affects employees--from the company strategy to how benefits are changing--so it makes sense to explain what employees should do in response; for example, "5 ways to increase your productivity without leaving your desk" and "How to set performance goals that support the strategy."
  3. Break out of the box. Does all your communication follow the same tired formula? For instance, are intranet articles all about 400 words, written in a journalistic style? By taking different approaches to content, you will make it fresher and more appealing. Instead of the typical straightforward article, for example, you could create these content types: A slide show. A 5-question Q&A interview. A piece entitled "7 things you may not know about benefits." A multiple-choice quiz.
  4. Transform every major meeting--from an information dump to a memorable event. Too many town halls and other big employee forums are just one fact-filled presentation after another. You're spending a lot of time and money to bring people together. So you want them to interact and connect, not to sit there passively watching PowerPoint slides. Design the experience so employees are spending at least 30% of the time participating. And make sure the information you do present is unique and interesting.
  5. (Speaking of participation), make the leap to employee-generated content. We're living in the age of Snapchat and Instagram, yet most internal programs offer very little opportunity for employees to play in the communication sandbox. Yet it's so simple to invite employee contributions. The three easiest ways for them to get involved: share photos, ask questions and make comments. Plus, employees are interested in what their colleagues have to show or say.

It's time to shake up employee communication to make it less static and predictable.