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Poking internal comms with a stick

If you talk to your company's employees, this is for you… According to the experts, there's never been a better time to be in internal communication. But that's a little surprising in light of some recent research.
Poking internal comms with a stick

Communication? What for?

The research shows that communication over the last 20 years hasn't improved employee satisfaction by even 1%. That's a lot of money - billions of Rands - spent to achieve 0% impact (Source: Towers Perrin & Tom Lee).

In addition, 50% of employees don't know what strategy they're supposed to be following - and that's not the 50% at the top of the organisation; it's the 50% at the bottom. The people who deal with clients and customers.

This is the case because what people want from their company's internal communication is constantly changing and their standards are constantly rising.

In the past, they wanted newsletters. So you gave them newsletters. Then they wanted blogs. So they got blogs. Now they don't have time to read newsletters or blogs - they want Facebook. Fireside chats. Podcasts. Text messages.

Passion plus clarity = action

To engage employees, it's important to match their passion and willingness to help with clarity about the direction they're moving in - because it doesn't help if people say, ‘I don't know what we're doing, but I know I'm helping to get us there…'

Ensure that you know what your people need to do for you (the end), and then let them know what you need them to do for you. After all, clarity is a big motivator.

Communication should be the means to an end - not the end itself. So start at the end; in other words, what you want to achieve, and use communication to get there. Don't do what Bill Quirke, UK-based internal comms guru, calls ‘confusing people expensively'.

The level of audience interest

Another big motivator is relevance. If you're able to match the importance of the info to employees, with its importance to the business, then they start listening. Think about a short update on what's happening with your company's pension funds - everyone will read it because it's important to them. But they don't care about your MD's MBA…

So always ask yourself: what's the level of audience interest going to be?

Specifics and chats win the day!

More than anything else, be specific. People a) don't like and b) don't understand abstraction.

Let's look at a) first. The moment you start sounding posh, they stop listening. Why is that? Because, psychologically, people are happy to chat, but they don't really want to communicate. Communication feels like hard work.

It's unsurprising then that, at the moment, formal media like (newsletters) have a mere 7% impact on employee behaviour, while chats with leaders over the coffee pot have a massive 61% impact on employee behaviour (Source: Towers Perrin & Tom Lee).

It's also unsurprising that your employees are judging all of your communication by asking themselves, “How long is this going to take me to read?' And remember, ‘How long is this going to take?' is code for: ‘How much of my time are you going to waste?'

Now let's look at b): people don't understand you when you're abstract.

This is why, when MacDonalds changed its internal communication approach, it stopped telling its staff to “Generate more volumes at the customer interface” and started telling them to ask customers, “Would you like a drink with that?”

They moved from the general to the specific; from the abstract to the concrete.

So if you want your frontline staff to answer the telephone in three rings, don't tell them to “Be more pro-active at the telephonic coalface”; tell them to “Answer the telephone in three rings” and give them a reason!

Because customers will spend more money with a company that wants to talk to them.

Getting to the point

This brings us to the issue of getting to the point. It's time for you to think of time, not paper. The average corporate individual receives 178 messages a day and corporate communication grows by 2% a month. That's a lot of paper.

So even if you think you need a 55-page newsletter to explain something to your employees, just because it's complicated, think of the news-readers who unpack the situation in the Middle East, which is really complicated. They take only two minutes.

Write to be said, not to be read. If people need additional info or context, they'll go and look for it. That's what Google, your intranet or your website are for.

About Tiffany Markman

Tiffany Markman ( is a freelance copywriter who has worked on print and online copy for over 90 clients and specialises in getting to the point. Call Tiffany on 082 492 1715 or email: .

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