Cut Through the Digital Noise: Strategic Communications in Times of Change
“The two words ‘information’ and ‘communication’ are often used interchangeably, but they signify quite different things,” journalist Sydney J. Harris once said. “Information is giving out; communication is getting through.”
A wealth of information is just a click away in our digital world, but the most important and strategic communications for employees often get buried — and this information overload has only increased since COVID-19.
To better understand the barrage of corporate communications — and how organizations can cut through this noise — GuideSpark worked with IDC to survey employees at 300 US. organizations. We found that, across industries, a wide communication gap stands between employers and their employees.
Take email, for instance. It’s the preferred communication channel for many organizations, and employees at US companies receive a total of 576 billion emails per year, according to the survey. With that extraordinary volume, it’s understandable that your employees may feel stressed about their cluttered inboxes, and your more strategic messages can easily be lost in the shuffle. In fact, the survey found that employees perceive 40 percent of received emails as unimportant, and 90 percent of those messages are routed into the trash by email rules.
IDC conducted this survey prior to COVID-19, which spurred a rapid increase in noise levels. In a matter of days, workplaces went fully remote, and now employees are being inundated with a sudden influx of digital messages from Slack, Microsoft Teams, Zoom, and other communication channels on top of their email accounts.
In this time of great uncertainty and change, connecting with your employees is critical to creating a sense of security, keeping everyone up to date, and driving organizational initiatives. Take these steps to increase the impact of your strategic communications:
1. Establish a Strategic Plan
Before communicating with employees, identify the strategic purpose of your communication. Perhaps you’re introducing new strategies or explaining your return-to-work plan.
Then determine, the goals you’d like to achieve with this communication, ensuring they’re specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-based (or “SMART”). For example, your organization might strive for 100 percent of employees completing a mandatory training for new processes by the end of the month. When you identify your pathway to success, you’ll be able to track progress toward your objective — and identify moments when you’re off the mark.
2. Drive Appropriate Employee Action
According to our survey, employees believe 45 percent of emails they receive require some action, even though that was employers’ intention only 33 percent of the time. This means employees are wasting time interpreting messages while employers’ messages get lost in translation.
The most successful communications do more than just reach your audience — they inspire action. That action can be as simple as signing up for training, or it can be a major behavioral shift such as becoming more actively aware of personal biases against others. Whatever your aim, be clear in your call to action.
3. Design Relevant, Targeted Content
When it comes to driving organizational change, a one-size-fits-all approach is ineffective. Your employees are diverse individuals, and if you want to inspire them, you need to show each employee how your message is relevant to them. Instead of sending the same content to every employee, consider composing targeted messages for different segments of your workforce. For example, baby boomers will be looking for you to address different needs and concerns than millennials might be.
Localization is another factor that can help improve your messaging’s success. For example, if you have offices in different states, your return-to-work communications will need to be tailored to fit local jurisdictions and employees’ specific needs at those locations.
4. Create Communication Experiences, Not Messages
A single message won’t drive the change your organization seeks. Instead, take your employees on a communication journey, combining campaigns and content experiences to drive engagement and change.
By weaving consistent threads throughout the journey, you will better prepare your employees for change over time and influence their actions. Your employees are already expecting this type of delivery from you, according to the survey: Employees tend to believe most of their employers’ emails are part of a series, even though only 40 percent of the messages actually are.
Employees are drawing the connections on their own, so leverage that by building integrated communication experiences to drive even more momentum toward your objectives.
5. Measure and Improve Results with Data
To determine the success of your communications, you’ll need to be able to measure multiple dimensions. Use data to inform your communication strategy through an iterative process. Find out which pieces of content or individual messages are receiving clicks, views, and engagement. That way, you can take a lot of the guesswork out of improving your communications’ impact. Also, compare the results to your original goals and the program’s purpose.
Data and analytics can intimidate people, but you can start small by measuring how different groups react to a single email or piece of content. Over time, you can track patterns across multiple messages and use that data to inform how you drive more engagement with your current and future communication experiences.
The world will only continue to become noisier. Your workforce is diverse and, now, even more dispersed. In the face of these challenges, your employee communications must have an intentional strategy, clear action steps, and relevant messaging. With consistency and iteration, you can reach your employees where they are so they can help you drive organizational change.
Keith Kitani is CEO and cofounder of GuideSpark.