As a ‘seasoned’ corporate communicator (i.e., one who got his start before Dave Grohl was in that band before the Foo Fighters), I’ve long felt one of the toughest employee communication issues I faced were when internal clients were overly-eager to share information.
You might think the bigger challenge would be coaxing news out of departments that have something to say but don’t want or know how to say it. Think of your Marketing team beta-testing a new product, or Finance making a tweak to the payroll system. One might assume it would be harder to persuade reluctant colleagues to get their message out to the masses versus holding back those chomping at the bit. But sometimes that’s not the case.
Knowing when and how often to communicate is key to a successful employee communications program. As much as under-communicating can do your enterprise harm (providing no info, too little info, or untimely info), over-communicating can also wreak havoc.
Less Is More
Consider that when a firm under-communicates on a topic, it fails its workforce by not telling them what they need to know when they need to know it. The typical reaction is employees tell their boss or the communicator, or both, ‘Hey, I need to know more.’ That usually prompts a response to deliver the missing information. While it’s not a precedent you want to set or action you want to repeat, at least employees are listening. And the corrective steps should be fairly straightforward.
But when you over-communicate — placing signage months before an event, posting repetitive blogs or intranet content, too many email reminders — you run the risk that your audience tunes you out completely. Employees delete emails without reading them. Employees stop listening. People say, ‘Hey, I’m sick of hearing about this!’ It’s information overload in an age of information overload. Repeatedly over-communicating can lead to ‘boy-who-cried-wolf’ syndrome and workforce disengagement. The exact opposite of what you want to accomplish.
Granted, it’s a fine line between sharing enough and sharing too little. Some topics, such as benefits enrollment, are fairly complex and demand frequent communication with staff. Others, say, a cafeteria lunch special, might be handled with a single email blast. Whatever the project, participating departments and/or communicators need to determine the right comms plan upfront and strike a balance between over- and under-communicating. Here are a few tips …
1. Don’t start too early. For major program rollouts and announcements, think of wedding invitations. Six weeks out is more than enough time to get on employees’ radar.
2. Spoon feed. Give associates a little news at a time. Capture only the highlights and key points in your early communications.
3. Build a buzz. Following #1 and #2, tease out what you need to share with employees and create a sense of anticipation as due dates approach.
4. Change it up. Use all communication tools at your disposal — print, email, video, digital campaigns, etc. — to keep the message stream fresh and reach staff through the platforms that matter most to them.
5. Know when to quit. Employee communications is more art than science. But all the world’s great artists know when to stop painting.
Avoid the perils of over-communicating. Learn when to put down your brush, so your audience can admire your work.