August 21, 2014

How can you capture your people's imagination?

Posted by Fifth Ring

Increasingly, Fifth Ring is asked by clients how they can improve engagement with their internal audience. The answer is simple.

Communicating with your people is a critical part of modern-day business, with disengaged employees more willing to seek out alternative opportunities than in the past. Today’s labour market is much more fluid, with companies regularly competing against each other to attract and retain skilled workers.

As a result, I am being asked more and more frequently to help generate internal communications campaigns that go beyond the traditional methods to truly capture the imagination of the workforce and unite teams behind a common purpose. Increasingly these campaigns are becoming more integrated with social media and digital advances, revolutionising the way we communicate.

Successfully engaging with your staff in this way will leave them informed, educated and inspired.

That’s why I was surprised to find that so few organisations engage successfully with their employees (Gallup puts the number at 13% worldwide) when the benefits of doing so are well known. It is ironic that employees with the least access to information tend to be those interacting with customers and delivering services at the sharp end of the business. This is the largest key audience and unless they are empowered to be brand ambassadors, companies are missing out. 

So how do we make internal communications more engaging?

Interaction and interest are what separates effective, inspiring communications from those that are read by no-one and go nowhere. Any communications need to be timely, targeted and relevant.

Of course, there’s more to it than that and to be truly engaging you must deliver a perceived value that goes beyond information provision, becoming a catalyst for dialogue and interaction.

So, where should you begin?

Methods of making information accessible are many and varied. You need to identify what will work for your business by considering how your employees’ working days map out and then provide options that fit in with this. Think beyond posters and leaflets and consider less-obvious options that would lend themselves to becoming striking communications platforms: for example, newsletters on canteen trays or even radio broadcasts. Creativity can make a real difference. Also, try giving individuals a choice of how to access information wherever possible.

Messaging

Once you’ve won their attention, following this up with compelling messaging is key. Writing good content is a skill and needs to be backed up by a creative idea if it is to have the wow factor. Make the message interesting by weaving it into a story. Speak to people in their own language and try to connect with their emotions. Don’t assume people will know what you want them to do. Make your call to action clear and compelling.

Layout

Layout and typography can have a profound effect on reader engagement and should take care to make it easy for people to scan the information to retrieve the bits they need quickly. People often don’t read everything so the position of core messages, descriptive headings, quotes and lists can help break content down and become easier to navigate. All online and offline communications need to use a consistently branded visual language. Responsive design for digital media is also a must, so that content adapts seamlessly to suit the device being used to access it.

Getting personal

If the message is generic and corporate it’s doomed to fail. Augmenting your core message with personalised content will make your content engaging, empowering and effective. You can achieve this in a number of different ways: by team, by location, by language, or by personal preference. Recast your communications based on work groups, project groups, employee-supervisor relationships or any other stakeholder sub-groups with which employees identify. A lot of
executives believe 

employees don’t care about the issues that keep management teams up at night, but employees do care, deeply, when those issues are articulated in the context of these new stakeholder groups.

Measurement

Of course, measurement is crucial so ensure you have the mechanics in place to capture data and feedback from your people. Internal communication is a constantly evolving process and measuring how recipients interact provides valuable insight into what resonates. Understanding your audience is a vital
first step.

Encouraging interaction and dialogue can be challenging but it will boost engagement and the feedback will provide key insights. Start with the basics. Ask employees for comments on articles and encourage them to start a conversation – there and then. If an employee tells you they want information on a specific topic, listen. Likes and ratings will have the same effect and are quick and easy to use. Surveys and polls will offer more detailed information but it’s important to share the results and to demonstrate the outcomes.

Measurement and iterative improvement based on real data will give your communication the best chance of success. From your analysis of the engagement metrics you can learn and understand how employees are engaging with content. Who is reading what and how much is being read can define your core readership. Checking content popularity tells you what’s working best at engaging readers. The metrics can also allow you to see which parts of the organisation are engaging, which devices are being used to access the information and which social elements are most relevant and work best for your organisation.

What’s in it for me?

One of the biggest challenges is the sheer volume of communications flowing through an organisation. Striking a balance between too little and too much is critical. Does what you’re sending add value for the recipient or the organisation? Would the information be more relevant to a targeted audience subset? What is the best way to make the information available without cluttering the inboxes of those that don’t need, or want, it? ‘What’s in it for me?’ may sound a greedy or selfish attitude but people choose what they devote their time and attention to. If you want their attention, the benefit needs to be made clear from the outset.

From our own experience, many of our clients have a potential customer base of less than 100 but many have an employee number in tens of thousands. Given the latent ability of employees to be powerful brand ambassadors, having a sound internal communications strategy is good for employees, their employers and the reputation of the brand itself. 

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