10 communication essentials for employee engagement

Internal messaging must go far beyond writing an email and sending it out companywide. To inform and motivate your colleagues, follow these approaches.

10 comms tips

Those of us who communicate with employees might wonder whether the effort is worthwhile.

After all, employees are quick to delete an email, daydream through a town hall meeting and ignore even the most important intranet content.

Remember this: Effective communication is a significant factor in engagement.

Engaged employees are committed to the organization’s goals, understand how they contribute to its success and are committed to doing their best work.

Those results simply can’t be achieved without robust communication. To that end, here are 10 essential tactics for communicating to boost engagement:

1. Make sure leaders and managers understand their vital communication roles. Senior leaders must articulate where the organization is heading, clarify priorities and share progress and accomplishments. Key leaders must reinforce big-picture messages and provide specific objectives for their groups or functions. Managers must define what their employees should do to help the organization succeed, answering staffers’ questions and addressing their concerns.

2. Keep working to help senior leaders be visible. Do leaders at your organization spend more time communicating with external stakeholders than with employees? Do employees report that they seldom see top executives? If so, your leaders must improve their visibility. High-visibility leaders reach employees by holding face-to-face meetings, being interviewed in intranet articles, leading webcasts or web meetings, engaging in online conversations such as live chats or jams, and participating in social media.

3. Provide managers with the information they need to understand key topics—and answer employees’ questions. Create a communication toolkit, a package of information that provides essential information and inspires busy managers to act. Key elements often include a brief message from your CEO or other senior leader to reinforce the importance of the topic, expectations about how and when managers will communicate, a key document that clearly outlines what’s happening, and FAQs (and answers) that help managers respond to team members’ concerns.

4. Develop a system for internal communication. Message channels are like tools on a carpenter’s workbench. Every tool—from the simplest to the most sophisticated—serves a purpose. A skilled carpenter knows there are two keys to using tools effectively. The first is to choose the right tool for the job. (Just as a hammer won’t tighten a screw or saw wood, neither will email meet every communication need.) The second comes in knowing how to use each tool. For example, a short video can illustrate and inspire, but if you pack in too much information, it won’t hold employees’ attention. Whichever tool you choose, set clear objectives for what you expect to achieve: Are you trying to increase awareness about certain topics? Provide inspiration? Encourage action? Once you know your desired outcomes, you can build a channel that will do the job.

5. Create compelling content. As channels become less differentiated and devices become interchangeable, the only thing that matters is content: fresh, unique, useful, personal, engaging content. Your success depends on your ability to create, curate or share (by managing social media) content that attracts employees. To do that, provide how-to information that will help employees solve a problem and learn what to do in certain situations, which will make their lives easier. Think of such information as a “recipe”: You’re not teaching people how to cook something; you’re providing tips or guidance. As information architect Richard Saul Wurman said, “Half of all our communication is the giving and receiving of instructions.”

6. Improve meetings. Nearly 45 percent of leaders and managers believe meetings accomplish nothing. Make them more compelling and meaningful, especially for big-impact sessions (town halls, leadership forums, internal conferences). You can try two approaches: Change the chairs (to bring people closer together), and reboot timing (to create more opportunities for interactivity).

7. Step up your mobile game. Employees increasingly expect you to provide information “to go.” Even if you can’t develop an app, you can start with a simple step, such as making sure your emails are accessible and readable on mobile devices.

8. Move from describing (in words) to showing (with visuals). Images and visuals dominate external communication: 95 percent of marketers believe visual content is crucial. On Facebook, for example, posts including photos generate double the engagement of a text-only post. Writing is on the wane. Visuals—photos, video, infographics, etc.—are the communication method that packs a big punch.

9. Embrace segmentation. Most internal messaging follows the broadcasting model: Send the same content to everyone. Too much of what’s shared is irrelevant to recipients, so they ignore it. What’s on the horizon? Narrowcasting, defined as tailoring communication to smaller, more selective audiences (even individuals). Seek opportunities to segment messages, even to significant groups (all managers, people in a certain location, those who do a certain type of job).

10. Reduce friction. In communication, friction occurs when an audience member is intrigued by a topic but encounters resistance in the quest to engage with the content. Whatever the source, friction always leads to the same result: When communication requires too much commitment, audience members abandon ship. Maybe email doesn’t open on mobile devices or the search function frustrates employees. Look at ways your communication is causing friction, and plan fixes.

Alison Davis is CEO of Davis & Company. A version of this post first appeared on the Davis & Company blog.

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