How employee-first writing ramps up internal communications

Since Noah hired his first shipbuilding apprentices, corporate messaging has focused on the organization and a top-down cascade. Today, your staffers demand the spotlight.

Employee-first communication

Employees will connect with content if they can see themselves in the story.

You can’t afford to waste time showing employees what the content means to them. That’s why you must put them first.

Think of employee communication in the following four parts to write in the employee-first style.

Part 1: Let the reader know what they ought to do.

What action should the employee take after reading your content? If you’re not clear about the answer, how are the employees supposed to know? (Sometimes the answer is “nothing.” Still, you have to make that clear.)

Take a few minutes to distill—into a single statement—what the employee ought to do.  Use that statement to keep yourself on track.

Examples of imperatives:

  • Complete something by a given deadline.
  • Submit something, if they choose (e.g. ideas, questions).
  • Be aware of something.
  • Explore something at their own pace.

Turn that statement into your opening first line or two.

Examples:

  • Register for a Lunch ‘n’ Learn about the budget process before June 1. All managers must attend, and any employee looking to learn new skills is welcome. Sessions are being held daily through July.
  • As of May 1, the Inside Sales and Field Sales teams will be joining under the leadership of Go Getter, who has been promoted to VP of Sales.

Tip: This applies to all communication, whether actively pushed out through channels such as email or pulled by employees through channels such as intranets.

Part 2: Outline what the reader needs to know.

Help employees understand how they will benefit from doing what you’re asking them to do or be aware of.  This is the “ground level context.”

Building on the examples in Part 1, here’s how this might translate into content:

When you attend one of these sessions, you’ll learn how to use OnTrack, the new budget management system. As a result, you’ll save time throughout the year and have access to data that can help you make good decisions about expenditures. You’ll receive information about deadlines and how your team’s budget information rolls up to the budget for the whole organization.

These two teams are coming together to facilitate greater collaboration and eliminate the duplication of many internal processes. This will allow us to be more responsive to potential and existing customers’ needs and general market changes. Our customer service and finance departments will also benefit from faster turnaround on the data and reports they need.

You might need more than one paragraph for the “ground level context.” However, you still want to keep it as direct as possible. If you have more than three paragraphs, you’re probably including irrelevant information.

Part 3: Offer background information.

Once your reader knows what to do and has some context to help him/her take that action, you can provide more engaging or strategically valuable background info. Keep it straightforward and brief, and use links to your intranet to “read more” whenever possible.

Consider this section optional.  In other words, if readers don’t make it that far into the content or skip over it, they won’t miss anything crucial.

Continuing with the examples from Part 1, here’s how you might present background information:

The OnTrack system was developed to address several recurring issues that increase the rate of errors and cause re-work across the organization. “For the past 18 months, a cross-functional team of fifteen managers provided us with valuable insights about what it’s like to deal with budgets on a day-to-day basis,” explains B.B. Goode, project manager. “That enabled us to customize off-the-shelf software, which enabled us to put this into production quickly and at a reasonable cost,” Goode added. You can learn more about the project team by clicking here.

“This is an exciting opportunity for everyone in the Sales organization,” says Go Getter, who has led the Field Sales team since 2009. “Each and every person has a role to play in how we’re going to share information and skills. Together, we’re going to hit new targets.” You can see the new Sales org chart here.

Part 4: Wrap up, remind and connect.

The last part of your content—no matter the format (email, intranet page, news article, presentation or poster)—should be about the reader just as much as the beginning does.

It’s not uncommon for people to read only the first and last paragraphs or sections of an email or article.  Make them equally strong, clear and relevant and you’ll still have communicated effectively.

Tip: Don’t be shy about modifying the font, background or layout so that the final section and call to action stand out.

Examples:

Registration is easy! Click here and choose the date you’d like to attend. You’ll receive an email confirmation and the session will be added to your work calendar.
Don’t delay! Seating at each session is limited. Registration closes on June 1.  If you have any questions or trouble registering, contact BudgetBoss at OurGreatCompany.com

It’s going to take a few months to fully integrate the teams. We thank all areas for their anticipated understanding and cooperation during the transition. If you have any questions about the new Sales team or how it benefit our customers, feel free to send a note to GoGetter at OurGreatCompany.com

If you’re initially not comfortable with the employee-first writing style, keep trying. Many B2E communicators have been using a top-down (organization-first) style for years, and habits are hard to change, but employees want and will respond to being your priority.

A version of this post first appeared on the Lift Internal blog.

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