Professional communicators are always being asked for new and exciting ways to help leaders connect with employees. It's our job to develop innovative, high-impact approaches that deepen engagement while taking into account our clients' goals and objectives and making the most use of the available channels.
However, despite the high demand for fresh thinking, and plenty of research showing attention spans are shrinking to alarmingly short levels, many leaders still end up relying on dry, text-heavy materials.
For some, it's a matter of comfort, and the belief that because they control every word, their message will land and be heard. But that belief comes at a price: there is a real risk of employees tuning out, which drags on engagement and limits buy-in into whatever initiative or strategy is being communicated.
Below are two simple ways to modernize your employee communications and make a real difference in how leaders tell stories inside your company. Under each of the two, I have also shared a number of practical tactics for both communicators and leaders to consider.
1. Go all-in on video already!
As recently as 10 years ago, video was expensive and (relative to today) difficult to produce. If you wanted quality, you needed pricey equipment and editing software. On top of that, video sharing was just starting to gain momentum. YouTube, after all, only launched in 2005.
Today, all you need is a phone and an editing app, which both cost little. Sharing video across multiple channels means just a couple of clicks. At the same time, popularity of video in general is skyrocketing and shows no signs of slowing.
The reality is employees don't magically abandon their love of video when they walk into work every day. If you want to connect with them in a meaningful way, you have to do it on their terms.
Communicators: Instead of a text-based note or post to announce a shift in strategy, or the latest quarterly results, suggest that your leader do an on-camera fireside chat about the subject. Keep it to three minutes at most, and make sure that a feedback mechanism like a comment engine is available. Encourage sharing.
Leaders: Did you just have a great meeting with a client? Did an employee just floor you with a terrific story about customer service? Grab your phone, shoot a one-minute selfie video about it, and turn it over to your communications team for posting. Don't worry about quality. Can they see and hear you clearly? That's the test. Much more importantly, you need to be authentic and unscripted. Focus on that.
2. Talk WITH employees, not AT them!
Just as people love expressing themselves through social media with text, photos and video, so do employees increasingly expect to be able to engage with leaders, whether in face-to-face conversation, or in reaction to company news.
Making a lengthy announcement (even via video!) and accompanying it with a Q&A toolkit is one thing. But what about letting employees comment and ask questions in real time? There are many organizations doing a great job of facilitating dialogue like this, particularly as business social media platforms like Facebook at Work and Yammergain traction. However, I still come across many stories of corporate intranets entirely closed to employee feedback and commentary.
Sometimes, this happens because leaders worry about the potential for negative tone, and think that limiting all comments will keep this sort of chatter in the background. Make no mistake: those negative conversations will still happen. By limiting opportunities for dialogue, you're only hurting your ability to tap into employee concerns and discontent, and, ultimately, productive ways to address them.
Communicators: Get out of the way! Figure out the best way to let your leaders and the company's employees have an authentic dialogue, at scale, and without intermediaries. Do you have a corporate social media network? Empower and help your leaders to use it. Does your CEO love town halls? Do one entirely in a Q&A format, and videotape it to share with everyone who can't be there in person. Do a lottery draw for interested employees to talk to the CEO, one-on-one, and again tape it and share it across the company.
Leaders: Get comfortable with letting go of a little control. Free-flowing exchanges of ideas and opinions are amazing exactly because they are free-flowing. That means putting down the script and speaking bullets, and leading authentically. Find a new way to have a conversation with employees. Walk the floor. Use social media. If you're worried about being surprised by a question, don't be - admit you don't know something, and commit to finding out the answer. Employees understand the complexity of your business, and accept that even you don't know everything off the top of your head.
Above all else, remember that regardless of whether they are employees, reporters, regulators, shareholders, community groups or customers, your audience is always made up of people. People love being visually entertained while they're being informed, and they like having conversations much more than listening to monologues.
I hope you enjoyed the post, and if you have a great approach to employee communications, I hope you share in the comments below!