The old models of information dissemination and consumption are long gone. Today, we can largely choose how we receive information, when and where we get it, and from whom we’ll accept it. And our options only seem to be increasing.
But one place that continues to lag behind the times is the workplace, where too often companies rely solely on the online employee newsletter or intranet. Despite the tremendous changes in technology and information delivery systems, the typical company continues to use a one-size fits-all communications model in the form of a structured newsletter with everyone receiving the same content in the same format by the same delivery channel.
What if I told you that you could do more with less? That you could deliver the information you want more effectively at less cost and with greater impact? What if I told you that you could reach a broader internal audience, achieve greater penetration of your messages and create a feeling of empowerment among your most important audience, your employees?
The answer is Internal Communications V2.
Why do companies need a new approach to internal communications? Because for perhaps the first time in human history, today’s workplaces routinely feature four distinct generations working side by side.
Let’s take a closer look at these four generations. Most established of them, the “Traditionalists” or “Veterans,” born between 1922 and 1945, make up 7% of the workforce. “Boomers,” those born between 1946 and 1965, make up the largest segment of the workforce, at 42%. The group born between 1966 and 1979, known as “Generation X,” makes up 29% of the workforce. And the newest generation, “Millennials,” born between 1980 and 2001, make up 22% of the workforce.
From consulting firms and defense contractors to manufacturers and retailers, best-in-class companies are finding innovative ways to harness the distinct talents, work styles and contributions that each generation brings to its employers. However, when it comes to employee communication and engagement, many companies are finding that the reality of this dynamic workplace poses unique challenges.
The wide range of employee characteristics, including diverse geographies and cultures, make it difficult to implement comprehensive communications. This is exacerbated with the advent of four generations in the workplace. And while traditionalists, baby boomers, gen Xers and millennials rub elbows at the water cooler and mingle at their adjoining cubicles or manufacturing line stations, research shows that they each have completely different expectations and ingrained habits for sharing and receiving information.
Consider, for example, how they prefer to communicate. Traditionalists and Boomers are inclined to meet in person because they view direct interaction as valuable, while Generation X employees opt for e-mail communication. Millennials, on the other hand, are more comfortable with instant communication, such as texting and IM.
Today’s Millennials, in fact, have spent their entire lives within the framework of the information explosion. They receive their information on iPads and Kindles. They set their Google pages to receive only the news they want to read. Many Millennials view e-mail as an antiquated form of communication, instead preferring text messages and social media to connect with friends and stay abreast of what is happening in their community and in their world. Yet how many companies use these channels for daily internal communications?
In my view, these challenges present a tremendous opportunity to take internal communications to the next level.
Andrew Bleeker, who is widely known for being the online marketing strategist for the 2008 Obama presidential campaign’s innovative internet strategies, is a colleague of mine at Hill & Knowlton and the leader of our firm’s global digital practice. As a Millenial himself, Andrew has a deep understanding of the realm of possibility for communication and employee engagement in the workplace. He begins with a simple question: “Why not treat employees the way I treat voters?”
Andrew believes that with fairly basic technology, employers can create and maintain a database for each employee with three data points:
1) How they prefer to receive information (e.g., opt-in e-mail, SMS, apps, social media, paper mail, magazine/newsletter, interactive town hall, voicemail);
2) What content they should receive, based on position level and function, location, tenure, and clearance; and
3) What content they actually will read
This approach would not require any extra work in terms of the most time-consuming element of media – content creation. The content would continue to be created once, but would be distributed through multiple channels, made available in discreet categories rather than combined in newsletters, and would be based on what the company believes employees should and would like to receive.
“Different channels are best for different things and should not be thought of as competitive with one another,” Bleeker says. “For instance, e-mail and SMS are best for immediate updates. Social is good for distributing video, or seeking input, though with less urgency. It’s likely that the content produced for an employee magazine could be distributed in small pieces through these tools, and then collected as a summary in the magazine. These tools would make this very simple to manage. What this accomplishes is lowering the cost of communications (if people opt out of certain tools) while increasing the frequency by which a company touches its people. We can also see what people are interested in, and tailor content accordingly, maximizing the impact of the communications. Moreover, we can let people see what their colleagues are interested in, making it even more impactful.”
In developing Internal Communications V2, employers seeking to get the best return on their investment may want to challenge themselves to consider this broader realm of possibility. In doing so, they will be able to better understand the information that most effectively engages their employees.
Lindsay Hutter is senior vice president and global change & internal communications practice director at Hill & Knowlton.