The Break Room Communications Principle: Keep it Real

[Our Perspective by Michael Voss and Jennifer Rock]

Today’s employees are savvy enough to delineate between external messages that are repackaged and distributed internally, versus those crafted and delivered specifically to engage people on the payroll. What’s the difference? Generally speaking, employees increasingly expect company communications that come across as real. Human, even. Like the kind of conversation you’d hear in the break room after your company’s most recent financial update.

Easier said than done, of course. After all, communication is often delivered remotely, using digital tools that are inherently impersonal. Then there’s the inevitable cycle of reviews and edits, a process that can drain vitality from even the most genuine, descriptive copy. And don’t forget our good friends jargon and corporate doublespeak – invasive species that creep and seep their way into nearly every aspect of business messaging.

Yet there are proven techniques to bringing a human touch to your company’s communications. Here are a few concepts to keep in mind:

Personal is not the same as emotional. Very often when we’ve coached executives to make a message personal, they would respond with some version of, “But this situation doesn’t call for an emotional story.” At which time we’d gently explain that personal and emotional aren’t synonymous. Personal simply means that you come across as human, and treat your audience the same way. You refer to yourself in the first person, and them in the second. You insert the names of employees and quote from actual conversations to illustrate your points. You communicate conversationally, as if you were talking to a neighbor over the back fence, or family members at the dinner table – sans the call for a second bottle of wine.

People are more interesting than projects. Funny thing about human beings – they like to know what other humans are up to. This is a useful concept to remember when you’re struggling to turn your umpteenth compliance reminder into something your employees actually will read. Instead of a typical memo or news story, flip the format on its ear by publishing a profile of an employee deeply engaged in the work. We’ve tested this approach by posting two versions of an employee news story about customs compliance. One was a standard news item that outlined the importance of this function, along with the obligatory copy about why employees needed to be aware of it. The second was an interview with the company’s compliance manager. This version nailed the same key messages as the news story, but breathed life into the topic by asking the manager how he had carved out a career in customs compliance, along with some of the wildest things he’d seen in his years as an international trade expert. Readership of the employee profile outpaced the news story by a 4:1 ratio and sparked an online dialogue among the broader employee population.

Nothing – and we mean NOTHING – trumps face-to-face communication. Technology provides us with a wealth of tools and platforms for communicating remotely, but even the world’s best video-conference experience doesn’t pack the punch of an interpersonal conversation. This isn’t always possible – particularly in larger companies – but too often we default to electronic channels even when a message could be delivered directly. For example, how often are your front-line managers armed with key messages and instructed to gather their teams to articulate a critical company initiative? It’s much easier to send an email, set up a conference call or post something to your intranet, but is it as effective? Certain topics and messages should always be carried by the top of the house, of course. But there’s tremendous value in using people managers as a communications channel – one with a unique ability to tailor and contextualize the story.

In the end, you’ll deploy a variety of tools, tactics and methods to keep your employees informed and engaged. As you should. And when you do, just remember the Break Room Principle – keep it real.


Categories: Our Perspective

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