At the IPMI Institute HR conference in Miami we sat down with 10 HR executives from various industries and exchanged insights. We discussed what was going on in their world and how behavioral science can help the HR community.
We noticed three overarching themes:
- Organizations are finding cultural change hard
- Organizations have not had significant success at engaging their employees
- Organizations don’t have the bandwidth to prioritize employee communications—although they know doing so is important
This third one really jumped out to us. What we know from working in behavioral science and communications is if you can dial in communication, you can actually make change easier and increase employee engagement.
Now you are probably thinking, “OK, great! But how do I do that!?”
The key is a proper campaign, engaging design, and the effective application of behavioral science. Here are five tips on effectively communicating your HR initiatives to your employees.
1. Let them know what you’re sending immediately.
Your employees are busy—they don’t have time for everything. It’s easy for your communications to get muddled in the backlog daily emails. If they can identify the subject and urgency of the communication before they open it, you are more likely to get their attention.
For instance, we recently designed a campaign that divided the client’s email communications into four categories: Action Required, Urgent, Information Update, and Chat. Each category aligned with the overall brand we had built but had its own color, icon, and messaging. The categories were designed to cascade information of varying levels of importance to the field so that employees knew instantly whether the email was a “drop everything and get on the phone” kind of message or a team barbecue announcement
2. Tell a story.
Knowing the “why” behind an organizational change or decision helps make a communication engaging and motivating. The story behind the “why” helps legitimize the decisions to the audience. Think: Who was involved? What did they do? Why did they do it?
In many cases, a story is more powerful than data. Data is important, but using the story behind the data to back it up can make the information significantly more powerful. Keep in mind that this isn’t applicable to everything: in immediate action and high-urgency situations, keep it brief and get to the point.
3. Validate with expertise.
People are more likely to buy into something if they see that an expert backs it—quotes, studies, and data will increase your effectiveness. If you have a source, use it. Including quotes from key upper-level personnel can also help validate your communication and drive increased buy-in or action from your audience. Think of it this way: as a kid, when your teacher tells you to do something, it’s easy to ignore, but when the principal gets called in, it’s all hands on deck.
4. Be concise (decrease cognitive load).
People become overwhelmed and shut down when you try to convey too much at once, so focus on the key information and cut the fluff. To create a successful cognitive communication, you need to simplify and reduce. Ask yourself: Do I absolutely need to convey this information now? Break complex information down into simpler, easier-to-manage bits.
A cascading communication campaign can be very helpful in accomplishing this. Before sending out any communications, storyboard exactly what you will be sending, when you will send it, and what media you will use. A simple postcard drop at employees’ desks announcing a new program can be just as effective as a three-hour workshop if designed well.
For more information on cognitive load, click here.
5. Make it personal.
We are needy; we like to be catered to—tap into that. People are more likely to engage with something if they believe it has been designed specifically for them. Engage your employees by making it about them.
Behavioral tip: Personalization can be part of the story!
To engage your audience, consider including how the subject you are communicating about will affect someone and their role. In addition, make it from you: sign the communication (digitally is OK) and include your name and position—this validates that it is from you, for them.
This is just the tip of the iceberg on effective communication.
Contact us using the form below for a free quick reference guide to employee communication or a free consultation to see how to apply these concepts to your communications.