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Five Steps To Better Employee Communications

I have always been one of those guys who sees the world in non-exact, change filled, and nebulous ways. I am hesitant to say I am a big picture thinker because everyone loves to say that they are a big picture thinker (while, of course, still being great with details). That’s always a load of crap though. I don’t think I am the best big picture or details guy, I just think I deal with change and uncertainty better because that’s what the world is to me.

Then there’s my wife. She has a very scientific view of the world and there will be order in the world. She wants to explain everything to me and she expects me to do the same. And while I am a trivia buff, I don’t always know why things work the way they do. I can tell it is a source of frustration at times. I know the answer but not the explanation behind it.

After three and a half years of marriage, I’ve learned to either explain the why or help her research it more herself. Simply leaving the answer to her question out there without further explanation is madening.

What I’ve found in communicating to employees that there are the same expectations. Some deal better with change than others. Some just want to know what the change is and they’ll move on. Some want explanations and justifications (and they still might not be satisfied). And whenever you communicate something new, you have to meet the needs of all these people in an easy to read communication. A couple of simple ways I’ve done this:

  1. Write like a newspaper story. If you have read a lot of newspapers like I have, you know the basic format: a concise title, the most pertinent information in the first few lines and the details to follow. I can’t tell you the number of times that I’ve seen an employee communication start with an explanation and justification before delivering the news.
  2. Simplify everything. Don’t use $64 words. Don’t use corporate speak. Imagine you have an employee that just started and was reading the comunication that you send out and format it appropriately. Again, people that are just looking for answers will drop off after they get the information they want so you can use more words to explain if needed to avoid corporate speak.
  3. Don’t lie and don’t spin. I think this is a good idea regardless of what you’re doing but I think it is incredibly important in employee communication. If you are going to spin your way to a positive message or lie about anything, despin and tell the truth or don’t send anything out. Your employees deserve the truth from you and if you can’t deliver that, you shouldn’t deliver a bad message that people assume is true (or worse, they assume it is false because you’ve lied and spun before).
  4. Use a contact person for your employees that question everything. Employees should be clear that they can speak to the contact person if they have any questions. Often times, these are the same people every time that question everything and always have way more questions than everyone else. A contact person can save you from writing a novel for a couple of people that question everything.
  5. Recommunicate when necessary. If your contact person is being bombarded with questions, your communication was probably inadequate. In order to effectively communicate, you have to be committed to sending out more information and admiting your original communication was inadequate. Use the same template as before in your recommunication but address the questions you have received.

While employee communications can be a challenge, using an effective approach can eliminate challenges. And I guess in that way, I do have a scientific way of doing things.

By Lance Haun

Strategy for The Starr Conspiracy. Former HR pro. Portland guy (Go Blazers!) and WSU alum (Go Cougs!). I get to write about what I want here.

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