Category Archives: Employee Communication

Please rate your last straw?

Loads of online surveys are destroying your engagement measurements.

In just the last two weeks, I’ve received 17 marketing surveys through email and/or text messages. More than one a day from companies large and small— my electric utility, a golf course, my insurance company, multiple online vendors, a coffeeshop, SaaS providers, etc. It’s like they are being piled on until I finally buckle under the load. Two in particular became my last straws. 

The first was from my dentist. She’s a fabulous dentist. An accomplished DMD, educator, former head of our state’s dental association. The perfect dentist. Except, she recently purchased a marketing package that facilitates (promotes) the use of digital surveys. They go out whenever you make, change or go to an appointment.

The second straw was from a roadside vendor who sells raw, local, and wild honey. So now the raw honey dude, selling off his truck’s tailgate, is push-marketing in my phone with SMS surveys? 

Enough, already!

Just because you can, should you?

This question should be the first hurdle any digital communication feature needs to clear before adoption. There are countless companies inventing new ways to push, pull, track, fence, compile and report endless streams of user/consumer/employee data. 

With more and more digital solutions coming online every year, we must think critically about these technologies. How are they received and perceived by the actual humans engaging with them? And how does this communication product/feature help us achieve our goals?

Today’s survey explosion is facilitated by platforms like Shopify, Facebook and Workday. What used to be a discrete function of a company like Survey Monkey, has been integrated into most major social media, online sales and human capital management platforms. These tools make creating and distributing surveys easy. Technically easy, that is. Creating and conducting surveys that yield valuable data still requires strategic thinking and implementation. 

Take my two surveys as examples. Does my dentist think I’m going to be more loyal or get more “dental care” because she asks about my wait or if the office is “nicely appointed?” The office is comfy, fully staffed and I never have to wait more than five minutes. She knows these answers before she asks them. She likely believes she’s increasing appreciation between her office and me. When, in fact, she is annoying me. 

What about the honey dude? He definitely prefers cash, but begrudgingly takes credit cards with a swiping device on his phone. His survey is likely generated by the credit card vendor, for their own purposes. There wasn’t a single question about the honeycomb/honey ratio (the only important question) or the wait times at the tailgate. I doubt he even reads the survey results.

Why are these two sending a survey after every interaction? Just because they can.   

Combatting Survey Fatigue

Unlike the honey dude, our clients create employee engagement surveys that are both important and well thought out. Unfortunately, empty marketing surveys are diluting the effectiveness of these important information-gathering tools.

When employee surveys suffer from reduced participation, disengaged responses and false data points, the culprit is likely survey fatigue rather than the quality of the survey architecture.


All effective communication adapts to the environment. To be heard in a loud room, you raise your voice or lean in closer. Signs on 70 mph roads need to be larger than those on 30 mph roads. And surveys conducted in an environment overrun with surveys need special attention to resonate.

You can elevate your engagement surveys in the minds of your employees, even when they are barraged with useless surveys.

Limit the frequency of your engagement surveys.  

An annual survey can be framed as highly important to the direction of the company. Quarterly surveys monitor employee attitudes and progress toward goals. Monthly surveys are not typically effective. It is very hard to institute meaningful change on a month-to-month basis and you dilute participation. 

Acknowledge survey fatigue.

Establish a limited survey schedule and let employees know that schedule in advance. Frame your surveys as important to the direction of the company. Let employees know that you are aware of the potential for survey fatigue and that you will not waste their time on activities that are not important. Employees are the only source for certain feedback. Tell them why they’re important and they’ll participate.

Make your survey relevant.

Surveys not only gather data they also communicate your organization’s values and business interests. Be certain your survey isn’t merely an exercise in polling employees. Make it a thoughtful process, transmitting important information between management and your workforce.

Employees want to be relevant to their company. Show them how their survey responses inform decision. Take the time to promote engagement surveys as vital to the ongoing success of your organization and employees will understand that these surveys aren’t the same as the throw-away versions they experience every day. 

Let’s Connect

If you want help designing and implementing employee engagement campaigns, we can help. We’d love to hear from you. 

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Constructing Memory

A few tips for making important everyday information more memorable.

Just like your organization tries to attract and retain talent, good communication should attract attention and help the audience retain important information. 

In a previous post, I offered some tips for attracting attention. 

Here, I focus on helping your audience retain the information you send them and then retrieve that information for later use. 

Dual-Process Theory

To design communications that improve the retention and retrieval of information, a little understanding of how memory works can help.

In short, memory relies on two types of thinking: System 1 and System 2. This is known as the dual-process theory.

System 1 is where more routine, unconscious thinking happens. It’s fast, automatic, everyday.

System 2 is more conscious and problem-based. It’s slow, intentional, complex.

When I was learning to play guitar, forming a chord was like a Twister game for my fingers. It required conscious thought, focus and effort. That’s System 2. Once I mastered a chord, playing it became effortless (cognitively speaking). That’s System 1. Once a chord was handled by System 1 thinking, I could weave it naturally into a song or do other intellectually demanding things simultaneously, like read lyrics. 

To make information you deliver today useful in the future, think of that information as though it were a skill, like learning to play guitar or ride a bike. The right information has to be mastered so it can be woven later into the audience’s thoughts and actions.

What Do We Want Where?

If you think across the employee experience, you might be able to pick out which steps or behaviors should be System 1 (what people need to remember) and which should be System 2 (what or how people ought to think).

Here are a few examples. 

 System 1 (automatic, from memory)System 2 (analytical, critical, deliberate)
I need to make changes to my 401(k) account.Knowing what app to use.Selecting investment options. 
I need to complete a performance review.Knowing what website or form to access.Providing constructive feedback. 
I’m stressed out.My company offers mental health services.Reaching out to the appropriate service.

How to Make it Memorable

Knowing certain types of information by rote can help employees be more self-reliant, cutting down on confusion, phone calls and wasted time. This can be measurably valuable to both the employee and the employer. 

Here are some tips for making everyday information more memorable. 

  1. Involve the senses. Clients often ask us to help make their information “more visual.” That’s good. How something looks is important to the way it is perceived, understood and retrieved. But the brain uses all of the body’s senses to gather information, so how something sounds, what it means and how it feels are also important to forming strong, useful memories. (And, don’t forget about our sense of smell.)
  2. Make your audience practice. Our short-term memory can usually hold 5 to 9 things for 15 to 30 seconds. You can help your audience remember something for a longer period of time by making them practice it. For example, if you’re trying to acquaint users with a new website, don’t rely on a single email with a link to do the trick. Parse out information and details over time and give your audience numerous valid and relevant reasons to access that site.
  3. Use consistent verbal and visual cues. According to psychology research, retrieval of information is generally better given similar contextual clues. The context can include the person’s surroundings, mood and emotions. You can provide the right clues by repeatedly presenting the same information in a consistent way. This is why we generally stress the importance of establishing visual and verbal guidelines for communications. They promote recognition and, hence, recall. 
  4. Frame the information. In communication, framing is packaging a message in a way that encourages certain interpretations over others. This can help your audience process information quickly by winnowing the number of possible interpretations they consider before reaching a conclusion. Consider how the following statements, though similar, provide different frames and how these distinct perspectives might influence one’s behaviors.

“We have inherited the earth from our ancestors.”

“We have been loaned the earth by our children.”

Let’s Connect

Are you struggling to create communication that attracts attention and helps your employees retain important information? Maybe we can help. We’d love to hear from you. 

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Your Employee Benefits Aren’t Benefits, They’re Features

Don’t drone on about what benefits you have, emphasize how these programs make employees’ lives better.

It’s easy to assume that phrases like “health care plan” and “long-term disability” will draw great people to your company like a power outlet at a Starbucks. But, to the average person, employee benefit program names are jargon. Insurance is boring, few people understand it and health care gets a bad wrap anyway.

Don’t lose your audience by droning on about what benefits you have. Instead, connect with your employees by emphasizing how these programs make their lives better. 

How does she think about your benefits?

Benefits vs. Features

Your employee benefits are not really benefits of working for your organization. They’re features of working for your organization.

Technically, yes, a “benefit” can be defined as “a service (such as health insurance) or right (as to take vacation time) provided by an employer in addition to wages or salary.” 

But, if we take more of a marketing perspective, a “benefit” is really something that improves your life while a feature is more like a fact. 

For example, the triple-camera is a feature of the iPhone. Being able to capture beautiful images in low light is one benefit of that feature. 

Now, let’s say a recruiter is chatting with a potential candidate about working for your company …

Candidate: “What kind of benefits do you offer?”

Recruiter: “We offer three health care plan options, prescription drug coverage, a health savings account, dental, vision, disability insurance, life insurance, paid time off and a 401(k) plan with a generous company match.” 

While the recruiter thinks she just gave a list of “benefits,” she actually just relayed a list of features.

To get to the actual benefits, you have to answer some questions:

  • Why does your organization offer each benefit plan in the first place? (The answer shouldn’t solely be “to compete with other employers for talent.”)
  • How do these offerings connect with your employees’ hopes and dreams? In what ways do they make the individual’s life better?

Once you’ve answered these questions, the recruiter’s response to that recruit might be more like this …

Recruiter: “We have many affordable ways to help you and your family get and stay healthy, a number of programs that protect your income if you get sick or hurt, paid time off so you can relax and recharge, and a generous plan to help you build wealth for retirement.”

This response is still a bit generic but isn’t it a little more appealing? 

When you think about your organization’s overall benefits package, there may be more distinctive benefits you can elucidate. Maybe you have an innovative package of voluntary benefits or a plan that helps with student debt. The trick is to get past the plan names, understand your audience, and restate your results in a way that connects on an emotional level.

Let’s Connect

Do you have a unique way of highlighting the real benefits of working for your organization? Are you looking for a little help? We’d love to hear from you. 


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So, What's Work Like Now?

Impactful communication hinges on knowing what your employees really need.

I once asked a graphic designer how to draw people. 

She suggested I work on my personality.

This little joke highlights the false beliefs of two characters. What I wanted help with was quite different than what the designer thought I needed help with. 

This same kind of disconnect can happen when you’re writing content and communications for your employees. You make assumptions about what you think the audience needs, and you create the content based on those assumptions. But, if your organization had to shift suddenly this year in response to the pandemic and lockdowns, your previous assumptions about your employees might need a reboot.

To create good content and communications, you should try to see the world as the audience sees it. It can help to know their goals, their feelings and what they’re experiencing at that moment. Psychologists refer to this as having a theory of mind.

To create good content and communications, you should try to see the world as the audience sees it. It can help to know their goals, their feelings and what they’re experiencing at that moment.

Journey mapping is one technique for getting inside your audience’s head and understanding their needs based on what work is like for them now.

Understand Your Audience’s Journey

We aren’t born knowing others have desires, beliefs and knowledge different from our own. We learn this as children and it deteriorates with age. When it comes to writing content and communications, we have the additional challenge of forming a theory of mind for many different people who might be arriving at a similar point in a journey from different paths and with different objectives.

A journey map is a visualization of the process that an employee goes through to accomplish a goal. It’s used for understanding and addressing the employee’s needs and pain points.

A journey map might start as a simple checklist. But, depending on the process, a list might not be enough. You might need to augment your list with additional detail, including any people, tools or other information the employee might need or come in contact with along their way to achieving their goal.  

The resulting map should be thought of as a living document, a snapshot you review occasionally to hunt down pain points and make improvements. Having a journey mapped can also help you assess the impact of proposed process changes. 

Here’s a journey map we created at Smith to help us manage one of our larger partnerships. (We can’t share the name of this client on our website, so we’ve scrubbed out some of the detail.) This map started out as a simple to-do list 10 years ago. But, as the number of projects, processes and people involved grew, we needed a 30,000-foot view so we could delegate tasks, develop training and find efficiencies. A map like this might help you improve a variety of processes, such as performance management, annual enrollment, onboarding and more.

Let’s Connect

Do you use journey maps? Share your story with us. If you’d like some help creating employee content and communications, we’d love to hear from you.

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