Category Archives: Employee Communication

Why You Should Audit Your Communication (And How To Do It)

When clients ask us to design a communication strategy, we often start with an audit of their current materials. Why? Because as Dr. Phil says, “You can’t change what you don’t acknowledge.” A communication audit is simply an objective analysis of your current state that can point you toward an improved future state.

A communication audit starts with an inventory and then a big sort. This is like Marie Kondo pulling all your clothes out of your closet and drawers and dumping them on the guest room bed.

  1.  Ask your team and vendors to send you electronic copies of all your HR and benefits communications. This should include emails, web pages, PDFs, videos, etc.
  2. Now, sort the communication samples in a way that makes sense for you. For instance, if you have a Total Rewards philosophy with five categories, you might sort the samples into Benefits, Community, Career, Wellbeing and Compensation.
  3. Sort those categories into campaigns. These might be Annual Enrollment, Incentive Statements, New Hire Orientation, etc.

There will be differences in how your team refers to documents, which can create confusion. For that reason, you’ll want to export an image of each document. It’s easier to know that “postcard #1” is the same item as “AE announcement postcard” when you have a picture of it in your audit report. At this point, you should know each communication element of each campaign. Piece by piece, you’ll run through an objective scoring system that rates:

  1. Accessibility / Delivery
  2. Visual Appeal
  3. Readability
  4. Clarity
  5. Completeness

Here is a sample of our scoring system, using a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being the highest rating. You should rate the communications against industry best practices, and – if you have it – your internal brand guidelines. If you don’t feel informed enough to make these judgements, it may be useful to call in professional help at this point.

You can measure readability using these formulas. Just insert a sample of text, and the tool will give you a grade level report. Generally, 7th or 8th grade is a target reading level that works for lower-level readers as well as for higher-level readers who may just skim content.

Now, you’ll complete a more subjective analysis of each document. There is no reason to make this overly complicated: a simple pros/cons list will do the trick, along with your recommendations for improvement.

For instance, a “pro” might be “The sick leave policy is written and is up-to-date.” A con might be “Reading level is grade 14.” The pros/cons list allows you to flesh out the rating system with the observations that drove the ratings.

Once your ratings are complete, open up Excel. For each of the five categories, determine your average rating. If visual appeal averages out to 1.96, you know you have work to do in this area. We like to provide a summation for each category that speaks to “where you are,” “where you want to be,” and “actionable steps to get you there.”

At the end of your audit process, you should have a comprehensive inventory of your communications. You should also know:

  1. If each communication element is useful and continues to be required.
  2. How effectively each deliverable presented its key messages and your overall messaging.
  3. Specifically, how each deliverable might be improved.

Our clients will generally proceed to the next steps of incorporating the audit results into a total communication strategy. That strategy will move from the deliverable level to a bigger picture view, considering what communication channels may best serve the client’s audiences, and how individual campaigns should be improved as a whole.

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2019 Communication Trends

Digital migration trends and challenges.

Digital Migration

In 2019, organizational communication continues its march towards all things digital. Companies are investing heavily in applications and platforms that facilitate HR functions, benefits administration, education, training, performance measurements and more. Likewise, employees are increasingly comfortable and eager to engage with technologies that offer the same types of experiences they have in the marketplace and in their personal communication.

As this digital migration continues, communicators are increasingly aware of the gap between the utopian promises of new technologies and the unadvertised challenges created when they are implemented into real working situations. For the savvy, embracing new technologies also includes creating communication strategies that work for their specific internal audiences. This article briefly considers trending technologies and some of the accompanying challenges.

Trending Now

Personalization of data is increasing rapidly across the employee experience. Employees used to create their own benefits profile against standardized offerings, or call into a center to get help. Now they logon to dashboards populated with real time specifics about their compensation, medical, retirement, PTO, performance, etc.

Enterprise Social Media (ESM) differs from employees’ other social media primarily because it is more intentional. Companies are using private social media platforms (usually built on the company intranet or a vendor app) to distribute information and foster conversations that promote collaboration, wellness, knowledge communities, company culture and more.

Knowledge Sharing across organizations is one of the most important trends in ESM. Wikis, blogs, forums, How To videos, and collaboration tools are all ways to share and preserve important organizational expertise, knowledge and memory.

Mobile computing has reached a tipping point. With nearly 80% of Americans owning smart phones[1], employers can expect that their people have access via mobile applications to benefits, job-related apps, collaboration tools, internal information networks, etc.

Wearable devices are being used by companies to help address several key situations. First, many companies offer wearable fitness trackers and connected applications as part of their wellness programs. Second, employees in physical jobs wear devices that monitor the safety and efficiency of their movements. Finally, wearable technology is being used in training and to push performance in professions ranging from package delivery to neurosurgery.

Video continues to rise in popularity as production costs fall. Platforms like YouTube, and the small screens on mobile devices, have made users more comfortable with lower production values and short-format video. The door is open for more organizations and leaders to use video to replace, or supplement, communication that was traditionally done in meetings or print.

Analytics are applied to reams of data available on every aspect of our work in digital communications. For example, we can measure the efficacy of an open enrollment video by knowing if it is watched to completion. This data tells us to make the video shorter, or more dynamic. ESM conversations are tracked and managed to foster an intended activity. Efficiency data is available for online activity and work-related apps. Making sense of all the data is becoming a key job for internal communicators, who must understand how the raw numbers translate into informative stories for leaders and other stakeholders.

Bumps in the Road

Both employers and employees want the benefits promised by new technologies—efficiency, accessibility and customization. However, the road is not without its potholes. Embracing trends in digital migration requires communicators to stretch as they integrate technical expertise into their communication toolkit.

Confusion can challenge the successful implementation of new technology. Converting existing human-reliant processes into digital transactions is rarely a seamless exercise. There are often gaps between the way things are done and the new app. Creating communication to guide a digital migration requires a familiarity with what exists and what is being built, along with a level of technical expertise. Creating a collaborative environment between vendors and stakeholders often hinges on great change communication.

Impatience often follows work-related technologies that are usually far more complicated, and carry higher stakes than consumer products. Billions have been spent on Apple’s iTunes to make buying a song simple and easy. The same is not true of the custom application designed to measure employee productivity. Unfortunately, employees will judge your technology based on usability gold standards found in their consumer experience.

Frustration arises when new technologies are introduced without the necessary human support. User-centered design techniques that help communicators understand the employee experience can help create the support communications necessary to a transition.

Meeting the Future

As technology continues to transform our work lives, the role of the organizational communicator is expanding. Anticipating the promises and the challenges of digital migration prepares us to add value to our organization as we help ensure the employee experience is successful and rewarding.


[1]Pew Research Center. Mobile Fact Sheet. 2018.

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A Defence of Communication

Can Communication Really Drive Change?

Can a memo from an executive about wellness encourage an employee to improve his body mass index . . . or even figure out what a body mass index is? Can a PowerPoint presentation do anything more than baffle us with bullet points; will anyone walk out of the room energized, motivated or different? People in my profession believe so, or at least hope so.

In truth, all communication gets some kind of reaction. That reaction might be a raised eyebrow, an apathetic “whatever,” a click of the delete button or a trip to the recycle bin. But can it get the reaction the sender intends? According to Percy Bysshe Shelley (yes, that one), well-written messages can do that and much more.

In his “Defence of Poetry,” Shelley argued that poetry (a particularly well-crafted form of communication) has the power to advance civilization. Language and poetry, he believed, demonstrate man’s aspiration toward order and our appreciation of beauty. This order and beauty spread when audiences consume poems and internalize their messages. Because of this effect, Shelley credited poetry for helping lift Europe out of the Dark Ages.

“And the world would have fallen into utter anarchy and darkness, but that there were found poets among the authors of the Christian and chivalric systems of manners and religion, who created forms of opinion and action never before conceived; which, copied into the imaginations of men, became as generals to the bewildered armies of their thoughts.”

The ordered thoughts of poetry “became as generals” within the minds of confused, disorganized Europeans. It’s tough to argue whether the poetry incited order or if general improvements in society gave rise to an artistic flourish, but haven’t you ever had a song stuck in your head? Have you ever had an image you couldn’t unsee? Has a phrase from a book, a line from a poem or a friend’s curious metaphor ever made you see something a little differently? Meme theory suggests that certain basic ideas spread like viruses; that we have ideas the same way we have colds or fevers. They infect us, affect us and eventually pass on to others we come in contact with.

Communication (rather, well-crafted words, sounds and images) can change people and people can change themselves, others and even the world.

The memo you’re writing, the poster you’re creating or the email you’re drafting is much more than a temporarily uncrumpled sheet of paper; it’s an idea about to form in someone’s mind. It’s a seed of change. It’s a freshly promoted general standing before an eager, albeit bewildered, army.

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Two Sides of the Same Fence: Consultant Becomes Client

The “Choose Your Own Adventure” series is a well-known set of children’s books, with a simple idea—you, as the reader, become the main character in each book.

Every few pages, the reader is given a choice about how to proceed. What happens next in the story depends on the choices the reader makes—choose one road and you run into a hungry Tyrannosaurus Rex; choose the other and find yourself aboard an alien spaceship.

While I’ve never actually faced a T-Rex or been lured aboard an alien spaceship, I have been lucky enough to “choose my own adventure” several times in my career—going from corporate manager to consultant and back again.

Although the view is a bit different depending on which side of the fence you’re on, it is surprising just how similar the jobs can be when you’ve seen both sides.

Corporate managers and consultants aren’t as different as you might think—beagles and dachshunds, not cats and dogs. For example, they both must:

  • Please their boss
  • Work within a fixed budget
  • Juggle competing deadlines
  • Protect their company’s profitability
  • Take pride in their work

Time spent looking at my work from both sides has greatly shaped my thinking and what I believe to be important keys to understanding one another’s roles.

Consultants: Make sure you understand the chain of command. Just as you work hard to satisfy your corporate managers, don’t forget that they must also satisfy their internal customers.

Early in the project, talk to your corporate manager openly about their corporate hierarchy and any challenges her or she faces. You are there to help them succeed. Always be prepared for last minute changes, delayed approvals or even a complete change of direction midway through. Accept this going in and be happier for it.

Consultants: Corporate cultures can be mysterious, but they can’t be ignored. If your corporate manager isn’t on board with your brilliant idea don’t take it personally. It might not be a fit. Frequently, the two of you can work together to map out an alternative that will still yield the desired results.

Managers: Be realistic with deadlines. I loved being treated as if I were my consultant’s only client, but I knew it wasn’t a monogamous relationship. My work had to be slotted in along with other projects for other clients.

Realistic project timelines keep everyone on the same page. They won’t solve every last minute emergency, but will limit the fallout. If you absolutely need something the next day, tell your consultant—a good one will move heaven and earth to meet the deadline. If you really could wait two days, give them the two days. Ask your consultants what works best for them—they’ll appreciate it.

Managers: Staying connected is not a sales pitch. A good consultant tracks what’s on the horizon and what might solve some of your company’s concerns. They also have knowledge about what other companies are doing. When your consultant calls to check in, talk to you about your needs and share how he can help, listen.

Consultants: Be attuned to your client’s personal style. Some clients enjoy frequent meetings in person, while others prefer a phone call or email. Staying in touch includes respecting your client’s communication preferences.

Everyone: Budgets are real. If you ask consultants what they hate most, I bet it would be talking to clients about money; they would much prefer to leave the accounting side to someone else. Consultant: Your job is to understand the limits of a budget and help a client maximize the impact of their company spend. Managers: Talk to your consultant openly about what you need to accomplish and what you can afford to spend. If you work together, you can usually find common ground that provides you with the services you need, while staying within your budget.

Bottom Line: The best manager/consultant relationship is like a great marriage—partners working together for mutual success. Good relationships run on honesty, trust, and managing disagreements with respect. Feel comfortable enough with one another to openly discuss what’s going well and what isn’t. Remember that no matter what side of the fence you’re looking over, you’re working together so that both sides can be successful.

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