Category Archives: Strategic Communication

Ideas Influencing Employee Communication

I often hear clients say: “We want to do something new and different!” or ask “What is new and exciting in employee communication?” While the forms of communication haven’t changed in recent years—print, web, mobile—the approaches we use to maximize these media have.

Generational Overlapping

Audience segmentation by role is nothing new (i.e., HR, leaders, managers, employees), but adapting communications to engage diverse generations is becoming an area of focus. This is where media mix comes into play. For example, baby boomers prefer print and face-to-face communication that is open and detailed. Digitally-native Millennials prefer electronic communication that is meaningful, brief and visual, with the option to get more detail. Surprisingly, Millennials love face-to-face interactions for complex or important subject matter. Sandwiched between the two is Generation X—technically very competent and preferring email or electronic communication with higher levels of complexity.

One way to address diverse generational audiences is through media mix and tone.


A U.S.-based engineering and manufacturing company has employees ranging from the age of early 20s (millennials) to mid 60s (baby boomers), with an average age of 42 (generation x). For an initiative such as retirement readiness, this overlapping mix of communications will best reach this broad audience:

  • Posters or full-sized banners with stand and a 30 second commercial spot (plays on local kiosks/monitors and website) to generate awareness
  • Postcard mailed to homes to engage spouses
  • Interactive guide with a downloadable/printable PDF
  • Microsite with layered information (page content, PDFs, videos, links), including testimonials (diverse ages and job functions) and a short game or quiz
  • Employee meetings organized similar to a health fair, including a short presentation and various vendor/financial planning experts

The trick to success is to match media to audience preference, even if you repeat yourself using varied forms. The important idea is to reach your audience in the from it prefers.

Sensory Immersion

Sensory immersion creates engaging experiences that heighten awareness and increase engagement. Sight, smell, taste, touch and sound are common in marketing and in the gaming industry but also can play a part in any communication. This approach is particularly compelling for Millennials, who are always hungry for new meaningful and entertaining experiences.

Brilliant images, like those below, when attached to compelling headlines will hook your audience. They can be paired with other sensory inputs or merely suggest the types of experiences your audience finds compelling.

  • Sight—Given our age of rapid technology, such as email, smart phones, the Internet and social media, sight can be challenging to engage and maintain. We have become accustomed to tuning things out due to oversaturation, so there needs to be a visual hook and strong sense of hierarchy. This can be achieved with unique typography, provocative imagery (especially macro imagery) and/or use of solid geometric shapes with bold color. Evoking the sense of sight can tie in nicely with communications that focus on the future.
  • Smell— Did you know that we can recall 10,000 unique smells! While we can’t reasonably infuse scents into most employee communications, we can certainly suggest them through imagery in a way that triggers recollection of a smell, and the feeling(s) associated with that memory. For example, the aroma of a steaming hot beverage on a cold morning that also warms your hands, or the smell of roasting marshmallows over a fire as you prepare to indulge in s’mores. Stirring up these memories can come in handy when communicating healthy behavior, such as eating delicious and healthy food, engaging in yard work in the spring or taking a relaxing vacation at the beach.
  • Taste—As with smell, taste is something we can suggest through imagery that can trigger a memory and feeling to make a more personal connection with the audience.
  • Touch—Print appeals to the tactile sense, including various weights of paper and textures that can enhance or support a communication. Embossing/debossing and coatings such as varnishes also can elicit the sense of touch. It is more challenging to engage touch electronically, but we certainly experience it with gaming and phones (vibration) and here again, we can use macro photography to tap into the sense of touch. For example, drawing people in with the feeling of holding a sparkler, the rough texture of new money or the gentle softness of a fluffy pillow to rest your head on.
  • Sound—We can use sound to enhance a video or influence the mood of a website or interactive environment. See what Volkswagen did with sound that resulted in a 66% increase in taking the stairs that were positioned next to an escalator: Today we can’t cost efficiently integrate sound into a print employee communication, but we can suggest it in a way that can trigger a memory so it comes to life in our minds.

Infographics blend information and visuals in a minimalistic way to help people comprehend content. This approach oftentimes is used to convey complex concepts, processes and/or to visually break up dense content. After all, 65% of people are visual learners!


Long Format Websites

With over 80% of the U.S. mobile market using smartphones, we have had to start thinking more about the user experience on an array of devices—computers, tablets and phones. This means thinking more about adaptability of the communication (look and functionality).


For a long while web page design has been focused above the fold to eliminate scrolling. Now, those same web pages have a different experience on smartphones, meaning lots of scrolling— there’s no way to avoid it with a small device. As a result, design has begun moving toward long format or scrolling pages.

Designers are finding advantages to this, such as creating a fluid and creative storytelling experience (this dovetails nicely with sensory immersion and appealing to millennials). It also promotes interaction, has greater user consistency from one device to another and it opens the door for training or other game-like experiences.


Rapid technology has enabled organizations of all sizes to work effectively with communication that is fast and electronic. Conversely, the explosion of easy digital communication, is also creating a desire for face-to-face interactions for significant situations, such as organizational transformation, annual benefit enrollment and retirement readiness.

Certainly this won’t be the only touch point with employees for a large communication initiative, so the content should be high-level and offer additional resources for greater detail. PowerPoints or similar tools can be used to guide the conversion and should be used to tell a story that provides meaning to employees. In other words, avoid “death by PowerPoint” or reading the slides word for word. The face-to-face interaction is more about humanizing the message and providing employees with the opportunity to listen and ask questions. The high-level presentation should be fluid so it can be distributed/posted and make sense to the end user. Here’s an example of a creative and fluid PowerPoint that tells the story of how Google works:

Innovate to Engage

There are many creative approaches that can both attract the attention of a diverse workforce and align with budgetary needs. Next time you communicate an initiative to your employees, instead of printing the same old letter-sized booklet or emailing a PDF, consider:

  • Addressing various generational media preferences
  • Increasing engagement through sensory immersion
  • Maximizing comprehension by matching images to content with infographics
  • Building fluidity and story-telling into mobile and desktop web design
  • Meeting face-to-face to increase impact

Kara Pernice (2016), Top 10 Intranet Trends of 2016, Nielsen Norman Group

Natalia Lumby (2016), Sensory printing: engaging all of the senses, Graphic Arts Magazine

PewResearch (May 2015)


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Push Employee Engagement


It’s very likely your employees have a company issued, or benefits-related, smart phone app—a small transactional program that expedites HR record-keeping, benefits administration, wellness programs and more.

A well-made app can drastically simplify important functions with the added benefit of mobile accessibility. Most apps have the ability to send push notifications—an important communication feature that can be used to increase employee contact and engagement.

Push notifications enable interactive communication directly with employees by sending actionable messages to their phones.


A push notification message is “pushed” out from a central server to an application. It differs from SMS text messages because the push notification contains a message plus the ability to act directly within the app.


For example, your company and its healthcare partners are sponsoring an onsite screening next month. Send a text and you tell everyone about the event. Send a push notification and you tell everyone about the event, plus the employees can—with a swipe—automatically sign-up for a screening, watch a video, or ask a question.

Push notifications are widely used in marketing and social media because they are proven to increase responses and other engagement with products, services and social networks. They work because they are simple, immediate and actionable.

As part of an internal communications strategy, push notifications can add the following benefits:

  • Signal when information has elevated value
  • Facilitate important transactions
  • Reward engagement through badges and leveling
  • Distribute relevant content
  • Track responses to increase engagement

Push notifications are powerful tools, but they can also become invasive and annoying when overused. It is important to carefully plan how your organization will use push notifications. When creating a strategy, make certain they align with your company’s internal branding and message frequencies. You want employees to see them as useful assists and valuable sources of information, so be mindful of how a push notification might interrupt their lives and make sure the message is worthwhile.

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More Than a Job Description


More than a job description, a Role Portrait is designed to capture the nuances and particulars of a job. This is particularly useful for both talent acquisition and continuity planning.

A Job Description is Critical

The basic job description is:

“A written statement about a position that defines various responsibilities, duties, qualifications and reporting arrangements. It is used to match organizational needs with skills and competencies required to do the work.”

This is a foundational document in any organization. A good job description is essential for both hiring and allocating human resources. Each position in your organization needs a basic job description. The Society for Human Resource Management(SHRM) has hundreds of prewritten job descriptions to help HR professionals create and correctly format these important documents.

A well-written job description solves many issues for organizations:

  • Helps potential employees understand the job they’re applying for and how it fits into an organization
  • Defines responsibilities and expectations. This sets parameters for new hires, existing employees and managers
  • Fulfills legal requirements to stay in compliance with equal opportunity and anti-discrimination regulations

However, a job description has certain limitations:

  • Job descriptions can become functionally obsolete almost immediately, especially if maintained by an HR department that is removed from the day-to-day activities of the organization
  • Being a fixed document, it may not accurately represent the job during a period of rapid change
  • May unnecessarily confine and limit job performance, especially for high-performing employees with great initiative
  • Can create negative evidence in certain legal situations, like a lawsuit claiming wrongful termination
A Role Portrait is More

While it includes everything found in a good job description, the Role Portrait informs the job description from the unique vantage point of the position holder, immediate managers and associates.

The Role Portrait is a living document that is assessed and amended at least once a year, often as part of the annual review process. A Role Portrait is developed by the department where the job position resides rather than the HR department.

Often, the Role Portrait is written, or co-written, by a person holding the job. They are in the best position to understand and communicate the details of their role. In coordination with their manager, this employee can help the organization answers key questions about:

  • How time is allocated
  • How objectives and tasks are prioritized and performed
  • Key personnel and resources necessary to doing the job
  • Important functions and relationships that might otherwise remain invisible
  • How the job, objectives and tasks have changed from one year to the next

There is no one formula for how to create a Role Portrait. Much depends on the job itself and the people filling in the picture. The main emphasis should be on getting a current and complete picture of a specific role informed by those closest to it.

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Worth 1000 Words?

We’re being deluged by a torrent of pink and red—there is no Valentine’s Day without roses, candy and, especially, hearts. The symbolism is immersive and overwhelming, leaving little room for misinterpretation. If you see a heart during the first two weeks of February you know what to think.

What the Heart Wants

Swimming against this rushing romantic river is the American Heart Association who, along with the U.S. government, has designated February as American Heart Month.  When the AHA shows a heart in February they’re being a bit more literal. Carving out visual space for the actual organ this month is a Herculean task.

Maybe the thinking is, “if you can’t beat them, join them.” Or, maybe the heart lobby is being ironic. More likely, American Heart Month has been swallowed up by the marketing frenzy that now surrounds every modern holiday. American Heart Month was first proclaimed 1963. A lot has changed in public relations, marketing and advertising in those 55 years, not the least being a proliferation of heart-related images afforded by ubiquitous media.

The efforts of the American Heart Association are laudable and illustrative. They point to a challenging aspect of communication—the use of images in shifting contexts.

Two Weeks Makes a Difference

There is no universal visual literacy. Unlike written language and mathematics, we don’t learn strict grammatical formulations about images. Romance =♥. The heart shape typically, not universally, stands for love in our culture. The shape of that love, the emotion involved, is not so clear. Hearts can be puzzled, incomplete, committed or caged.

There doesn’t need to be a romantic connotation at all. Do the hearts below express affection, whimsy or health? Or, do they point to reading, nature and cooking?


Designer and architect George Nelson identified “social context” as a necessary ingredient to understanding an image or design:

“In visual reading, like verbal reading, the completeness of the reading relates directly to the quality of the reader’s stored information…it uses a code or language which has to be intelligible to the receiver.”

How to See p17

An image doesn’t communicate on its own. It needs context. Since we have no formal literacy, context is derived from a myriad of sources. Accompanying words, common uses, cultural symbology, literary references, technology, fashion and more all inform how we “read” an image.

Timing is another element that affects context. An image of a pumpkin signals something different around Halloween than it does around Thanksgiving. Just as the image of the heart means romance in the weeks leading up to St. Valentine’s Day.

Choosing the right image infuses our communication with near instantaneous emotion, identification, interest and other connections that are increasingly difficult to achieve with words. If we want maximum impact, we must keep an eye on the ever-shifting social contexts that inform the images we use.

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