Make Your Workers a Real Target Audience

Employees can be great ambassadors if they are on the inside of your communication loop and treated like strategic partners, not afterthoughts.Employees are one of the most neglected target audiences. Too often, information of relevance to them is dribbled out, posted on antiquated communications platforms or overlooked altogether.

And employers wonder why their workforce are not engaged or motivated.

Over time, poor internal communications can lead to an even deeper alienation. But the alienation also can be instantaneous if a major announcement is botched because of inadequate or insensitive internal communications.

Smart business owners and senior managers don't dismiss complaints about faulty worker communications. Instead, they view effective internal communications as a strategy to promote productivity, stay in touch with the front lines of their businesses and achieve an esprit de corps that is key to keeping an organization operating smoothly and on goal.

The trail of missteps by employers has been pretty well mapped — poorly handled layoffs, surprise rebranding, sudden and unexplained management changes and out-of-the-blue modifications to employee benefits. What isn't so clear is how employers can take steps to clean up their act and make employee communications a priority, not an afterthought. Here are some ideas:

Put a premium on and reward internal communication

If you want managers to communicate with employees, make it a part of their job, then evaluate them on how they perform. Reward good communication habits and discipline managers who slough off the assignment. Managerial engagement must be more than superficial. People can tell when you are just going through the motions and when you are actually paying attention.

Managers should routinely talk to employees in one-on-one settings, informally over lunch or in intentional groups to discuss specific issues. Their door and inbox should be open to employee questions and comments. If managers show respect for questions and even critical comments, it will build trust and encourage more employees to share when they have a concern or a bright idea.

Create and cultivate effective communication tools

There isn't an off-the-shelf toolbox brimming with communications channels. The tools need to be contoured to the size, geographical separation and nature of a business or organization. Different tools will work in a one-office business than in one spread out over different cities and engaging in multiple business lines. 

A must for most businesses, big or small, is some form of interactive communications tool, such as Yammer. This is a horizontal channel, with managers and employees sharing professionally related information of value to the enterprise. Managers can share significant news with employees via the channel, but that shouldn't be its main or only purpose.

Another staple is an intranet. These inward-focused websites serve as an archive for everything from past proposals to up-to-date corporate descriptions. The CEO or management blog can live here, giving every employee an online inside track on key news, including new initiatives or projects. Intranets also can be the far cheaper publishing hub for an employee e-letter. 

If workers are spread out in different offices and different time zones, videoconferencing could be the ticket. The guiding light should be to select communications vehicles that are big enough and convenient enough for take your entire staff on a ride. 

Avoid insulting the intelligence of your workers

The only thing worse than ignoring your workforce is to treat them like dummies. Employees won't know everything that management knows and some workers will be less capable than others of grasping all the details, especially of technical subjects. That underlines the importance of writing without a lot of jargon and business-speak and using visual communications to deepen understanding of more complex topics.

Avoid sending direct communications to employees that are little more than press releases. Sharing press releases is fine, but they aren't substitutes for communications with more of an insider's bent.  Employees are a target audience that you want to address as if they are your strategic partners, which in fact they are.

Employees will grouse if they get untimely communications. There are limits, especially for publicly traded corporations, on how soon you can inform employees before everyone else. But the unspoken rule that governs here is that employees shouldn't be the last to know.