Tuning in the right employee communication channel

by Carmine Porco — I had to give the client an “A” for honesty, but unfortunately an “F” for effort. I’d asked if his organization had recently surveyed its staff on how the company communicates with its employees. “No,” came the response, “we’re afraid of what our employees might say.”
In today’s market, in which survival depends on retaining talent and delivering high levels of customer satisfaction, no organization can afford to fail at understanding how to communicate effectively to its employees. If those market imperatives weren’t enough, one would think that the broadest array of communication channels in human history would provide a sufficient incentive for organizations to take this topic seriously.

That’s why I must give our client credit for his honesty. He was prepared to say what many of his colleagues would have avoided. Like many executives, he’s attempting to address a proliferating range of business issues with fixed resources. In other words, in a world in which he can’t keep up with the “important and urgent” tasks, he is attempting to contain a few items in the “important and not urgent” category. He knew it was important to understand what his employees thought about corporate communications, but for the sake of time management didn’t want to discover he had yet another urgent task by initiating a line of inquiry.

His thoughts about staff communications changed dramatically after I shared these stats with him:
  • An estimated 22 million workers are “actively disengaged” or extremely negative in their workplace, resulting in a $300 billion cost to the U.S. economy annually.
  • A study found that negative employees can scare off every customer they speak with — for good
  • The magic ratio: 5 positive interactions for every 1 negative interaction (Source: Donald O Clifton: How full is your Bucket?”)
  • A 2004 IABC Survey states “Better employee communication leads to increased employee morale, loyalty, faith in management and productivity”.
Like my client, if you were doubting the importance of employee communications, I hope you’ve now put those thoughts behind you and are primed to understand the strengths and weaknesses of the many communication channel options available to you. Even though the focus of Prescient’s business is web-enabled communications, we always counsel our clients to be aware of the complete media mix available to them. There’s never been a broader array of channels available, and each one complements the other. Your task is to understand the strengths and weaknesses of each and, after assessing your audience requirements, key communications goals and available budget, find the right balance of channels.

The following table helps put the communication channels into an at-a-glance perspective:




corporate and unit periodicals, brochures, letters, bulletin board postings and newsletters.
  • It is one of the most effective channels for in-depth, complex communications
  • It is portable - print can go everywhere
  • People find print easier to read, therefore are more inclined to read in its entirety, than electronic
  • It is a permanent record
  • Lends more credibility to content
  • You can write on it … annotate … comments, underline, circle
  • You don’t need any peripheral equipment or technology to access information
  • It generally takes a fair bit of lead time for production
  • It may not be as timely as electronic publications – cannot be updated on the fly
  • Not environmentally friendly
  • It allows for easy to share confidential information with outside sources
  • Can be costly
  • According to Towers Perrin Communication Effectiveness Consortium, Toronto, Aug 2004 study, Print is the 4th place that people go to for information.
closed circuit broadcasts, mass voicemails, videos, 800-numbers to dial for company news updates, audio-tapes and vlogs
  • Great face-to-face option for remote employees (e.g.: manufacturing plants) – it gets information to all employees at the same time,
  • Compelling … people are inclined to watch the entire production (if short enough) to get all the information
  • Can be edited – unlike a live presentation
  • A combination of audio and visual makes for better information retention
  • Can be expensive to produce
  • Generally single language production
  • Need the necessary technology to supply/support effort
  • Often encounters resistance from senior management to participate
this includes discussions with supervisors, managers, senior leaders, water cooler/coffee room, staff meetings, town halls, colleagues, external customers, vendors and other outsiders.
  • Most preferred method of communications
  • Impactful
  • Perceived well by employees
  • Can be formal or informal
  • Ability to qualify and clarify information for audience … clear, no misinterpretation
  • Boost employee morale, a part of a team
  • Many different formats to choose from depending on topic and audience
  • Perception/interpretation of non-verbal cues
  • Often time consuming
  • “Broken telephone” effect post-meeting discussions with those not in attendance
  • Not as “easy” as electronic communications
  • Logistically challenging with an often geographically dispersed employee base.
intranet, mass-emails, electronic newsletters, company website, blogs, wikis, corporate portal.
  • For the most part … easy access to information
  • Quick, up to the minute, delivery of information
  • Global in nature – information, at the same time, to employees around the world
  • More collaboration between employees
  • Cost effective
  • Multi-faceted: audio, video, text, graphic, … electronic channels capable of delivering them all
  • Often used instead of face-to-face interaction
  • Replaces print … which is easier to read and perceived as more credible
  • Keeping up with technology
  • Does not build morale or sense of community within company/between employees
  • Impersonal
When choosing the right channel(s), you must consider the message, the audience demographics (level within the organization and/or geographic location), the channels available and target audiences’ mindset. Communicating an important message only through one channel, for example, the intranet, may not be the best method as your audience may be mostly on the shop floor, in a different time zone or speak a different language.

The most important stage when assessing your channels is to ask for employee feedback. Don’t avoid this task because you’re afraid of what you might learn, and don’t ignore the input you receive. As many of clients have discovered, managing their employee communication channels is an integral component of managing every other aspect of their business: from sales channels to delivering customer satisfaction.

A Senior Internet Business Consultant and a regular writer and speaker,Carmine Porco is the Vice-President of Prescient Digital Media. For more information on Prescient’s CMS Blueprint service, or for a free copy of the white paper “Finding ROI”, please contact us.

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