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How Can You Get Them to Drink? Effective Communication in the Workplace

Imagine that you have spent two years developing guidelines for engaging with some key corporate issue. Or you just undertook a major survey with an important stakeholder group and wrote a 6-page summary of the central findings. You are finally finished and you send around your laboured document as an email attachment. Do people read it, do they understand it, do they do something differently as a result of this heroic effort?

How can you best broadcast essential information to a staff of hundreds?

It might not be enough to just send out your email message and hope that people find it in their in-boxes and have the time to read it (the 6-page summary mentioned above took me 1 hour to read carefully). Or might not get everyone’s attention at the monthly staff meeting in your 3 minute report. How can you get people in the “room” either physically or metaphorically?

We have been speaking to a couple of internal units about this in the last weeks and some interesting ideas have come up revolving around taking a campaign approach to internal communications, using a combination of existing structures/processes and creating some new information sharing opportunities. Here are a few steps that might be helpful:

Step 1: What staff gatherings already exist? In our organization we have a monthly staff meeting, a bi-weekly management meeting, our weekly Free Coffee mornings, and an ad-hoc series of “Brown-bag lunches” which can be programmed. Each of these activities is more or less optional (although for some attendance is more strongly encouraged than others). Each seems to attract a different segment of our internal population, and numbers are usually not very high (staff meetings are the highest, but also the shortest, and most jammed with information.) Matrix those gatherings out with the type of people who go and the rough numbers – how far does that get you?

Step 2: Where else do people congregate, wait or rest? Can you take a few walks during your work day and notice where people stop and pause? We have our cafeteria, especially the line for the coffee machine (can you put a sign there?), at the tables in the cafeteria (can you laminate the guidelines and leave them on the tables?), at the reception area (comfy couches), where else?

What about the toilet? We currently have one sign in our toilets about cleanliness in French, English and Spanish which has been read, I am sure, millions of times. Everyone in our building can recite “Please flush the toilet” in three languages. What about having some kind of revolving mechanism whereby ads, short papers, executive summaries, guidelines get put up in the toilets and changed weekly? Maybe one item per week so it gets maximum attention? Anywhere else (think of your smokers, where do they go?) You are trying to pick off different segments of your population over time, be strategic!

Step 3: What is the message? Instead of pasting up all 6 pages of the survey in the toilet, or leaving stapled documents on the tables, can you boil it down to one attractive page, with the main action you desire from the reader at the top? Can you use questions to get people’s attention? Remember you are still competing with lots of other stimuli, no matter where you are (except perhaps the toilet). Also think of your segment, if young professionals are the ones that come most to the Brown Bag lunches, and are very interested in building their own capacities, how can you frame your information for them?

Step 4: How can you get a few more people to come? If you have a little budget, perhaps you can do small things that would get a few more people to attend your events. For example, offer pizza at the brown bag lunches (Legal Pizza anyone?) Or before the staff meeting, send out a message asking people for questions (If you could ask the Membership Unit one question what would it be?) then say you will pick two to answer at the staff meeting, and give a prize to the two questions you pick (then tell them about your survey results). Or in the Free Coffee morning tell people in advance that you will run a quiz about your guidelines, (link the URL) and will be awarding free lunch tickets to everyone that answers them correctly – hand out the quiz while people wait in line at the coffee machine, or put on the tables while they chat, and collect them later and send the list of winners out by email (they are now the experts on the guidelines, not only you!)

Step 5: What kind of support and take aways/reminders can you offer? Once you have people’s attention, whether it is in the Ladies room, in cafeteria, or the conference room – what can you give them to remind them of your essential information? Can you make a postcard with top tips that you can give away and they can put it by their desk (include the contact person, and URL for more information), can you put the location on the knowledge network for the full document, can you create an interesting aid memoire (magnet or badge – “I wonder what our Members are doing today?”). Can you follow up with a card offering an hour of your services? Our unit did this for the holidays, we created a holiday post card with a clock on one side saying that we would like to give a gift of our time (one hour), and on the back we put the list of “services” or things that our unit could do, and we sent it to all the different units through internal mail. No one yet has cashed it in, but at least they know more about the kinds of things we are doing, and they probably kept it up somewhere for at least a month before recycling it with the other holiday cards.

Step 6: Keep track of where you are and create your own product bank. Whether you want to do a one week blitz using all these things, a three-month campaign, or want to work over the calendar year, keep track of who you are getting and what you are using. Where are the gaps? Have you gotten the DG yet, or are you missing a few senior managers? Maybe a lunch date or a 10 minute coffee will do. Or maybe the administration is one of the key users of your guidelines, so a special meeting called with them will work. And because of inevitable turnover, can you slip your summary into the new recruits pack with HR? And keep all your supports, papers, take aways, in a central place in a resource bank complete with Frequently Asked Questions, YouTube videos of you answering the different questions, case stories of people who have used your guidelines successfully and saved time and money, and of course your guidelines or survey results.

Next year, just a reminder in the loo might be enough to get people thinking about your issue again.

1 reply
  1. Michelle Laurie
    Michelle Laurie says:

    Hi Gillian,
    How about doing 20 second interviews with key people in the org on each point you are trying to communicate. You can do them with a digital camera, merge them together and show it on the plasma screen when people walk into IUCN. You could also post it to YouTube and people can go watch on their own.
    It might be fun!

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