Communications: beyond e-mail

As recently as ten years ago, I used to be the kind of person who only had a maximum of ten e-mails in my inbox at any given time.  A decade is a long time, but even then, I had colleagues that had accumulated thousands of e-mails, two-thirds of them unread.

Over the course of the last several years, I have gone over to the dark side of the multi-thousand-e-mail inbox, which is where most of us are.  It’s too easy to use whatever e-mail client your company has selected as a personal, knowledge management platform.  Instead of reading and processing, then responding, filing, or deleting, I leave everything in the inbox, knowing that I can type in whatever search term I want, and find the information I need.

I raise this issue because I think that we’re still pretty dependent on e-mail in the corporate world, including C&E.  We know that the messages that we send out via e-mail are not likely going to get read, especially if they’re more than a screen long, but we continue to do it.  We continue for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is that it’s convenient.

There’s nothing wrong with using e-mail as a channel for your communications as long as you’re supplementing with some other tools.  When clients hire me to work with them on communications, these are the basic questions I ask and steps I follow:  (1) what are the strategic goals of the department for the next year and next two to three years?  (2) what are the messages that will help us achieve those goals?  (3) who are our target audience subgroups?  (4) what are the channels available to us?

(1) and (2) Strategic goals and messaging:  it might seem obvious to start here, but sometimes when I ask this question, the answer I get is, “One of our strategic goals is to do more communications.”  This is fine as a strategic goal, but communications are much more effective if they flow from and support the goals that have been set for the year.  So for instance, if one of your strategic goals is to increase the number of requests for information that go to the helpline, that should be incorporated into the content of all messages for the year.

(3) Subgroups:  There are communications that should go to everyone at the company, but employee risk is lumpy, meaning that there are some folks at the company who pose a higher risk than others.  You know who they are because you’ve done a risk assessment, whether formal or informal (I feel obligated to say that I recommend formal).  Based on the results of the risk assessment, extra communications should be targeted at those employee groups.

(4) Channels:  Once you know who needs to hear from C&E more frequently, you can figure out what communication channels are available at the company and which ones are most likely to be seen by your target subgroups.  For tech companies, the solution may be an electronic one, but for companies who can’t count on all of their employees having computer access or speaking fluent English, we have to get creative.

Diversifying C&E communications from more than just e-mail can be difficult, but the benefits from the increase in awareness from higher-risk subgroups are often worth the headache and the mental sweat.  (Much of the mental sweat will come from keeping messages concise but content-heavy, which will be the subject of a future post.)

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