The Achilles Heel of any organisational culture is communication. I work inside local, regional and continental businesses – and my diagnostic interventions highlight this time and again. 

This seems strange when you consider the exponential growth of channels now open to employers and their employees. Whatsapp, Yapster, Live Chat, Google Hangouts, Skype, Zoom etc. Part of the problem is remembering where you spoke to whom, and about what!

On the plus side, we are no longer reliant on the hateful medium of email. I chose that adjective deliberately because I observe the misery that email creates in the lives of employees. Unless we are superlative writers, acutely aware of tonality, our emails can be counterproductive. Whether using capitals for emphasis or profane language to intimidate (you’d be surprised how often I see both), or you simply write for yourself rather than the recipient. 

Another missing element in modern employee communication is the ability to persuade the recipient. Almost all internal communication is ‘For information’. Once the writer has pressed the send key they can metaphorically brush their hands and move on to the next task. They think: ‘ I have told them. So now they know.’ Nothing could be further from the truth. Staff are already overloaded with messages 24 hours a day through multiple channels. So they just don’t notice.

‘For information’ no longer works. So now we must work on persuasion. Taking a few moments to lay out a simple case that makes sense to the recipient and inspires the right emotional response. Using this combination of logic and relevant emotion is not new to us. We use it daily in our family relationships. We are unconsciously adept at communicating in different ways to children, spouses, siblings and seniors.  We know what works with whom, because we are interested in what the recipient receives, and the response that it motivates. We also know that in 8 conversations out of 10 it is emotion that wins the day. 

But in the working environment, it seems that addressing bigger audiences persuasively requires too much of an effort. We don’t know how to care enough about bigger groups, how to demonstrate sufficient interest in our recipients to make internal communications relevant. We don’t consider their state of mind, their workload, or the time of day they’ll receive our message.

Ironically, successful brands have been working on relevance for more than 100 years. Understanding mass audiences and finding ways to make messages persuasive and motivating for them. Marketers don’t just say ‘For Information’ because they know their message will be ignored. Internal communicators could learn about persuasion from their Marketing colleagues.

Chris Harrison’s book ‘Marketing Medicine’ is now available from Text Book Centre.

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