Our conversation started with a client confession: “This is a %$&# boring topic and employees aren’t paying attention.” It was our first conversation with this particular company, but not the first time we had helped someone address the issue.
It’s a common dilemma. Employees need to know and follow a variety of processes and rules: Data security. Policy changes. Ethics and legal compliance issues. Financial regulations. For many employees, these topics – critical as they are – carry the same appeal as a cereal bowl full of sawdust. And given this age of information overload and perpetual time-crunches, topics like these are too often ignored.
It can be tempting to jump into a resource-intensive solution to capture employees’ attention. Our client in this situation was dancing down the road of gamification and giveaways. But those approaches don’t guarantee awareness or compliance. And they certainly don’t come cheap.
Engaging and educating employees can be as simple as going back to basic communication principles that treat employees like the adults they are. Before you launch a million-dollar internal campaign, try one of these five approaches:
1. Use the KISS principle.
When your subject is so important it comes with legal, regulatory and employment consequences, it can be tempting to immerse employees in every microscopic detail. Keep in mind, however, most people simply want to understand what is expected, along with a quick, easy path to achieve whatever it is the company needs them to do (e.g., sign an ethics policy, complete an e-learning module, etc.). Sometimes your best approach is to Keep It Simple, Silly.
2. Put a human face on it.
One great way to breathe life into a dry strategy is to profile an employee who plays a pivotal role in its success. Use an interview-style approach to share a bit about the person’s background and a tale or two about the types of issues they encounter on the job. You’ll find that employees are naturally drawn to stories about their co-workers and appreciate learning about other functions, teams and roles. We once used this approach with a customs compliance manager and achieved a 400% spike in readership while also sparking a robust online dialogue among employees about compliance.
3. Start a conversation.
Topics of this nature tend to have a senior leader responsible for driving awareness and compliance. Use this to your advantage – encourage the executive to hold town-hall style meetings where employees can ask questions and gain better context. If your employees are geographically dispersed, use technology (e.g., video conferencing, satellite broadcasts, online forums) to close the gap. If time zones and native languages are an issue, be sure the event is transcribed, translated and sent to all relevant audiences.
4. Target your audience.
It might be easy for Chris the customer service rep to brush off an all-employee reminder to keep important information confidential. It’s harder for Chris to ignore when you explain exactly which types of documents he touches are confidential, how to handle them properly and the consequences for not following the guidelines. Make the information personally relevant, so each employee can apply it to his/her unique role and responsibilities.
5. Paint the picture.
As communications professionals, we tend to fall in love with the written word. However, your employees are not only busy, they may learn better through other forms of communication. Consider using imagery – infographics, flow charts, decision trees – to help tell the story and make an impression on your key audiences. If you’re communicating a complex process that’s likely to come up frequently, place the picture or chart on a handy pocket guide or wallet card for your employees.
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