Airing of the Comms Grievances

Airing of the Comms Grievances

Last updated on January 17, 2022 at 10:48 pm

One of the most memorable holiday-themed TV shows is Seinfeld’s Festivus episode. I particularly think of the airing of the grievances. I wonder if we get our gripes from 2021 into the universe, will we be able to put our frustration behind us and focus on the opportunity that lies ahead? I’ve always believed that good can (and should) come from every challenge as long as we can focus on solutions instead of dwelling on the problems. So I’m going to “air my comms grievances” and share my hopes and opportunities for internal communications in 2022.

Grievance 1: Everything is Changing, Yet Nothing is Changing

Remember this time last year when we were all talking about life post-pandemic? Me too. And yet here we are still very much in the midst of the pandemic. And while our frustrations may continue over the constant change to health orders, vaccine mandates, and new variants, we have to take a deep breath and realize we need to adapt and adjust.

Change will remain constant and our focus needs to be on effectively communicating that change throughout our organizations to reduce as much confusion and frustration as possible for the employees we’re here to support. 

I recommend that you check your 2022 strategy to make sure change management is listed as a process area to evaluate. While communicators haven’t traditionally owned this in many organizations, we have the insight, skills, and passion to make a real impact on how our organizations work through change. 

Grievance 2: Nobody Reads Our Communication!

At one time or another we’ve had the “why doesn’t anyone read our communication?!” moment, and I get it. We work hard to craft thoughtful, well-written communication, and if people would just read it, everything would go according to plan. But the reality is that some people don’t read or may never read your messages because it’s just not important to them.

You read that right. I didn’t say they don’t have time, I said it’s not important

There is a lot going on in people’s lives these days, and we are competing with more communication than ever before. That means people are prioritizing what they choose to invest time on. In turn, we need to prioritize what we ask employees to focus on. While I’m a firm believer in communicating the “why” in all messages to employees, sometimes the “what” is enough. 

A best practice I used at Chipotle was to introduce the communication with a couple sentences then write “TAKE ACTION” and bullet out the things that needed to be done. I would usually follow that with the “why all this is important” paragraph or maybe even do a podcast or video to help deliver that information. But the point was, if all the employee read was the bulleted list, I was confident they could effectively execute the task, and, therefore, my communication was effective.

So, when you create your year-end wrap up video or release your 2022 company-wide strategic initiatives, make sure you lead with what is going to be important to the employees you’re communicating with. What does this mean for them? How will this impact them? What is expected of them? Then add the “what this means for our team and organization.”

Grievance 3: Managers Don’t Support Our Communication

Where is one place communication goes to die within any organization? The cascade to mid-level managers. We know how critical managers are to the success of an organization. They will inspire, align, manage, and hold accountable our essential frontline workforce and yet we blame them for poor communication, which leads to lower levels of success. If there is one thing you take away from this blog, please let it be that managers aren’t bad communicators because they are trying to be, it’s because they’ve likely never been taught how to communicate effectively.

In most organizations, mid-level managers are promoted into leadership positions because they are best at the job they were hired for, not because they have excellent leadership and communication skills. The time that is invested in teaching those soft skills to mid level managers will directly correlate to their long term success. Let’s spend less time complaining about the lack of communication our mid-level managers do and more time teaching them how to be great communicators. Hint: this includes providing frontline managers with the right tools and resources to communicate effectively.

Grievance 4: Our Email Open Rate Increased!

Can this be the last year we focus our time and attention on how many people opened a piece of content and start measuring what an employee did, said, though, or felt as a result of engaging with that content? Please!?

I’m not suggesting that you shouldn’t look at vanity metrics like clicks and opens. But for the love of comms, don’t stop there. Imagine if you walked into the boardroom this year and followed up that pie chart of open rates with “and that employee engagement led to a 10% increase in our September safety metrics.” We can do that. We can take our data and correlate it to real business results!

Focus on Solutions

Phew—I feel better! Getting all that off my chest so I can start focusing on solutions feels damn good. And I recommend you all take an hour to do the same. But don’t be too hard on yourself or your team. You just navigated the second (insert broadcast reporter voice) “unprecedented year, living in the new normal,” and you’re coming out stronger, more experienced, and hopefully motivated to make big impacts in the new year. 

But there’s one little thing—you can’t do it alone. You have to work with other stakeholders in the organization and ask them what activation they expect to see as a result of the communication you’re crafting for them. And if they can’t give you an answer, and you can’t find one on your own that relates to business goals, then push back on the necessity for the communication.

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