Helping Employees ‘Get’ Your Message Through Effective Writing


I recently ran a writing workshop for a group of internal communication ‘power’ users and came away with a lot of interesting insights.

As an internal communication professional I get to vet messages hitting large groups of people everyday. These range from simple office updates to complex change management roll-outs. With the speed at which communication is expected to be churned out, many of these communicators hurriedly prepare drafts that fail to address the essence of what they want to convey. I therefore felt a need to educate communicators on ways to reduce rework, improve recall, build credibility, shorten turnaround time and increase readability.

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The workshop shared context on best practices, trends, templates, tools, the ‘Twitter’ style of communicating, web writing techniques and hands-on exercises. As business consultants we are expected to communicate effectively using this widely accepted language though it isn’t our mother tongue in India. Research also indicates the benefits of effective writing in reducing ‘info-obesity’. On an average a professional worker receives close to 178 messages in a day and this is known to increase by 2% every month! By using plain language techniques we can reduce writing and reading time by 25% and 50% respectively.

I found participants eager to learn this critical skill that focuses on the reader’s expectation.

Here is a sample of the questions that were posed during the session.

a) How can we be sure employees are getting the message?

b) Do we consider cultural nuances when we write our messages?

c) E-mail writing and etiquette – what works for personal vs official communication?

d) How do we respond to someone who is ‘flame baiting’ on e-mail?

e) When do we not send an e-mailer?

Strangely, most never measured their communication nor were aware of ways to do so. Some weren’t aware of how to ‘touch’ employees via other forums apart from e-mail. Also the ‘mechanism of communication’ was barely understood by writers – i.e., the process, the steps to review and edit messages. Testing messages, such an important piece of creating communication is rarely used.

My goal is to increase the pool of ‘internal’ writers and excite them to participate in larger company-wide communication. In the long run, I believe it will result in better quality of communication and greater visibility for those employees as well.

Who wouldn’t want to communicate with people who write well?

Are you Embracing ‘Employee-Led’ CSR and Communication?


‘A small favor’ said the subject line. An e-mail winged in from a motivated employee calling interested individuals to chip in aid of the victims of the worst floods South India has seen in decades. The mail goes on to articulate the project, the effort, the expectation, the plan and people involved. Right down to the finer points of how ‘aerial surveys’ and ‘fund transfer’ can get done online on the website. What was interesting about this initiative was the passion and creativity which the mailer communicated. All within a span of a few days – the floods situation worsened in the last week or so.

I am sure most organizations would love to have something so well thought through and ‘employee-led’.

Beware

Beware

 The recent NASSCOM Foundation report ‘Catalyzing Change 2008-2009, Towards Inclusive Growth’ however points to a maturity model that highlights ‘engaging employees’ but does not call out ‘supporting employee-led initiatives’. Out of the 6 factors in the model only one relates to employees, the rest focus on funding, policies, interventions, and domain expertise and resource allocation.

Interestingly, out of the total of 42 large Indian companies who participated in the survey only half have a full fledged group or resources driving the agenda, only 26% have a structured CSR policy in place and 29% have a sustainable model for CSR.

For many companies, contributing to corporate social responsibility can pull them in many different avenues. What constitutes CSR and who owns it is still a grey area in organizations. One of my students raised this pertinent question – was it HR, the CEO, the Communications team, a dedicated group or external agencies who championed CSR? As far I know companies which truly believe and practice what they preach a dedicated resource or a group of individuals manage this very vital function in the organization. In some cases, a core team from various functions come together to jointly run the program. I have seen the latter run well only when it is ‘employee-led’ and ‘enabled’ by the business. Without a strong commitment from the leadership employees often see these initiatives as eyewash.

In the October 5 edition of Business World, one consultant puts it aptly – ‘it has to be seen in a value framework that determines the way the organization works.’ Otherwise it is a ‘ritualistic undoing of guilt’!

As an internal communications professional I have driven and closely supported large scale CSR interventions and employee volunteering initiatives in the organizations I have worked for. Apart from the immense impact it has on employee engagement the sense of belonging and team spirit such programs create is enriching. Unfortunately, very often communication professionals are involved too little or too late in the overall scheme of things.

Like the example above, oganizations can tap and channelize energies on key initiatives that are close to employees’ hearts and have a relevance to the business and their existence.

With the changing new media environment where collaboration and equal involvement are key factors, partnering with your employees’ CSR beliefs is most conducive for a better world.