Originally published in November 2021 by Ragan Consulting Group

While prioritizing your people might sound obvious, a new survey shows it’s harder than it looks.

Getting teams to read company or organizational updates is the biggest challenge facing communicators, according to Axios HQ, an internal communications platform owned by media company Axios.

“Less than half of employees feel informed about their company’s business goals,” write the authors of Axios HQ’s report, “The workplace communications crisis: Why internal communications aren’t working.”

The company’s findings are the result of two surveys of more than 400 people, one reflecting the views of communicators and corporate leaders, and another of employees. Axios readers and non-readers were included.

While 66% of communicators surveyed say they know what employees need, only 31% of employees believe so. Furthermore, 74% of communicators say their updates are concise and effective, compared to 40% of employees.

“Leaders are sharing an avalanche of information—mostly mostly ad hoc—but rarely have a feedback loop in place to know if their comms are effective,” write the report’s authors.

It seems no one is satisfied: While 45% of communicators say they don’t get enough feedback, 31% of employees say there’s no place to share it.

Rebecca Shaffer, managing partner at Ragan Consulting Group, says the communicator-employee gap is not surprising.

But, she offered a remedy.

“You can’t know what your employees think, feel and experience unless you ask them,” Shaffer says, noting that the employee engagement function has been elevated during the pandemic.

“Now that internal communicators have a seat at the table, it’s imperative to come to the table with actionable metrics, just like your colleagues in HR, IT, sales and marketing,” she says. “A comprehensive communications audit that draws from both qualitative and quantitative data will allow you to establish a baseline of employee sentiment so you can build an ongoing measurement plan to track progress.”

Then, moving forward, communicators can use pulse surveys to gauge attitudes.

“Like taking your pulse, the survey should take less than a minute,” Shaffer says. “If you launch a new comms tool like an intranet, employee app or internal newsletter, ask employees what they think in two to three questions.”

Audience-led, not leader-led

RCG advises clients to develop communications focused on what teams need to know and do, not what an executive wants to send an email.

“A great question to ask your leader is, ‘What would happen if we didn’t communicate this message?’” Shaffer says. “It’s staggering how often this causes pause, because so frequently leaders think their message is critical to all employees when really it may be for a targeted audience.”

Matt Burns, VP of communications at biotech company Grail, agrees. The issue with ad hoc messaging is leaders only think, “I need to communicate a piece of information,” says Burns in the Axios HQ report, not, ‘What is the employee experience that we’re creating with all of these little touchpoints?’”

In addition, corporate email often lacks a leadership perspective, contains confusing and opaque language, and is irrelevant to recipients, says Axios HQ. While 75% of communicators surveyed send monthly newsletters, 54% send weekly editions.

For their part, RCG consultants advise clients on how to turn their email ship around. For starters, they should treat subject lines like news headlines, write a newsworthy lede sentence, and provide all essential information in the first paragraph. Break up copy with bullets and subheads, too.

“We believe strongly in a weekly newsletter,” Shaffer says. “Don’t save your communications for one longer-length edition. It will inevitably be too overwhelming to truly digest it all. Train employees to look for that quick-hitting newsletter that comes on the same date and time each week.”

RCG specializes in corporate communications training, consulting and strategic counsel. Schedule a call with Tom Corfman to learn how we can help you improve your communications efforts. Follow RCG on LinkedIn here and subscribe to our weekly newsletter here.