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Decentralized Internal Communications Create Message Consistency Challenges

Each quarter, Mower hosts a conference call for employee communication professionals from companies throughout the U.S. We spend an hour talking about trends, challenges, opportunities, successes (or misses) and technologies. It is a safe environment where noncompetitive professionals can share best practices and ask for advice. A topic was brought up near the end of a recent call that could have filled the entire 60 minutes: the increasingly decentralized nature of employee communications.

The trend started to take root over the last couple of years, coinciding with the tight labor market that spurred employers to expand employee communications as part of their retention strategy. As companies saw the benefits of employee communications, especially content that was more personalized and less generic, the frequency and variety of communications accelerated. Messages and materials on a range of topics were sent to employees from many sources, including corporate communications, human resources, IT departments, the C-suite, business units and various other internal contributors.

In many ways, a greater degree of proactive employee communications has resulted in a higher level of engagement and retention, especially when it’s coupled with a good dose of listening. At the same time, this decentralized approach can lead to unintended consequences, from communications overload to misaligned messaging.

In an effort to eliminate these types of problems without discouraging specific groups from communicating with employees, one company recently formed a communications council that focuses solely on this issue. Comprised of 15 people from functional areas such as corporate communications, IT, HR, sales operations, consulting, support services, product development, marketing, legal, finance and business strategy, the council meets every other week.

While the council’s overarching goals include streamlining communications, ensuring message consistency and avoiding collisions among employee communication efforts, the group also looks to implement practical rules of the road. For example, one of its first actions was to agree there would be no more than three group emails distributed per day to employees (other than notes from their immediate departments). That step alone effectively eliminated the problem of too many communications. It also opened up the opportunity to communicate via alternate channels beyond email, such as posting on Yammer or within Salesforce Chatter.

Another early step the council has taken is to create a monthly employee communications calendar to guide proper timing of messaging and announcements. The calendar also identifies opportunities for synergy among departmental messages and initiatives. The council is currently working on a strategy that allows each group to craft its own communications while maintaining messaging consistency and compatibility, bringing a level of centralization to a decentralized function. To that end, new templates for content were recently launched, along with expanded access to the formatting email distribution tool, helping to ensure consistency in the way messages are presented and how they look.

We’re interested in hearing how other companies are handling their growing employee communication initiatives. If you’re interested in joining the next Mower employee communications forum, please email brye@mower.com.