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1 Small Way to Improve Employee Communication (That Makes a Big Difference)

Employees say their companies often get this wrong. Here’s how to make it right.

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BY Alison Davis - 22 Sep 2017

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Ask employees what they would like to change about internal communication, and one factor always makes the top of the list: timing.

According to employees, companies get timing wrong in two ways. First, some information is shared too early. For example, employees say:

  • "Information Technology informs me about a systems change months before the change occurs. When communication is too early, I just ignore it."
  • "It's great to get a heads up, but quite frankly, I'm much more likely to pay attention if something is coming up next week, not next year."

The second timing mistake that companies make is communicating too late. Employees say:

  • "Tell us about things as they happen, not days or weeks later."
  • "Provide information in a timelier manner. Many we hear it through the grapevine before leaders share the news."
  • "If it's information that impacts employees, share it with us earlier, so that we have a base of knowledge before the news goes public. That way, we sound more knowledgeable when talking with customers."

Of course, employees pay attention to what and how you communicate. But in this information-overloaded world, increasingly employees care about when they receive critical information. Their preference? Information that's delivered "just in time"--right when they need to act and before hearing it from external sources.

Here are five simple ways to improve the timing of internal communication:

  1. Set guidelines that govern timing. It's exhausting (and unproductive) if you have to figure out timing every time you need to share information. Best-practice companies set guidelines for how to manage timing. For example, if information is simply FYI, and if the news doesn't affect anyone's job for months, then the communication waits until later. Or here's another guideline: When the news has a significant impact on employees, the message is shared right before or at the same time as external communication.
  2. Plan ahead. It's true that surprises come up, but 80% of what you need to communicate is expected. So there's no excuse not to communicate with enough time for people to take action--but not too early that they file it for later and forget about it. Be sure to keep holidays and weekends in mind.
  3. Focus on what employees need to do--and when they need to do it. Make sure you understand how employees will experience information--and when they need to take action. When do employees need a heads up? When do they really need to start paying attention? When are deadlines they need to meet?
  4. Emphasize dates and deadlines. When it's time for employees to do something, let them know! Be sure to include a deadline and enough time for them to complete it.
  5. Provide updates. Create and follow a communication timeline to notify employees when more information will be available--even if it's an estimate (e.g., "shortly" or "within a few weeks"). Try sending a series of short, targeted messages just in time.

These small changes will make a big impact on how satisfied employees are with communication.

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