I’ve been involved in a lot of sophisticated internal communication audits and employee engagement surveys over the years and I believe they can yield great insights. But there’s another method I’ve found to be effective at uncovering what employees think that doesn’t cost a dime – stop, look and listen. Yes, good old-fashioned observation is still a great but often underutilized way for internal communications professionals and others to gather valuable feedback.
You can stop, look and listen anywhere employees gather and talk about workplace issues. I’ve learned a lot observing in the employee cafeteria and by hanging out for a few minutes in an employee break room. In these and other places you can hear what topics bring pride and enthusiasm to employees, what is being said about leadership, and what employees think about major projects and change initiatives. You can hear the joys, frustrations, complaints and the latest rumors.
One of my favorite places to gather information was riding the crew shuttle buses for the two airlines I worked for. It was on one of those trips that I discovered how confused employees were regarding the company’s decision to begin adding Airbus aircraft to our previously all Boeing fleet. With this knowledge, we were able to clarify our messaging on the issue over the next few weeks through industry news items in our daily e-letter and by addressing it head on in our monthly CEO webinar.
Another great place to gather anecdotal feedback is by visiting various departments and observing. You’ll want to make such visits as informal as possible or combine your observation with other routine business so as not to cause those you’re observing to behave differently. Check out how communication is taking place within the workgroup. How are employees getting information? Does the workgroup leadership hold team meetings and if so where are the leader deriving their content for the meetings? Does the department produce its own newsletter or have its own intranet site? Does the workgroup have its own Yammer group? Are your internal communication channels getting through as intended?
In one such departmental visit I discovered our hardcopy employee newsletter didn’t fit in the employee mailboxes and therefore wasn’t being distributed. In another instance, I found out that employees in several departments weren’t listening to our podcasts and webinars because they didn’t have sound cards installed on their desktops.
This type of anecdotal feedback is an inexpensive and easy way to gather qualitative data, and it is a great way for internal communication professionals to get a feel for how their messages are being received, if communication channels are functioning properly, if there are credibility gaps between employees and leaders, and if the internal communication function is perceived as providing value to the organization.
Of course, such anecdotal feedback is not statistically valid, but it can help you to gain perspective and context, which in turn helps you to devise more effective communication strategies and craft more impactful messages. You also may uncover issues that you want to follow-up on with a focus group or you may decide you want to dig deeper into the issue with a survey to learn more.
So take some time to stop, look and listen. You just may discover your next communication breakthrough.
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