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The Hidden Treasure of Employee Knowledge


Internal communication best practices Paul Barton Communications

Employees are an organization’s most valuable resource. It’s a simple, obvious statement, but it couldn’t be truer. The challenge for the internal communication professional is to facilitate communication not only between an organization’s leadership and its employees but to encourage them to share their vast reservoirs of institutional knowledge with each other.

To tap into this vast hidden knowledge treasure means going way beyond a top-down communications system. Internal communication professionals must make sure leaders are communicating clearly to their employees while also—and this is key—listening to their feedback. It is also imperative that the lines of communication within and between project teams, departments, and individual employees flourish.

Training Programs Fail to Tap Into Employee Knowledge

Look at traditional training programs. A recent study conducted by Speachme that surveyed more than 500 full-time employees at companies with 500 or more employees found that these expensive and time-consuming exercises more often than not fail to tap into the existing expertise of current employees.

“Today’s top-down approach to training is not effectively addressing the need to capture and transfer knowledge among peers,” said Speachme CEO Najette Fellache in a recent WorldatWork article. “We live in an age of user-generated content, but training programs are not tapping the opportunity for employee-generated content.”

Nearly half (47%) of those surveyed agreed that they could create better employee training content than that provided by the employer. Yet another 68% said they aren’t provided the tools they need to actually produce that content.

Internal Communications Must Facilitate the Conversation

It’s up to the internal communication professional to begin that conversation, to make sure there is an atmosphere of open communication that encourages the sharing of ideas and skills. Speachme found that 82% of employees share important information in person to their colleagues, so unless there are systems in place to capture these ideas, they could easily fall by the wayside.

A few things to keep in mind.

  • An old model with new technology is still an old model. Just because an organization uses the latest technology doesn’t mean it’s actually listening to its employees. A CEO webcast that doesn’t have a built-in way to collect meaningful feedback or an intranet filled with management information that doesn’t allow for peer-to-peer information sharing and collaboration are still top-down systems.
  • Two monologs don’t make a dialogue. If feedback mechanisms aren’t integrated into all communication processes and if the feedback collected isn’t meaningful to the organization’s leaders, then a dialogue isn’t really happening.
  • Employees want to talk to each other. In the Speachme survey, 68% of respondents said they weren’t trained by the individuals they were replacing, while 49% of employees have never trained their replacements. Add to that the 61% who noted that they’ve seen a colleague leave the organization with institutional knowledge or skills that were never documented, and you’re looking at an almost incomprehensible amount of information and talent that is wasted.

Employees also said they want to be recognized for their skills and expertise in ways that go beyond compensation, such as receiving more responsibilities and having the opportunity to share their knowledge by leading training sessions.

If Organizations Only Knew What They Knew

Organizations that encourage communication between all levels are by far the most successful. As Speachme’s Fellache said, “The insights we gained from today’s worker show that a bottom-up approach to capturing the skills and knowledge of employees and transferring it to others not only benefits the company’s knowledge base but results in better-informed workers.”

Employees are an organization’s most valuable resource. A little communication facilitation could yield big results.

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Don’t Just Tell It, Sell It! Marketing Employee Benefits

The following is a transcript of an interview by World at Work TV with Paul Barton on internal communications best practices and how to connect with employees when communicating employee benefits.

Paul Barton Communications Benefits Workshop
Welcome to WorldatWorkTV. I’m Alison Avalos, and I’m joined today by Paul Barton, author of Maximizing Internal Communication Strategies to Turn Heads When Hearts Engage Employees and Get Results.

Q: So Paul, first talk about why it’s important for benefits communicators to use a marketing approach.

A: Well it turns out that if we’re communicating to inform-that is, to impart information-we’re really not communicating. Communication is really about changing attitudes, changing beliefs, changing perceptions. It’s about inspiring employees. And we can do that best with a marketing approach because marketing helps shape perceptions.

Q: You talk about winning hearts, not just winning minds. Talk a little bit about that and why it’s important.

A: Logic helps us to think, but it’s our emotions that cause us to get up out of the chair and take action. And we’re asking employees to take action, to sign up for plans, to increase their contributions, to pay more attention. So it turns out that an approach that deals with emotion works better.

Q: You talk about communication without an ‘s’ and communications with an ‘s’. What’s the distinction there?

A: When we talk about communications with an ’s’, our focus is really on all the individual pieces that we’re sending out – how many e-mails you send out, how many posts to the internet. When we talk about communication without the ’s’, our focus is more about getting through to people as opposed to just sending things out. It causes us to focus more on outcomes rather than on outputs.

Q: So do benefits communicators have more success in trying to change these behaviors of employees when they focus on communication versus that package of communications, or is it a dual effort?

A: Well you want to start with a strategy and then the tactics will follow. So the more important your strategies are, the better your tactics will be.

Paul Barton Communications Employee Benefits MarketingQ: So how about some of the technology used in the benefits communications space?

A: Well the world is portable now, and so we need to be portable too. And it also turns out that unlike other forms of information, you don’t really care about benefits until you need them, and then you really care about them. So you need to be able to access that information at the doctor’s office while you’re sitting there through an app on the phone.

Q: So the million dollar question: What does perfect communication look like?

A: Well it turns there are really three things that you want to hit to be perfect. If you hit one you’re doing good, if you hit two you’re doing great, and if you hit all three you’re perfect. So the first thing you want to do is touch the heart – emotional. The second thing you want to do is to be novel – something that’s new. And the third thing is to be memorable, with memorable and great content.

Q: So Paul, you mentioned the need to make an emotional connection when you’re communicating. Give us some examples.

A: Well I think a 401(k) plan is a good example. Just the name itself is from an IRS tax code, and that doesn’t really explain much to people. It often sounds something far away and — stocks and Wall Street — it doesn’t sound like a personal connection. And we get caught up in plan design, and it’s easy to talk about compounding interest and so forth. And those are all good things to talk about — to inform people — but to really drive them to action we need to hit to the emotional side. So for one thing we can rename them and call them things like “savings plans” that speak more to the person rather than these abstract numbers, and we can really talk about-instead of just the numbers-we can go a step further and talk about how it provides safety and security for you, the employee, and your family for the future, and then you’re starting to speak to the heart. And when you speak to the heart, people will listen with their hearts.

Q: So Paul, what are the risks if an organization doesn’t follow those recipes for success in terms of these three key ingredients with being emotional and making that emotional connection, being novel, and being memorable?

A: Your communication won’t be as effective as they otherwise could. In this day and age we’re just bombarded with information. Before we even get to work we must see a million messages. So you run the risk of just being tuned out.

Alison: Thanks, Paul. From World at Work TV, I’m Alison Avalos.


Other Resources

You can read more about internal communication best practices and communicating employee benefits in Maximizing Internal Communication.