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Six Tips to Get Started on Your Communication Strategy

Posted by Chip Abernathy Mar 25, 2014 12:49:00 PM

Illusion

THE SINGLE BIGGEST PROBLEM IN COMMUNICATION IS THE ILLUSION THAT IT HAS TAKEN PLACE.

-George Bernard Shaw

When you find a successful company, chances are you will find a well-executed internal communication strategy. When an employee values the benefits you provide, it’s because they have been told not only what they have, but when and how to use them.  

When companies don’t invest in effective communication, research has shown that they will be investing in bigger problems such as higher turnover, higher benefit costs, poor morale and confusion over how to use their benefits wisely.

So, what best practices should you consider as part of your communication strategy? Here are some tips to get you started. 

1. Identify your company’s communication goals.

Sounds so simple but take note, the very first thing your company needs to do is identify what is driving the need to communicate.  Are you trying to launch a new program, new benefits, increase participation, create awareness, etc? Is their change taking place?  What behaviors are you trying to change or drive?  

Once you understand your goals, figure out who it is that needs to receive the message. Determining your key stakeholders and how they need to do support the communication is critical to delivering effective communication. Think about what tools they need to support the communication.  It is important to make sure that everyone is on the same page, from leadership to HR reps to management.  Don’t be afraid to spell out everyone’s role in the communication process.

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2. Education is the key, it’s not just information!

Once you’ve determined what and why you need to communicate, you can begin to craft your message.  Often, a good place to start is by collecting and understanding key data. Look at relevant claims experience, exit interviews, FAQs from a call center, or participation rates. Any and all of this is helpful information to help set the context, provide the right level of detail and answer the right questions.  

Once you understand what the data is saying be sure you answer the following questions in every communication.  

Why is the change happening?

When is it happening?

What does the change mean to me?

How is the company supporting me?

Where can I get more information?

Clearly identify the key message you need to convey and please don’t make employees hunt for these key messages—put it at the top of the document or highlight it in the text.

And even if it is a bad news message, the same rule applies. But there is one more critical point, do not “spin” a bad news message. Your employees will see right through it. So, just like your mom said, the best policy is to always be honest. The reality is that when you don’t communicate the tough messages, the void will be filled by your employees guessing and speculating what is really happening.  Sharing tough messages honestly will help build trust within in the organization.

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3.  Set your success measures. 

How will you know that your communication was a success? Believe it or not, this step is the one that is often skipped. Unfortunately it is the only way to make sure you know you have successfully communicated to your employees.  We are often asked what can we measure?  You can measure a lot of things, and not all of them require a formal survey or company-wide focus groups. Some of the best measurements are often found in answers to employee surveys and tell you how the employee is feeling about your communication and the desired results.  Here are a few ideas on things to measure:

Participation rates

Utilization 

Biometrics results

Call center activity

Hits to a portal

Survey results

Focus groups

Etc.

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4.  Determine how you are going to deliver the message and elevate your brand

In today’s world, communication can be delivered in many ways.  The most important consideration is understanding the audience and how they best receive information.  Not all mediums are appropriate for all messages, and every group of employees is different. We have put together a list of various types of media and when to consider using each: 

Possible Media to Consider

Medium

When to Use

Email

Create awareness and take action

Posters

Create awareness, take action or build excitement

Fliers

Education, create awareness and take action

Videos

Create a call to action, provide context, educate, and show leader support

Newsletters

Education, provide details, change messages, reference

Post Cards

Awareness, take action

Portals

Resource and reference materials, not a call to action

Texting

Call to action

Social Media

Depends on the organization, but call to action, awareness

Face to Face

Education, change

Don’t forget, your brand is key.  Making sure your employees and prospective employees recognize your brand (and not an insurance carriers’ brand) is critical. 

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5. Develop a calendar

After you’ve hammered out all the details, you need to hash out a timeline or calendar for your benefit communication.  This is a crucial step to executing on your strategy.  Remember that your communication calendar is a living document.  It will change.  Keep it up to date and make sure your team and leadership know what is scheduled.

Unfortunately, most companies’ strategy begins and ends with Annual Enrollment.  While this time of year is critical, don’t let it be the only time you communicate.  Imagine if Apple only advertised the iPhone one month a year.  What if Nike just advertised during the summer? Schedule multiple touchpoints and then deliver.  Quickest way to lose your employees is to start communicating, then stop.  Stick to your calendar.

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6. Measure and Adapt

Lastly, you’ll need to measure how well your communication strategy is working. Of course, you can only do this after you’ve tried it out, so this step comes after some time. Still, you must be able to answer these important questions, many of which will require the use of Key Performance Indicators (KPIs).

How effective was your communication strategy? 

Did you get the results you were anticipating

Are you reaching your key stakeholders?  Dependents? 

Did you get the questions you were anticipating?

What went right?

Where can you improve?

Remember, communication is a process, not an event.  Your strategy is not chiseled in stone, and you should adjust as often as you get concrete results. So really, there’s no final step to developing your communication strategy. It’s just an ongoing circle of analysis and implementation that will help your company be effective on a long term scale. 

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The Touchpoints blog

Touchpoints was founded in 2009 by consultants with a combined 60 plus years of HR, employee benefit communication, organizational development and change management experience. Built on a foundation of best practices, we help our business clients take complex ideas, messages and programs, and make them easy to understand. We deliver sustainable, targeted, results-oriented communication.

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