Just about every organisation I know has groups of employees that are hard to reach, so as an internal communications professional you are not alone. But who are these groups?
Their exact make-up will vary from organisation to organisation, but there are some characteristics that we can all identify with.
Many of these groups are hard to reach out to because they are not desk-based, so don’t have the same access to computers and online modes of communication; these can include nurses, healthcare workers, shop managers, drivers and frontline service delivery staff.
There are others who are geographically hard to get to, either due to time zone differences or simply other locations in the UK and even home-workers who are not on the spot in one of your offices.
Finally, I think it is important to think about those groups who are distant because of the organisational culture, those who want to be different and don’t want to be reached.
“If someone can do it, anyone can do it”
Take heart. These audiences might be hard for you to connect with, but someone will be reaching out to them – there is no such thing as no communication. This could be their peers, a local manager, even the media. The key for us as internal communicators is to identify what is working for the people who are getting through to them and look at ways to use those characteristics.
So what are my top tips?
#1 Understand their perspective
In my experience, most people just want to be understood. By getting out and about, meeting people and listening to what it is like to be them, you can get a sense of the things that push their buttons and mean something to them. As communicators, we are trained to ask good questions, so we can get to the heart of what is going on. Sometimes, just the act of trying to understand can in itself be very powerful.
And acknowledging their difficulties goes a long way too – “we know that as you are based in a different time zone to the rest of us you have had to get up really early to attend this video conference and we appreciate that you have made the effort to do that”.
#2 Create trust
There are a number of elements here. First is the obvious – but often forgotten, overlooked or ignored – question of being open, honest and authentic. Just because these groups are further away, either literally or figuratively, doesn’t mean that you can fob them off or keep things from them. And sometimes, the best thing to do is simply say “I don’t know”. Your people will respect that honesty and trust you far more because of it.
Providing trusted information sources and empowering local leaders and change agents to use them is also important. If they know there is a website, for example, where they can get the latest, up-to-date, accurate information about something and that they are allowed to talk to their colleagues about what it means for them, that is a powerful motivator to take local responsibility. Whilst largely staying true to the key messages.
#3 Find local people and channels
Express your communication objectives as the difference this is going to make to the organisation or to local teams. Then find the people that your hard to reach audiences do listen to and help them to get the messages across and facilitate local conversations.
Build networks of local contacts that can help you and each other to ease the flow of information and conversation around your organisation. As the role of the internal communicator changes, with more and more people generating their own content, these networking and connecting skills will become ever more important to the success of your organisation.
It is very easy for us to over-complicate and over-compensate when trying to reach these groups – looking for the perfect channel or the perfect message to get through to them. But keeping it simple, going back to the basics of understanding your audience, listening and looking at what works for them, is often the best way to go.
How do you reach your hard to reach groups? I’d love to hear about the things that work for you.
Until next time