5 Ways HR Can Combat Communication Overload in the Age of Digital Transformation

Digital Transformation HR Management & Compliance

There’s a scene in the movie Bruce Almighty in which Jim Carrey’s character, stepping in to play God, hears the prayers of thousands of people all at once. Overwhelmed by the noise, he handles it in the most efficient way possible: a “reply all” e-mail. As you might expect, chaos ensues in a flood of unintended consequences.


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Employees today face a similar information overload, made exponentially worse by the COVID-19 pandemic. Even before the crisis, research from International Data Corporation (IDC) found that U.S. employees received more than 576 billion e-mails a year.

Combined with Slack notifications, text messages, and video chats, this avalanche creates an overwhelming amount of noise that makes it virtually impossible to discern what’s important and requires action. As a result, employees handle it in the most efficient way possible: by ignoring about 40% of e-mails and using filters to trash some 34 billion without even reading them.

That’s a huge problem for organizations when it comes to strategic communication. The pandemic has drastically accelerated digital transformation with a massive shift to remote operations. And it will be nearly impossible to backpedal from this environment. Now that we’ve gone fully digital and remote practically overnight, employees will expect this as the new norm, and from here on out, change will happen faster. That means our reliance on digital communication will grow, and the noise will only get worse.

To combat the information overload, ensure critical messages get through, and drive the desired employee behavior, HR teams must implement clearer, more effective communications. Here are five key strategies for success:

  1. Create relevant, targeted messages. There’s no way to avoid the noise, and you can’t just send fewer messages, but creating more personalized, targeted messages can help cut through the clutter. IDC’s research identified several key characteristics that are essential for successful communication. Among the top three, it found localization and audience segmentation to be critical. Considering the unique characteristics of your audience—both demographically and based on their roles within the organization—and creating messages based on these details, HR can craft messages that resonate and elicit the desired response.
  2. Be clear in your “call to action.” IDC found that there’s a clear disconnect in how senders and receivers interpret messages. Employers desire some action from about one-third of messages they send, but employees believe 45% of messages they receive require some action. That means employees are over-investing their time in a large portion of communication, and senders don’t always get the result they desire. To solve that problem, be clear in what you expect receivers to do based on your message. This helps employees prioritize their response and take appropriate action.
  3. Create communication experiences instead of just individual messages. No single message will drive the change you expect. Instead, effective messages must be part of a larger story or series; otherwise, with no reinforcement, they’ll likely just be dismissed as unimportant. In fact, employees anticipate that 60% of messages are part of a series, even though only 40% actually are, which means you’re missing a valuable opportunity to connect the dots and reinforce the change you want to see. Building momentum and connection by guiding employees on a communication journey can improve their understanding and motivation.
  4. Don’t assume send = success. Most senders assume that message delivery equals communication success, creating a false sense of security that messages are getting through and that employees are engaged. The reality is that success lies with the recipient and how he or she perceives and responds to your message. And, there’s a significant gap between perception and reality: IDC’s report found that, even for something critical regarding security, 100% of messages were considered successful by the sender, but receivers acted on only 56%. On the other hand, only 26% of onboarding messages were considered successful by the sender, while recipients took action on 65%. To accurately measure communication success, HR must focus on whether the recipient acted appropriately as a result and progressed as expected.
  5. Measure and iterate. The only way to know what’s working to cut through the noise is to measure impact and performance and adjust as needed based on hard data. As we move forward navigating the “new normal,” measuring sentiment, alignment on goals, and adoption of new behaviors will be critical. When we’re working together in the office, it’s easier to see who may not be onboard with change or understand the “why,” but with employees working remotely, it’s harder to identify those deficits and risky to assume anything. It’s easy to become overwhelmed by data, so start incrementally. Measure sentiment and response on a single message or short series, then dive into the results for different audiences, groups, or roles. Start small, tackle gaps strategically, and don’t try to solve the whole problem at once.

During the initial onset of the COVID-19 situation, everyone essentially tuned out everything except the crisis communications. But as we transition to the next phase, that uniting theme will slowly start to slip away as employees adapt to the new reality. That means cutting through the noise with strategic messages is going to be harder than ever.

HR can play a critical role in pivoting communications strategy to succeed in this new environment. By implementing a sound program that personalizes the experience for employees and clarifies expectations, measuring what really matters, and adapting based on data, HR teams can help their companies navigate the new normal and drive employee behavioral changes that determine future success.

Keith Kitani is the CEO and cofounder of GuideSpark and brings over 20 years of digital communications and eLearning expertise to creating, building, and leading GuideSpark as it transforms workplace communications. Kitani’s career has been focused on building companies that develop digital solutions to connect people and information. He and his cofounders created GuideSpark to bring technology and innovative content together in a way that transforms employee communications, leading GuideSpark into a team of nearly 300 professionals and serving 650 customers including 20% of the Fortune 500.

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