Message not getting through? Maybe you’re not on the right channel

Beth Rafferty
August 14, 2020

“I didn’t hear about that.” A pretty innocuous statement, except when “that” is a time-sensitive employee message you posted in all the right places. How could they NOT have heard about it? As communicators, we advocate for multi-channel strategies to reach target audiences at multiple touchpoints.

Targeted email from HR? It’s usually a given for audiences who check email regularly.

Attention-grabbing headline on the HR portal? Check.

Engaging ad on the company’s intranet home page? Sure, if you can get it.

Video? Absolutely.

Pithy post on Yammer? Perhaps?

Postcard mailed to home? Often advisable, especially when you need to reach employees and family members (typically true with benefits and wellness communications).

Still, we find that employers often underestimate a singularly effective communication channel: the employee’s immediate boss. Research has long confirmed that managers are employees’ preferred source for work-related news. Even better, the manager is uniquely capable of putting messages in a context relevant to a particular employee or team. Credibility, relevance and a captive audience. What more could you ask of a communication channel?

We get it: asking people managers to take on yet another task, especially now, seems downright inconsiderate. But consider this:

This doesn’t have to involve PowerPoint. Think in terms of talking points. The fewer, the better.  Managers are already in touch with their teams regularly — via Zoom, conference call, email, text, video. For some essential workers, face-to-face communication is still feasible. Asking managers to address another topic during these exchanges is not unreasonable provided the add-on content is both brief and relevant to both the manager and employees. Establishing relevance in the fewest possible words is the challenge for us as communicators.

Managers are often asked about HR and other company developments anyway, so they are grateful when equipped to field questions effectively. Providing a few salient, well-timed talking points can actually improve a manager’s confidence, enhance their credibility and help build trust – all good things for employee engagement.

We’d never advocate for asking managers to become SMEs on something outside their domain. Instead, ask them to flag news that might otherwise get missed, and direct their team to the right place for full info. The ask isn’t, “Explain to your reports how the CARES Act impacts our 401(k).” It’s “Remind your reports 401(k) loan limits are easing up and to check out the details at [insert official channel].”

People managers are a highly effective channel to get employees’ attention. Let’s respect their influence and their time by helping them do it well.

Beth Rafferty
Communication Consultant
For more than 20 years, Beth has been helping HR teams communicate complex issues with simplicity and clarity.