The key to communicating big change? Know your audience!
During a big change initiative, you work hard to communicate with employees: posting web content, sending emails and organizing leader town hall meetings. But despite your best efforts, change communication often fails to capture employees’ attention, so they aren’t fully engaged.
As one communicator put it, “We spend a lot of time communicating to our employees so they understand what’s changing. But only a very few actually read the materials.”
To break through the barriers, start by leveraging a core strategy used by leading consumer product companies like PepsiCo, L’Oréal and Nestlé. These marketers spend a great deal of time analyzing consumer demographics, which are defined as “the characteristics of human populations and population segments, especially when used to identify consumer markets.”
Understand your audience
In the same way that marketers and advertisers use demographics to understand their customers’ habits, internal communicators can use them to better understand employees’ needs.
By putting the power of employee demographics to work, you’ll gain insight into almost every aspect of what employees prefer, from which internal communication channels they like to use to the types of interactions that engage them the most.
Whether focusing on a change initiative or not, every internal communicator should have employee details that answer questions like these:
• How many locations does the company have?
• What is the average tenure?
• What are our key job categories?
• Do employees have access to communication tools?
• What percentage of employees work in manufacturing, sales, and office positions?
The best source for employee demographic information is Human Resources (HR) since many HR organizations have an HR information or payroll system that captures essential data about employees.
Potential demographic categories are almost limitless but don’t get overwhelmed by the possibilities. Begin by focusing on three key areas:
· Geography: Location, location, location. When it comes to how employees experience communication, geography is an important factor. For example, employees in remote locations often feel more out of the loop than those at headquarters.
· Tenure/Length of service: Some organizations have employees who stay at the company for decades. Others — in retail and food-service, for instance — have very high attrition, with an annual turnover of 80% or higher. Tenure has implications for how much employees understand the company.
· Access to technology: This is a new and important data point in our age of email, social tools, and intranets. Do employees have regular access to the communication tools we create — either on desktop computers or mobile devices?
You probably noticed that the essential demographics I noted don’t include age. While generational cohorts (Baby Boomers, Gen Xers, Millennials, Gen Zers) are often used to categorize the general population, my experience has been that employees across a company have similar communication needs and preferences — independent of their ages.
Of course, there may be times when it’s appropriate to segment by age, such as when communicating topics that employees experience differently based on how old they are — like retirement planning. But for most change communication, the other demographics will be more relevant.
Use the demographics you gather to develop tools that can deepen your understanding of the different employee groups you need to engage. Two good ones to start with are demographic maps and audience profiles.
A demographic map includes data like geographic locations and/or types of locations (e.g., office, manufacturing, remote home office, etc.). Not only can it help you understand where employees are located but also what the different types of employees are in your organization (e.g., office workers, manufacturing, remote workers), which will provide insights into how various employees will experience the change.
Audience profiles are a collection of demographics and associated facts about key employee subgroups (think people managers, sales representatives, operations employees). Developing profiles will help you view the change from the perspective of different employee groups so you’ll better understand how to engage them in the change.
Focus on the impact
Once you understand your company’s demographics in general, focus on this important factor: the impact of the change.
Every change will impact different groups of employees differently. Some may affect almost every employee, such as the rollout of a new self-service HR system. Other changes may only directly impact a particular group of employees — consider how office-based employees might feel about a change to the bring-your-own-device (BYOD) policy compared to manufacturing employees.
Mapping the impact will help you understand how the change will affect different employee groups. This technique — also known as segmenting — helps you ensure that your change communication engages employee groups appropriately based on their needs.
Once you’ve mapped the impact of the change by group, identify what each group needs to know and do differently for the change to be successful. Be as specific as possible.
For instance, using the new HR system example, all employees need to understand how to use the system for goal-setting plans and updates, while managers also need to know how to approve the plans and check progress for their team members, as well as run reports. And HR professionals will need to know all that, plus how to train others to use the system.
As you look at the impact for each group, you may find it helpful to further divide some groups into subgroups.
Again, using the HR system example, you may want to break “managers” into “people managers” (who will need to know how to work with their teams’ information in the system) and “other managers” (who may only need to understand how to manage their own information and run some select reports).
After you’ve divided employees into groups based on impact, you can create internal communication materials that speak to each of these groups, such as Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) or high-touch experiences to help employees build deep knowledge and embrace change.
When you understand your company’s employee demographics and segment employee groups by impact, you can create change communication that engages your diverse workforce by moving from messages that are high level (and ignored by most employees) to information that is specific and actionable.
Find out more
For more information on how to successfully engage diverse employees during a big change, check out our latest e-book, Change communication made easy: How to help employees embrace change. You’ll learn how to drive awareness and motivate employees to get on board with the change.