Originally published in the Boulder Daily Camera and the Longmont Daily Times-Call.

I know you believe you understand what you thought you heard me say, but I’m not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant. Got it?

This type of communication is common. It’s particularly prevalent with internal communication efforts.  While most organizations focus on external communication, what we say and how we say it internally is critical to the successful functioning of our businesses.  So why don’t we focus on this more often?

External communication focuses on activities such as marketing, advertising, public relations, investor relations and community relations. Whole departments, teams and consultants are paid to address topics such as key audience identification, research, content development, design and optimum delivery platforms.

Internal communication seldom sees the same attention or effort. This results in confusion, lack of productivity, lower achievement and often low morale.

The fact is that employees hold the key to the success of any enterprise. They are frequently first line ambassadors, innovators, leaders and decision makers. Failure to plan for effective communication with this key audience is planning to fail.

Currently, many employees are scattered, both physically and mentally, due to restrictions put in place due to COVID.  Many are working from home. Others are on site for staggered hours. Distractions are numerous. Therefore, additional barriers exist for effective communication with and between employees.  Added to this are different perceptions held by different employees concerning safety, the future, and the best way to move forward.  All of this impacts how messages are received and interpreted.

One of the key priorities for employers, and employees, is to fully understand what the goals and objectives are for an organization.  For this to occur, systematic and planned communication must take place on a frequent basis. The content of the communication must not be taken for granted.  This is where internal focus groups and facilitation efforts can pay off.

Focus groups are generally used to determine the perceptions and thought processes of key audiences when considering marketing campaigns, or other communication endeavors.  Determining how key demographic groups view a business, it’s mission, ads, messaging and delivery platforms is important when developing campaigns that will resonate. The same processes, with a twist, may be used to work with employees as well.

I’ve been working a lot recently with organizations that want to truly connect with their employees.  Working to identify factors key to how communication will be received by your employees will pay off in both the short and long term. Do you know what matters most to them?  What are their fears? What do they believe about the business? What do they see happening in the future? How do they want to participate? What does success look like? Structured focus group type activities will draw out this information, and more, enabling employers to communicate their goals and plans in a more meaningful and inclusive manner. It also provides the means for employees to share what’s on their minds in a methodical and consistent way.

While technology has made it easier to work in a variety of locations, it has impacted “teams”.  Employers tell me that they feel a loss of cohesion and loyalty in many cases. Employees share that they fear for the future and often aren’t clear about where their organization is headed. While this isn’t true for everyone, it is common.  Internal focus groups will help.

George Bernard Shaw famously said, “The single biggest problem with communication is the illusion that is has taken place.”  So, don’t take it for granted. Make sure to effectively convey what it is you mean to say. Make sure you understand the feedback you receive.

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