Multiple Channels, Multiple Times

by Robert F. Abbott

When communicating with your workforce about complex issues, such as your benefits program, only a small number will actually understand it the first time its presented. Here is a technique you can use to be sure that the majority of people eventually absorb the information.

I've just been reading about the frustrations of a Human Resources manager. He's tired of having to answer the same questions about benefits over and over again.

I understand that, having been on both sides of the issue, both as a consumer of benefits and in communicating about them on behalf of corporate clients. Benefits can be the slippery eels of internal communication.

But, to put the issue into context, this is another case of complex communication. In this case, a large volume of information that's not easy to understand.

Descriptions of benefits typically involve a high level of density: in other words, they contain a lot of information in a small amount of 'space'. Many of them resemble insurance policies -- long on legal language and short on examples and anecdotes. As a result, the information is accessible to only a small proportion of the whole group.



How do you deal with this kind of communication challenge? Multiple channels, multiple times. That means repeating the message many times, and sending it through as many different channels as possible.

For example, when one of my clients changed its benefits package to offer more choices, it used this strategy. Collectively, the overall value of the benefits would work out the same for the company. But, individual employees would have to make choices, and in many cases the value of the individual benefits they received would depend on how wisely they made their decisions. In turn, that could lead to the equivalent of 'buyer's remorse' and complaints.

The company took a proactive approach to the changeover. It began planning well in advance of the switch, and its preparations included the equivalent of focus groups to identify concerns, questions, and problems.

Then, in the month or so before the changeover, it began communicating on several fronts. It held information sessions with employees, it sent each employee an information package, it sent out a special edition of its newsletter, it offered in-house computer programs for calculations and enrollment, and it offered appointments with benefits personnel if employees felt they needed individual counseling.

Employees got the information in several formats, and at several different times, greatly increasing the odds that most of them would make informed decisions.

The odds that they would understand their choices went up because of different learning styles. And, needless to say, their ability to learn varies from time to time.

Some people learn best by reading (and you may be one of them since you're reading this article). Others may learn more effectively by listening, while yet others do best when they act in some way (like using a computer program).

Similarly, you may not be receptive to new information about a benefits program right now because you're focused on an important meeting later today. Or perhaps you'll be more interested in the subject after you talk with a friend and colleague at lunch tomorrow.

By using multiple channels and multiple times, we provide our readers/listeners/participants with several different learning options. That, in turn, means we increase the odds there will be a time and method that's optimal for them.

Robert F. Abbott writes and publishes Abbott's Communication Letter. Visit his web site for more information: http://www.CommunicationNewsletter.com

 
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