Magazine article Communication World

Taking Aim at Information Overload: E-Mail, Memos, TV News, Industry Publications-Employees Are Bombarded with Messages. but Communicators Can Guide Them through the Chaos and Help Them Find What's Relevant

Magazine article Communication World

Taking Aim at Information Overload: E-Mail, Memos, TV News, Industry Publications-Employees Are Bombarded with Messages. but Communicators Can Guide Them through the Chaos and Help Them Find What's Relevant

Article excerpt

Recently, while visiting Boston with my family, we decided to take .one of that city's famous trolley tours. The guided tour exposed us to most of the city's major points of historical significance and gave us our bearings among the old, narrow, twisting streets. We could get off at any point to explore on foot sites that interested us, such as the Old North Church and Boston Common, and we could rejoin another passing trolley when we wished.

It dawned on me that the Boston trolley tour provides an apt metaphor for what the role of internal communicators is today.

Let me explain.

Nowadays, the typical employee is assaulted by a growing number of messages--information about the company, its products and services, and its strategy--all flooding in from numerous sources, including internal vehicles such as e-mail, the intranet, management memos, internal publications and even the minor mill, as well as external media such as local newspapers and TV news and national business and industry magazines. On top of the formal and informal media, employees screen countless voice mails and sit through dozens of meetings, presentations and training sessions. As a result, they self-defensively begin to develop filters to reduce the noise so that they can better focus on doing their jobs and determine for themselves what "reality" is.

Unfortunately, the internal communication function all too often worsens the situation by adding to the noise level with new communication vehicles and increasing the volume of messages, each seemingly more urgent than the last.

An employee trying to work in this environment is a lot like a tourist in the middle of a strange city without a map. The street names mean little or nothing, and particular places have less meaning, though they may appear to hold great significance. The tourist is lost and befuddled amid the cacophony and apparent chaos of the unfamiliar city.

The value of a tour guide becomes apparent. He or she has a working familiarity with the setting, an ability to navigate the chaos, and the necessary filters to help the tourist grasp, understand and appreciate all the city has to offer. The guide puts the gross panorama of the city in perspective, allowing the tourist to partake of what he or she may find particularly interesting.

So, what exactly does this mean for communication professionals dealing with today's chaos?

Reassessment

If, as internal communication professionals, we could see ourselves as tour guides for our employees, then we would take the time to step back and assess how many of our critical messages are getting through and, more to the point, how we can help people achieve greater control of the information they need and want, thereby helping them reduce the noise and increase understanding. Like tour guides, our job is to see the big picture in the context of where the business needs to go. We must fully appreciate our audience and what they want and need to see and hear, and then respond accordingly. We need to be up-to-date on our subject, make sure that those "places" are populated with lots of relevant information and provide appropriate feedback opportunities.

Professional tour guides are intimately familiar with their cities. They know all the points along the route in terms of their historical significance and the details that will make them memorable to a visitor. They also strive to stay current with attractions along the route, such as when an art museum has a new exhibit, when road construction forces a detour, when a site has been in the news, or when an anniversary occurs that helps make a particular place more meaningful. A tour guide is, essentially, a filter, building upon his or her experience with and knowledge of the setting, adding new stops, and eliminating others as customer preferences and events dictate.

Discover versus sell

Similarly, our communications must provide context, relevance and collaboration, helping people connect the dots for themselves. …

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