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How to communicate in the information overload workplace


Information overload is a huge problem in today’s workplace.

It’s not uncommon for office workers to begin their day faced with dozens of new e-mail messages. Supervisors and managers have the additional burden of needing to review equipment spec sheets, read operational updates from staff and have industry magazines and association newsletters to go over.

Employees who earn their living behind the wheel are not immune either. In today’s highly regulated environment, professional drivers have documentation to review, forms to complete and must stay on top of frequently changing regulations.

The risk with overload environments is that important messages will be overlooked or ignored; not on purpose, but simply lost in a seemingly overwhelming deluge of information. Even more alarming is how many workers admit to deleting information they receive because they feel they don’t have time to read it.

A report prepared for the International Association of Business Communicators, Preparing Messages for Information Overload Environments, provides insight into how to increase the chances of your message being heard, understood and remembered.

Use a strategy tube map
Senior management teams invest great time and effort devising an organizational strategy that sets out yearly goals and targets for their trucking operation.

Savvy trucking leaders know the benefit of employees who are invested in the organization’s business strategy.

A well-communicated business strategy creates enthusiasm, provides a sense of purpose and keeps everyone on staff pulling in the same direction.

But all too often in today’s busy workplace, even though effort is made to make employees across the organization aware of the company’s big plan, the effort falls flat.

Try this:

The next time you bring staff together to share details of the company’s business strategy, why not unveil something a bit more exciting: a strategy tube map.

The tube map gets its inspiration from the brilliant design introduced in the 1930s to illustrate the underground transit system in London, England. The tube map helps transit users visualize where they are and where they want to go. It’s not actually a map at all, but a diagram.

When used in a corporate strategy application, the diagram shows key milestones and final goals.

Each strategy line is an arm of the diagram. The strategy tube map is best displayed as a large-scale poster and, after the big reveal, hung in places where employees gather (staff room, driver’s lounge, terminals).

This communication tool is a clear and refreshing way to depict the organization’s big plan. Even better is because this is a new and unexpected way of sharing information, it is more likely to capture employees’ attention and spark conversation.

More ways to tackle information overload

Element of surprise: To get an e-mail noticed, inject something unexpected into the subject line. Ask a question, or write something unexpected (but related to the topic). This is an effective marketing technique, and also works for internal communication as long as it is not overused and is appropriate for the situation at hand. For a meeting, instead of rolling out the predictable PowerPoint presentation, haul out a flip chart or white board to lead the discussion. Changing things up will help your message get noticed.

Standardized structure for messages: You can speed up the time it takes for people to make sense of a letter, memo, report or e-mail by sticking to a standard framework for all messages crafted by your organization. Many Fortune 500 companies swear by this approach, and one multi-national company highly regarded for its analytical approach to communication, requires employees to use this five-step structure:
1.   Idea: one-sentence description of the main message. (Think newspaper headline here).
2.   Background: short snapshot of the background about the information that is about to be presented.
3.   How it works: details such as what, who, when and where.
4.   Key benefits: in this area the author provides the motivation for what is being proposed; ‘the sell’, so to speak.
5.   Next steps: what needs to be done by when and by whom to achieve the benefits outlined in step 4.

Lastly, it is very wise to also have a rule about the length of any written piece of communication, say a two page maximum length.

Everyone is pressed for time these days. Helping your readers navigate and process the information you send them will not only be appreciated, it will also significantly increase the likelihood that your ideas will be heard across the clutter.

***

Rebecka Freels, former CTA and OTA communications director, operates a Calgary-based marketing, communications and events practice with clients in the transport industry. Reach her at Rebecka@beyondwordscommunications.com.


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