How to kill complexity with creativity
Business babble switches employees off. Here are a few simple guidelines to keep complexity at bay and your audience engaged.
Simplicity is an art. As jazz legend Charlie Mingus once said: “Making the simple complicated is commonplace; making the complicated simple; awesomely simple, that’s creativity.”
Making the leap from jazz to employee engagement isn’t the most natural of segues, but many companies have turned the over-complication of internal communications into an art form; the two most common crimes against simplicity being waffle and business jargon.
During organisational change or disappointing financial results, for example, business leaders often cloak the core message – that people’s roles are at risk or that there’ll be no bonus pay-out – with corporate guff designed to make the bad news they’re about to drop seem slightly less gloomy.
These communications delay tactics were most memorably exhibited by Nokia’s infamous ‘lay-off email’ which took 1,000 words to finally get to the point that the company was cutting 12,500 jobs.
It also reminds me, more fondly, of my father who has the habit of chuckling nervously for about 10 seconds before delivering bad news.
Years of experience cajoling my dad to get to the point have helped set me on a personal and professional mission to ensure simplicity triumphs over waffle when communicating with employees.
Since moving from in-house to agency a year ago, I’ve discovered that there are two major advantages employee engagement agencies have when working with in-house teams on a campaign.
One is direct access to a specialist creative team. These talented copywriters, editors, film makers and designers are masters at conceiving and delivering beautifully simple but effective ideas. You often know you’ve hit gold when the client’s reaction to an idea is: “Why didn’t we come up with that?”
The second big advantage is that we seldom get caught up in the office politics that affect most organisations we work with. This allows us to stay focused on getting to the crux of the campaign or business challenge without being distracted by urgent directives from senior management.
Keeping things simple is particularly important when your product or service offering is complex or technical by nature; for example in the pharmaceutical, software or engineering markets.
Many companies in these markets are led by experts with specialist knowledge who often use long, jargon-filled sentences to make simple points which they expect employees to read and understand.
The risk is that you’ll bore your employees witless even if they started out with an interest in the subject matter.
To avoid this, here are a few simple guidelines to keep complexity at bay and your audience engaged:
1. Communicate like you speak. That is, of course, unless you speak in business babble.
2. Relate to the reader. The more you know about your audience, the easier it is to reach them in the right way at the right time.
3. Use humour (sparingly). This is about writing with personality rather than cracking jokes.
4. Explain complicated concepts in a way novices can understand. This takes practice and a few iterations.
5. Keep things brief. Remember, most of your audience reads news on smartphones. Edit ruthlessly.
6. Use visuals. A picture paints a thousand words; think videos, GIFs, infographics and interactive reports.
7. Surprise people. Your communications have to compete with a multitude of daily distractions and directives, so you need to get creative to make an impression.