Quick: Did your company create a communication campaign last month? If so, can you recall the details? Regardless of what you do or don’t recall, chances are that your employee population can’t remember much of what you were trying to communicate. That’s because forgetting, a common concept, has a major impact on workplace communication efforts.
Think about it this way: If your budget was suddenly slashed by 50%, it would be incredibly challenging to deliver critical messages and information. But if people forget campaigns almost as soon as they’ve seen them, how is that any different than not even sending them in the first place? The research says we forget half of what we learn fairly quickly, which is essentially the same thing as pouring a significant portion of the communication budget down the drain.
Neuroscientists and researchers began examining the concept of forgetting as far back as 1885, when Hermann Ebbinghaus demonstrated that the average person forgets the majority of what they learn in a relatively short time. His experiments, however, uncovered a simple change that radically improved knowledge retention over time: Repetition.
Smart, Targeted Repetition
Communication leaders may be masterful at creating amazing content, but the way to combat forgetting their messages is smart, targeted repetition. Repeating key concepts dramatically improves the retention, as demonstrated by the “forgetting curve” below, which Ebbinghaus created to illustrate how we retain and forget information over time. Each green “boost” is a reminder, each one further reducing the amount of material that is forgotten.
(Source: Wikimedia Commons)
It’s not about resending the exact same message several times: your audience will quickly tune that out. However, finding a way to create smaller, repeated snippets that highlight key concepts and ideas will not only increase retention of those key points, but can also ensure that workplace communications are truly unforgettable.
Practical Examples of Repetition
When designing an effective employee communication strategy, it’s essential to highlight the key messages that need further emphasis and retention by stakeholders. Then, look for ways to break up the message into smaller, digestible pieces for quick consumption and reinforcement. Here are a few examples of how this repeat internal communication can play out in an organization:
A company is shifting its medical plan from a traditional to a high-deductible plan, which means there are several key changes employees need to know. After the initial announcement about the change, the company could communicate phased reminders weekly for the following month touching on key aspects of the new plan, such as:
- Why the decision was made and anticipated benefits
- How the paired Health Savings Account works
- General feedback from employees in your pilot program
- Anticipated savings from smarter medical care consumption
Today, compensation is a critical point for employers because of increased focus on equity and transparency. HR and management play a central part in this communication strategy. A company decides to create a campaign focusing on managers to help them manage compensation conversations with their teams about processes and decisions. After the initial communication to set expectations, the campaign can follow up with a few monthly reminders as the end-of-year compensation setting process approaches, covering:
- How managers should connect employee efforts to the bigger vision and mission of the firm
- How to talk with workers about base compensation and how it’s established (seniority, performance, or other inputs)
- Other factors that impact total compensation, such as benefits, bonuses, equity, time off, etc.
Repetition Best Practices
Repetition can be an effective communication tactic that has the potential to improve company culture, permeate brand messaging, and enhance employee retention of key messages. When using this repetition tactic, each boost or reiteration should be short and sweet. This isn’t about doubling or tripling your workload or the employee’s: It’s about reinforcing key concepts from the initial communication. Formats can be text-based, video, or even interactive, but the key point is that they need to be short and consumable.
The fact that this communication is unforgettable to employees ensures that there isn’t a breakdown at the critical point between learning and doing. With the right approach, communication efforts can drive desired behaviors and engagement, inform the right people, and inspire stakeholders to action.
To implement this approach, start by evaluating existing messaging for those critical points where repetition would be most valuable. Then, find small ways to boost those messages as in the examples laid out above. When workers can actually recall and take action on the communications they receive, the time, effort, and resources used to generate those communications can pay off big returns in employee satisfaction and retention.