Tapping Into Goldfish Attention Spans

How do you communicate with business teams in a world of ever-shortening attention spans?

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How do you communicate with business teams in a world of ever-shortening attention spans?


Tapping Into Goldfish Attention Spans

How do you communicate with business teams in a world of ever-shortening attention spans?

Share this article

Since the dawn of this millennium, we have seen huge changes in people’s behaviours, overwhelmingly driven by technology and our use of it.

These changes have now reached a point whereby the 'old' forms of internal communication, such as intranets, e-mails and the staff newsletter, are no longer enough ─ and yet the need for organisations to effectively engage with staff and stakeholders is greater than ever.

A recent Deloitte survey looking into employee experience as part of wider global human capital trends, found that 77 percent of people inside organisations believe that email is no longer a viable tool for effective communications.

The issue is, as more and more technology is incorporated into corporate culture, user attention span is decreasing. The average attention span in 2015 was 8.25 seconds, comparable to that of a goldfish that is nine seconds.

Whether this is down to a societal shift to more instant communication tools, or just a result of employees becoming overwhelmed by information within an organisation, it’s clear that HR and internal communications professionals need to fully understand how people are now digesting information to effectively communicate with employees.

This is especially pertinent considering that a large and growing proportion of the workforce comprises of millennials and members of Gen Z who are often labelled the most attention deficient.

With this in mind, it is time for HR, learning and development, and corporate culture professionals, to change the face of internal communications — or risk serious damage to their organisation's productivity and competitiveness. The modern workforce is not constrained as its predecessors were, by the old ideas of company loyalty.

young people

Smartphones and social media are blamed for trimming attention spans

Over a quarter of millennials surveyed by PwC anticipate that they will have six employers or more in their lifetime highlighting just how important it is for companies to keep employees engaged to retain their key staff. Now, if employers want loyalty they have to generate it themselves, or risk their top talent going elsewhere.

To drive loyalty – and ultimately productivity – employers need to communicate well. But in a world where everybody is used to commenting, liking or disliking and having their say, e-mails from HR and instructions to look for information on the staff intranet simply don't cut it anymore.

Today, when it comes to engaging the workforce through internal communications, one size most definitely does not fit all.

The workforce is increasingly made up of people who do not respond well, if at all, to being treated as 'just another worker'. That approach is actually the fastest route to disengagement.

The delivery of information needs to be targeted, relevant and contextualised at the point of delivery to ensure that employees are only receiving content that affects them and that they can action personally.

Employers also need to be prepared to listen and take feedback from their staff and integrate this practice into their communications strategies. Today’s worker demands a two-way conversation, rather than just being delivered a bi-annual employee survey.

Today's employees have grown up generating content as much as consuming it, they prize customisation and personalisation, and they want to feel similarly valued and in control of their working lives.

They make better use of visual information than print, and frequently access communications of all types through smartphones and other (mobile) electronic devices. The rise of the modest subscription widget has made it simple for individuals to organise their favourite items of content in a way that is easy to digest, which is a boon for businesses to help their employees absorb the right information, but it’s not as simple as this.

Whilst this provides a massive opportunity for internal communications professionals to engage with employees, it’s important to strike the balance between bombarding them across multiple platforms and communicating rarely.


Communications must be clear, concise and well-timed

The good news is that there is a new way of communicating that is particularly effective when it comes to engaging modern audiences in the workplace.

Using a highly visual approach, with user-generated as well as organisation-led content, elements of social media and gamification, running on multiple platforms including mobile, it is possible to engage employees very effectively.

Whilst video content is complex and daunting for most organisations, it cannot be ignored as an effective corporate communications strategy.

Thankfully there are organisations out there who can help develop this content and integrate it into internal communications platforms so it should be an important consideration.

But creating all this various content is only possible if these elements are strategised and systemised in a way that generates precisely the results, behaviour and information that the organisation needs.

The only way you are going to know if your internal communications strategy is generating these results is by using analytics that determined who is reading, watching or acting upon the information delivered.

You wouldn’t think of publishing a website without metrics and similarly you shouldn’t be implementing a strategy if the impact cannot be measured.

Gamification is a valuable tool when it comes to capturing employee attention in a new way but if there is no wider strategy behind it, then you risk wasting time and resource.

Simply awarding electronic points, badges and levels to workers who behave in a certain way, or putting an electronic 'scoreboard' on the office wall, is not going to drive meaningful change.

Truly effective change comes when employees feel a certain level of emotion and accountability for their actions within an organisation.

Engaging employees in games where they can see their progress mapped out, in relation to a sales target for example, will encourage team members to start becoming more connected with how their actions impact the wider business and therefore more engaged.

Trying to master the balance between integrating lots of new technology and still engaging employees with targeted messages is undoubtedly a very complex art.

But specialist companies have now mastered it to the extent that business professionals can now use turnkey solutions, holistic smart internal communications solutions that can be integrated into, and power, modern internal communications strategies.

Organisations can now quickly and easily incorporate modern techniques to bring about truly effective, agile and productive engagement. There is a clear business case for doing this, along with plenty of reasons why failing to engage the workforce may be dangerous for the organisation.

We now have new techniques for engaging with staff, but what has been missing until now has been the means to bring these together in a systematised way that generates rewards for all involved, whether that is increased team motivation or increased engagement with HR.

Historically, it has been difficult to source and effectively combine the expertise, hardware, software and dynamic content sources required, and to integrate these into a useful solution.

What the ramifications might be, for organisations that fail to act swiftly in this area, remains to be seen, but given the importance of employee engagement to organisational function, it can hardly be anything but unfortunate.

Martyn Barnett is managing director of RMG Networks.

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Tapping Into Goldfish Attention Spans

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