Power up your employee communication with personas

People – your employees – respond differently to different messages and situations. How to respond to these differences is where personas come in as the perfect gift from service design to employee communication.

By: Anna Porko Hansen, Communication Advisor (October 4, 2017)

Employee communication is a part of the greater employee experience. It is the magical ingredient that engages, empowers, and activates employees. Due to many parallels, employee experience design can draw numerous lessons from the world of service design – the field of people centricity – including several tools and methods established for customer experience design.

Potentially, the most essential take-away for employee communication is that of personas. Personas are about understanding people as people, not as statistics, numbers, or segments. They will help you engage people as people.

People behave in different ways, respond differently to any given situation, are motivated by different things, and have different goals and values. So, different groups of employees will also receive communication campaigns differently. They respond to different channels and different messages in different ways. This means that to reach them, you need to be able to choose the correct approach and channel.

Knowing your employees’ preferences on a deeper level will help you deliver your communications in a way that your employees can access, understand, and relate to. Personas can help you do exactly that.

What is a persona?
Simply put, a persona is a description of a person who represents a group of people. In the case of employee communication, a persona represents a group of employees who share some key characteristics. A persona is fictional, but needs to be built on solid, factual information. You can get this information from HR records, surveys and interviews, web and intranet analytics, personality tests, or anywhere that you can find data on your employees, their preferences, and behaviors.

A persona is not the same as a segment, or a demographic, although they do share traits. A persona represents a person, and is written and visualized as a person. This person has a name, we know how old they are, we know about their family and interests, and we know about their habits and motivation. Let me exemplify this through Maria.

service design employee communication

Example: Maria Anderson
Maria is 35 years old. She lives in a semi-detached house in the suburbs with her husband and two children. The boys are aged 7 and 3. She reads the news on her tablet in the morning with a cup of tea, and has her mobile close at hand all day. Maria drives an estate car to work every day. She and her husband take turns dropping the kids off and picking them up from day care and school.

Maria works in a specialist position, as part of a team of specialist knowledge workers. Most of her work is relationship and computer based. She is proficient in the use of modern technology. She follows the world around her regularly through several digital channels, including the company intranet, but she does not actively post on social media. Maria is relatively private and likes to keep some boundaries between work and personal life.

Maria enjoys the social aspect of her work and is very good with clients and colleagues. She participates in most company events as she feels it builds a better atmosphere and working environment. She is receptive to in person communication like CEO-presentations at company events. Maria can be activated to be a part of change communications, as long as it is through physical meetings or team-based activities.

Using personas in your work
Personas, like Maria here, need to be good and accurate representations of your employees. If you can’t recognize a Maria, or several Marias in fact, in your employees, then the persona(s) need to be adjusted. As an approximation, you should build a minimum of three personas, around five should do the trick. Too few and you will not get sufficient leverage out of them, too many and they will end up complicating and hindering your decision-making process.

Once you have arrived at a good number of personas that you feel represent your employees accurately, evaluate your campaign design and plans. Consider Maria again. A campaign calling for active participation though one or more SoMe channels would not work for someone like her. Maria would feel pressured to use social media in ways she is not comfortable with, especially if the campaign asked her to use private accounts for work related tasks. It would likely cause a negative reaction. Even sharing something through intranet channels might cross a line for Maria.

Considering for example a digital campaign, you would need to remember that for the Marias among your employees, inactive participation is key. They will be receptive to many forms or mediums of communication, from text and images to video, as long as they can receive and observe. There are bound to be other types of personas among your employees who will love to participate actively, to share and interact with your content and those who will be keen to create their own, relevant content. It is worth considering these differences, as a campaign that targets different personas through their preferred methods will be more rewarding for you and for your employees.

Your personas will help you answer questions on which aspects of a campaign are most likely to reach whom? Ask questions like which personas will receive your communication through intranet? Who will only receive written communications, who will watch all your videos, and who will read the posters? What do the different personas care about, and how can you move them?

Having answers to these questions and others, and creating a campaign with your personas in mind will result in a more strategic approach and a better reach among your employees. It will engage, empower, and activate.