Article main image
Sep 7, 2022

When your organization sends out an important memo, announcing a major new change effort, or a policy overhaul, or a strategic shift, or some other momentous topic, ask yourself this key question: How many of your employees will really absorb what you’re saying?

Then, assuming people actually open your emailed memo (which – let’s face it – is far from a given), ask yourself this: How many people understand and embrace the content?

If you’re now starting to wonder whether your memos have punch, maybe ask yourself this too: When you last sent a company-wide memo announcing a big change, did you see any employees appear shocked when the change started, as though they hadn’t received the memo detailing your plans?

Memos don’t say why

One of the biggest reasons people don’t absorb the content of corporate memos is because memos don’t deliver answers to people’s most important questions.

Employees aren’t consciously choosing to ignore your memos, but it just kind of happens when they can’t find the answer to their questions. And here’s the real shocker: The most important question your memo needs to answer varies depending on who’s reading that memo.

Let’s go into this last point in more detail.

More than one million people have taken the online test “What’s Your Communication Style?” and the data reveals four distinct primary communication styles: Intuitive, Analytical, Functional, and Personal.

* Intuitive communicators want the bottom line quickly, without wasting time or giving the backstory.

* Those with an analytical style desire hard facts and numbers.

* People with a functional style want a step-by-step process breakdown.

* Personal communicators, meanwhile, prefer emotional language in an informal, friendly, and warm way.

What’s critical to note is that addressing the communication needs of each style requires more than just reframing the same information in slightly different ways.

Giving people what they want generally requires providing distinctly different types of information.

It’s easier to explain this with an example, so let’s imagine that your company is announcing a merger via a company-wide memo from the CEO.

Here’s how you could write that memo to address each of the four distinct styles:

The Intuitive style: “By merging with this other company, we believe we can become the global leader in this market and chart a path of consistent growth for the next decade.”

The Analytical style: “After analyzing the past 18 months of sales data, we’ve discovered that 32% of lost sales resulted from not having broad enough product offerings. If we had a broader catalog, our sales would have increased by $832 million YTD.”

The Functional style:  The merger process will take 12 months-18 months. Our first step is to convene a joint task force to integrate our marketing efforts. Obviously, a major challenge for us is integrating operations. So step two is implementing a program to catch any customer service errors. We’re willing to slow down integration efforts if it means protecting our customers from any mistakes. Step three will be to gather a few months of data, and step 4 will be a phased integration rollout.”

The Personal style:  “I know many folks are worried about losing our special culture and our bonds with our colleagues and our customers. I feel that too, and we’re going to make sure that our actions are strengthening our relationships with our customers and with each other. I see this as an opportunity to build on what we do well while giving us a chance to fix the things (like communication breakdowns), that you’ve told me have been frustrating you for years. And my door, and every executive’s door, is always open to talk more. Our bonds with each other and our customers are what makes this place so special.”

You’ll notice that each of the styles wants a different piece of information.

Analytical folks want actual data, with numbers and decimal points, justifying the merger, but they couldn’t care less about the empathic feeling words desired by the personal people. Those with a functional style want a week-by-week breakdown of the next steps, while your intuitive employees want you to cut to the chase as quickly as possible.

If your corporate memos look anything like the thousands my team has read and rewritten, they probably only speak to one of those styles. But I can virtually guarantee that your employee population contains all four styles, so missing even one could exclude a quarter of your workforce.

Owing to their different attention spans, you should start your memos speaking to the intuitives, then move to the analyticals, then functionals, and finally, close with the message for personals.

Memos are a fast and inexpensive way to communicate with employees. To be sure, you should supplement a memo with an intense and detailed communication strategy. Leaders at all levels should be communicating with employees directly, whether face-to-face or via video. But the classic corporate memo still has a role, and that’s why it’s important to take memos seriously and address every style.