More is not better: employee communications in the… | Gagen MacDonald

Insights & Events / Blog

More is not better: employee communications in the time of AI

Sep 12, 2023

From the perspective of someone who is both an artist and experienced corporate communicator, write 1500 words of perspective on the future of internal corporate communications given the recent rapid developments in generative AI.

It’s as easy as that. In less than seven seconds I received a well-written piece. It captured in comprehensive, broad strokes how GAI content and art can and will be synthesized together, and how this fusion will help organizations reshape their ways of communicating with employees. That’s what you read below.

… Just kidding. As I believe will be obvious, this piece is not written by a chatbot. It’s written by me — a seasoned graphic designer whose career has existed for more than 30 years at the intersection of content and technology. This dates me, but I was at the forefront of digitally creating publications, a process also called pagination. The research led to some of the earliest work bringing newspapers onto the World Wide Web. I’ve always been fascinated by how technology can increase an artist’s skillset, and I’ve always leaned into the latest developments in communication tech with excitement and eagerness to try. Technological breakthroughs can cause disruption and displacement, but I don’t believe they’re bad for society; I believe their impact comes down to the humans who use them.

From IP rights to the algorithm’s problem with "hallucinations," early hot-button AI issues are getting a lot of coverage right now. Whatever developments come from these conversations, however, it's not debatable to me that generative AI will immensely impact nearly every job, and certainly the job of corporate communications. The technology bears enormous potential to help corporate communicators create content and make sense of data, among other things. All these uses will be huge for companies looking to better engage employees.

But corporate communicators need to be careful. In my work today, I am constantly reminded that the issue with many businesses’ approach to employee engagement is overload. It’s one of the most common problems I’ve seen with companies over my career. Many corporate communications leaders have a default of just creating more — more newsletters, more flyers, more townhalls. They sometimes don’t take information overload seriously, focusing on how much they’re putting out more so than whether it’s connecting. As a result, employees lack easy access to the information they need, and the problems that employee engagement projects try to solve — attrition, exhaustion, change fatigue, productivity issues, et cetera — get worse.

That’s the thing: when you’re struggling to reach employees, more is rarely better. Often, you actually need less.

If corporate communication departments use AI to just create more stuff, they will further dilute digital channels that are already overwhelming. Relevant information will be buried, not amplified, and employees will become further disengaged.

Used well, AI could seriously help with these challenges. But it could also worsen the issues. It all depends how the humans in charge choose to use it.

The low-hanging uses of AI for corporate communicators will be for fast quantity. The more meaningful benefits will come to those who use it for distilling information, for empathizing with the people they’re talking to and for producing better, more tailored, resonant materials. Businesses need to think carefully about how they can apply it for the latter uses.

Because if there’s anything I have learned in my career, it’s that content is truly king, queen and jester. It is everything. Artful, intentional, thoroughly crafted materials reach people. Content that lacks detail or is chocked with irrelevant information loses them — and putting out more of it doesn’t help. Internal comms isn’t the same as external marketing — when you’re talking to people about their jobs, one intentional, resonant piece of outreach does more to compel employees than 10 pieces built with some bullet points and a quick chat with AI ever will. Or at least, not that soon.

At the end of the day, reaching people is not just a science. It’s an art, which means that quality is going to matter, perhaps even more so in a future where unprecedented quantity is at our fingertips. There's a reason, after all, that Rick Rubin frequently refers to himself as a “reducer” instead of a music producer. The best communicators don’t say the most; they say what needs to be said, and spare everyone the rest.

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