There is a well-known photo of Lego people pushing a cart with square wheels. An observer stands to one side holding a set of round ones, while his laboring peers respond, “No thanks. We are too busy.”
Nassim Nicholas Taleb is a veteran trader and thoughtful essayist. In his book, Fooled by Randomness, he observes that, “Trading forces someone to think hard; those who merely work hard generally lose their focus and intellectual energy. In addition, they end up drowning in randomness [in ways that]… draw people to focus on noise rather than the signal.”
I find myself returning to the idea of people “drowning in randomness.” Professional internal communicators are in a choice position to sort through institutional noise and broadcast a stronger signal. When your communicators start getting overwhelmed, it should be a strong warning signal that you might look more closely for the signs of fatigue and information overload across the full organization.
Internal communicators are the hub for most corporate information. The role carries responsibilities as weighty as those of senior leaders. One such obligation is to respect and protect employees’ attention: to reduce the noise, to strengthen and streamline company signals, to make it easy for hard-working, well-intentioned people to prioritize and focus on their work.
I have seen it too often. It is open enrollment season and a new acquisition has just been announced just as the CEO introduces a new business strategy. By the way, managers, do not forget to conduct development conversations. Of course the day-to-day business must continue: remember the new aggressive sales and customer service goals we set for the quarter.
Even on a normal day, the number of clients and requests that internal communicators manage can be daunting. People who work in our field are by necessity good at assimilating high volumes of information. Which begs the point – if that volume is starting overwhelming us, how will it land on the general population?
As internal communicators, we have worked 16-hour days for weeks at a time. Sometimes we must, because both the sources and recipients of the information are counting on us. The good will we earn for that work may help us influence for better approaches in the future.
However and precisely in the midst of our highest volume periods, it is our obligation to look up – to synthesize and simplify. It is also our job to turn away or defer communications that add to the static without being actionable or purposeful, and that requires a mindset that transcends, “do, do, do.”
In short, people who mass communicate to employees cannot afford to get too busy for round wheels. Just doing work and completing projects sells the importance of that work too short and worse, is self-defeating.