Why I didn’t read the company memo*



By David Leibl

I saw the company memo in my inbox this morning.

I didn’t read it.

I know I probably should have. I’m sure it was likely important.

But I just couldn’t get into it. And here’s why:

1.You sent me an impenetrable wall of text

In an average day I’ll be interrupted at work every three minutes. Attention is at an all-time premium. The environment for long, dense messages has never been more hostile.

So: if you send me an unyielding page of text, I probably won’t read it. I might try, but it’s unlikely I’ll get through it.

In fact, according to research by the University of California’s Gloria Mark and others, I’m likely to get distracted even if there’s no external disruption. In other words, I’m likely to just interrupt myself and start focusing on something else. Like checking my device. Or scouring the internet for cheap flights. Or reading communication strategy blogs.

The cold truth: attention spans just aren’t what they used to be. If we want our messages read, we need to craft them for the modern reader.

Fast fix #1: Use headings, lists, shorter paragraphs, images and graphs to break up text and increase readability. Use active language to make complex ideas and longer passages easier to navigate.    

2.You made the memo about you, instead of me

It’s great that our new strategic priorities will drive top-line revenue and boost customer retention. It’s wonderful that we’re improving relations with our donors and members.

But what does it mean for me?

I’m not being selfish or self-focused, but there should never be a disconnect between an organization’s goals, successes and challenges and the people who work there.

Make it relevant:

Will the news you’re sharing mean new opportunities for growth and advancement? Different challenges or expectations for our department? Better coffee in the lunchroom?

If you want me to feel connected and invested in our organization’s journey then you need to make me part of the story.

Fast fix #2: Be explicit about how the information you’re sharing will affect employees. Don’t simply assume that they’ll care; tell them why they should care.


3.You didn’t tell me who the memo is from

All communication is personal, or at least it should be. Good leaders know that every communication presents an opportunity to strengthen a relationship.

So don’t send me a memo that comes from “HR.” Or IT. Or any other department unless there’s also the name of a real person attached.

HR is not a person. Payroll is not a person. Departments don’t have conversations. People have conversations.

And who writes these anonymous memos anyways? Karen from Marketing? A robot?

Unsigned, disembodied communication does nothing to engender understanding, trust or goodwill. So don’t do it.

Fast fix #3: Put a name on it before you send it out. Some organizations even use a simple email header so you can include the sender’s name and photo. It’s a nice touch. 

4.You didn’t ask for my opinion or give me a chance to provide feedback

Communication is a two-way street. High-functioning organizations with engaged workforces don’t just tell; they also ask.

So ask me if I have questions. Ask me for my feedback. Ask me how I think I could help or contribute.

And then, cascade it: Empower my manager or director to solicit questions or input from my department at our next meeting.

Fast fix #4: Set up a dedicated email address and close the next company memo with an invite to employees to pose questions. It’s the quickest, simplest way to begin increasing organizational engagement. It might also leave you with the source material for the next company-wide memo: Your questions, answered.

Here’s some good news: You have a willing audience. There are no shortage of surveys and studies that show that employees want more and better communication from their employers.

Employees are listening. Give them a message that will hold their attention.

David Leibl is principal of Guidepost Strategies.  


David Leibl