The secrets of the “Information Needs Pyramid ©”
Whether in a context of change management or internal communications at large, communicators or change managers often get frustrated because their messages, even if they are well presented, do not seem to get the interest of all the co-workers. How can it be that they are not interested by this dramatic strategic change? How can it be that they are not interested in this fabulous merger and acquisition project?
The reason is quite simple. As in Maslow’s Needs Pyramid, people have a natural way of putting their information needs into some kind of hierarchy. Combined with our naturally limited absorptive capacity for information, this has a dramatic influence on the way people handle the information you are providing them with. If you don’t take these dynamics into account, you will barely succeed in getting your information to all your audiences in your organisation.
- As you can discover in the illustration, co-workers’ first interest goes to information they need to do their job.
- On a second level, their interest will go to HR related information which is of concern for them.
- In a next step, but still of high interest, you will find information about their immediate environment, their colleagues and the site they work on.
- In the upper levels, which count on far less interest, you will find information about the business unit they work for and about the group their company is part of.
So this is the basic idea of the “Information Needs Pyramid ©”: the further you move away from the primary needs, the less people are inclined to give some of their sparse attention to it.
Co-workers are not interested in bigger picture stories as long as their primary information needs are not fulfilled. This does not mean that people are not interested at all, neither that you should skip the “bigger picture” items in your information strategy. It only means that you have to take these dynamics into account when constructing your communications.
How do you work with this? Content, structure and channel.
Taking into account the Information Needs Pyramid will have an impact on 3 levels: the content of your communication, the way you structure it and the way you activate the communication in the different information channels available in your organisation.
Provide what is necessary to climb the staircase
Using the “Information Needs Pyramid ©” means that, while building your content, you first make sure that you identify where your subject is situated on the pyramid. Once you have identified this, you make sure that all the underlying layers of the pyramid are covered by your content. Let’s say you have to communicate about a strategic acquisition the group your company belongs to is doing. We are clearly at the top of the pyramid here, chances are low that this information will be of high interest for all the co-workers. By applying the pyramid principle, you should complete this basic content with information on the way this acquisition will have an impact on the business, on the local site, on the department and on people’s daily job. That way you provide your audience with the necessary steps to reach the higher levels of the pyramid.
Put the steps in the right order
Now that you have the necessary material to build your stairs, you will have to put them in an attractive order. When structuring your information, make sure that you provide the steps in the right order by inverting the pyramid and starting with the primary needs before moving on to the higher steps with the strategic aspects of your message. Or, at least, provide your structure with the necessary anchor points or hooks allowing people to easily find their way to their primary information needs.
Build smart staircases
Use the “Information Needs Pyramid ©” principle to build smart communication channels.
The most commonly known example of an ineffective channel is the corporate magazine containing only… corporate information. A lot of money has been spent on the layout and illustrations, and, as the printer is printing anyway, he’s asked to print enough copies so that each co-worker can receive his own copy. Frustration arises all over the management boards when they realise that these beautiful publications are hardly read!
And yet, some of these magazines are nevertheless successful. Not because of their fancy layout, but simply because of their intelligent use of the Information Needs Pyramid, where secondary levels of interest are smartly interwoven with primary levels of interest. As people are navigating their way through the magazine to find their subjects of primary interest, they travel through other subjects, situated at the top of the pyramid, which they might as well look at while passing by.
Another example of using the “Information Needs Pyramid ©” in channel management is the technique of driving down your higher level information into so called “proximity channels”. Proximity channels typically contain information related to the primary levels of the pyramid and are therefore well read. By drilling down your higher-level information (with an adapted content and structure) into these proximity channels, your chances of reaching all co-workers will increase favourably.
The “Information Needs Pyramid ©”: not a mystery but a beacon
The “Information Needs Pyramid ©” reflects the natural tendency of people to organise their own absorption of information, in a way that is determined by their needs and their absorptive capacity. There is nothing mysterious about it, it’s even rather evident.
It’s a beacon for anyone in a company in charge of getting information or a specific message to all layers of the organisation. By applying the simple rules of the pyramid while building your content, structuring your information and injecting it in a smart way into the company’s channels will highly increase the reach and understanding of your communication.