What the Arctic Monkeys can teach us about employee experience and communication

Lee Smith

19 Jun 2023
Employee Engagement
I have to confess, I’m a big fan of the Arctic Monkeys. Have been since first hearing Fake Tales of San Francisco nearly two decades ago. Yesterday I took my 16 year old daughter to see them at the Emirates Stadium in Manchester. They didn’t disappoint. It was an epic gig and my ears are still ringing!

The Information Action Ratio

One of their songs has been playing on repeat in my head ever since, and not just because it’s a crowd-pleaser. In the song Four Out Of Five, taken from their 2018 album Tranquillity Base Hotel & Casino, frontman Alex Turner sings about a taqueria on the moon called The Information Action Ratio. It’s a great name for a taco house, granted, but it’s a phrase I’ve been dwelling on for other reasons too.

In an interview in Pitchfork magazine, Alex admits lifting the idea from a 1985 book called Amusing Ourselves To Death by cultural critic Neil Postman. Turner was born the year after it was published, so I can only imagine he found it rummaging around in the loft or at a car boot sale.

I confess I haven’t read the book cover-to-cover, but Postman argues that the quality and effectiveness of communication should be measured not by the volume of information shared but by the action it inspires. In other words, the Information Action Ratio emphasises that the true value of information lies in its ability to stimulate meaningful and purposeful action. Hurrah to that!
This really strikes a chord with me (excuse the pun), particularly when thinking about communication inside large and complex organisations.

In today’s fast-paced digital era, we find ourselves constantly bombarded with information. Postman was writing about the impact of television in the US in the 1980s, but the same thing is happening right now inside our organisations, where a plethora of channels and mountains of content often result in information overload. In the age of always-on devices, social media, user generated content and instant messaging, Postman’s thesis is more relevant than ever.

However, his core point is not about the sheer volume of information, it’s the fact that the greater that volume is, the less likely we are to take action as a result of it. That’s what makes the Information Action Ratio such an important concept for all of us who are involved with employee communication, engagement and experience.

Amusing our employees to death

I’ve seen this first hand inside so many organisations over the last decade or so. The more information gets pumped out, the less employees respond to it. We may well have beautiful channels, killer content and a crack team of creators, but – to paraphrase Postman – all this is doing is amusing our employees to death. Or at least into a well-intentioned coma.

This is particularly true of big change and transformation programmes, which are often heavily branded, complete with newsletters, dedicated content creators and full-on campaigns. But do they drive behaviour change? All too often no.

To quote Postman:
“The tie between information and action has been severed. Information is now a commodity that can be bought and sold, or used as a form of entertainment, or worn like a garment to enhance one’s status. It comes indiscriminately, directed at no one in particular, disconnected from usefulness; we are glutted with information, drowning in information, have no control over it, don’t know what to do with it.”
Sound familiar? I think this would resonate with many employees today.
Having led numerous communication audits for businesses the world over, I know that this is a very real problem. Rarely do we hear employees demanding more information – more often they want to see a significant reduction, but also a shift to information that is relevant to them. In this context, ‘less is more’ has become our mantra and, more often than not, we recommend removing channels, reducing content and providing more context, meaning and relevance for employees.

The Information Action Ratio encourages a shift from one-way, top-down, cascade communication to fostering dialogue and collaboration. EX, engagement and comms professionals should create channels and platforms that facilitate conversations, feedback, and idea-sharing among employees. This interactive and experiential approach empowers employees to take ownership of the information they receive and encourages them to take action in line with organisational objectives.

Often it means a shift away from ‘stuff’ – formal channels, content and campaigns that can be accessed by all – towards a more filtered approach.

Line managers have a critical role to play in this process, as they are far more likely to know what is relevant and what isn’t relevant to their team members. They can also play an active role in driving action as a result of what they share.

Empowering employees to take meaningful action

In the age of information overload, it is essential for employee communication, engagement, and EX professionals to embrace the Information Action Ratio concept. By shifting our focus from information dissemination to inspiring action, we can create impactful employee experiences, enhance engagement, and drive organisational success. Remember, it’s not the quantity of information that matters, but its ability to empower employees to take meaningful actions that truly makes a difference.

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