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Employee CommsHRLeadership

How Communicators Can Work Cross-Functionally to Solve Employee Experience Issues

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 — April 7th, 2022

How Communicators Can Work Cross-Functionally to Solve Employee Experience Issues

We are living in an era where accurate and timely information is mission-critical. This coincides with an ever-increasing volume of information coming from anywhere and everywhere within an organization.

A lack of oversight and coordination can affect the entire Employee Experience—resulting in confusion, lack of impact, lost productivity, and may even have very serious health and safety implications.

In a highly competitive talent market, organizations must treat the Employee Experience as a business imperative. Those involved in communicating with employees need to step up to the challenge, working cross-functionally in new ways, and especially with other internal-facing teams.

But who leads this challenge, and how do we collectively go about it? 

The Great Resignation: Time to Rip Up the Employee Communications Playbook

First, let’s look at some of the ways that different teams communicate and contribute to the Employee Experience:

  • HR is generally the bastion of culture. The function focuses on bringing an organization's vision and values to life as well as important operational matters such as onboarding, performance, development, health and safety, wellbeing, pay and leave.
  • IT is essential for providing the platforms employees use for their daily activities and through which they communicate. IT is essential to provide insights into employee sentiment, provide relevant targeted experiences, or support employees at scale. Not to mention looking after cybersecurity, data management, and outage issues that can have major impacts on our work.
  • Property and Facilities teams manage the physical environment and may need to communicate on the use of internal spaces, environmental, building issues, or local community activities.
  • Corporate communications ensure employees understand the organization’s strategic direction and defend against misinformation. This function is usually closely connected to the CEO and their voice within the organization.
  • Legal teams may need to review communication related to policy or sensitive matters. (Sometimes it’s hard to ensure these ‘legalized’ messages are easily understood by the general employee).
  • Marketing and Corporate responsibility teams provide messaging on the organization’s role in the community, and what they are doing to grow the organization and enhance the brand. This messaging can improve employee retention and recruitment.
  • Additionally, business-facing departments can have their own operating rhythms, communication channels, and bespoke versions of the above. They are often the employee’s source of truth and main daily interaction.

Clearly, all this information creates organizational noise. Not only that, the messages are pumped out to employees not just by email, mobile, and digital signage, but from HR portals, company systems like Microsoft Teams, Slack, Yammer, Facebook and you have to think about chatbots, real-time video, facilities notifications, meetings, Town Halls and more.

According to Josh Bersin, this presents an “experience design” issue.

Furthermore, when employees are asked about the effectiveness of communication at their organization, they are not thinking about whether they are owned or delivered by Corporate Communications, HR, their department, or any other area, for them it’s all just stuff coming at them. We, therefore, need to take a more holistic look at employee communications. But how to go about this? 

Let’s be honest, sometimes there can be tension between these teams, particularly where there are dependencies on each other for messages or platforms in tight timeframes, without line accountability.

Teams can go ‘rogue’, blindsiding Communicators and foiling efforts for alignment. Or, there can be a lack of clarity about who owns the Employee Experience and where responsibilities start and stop. But what unites all these areas is the desire to do the right thing by employees.

In many ways, the pandemic enabled a more holistic approach. It elevated the importance of the Employee Experience and brought people together in new ways to solve problems at speed.

Those in communication roles were joining the dots between leadership communication (strategic response), the Health and Safety team (wellbeing, practical instructions, Covid case reporting), Property (building occupancy, social distancing, and signage), IT (distribution and access to urgent comms through new channels), in a way they hadn’t been able to before.

This unified approach resulted in greater clarity and understanding of important messages. Of course, to do it required a massive team effort, a coordinated crisis response team, and for leaders to empower their people to get things done quickly. But with cross-functional crisis teams starting to move back to business as usual, how does this integration continue?

There is an increasing call for Employee Communications to take the lead. By virtue of their role, Communicators often have the advantage of a bird’s eye view across the organization, making it possible to connect the dots and create a more seamless experience for the employee.

It doesn’t mean Communicators take sole responsibility, but as Joanna Hall describes in her excellent Poppulo paper, they are ideally placed because “…they’re naturally employee-centric in their thinking, have the ability to connect with all staff across the business, the ear of leaders, the strategic alignment, the relationships with HR and IT and the wellbeing of employees at heart.”

Regardless of who takes the lead, the solution calls for a very people-centric approach, requiring a change in the way all support functions co-operate with each other. It is grounded in the understanding that Employee Experience is not an HR initiative. It is all about actively listening and designing solutions around the needs of employees.

Here are some thoughts on the key ingredients needed:

  • A clear vision for the overall Employee Experience. This should reinforce the culture and vision you are trying to realize, which is different for every organization—so be deliberate and selective.
  • Put the employee at the center and design experiences around the activities in their day. Create “personas’ and use scenarios to do this.
  • Articulate the benefits of working more holistically together. It’s going to be more appealing if it’s helping to solve collective problems.
  • Establish governance—proper oversight reduces communication noise, improves messaging alignment, and increases the impact of communications. People go ‘rogue’ when they are not clear on how to engage or it’s too difficult. Be very clear on where responsibilities for Employee Experience stop and start between each team. 
  • To achieve greater alignment, Employee Communication teams should take the lead in establishing and developing communication partners in other functions.
  • The CEO and the entire Executive team need to champion the Employee Experience. It requires active cooperation between every single team.

The Employee Experience matters across the entire organization. It can be substantially improved by reducing noise, increasing alignment, and enabling messages to have more impact. In the latest battle for talent, organizations that can provide the best experience will be the winners. 

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