HR Communications—5 Don’ts and What to Do Instead
— September 19th, 2022
Human Resources colleagues: Are you hanging on to old-school employee communications approaches?
For the last 15 years, I’ve worked with Human Resources (HR) teams on their employee communications initiatives. And times have changed—thank goodness!—with how we approach internal communications initiatives.
Below are five old-school approaches—the Don’ts—and what I suggest instead to be more effective with your efforts…
Why and How HR Leaders Should Lead Through Change
1. Don’t Focus on the Information
As you roll out a new leadership development program, implement annual benefits enrollment, remind managers to complete their performance reviews, it’s easy to focus on the information the audience needs to know and what they need to do with it.
— You, dear employee, need to enroll in benefits by November 12.
— You, dear manager, need to complete all the performance reviews for your team by April 30.
The messaging on these topics states yet another obligatory action the employee needs to take. Fine, but we can do better.
Instead: Focus on connection.
Ask: What are the desired outcomes of this communication? How do we want the audience to feel about this program? How can we address their current perceptions? How can we create an authentic connection on the topic? What’s the story behind this initiative?
For example, the message isn’t just about benefits enrollment. It’s about:
- Caring for the health and wellness of your employees
- Wanting them to feel valued as a part of your organization’s community
- Supporting their peace of mind with good health insurance
Connect the message to their story and needs.
2. Don’t Think of Your Employees as One Big Group
If I ask you: “Who is the audience for this communication?”
You may tell me “all employees.”
But don’t think of your employees as one homogenous group, because they’re not.
Instead: Understand and approach employees with all the appropriate nuances—mini department cultures, varying understandings of the issue, diverse backgrounds—and be sure to develop your communications strategies, tactics, and messaging accordingly.
3. Don’t Focus on One-Way Communications
HR communications professionals hear on the regular: Strategic communications is not just top-down, one-way. It’s employee-to-manager and peer-to-peer communications too.
And I still see a lot of organizations primarily relying on top-down, command-and-control communications.
Instead: Encourage dialogue throughout the process.
- Solicit more input from employees and managers before implementing the new program
- Create a Slack channel to encourage visible dialogue
- Organize a town hall where employees can ask senior leaders questions
- Host a live webinar to engage employees and get feedback
4. Don’t Assume It’s All Up to You
I’ve shared late nights with my HR colleagues working on a change initiative, recognition program rollout, leadership toolkits...
It can feel lonely.
Do you and your HR teammates ever feel “it’s all up to us” to influence culture, increase engagement, ensure there are learning opportunities for all and and and…?
Instead: Engage employees in every way possible in the culture and engagement initiatives of the organization.
- Invite an employee-led group to test their ideas on how to solve a problem uncovered in the employee engagement survey
- Organize a culture committee that’s excited to bring positive change to the organization
- Ask your employee affinity groups to identify specific strategies to influence engagement
- Identify stellar managers who can host a workshop and share stories, strategies, and lessons learned on how they succeeded with a department project… Or other topics such as: how they build trust. How they improve processes. What they learned from an industry conference.
- Employ senior leaders and seasoned employees to play a larger role with new employee orientation
Brainstorm ways to involve your employees and managers in all culture and engagement efforts. They’ll be more engaged as a result!
5. Don’t Implement One Long-Term Communication Plan
I remember the days when I’d write strategic communications plans with a six-month rollout and lots of strategies and tactics.
Organizations are changing too quickly for that approach.
Instead: Approach your plans iteratively.
Structure short-term milestones to get feedback not only on the project, but also on the communications.
- Is the project/communications plan achieving its objectives?
- Are the desired employee actions being taken?
- How are people feeling about it?
- What are the current perceptions and questions?
- How can we improve the project and the communications to ensure we’re more effective with the next milestone?
HR communications colleagues: Are there additional old-school approaches you recommend ditching?