← IC Matters · Engagement

Why HR leaders must consider employee communications a crucial department function

Julie CooksonJulie Cookson·

What is HR’s fundamental responsibility? I believe that HR as a strategic partner, must partner with the workforce to equip employees with the understanding, information, and tools necessary to meet their company’s strategic goals.

To gain these skills, HR must place a priority on employee communications! I know; it is clearly no small feat to accomplish this when leaders are bombarded with emails, meetings, internal and external politics and economic factors that can derail the best-laid plans!

Add to that the five generations we now have in the workforce who expect and need flexible and creative communication options! Generation X, Y, and Zers, along with savvy Boomers and Traditionalists, expect and value different types of communication than companies provided in the past.

Many employees don’t even know what their company’s strategic goals are; the way we communicate has to change, and HR must be at the forefront of that change!

Take heart; HR’s job may be getting support from a powerful if unlikely source. More and more executives are becoming aware that their companies’ communications methods need to change.

In a recent Canadian survey, 39% of CFO’s acknowledge that lack of communication is their number one mistake in managing their employees (see below). Second place is lack of recognition, but it’s a full 23% behind the lack of communication. Globally, the lack of communication is a shared concern.

Effective employee communications distinguishes the great companies from the good companies. And it is a relatively inexpensive trade-off for the goodwill employee communication creates! And how do employees feel about it? As noted below, 81% of employees would rather join a company that values “open communication” than one with a beefed-up health plan, free food or a gym membership! Surprising? Not to me, and probably not to you, either.

 

 

Another online survey revealed that if employees feel respected by their employer and are engaged, they are 87% less likely to leave their organization! They want to know what’s going on, why decisions are made, and importantly they want to be heard!!

How difficult will HR’s job be if poor communication results in a loss of high-performing employees? Similarly, how challenging is it to try to recruit for new candidates who have heard that the company doesn’t value open, effective communication?

Here are some wins we can celebrate with effective employee communication:

Win #1 – Employee Communication Can (and Should) Be Measured

Finally!  Technology has caught up, and HR can invest in software that can capture sought-after data for C-suite review. The value of measuring and reporting the data can’t be overstated since most executives focus on the numbers and data. Poppulo’s Campaign Management option, for example, aligns communication directly to your business goals and offers customized reporting to validate your campaigns’ success.

Win #2 – Employee Communication Reaffirms Strategic Goals

When company goals are understood, the workforce is on the same page. They know what is important to management, the shareholders, customers, advertisers, and other stakeholders. They also have a deeper understanding of the competitive landscape, the company financials and the products and offerings of their employer.

Win #3 – Employee Communication Aids Individual Accountability

After Strategic goals are shared, managers can meet with their teams to discuss the department or person’s “line of sight.” Said another way, this is defined as how each employee’s contributions would directly contribute to meeting a key company goal. When these drill-down communication meetings happen, the light bulb comes on! The team talks the same language, and they can all visualize the steps they need to take to be successful and consistent to meet their goals.

Win #4 – Employee Communication Builds Employee Engagement

Knowing the value of an individual’s contributions is HUGE; besides educating the employee, it gives them a feeling of value along with fueling their passion, pride and sense of accomplishment. And that happens because they are part of a collaborative, problem-solving company; what they do matters, and they see it in the Company’s actions and in how the Company communicates with them!

Win #5 – Employee Communication Keeps Brand Message on Point

Effective communication also controls the message, keeps it consistent and reinforces a Brand or culture. After the 9/11 tragedies, many companies experienced mass communication failures; most didn’t have well-thought-out safety, security or communications plans to roll-out during such a horrendous situation.

Companies scrambled to quickly account for traveling employees (and their families in the impacted areas). Air travel was suspended, circuits were jammed, email wouldn’t go through; it was a terrible time.

What was your employer’s message during that tragedy? In media, I noticed some continued to broadcast as though nothing happened. Others (like my previous employer) blacked out regular programming and posted prayers, thoughts, and encouragement for all impacted for a time, and shared this decision in advance with all employees. This reminded the employees what we believed in and stood for; it made us proud and kept us together during a very difficult time.

Win #6 – Employee Communication Connects Management to Employees

Effective communication isn’t only top-down; one of HR’s primary initiatives should always be to solicit and receive employee feedback from as many employees as possible, in all departments and all regions.

Besides annual review processes, annual or bi-annual employee surveys should be utilized (with one or two-topic pulse surveys in between). Feedback received should be carefully reviewed, clarified, summarized and shared with employees. Share the difficult feedback, too. Include the steps that will be taken to address the most concerning issues raised. The worst thing a company can do is solicit feedback and never act on the items raised; as an HR professional, don’t let that happen in your company!

Other ways HR can solicit employee feedback?

  • Hosting employee lunches
  • Organizing employee focus groups
  • Developing Grass-roots committees
  • Building resource groups
  • Exit interview (including temporaries and interns)
  • Adding a virtual suggestion box

Win #7 – Employee Communication is the Right Thing to Do!

How many times do you hear that Companies (and HR) must “Do the Right Thing?” From an HR perspective, companies must be honest, ethical, thorough, timely and genuine; not only in their practices but in their employee communication.

For all the reasons listed, it is clear that HR can play a pivotal role in influencing and designing how employee communications are designed and delivered to showcase great results and to positively impact the workforce, not to mention positioning yourself as a true, strategic partner!


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