What's the best way for the Human Resources department to communicate to employees, email, meetings or something else?
Given that this year is the centennial of the First World War, I thought I would share the story of the British Army Commander at the front line who sent the message, "Send reinforcements. We're going to advance", back to Headquarters through a long chain of subordinates. When the message finally reached the HQ, it had changed to become "Send three and four-pence. We're going to a dance." Needless to say, the reinforcements never arrived.
Communication is all about conceiving, sending, receiving, interpreting messages and confirming reception of these messages. A failure at any point in this chain can have disastrous results. In addition, as Marshall McLuhan said, “the medium is the message”; so we should not forget that it is not just the 'What' but also the 'How' that is critical when communicating with employees.
Do you think that employees, generally speaking, feel that their HR department is accessible?
In nearly 20 years of managing HR in many different environments all over the world I have never had a single employee come up to me and say “Stop giving me information; I know everything I need to know”. I have however had many employees come up to me and say “stop sending me so many e-mails/conference calls/memos/meeting requests/etc.”
Have you got any general advice for HR practitioners related to communicating with employees?
In HR, we have a multitude of messages we need to communicate throughout the course of any given year ranging from major restructure projects through to process updates. So what can we do to make sure our communications are successful? Rather than trying to articulate a solution for every individual circumstance, I instead offer up three simple rules.
1. The Golden Rule. Always treat others as you would want to be treated. Another version of this rule could be; treat your employees as adults, not teenagers. At the end of the day, isn’t this how we all want to be treated? That means we need to be open, honest and transparent in all our messages with employees, even if that means we tell them why we can’t tell them something!
2. Never Forget the Individual. This should be an absolute rule and that means we must always communicate on a face to face basis with employees for anything that impacts their job, status, span of control, relationships or where you want any employee to change their behaviours.
3.WIIFM? Look at every message that you need to convey and ask the question from the point of view of the target audience; “What’s In It For Me?” Marketers would call this the Hook. Hooks allow an audience to immediately recognize what is interesting about your story and decide whether they want to investigate it further. So if you are communicating a change, help those impacted understand the opportunities that arise within that change. If communicating a process, help employees understand how that process will make their lives easier.
I believe that HR’s purpose is to build a better world through creating, linking and managing relationships and engagement across all communities in a business. One of the critical keys to achieving this is for HR to adopt a number of new responsibilities; Community Curator, Expert Guide, Co-Creator, Guardian of the Social Purpose and, critically, Communicator. The Communicator connects people together in the business by creating and maintaining relationships of trust and value through open, honest, transparent and timely communication. By following these three simple rules, you will go a long way to achieving this.
Jim Lefever is the Managing Director of HR Consultancy; HR2BE. His vision for the company is to create better relationships between employers, employees and customers. He has nearly 20 years’ HR leadership experience in Global, Asia Pacific and A&NZ roles.
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