HR Communications Tips - an interview with Anne-Marie Orrock

by Duncan

Anne-Marie Orrock of Corporate Canary HR Consulting shared her communications tips with me (Duncan) recently. Anne-Marie has previously worked with some world famous tech companies including
PeopleSoft (now a part of Oracle), Citrix Systems and Symantec.

1. What's the best way for the HR department to communicate to employees, email, meetings or something else.
It depends on the types of communication. If it is personal and one on one, for example for performance issues, it should be one on one/ face to face where possible, and then followed up with formal documentation of the communication that occurred in the verbal meeting. This is to reduce risk with any potential legal issues down the track and adhere to 'procedural fairness' requirements. Other types of communication may be when HR is rolling out a program company wide. In this case they need to think like marketers and communicate in all forms available to them, with a consistent message. This may be intranet, email, company social media pages, even the old paper memo. It is one area I think HR fails as they don't have marketing skills. Their messaging can come across as bland, and at worse impersonal and terse. HR can tend to talk in 'policy speak' and tone. This is where they need help from the Marketing department on how to use language style and tone to captivate an audience. Other communication avenues HR need to think about is for remote employees, or even remote candidates. Video technology is only just starting to be used for these kind of communication purposes. Previously HR has only seen video as one dimensional, i.e, for marketing or advertisements only. It is a very powerful way to engage people one on one. With mobile technology these days it is quick and easy to do a desk top video to a remote manager or employee to add variety and engagement to a communication piece. Newer technologies, like Vetter are great for communicating, containing and building a community of ideas, internally within the organisation that HR can harness and drive to develop better polices, culture and morale within the organisation.

2. Do you think employees, generally speaking, feel that their HR department is accessible.
Traditionally HR have been seen as the pusher of communication, in a one way direction. I think this made them seem inaccessible to employees. HR has to walk a fine line at times between being seen as working for the business and supporting the leadership team, and then being seen by the employees as supporting them. HR can be pulled in both directions. Employees have the expectation that HR needs to be 'on their side' when they need it, or to be impartial. Of course the mandate from upper management is to do things for the good of the organisation. It is hard for HR to balance the two, as you can't please everyone and either side feels you are not doing your job for them. This is changing and technologies now give the ability for all to have a greater degree of collaboration and for exchange of ideas as one community, rather than 'us and them'. Social media is just one example of this and it gives employees a louder voice to be heard.

3. General advice for HR departments communicating with employees.

  • Don't use smoke and mirrors approach, or use a school teacher tone with employees in your communication to employees.

  • Give them credit for their level of intelligence and give them as much information as you can. It can be difficult when HR is holding sensitive information and employees want to know the full picture, especially when they feel their comfort level or security is being threatened or compromised.

  • Empathize with employees on how they may be feeling, but don't say you 'know how they are feeling'.

  • Validate and acknowledge that employees want to know more, but give them enough information.

  • Understand that people absorb information in different ways, some hear it, some see it, some read it and some feel it. The strongest and most powerful communication campaign will address all modes of information processing.

  • Email may be the quickest and easiest to distribute, but it is the most de-sensitised form of communication now. Be creative and find newer tools and technology to boost your communication efforts and engagement with employees.
  • Thanks Anne-Marie!

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