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A little more conversation, a little less action?



So how can HR facilitate more effective internal communication? Nick Throp, Communication Consultant and European Partner at Mercer Human Resource Consulting, suggests ten steps to successful HR communication and urges HR to start the process of active listening.

Elvis isn’t regarded as one of the leading thinkers on how to engage, motivate and inspire employees. And when it comes to effective internal communication and what is and isn’t working in the marketplace, his plea for “a little less conversation, a little more action” should be turned on its head.

Conversation is exactly what organisations need – an informed, educated and open dialogue with employees. What most organisations are currently suffering from, however, is a surfeit of action – including lots of initiatives, a great deal of change and too many messages coming from the top-down.

HR is in a unique position to facilitate that conversation. But where does it start and how does it make it happen?

In the ghetto

First, HR has to recognise that line managers often view its role as primarily functional. While HR aspires to support the strategic business agenda, line management is often more interested in whether or not the latest salary review was handled properly.

HR has an ideal opportunity to get out of this ‘HR ghetto’ and liberate itself from some of these preconceptions by realising the importance of communicating with the CEO and more actively engaging with the business agenda.

Research has shown that 95% of CEOs rate effective internal communication as the HR issue most important to the success of the organisation. In contrast, HR Directors didn’t even rate it as one of the top 5 most important issues.

The message is that HR should step up and claim responsibility for this area itself. To achieve this, it must become better acquainted with the philosophy, process and creativity required for successful internal communication.

The wonder of you

Organisations that have made real progress in developing their internal communication are those that have considered their employer brand, this means taking into account what distinguishes them from the competition, what it is like to work for this organisation and what is the nature of the employer/employee relationship. Good examples are the companies that feature regularly in the Sunday Times top employers’ list.

HR, as the owners of much of the content that informs this relationship – from development programmes through to appraisal and reward systems – should be able to articulate what the company brand is, what it stands for and how it works. This creates a framework for all employee communication, whether it be about an HR programme, a business strategy decision or how line managers or supervisors treat their employees.

Suspicious minds

Elvis got it right in one respect: ‘We can’t go on together with suspicious minds.’ In Mercer’s Britain at Work survey, the largest UK survey conducted on how employees feel about the companies they work for, two of the most significant issues identified were trust and leadership.

The survey shows that only 4 in 10 trust senior management and about the same number believe that management behaviour is consistent with the company’s values.

At a local level, employees generally feel free to express their views with two thirds indicating that their manager encourages open and honest two-way communication.

However, only half of the workers surveyed feel there is sufficient contact between managers and employees in their organisation. And only 4 in 10 workers believe sufficient effort is made to understand the thoughts and opinions of employees in their organisation.

In short, the conversation isn’t working. To resolve this, HR should start the process of active listening. This can be achieved through formal surveys and focus groups, and also via impromptu feedback sessions and developing a listening style for operational management.

Perhaps one of the greatest challenges for HR is to develop leadership communication styles that are consistent with the brand, the organisation and the personal style of the individual. Helping leaders to understand their own communication style and how it impacts on the organisation could reveal how employees view communication in the organisation.

One for the money

Finally, don’t forget that internal communication is not just a ‘nice to have’. On its own, communication can not transform an organisation. However aligning a company’s leadership style with its HR programmes and maintaining communication channels, can make a difference. Ultimately, the difference can also be shown on the bottom line.

To quote Ian Ryder, Global Brand Director of Hewlett Packard: “A staggering 68% of customer defections occur due to an attitude of indifference on the part of the employee.” If HR can do something about that indifference not only will employee morale improve but so will the profit line too.

Ten steps to successful HR communication

1. Appreciate the importance of communication to your CEO and understand his or her expectations

2. Get to know more about the discipline of communication – what works and what doesn’t – from practitioners

3. Work with your colleagues in marketing, PR, corporate affairs, brand and internal communications to ensure all your efforts are aligned

4. Articulate your employer brand and use that as the framework for everything you do

5. Start by listening – what are your employees really saying? Are they issues that need to be addressed?

6. Don’t be afraid to be different – creativity and innovation are more likely to make you an ‘employer of choice’ than doing what everyone else is doing

7. Encourage a spirit of honesty in everything you do and mend any areas of broken trust quickly

8. Work with your leadership teams to help them understand how to improve their communication style

9. Measure the impact of your communication programmes and develop active listening as a core competency for your managers

10. Make the links between an engaged workforce and happy customers – they are there, you just need to find them.

2 Responses

  1. I need practical tips / advice on communication
    I agree with Marie Claire as I need practical tips/advice on comunication. Here is a success from my own company to start the ball rolling.

    In my organisation we have a works council which did not work. By providing training and guiding the representatives to brief employees on what heppened at meetings, the works council now has a better profile. Briefings last 15 minutes and the representatives tell employees what was discussed at the meeting and the outcome. Managers also attend the briefings to provide information on the state of the business as elected representatives did not feel able to undertake this. Briefings give a chance for employees to ask questions which distributed minutes do not.

  2. Looking for communication techniques.
    This article is very interesting. I would welcome information on practical communication techniques / initiatives that HR sponsors in other organisations. Please e-mail me at [email protected]


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