Focus on Effective Employee Communications

A recent study by Watson Wyatt and WorldatWork, the 2009/2010 U.S. Strategic Rewards Survey, suggests that actions that companies have taken during the recession have had a negative impact on employee morale and commitment – particularly on the morale of high performers. Top performers were 20 percent less likely to recommend others take jobs at their company. They were also 29 percent less confident in management’s ability to grow the business. And 41 percent believed that pay and benefit changes made by their employers over the past year had had a negative effect on work quality and customer service.

My article Propping Up Morale in Human Resource Executive offers insights on these findings for HR professionals – but the relevance extends beyond HR to all organizational leaders and suggests the need for renewed focus on employee communication efforts.

Too often employee communication is left to chance and is not part of a well designed and carefully implemented strategic effort to address measurably identified areas of misperception, dissatisfaction or opportunity.

Whether you’re introducing a new benefit plan or announcing a merger, a structured – and strategic – approach to communication can boost your chances of success in terms of employee understanding and buy-in. Here’s a step-by-step process that guarantees results:

 1. Know your desired “end state.” What is the outcome that you’re looking for? For example: Do you hope to increase the number of employees who sign up for a certain plan option? Do you hope to influence employee perception of a change in benefits? Do you wish to increase employee understanding of a key issue that impacts your organization?

2. Identify the specific audience(s) you wish to impact. Just as when developing communications for external audiences, the more clearly – and narrowly – you can define your target audiences, the better able you will be to develop messages that will resonate with them. Your employee audience is made up of a variety of potential segments – new employees, entry-level employees, management employees, part-time employees, etc. You might segment by job classification, shift worked or work location.

3. Develop key messages by audience. Each audience or stakeholder group will be impacted by your message in different ways. Their different perspectives and interests will also influence how you communicate with them and the content of your messages.

4. Clarify timing issues. When do you need to communicate and in what order? In some cases, regulations will dictate the timing of your message (a plant closing, for example). In other cases, you may be driven by practicality – if employees need to make benefit selections by January 1, how much time should they have to make their decisions? A communication on December 25 is too late. A communication on September 1 may be too early. The order of your messages is equally important. For example, you would not want to announce a new performance evaluation requirement at a town hall meeting of all employees, if you haven’t first communicated with your management staff.

5. Establish your budget. A simple announcement (e.g. “the south parking lot will be closed for resurfacing on Monday”) often involves no budget, other than staff time. More complex communications – (e.g. the introduction of a new wellness program) might require the development of brochures and other materials, a web site, posters, etc.).

6. Select communication tactics. How will you communicate your messages to the groups you’ve identified? First consider the variety of communication tools at your disposal – bulletin boards, newsletters, intranet site, flyers, email, meetings, etc. Then select from among these those that would be most appropriate – given the message and your established budget – and that would be most likely to have the desired impact with a specific target group. Use multiple tactics to reinforce your message and ensure that it won’t be overlooked.

7. Plan to measure. How will you determine whether your communication efforts had an impact? Some measures may be very simple – how many employees signed up for the new health plan option? Others may be more complex – to what extent were employees’ perceptions of the corporate headquarters move impacted positively by your communications?

Communication with employees shouldn’t just “happen.” A strategic approach will ensure that your resources – time and money – are used most effectively and that your communication efforts achieve the desired results.

For more information, see our white paper: An 8-Step Process for Creating Effective Internal Communication Plans.

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