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Get a Mouthpiece that Matters

You spend a lot of time tweaking your HR processes and programs. Much of this time, I’m sure, is spent on enveloping your stuff in the appropriate communications – getting people to use and appreciate what you’ve worked so hard to provide. Email, WebEx, Conference Calls, Desk Drops, Fliers…whatever. My guess is that the returned benefit from these efforts are incremental at best. I suppose many of you are missing a crucial element to this whole game. And most of you won’t like what I have to say:

Your employees are downright tired of hearing from you.

Most employees treat a message from HR like you treat a marketing piece from the credit card companies – it goes straight into the trash unopened. They’ve come to believe that whatever else they have going on is far too important to be bothered by your junk. And they’ve learned that there are few, if any, negative repercussions to ignoring this junk. They may even put it aside with good intentions of getting back to it…but it too will go untouched…I promise you. The most effective way of combating this issue?

Use a respected mouthpiece.

My boss controls my employment, my advancement, and my compensation. She is the single most important stakeholder I have in my career. When she sends me an Email, I read it immediately. When she calls me, I put everything else down and pick up the phone. When she schedules a meeting, I’m there without exception. When she asks me to wash her car, I wax it too. Example: stop organizing and then conducting the conference calls to roll-out the upcoming year-end evaluation process. Everybody already knows you think it’s important. Let someone who really matters stand up and champion the cause. Suggestion: Take some time to create a turnkey presentation – collaborating with the business leaders while you do so. Tailor those presentations to the various business units. And then ask the head of those respective units to make the presentation to their employees. They can do it during a recurring team meeting, they can schedule it as a special event. But they need to make the presentation and you shouldn’t even be in the room. Introductory memos or Emails? Have it come from their desks. Reminder messages? Let them be the bad guys.

Not only will the employees end up paying attention to the message, but they are more likely to then go do what they’ve been asked to do. If the person who matters to an employee says it to an employee, then it will matter to that employee. I know this is hard to hear, but you are not that person who matters.

Photo Credit: Sax.Co.UK

  • Robin Schooling

    I like this. A Lot.

  • Sarah Perry

    You are right of course, but getting managers and supervisors to buy into communicating HR initiatives is pretty darn hard! Consider the sales manager who has a hard target to hit, is he/she really going to take the time (and his teams time) to spend on communicating HR processes and programs when there are more pressing concerns (from the team’s perspective)?
    As with most things there are sadly no silver bullets. Effective HR communication consists of a range of techniques and tools (which include getting managers to buy into the wider communication process in the first place). Here are some more suggestions here if it’s of interest:

  • Charlie

    @Robin – I thought you might!

    @Sarah – I’m all for shameless promotions…particularly when they come with some relevance to the post. But at the end of the day, another tool is just another tool. A warm voice that has some teeth will always make a bigger impact. Yes it’s hard. So what. I’d rather HR people spend their energies, though, focused on creating the kinds of relationships that they can leverage for these communications – without exception – than word-smithing some stupid Email ten times over with hopes it will get someone’s attention. We need to stop looking to some tool to fix our problems and get back to the basics of good old fashioned human interaction.

  • Jen Turi

    Great post, Charlie. And though I agree with Sarah that it is difficult, if it can be done it makes a huge difference. Think about the fact that people don’t quit jobs they quit managers and that sums it up right there. I also love your comment that we need to get back to good old fashioned human interaction. AMEN!!!
    Jen Turi´s last [type] ..Empower Your Employees

  • Yancey the BasicEmployeeRights Advocate

    Interesting hypothesis however, there is a downside to this statement, “If the person who matters to an employee says it to an employee, then it will matter to that employee. I know this is hard to hear, but you are not that person who matters.” What if the supervisor or manager is incompetently trained, has poor interpersonal skills or is biased toward certain groups.

    For example, HR issues a memo to various departments about cultural sensitivity training and directs managers to inform their employees of times and days. Let’s say the theme focuses on respecting divergent religions in the workplace with Islam being the topic.

    A manager in a company’s IT “conveniently” forgets to inform the three Saudi Arabian programmers in his department about the training. This same manager has a history of making negative statements about Islam and other religions in the past. Now there is the potential minefield of a religion discrimination charge.

    Whether employees take what HR says seriously or not is one issue. However, the idea that supervisors and managers should replace direct HR communication to employees has potential to backfire as well.

  • Charlie

    @Yancey – thanks for the gut check and your cautions should be (and typically are) heeded by we HR folk. it’s important to keep that perspective. a couple of reactions, though.

    1) The only way we can come close to relying on our managers to communicate these messages effectively is if a) we trust them to do so and b) we feed them the messages.
    2) If we have a manager still employed who “has a history of making negative statements about Islam,” then we have bigger problems than communication.
    3) I’m tired of hording our HR expertise as if we’re the only ones who get it. Most (good) managers get this stuff and with a little prodding, education, and accountability, they can be great ambassadors (and an extra set of hands) for us. We should not and can not be the only group in the organization who can be trusted to send thoughtful, civil, and meaningful messages to our people. A major part of our job is making sure lots of people in the organization are good at doing just that…and can be trusted while they do so.