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Transparency and authenticity in employee communications

‘Keeping it real’ when communicating with employees

By Brian Kreissl

I have mentioned a few times over the past few years how people these days expect a much greater degree of transparency and authenticity from organizational communications. This reflects a number of different trends in society including the rise of social media, greater concern for corporate social responsibility and an increased focus on customer service.

This applies not only with respect to communications between customers, vendors and suppliers in both business-to-business (B2B) and business-to-consumer (B2C) markets, but also in relation to how organizations communicate with employees, contractors and job candidates. In the case of employees and candidates, there are a number of additional factors driving the desire for greater transparency and authenticity, including an increased focus on employee engagement and recognition of the importance of employer branding and candidate experience.

So, what do I mean by transparency and authenticity, and why are these two concepts so important to the way organizations communicate with employees? Transparency refers to how honest and open an organization is in its communications, while authenticity is a related concept meaning the organization should strive to be more “real” and even “human” in some respects.

Transparency in employee communications

Transparency is an important concept in human resources management. It relates to the degree of openness with respect to HR programs and policies and an organization’s dealings with employees generally.

The most commonly cited example of organizational transparency is compensation. An organization that values transparency will often publicize things like salary ranges and job grades.

Employees in such organizations can often look up the salary range for jobs posted at a certain grade level. Employers that take a transparent approach to compensation and rewards will often create total rewards statements to share with employees and communicate individual grade levels and compa-ratios to employees so they know where they stand with respect to the minimum and maximum ranges and midpoints.

Being transparent with regard to compensation reflects certain organizational values and the employer’s total rewards philosophy. However, not every organization takes a transparent approach to compensation and total rewards.

But just because an organization doesn’t value transparency in compensation doesn’t mean it shouldn’t try to take a transparent approach to employee communications generally. This is particularly important in the context of organizational change.

While certain details and activities must be kept confidential or be communicated only at the right time, employers should be honest and open about the rationale for change and how it is likely to impact employees. Examples of the type of things that need to be kept confidential include pending mergers, acquisitions and divestitures and the exact reasons for an employee’s departure as a result of a termination.

It is also important to consider the timing of announcements and communications and take a phased approach to communications in such situations. Developing a communications plan is vitally important when dealing with major organizational change. It is also important to determine the appropriate communication channels and who is going to deliver the information to stakeholders.

Nevertheless, people aren’t stupid and it is important not to try to spin a negative change as something positive or hide important details about a change that are going to become public knowledge in the near future. People will respect the organization much more if it is open and transparent in such situations and provides organizational context.

Authenticity in the age of social media

Authenticity is something we hear a lot about in the age of social media. Millennials in particular seem to value communications that are real and authentic, but not just when responding to some comment on social media.

Organizational communications should appear to come from a real person and deal directly, publicly and honestly with criticism. Even if a communication comes from a shared mailbox or a company Twitter account, it should sound like it was written by a real person and not some corporate automaton.

People don’t respect organizations when they communicate using excessive corporate jargon, hype or spin. They also understand that even corporations can make mistakes and should be willing to own up to their errors and foibles. In many ways, people are more likely to judge an organization in the way it handles a crisis than the fact that it happened in the first place.

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Brian Kreissl

Brian Kreissl is the product development manager for Thomson Reuters Legal Canada's human resources, OH&S, payroll and records retention products and solutions.
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