Employees should be buying what HR is selling

Communication is the lifeblood of any relationship and this is especially true for the relationship between HR and its company.

HR believes it has a lot more to offer than it once did, but success depends on everyone else in the organization understanding their changed role. Because of this, it has become increasingly important for human resources professionals to clearly explain what they are doing and why.

A new study of Canadian human resources professionals — HR’s Quest for Status: Fantasy or Emerging Reality? — conducted by Canadian HR Reporter and consulting firm Watson Wyatt Canada, shows that while almost one in five of the respondents say they don’t perform internal employee communication, more than 78 per cent say they do carry out this task. Also, more than 80 per cent of respondents said communication and interpersonal skills for HR leaders are very important.

But, there is a difference between performing communication as a necessity and doing it effectively. Sandy French, president of Northern Lights, a Canadian internal communications agency, says the difference is like apples and oranges. He says HR departments may have communication methods in place, but many do it poorly.

“Most organizations don’t have anyone in charge of communications, so by default HR has inherited it, particularly because they often own initiatives that are company-wide,” he says.

And these HR people assigned to communication usually don’t have the necessary skills to perform the function properly. The value of communication often gets ignored, says French.

“They don’t have anyone in charge of making it (communication) a priority, of actually putting processes, systems and training in place to make it better,” he says. “It’s a competency that hasn’t been developed and it falls to each individual’s personal ability.

“All programs and initiatives unless they’re communicated effectively, really don’t have any value. Companies spend millions of dollars on a new flex benefit program and no one gets it. They have a new incentive pay program and people don’t understand it, then why are you putting it in?”

The Royal Canadian Mint has a unique communication approach. They’re using new technology to keep employees up-to-date with the latest HR news and issues. They even have an internal video system showing PowerPoint presentations in their company cafeteria.

“It’s like headline news, it flashes HR headlines and stories up there all day,” says Chris Szelestowski, director of HR.

The City of Waterloo in Ontario has also implemented creative ways to achieve two-way communication. Since the re-design of their strategic business plan four years ago, communication is the central point for all their internal business, says Kathy Durst, director of HR and assistant Chief Administrative Officer. They have various programs in place to let employees know what HR is doing for them and it seems to be working. This year they were chosen as one of Canada’s 100 top employers by Maclean’s magazine and the selection was primarily based on their work-life balance program. A program that could not be completed without feedback from employees, Durst says.

“We worked with the associations and the unions to develop a survey that was going to ask employees some very personal questions,” she says.

The questionnaire asked employees to talk about their personal relationships, stress levels outside of work and their financial status because “we were finding that when people reported work-related issues to us, it had little to do often times with work. It had more to do with what was going on during their non-work hours,” says Durst.

The answers were strictly confidential and the process from start to finish had input from employees. This included an employee steering committee that developed the questionnaires and assessed the data. Out of this survey, HR gained a grasp of what needed to be addressed when creating their work-life program.

The City of Waterloo also conducts a “search conference” every year in which they measure the culture change in the organization. They take 60 employees from across the company and ask them four standardized questions. The same questions are asked every year and then they proceed with an organizational cultural inventory.

“We’ve tracked the last six years to see whether or not our culture is changing. To see where we are making changes in employee satisfaction and work-life. So we have many tools that keep us in tune with what’s going on in our company.”

When talking about effective communication, HR branding can be a valuable tool, the problem is not many companies know what it is.

Linda Johannesson of Watson Wyatt says HR branding is necessary if HR wants to get its point across. She says some HR departments are having success with branding because it forces them to align themselves with the business objectives.

What is HR branding exactly?

“It has components of marketing HR, but it’s more than that. It’s a strategic focus on the development of an experience. An experience that can be communicated clearly and effectively by everyone affected by it,” she says.

It means creating a common look and feel for the HR department, says French, but it should be bigger than just HR and be applied to all employee-related communication.

“Information that is going to employees, that is coming from the company, should have a common look and feel to separate it from information that goes to customers and suppliers, “ he says. “It helps with the communication because when employees see it they say, ‘Oh, this is for me. It’s about my working life here and I should pay attention.’”

Both the City of Waterloo and Royal Canadian Mint use standardized internal branding and are pleased with the results.

“It keeps telling people what our goal is for sure,” says Durst. “We’re not about a visit to the principal’s office any longer. We’ve got over that perception that if you have to go to HR you’re in trouble. We’re not about to hand you a pink slip.”

For more information on internal and external branding go to www.hrreporter.com, select Search and enter article #1505 or #607.

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