Comp Guide for a Small Company: Make Your DIY Communications Effective

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Aug 28, 2018

Note: This is the third article of a 4-part series on compensation practices for small companies. In this series Margaret O’Hanlon shows how a small company typically deals with compensation, discussing each of a few key practices and what problems these may create as the company grows. She offers her insights on how to improve these practices to avoid difficulties as the company expands from under 100 employees to 1,000. Each installment of the series will be published on successive Tuesdays. Links to the previous sections are here.


An appropriate application of ingenuity;” that’s a great way to describe how you’d be handling employee communications when you are leading a small or mid-sized company. And really, is there any other way a human resources professional could manage compensation communications when she or he is running an overwhelmed one-person office?

One thing I can tell you is that you should grade every communication you send as the “good, better or best” way of handling pay transparency. Given your limited resources, you need to be candid with yourself about what you really did pull off, and how much more communication would actually have been needed to be as effective as possible.

Whether or not you plan to deliver those “best practices” communications, it’s crucial to be truthful about what you’ve really accomplished. So many companies sour on compensation communications early, thinking they are having no influence on employees. It’s more strategic to realize that if you can’t put enough effort into compensation communications, your communications are simply notifying employees of news (think government notification of Social Security benefits) and you really can’t expect them to change their views or act any differently as result.

Being candid with yourself will help you envision what you really would need to do in order to change employee views or behavior, which will give you a sense of the steps and resources that should go into a more effective plan. You know, the plan that you’ll execute when you have more time and resources, and are not just running on ingenuity.

At the same time, you don’t want to let yourself off the hook too easily, so the following is a list of the four communication steps that are considered best practices both for companies of fewer than 100 and for those growing toward 500 employees. In other words, the kinds of communications that should be considered best practices in the case about Healthy Gadgets medical device company that we’ve been following in the last two articles of this “Growing a Healthy Compensation Program” series.

1. HR “branded” templates

Set up templates for emails and email attachments that have a “look” that employees can come to identify as HR’s. It’s so easy to do by adapting existing samples — if you’re not handy — or by having some fun using a DIY approach. There will be so much payoff, with such a reasonable investment, to having your communications look different than the tsunami of other company communications they receive. Here’s a place to start and a service provider that I really like to use. Create PowerPoint templates that you’ll use for email attachments of in-house documents, and cut and paste the visual elements you choose to identify the department into the emails you send. Select them to look different from (but coordinated with) your company’s branded templates — because they should distinguish HR as a unique information source.

2. Formal communication plan

“If I’m in the midst of making do, how can you imagine that I have time to create a formal communication plan?”

Isn’t that the thought that just went through your mind? Truthfully, this is far easier than you’d imagine and far more useful than you may have considered in the past.

Start by creating an HR event calendar which includes all benefits, wellness, performance management, compensation and employee event dates on a common calendar. With that visual in front of you, you are more than 50% on your way to a formal communication plan. You can now see set dates for announcement emails, executive presentations and major line meetings like the sales meeting. If you’ve included manager responsibilities on the calendar, for example, performance management deadlines, you’ll know when their customized communications should go out, too. You can also see if any events overlap, so you can either plan to coordinate communications or to adjust the schedule.

3. Legal requirements

Most HR practitioners jump on employee handbooks and lunchroom posters early in a company’s start-up. But how do you expect employees to use them? That’s rarely very clear, so it becomes a valuable topic to include in new employee orientation.

4. Employee listening

As the employee group total grows closer to 500, the only practical way to listen to what’s on employees’ minds is through formal listening techniques. It’s time to consider focus groups or an employee survey, handled by a third party, so you can promise confidentiality to the participants.

Not ready to do anything about findings from any form of information gathering at this point in your company’s growth? It is wise to move slowly in this case, but unwise to avoid formal listening entirely. Instead use the technique of limiting your listening goal to a single employee relations issue that you can address, or to a review of the company’s business strategy and upcoming strategic initiatives about which you can have an open discussion.

5. What are we missing?

As you grow, the value of an intranet becomes more and more obvious until not having one becomes an obstacle to completing daily work. Recognize that by the time that you are closing in on 750 to 1,000 employees, you won’t be able to function well without one. Even though the decision to invest in technology may not be up to you, don’t leave yourself unaware of the choices you’ll have to make. On your own, review some of the technology options that your company will probably consider, like Workday. This way you can begin to think about a transition that will work best for you and your employees.

This article was first published on Compensation Cafe.

Here are the other parts of this series:

  1. A Small Company Guide to Growing a Healthy Compensation Program
  2. Comp Guide for a Small Company: Why You Need a Salary Survey