HR Roundtable: Just What is Effective HR Communication?

Everyone on the planet thinks they are amazing communicators.

In fact, most people put how incredible they are as communicators on their resumes. Ironically, when you ask people what the number one problem is at companies today, the answer would be poor communication.

So, the HR Roundtable in Cincinnati gathered in December to discuss, “Just what is “Effective Communication?” To get the troops started in their small group discussions, Steve posed the following questions:

  1. What obstacles keep us from effectively communicating?
  2. Why isn’t communication “great?”
  3. How can HR become the communication hub of the company?

People dove into the topic with a palpable fervor! There was no shortage of opinions on this topic, and it took some time to pull everyone back together to see what was being discussed. When everyone came to rest, their answers were fantastic!

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What keeps us from effectively communicating?

  • Fear. This can’t be overstated. People at work are afraid. Afraid to make a mistake. Afraid to be talked about negatively. Afraid that someone else will be right. This is a shame, but it lurks just beneath the cultural façade that companies put forward. It needs to be called out and addressed.
  • Company culture. Isn’t this ironic as well? We often talk about how culture should be great through HR venues and forums, but it can be a gigantic wall to effective communication as well. Have you looked at this? As HR, is it more important to build the visible culture while ignoring how communication occurs? May be time to review this and see what’s happening . . .
  • Political correctness. This doesn’t mean that people should ever use labels or derogatory language. In fact, it’s common sense, but it doesn’t mean that people won’t be ignorant. This is more along the line of “politics” in the office. Because of incessant posturing, people will alter their communication to protect themselves. Politics are a detriment to communication for many reasons.
  • Not making time. We’re so busy doing other “important” things that we push communication to the background. What’s funny about this is the electronic world we live in. We rush to type the next great email, but don’t take the time to make sure it has context, relevance and true need. We just publish in order to be heard. We also feel face-to-face communication is cutting into things that REALLY need to be done. This sad truth knows no level in an organization. Making time for people needs to be a priority, not a hindrance!
  • Informal channels. The majority of communication happens behind the scenes vs. the formal forums and/or meetings that people have. The risk in this is that the natural filter all of us have when we communicate can dilute or miscommunicate the intended message.
  • Socialization. This is the horrid trap that HR continues to promote with the “same message – all people – ALWAYS!” There’s no differentiation in the messaging and too often it creates a “miss.” You need to take into account the audience you’re trying to reach as well as the context of the message. All for one and one for all is blind conformity.

Why isn’t communication “great?”

  • Time – again. This was a very heated point at the Roundtable. Many folks were passionate about how they just didn’t have enough time to make communication great. The problem with this approach is this: We all have enough time to be a great communicator, but it just depends on how we choose to use our time. If communication is important, you’ll make the time for it. If it’s a hassle, then guess what your outcome is going to be.
  • Access to people. Not everyone in an organization has the same access to messages either because of how things are communicated (not everyone has a smartphone) or there is no consistent system of how communication happens within the company. HR can take the lead here and see the communication webs that occur and analyze how to most effectively and consistently reach people. We need to meet people where THEY are, not just what we think is the most convenient delivery method for us.
  • We don’t trust people. Sad. We could do an entire series of Roundtables on this. HR continues to try to get people to earn their trust, and that is fostered throughout company culture. Why not try a better approach? Trust people first. You will get burnt at times because you’re dealing with people, but if you model that you trust others, people will follow over time.
  • We’re selfish. This may not be a huge revelation, but people think of themselves first. I can hear the readers saying, “Yeah, you have to! Because if I don’t, who will?” (feel the defiance). Again, there’s a different way to be effective. Think of others before yourself. When you’re crafting this new communication launch (say Group Health Open enrollment), think of how what you’re saying affects others vs. just making sure the information gets pushed out.

How can HR be the company communication hub?

  • Be integrated in the business. This isn’t just a catch phrase. The more that HR is intertwined in the company’s daily goings on, the better they are positioned to communicate. If HR continues to sit at their desk issuing emails and memos, communication will continue to falter.
  • Train people. When HR looks at what to train people on, quit following the new flashy trend and focus on what needs to improve in your company! If communication is the topic that continues to come up, then train people on how communication occurs so that assumed culture doesn’t rule how things are done.
  • Be the example. This seems simple and trite, but it’s far from it. If HR would lead the charge as the communication hub and truly own it, then people would respond. There is risk in this, but it’s worth it. Think how amazing it would be if HR was the bridge between the silos in organizations!
  • Listen. Most communication can improve dramatically if people would listen – including HR! Take time, breathe deep and hear what is being said before determining a response after the first few words are uttered. Listening is a skill that needs discipline and practice. Try it and see how much better communication becomes!

This was a great session and people were jazzed about what was discussed and shared. In fact, it revealed the topic that will kick off 2012 – “How do I deal with difficult people?” 

Steve Browne

Steve Browne, SHRM-SCP, is the Executive Director of Human Resources for LaRosa's, Inc., a regional pizzeria restaurant chain in the Greater Cincinnati and Dayton, Ohio area with 16 locations and over 1,200 team members. Steve has been an HR professional for more than 30 years in the manufacturing, consumer products, and professional services industries. He facilitates a monthly HR Roundtable in Cincinnati and runs an Internet message board for HR pros that reaches 7,800 plus people weekly. Steve joined the SHRM Board of Directors in January 2016. You can contact him at sbrowne@larosas.com, or on Twitter (@sbrownehr). You can also read more on his personal blog, Everyday People.