Make ‘Better Communication’ Your No. 1 HR Resolution

We’re told that employees in mission-driven organizations are more engaged. But surely this applies only if the employees, themselves, feel they have a role to play in achieving that mission, which can’t happen if they are routinely kept in the dark. A robust, mission-driven organization requires robust employee communications. Today, when Google, smart phones, social media and cable news have accustomed nearly all of us to non-stop information access, the expectation of open, ongoing communications is stronger than ever.

Fortunately, it’s not that hard to create a culture of great communication. Just in time for the season of new beginnings, here are some tips:

Tell the truth — Chances are, you don’t make it a practice to hire stupid employees. Respect their intelligence by being as candid as possible about what’s going on — the good and the bad. This is essential not just because they can do a better job if they have the correct information, but because once it becomes clear that the organization’s communications can’t be trusted, there is no point in putting them out at all. No one will pay attention.

Dump the jargon — say it straight — Nothing is guaranteed to make your employees’ eyes glaze over more than jargon-filled corporate-speak. Skip the impenetrable acronyms. Swap out “maximize” for “make the most of” and “leverage” for “take advantage of.” Trade-in “utilize” for “use” (the more correct word in nearly every case, anyway). Writing or speaking in a clear, direct, even informal style does not diminish your message — it enhances it.

Say it more than once — We are all busy, and we are all bombarded constantly with messaging. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that you’ve communicated something if you’ve only said it once. Say it multiple times, ideally using multiple formats (email, internal social media, video, presentations, posters, etc). If what you are trying to communicate is a program or policy for employees, remember that new employees are always coming on board, and current employees’ life circumstances are always changing. Say it again and again — and then say it once more.

Let everybody in on the news — Don’t make the mistake of defining your audience too narrowly. Just because one bit of news about the organization may be particularly relevant to sales, doesn’t mean it might not also be of interest to someone in operations. If you want everyone on board with your mission, get everyone in on what’s going on, even if it doesn’t (seem to) directly apply to them. Who knows? They may find unexpected ways to support or build on that new initiative in another department.

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Make it personal — What better way to recognize and inspire employees than to share stories about them? Use business updates as an opportunity for shout-outs about individual and team contributions. Consider initiating a regular series featuring profiles of workers in jobs up and down the organization. Let employees tell their own stories by inviting them to contribute to newsletters, or create their own internal social media profiles. Speaking of which…

Invite employees to participate in the conversation — Communications have always been better when they go in two (or more) directions, rather than solely top-down. But the advent of social media has added a whole new layer of expectation about this — from Facebook to Twitter to comments on online news articles, we all expect to be able to chime in. If you’re able to provide an internal social media space for your employees to respond to information coming from the top, as well as share their own questions, ideas, and successes, you’ll go far toward creating a culture of open, inclusive communications. Of course you can also encourage employee involvement the old fashioned way: by providing plenty of time for questions and discussion during meetings.

Make sure your underlying messages spell inclusion, too — We all know the medium is the message. Your communications can be filled with words about the value of diversity, but if they are illustrated only with pictures of white men, or aren’t accessible to people with disabilities — or people on your manufacturing floor – or mostly take the form of meetings scheduled for a time when parents have left to get their kids, your true feelings about diversity will become apparent pretty quickly.

When employees can confidently expect to know what’s going on in their organization, and feel they are a welcome part of the conversation, they are more likely to take ownership and engage. Ongoing, honest, inclusive, multi-directional communications play a huge role in creating a culture with a clear and strong mission, understood by all.

Robin Hardman, owner of Robin Hardman Communications, helps companies of all sizes win recognition by helping them put together the best possible “best place to work” and other corporate awards submissions — from Working Mother and Fortune to the Stevies and IABC. When she's not doing that, Robin is helping companies communicate to their employees with compelling and easy-to-read benefits, HR, and general-topic employee communications. Contact her at robin@robinhardman.com.

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