Disruption demands communication

Communicating throughout HR disruption is critical—implement these 3 suggestions for a mindful, organized approach

Posted by Lauren Mace and Melissa Yim on September 4, 2019.

Is any HR organization immune to disruption? Probably not in today’s world—organizations across industries and markets should consider changing if they hope to keep pace with disruptions in work, workplaces, and how work gets done. Regardless of the source of disruption—harmonizing a total rewards program, a cloud or other technology implementation, a performance management shift—communicating with employees as changes unfold is as important as the work you do to implement the change itself.

Proactive, not reactive. How well you communicate throughout a disruptive event instills a sense of confidence in employees that “you got this.” It also builds trust that you are considering their interests and recognize them as important stakeholders with a role in how successful the change ultimately turns out to be.

How can you most effectively add “Communicate” to your already long to-do list? Organization is key. Remember that HR changes aren’t happening in a silo, so it’s essential to look more broadly at what the organization is facing, what changes are coming up, and even what “business as usual” activities or events are on tap. Keeping the big picture in mind says to employees that you are approaching the disruption in an intentional and organized way.

Planning is critical. Depending on the disruption, decisions may be made quickly or at the last minute. Changes may be impacting all other areas of the business and not just HR. The disruption may be emotional or make employees feel uncertain about their future. And through it all, the daily work needs to continue. Organized communications allow you to address changes in a manner that is planned, considers the holistic experience (no silos here), and takes advantage of the opportunity to strengthen the relationship between employees and the organization.

Here are three suggestions to keep communications organized, timely, mindful, and on point.

1. Design a strategic communications strategy.
To be strategic in how and what you communicate, you must understand at a very detailed level what is changing and take the next step to know what the changes mean for employees. Something that doesn’t seem like a big change in the context of the overall disruption (e.g., learning to access and navigate a new HR platform) may need to be prioritized in a communication because the impact on employees is significant and disruptive. Build these high-impact activities into the plan as you develop your overall communications strategy and the specific communications within it.

  • Create an identity for the change—a name, a logo, a look and feel that brand the effort and help it stand out among all the communications employees receive day to day.
  • Identify key messages, grounded in the positives of the HR changes as much as possible, while always being honest.
  • Develop a timeline so communications roll out in an orderly and mindful way.
  • Compose a narrative to explain the change through corporate storytelling, weaving executive and transformational messaging throughout the communications.
  • Keep communications simple and organized, with consistent content built around the underlying key messages. People consume information in bite-sized pieces today, so strive to use fewer words and more illustrations and infographics.

2. Take an employee experience-centric approach.
High-performing organizations are 1.7x more likely to report that “employee experience” is an HR leader and C-suite priority in their organization.1 As Deloitte’s 2019 Global Human Capital Trends report notes, employee experiences that build enduring relationships and create meaning at work are focused on the individual. It’s particularly important in times of disruption that you think from the employees’ perspective.

  • Think about likely questions employees will have and the key pieces of information they need to answer them…How do I access the enrollment site or the new HRIS or my compensation statement? Where can I find my password? What is being offered to me or asked of me? How soon must I take action?
  • Be clear about timelines, so people know what needs to be addressed now and what is coming up that will be important to address in the future.
  • Make information easy to find and accessible. Employees shouldn’t feel lost or unsure of where to go with questions. Post information regularly and communicate where that information can be found.
  • Open channels for two-way dialogue. Leverage champions, trusted managers in local locations, internal social media, and the like to understand what questions people have and get a sense of how the information is being received and what you should adjust, if necessary, to address concerns or prevent issues.
  • Be authentic—the best way to reach humans is through humans! Communicate with empathy that you understand what’s most important to them. For example, you know that their compensation and benefits are paramount; that they have a lot on their plates and need to be able to get their work done efficiently; that change is unsettling, to say the least. To the extent that things are remaining the same, convey that. To the extent that HR business partners are in the mix and can be a resource, and/or in-person HR meetings or webinars are possible, communicate that.

3. Engage leaders to champion the change.
People want to know that the organization believes in the change and the direction the organization is going, and leaders put a face to that confidence. Starting with high-level leaders first and then cascading down, leaders should be in the forefront to show they support the message and the reasons behind the disruption.

Depending on the source of the disruption, it may take some planning for the communications team to stay in sync with the messages organizational leaders are sharing. For example, in the case of an M&A, HR may need a designated internal resource who can answer questions and help HR be proactive in understanding what changes or transitions are upcoming more broadly. In coordination with the broader plan, HR can determine when and how their information can be shared with employees.

Finding the opportunity in disruption
Disruption is largely unavoidable in today’s working world, so why not use it to your advantage? How you approach and communicate throughout disruption can make all the difference, not only in the ultimate success of the disruptive event itself but also in keeping employees engaged and committed to the organization’s success. In short, by minimizing disruption you can increase the chance of obtaining the expected results.

Lauren Mace is a manager in the Human Capital practice of Deloitte Consulting LLP.

Melissa Yim is a senior manager in the Strategic Communications practice of Deloitte Consulting LLP and leads the Strategic Communications Market Offering within Human Capital.

1 Seven Top Findings for Redefining Total Rewards, BersinTM, Deloitte Consulting LLP / Pete DeBellis and Anna Steinhage, PhD, 2018.

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