Employees are our greatest asset! In one form or another, companies declare this cliché with earnest intent. Perhaps it’s expressed as valuing the individual, supporting employees’ success or expecting mutual respect. Benefits, compensation, performance planning and other expensive, mission-critical HR initiatives are intended to motivate and reward behavior. But HR communications that don’t deliver on the company’s values can have a nullifying effect on the employer brand promise.
In this eTip, we interviewed Jon Hazel, founder and President of Behavioral Communications, about the impact of communicating HR-driven programs on a company’s employer brand.
BMC: What is your experience in HR communications?
Hazel: 28 years of devising strategy, creating content and managing delivery. The first half of it was with global consulting firms where I got great training, led teams and worked on a wide array of clients and challenges. Then, for several years I headed a corporate HR comm team while the company reengineered just about every way it interacted with employees. Intense! In 2005 I was blessed to launch Behavioral Communications, where we deliver the creatively practical expertise of senior consultants with greater attentiveness and lower price points than the traditional megafirms.
BMC: What are three common ways that HR communications can betray a company’s employer brand?
Hazel: Every company has definable “people values,” whether established through a formalized employer brand strategy or general reputation. Familiar values typically involve expectations related to caring, respect, effective communication, performance excellence and so on.
But HR communications invite employee skepticism when they don’t seem to embrace those values and lead by example. Consider:
1) Excessive volume and complexity. You may have experienced this classic example: A new hire comes aboard excited and eager, but is soon loaded up with a dizzying hodgepodge of seemingly unrelated insurance and employment documents, coupled with warnings and deadlines. Right off the bat, what questions might that new hire have about the company’s respect for her time, facilitating her efficiency, communicating effectively? HR subject matter may be complex, so all the more reason to present it concisely, cohesively and with obvious consideration of the employee’s situation.
2) Untested solutions. It’s ironic how often the voice of employees is missing from HR communications. For on-target, brand-validating communication, nothing beats a structured process for gathering user input during planning and for pre-rollout testing.
3) Missing in action. A true test of HR communications’ brand alignment is how well they help employees take action at the point-of-need, not just how well they explain programs. For example, when a family member needs hospital care, do employees and spouses know where to get quick, “how-to” guidance for using their medical coverage, steps for any required notifications, important considerations about time off/leave policies and how other benefits may come into play?
BMC: What steps should a company take for its HR communications to build and support its employer brand?
Hazel: The concepts of effective HR communications are very similar to marketing communications: Build and protect the brand, make it easy to do business, understand your customers and what it takes to meet their needs, show you care about them, realize you must “sell” them over and over, and so on.
Look at companies on the “best places” lists. Many that consistently deliver on the expectations of their employer brand treat employees as internal customers. Here’s what we recommend, for starters:
1) Behavioral goals. First answer: What do we want our employees to do – specifically? By what measure will we know when we’ve achieved each goal?
2) Employees as customers. Objectively look at the spectrum of your HR programs and the way each is communicated. What is the “customer” experience with each? Does it live up to the brand promise? Do customers understand the HR “products” and use them effectively? Are their problems/questions resolved quickly? Is the quality and thoughtfulness of your HR communications on par with your customer and shareholder communications? What would Yelp reviews say about them?
3) Written strategy. Chances are you won’t get around to evaluating and improving your HR communications without a written plan – including specific deadlines and accountabilities – that is endorsed by the appropriate senior leaders.
4) Customer-endorsed solutions. Your employees know better than anyone how well your HR communications deliver on your brand promise. They will tell you everything you need to know to make the “sale.” Always use valid, structured feedback methods, not anecdotal comments.
5) Fix processes, too. When a client asked for help with complaints about new-hire communications, we found the real problem was a broken process. New hires had four weeks to enroll in benefits, but enrollment kits took up to three weeks to arrive. Even great communication cannot make up for a clunky process.
BMC: Any last words of wisdom in regard to HR communications
Hazel: Let’s remember the “H” in HR is for human. If the humans at your company are experiencing HR communications that don’t align with your employer brand promise, it is damaging the brand's credibility along with wasting money, staff time and employee productivity. But when employees’ interactions with HR consistently reaffirm the brand promise, the credibility flows to a variety of positive behaviors and performance measures.
Jon Hazel is the founder and president of Behavioral Communications, which consults on strategy, develops content and manages delivery of communications to support employee engagement in HR-driven initiatives. The firm is based in St. Augustine, Florida, with team members in Texas, Missouri, and North Carolina.