You’re ready to roll out a great new employee program.
You send out some emails, do a few presentations and generate some interest.
But soon, the buzz dies down and the whole thing is practically forgotten.
Based on what I hear from clients, this scenario is all too common. No matter how good you think the communications are, they don’t ignite lasting change.
There are many reasons why a particular communication or campaign fails, but I think it becomes more difficult for these efforts to blossom if they lack fertile, strategic ground in which to take root.
Without a comprehensive strategy, coming up with a cool, new communication is like trying to invent a new traffic sign without abiding by the MUTCD.
Below, I highlight a few of the most common roadblocks I encounter that keep organizations from having a solid HR communication strategy.
Most of these roadblocks can be difficult or even impossible for a single individual or team to overcome. So, I’m going to suggest some practical countermeasures you can take at a small scale that can help.
#1: HR Communication Planning Is Siloed
You have your own communication budget and you do your own planning — and so do all the other centers of excellence within HR. This is a missed opportunity. When everyone is doing their own thing, good ideas, tools, channels and resources are not being leveraged for the benefit of all. Many of the other problems in this list start to emerge as a result of this siloed approach.
Countermeasure: Collaboration. If you have no central communication resource, gather up your HR colleagues who are similarly tasked with communication responsibilities, and form a squad or guild. Get together regularly to discuss your needs and to share ideas and solutions.
#2: There Is No Cohesive HR Identity
If there’s no cohesive approach, there can be no cohesive identity. As a result, every campaign coming out of HR is a one-off effort — another piece of junk mail vying for attention in a crowded corporate inbox.
One of the biggest eye-opening moments during an engagement is when we reveal to a client the results of a communication audit. All we have to do is put a few samples of the organization’s communications side by side and everyone sees immediately how disjointed they are.
Lacking a cohesive identity will undermine your efforts to get employees to recognize and fully appreciate everything your organization has to offer. It also means that, with every campaign, you’re spending precious time and resources (or, worse, none at all) figuring out what your content should look and sound like.
Countermeasure: Communication guidelines. If you can’t get help from someone with brand development experience, you can still create a simple set of guidelines that document the verbal, visual and experiential identity of your content and communications. Pull together a few diverse communication samples that you think best represent the program you own. Find the similarities in how they look and sound. Focus on what makes them distinct from other company communications but still aligned with your organization’s brand. Distill it down to a page or two of words and images that literally show someone how to create content and communications for you. Then, make sure all future media align with these examples.
#3: Your Intranet Is a Mess
You can’t rely on your section of the intranet to reach employees because employees don’t rely on the intranet as a source of useful information.
This cycle must be broken.
How to fix this problem depends on several issues, some of which are complex and technical.
Countermeasure: Content management. Don’t dismiss or ignore your intranet. It should be a reliable source of up-to-date, authoritative information. Depending on your platform, it might also foster collaboration and audience feedback. We typically recommend performing an audit of content, processes and requirements, and then developing site maps and process maps. This is not an easy or quick step but, in the long run, it will make managing content on an enterprise-wide scale easier. Imagine, for example, that you have to update site content about your organization’s compensation programs. Wouldn’t it be helpful to have a single document that shows you where all that content resides and how to manage versions across employee types and geographies?
#4: HR Lacks Communication Resources
Quite simply, you lack the time, money, people, skills and tools to do it all.
Countermeasure: Partnerships and/or simplicity. Of course, we here at Smith would love to become your go-to communication partner. But, if you can’t always engage professional help, be realistic about your capacity and capabilities. It’s better to have a one-page intranet site that is accurate than to have a complex navigation scheme filled with out-of-date content and empty pages. Use Word and PowerPoint templates to simplify document creation. If a colleague has a good document or presentation, use it as a model. If someone else in your organization engineered a good campaign, talk them about what worked and copy it.
#5: Employee Audiences Can’t Be Targeted Effectively
As I cover in another post, if you want your audience to pay attention, you have to offer them something of value. It’s tough to do that if you don’t know who you’re talking to or you’re talking to the wrong people.
Countermeasure: Audience segmentation. Get to know your audiences and segment them as much as you can. If you’re making a change that only affects full-time, benefit-eligible employees, be sure you have an email distribution list of only those employees. If you have employees in different geographies, be sure the intranet is serving them relevant content. Use surveys and other sources of data to create audience profiles and personas so you can communicate with greater clarity and relevance.
#6: The Metrics Are Missing
If you’re sending out a communication or creating content, you’re doing it to affect behavior. It’s important to clarify what that behavior is and why you want to change it. Not only will this help you measure the success of the communication, it will help you craft content that is targeted, easier to understand and more actionable.
Countermeasure: Metrics. We were recently asked by a client to update content supporting an employee recognition program. Among our first questions were: How do you know there’s a problem with the current content? How will you know if the new content makes a difference? Even if your best answer is, “We get a lot of questions from managers about it,” find some way to quantify the impact.
#7: Available Communication Channels Are Being Ignored
Email, PowerPoint and the intranet are not the only ways to reach your employees.
I was trapped in a traffic jam on I-4 recently on the way to Disney World with my family. Right next to us was a box truck emblazoned on all sides with ads for an auto accident attorney. How apropos.
Think about your experience outside of the workplace. Consider all the creative ways marketers deliver content to you as close as possible to the moment when you can act on it.
Countermeasure: Process maps and journey maps. You can only create a successful channel strategy when you really know what you’re asking the audience to do, what they need to do it right and when they need it. Process maps and journey maps can help you evaluate all the steps, tools, technologies, people and places involved. They can also help you pinpoint where employees might struggle. You can use this information to figure out where, when and how to deploy content throughout the process. Be flexible and be creative. You might be surprised at where this process leads you.
#8: HR Source Material Is a Bunch of Slides
PowerPoint can be a great presentation tool, but it’s not a great place to articulate a strategy. When you create content in PowerPoint, you think in PowerPoint. That means thinking in choppy bullet points instead of thoughtful sentences and paragraphs.
A lack of source documentation also makes the discovery process more difficult. Instead of handing someone a guide or summary to read, you have to go digging for answers and schedule “brain dumps.” This can literally add weeks to a project schedule.
Countermeasure: Formal documentation. You can keep it short and simple, but try to capture basic details, such as eligibility, a description of the program, websites, contact information, associated metrics and key messages. This is not merely an exercise in discipline or formality. This document becomes content you can later repurpose in presentations, memos, websites and more.
Are any of these roadblocks keeping you from having a killer HR communication strategy? Are you dealing with any others? We’d love to hear from you.