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Future of employee communication

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Wink Future of employee communication - May 25th, 2006

Ganesh Chella

Circa 1975: A young employee transferred to a new location wants to know if his company policy permits transport of his scooter on company cost.

He musters the courage to meet the Chief of Personnel, who reluctantly pulls out a thick black confidential file called the HR Policy Manual, holds it close to his chest and tries to find the answer to this mysterious question. The employee is silently frustrated.

Today's young employees would find it very hard to believe this!

If there is one area where organisations have scored the most convincing victory, it is in the area of promoting transparency and openness in employee communication. What was once a source of power and control has now been completely liberated, giving thousands of employees free access to all their organisational information needs.

ILLS OF PAST


So, has the battle of employee communication been finally won? Not really. We have merely corrected the ills of the past! The emergence of mega corporations with 50,000-plus employees, the explosion of information sources, the emergence of the new breed of well-informed and networked employees, the cultural shift promoted by high employee mobility and, most important, the acute pressure to attract and retain employees pose unprecedented new challenges to employee communication.

To understand and respond to these challenges, we will need to reinvent ourselves by finding answers to at least five serious questions:

If employees are as valuable as customers, why would you treat employee communication as any less important than customer communication?

Look at it this way. Acquiring and retaining employees is now no less difficult and expensive than acquiring and retaining customers.

It is only logical that organisations invest no less in their employee communication efforts than they do in their customer communication efforts.

If your marketing department relies on specialist communication firms to get the right message across to their customers, why should the HR department mess around with inferior and amateur talent in this area?

The current reality is far from encouraging. HR communication in many organisations is quite sad.

Faded photo-copies, poorly-written English, officious language and unclear and inconsistent messages abound. Many organisations, which allocate huge budgets to support the launch of their products and services to ensure visibility, do such a pathetic job when it comes to launching any of their internal HR practices and programmes.

In fact, at the heart of the failure of many of these programmes lie ineffective and grossly inadequate communication efforts.

Tomorrow's mega organisations working across multiple geographies need extremely robust communication strategies to get consistent and clear messages across.

Quite clearly employee communication is no longer the exclusive domain of HR. It needs the involvement of corporate communication, PR, marketing and so on.

If your employees now have access to multiple sources of information about your organisation, can you get away with nicely sanitised "top down" communication and still stay credible?

Organisations have traditionally believed that they have control over what their employees can and cannot get to know.

The truth, however, is that employees have access to multiple information sources — investor reports, media reports, alumni news, e-groups, blogs and so on.

Organisation cannot afford to ignore the power of these sources and, more important, do anything that contradicts these sources. They cannot embark on a PR campaign that projects a persona which is quite contrary to these realities.

Beyond a point, "excessive media savvy" only leads to cynicism and anger, not only among employees but also the public at large.

In other words, it would help if organisations did an honest Johari Window for themselves, once in a while!

If the larger society we live in promotes freedom of expression as a fundamental right, can corporations continue to censor, restrict and control freedom of expression any longer?

Most organisations have not yet come to terms with the fact that modern technology promotes free and unbridled upward communication too.

Organisations are today witness to employees sending out mails airing their personal opinions to general lists and are not taking kindly to it.

The coming years will certainly see disgruntled and aggrieved employees posting their views on their personal blogs, leave alone talking to the press about it.

UNEASY QUESTIONS


Can large and responsible organisations really stop this? Should they learn to accept with grace, diverse views, opinions and criticism rather than attempt to gag them?

Does freedom of expression apply within an organisation too? These are uneasy questions for which few have answers.

Should access to communication tools be a matter of status any longer?

Consider these:

If a production supervisor has a mail ID and access to the intranet, why not the workman? Would his voice be heard better and work be more productive if he were given this access and trained in its usage?

If managers can carry their mobile phones into the workplace, why not junior staff and workmen?

If seniors have access to the Internet, why not others?

Our traditional rank and status driven approach to determining access to these tools has to give way to a more "need-based" approach to determine who gets access and who does not. Otherwise, we would be sowing the seeds of perceived inequality.

Can technology ever be a surrogate to person-to-person communication?

In their enthusiasm to use technology to enhance employee communication, many have ended up substituting it for old-fashioned person-to-person communication.

As a result, we seem to be heading towards a work society which is happy to hide its humanness behind technology. This is not only dysfunctional but also sad.

Employee communication in the coming years will call for new competencies. Competencies which HR may have to acquire or co-opt.

What will also help are old-fashioned values of honesty and integrity in communication.

In our efforts to "jazz it up" we should not do to our employees what some of the ad campaigns do to us as consumers!

(The author is founder and CEO of totus consulting, a strategic HR Consulting firm that designs and implements HR systems and process for organisations across diverse industries.)

SOURCE: http://www.blonnet.com/2006/04/24/st...2400220900.htm
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