In a time of radical change, employees want clarity and accountability from their leaders. In fact, the greater the uncertainty an organisation faces, the more intentional and frequent the leaders’ communications with employees should be, according to research from Mercer.
The shift underscores the need for HR leaders to collaborate with communications teams to deliver timely and accurate information to everyone across the organization, according to speakers at Mercer's 2021 Regional HR Conference.
(Above, from left: Marla Arnall, Senior Principal, Regional Consulting Leader Mercer; Arnab Roy Choudhury, Global Communications and Enablement Lead, Standard Chartered; Salehin Basir, Chartered MCIPD, Human Capital Development (HCD) Manager, Darussalam Assets (Brunei); and Elvin Ong, Global Internal Communication and Change Management Specialist)
“The sheer fact that we share the same internal customers (our employees) should be reason enough to ensure that both teams need to be even better connected,” said global transformation specialist Elvin Ong.
The absence of ‘water cooler chats’
This connectedness became more critical in the absence of casual conversations in the office, which traditionally provided managers a way to gauge employee sentiment and satisfaction.
All this has been sidetracked in the era of remote/hybrid working.
“The faster we recognize that water cooler chats, office pep talks and team lunches are no longer your areas to administer your litmus test, the sooner we can put in key steps that we can work on together,” Ong said during Mercer’s Regional HR Virtual Conference.
“We simply can’t leave [connectedness] to chance and let it be organic,” he said. “We just need to engage, energize and excite our people remotely.
Communication is the foundation of employee engagement.
“With all the social restrictions in place now, it potentially means that 50% of our people are engaged only 50% of the time, and that’s on a good day,” Ong said. “Inevitably, some people will feel left out.”
Remote and hybrid workers still want the “flexibility and autonomy of time” but they want to be “part of the organization’s narrative” while working from home, he added.
“There are many ways to get feedback. I think the biggest challenge today is how we navigate the false negatives and politeness of: ‘If I give you a higher score, can you stop asking again?’”
Ong believes employee communication strategies are ripe for reinvention. “The water cooler has dried up; we need to visit more places more frequently to better understand the new sentiment around transformation policies,” he said.
“The stronger the alignment between our two functions means we can build and shape a more successful transformation narrative together.”
The ‘dynamics of trust’
This observation on casual conversations at work is shared by Arnab Roy Choudhury of Standard Chartered.
“The watering holes have definitely changed in the last 18 months more than anything,” he said. “But it has been changing for a period of more than 18 months; perhaps in the last six to eight years, we’re seeing a whole shift in how the dynamics of trust is changing.”
Choudhury, who serves as Global Communications & Enablement Lead, was also a panelist at the conference on “Cultivating success from the inside out: How communication and HR form the bedrock of transformation”.
He believes in empowering employees with the right information to become “ambassadors of truth,” especially in an age where misinformation has become rampant. For this, he looks to the ‘sharing economy,’ a model popularized by Airbnb and Uber, as an example of change.
“How we are looking at peer networks, where we are comfortable renting homes from someone we don't know or walking into a car driven by a stranger -- all of this had been considered risky before, yet now they are building blocks of billion-dollar companies,” Choudhury said.
“We are seeing a shift in the trust dynamic externally. As a result, we should reimagine that trust dynamic to also be applicable to people within firms and on social media.
“For example, [communication] was initially all about having brand embassies on different shiny new platforms and we soon realized the impact of misinformation campaigns on people. But our biggest cheerleaders, ambassadors of truth, and supporters are our own employees.
“The focus needs to be on those sets of people, and that in itself is a critical area that we, as both communicators and HR people, need to align on: what our employees need to focus on when they are part of the institution,” he said.
‘More efficient, more structure’
How important is it to establish rapport between HR and the corporate communications team? Salehin Basir of Darussalam Assets has seen the difference when one team moves without the other.
“As an HR leader myself, I have seen virtually a stark contrast between working without and with a corporate communications function,” the human capital development manager said at the same conference.
“Right now, especially, when we’re handling very sensitive projects, we have a strong corp comms function. Our projects are more efficient and structured in juxtaposition with [the time] before we established a comms function.
“Personally, I’d always thought that the comms function was mostly flux, until I was part of a change management team myself,” Basir said, recounting a time when they rolled out a new financial technology platform for employees.
Having the support of the comms team makes a “significant difference in terms of getting people to really understand why we're doing this, what's in it for the company, what's in it for them, and getting them to familiarize themselves with the new processes and how it's going to change the way they work for a better,” he said.
“I strongly believe comms and HR have plenty in common, especially when dealing with people, but they also have a lot to learn from each other. HR may be mostly focused on ensuring that they have the right policies in place; optimal compensation and benefits structure; recruitment strategy; or perhaps a robust performance management system and competency-based learning and development function,” Basir said.
“Corporate comms would appreciate the clarity and structure in communicating and conveying these new changing practices. So the comms function strengthens HR’s position as a strategic partner,” he said. “Finding that juncture between HR and comms and establishing a strong collaboration between these two functions will definitely multiply the impact of both disciplines.”
People Matters is the exclusive media partner for Mercer's 2021 Regional HR Virtual Conference.