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Employees are Customers: Think About How You Communicate

Book Review from Perspectives, Pittsburgh Human Resources Association, July 2015

The Definitive Guide to HR Communication: Engaging Employees in Benefits, Pay and Performance. Alison Davis and Jane Shannon. New Jersey: FT Press, 2011. 295 pp.

Need to deliver news about restructuring? Tell employees about upcoming benefit changes? Revamp your new employee orientation program?

Many (or maybe most) HR professionals do not have the luxury of an HR communications specialist on staff. This means that HR professionals, who have varying degrees of comfort in planning and preparing communications, often have to do it ourselves. Or we partner with a communications specialist who has limited understanding of the HR-related subject matter.

This book is a resource that can assist both HR and communications professionals to deliver information effectively. Written by two authors with decades of experience, their expertise is apparent in this comprehensive treatment of an essential aspect of HR.

Divided into two parts, “Taking a New Approach” covers principles and practices applicable to employee communications generally. “Communicating in Key Situations” addresses common issues and problems including policies and handbooks, orientation, pay, benefits, performance management and workforce reductions.

The authors write in a simple and direct style, consistent with their direction to the reader on how to do employee communication. Short sentences, bullet points, bolded text and checklists at the end of each chapter make the book easy to read from beginning to end. To save time or meet an immediate need, the reader can also zero-in on a specific subject, like retirement savings, using the table of contents or index.

Their core message is that employees are to be treated as customers, and the foundation of effective communications is an understanding of workforce demographics. Knowing your employees requires research and is then followed by the creation of a plan. They provide a simple structure for organizing a communications plan, adopted from the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC).

The range of potential tools (e-mail, meetings, posters, websites, newsletters, etc.) is presented with advice on when and when not to use each one, including tips on how to maximize impact.

Executives and managers are recognized as a distinct audience. A chapter is devoted to meaningful meetings with recommendations on how to best equip managers to respond when employees come to them with questions.

They observe that if you want fast, high-quality and cheap, you can only have two of them. Other useful reminders include the well-researched conclusion that “People do not read”! They describe how to use visual cues and ‘chunk’ information for easy skimming and scanning.

A review of ways to measure effectiveness considering five possible dimensions (participation, satisfaction, understanding, belief and action) closes out Part I.

Part II follows the employee life cycle beginning with recruitment and ends with leaving the company.
Sandwiched in between are chapters on orientation, policies, benefits, compensation, performance management and saving for retirement. Examples from companies like Google, John Deere, Smuckers, FedEx and Procter & Gamble enhance their how-to guidance for typical situations, including writing job descriptions, explaining open enrollment processes and orchestrating workforce reductions.

This book is a welcome addition to my bookshelf as a comprehensive guide to proactively addressing the challenges of HR communication. I recommend it.

Rosanne C. Saunders, J.D., SPHR, SHRM-SCP

March 24th, 2016|Uncategorized|0 Comments