Of course, you have HR policies for reporting time off, for employee grievances, for wearing pants on Zoom calls … probably dozens of them. But what about your HR communication policy — the fundamentals of how you keep information flowing up, down, and across your organization?
That core policy is the starting point for all HR communication plans and practices. But while your workplace walls may be covered with posters stating your company’s mission, vision, and values, you may not have a specific statement of the basic principles underlying communication within your business. Yet. So, let’s look at some candidates for those communication principles.
Your HR communication policy is your company’s communication policy
At the highest level, your internal communication must reflect the vision and values of your company. Understand that your policy ultimately belongs to senior management. Your key leaders need to be a presence in your major communication efforts.
Study those mission and vision statements and feed off the phrases and goals that translate into the way you connect with each other. And remember that “the way you connect” doesn’t simply refer to the structure of your formal communication. It drives the honesty, candor, frequency, and respect you want for both formal and informal communication.
But what if your senior management is secretive and aloof and believes in the famous “mushroom” theory of management? Your job in this case is to create an HR communication policy that intrinsically challenges your leaders to greater openness.
Your HR communication policy is like talking to yourselves
It’s often too tempting to deposit your audiences for company news into silos:
- Customers (or clients if prefer).
- The media.
- The general public.
Of course, each of these groups needs special handling when it comes to communication. But what’s unique about employees is that, unlike the others, they’re not “them,” a separate target group. They’re — we’re — us.
Ensure that your HR communication policy includes communicating regularly, frequently, and above all, honestly with your colleagues, without the spin you may use for those external audiences. And ensure that ownership for major news lies with senior leaders — through town halls, walkabouts, videos. Managers should always be the first choice to deliver key messages to their people in the workplace.
What if you need to keep an important business issue under wraps? Employees are much more likely to trust that a particular piece of news had to be held back if that’s a rarity rather than your general approach.
But you’ll never keep a secret for long in today’s communication environment. If there’s bad news about the business, it’s better to hear promptly from the owners of that information. Keep ahead of those alternative, untrustworthy sources collectively called the “grapevine.”
Your HR communication policy drives your other communication plans and policies
Your policy for internal communication is fed by those high-level statements of your organization’s values. And that HR communication policy in turn flows into the many practical policies and plans that engage employees and make them feel essential to your culture. Don’t let your key principles get lost on that journey.
For example, if your HR communication policy clearly emphasizes the importance of respecting employees’ cultures, this should translate — perhaps literally — into practical steps. Individual communication plans, then, should accommodate employee groups who face challenges in understanding materials in English.
Your HR communication policy is at least two-way
Your policy should specify that all major communication channels and campaigns within your business include a way for employees to react with questions and comments. At the basic level, that’s a crucial check to be sure your messages have reached their audience and are understood. (“Reached” doesn’t just mean that they’ve hit the relevant in-tray; it means your communication has been noticed, absorbed, and understood.)
Your policy should also encourage feedback from your employees that reflects how they feel about the subject matter of your communication. Ideally, this comes from direct, honest, and trusted interaction with their managers. But it also includes other mechanisms you have in place that allow your people to submit questions and comments.
Why “at least” two-way? Because after your employees react, you commit to getting back to them with honest answers to those questions and comments.
Your HR communication policy is only a starting point
A policy isn’t a plan, it isn’t an action — it’s just the beginning. But a well-crafted policy should answer that crucial question: What do we want to achieve through our brand of communication with employees?
Make it clear that, while the basic delivery of information is essential, the communication plans that follow from your HR communication policy, through their style and creativity and clarity, say much more about the culture and openness of your organization and of the immense value it places on engaging its people in the workplace.