Workplace Communication – A Strategic Perspective

In my earlier article titled “Workplace Communication – A Practitioner’s View”, I had suggested deployment of a strategy as part of a comprehensive approach to employee communication.

Just to re-emphasize, I had suggested that the Workplace-Communication is a self-perpetuating process that aids the organization in achieving its goals by;

Interlinking various levels of hierarchy and functions;
Acknowledging employees about the organization’s vision, values and goals for enlisting their commitment;
Helping employees identify themselves with the organization’s vision and enabling them for prioritizing their actions; and
Helping the organization generate openness & mutual trust and develop congruence between organizational & individual, goals & efforts.

Here, I will now elaborate on the substance of a strategy for Workplace-Communication. Before we begin, let us hold a common meaning of strategy as “a plan of action designed to achieve a long-term objective”.

Workplace-Communication is somewhat akin to “internal advertising” with clarity on “Above The Line” and “Below The Line” approaches. The underlying purpose of the Workplace-Communication strategy is to keep employees adequately informed all the time regarding the current status of business, future prospects, issues concerning their jobs & careers, market conditions, etc., essential to achieve a greater congruence between organizational & individual, goals & efforts.

So what are the core elements of a sound Workplace-Communication strategy?

Development of the strategy

There is no point in presuming what employees would like to know or should know. It is a common sense as well as a daunting task. While developing a Workplace-Communication strategy, the organization should consider aspects like employee demographics, average education profile, average age profile, cultural diversity, language proficiency, etc. It would be worthwhile to do a dipstick on “what, when & how” employees would like to know about the business of the organization as well as about their jobs & careers. While every employee need not receive all the information, he / she should certainly get what is relevant to him or her at the right time.

Classification of information or data

Having identified “what, when & how” employees would like to know, each piece should be classified in terms of criticality and target audience. Classification should also include who should know what, when, how and from whom. The moot point is that the employees have the first right to information about the organization, and if they come to know about their organization from the external agencies, then the organization stands to lose credibility. This component has a stand alone weight also when the organization does not have a strategy for workplace communication.

Periodicity of communication

Too frequent or too infrequent communication – both are ineffective. Therefore, each piece of information should have a specified relay periodicity. The analogy is with the daily morning newspaper which has to come every morning and a fortnightly tabloid which has to come every fifteen days. Of course, in case of emergencies or special situations, information ought to be relayed immediately. There is no point if the invitee receives the marriage invitation after the couple is back from the honeymoon.

The language of communication

It is vital to convey information in the language which employees comprehend. It cannot be Shakespearean English when you are a Russian company. Relaying information concurrently in English as well as in the vernacular and / or the national language (if English is not the national language) is the most preferred way. It is also helpful to use visuals and videos depending on the topic. When communicated in the vernacular language, it is important to have a transliteration and not translation. The core aim of this component is to reach out to maximum possible employees.

Channels of communication

This is a challenging component of the workplace-communication strategy. It is entirely up to the organization to innovate on this front. The strategy by design should focus only on formal channels as informal channels have different purposes & implications. So what are the options?

Induction program / tour / film and intense (yes, I mean intense) interaction with the senior guys around

Well crafted induction & socialization booklet with visuals and emphasis on values and ethics

Bilingual monthly or quarterly magazine / newsletter (print as well as electronic version) with designer looks

Mass SMS (can be a powerful tool for conveying exciting news)

Updated “Employee Section” on the company’s website (accessible to employees only though their PCs, Laptops, Tablets and Smartphones)

Team or Department review meetings on a monthly basis (each such meeting must start with a brief on the overall business status and then only the departmental agenda should be discussed)

Circulars or Emails (for example, sharing quarterly / annual business results with all the employees one go) from the CEO or a designated senior and displaying a copy or transliterated version at all the conspicuous places

Display of the organization’s vision, mission & values in the most conspicuous places with suitable designs. Such display should catch attention immediately.

Conventional as well as digital boards / panels depending on the time of information

Computer screens / permanent standies

Training events (very intense tool to communicate with employees)

Official blogs / chat platforms

Annual or half-yearly get-together

Official letters given to employees (offer letter, appointment letter, confirmation letter, compensation revision letter, promotion letter, transfer letter, recognition letter, termination letter, etc.)

Feedback process

Do employees get to know about the organization what they need to know? Do they find the content relevant? Are they able to relate their own performance & experiences with that of the organization (barring the impact of external factors)? Are they receiving information as per the promised periodicity? Do they find the language lucid and the media apt? No communication can be effective if it is not two-way and understood properly. Therefore, it is pragmatic to have a periodic check on the effectiveness of the content, channel, periodicity, language, etc.

Core Group

A group of employees should be entrusted with the responsibility of ensuring the effective implementation of the communication strategy. The group should include the HR Head, at least one designated business head, Head of Corporate Communication, Head of PR and at least two employee representatives. It would be prudent to have a good balance of male & female members and seniors & juniors. Young guys have ideas & energy and veterans have the wisdom. Like the classification of information or data, this component too has a stand alone weight.

Conclusion

Over-communicating is better than under-communicating. Information in the organizational context is an essential food for thought, idea-generation, discussion, decision and action. So having a well-defined Workplace-Communication strategy and ensuring its effective implementation, is surely vital for the organization’s business & success. Communication could be spicy at times, but its real hallmarks are timeliness, adequacy, realism, language and the reach. Someone has aptly said that, “the skill in the art of communication is crucial to a leader’s success. He / she can accomplish nothing unless he / she can communicate effectively”.

Let me end the article with a quote from Anthony Robbins – “To effectively communicate, we must realize that we are all different in the way we perceive the world and use this understanding as a guide to our communication with others”.

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