Good news, bad news time.
Bad news: HR still isn’t communicating the business impact of our activities well.
A 2023 Axios HQ report shared that only 46% of business leaders felt HR communication is “very aligned” with their strategic goals. This highlights a gap in effective HR communication, crucial for business success.
Deloitte in their 2023 Global Human Capital Trends report found that 94% of HR leaders believed they significantly impact business performance, but only 72% of CEOs agreed. This discrepancy underscores the importance of a well-structured HR communication strategy in demonstrating how HR impacts organizational performance.
Bottom line: there’s still a significant communication disconnect between HR and the C-suite, impacting the overall effectiveness of human resource management on business performance.
Speaking with hundreds of HR leaders from every corner of the world in the past decade, this doesn’t seem to have changed much.
It’s a common problem that stubbornly refuses to go away, pointing to the need for more robust HR communication strategies.
Good news: well, 72% of CEOs did agree that HR significantly impacts business performance. Also, the tools for measuring and communicating this impact are getting better.
Continuous listening and people analytics practices are becoming more widespread, and there is greater awareness within the HR fraternity that this is an area of improvement. The impact of HR on business is becoming more recognized, and with the right HR communication plan, this recognition can be further enhanced.
Honestly, the function has come a long way since it was labeled “Personnel”.
If you’re thinking of communicating HR impact effectively with the C-suite in 2024, there’s more good news.
We’ve put together this handy guide, so you are always armed in case you bump into your CEO in the elevator and she asks you “So, what’s up with you?”
Read on to make sure you’re fully equipped to use the cheat sheet.
5 Tips for Developing a Successful HR Communication Strategy with Business Impact
Tip 1: Align communication with strategic goals
In HR, remember that our communications aren't just about HR; they're about driving the entire business forward.
We need to deeply understand the broader business objectives.
Then look at what we’re doing in HR, and draw a clear link between the two.
“What if there’s no link?” I hear someone ask.
Then we should rethink what we’re trying to do! And focus the vast majority (90%+) of our efforts on making sure there is a clear line of sight between what HR is doing and what the business needs.
This is why HR is important to a business, and a well-defined human resources communication strategy can make a significant difference.
Here's how you can make this happen:
• Conduct a Communication Audit: Start by reviewing your current HR communications. Identify the core messages and assess how they align with your company's strategic goals. Are you just conveying HR policies, or are you connecting them to the bigger picture?
• Align Messaging: Once you've audited, it's time to realign. Craft your messages to not only inform about HR initiatives but also to illustrate how these contribute to the company's success.
Let's look at some realistic examples to illustrate the 'Wrong Way' and the 'Better Way' of aligning HR communication with business strategic goals:
|HR Communication Example
|Wrong Way (HR-Focused)
|Better Way (Business-Aligned)
|"Complete your performance reviews by next Friday."
|"Your input in performance reviews helps us refine improvement strategies to meet our annual business targets."
|"Attend the new skills training session."
|"Join our skills training to contribute better to our innovation and product development goals."
|Employee Well-being Initiatives
|"Join our wellness program for better health."
|"Engage in our wellness program to enhance team productivity and foster a positive work environment, vital for driving our customer satisfaction goals."
Remember, the key is not just to communicate but to connect.
Every HR message should be a thread that ties back to the tapestry of your organization's strategic objectives.
In doing so, you not only amplify the value of HR but also cement its role as a pivotal player in business success.
Tip 2: Go beyond top-down communication
In HR, it's crucial to create an environment where communication in HR flows in every direction, not just from the top down. This is a core principle of an effective HR communication plan.
We are empowered and responsible in HR for knitting the entire fabric of the people in our organization together with our communication.
Here's how we can execute on this:
• Embrace the Art of Listening: In HR communication strategies, it's vital to cultivate a culture where feedback is not just encouraged but eagerly anticipated.
This means evolving from traditional announcements to engaging conversations in internal forums or town hall meetings. Avoid the trap of entering these sessions with endlessly detailed talking points and guidance.
Speak authentically, and help leaders to do so too. More importantly, listen actively. You will naturally pick up many gems along the way, and create a more open and transparent culture as a by-product.
• Select Diverse Communication Channels: A successful HR communication strategy employs a blend of tools - from in-person chats to digital platforms. This diversity in channels ensures that the HR communication plan caters to various employee needs and preferences.
Depending on where your people are at, some of these tools provide richer sources of expression if you allow the veil of confidentiality. Pulse surveys help with these, as do anonymous Q&A platforms in large gatherings.
Here are some organizations making positive steps in this direction:
• Marriott’s Associate Engagement Surveys: Marriott International conducts regular associate engagement surveys, followed by action planning sessions to address feedback. This approach exemplifies their commitment to employee voices, contributing to their high employee satisfaction ratings.
• Ford’s Employee Resource Groups (ERGs): Ford employs ERGs to foster inclusive communication. These groups provide platforms for employees to share experiences and insights, enhancing diversity and inclusion across the company.
• Salesforce's "Ohana Culture": Salesforce uses a platform called "Chatter" to foster internal communication and collaboration, embodying their 'Ohana' (family) culture. This tool allows employees to share insights, ask questions, and collaborate across the organization.
In reimagining HR communication, remember: if what we’re doing in HR doesn’t visibly propel the business forward, it’s time to recalibrate.
Tip 3: Prioritize clarity and transparency
Clarity and transparency are the pillars of effective HR communication.
We need to make sure everyone understands what we're saying, no matter what their job is. This approach builds trust and helps in aligning HR's activity with business objectives more effectively.
On the other hand, if we muddle our message with vague terms or “business jargon”, that ironically reduces trust and makes it harder to connect HR’s activity with business objectives.
Here's how to make your HR messages clear and honest:
• Keep it Simple: Adopting a straightforward language in your human resources communication strategy can significantly enhance understanding across the organization.
• Be Honest: An HR communication strategy that includes sharing the full story, even if it's tough news, earns respect and trust from employees.
• Speak to Everyone: Remember, different people might need different explanations. Make sure you're thinking about everyone in the company.
Let's look at some examples of how to do this and how not to do it:
|What We're Talking About
|Wrong Way (Confusing or Fancy)
|A Better Way (Simple and Honest)
|Telling People About Big Changes
|"We're changing our strategy to improve operational synergy."
|"We're changing how our teams work to make things run smoother and better focus on what we do best."
|New Rules or Policies
|"Policy XYZ is updated for compliance with standards."
|"We've changed our vacation policy to give you more choices. Here's what you need to know..."
|Sharing Tough News
|"Due to various factors, some roles will be changed."
|"Because of recent challenges, we sadly need to let some people go. We're here to help those who are affected."
When we talk clearly and openly, we help everyone feel included and understood.
This way, everyone knows what's happening and can work together better.
Tip 4: Embrace data-driven decision-making
For our counterparts in the business, making decisions based on hard facts and data is not just smart—it's demanded.
Some data is always better than none, and if they show up for a meeting without good data, the chances of getting a decision made in favor of a proposal are very low.
HR should hold ourselves to the same standard. This means backing up our messages with relevant data to enhance credibility and effectiveness. This data-driven approach in HR communication strategies not only informs but also validates the HR initiatives' impact on the business.
Here’s how to integrate data into your HR communication:
• Measure the Impact: Use data and analytics in your HR communication plan to demonstrate the effectiveness of your HR initiatives. This approach shows not just what you're doing, but how well it's working.
• Use Key Metrics: Track important numbers like employee engagement scores, retention rates, and feedback responses. These figures can guide your communication strategies and show real results.
• Show, Don’t Just Tell: Integrating data into HR communications makes the messages more compelling and grounded in reality, showcasing the impact of HR on business.
Here are examples showcasing the 'Wrong Way' (without data) and the 'Better Way' (using data) of HR communication:
|Wrong Way (Without Data)
|Better Way (Using Data)
|"We believe our team is happier this year."
|"Employee satisfaction has risen by 15% this year, as shown in our latest survey results."
|Effectiveness of Training
|"Our new training program is a success."
|"Post-training assessments show a 25% improvement in skill application on the job."
|Impact of Wellness Programs
|"Our wellness programs are well-received."
|"Participation in our wellness programs has led to a 20% decrease in reported stress levels and a 10% increase in overall productivity."
By integrating data into our HR communications, we not only inform but also provide tangible evidence of the impacts of our initiatives.
This approach not only boosts the credibility of HR but also aligns HR activities with measurable business outcomes.
Tip 5: Continuously learn and adapt
There’s no one-size-fits-all for effective communication.
Just about a decade ago, the emoji 👍 showed positive support for someone’s idea or message.
Today, some audiences may take offense or see it as a sign of passive aggression.
The world of HR and business is ever-changing, and so should our HR communication strategies. By embracing feedback loops and staying informed about emerging trends, HR can ensure that their strategies evolve with changing business landscapes and employee needs.
Here’s how to stay agile and responsive in your HR communications:
• Embrace Feedback Loops: Regularly seek and incorporate feedback from employees on your communication strategies. This feedback is invaluable for understanding what works and what needs improvement.
• Stay Informed About Emerging Trends: The world of HR is constantly changing. Keep abreast of the latest trends, technologies, and best practices in HR communication. This proactive approach ensures that your strategies remain relevant and effective.
• Pilot Test New Initiatives: Before rolling out new communication initiatives on a large scale, conduct pilot tests. This allows you to gauge effectiveness and make necessary adjustments, ensuring a higher success rate when fully implemented.
• Adapt to the Audience: Recognize that your workforce is diverse and what works for one group may not work for another. Be prepared to tailor your communication approach to suit different segments of your organization.
• Emphasize Continuous Learning: Promote a culture of learning and growth within your HR team. Encourage team members to seek out new information and skills that can enhance the effectiveness of your communication.
By adopting a mindset of continuous learning and adaptation, you ensure that your HR communication strategy remains dynamic, effective, and aligned with both employee needs and business goals.
By aligning HR messages with business goals, fostering two-way dialogues, and leveraging data, HR leaders can significantly amplify their impact on business performance.
Understanding how HR impacts organizational performance and continuously adapting HR communication strategies are key to this success.
• Aligning HR messages with business goals bridges the gap between HR activities and overall business success.
• Effective HR communication enriches employee engagement and drives a more inclusive company culture.
• Data-driven communication enhances credibility and demonstrates the real impact of HR initiatives.
• A commitment to continuous learning ensures that HR strategies evolve with the changing business landscape and employee needs.
Now, it's time to put these insights into action. Whether you're crafting an important HR announcement or strategizing on how to better engage with your employees, remember these tips to make each message count.
Embark on this journey to transform your HR communication, and watch as it becomes a driving force in achieving your organization's strategic objectives.
About the author
CT Leong is the Co-founder, CEO (Americas) of EngageRocket. Before becoming an entrepreneur, he was a Regional Director of Gallup - one of the world's top HR advisories. He graduated with a degree in Economics from the University of Cambridge and has an MA in Political Science from Columbia University.