Focus on Employee Communications

Welcome to Your Employee Communication Road Map

By Sarah Fister Gale

May. 22, 2019

Road maps are a form of content that will help you navigate key areas of people management. Each road map includes an orientation guide that gives a high-level overview of the subject as well as articles and other resources that provide more detailed directions on how to find your way to success. This road map focuses on the changing terrain of employee communication. The orientation guide below will get you started, and we invite you to see other Workforce road maps by visiting

Effective employee communication is the foundation of a good human resources program. Setting guidelines for how and when to communicate with employees, and what you are going to say sets the tone for the company culture and paves the way for business success. However, most companies — even big global firms — often leave this important element of human resource management to chance.

Only 20 percent of organizations have an internal communications role somewhere within their HR department, according to a 2018 Newsweaver study. In other organizations this role falls to sales and marketing teams, individual managers or no one in particular.

employee communication roadmap

“They just let the communication culture emerge, and assume everyone knows what to do,” said Craig Johnson, partner in Mercer’s Career Business focusing on communication and technology. “That’s not the right approach.”

This “do-it-yourself” attitude leads to mixed messages, missed opportunities to engage, and a negative communication experience when employees are deluged with messages from management that they eventually just tune out, according to Rachel Miller, director of All Things IC, an internal communications consultancy.

“Internal communications should be part of your business strategy and plan,” she said. It ensures that internal messaging is consistent, relevant to the brand, and reflective of the company culture and business goals. “Every message should reflect what the company is trying to achieve.”

If you don’t have a communication plan — or haven’t reviewed yours in years — this road map will help you get started.

PART 1: Make a Plan

Put someone in charge. A communication strategy needs a leader, said Johnson. Putting someone from HR in change of the overarching company communication plan ensures a consistent tone and prevents disparate, confusing or conflicting information bombarding employees from all sides.

Identify stakeholders. Effective employee communication requires planning and buy-in from leaders across the organization. Miller suggests bringing together a cross functional team of executives, HR leaders, managers and employees to write the plan and ensure it aligns with the corporate vision.

Define your goals. A good communication plan links communication strategies to the purpose of the company, its mission and its vision. “Don’t just copy the words off a vision statement,” Miller warned. Really think about what the company is trying to do and how internal communication supports those goals.

Consider your audience. It’s not enough to know what information you want to send, you need to customize it for the reader. If you are announcing a merger, the information you share with front-line workers or IT teams will be far different from the messages you send to VPs and managers. “Understanding your audience is how you get the right information to the right people at the right time so that they can do their jobs,” Miller said.

Choose your channels. Do your employees read emails every day? Visit the company portal? Communicate via Slack? “It’s easy to attach a document to an email, but if three-fourths of your employees won’t click on it, what is the point?” Johnson said. Understanding how, where and when employees want to engage with company content will increase the chance that your messages will get read.

Create a calendar. Large companies may have dozens of vendors sending information to employees about benefits packages, 401(k) plans, insurance offerings, etc. If they all send messages at the same time it creates a tremendous amount of noise, Johnson said. To reduce the deluge, he advises clients to audit all communications — including vendor messages — then eliminate the ones that aren’t necessary, and create a schedule for those that are. “A plan helps you think through what you are sending instead of always reacting.”

He suggests organizing messages into three categories:

  • Annual events: Messages related to benefits enrollment and updates about annual meetings can be scheduled months in advance.
  • Ad hoc scheduled events. These include one-time scheduled events, including information about workshops, announcement about technology upgrades or reminders to complete required training.
  • Ad hoc unplanned events. Leave some space in the calendar for urgent messages that can’t wait.

Remember, Johnson added, “even if emails from vendors are part of the service, if the message isn’t useful it won’t add value.”

PART 2: Start Communicating

Customize each message. Every communication should begin with an overarching message about why this information ties back to the company’s goals and values, Johnson said. For example, if you are hosting a financial wellness workshop, start the announcement with, “As part of our commitment to helping employees achieve a better work-life balance, we are offering this financial wellness workshop to … .’ ”

It shows that the workshop is tied to something broader, Johnson said.

Create a review step. Having someone else review messages before they get sent to the entire company can minimize the risk that grammar errors, inaccurate information and embarrassing gaffes get sent out.

Provide training. HR isn’t the only group sending company communiques. To ensure there is a consistent cadence in all internal messages, provide training to managers and leaders about how to craft messages that align with the business goals.employee communication roadmap

PART 3: Measure Results

Define success. Every communication campaign should have a goal. “That is what makes measurement possible,” Miller said.

Establish key performance indicators. When setting measures, focus on outcomes not output. Counting messages sent or number of people who signed up for a class doesn’t tell you much, Miller said, whereas tracking the results of these programs will. Some useful measures might include proof of changed behavior, improved employee engagement, increased participation in rewards programs or fewer safety incidences. “Outcomes are tangible if you know what you are looking for,” she added. “We don’t do this enough.”

Ask employees what they think. Include questions in employee surveys about the quality of company communication, their top communication issues and/or what could be done better. This can provide evidence of the impact of HR communication efforts and help identify areas that require improvement.

Adapt accordingly. A communication plan is always evolving. Measuring outcomes can help you identify which messages, channels and cadence of content is having the biggest impact, so you can continue to adjust it to meet employees’ needs.

Sarah Fister Gale is a writer in Chicago.

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