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Humanization of Digital Employee Communication

By Denise S. Starcher, Vice President, Human Resources, Menasha Corporation

Denise S. Starcher, Vice President, Human Resources, Menasha Corporation

What are the trends and challenges in terms of employee communication?

Communication in a professional setting is now digital with email, mobile apps, webinars, and even Skype. With everything moving online, the aspect of human touch is increasingly becoming less. Maintaining a human element in communication and delivering information to employees within an expected timeframe is the much-needed, balanced approach. To maintain equilibrium, transactional or administrative processes can be automated and moved toward chatbots for their prioritized nature. Employees will still experience the service of human interaction, but they will be conversing with a robot.

What will be challenging is sorting through the data and weeding out the “noise” obtained through digital communication, and smart data analytics will be necessary to accomplish this. Also, the pressure to not spend too much money on what businesses view as a support function is building. HR teams will have to realize this action as a strategic need and concentrate more on it, leaving administrative and tactical functions to technology.

How important is human interaction in communications? Will digital communication pose a threat to it?

There should always be an element of human interaction in what we do. As mentioned earlier, humanized digital communications like chatbots, with a personalized identity, can be a viable replacement to many traditional methods of communication. Similarly, cartoons or emojis can add a bit of personality to written questions for engagement surveys, and would resonate with those who use those graphics daily on smart phones and on social media. On the other hand, there will always be people who’ll prefer talking to a person. So human communications might become less by the day, but it will never vanish.

What is your opinion on data collection?

From a communication standpoint, data to measure interaction can be improved. If we send an email, is it opened? Is there a link in it? Do employees check out the link’s content? How long do they spend time on it? Do they benefit from it? Answers to these questions will help us provide better communication to our employees in the manner in which they want the information. Data mining makes communication and targeting better. It also helps decisions surrounding the best type of communication channel to use.

For instance, we send videos to employees as an unobtrusive and intuitive information passing initiative. Even though we receive feedback that the videos are great and informative, I would like to know if the videos were opened by all our employees. If they were, how many of those who viewed the videos were hourly employees? Salaried employees? Knowledge of such information helps us improve communication to employees.

Tell us about any interesting initiative taken to better employee communication in the organization.

Understanding that employees’ time is limited, we wanted a quick way to keep people informed of key activities. Last year, we started “Menasha in a Minute,” an employee only, internal video that highlights several items of interest from across the enterprise. It is a one minute video that comes out every six weeks, featuring five to six different news pieces in a headline, and it can be watched on a mobile phone, which helps us reach employees on the go. Produced internally by a small communications team of two, it is fast-paced and engaging, and gives our employees who work in our different subsidiaries a glimpse into areas of the company they are not familiar with. We receive feedback and suggestions about the video, which further goes back into the data collection part mentioned earlier.

What do you expect employee communication to address in the future?

We have conversations around the topics of attracting and retaining talent. Even though we have excellent communications internally, we question ourselves about externally reaching out to potential employees. How to attract talent by relating to them quickly and concisely? Data-based information about industry trends, possible disruptive competition, and their methods to attract talent can help shape employee communications. This digital world is having machines select the candidates. Use algorithms, social media, and text messaging to communicate scheduling and conduct interviews, as opposed to the emails of the previous generation. Obtaining better engagement scores from stay, exit interviews, and pulse surveys will help employee communications to tie that information to the business needs.

Growth in any industry is fueled by change. How do you handle change?

I am not afraid of change. HR has been improving at an incredible pace, and harboring aversion toward change is only going to hurt our options of bettering ourselves. But change for the sake of it isn’t advisable. For instance, I am trained in karate and have a black belt. It takes a lot of dedication and involves a lot of fast-paced output. I have to look forward but also be aware of my surroundings. Every move has a counter move, and thus, you have to make a move in the time you find befitting to make an impact. A wrong move will be blocked and sometimes even result in failing. Making a change in the industry is similar. You have to be ready to make a change but also be insightful to know when the change can make a positive impact.

What is advice to your colleagues trying to make a stand in employee communication?

In this field, the most significant choice would be to stay open and not get stuck in the sand. You have to be ready to learn from everyone around you. I was sent to Latin America while working in another organization. I had finished an MBA with business residencies in Europe and Asia. I wasn’t expecting Latin America to be the choice of work, especially when the company had business practices in Europe and Asia. But if I hadn’t taken that job, I wouldn’t have learned as much from them as I contributed to their growth. It was a fulfilling experience with a lot of cultural exchange.

What are your suggestions for the field of HR and the HR professionals?

The academic world of HR needs a revamp. It has to go beyond the typical employee relations and be more data-driven. The academic world has to evolve and incorporate the present requirements and challenges in the field.

From a single person perspective, to make a difference in their field, one has to love the job they do and care for it. Personal success must be associated with the success of the organization. To be in the world of HR, you have to be a tight rope walker between serving the company and serving the employee. You will never be liked by everyone and therefore, must have tough skin.

For employee communication to be more productive and help businesses move forward, the old HR structure needs to be revamped. There needs to be a lot more collaboration and understanding how technology fits into all aspects of functioning. Not a single person has answers to everything. HR needs to collaborate with individuals and have the ability to think from a problem solver perspective.

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