Josh Bersin: Communication is more important than ever

With organisations needing to improve their employee communications in the wake of COVID-19, Josh Bersin offers some tips.
By: | July 22, 2020

By Josh Bersin, Global Industry Analyst and Dean of Josh Bersin Academy.

Employees need a lot right now—and one of the most urgent things is information. What are the changes to our sick-leave policy? When should I anticipate coming back to the workplace? Will we still receive performance bonuses?

Among all of the imperatives we face in the COVID-19 pandemic, communication is the most important of all. In the Josh Bersin Academy’s Big Reset initiative, nearly all participating HR leaders recounted how they have ramped up the frequency, transparency and types of communications going to employees.

CEOs are appearing on video weekly; companies are creating specialised social channels to discuss work at home, family and benefits issues; and HR teams are pushing out policy and plan updates as health conditions continue to evolve.

Historically, employee communications was handled by an HR manager, often someone who had no professional background in communications and who usually had other responsibilities.

Now, the employee communications function is a mission-critical, CEO-connected effort; communications must be fast, effective and accurate. Before the pandemic, I started a project to study employee communications. That work revealed three overarching findings.

First, there are very few integrated communications platforms for HR. Certainly, almost every HRMS, learning platform and collaboration system has many features for mass communications. But, when you want to personalise communications by role or geography, send different types of information and track who has read and understood the content, it is not easy.

In many companies, such as Southwest, the employee communications function has been merged with corporate communications, so there are branding and messaging issues. And when communications are urgent and involve health and safety issues, they have to be reviewed by legal teams and safety committees—to ensure all I’s are dotted.

Second, employee communications is tightly tied to employee experience. In a recent conversation with the head of case management and employee support for IT business services at Johnson & Johnson, I learned that the company uses a wide variety of communications tools, including Medallia’s case, knowledge and experience platform to monitor employee issues, provide automated responses and track trends in the types of questions people are asking.

Resulting information can identify a trending issue or problem in the workforce within minutes. New announcements by Workday, SAP Successfactors and ServiceNow are designed to address similar needs.

Of course, most companies are now routinely using tools such as Microsoft Teams, Slack and Workplace by Facebook to “get the word out” when a new policy or programme is launched. But how do you track who has read the material and actually understands it? One answer is to develop an end-to-end corporate HR portal.

Sounds easy, right? It is not. One of the biggest pharmaceutical companies in the world has spent more than US$100 million on its amazingly sophisticated employee portal. Consulting and design firms are often involved in these projects, and you have to think about chatbots, case management and the myriad employee needs in the process. It is an experience design issue.

And now there is a new communication form to add to the mix: real-time video. For instance, the CEO of one of the nation’s largest insurance companies is doing weekly video business updates, with his wife doing the filming.

Third, companies need an integrated, end-to-end communications platform. Guidespark, a company I have been following for several years, has built an entire business around employee communications. Companies such as Schwab, St Joseph’s Health and Ford use Guidespark’s platform for almost all major communications programmes.

Not only does it let you create journeys and segmented communications to different employee groups, it also tracks open rates, lets you assess understanding and includes tools to author and develop video communications as well. It is like a CRM for employee communications—and that is the way to think about the topic.

Finally, we have to remember that employee communications should be designed to support change. Therefore, communications must incorporate elements of marketing and learning, in addition to following communication best practices. When the company rolls out a new product, a new service offering or a new policy, we want every employee to know what it is, understand how it works and learn how it changes their role.

Remember that employee communications is a way to bring people together. Many communications systems now engage people in on-going conversations, let people give feedback and include voting (“thumbs up”) on various options to help employees feel involved.

One of the best examples of this is Amdocs’ new community, designed to bring employees together to learn, discuss and support each other during the pandemic. This offering, which has attracted more than 30,000 employees within and outside the company, shows what an integrated communication experience can look like.

Now is the time to take a holistic look at employee communications. I urge you to brainstorm ways you can up your game, improve the effectiveness of your communications and explore ways technology can help.

 This article was first published on Human Resource Executive