Communication an essential, often overlooked, workplace element
One would think hiring workers needed by employers would be a rather simple activity. You have a job, it requires certain skills or knowledge, and you will pay a rate to have the work done. We all know this is a simplistic picture for the most part; it just doesn’t work out so easily. The missing component in the process is communication. It happens at all steps of the process, and we usually just take it for granted and don’t give too much thought about what that communication looks like.
It may in fact be the most essential element in the workplace. What may be nearly as critical is to recognize its importance is growing and becoming more complex. If you examine the various stages of the employer/employee relationship and notice how they have changed over time, you are likely to notice multiple factors come into play. It starts by the employer defining what they want to accomplish.
“I want to hoe 16 rows of corn per day.” I know I can only do eight, so I need another person to help. You must communicate to the person he or she is required to also hoe eight rows per day. But before you get to that point, someone must be found who can do the work. So, using current jargon, you have to source the candidates, you have to assess the candidates, make a selection and then reach a bargain on how one will be paid for the amount of work or time. Communication takes place at each stage of the process. Then you get the worker on the job, and all the issues of performance come into play. This communication is a different type from the hiring process.
You may think this communication reflection is so basic, it is not required to be noted. For some purposes, it is unnecessary, but if we can count the number of different objectives that come into play with such a simple situation and think about how many different outcomes that could result, the variables are quite surprising. At each stage, you could have poor communication, e.g., forget to tell the applicant eight rows per day is essential and then wonder why he or she only does four on hot days. Or you tell the worker but don’t find out he or she is leaving to hunt buffalo just as the harvest is coming. Or you explain if one does all the right things, he or she can own the farm one day.
Now, fast forward 400 years. We have a lot of the same basic functions going on, but it isn’t the farmer talking to a helper. The farm owner may be Dole Food Company in Thousand Oaks, California, and the helper is a supervisor on the pineapple plantation in Costa Rica. Communication is much more complicated, even though the objective is just maintaining eight rows of pineapples.
Sure, you can say this doesn’t apply if you have a small company of 10 people in West Michigan. If you still stay focused on the employee communication, there are many of the same elements coming into play. The ones that are often ignored are those other elements competing for the employee’s attention. Such a list may exceed 50 items. Your job as the employer is to assure your needs and what you can do for the employee are the most important items on the list while they are doing your work.
The strategy, of course in today’s jargon, is employee alignment. How do you achieve alignment? The first arrow in your quiver is communication. There are, of course, many others, such as work environment, pay, career advancement, etc. Dealing with each requires different tools. Each type of communication has certain practices that make them more effective than others. You have to learn these things and the regulations that govern them.
Social media: the latest complexity
We’ve grown up with many of these tools, and we’ve seen what makes some more effective than others for achieving the desired results. The tool many of us are stumbling along to learn about and to determine what impact it makes, good and bad, is social media. People are using various aspects of this new-found phenomenon for a broad array of actions and activities.
In many cases, they are not giving much thought to how, why and what happens with each application. The use of such tools has spawned categories of users in what is described as the technology adoption lifecycle. There are five groups that reflect an imperfect bell curve. The curve that describes who will adopt technology when is not so surprising, but the social attributes that go along with the various categories is most important. For discussion purposes, they are: innovators (2.5 percent); early adopters (13.5), early majority (34), late majority (34) and laggards (16).
Knowing your intended audience and where they fit on this spectrum can be essential to reaching them and influencing their actions. Although people seem to understand this concept when it comes to product marketing, you often find they don’t do a good job of selecting the right tool for the intended group. But what is more surprising is the people of human resources often don’t examine their current and future employee populations when choosing the appropriate social media tools, or if they should use them at all for their required communication needs or the culture of the organization involved.
Social media for HR is not a passive activity
HR, in many instances, addresses the issues of social media with adoption of a policy that says something about accessing the internet using company computers or adding various applications to the network without proper approval. They have not taken the effort to look at how the tools, whatever may be available, are being used. There are many instances we’ve discovered that are questionable from a good practices perspective, but in some respects, open the door to illegal practices. Then you add the element of mobile devices, notebooks and phones, which are often not covered by any policies.
Furthermore, if you think you’ve got the issues covered by the restrictions and use of company equipment, think about that 16 percent of your work group of innovators and early adopters who will be using their own equipment, because they can’t wait for the organization to catch up. HR has a notable task to shape organization communication and operating practices under these circumstances. Perhaps, a good starting point is to form an alliance and a taskforce or two with the IT function to get on top of and stay there in the use of social media and associated tools for employee communication.
Ardon Schambers is principal at P3HR Consulting & Services.