I realize that this blog series is about HR technology trends and tips, but since my HR technology interests have to do with employee communication and education efforts, I’m going to dial things back a bit. Frankly, I think the future of HR communication tech is old-school.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m no Luddite, and I’ll be the first to tell you that all the new technology we have at our disposal makes our lives easier. Email, social media, asynchronous online educational platforms—every single bit of it is a modern miracle.
But here’s the “but.”
Advances in technology—especially those that affect how we communicate with employees—don’t mean a thing if they don’t help get your message across.
Technology is always changing and creating new opportunities, for sure, but the magic of good employee communication isn’t in the technology. The magic is when the words and images that do the communicating are simultaneously simple to understand and a delight to experience.
Shorter Is Always Best
No matter what you have to say or how you plan to say it, there’s always a way to do it with fewer words. Keeping your messages concise helps with comprehension, and makes whatever you have to say more approachable.
But short doesn’t necessarily refer to length. Sometimes, like with summary plan descriptions, for example, you must distribute a very large document. If that’s the case, break things down into digestible chunks. Make the lengthy content “shorter” by providing a simple, one-page overview of key highlights, and explain that the “fine print” goes into deeper details.
Keep It Conversational
Conversational doesn’t mean breezy. It doesn’t mean unprofessional. It means relaxed and easy to understand. Need to know if you’re communicating on a conversational level? Here’s a simple test—take a look at what you’re about to send out and compare it with the kind of language used in a traditional wedding invitation.
If your message sounds anything like this—“The honor of your presence is requested at the union of Ms. Mary Smith to Mr. Robert Jones on Saturday, the tenth of May, Two Thousand and Eight, at four o’clock in the afternoon”—then you’ve gone way, way too formal.
Things like passive voice (“is requested”), exotic/jargony language (“union” when “wedding” will do), and wonky sentence lengths (jamming two or three short ideas into one space), make things harder to understand. Besides, nobody talks that way.
It’s Not Always “Hammer Time”
Ever hear of Abraham Kaplan’s Law of the Instrument? The concept comes from The Conduct of Inquiry, Kaplan’s 1964 examination of behavior science, and can be formulated as follows: “Give a small boy a hammer, and he will find that everything he encounters needs pounding.”
Don’t be the kid with the new hammer. Sure, your department may have recently embraced a particular tool or mode of communication, but don’t forget about everything else in your toolbox. Always be thinking about the best ways to go about reaching your workforce (hint: there’s going to be more than one). Yes, some employees will respond best to the fancy stuff, but other others may be more enthusiastic about a photocopy taped to the lunch room fridge.
Push your messages through every available channel, because a single approach is unlikely to reach everyone. === Justyn Harkin writes about employee benefits and other HR topics for ALEX®, the Jellyvision Benefits Counselor. Available to over 1 million people across more than 90 organizations, ALEX takes the mystery out of complicated benefits details and gives employees personally relevant information they can use to select their best-fit plans.