How HR leaders can improve their communication


Guest blog by Rachel Maclean, COO, Air.

Communicating the key messages about your company is the most important job you’ve got as an HR leader  but most employees have so many demands on their time at work that they tune out, or rely on their colleagues to tell them what’s going on.

So if you are to be effective, you’ll need to up your game.

Communicating effectively is a skill – just like anything else. Just because you’ve been given a leadership role, doesn’t mean you will automatically be a superb communicator.  These tips will help:


1. Nobody will remember what you said the first time.

Repetition is the winning formula here. Sick of the sound of your own voice? You are probably only just starting to be heard!

You’ll know you’ve done the job when people are saying back to you what you said, but in their own words. Don’t give up until you reach that point.

The reality: it takes much, much longer than you think! One or two meetings – no way is that enough.


2. Use your listener’s favourite channel of communication (which might be different from yours)

I used to have a manager who loved to talk, and expected me to remember everything he yelled at me on passing his desk. That was, in his mind, an “official” communication – meaning I had to action it.

I’ve also worked in places where absolutely nothing could even get started until over 100 people (really) had approved it, multiple times. Neither of these really suited me.

Guess which method works well for me? Someone emailing me, then quickly checking in to see if I’ve got any questions.  I love it when people have the courtesy to ask what I think, but I hate it when they ask me over and over and over again. And that’s the thing.

Everyone’s different.

It might drive you nuts if people phone you to ask you to explain the email you’ve just sent them. Or insist on you coming to address a meeting when you’ve already slaved over a 20 page presentation. Suck it up though, because if that’s what’s needed, that’s what you must do:)


3. People have different learning preferences

Academics love to debate the issue of learning styles – but back in the business world, leaders need to get things done.

If you’ve ever had children, worked with them or been responsible for teaching anyone (including grown ups) anything, you’ll know instinctively there’s a truth to learning preferences.

Individuals do like to pick up new things differently – whether by listening, reading, or taking part in group activities. So make sure that you’ve made it easy for them to learn what they need in a way that suits everyone’s styles.

Some of the things you can consider are team meetings, written briefings, emails, company noticeboards, and the tried and tested method of talking to people in the office or while they are having their lunch (when magically, they might be more prepared to listen to you because they’re probably quite relaxed!)


4. Be a human.

People don’t leave their emotions or feelings at the office door. They bring their human side to work with them. Being considerate in your communication is one of the most powerful things you can do. We talked to a friend recently who is leaving a very well paid job at a large organisation simply because in the year she has worked there, her manager never once said good morning to her when she arrived for work, and ignored the greeting she gave him. How simply this could have been avoided!

We don’t always talk about kindness at work. But it’s critical. Especially when people are feeling vulnerable and you’re communicating a lot of change in your messages.


5. You are always communicating – even when you think you aren’t.

It took me a while to get my head around how much people noticed my actions rather than my words when I first had a leadership position.

It hit home the first time I could not attend a company social because of childcare commitments. The day after the event I asked for feedback.

The event had been very badly attended. Why? Because I as the leader had not been there, people thought it was also OK to drop out at the last moment.  I realised then that I had to lead by example and action in absolutely everything. That’s why I’ve always been the first one to clean the kitchen, make the tea, ensure everyone else has a slice of pizza at company lunch, restock the toilet roll, mop the floors ( in our start up days). I could not expect anyone else to do the things I wouldn’t do myself.

Ever since then, I’ve never had a problem with asking for help with any task. People will pitch in because they don’t feel taken advantage of.


6. Be honest in your communication

This is really hard, isn’t it? Surely the job of the leader is to “fake it until you make it?”

I don’t agree. People are adults, and don’t expect you to be God. It’s far better to admit you have messed up, or don’t know the answer. What is bad, is to pretend to know, lie, or retreat into a hole when you don’t know what to do. There is nothing worse than an information vacuum while leaders are figuring out what to say. People will write their own stories – not necessarily what you want them to hear.


7. Communicate the WIIFM

What? You’ve told your folks this thing about change 5 times? And they still don’t get it? What’s wrong with these people?

If this is happening to you, chances are you’ve not followed the number one rule – communicating the “WIIFM” (“what’s in it for me”).

If people don’t hear or see this, they switch off, no matter how much noise you make.


8. People are lying to you – even your friends. Sorry.

Answer one question. Are you a business owner, leader, supervisor or HR Manager? Is the answer “yes”?

Now answer another. Do you think everyone who works for you likes working for you?

Have you answered “yes”? Or “mostly?” Great!

How do you know?

I’m guessing, if you’re like many leaders I’ve worked with, the answer to that is “I asked them”.

Hmm. Sorry to burst your bubble.

A large number of those people are lying to you.

Yes, even the really lovely ones, that started the company with you, who you regard as family, whose weddings you’ve been to, and whose children you are godparents to.

Well, at least some of those. But a far greater proportion of the ones who joined you more recently, ticked a box on an engagement survey to say they were satisfied, or gave feedback to their line manager. They are almost certainly lying to you – in large numbers.

Think back to when you had your first job, and the big boss stopped by your desk and asked you “how are you getting on here with us?”

Would you have been brave enough to pipe up that you think your co-workers are lazy, you are fed up that you did not get asked to contribute to the new project, or that you think you deserved the promotion not your colleague? And just before they stopped by your desk you were updating your CV? I wonder.

To allow your people to communicate effectively with you, make sure you allow them the freedom to express themselves without judgement.

This takes sustained work over a period of time to build up bonds of trust. You’ll also need to use the best tools to gather anonymous and named feedback, skilfully analysed.


About the author:

Rachel is an HR, people, and management expert with 25+ years experience in high growth businesses. She co-founded Packt Publishing, now the UK’s leading technology publisher; and has led HR and sales teams in many companies globally. She started Air an HR Software platform to help small businesses and entrepreneurs build better workplaces with happier employees.

She’s a keynote speaker and thought leader on the future of work and has appeared at conferences including Disrupt HR, the Business Growth Show and Innovation Nation.


Author: Editorial Team

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