You may be managing the greatest talent acquisition program ever, but you won’t get anywhere if you can’t communicate about it effectively. So what do you do? Take a crash course in writing? Bombard employees with emails both witty and wise? Hire a skywriter?
If any of those ideas have crossed your mind, Michele Richardson of Inciteful Communications will show you how to tackle the problem strategically so that your efforts pay off. A communications expert who has worked with companies such as CareerBuilder, Boeing and Toyota, she will lead an interactive lab, Fundamentals for Connecting and Engaging Employees, at the TalentBlend Conference, April 27-28, in Washington, D.C.
TalentBlend is designed for professionals who build, optimize and innovate talent acquisition programs, systems, tools, and practices.
The key to successfully communicating about your program is engaging with employees, both executives and people in the trenches, according to Richardson.
“They’re the pulse of all organizations,” she says. “They’re the ones who are your internal advocates but also your external advocates. We live in what we call now a Glassdoor society, where employees can just hop on to Glassdoor to talk about what’s happening internally.”
Given the importance of engaging employees, where do you start when it comes to communicating your talent acquisition program effectively?
Follow a Process for Clear Communications
For Richardson, it starts with a five-step process for clear communications, but let’s focus on the first three:
- Clearly know your audience. Who do you want to reach? What are their core challenges? What will influence their attitudes and behaviors?
- Define the objective of your communications. This often pertains to business outcomes, e.g., converting interns to full-time hires, hiring more military veterans, but it could be something simpler, like changing the sentiment of an organization or a team.
- Define those outcomes. This is what Richardson refers to as her three “I’s”. In every communication you send out, you need to inform employees, influence their behavior or incite them to take action.
“Most people jump into communications,” she says. “I always start with a question.”
For example, Richardson was working with a client in Chicago who planned to change the company mission statement and needed help communicating it to employees. The CEO and executives wanted employees to “live the mission,” but when Richardson asked, “What does it mean for your employees to live the mission?” they were stumped.
In that case, Richardson had to ask strategic questions to help the executive team define what behavior change they wanted to see in their employees before emails or any other communications could be sent out.
Become a valued partner with other communicators in your organization
Let’s face it – it will be tough to communicate your program to employees without the help of your company’s communications team or other partners within your organization.
To do that, you need to start thinking about them as strategic partners rather than tacticians.
For example, you may think a 5-minute video on your intranet about the importance of hiring military veterans is the best way to encourage employees to refer veterans to your company. Your communications team may think otherwise, based on the metrics they’ve seen regarding internal video views. The point here is to get input from the communications team before spending budget dollars on video production. Let them know what your objectives are, so they can help you achieve the best result for your efforts. Get to know their processes and procedures, and make sure you work within their deadlines.
The other way to get fellow employees – and the communications team — to support the communications of your program is to write well.
“It doesn’t mean you’re going to be the next New York Times bestseller,” Richardson said, “but it does mean you need to equip yourself with the skills to be an effective communicator.” That means following the three C’s — be concise, clear and compelling — in every type of communication you manage, from emails to meetings.
One of Richardson’s favorite books to kick-start the writer in you is On Writing Well, by William Zinsser.
Build trust and engage with others
“The best way to build trust is to listen first and then communicate next,” Richard son says. That may go against our first instinct, which is to tell first and listen second, but it will go a long way toward getting employees to trust you.
“So many communication challenges can be mitigated or eliminated if we just stop to listen first,” she says. It will also help differentiate you as a professional communicator and an active listener.
Richardson shared a story about having a challenging conversation over the phone with a client about a deliverable. “I could feel the tension dancing around,” she said. But instead of ignoring it, she asked, “Is there something else going on here? What is it?” They paused for a moment, and when the client finally told her, they were able to move past it.
That type of honesty can build trust, she says, because you have the courage to call things out when you hear them instead of pushing stuff under the rug.”
Stay courageous and express good will
“In communications, you have to have the courage to have those tougher conversations,” Richardson says. “The reason communication fails in a lot of companies internally between different departments is people don’t have the courage.”
The flip side, of course, if that those who do have the courage often channel it the wrong way and they lack tact. So there has to be a balance. Richardson had this advice:
“It’s always better to express good will in your communications even when you’re having a tough conversation, whether it’s in writing or in person or over the phone. But also, always assume the good will of others, even if it’s not apparent, because if you assume the good will of others, it automatically shifts how you communicate.”
To learn how to knock your communications out of the park, register to attend TalentBlend, a conference featuring industry practitioners and leaders who will transform the way you think about talent acquisition programs, operations and projects.