Every communication product or project should include some combination of the steps outlined in this article. As a way of introducing the tasks and skills involved in creating business communication products, we interviewed professionals in the field regarding a project they helped lead.
Human Resources (HR) communication is focused primarily on conveying information from organization management to employees. This information typically covers company policies and programs such as benefits. One of the goals of HR communication is to engage and motivate employees to buy in to the company’s goals and ensure smooth business operations.
In this case study, the Corporate Communications Officer was a key player both as an implementer of the project that was decided on and one of the voices against the wisdom of the project. As a communication professional, it’s important to remember that the focus should be both on the quality of the work throughout the process as well as the integrity of the individual. This case study examines a company HR strategy that created deep divisions throughout the organization and was ultimately unsuccessful.
A small company (roughly 150 employees) was experiencing increasing employee conflict and managers were reporting more dissatisfaction with the workplace from their staff. The executive team, representing the various departments in the company, met to brainstorm ideas on how to best deal with this situation. The HR Director took the lead on the project and the Corporate Communications Officer was tasked with the responsibility of enacting team’s decisions.
Identify Goals, Audience, and Scope
The first executive team meeting held to address the issue discussed the increasing number of employee complaints to supervisors about co-workers, work load, and, in some cases, bullying from managers. The sense from managers was that the company’s work environment had become dysfunctional to the detriment of employees and customers.
The department heads realized that while addressing specific concerns and situations was necessary in the short-term, fixing the underlying issues was also necessary to prevent further damage to the company’s operations. The HR Director was tasked with researching options, while the Corporate Communications Officer was tasked with creating an anonymous survey to discover what employees felt were the most important issues as well as their recommendations for solutions.
To kick off this new initiative, all employees were required to attend a company meeting in which the executive team presented the situation and handed out the survey. Collection sites were placed around the building to collect the completed surveys. Employees were encouraged to participate by filling out the questionnaire and being honest in their answers.
Strategy, Planning and Research
The survey was collected and data collated by the Corporate Communications Officer. After the deadline, only 60 percent of the employees had participated. Since the survey was anonymous, there was no way for the non-participants to be tracked, although the Communications Officer sent out emails to encourage everyone to contribute their perspective. The top issues and recommendations were identified and discussed by the executive team in a second meeting.
The discussion in the second meeting revealed a distinct split in the executive team. Some team members, including the CEO and HR Director, displayed a strong belief in a disciplinary approach with a focus on adherence to current policies. Others, including the COO and the Corporate Communications Officer, wanted to take an approach of mediation along with modifications to specific policies that seemed to exacerbate the situation. The division in the executive was echoed by a similar split in recommendations from employees.
In the end, the executive team recommended that the CEO take the disciplinary approach. He chose a method suggested by the HR Director, an Integrity Pledge. Both the COO and the Corporate Communications Officer spoke out against this particular method, and attempted to explain to the team that they believed employees would become even more disaffected with the workplace. The HR Director and CEO made it clear they did not think that employees should be coddled and instead should simply follow the rules and do their work. This was an example of two fundamentally different perspectives on management and employee relations that were irreconcilable.
The HR Director wrote the Integrity Pledge and it was refined by the CEO. The Corporate Communications Officer was tasked with producing the materials for the Integrity Pledge. Each employee was given a certificate in which the Integrity Pledge was printed along with a place for the signatures of the CEO, the department manager, and the employee. While employees were not required to sign the pledge; it was clear to managers and the executive team which employees had not.
In addition, all employees were again required to attend a company meeting. A poster was hung in the cafeteria with the Integrity Pledge. At the meeting, employees were invited to sign the poster. While this again was not a requirement, some employees who had initially chosen not to sign the certificate took the opportunity to sign both the certificate and poster in this meeting. A small percentage of employees, including the COO and the Corporate Communications Officer, did not.
Evaluation of Communication Effectiveness
This management approach of discipline and strict adherence to the current policies and environment was not effective in addressing the original issues of employee conflict and dissatisfaction with the workplace. Instead, it had the opposite effect; employees who refused to sign were snubbed by their coworkers, especially their managers, and the environment became more antagonistic. Soon after the pledge, the COO retired, and within the year, some members of the executive team were invited by the Board to resign, including the CEO and the HR Director.
This case study is an example of choices that are faced by communication professionals in their work (in this case, the Corporate Communications Officer). In this situation, the difference in values and goals created conflict in the executive team as well as the general staff. The communication in the company was inconsistent within and between departments, and rumors and bullying replaced clear and fair policies and procedures. It is not uncommon for these paradigm conflicts to remain under the surface until something unexpected brings them to light. Communication professionals are often the first employees to notice and draw attention to these situations.
In this particular occurrence, the Corporate Communications Officer was able to draw on his or her knowledge and experience to make recommendations to the executive team; however, they were not taken into consideration. They were also given a professional task that compromised their professional ethics. And while the Corporate Communications Officer performed their task as requested by the executive team, the company’s course of action ultimately damaged their trust in the organization, and they gave notice shortly after the Integrity Pledge was introduced to employees.
Additional Business Communication Case Studies:
Crisis Communication for a Public Employee Retirement System
This case study explores the creation of a crisis communication plan and how it was used to handle a delicate situation regarding changes to an employee retirement fund. It involves strategic use of public relations, content creation, teamwork, and more.
Strategic Communication for Floodplain Education
In this case study, a communication specialist helps spearhead a strategic communication project for a non-profit conservation collective. Their work entails collaborative project planning and evaluation, content creation, event management, and public relations.