She's also a writer and communicator, so she is very effective at telling it like it is. How we have turned a tool that was designed to help us communicate into a loud pounding in our ears.
"Instead of talking with one person and getting something done, we're carrying on simultaneous conversations with hundreds of people and struggling to get anything done."
As a mode of communications, emailing within many organizations is becoming a way of getting nothing of any value done. People want to be known as "responsive" but they are actually reacting without thinking. I am sure you are familiar with the skill of responding to an email quickly without giving it any real thought. It's how we all survive.
But this has changed emails into unreliable sources of information -- who knows how many you are going to have to exchange until you actually learn what you need, when you need it. Look at Sarah's example. It will sound horribly familiar.
"SARAH: Perhaps this topic is a bit too complex for email. Are you free at 2pm tomorrow for a call? Please let me know what number to call.
RESPONSIVE PERSON: Yes what time?
SARAH: I'd prefer 2pm Eastern, but if that doesn't work let me know a time that does. Are you calling me or am I calling you? I'm at 617-HAR-VARD.
RESPONSIVE PERSON: Sure what day?
SARAH: Tomorrow. Please call me at the number below.
RESPONSIVE PERSON: Will do. Remind me what this about?
Good news: This person is being responsive. Bad news: So responsive that he didn't actually read my email, and he can't actually retain the information long enough for it to sink into his brain."
Here's the part that we can learn from, as compensation communicators.
'. . . there is no way to be thoughtful and also be considered responsive. None. If you've said nothing more valuable than "Ping!" what you're likely to get is no more useful than "Pong!"'
For a lot of people, email is has acquired bad vibes. And it is morphing into something like texting. Information that I surely don't think about, just take in and react to. (Who cares about the impact on the relation between sender and receiver!) Of course, we also get good, meaty emails that we read through and use. But what are the odds?
Am I saying that HR should avoid emails? NO. If you did, I think you'd disappear. Really.
But imagine if HR's emails had to be written within a character limit? (Like Twitter's 140 characters, but a bit longer.) It would take some uncomfortable discipline, but it could be done for 75% of what you send out. Then they would be more likely to be read. And the other 25%, which covered a lot of content, would be more likely to be taken seriously.
Is this the last word on effective communications? Hardly. The most recent, June 2012, Harvard Business Review has a research-based article called, "Leadership Is a Conversation." One of the many important things this article points out is, "Physical proximity between leaders and employees isn't always feasible. But mental or emotional proximity is essential."
You don't accomplish this connection by sending emails. The real communication breakthrough will come when HR's communication strategy delivers that "mental or emotional proximity."
HR has to build trust to achieve that closeness through, among other things, respect for employees' time. Treating emails with a realistic understanding of who is opening them (rather than just focusing on what HR wants to say) will contribute to that trust.
Ping. You could react by closing this blog out. Pong. Or you could respond.
Margaret O'Hanlon is founder and principal of re:Think Consulting. She joined Ann Bares and Dan Walter of the Compensation Cafe to speak the unspoken -- "Everything You Do (in Compensation) Is Communication" -- at the WorldatWork 2012 Conference. Margaret brings deep expertise in total rewards communications and change management to the dialog at the Café. Before founding re:Think Communications Consulting, she was a Principal in Total Rewards Communications and Change Management with Towers Perrin. Margaret is a member of the Board of Directors of the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC) Pacific Plains Region. She earned her M.S. and Ed.S. in Instructional Technology at Indiana University. Creative writing is one of her outside passions, along with Masters Swimming.