There are a lot of decisions to make in Q4 2012. This is the third in a series designed to turn you into the most savvy decision maker on your team. Earlier posts provide tips on planning this year's total reward statements and organizing a seamless focal rewards implementation. This time, we get our heads around how to develop candid messages about 2012 compensation that will touch our harried employees.
+ It's time to face it. Our new normal = minimalist merit increase budgets. The big firms are saying most budgets will be around 2.8%. At my speeches and training sessions, I hear participants mention everything from another year of 0% to -- every now and then -- as much as 5%. None of this is exciting news but we need to figure out how to make the most of it. And in spite of the fact that this is the third or fourth year of minimalism, we need to help employees and managers look for an upside.
+ How do we make the most of this tough situation? It involves helping employees to focus inward on the company's success because that success offers them a future.
Business struggles during tough times actually offer as many opportunities as worries. You can take steps to build greater trust in leadership and confidence in the future if you put your mind to it.
+ Should we try to give employees what they want? Yes! Years of research on engagement has made it clear. Employees are thirsty for deeper insights into your business. Everyone of us needs to work harder at this. As we improve, employees will be more willing to go the extra mile. They will actually know just what to do to improve performance. (Plus HR will clearly be contributing to the bottom line!)
- The organization's business goals
- Steps they need to take to reach those goals
- How their job contributes to achieving those goals
If you have a pay-for-performance philosophy (and you actually mean it), why wouldn't you make these your communication priorities?
+ Address the emotional dimension of what is going on. You may worry that employees are building pent-up frustrations. Instead of mincing words to try to get past the bad vibes, acknowledge them. Then do the tough work. Explain how all of you are in this together (in spite of the special deals for the software engineers and such).
+ Get inspired. Plan not just emails but a real strategy that will acknowledge and deal with employee emotions (and leadership's fears of looking bad again in front of employees). Face-to-face communication, no matter how difficult, is the most effective method for dealing with emotional topics.
+ Invest your time and money in this. Recognize that this year relationships will either help or hurt your communications -- not emails or carefully crafted Qs and As. Your return on investment will come from training leaders and managers to handle discussions with employees without evasion or cynicism.
Too many companies are turning manager programs into optional PowerPoint downloads from the intranet. This packaging may save HR time and money, but for this year's purposes you want to engage hearts as well as minds.
Plan informal meetings with leaders and managers where attendees get to say what is really on their mind. Instead of having a perfectly scripted agenda, be prepared to speak candidly. Offer coaching on how to handle employees' tough questions.
+ Admit that the water's running low in your "cascade." If you want leadership and managers to put any real effort into the 2012 focal rewards process, give them enough time. Remember that each level of the cascade involves a potentially contentious manager/employee interaction, even in the C-suite.
Time pressures make people irritable. Everyone is more likely to think, ask questions, work out their issues, given enough time.
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 Watson. Margaret is Deputy Director 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, Bloomington. Creative writing is one of her outside passions, along with Masters Swimming.