Despair. That's the theme of most HR conversations about compensation communications. Maybe because it's a popular practice to share the war stories behind closed doors, passing the squirms down to new HR staff.
You can picture the conversations, because we've all been in them. Eliminate the meeting room walls and it's like sitting around a summer campfire, telling new campers about the tale of the couple parking on Lovers Lane who were interrupted by the scratching of the notorious "Hook Man." Everyone gets a kick of out hearing that, just when the romantic couple are deciding they were making the story up, they find a bloody hook on their car door. Uh oh!
Think our compensation communication urban legends get in the way? You bet. In fact, our fears have kept us stuck in the 1980's, with next to no innovations in over 30 years. It's too bad, really. While it is true that things can go horribly wrong with compensation communications, if you put thought (and emotion) into your planning, the likelihood of history-making disasters can be very low.
Oddly enough, we have no corresponding hazing for HR newbies when it comes to benefit communications. Somewhere along the way our benefit brethren have let go of the prejudice against treating employees similarly to consumers, and everyone has gotten used to the idea that benefit communications succeed when approached with a marketing mindset.
If you spend any part of your working life on benefits, you'll know that a growing trend is called "microtargeting." A technique used in direct marketing efforts including political campaigns, it replaces the urban legend that we can easily understand what is on "typical" people's minds. By mixing demographics with data about an individual's behaviors (ex. volunteering, donating and such) and with big data about habits and preferences from vendors and geographic mapping, communicators grow in understanding about what it's like to walk in someone else's shoes.
The outcome is that one big pool of "typical people" is broken down into subgroups, so we can notice where they have clearly different habits and information needs. Successful communication implementation turns those insights into tailored messages sent through each subgroup's preferred communication channels (ex. online, Twitter, Facebook, video, print, etc.)
In other words, you end up talking with people about the specific topics that matter to them. And to initiate this conversation, you find them in a setting that they frequent, regularly and happily.
It's the difference between posting a headline on the intranet about an upcoming quarterly town meeting vs. emailing a personal invitation from the CEO along with sending a text (for the Millennials) with an embedded link to the email. It's the difference between boring mid-level managers one more time with the directions for your performance management platform vs. including the information in new manager training and trusting experienced managers to follow directions shown on an easily accessed homepage.
Why not apply the microtargeting approach to compensation communications, especially with managers? Understand what newly minted managers are being asked to do that is new to them, and learn how they are going about it--well and poorly--with their new reporting groups. Define what a more experienced manager does well and poorly, and craft communications that speak to them. Observe what goes into effective executive compensation decisions and turn your insights into decision tools or videos that support their leadership role. And so on.
Odds are, the two subgroups of inexperienced and more experienced managers could be usefully broken into smaller groups by Division or function. After all, in most organizations, some professions tend to take to management better than others. You can also break them down by frequency of compensation decisions, given the number of reports they have or the level of hiring in their area.
Ok, I can hear it now. Cries of, "The investment involves too much work, too much time with too little payoff." Here's what I have to say about that, "AGAIN WITH THE URBAN LEGENDS???" Because the analysis I am suggesting will make it far more likely that your communication investment will pay off. In fact, it's guaranteed, as long as you heed your insights.
And, in my experience, what you learn by creating a spreadsheet of your subgroups aligned with demographics, favored topics and communication techniques is that you inevitably find some overlap. In other words, you won't have to create unendingly tailored communication pieces. Instead, you will have the framework for a strategy that prepares you to talk with your subgroups about compensation issues throughout the year.
And once you get going, no one--neither employees, managers or HR--will be able to hide out, telling scary stories about how compensation works, since the truth will be far too obvious and available (throughout the year) to inspire scary stories in any season.
Swapping urban legends in your meetings? Learn how to skip the scary stuff and useless myths by microtargeting the popular ebook, Everything You Do (in Compensation) Is Communication @ www.everythingiscommunication.com. Margaret O'Hanlon, CCP collaborated with Ann Bares and Dan Walter to create this DIY guide to compensation leadership. Margaret is founder and Principal of re:Think Consulting. She brings deep expertise in compensation, communications and leadership to topics like the CEO Pay Ratio and performance management discussions at the Café. Before founding re:Think Consulting, Margaret was a Principal at Willis Towers Watson.