Sunday, September 18, 2011

Why Do Some Approaches To Compensation Communication Work Better Than Others?

Involved . . . Trusting . . . Motivated . . . Engaged . . . Future-focused . . . Committed . . . Curious . . . Excited . . . Determined . . . Confident . . . Collaborative . . .

We want our compensation communications to inspire employees to be all of these and more. (And, let's not even mention how employees were actually feeling before we initiated communications in order to work this magic spell.)

Ann Bares is no Harry Potter, but she recently talked about the magic she learned from an article titled, "Branding Is About Creating Patterns, Not Repeating Messages" by Marc Shillum. I heartily recommend you read Ann's Compensation Force article to hear her excitement about the insights she gained.

Because patterns are what make some approaches to compensation communications work better than others. Here's what I mean.

Adults are near sighted, relying on past experiences as if they were the lenses for their driving glasses. They search the world through those glasses, hoping for consistencies (with their past experience) and learning from anomalies as they cruise through the world.

The job of communications in an internal business setting is to highlight the consistencies and anomalies for people. If effective, internal communications creates patterns (or acknowledges existing ones) and then points them out to people. That's why effective communications can't possibly just be words on a page. It's a process (sometimes called change management) of building communities where many people work together to achieve the outcomes that the community is planning for.

Individual employees look for patterns before they decide to become part of a community. Being able to see the patterns helps them believe they belong there. Who are they watching for pattern creation? Their managers and sometimes the executives who are building the community. An important lesson for the HR team tasked with tracking the patterns.

When it comes to the compensation community, some of the patterns are straightforward. Is leadership saying the same thing about my pay this time that they said the last time? If not, am I hearing something that is a reasonable extension of the way we've done it before?

Also, am I seeing regular evidence that those words stand for something? Is there a pattern that I can see in the words, actions, decisions that you have led me to expect? For example, is my merit increase credible, based on the guidelines that my manager talked over with me? 

Why do some approaches to compensation communication work better than others? They realize that employees long for patterns.That linking business strategy with departmental goals helps make the employees' own objectives make sense. That linking departmental and business results with their own results helps them believe that their work has meaning. That linking performance management and career development demonstrates that their manager recognizes their contributions and value to the company.

The most effective compensation communications strategies take time -- the full calendar year -- to talk about and illustrate those patterns through manager/employee and executive/employee interactions. So that employees can see how the patterns help grow a cohesive, thriving community.

In my last post, I talked about a number of solutions to the abiding frustration in compensation communications. Solutions to resolve the lingering discouragement that the limited time and resources which we commit to compensation communications doesn't build understanding, trust and commitment.

Here's another solution to add to the earlier list. It takes time to create patterns like the ones I'm describing in this article. On your upcoming vacation, put down the paperback, take a stroll and dip a branch in some still water. Watch the ripples. The pattern spreads out, but you'll never notice it if you head off for lunch right after you pitch the branch.

Back at work, as patterns evolve within the community involved with your company's compensation program, the patterns become believable, then memorable to employees, and ultimately resolve themselves into "the way we do things around here." With time, thought and commitment to building patterns of understanding, discussion and behavior, your compensation communications can achieve this evolution. And it won't take magic.

Margaret O'Hanlon is founder and principal of re:Think Consulting.  She has decades of experience teaming up with clients to ensure great Human Resource ideas deliver valuable business results.  Margaret brings deep expertise in total rewards communications and change management to the dialog at the Café. Before founding re:Think 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.

Thanks to Compensation Café

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