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Communications in Compensation and Benefits: The Message Matters

By: Audrey Croley, CCP, PMP Brenda Lister

You have worked on a new program for weeks The HR team thinks its the best ever! And the executive team is on board! But, a few months after implementation, you are left standing, scratching your head saying What happened? I dont understand the issue. This is such a good program. They just dont get it! Not too long after that, some of the executives [even some who supported the initiative, at first] begin to question whether NOW is really a good time to make the change. The HR team reconvenes to debrief and discuss what could have been done differently. We, in the compensation and benefits business, think everyone should get it because we do. A significant amount of time is devoted to the design, cost analysis, planning and execution of the project. However, the often overlooked yet most critical variable is a well thought out employee communication plan. It will make the difference between a successful implementation and one that fails to gain acceptance by the organization. No doubt we have heard many times the importance of communication, but in the excitement of plan design and project implementation, the communication plan becomes an afterthought. Worse, we may not deem it as important as the new process or technology. The reason they dont get it is because a robust communication plan was not integrated with the planning phase of the project. The result was that this new thing became something that was done to them instead of something they can accept as meeting a legitimate business need and that offers a benefit over what is currently in place. Employees are smart and alert to the WIIFM factor: Whats in it for me? The success of implementation may well depend on the degree to which employees believe their interests are considered and their needs met. Everyone in the company at every level is a stakeholder in the process: executive team, management and employees. A good communication plan is important for: Compensation Programs, Strategies and Models Benefits Plans Performance Management Processes Technologies to support compensation and benefits programs and processes

While Compensation and Benefits professionals are hired not so much for their marketing and communication competencies as much as for their analytical and technical skills, in this time of constrained budgets, it certainly doesnt hurt to have such skills in ones skill set. Plans, because they affect people and budgets, are subject to greater scrutiny. Thus, communication strategy is just as critical as any other aspect of the project. This is true because an important outcome of every compensation and benefits implementation is acceptance and understanding of the plan by the organization. This is typically an unspoken measurement of project success. No matter how good the new program or process, or how important it is for the business, if it is not communicated well and often it could be considered a failure. And, depending on the size and scope of the initiative, it can become a very visible failure which makes getting approval for future projects difficult if not doubtful. The communication plan should be divided into three phases: Post Approval Project Plan Execution Post Project Implementation

Announce Excite Invite

Post Approval

Project Execution

The Edge Relevancy Progression

Guide Educate Celebrate

Post Implementation

Phase I: Post Approval As soon as the project is approved and the overall project plan completed, the first phase of the communication plan should be initiated. This is the time to start getting the organization on-board with the change. Make an announcement targeting the entire organization. It is advisable to start with top management and their direct reports first and then cascade down to others in the organization. This phase is to excite employees and invite them to go on this journey with you. Key Message: The What and description of what is the business need and what will be different after the new plan is installed.

Phase II: Project Plan Execution Throughout this phase of the communication plan, there should be communication at key stages to describe the advantages for the organization and employees. During this period, explain why this project is relevant to the business and them. If you are having difficulty figuring out the business or human capital rationale, you should question the purpose of the change or new program. To ensure that employees dont forget and know that progress is being achieved; keep them informed of major milestones that have been completed. This will keep the excitement building. Key Message: The Why in terms of importance to business strategy and human capital and why it makes good business sense to do it now. Phase III: Post Implementation During this last phase, dont stop communication at one announcement, but continue for at least three months after implementation. This is when you will need to guide the employee through new processes, educate them and celebrate. You are not only celebrating the completion of the project, but on what this change will do for your employees and the organization by moving them to the next level. They will be proud to be affiliated with such an organization. Key Message: The So What in terms of moving to the next level which emphasizes how the company, inclusive of employees, customers, and other stakeholders, will be better served. When developing your communication plan, use several different vehicles so that you hit different learning styles and key messages. (See Exhibit 1) Your communication plan must always focus on the audience and purpose. It is important that there is full disclosure throughout the organization, so that you have a high number of early adopters, who can influence others in the company. EXHIBIT 1

Internet Direct

e-Mail Intranet

Face-to-Face Video Conferencing


Newsletters Posters Articles

Following is an example of high level communication plan components:


Post Approval

Top Management

After development of project plan


-Gain Input -Obtain Support -Answer Questions -Explain Project & Benefits -Obtain Disciples -Answer Questions -Gain Excitement -Organizations Benefits -Provide Update -Provide Update -Importance -Provide Update -The Edge -Full Explanation -Guide - Features

Post Approval Project Kick-Off Project Execution Project Execution Project Execution Project Execution Post Implementation

Top Management Direct Reports All Other Employees All Employees All Employees All Employees All Employees All Employees

After Top Management After Top Management Direct Reports 1/4 Point Midway Point Point End of Project End of Project

Direct Internet Internet Paper Internet Paper Internet Paper Paper Paper

Youre probably thinking that this is a lot of work, and youre correct. But, if you want the organization to experience the full impact of the new program, employees must fully appreciate the decision to do it; they need to see how they benefit from the process. The eventual success or failure of the process can depend on a focused, timely, clear and well-thought communication plan. If there is a lack of competence in this area, reach out to your organizations marketing and communication department and/or take a course. The key is to make sure communication of the process is planned and included in process. Whether we Compensation and Benefits professionals want to admit it or not, most times, we do need to market our programs and technologies. Failure to plan this important part of the project can mean planning to fail in terms of a successful implementation.

Although this was specifically focused on compensation and benefits, this need for communications planning is necessary for any Human Resources project. HR programs always communicate a message, whether passively or intentionally. It is best to be on the strategic side of planning and executing the communication plan to achieve the desired objective. People programs involve people and people always have a "need to know that should not be underestimated or ignored.