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The Power of Proactive Communication

Know how and what to communicate, then follow up and close the loop

A portrait of a man wearing glasses and a tie.

​I recently conducted change management training for a local employer. I asked the group of employees and leaders what they thought are the major issues we currently face in the workplace. Without hesitation, 75 percent of the people in the room named communication. If I asked the same question in any other organization, the answer would undoubtedly be the same.

Throughout my career as an employee and as an HR consultant, I have experienced the power of communication in organizations. Communication is vital for any organization, both to engage its workforce and for it to evolve as the needs of its consumers evolve.

Do employees need to know everything all of the time? No. But there are ways for HR professionals to effectively communicate with them. Utilize the SHRM Body of Competency and Knowledge (SHRM BoCK) to ensure that channels are open and receptive so that you not only hear what is being said but also can close the loop. 

Below are three recommendations to consider when developing a people-focused communication philosophy that can be effective in any organization. Being disciplined in your approach does make a difference. Use the Communication competency and others noted. 

  1. Lead and manage by walking around. Yes, it is that simple. I have spent most of my career in the manufacturing and health care industries, where I learned quickly that the most effective way to communicate with the workforce is to lead and manage by literally walking around. I have spent countless hours on the shop floor talking to employees, following up on issues and addressing concerns. This is a proactive approach to communication, for which the SHRM competencies of Leadership & Navigation, Relationship Management and Consultation will also guide you.

  2. Follow up on absolutely everything. One of the best pieces of advice I ever received was given to me when I was an intern. A supervisor said, "Follow up on every e-mail, voice mail, message and issue. Regardless of whether you have the answer or not, let the individual know that you are working on it." I have continued to follow this advice throughout my career. Taking the time to acknowledge receipt of the information and close the loop of communication is a significant responsibility for an HR professional. Ethical Practice and Relationship Management build on this.

  3. Engage in active listening and loop closure. Don't just listen for a message. And don't have your response ready before the employee has even finished his statement. Actually hear what employees are saying. Take the time to listen to the emotion in the conversation, to truly understand the situation or the question being asked. This is an area that many of us need to practice and improve in (including me). Similar to No. 2 above, learn how to close the loop by providing answers to questions after they are asked. I see many professionals who do not do this, which impacts employee morale, engagement and retention of talent. Consultation, Relationship Management and the People knowledge domain of HR Expertise also apply here. 

Communication issues are low-hanging fruit—easy to fix. Proactive efforts to improve communication can and will have recognizably beneficial effects on your workforce. 

Matthew W. Burr, SHRM-SCP, owner of Burr Consulting LLC in Elmira, N.Y., is an HR consultant, an assistant professor at Elmira College, and an on-call mediator and fact-finder for the New York State Public Employment Relations Board. He holds master's degrees in business administration and human resources & industrial relations as well as a Lean Six Sigma Green Belt.


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