How to Communicate Changes in Pay and Benefits Programs Effectively
In a previous article, How to Optimize Retention When Restoring Pay and Benefits Cuts, we stated that an effective strategy for communicating change - whether in pay and benefits programs or in other programs - has two important components: the actions and behaviors of leaders, and the spoken or written words. The former carries more weight than the latter - i.e., employees believe what they see rather than what they are told. That article addresses actions and behaviors. In this article we identify some best practices for verbal and written communication of organizational change
I do not discount the importance of the words used to describe and support change. To the contrary, language is critical: used effectively, it can accelerate the intended changes. The key point is that the words must be backed up by behaviors, especially by organizational leaders. With that in mind, here are nine best practices for communicating changes in pay and benefits programs:
- Develop a communication strategy that enables employees to understand the value of their total compensation package. By "strategy" I mean a well thought-out and articulated plan that is supported by leaders who are active advocates for its implementation. This communication must be on-going.
- Communicate throughout the organization. Employees at all levels must understand clearly how the changes will affect their individual pay and benefits package.
- Focus on answering the question, "What's in it (the changes) for ME?" The operative word is "me:" pay is very personal, and people want to know how their lives will change - for better or worse - as a result of the modifications to their pay and benefits.
- Use multiple media. Individuals have different learning styles, so using a variety of media increases the likelihood that your message will be received as intended.
- Watch your language. As noted above, language can help or hinder the effectiveness of your communication efforts. For example, consider the differences between referring to compensation and benefits as a "cost" versus describing them as an "investment." When we speak in terms of costs, the focus is on cutting expenses, which include pay and benefits by virtue of the fact that they often are considered costs. The problem is that there is a limit to how much an employer can cut pay and benefits. In addition, such actions destroy management's credibility and trust; they also send morale into a tailspin, and productivity plunges as employees pull back and focus on what they cannot do. In contrast, there is no upper limit to the potential benefits of "investing" in a total rewards program. The focus is on seeking what employees and the organization CAN do instead of what they cannot do. Employees feel valued because the message being conveyed is, "We are investing in you because you are valuable to the organization."
- Communicate frequently and clearly. This point cannot be overemphasized, especially in an environment of low or no trust. Tell employees what they need to know to be fully informed about their pay and benefits. Answer the question, "What does this change mean for ME?"
- Ask for, and listen carefully to, employee feedback. People are more likely to accept changes when they have had meaningful opportunities to provide input into decisions that affect them. Provide multiple means for employees to convey their suggestions. Be sure to respond to that feedback, whether the answer is "yes," "no," or "not now." Responsiveness increases management's credibility and trust.
- Set clear expectations, then meet or exceed them. Be honest, telling employees as much as possible. Keep them informed. Unmet expectations destroy trust and credibility, so make sure you avoid the mistake of over-promising and under-delivering.
- Educate first-line managers and supervisors about the changes. They are the people to whom your employees will turn with their questions, so you must provide them with the tools that will enable them to give accurate answers in a timely manner.
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Self-care: Critical Success Factor for Personal and Organizational Renaissance™
Renaissance may be defined as a renewal of life or interest, a re-birth. I use the term Organizational Renaissance™ to highlight the fact that the economic downturn has provided a unique opportunity for organizations and individuals to take a close look at what they are doing, how they are doing it, why they are doing it, and then to either re-affirm the path they are on or choose a new one. However, the window of opportunity for organizations is closing quickly: by the time the economy turns around, it will be closed in the sense that current and past practices again will be entrenched and people will be very resistant to change. Right now you truly have a once in a lifetime chance to purposefully examine who you are as an organization and how you want to operate. Similarly, individuals have that same opportunity to examine their values, choices, wants, and need, and to make changes as desired.
As I was piecing together the components of the Organizational Renaissance™ concept, it seemed incomplete. Then I realized a critical element was missing: self-care. A familiar example illustrates why self-care is important. Those who travel by air are familiar with the flight attendants' instructions about use of the oxygen masks: "Put your own mask on first and adjust the straps before you help others." This metaphor illustrates that we cannot be fully effective in helping others, whether inside or outside of the workplace, unless we take care of ourselves first.
For those who may be out of practice in taking care of themselves, here are seven suggestions to help you get started or re-started:
- Take the time to paint a picture (literally or figuratively) of how you want to live your life and the values that you espouse. Use this picture as the standard against which to make decisions and set priorities. Relentlessly jettison things that don't support your vision.
- Zealously guard your time. I like the perspective provided by Alan Weiss, my mentor. He defines wealth as discretionary time, saying that while individuals can make more money, they cannot make more time.
- Refuse to play the role of victim. Acknowledge that although bad things happen, you are the only one who can define yourself as a victim, and only you can choose to remain in or leave that state of mind. Most of us experience rough patches. One of my friends, a cancer survivor, shared her secret for getting through those "woe is me" times: she allows herself to have a 15-minute "pity party," during which time she can feel as badly as she wants. Once the time is up, however, she resolutely picks herself up and moves on.
- Surround yourself with people who infuse your life with positive energy, and avoid those who suck the energy out of you. If you must be around individuals in the latter group (e.g., family members, co-workers), minimize your time with them.
- View your life as a whole rather than segmenting it into arbitrary parts - e.g., work life, home life. Approaching your life holistically enables you to maximize it and, importantly, to integrate its various aspects. (See #6 and #7.)
- Develop a career that allows you to express your passion. Life is too short, and we spend too much of it at work, to squander our time by doing things that don't make our hearts sing.
- Remember to strive for balance in your self-care. That is, tend to the mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual aspects of your being. All of our "selves" need care and attention.
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