HR Roundtable: Getting a Fix on the Value of Workplace Communication

Every time the HR Roundtable in Cincinnati gathers, the subject of “Communication” comes up during the discussion.

Ironically, no one really knows what that word means because everyone has their own definition or perspective on the subject.

For the October HR Roundtable, we tried to peel back the layers to see if we could find some common ground to work from by seeing if we could quantify the “Value of Communication!”

To get started, the small groups tackled the following discussion starters:

  1. What are the common obstacles and excuses regarding communication in companies?
  2. How do we value/elevate communication throughout our organizations?
  3. Why should we do this?

The small groups were genuinely buzzing as they jumped into their discussions. You could tell that they really wanted to share their experiences around this subject. Take a look at what they thought!

What are the common obstacles/excuses regarding communication in companies?

  • We’re too busy — This answer came so fast that it nearly bowled Steve over. The “too busy” mantra is honestly like a plague. You can’t quantify it and people can make themselves busy doing just about anything. Busy-ness is a crutch that needs to be eliminated.
  • Poor timing — Timing is a critical factor to effective communication. Some people blurt things out just to make sure they’re heard. They don’t consider the art of timing something so that it actually gets through to others and sticks. Make sure to take note of this. Timing is something that has to be practiced to be effective as well.
  • I only talk to people who “matter” — This is so self-centered it drips with ickiness! Steve shared a story that he loves to hear when vendors say, “I’d like to talk to the ‘decision maker,’ “and Steve responds, “You just did.” ALL people matter in an organization. If you try this kind of creepy approach, you need to be called on it because it’s unnecessary self-righteousness that has no place in a company’s culture.
  • People are intimidated — I love when Senior Managers say that they don’t intimidate people. You may think that, but people truly may be anxious to talk with others in organization if they work in different levels of the company. Don’t blow this off or tell people that you’re accessible. If you have to explain it – you aren’t. Show that you are accessible through your behavior and you’ll see communication channels open up more readily.
  • Technology — Now, don’t jump ahead on this. The comment wasn’t for/against technology. The fact is that you can communicate just as poorly using technology as you can in person. Be aware of this and show people how to easily utilize technology forums vs. being critical and saying that people don’t “get it.”
  • Silos –Ah, the dreaded silo. It permeates every organization and is a true boulder when it comes to communication. A silo may think communication is going great within its own confines, but it rarely gets outside of its own domain.
  • Insincerity — Wow! This was great to hear because too often throughout organizations you’ll hear catch phrase after catch phrase to make sure you’re saying what you’re supposed to say without communicating at all. When people aren’t genuine, communication has no chance to be effective.
  • Cultural differences — This is a reality and shouldn’t be an obstacle. HR has to really push through on this to show the value of our differences as people instead of letting cultures, backgrounds, gender, etc. become a hindrance. Note that this ISN’T a program! It’s how your company culture should be naturally.
  • Too much noise — This item has much more credence than being too busy. We are bombarded by constant stimuli and messaging from a myriad of sources all day. This isn’t a work issue. It’s a life issue. It’s hard to discern and cut through the noise to pay attention to messages that really need to be heard and acted upon.

How do we value/elevate communication throughout our organizations?

  • Tell people your processes — We need to quit thinking that people are just going to “get it” when it comes to communication throughout an organization. Taking the time to explain how to communicate, who to get information to, and when to do it would make you more progressive than 99 percent of all companies out there. Anytime we can give people clarity on how communication works in your company will only lead to stronger and more long-lasting results.
  • Set the table — This is a true opportunity area for HR. Define how communication brings things together in your organization and weave it through your culture. Great communication should be the norm, not the exception. However, the environment to do so needs to be intentionally established. Attack the assumed culture in your company and make it open.
  • Go to people instead of having them come to you — Radical isn’t it? Sitting and waiting for communication to appear never works. It never has. By being the person who initiates communication, you can get things moving. This also addresses communication avoidance in your company. Be the person who steps into the gap to make communication happen. Quit waiting!
  • Focus on relationships vs. drive-by’s –When you truly foster relationships, communication becomes more clear because people get to know each other. Too often, we shoot messages at each other just to get them out. Yes, this takes time, but it’s time that is well worth the investment.
  • Leadership sets the tone — Here is one instance where Senior Management leading the way is essential. They can make communication valued by their actions and expectations. In fact, if they choose not to do this, then poor communication is sure to be the model the company suffers through. HR can lead in this as well by coaching Senior Management on the value of making communication shine. It’s a great way to be strategic.
  • Don’t be dull — It’s amazing that this is so challenging for people. Seriously, have YOU read what you write? We think that being engaging and entertaining in corporate communication is unnecessary and a waste of time. The opposite is actually true. Most communication in companies goes unheeded or unread. So, why follow the norm of the boring memo or the email limited to 10 words or less? This doesn’t mean to write novels to express yourself. It means be creative. Draw people in to get your message across. It works!

Why should we do this?

This should have been the first question. You see, most companies follow the model of: What, How and Why (in that order). We focus on the “what” and it is a vicious cul-de-sac of endless and useless communication.

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We don’t focus on the “why” of communication, or many things in our companies. Steve referenced a TED talk by Simon Sinek here that shows you that companies who focus on their “why” are more successful in all they do.

Here is the YouTube link for you. It’s worth the 12 minutes of your time.

The answer in this section needs to go back to your company because each culture and environment is different. You need to step up, be intentional and take the steps to make communication valued in your company.

Another great HR Roundtable was in the books. Make sure to mark out the First Tuesday of every month to join us for one hour of great discussion, networking and information here in Cincinnati. I hope to see all of you at future HR Roundtables throughout the year!

Steve Browne, SHRM-SCP, is the Executive Director of Human Resources for LaRosa's, Inc., a regional pizzeria restaurant chain in the Greater Cincinnati and Dayton, Ohio area with 16 locations and over 1,200 team members. Steve has been an HR professional for more than 30 years in the manufacturing, consumer products, and professional services industries. He facilitates a monthly HR Roundtable in Cincinnati and runs an Internet message board for HR pros that reaches 7,800 plus people weekly. Steve joined the SHRM Board of Directors in January 2016. You can contact him at, or on Twitter (@sbrownehr). You can also read more on his personal blog, Everyday People.



2 Comments on “HR Roundtable: Getting a Fix on the Value of Workplace Communication

  1. Thank you for this well-written and refreshing insight into the power of effective communication. More importantly, thanks for diving into WHY it is so important and HOW to take steps to improve communication in the workplace. I especially appreciate your emphasis on genuine, sincere communication – and the importance of being creative/showing flair! As you mentioned, everyone defines communication differently; the goal is to make sure everyone in the current conversation is on the same page.

    I work with HR professionals every day to strategize how to effectively communicate a culture of recognition in their unique workplaces. Fostering a powerful employee recognition or incentive program requires a solid foundation of communication and rapport within the company. I recently blogged about communication and the power of “thank you”. I’d love your thoughts!

  2. This is such a thought-provoking piece, Steve. This idea of quantifying the value of communication sheds light on the importance of operationalizing a brand to both bring it to life and strengthen the business from the inside out. Communication isn’t simply a marketing function, or the concern of HR – it’s about the bigger picture. Key to a company’s overall business strategy success, communication establishes expectations about experiences with the company for current and future employees, as well as prospective clients and audiences. If everyone on the team is onboard and sees the value of their role in bringing the brand to life, it’s a sure way to foster a strong company culture that is reflected within the walls of the organization and projected outwardly to entice future stakeholders.

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