Organisations have been scrambling to adapt to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, thrusting Human Resources professionals into the spotlight. Executives, managers, supervisors and employees have been asking key questions and looking for guidance from HR in response.
In most organisations, HR is the conduit for developing and delivering crucial communication. Now more than ever, our word choice in communicating with employees is critical. Exemplary communication skills with executives, senior management and employees is a required competency for all HR professionals and vital during a crisis.
So, how can HR professionals utilise their presence to better communicate with senior management? Well, in short, stay engaged and know your audience. Here’s how:
1. Speak the language of the business
Every business has its own vernacular and acronyms—know the meanings and how to incorporate them into communications and HR strategy. EBITDA, ROI, FCF are common acronyms your senior leadership uses every day. You can have more engaging and meaningful conversations with your CEO, CFO, and COO if you speak their language. Use this to understand the impact that HR has on the key metrics within the organisation. You will be better poised to develop a credible HR strategy when you focus on how it will influence the business’s KPIs.
2. Tell a story
When communicating big ideas or proposals, craft a narrative that will engage senior management. Analogies, metaphors, or experiences related to the theme will be extremely impactful and can help leaders visualise your ideas. Don’t be afraid to appeal to both sides of the brain (emotion & logic) as decisions are typically made on an emotional basis and rationalised at a later stage. These storytelling skills benefit all management levels of the organisation. Formal training in storytelling is available through external training groups – many organisations can benefit from this investment.
3. High level summary with key data points
When presenting to senior management or board members, give a high-level summary of the proposal with a couple of key data points. Start with the end in mind, articulate outcomes, the actions it will take to accomplish these outcomes and the value provided to the business. Present enough information for them to understand the issue and why they should pay attention to the matter. Use language specific to the business when presenting data points. If you deep dive into the details, it may put you at risk to lose your audience. Instead, allow them to ask questions. Provide a concise summary to leadership while planning for in-depth explanations to employees.
Executives and senior management have limited availability so the timing of your message is critical. Consider keeping your narrative to under five minutes and carefully strategise the optimal time and day to pitch your idea. And know your audience. For example, a CEO may be more open to discussing certain issues or ideas on a Thursday or Friday instead of a Monday or Tuesday. Your peers can provide insight on the timing of these conversations as well as the best methodology. You might be surprised to see how much these little things can make a big difference in the success of the message.
Do not be afraid to call off a meeting. In some situations, it may be more prudent to say, ‘we need to regroup’ or ‘we need more time’ instead of plowing through, unprepared. Preserve credibility and it is likely you will earn even more respect by having the courage to hit the brakes, regroup and come back with a stronger message.
Senior leaders are often very knowledgeable, however they appreciate working with others who can offer insight or information that adds value to their perspective. Make sure that your communications provide added value and that you are working at the same level of professionalism as the leaders you serve. You need to have a good understanding of the key issues in the organisation that concern senior management. You also need to know what their ‘hot buttons’ for action are and be knowledgeable from a Human Resources perspective.
7. Summarise at the end
At the end of every presentation or discussion with senior management, have a summary of what you just presented. When you are thinking about the summary, ask yourself these questions:
- What do you want them to remember the most from your conversation?
- What actions or approvals do you need from them to move forward?
- What are the key takeaways?
- What are the potential next steps?
- What is a reasonable timeline to deliver the project or initiative?
Build a summary that will answer these questions in a succinct manner to ensure the message is heard and understood by senior management.
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Using these strategies to communicate with senior management will help to ensure that HR maintains their seat at the table, advocating for employees and supporting management now and beyond the current crisis.
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