HR’s Pivotal Role in Ensuring an Effective Communication Flow

August 10, 2020 Focus area: Reinventing HR

It has been well-documented that organizational transformation is a constant theme in business today. Despite its regularity, every organizational transformation is different, and one critical competence stands out as being able to make or break a transformation: communication. The Human Resources (HR) function, with its inherently people-centric and strategic business partner mandate, and its natural capacity for having the means to build a change-supporting culture, is ideally positioned to stimulate effective communication flow in organizational transformations. During uncertain times of change, communication can be enhanced by ensuring that there is a feedback loop between different stakeholders. In this article, we provide you with five pointers for the HR function to stimulate effective communication flow during organizational transformations.

1. Set-up a questionnaire structure for employees

With lots of changes taking place during transformations, people often forget to communicate with each other. Stakeholders are occupied with managing the transformation, decisions to be made, and other day-to-day activities that require their attention. Although there is willingness to communicate, it seems like it is of less importance than other core activities. This lack of communication, however, will ultimately result in less employee engagement and less motivation for the transformation. As a result, a new way of working with long-term consequences for the organization’s successes might be disregarded and not successfully implemented.

HR and stakeholders can prevent this by setting up a questionnaire structure in which feedback is gathered during the transformation. Questions to consider could be addressing the following topics:

- Do you receive enough information concerning the transformation?

- Is the goal of the transformation clear?

- Do you know what is expected of you/what your role is?

- Do you see an urgency for a transformation?

- Do you have any suggestions or improvements on how the transformation is performed and managed?

- Do you feel heard when providing feedback on the transformation?

Besides ensuring two-way communication, this also provides the organization with detailed insights on how the transformation is progressing on different levels within the organization. Actively involving employees during a transformation and considering their input can reduce anxiousness and resistance and in turn increase motivation.

2. Encourage stakeholders to be actively involved in the transformation

Communication is not only relevant when deadlines are coming up or major changes are introduced or implemented. Rather, two-way communication should take place on a daily basis. Stakeholders should be visible to employees. The HR department can have a role in this by reminding stakeholders of their essential role to play. For example, by encouraging them to regularly attend meetings with the involved parties or by having informal chats with employees to understand the impact the transformation has on each individual and to find out where potential resistance is coming from.

HR should also ask stakeholders a set of questions to make them aware of how employees might be experiencing the transformation. These questions could, amongst others, be:

- Who is affected by the transformation?

- How are these departments/employees affected?

- What do the employees need in these times of transformation?

By asking these types of questions, HR can stimulate stakeholders to get in touch with the involved parties and to understand the impact the transformation has on the organization’s employees.

3. Help leaders deliver clear and consistent messages to all levels of the organization

HR can serve as a sounding board in which the stakeholders try out their messages and their way(s) of communicating. By setting up questionnaires (see point 1), HR can also find out where the messages are not consistent or clear to employees. Inconsistent messages can cause confusion and insecurity about the transformation’s direction. For a successful transformation, all involved levels of the organization must have a common vision for the change. This enables everyone to “pull on the same rope” and work towards one goal.

4. Pay attention to personal communication

Impersonal communication (through e-mail, not directly addressing somebody, “passing on the message”) can result in the message not being accepted by the receiver, with no urgency being placed on it. HR is ideally positioned to coach and encourage management and stakeholders to put themselves in the shoes of the employees affected by the transformation. This also encourages them to be more empathetic and to highlight the people side of the transformation. By taking the time to personally approach individuals who are involved in bottlenecks, stakeholders can get to the root of the problem and develop solutions together with employees. By being approached personally, preferably on a regular basis, employees will feel relevant and taken seriously by management. Besides that, it prevents communication from being misinterpreted or getting lost somewhere in the information flow.

5. Have your door open

As the people-centered department within an organization, employees might feel more inclined to voice their concerns to HR than to stakeholders or management. By having an open-door policy, HR encourages a welcoming environment for employees to give direct feedback on the transformation. This could prevent counterproductive behavior as a response to their experienced frustration with the transformation. Addressing issues early on results in finding a solution instead of the issue developing into a larger issue that could eventually seriously impede the transformation. By giving employees the feeling that they are being heard and that their concerns are not ignored, trust is established between HR and employees. If a situation calls for it, HR could invite people who have visibly been dissatisfied with the transformation to their office to discuss the cause of these negative feelings and to have an open discussion on potential solutions.

In conclusion, actively involving employees in a transformation can have an immense impact on the success of the transformation. HR is perfectly positioned to help leaders better understand the impact a transformation can have on their employees, enabling a 360° understanding of the situation. By encouraging regular two-way communication between management and employees, HR creates an environment that facilitates a successful transformation where problems are quickly noticed, solutions can be developed, and a sustainable transformation can be achieved.

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