© Copyright 2006 Rogers Publishing Ltd. The following article first appeared in the May 2006 edition of BENEFITS CANADA magazine.
Keeping employees in offices around the world motivated and engaged requires technology—and a strategy—to ensure meaningful communication and employee buy-in.
By Gerry Chiasson and Phyllis Berger

In the new global workplace, employers and human resource executives face the increasingly complex challenge of aligning employees with new strategic directions. As they adapt to additional competitive pressures, many of today’s most successful organizations are turning to technology- based communication tools and techniques to help recruit, engage and motivate key talent.

Electronic means of communication such as intranets, e-mail, blogs and podcasts facilitate the instantaneous and economical delivery of more—and hopefully—better information. However, used indiscriminately, these channels can also have a negative effect, adding large volumes of information that obscure and weaken key messages, and ultimately defeat the best intentions.

Companies must strategically deploy and manage technology-based communications to ensure their effectiveness. Treating these channels like any other deliverable not only damages the communications process, but also overlooks their enormous potential to influence employees’ understanding, attitudes, behaviours and commitment to the organization in general, or to compensation, pensions and benefits in particular.

It is not easy to isolate and manage the personal, social and business factors that determine any single employee’s response to organizational change. On a macro level, however, an employee’s willingness to actively engage in the change process is achieved through the alignment of three key factors: shared vision, line-ofsight and rewards.

1. Shared vision: Employees need to embrace the organizational objectives, the “who, why, what, when, where and how” that are driving the change. Likewise, the organization’s leaders should understand what employees expect and how receptive they may be to the proposed change.

2. Line-of-sight: Employees need to understand their role in the change process, including what is expected of them, and the impact their personal actions could have on the outcome.

3. Rewards: Employees must receive what they expect for fulfilling their role.

Advances in communication technology for employee reward programs have simplified the engagement process dramatically, beginning with employee feedback and the realization of a shared vision.

Seeking formal employee input and feedback is nothing new, at least conceptually. However, today’s sophisticated electronic tools permit the capture and analysis of employee data in real time, at a fraction of what it cost in the past.

Web-based surveys and the use of electronic polling tools during employee focus groups can give an organization much of the qualitative and quantitative data needed to:

  • gauge employee support for proposed changes;
  • test understanding and acceptance of key issues and concepts;
  • pinpoint barriers or challenges that could diminish success;
  • identify preferred communication channels;
  • establish a meaningful baseline against which attitudes, understanding, appreciation and behaviours can be tracked and measured in the future.

Armed with meaningful data, organizations can make appropriate adjustments to preliminary program designs that, left unchecked, can undermine employees’ response to change and program success.

Web applications can help employees understand not only the scope and value of reward program changes, but also how their new rewards are linked to the stated objectives— especially when those rewards are variable(such as bonuses)or self-directed (such as flexible benefits and defined contribution pension plans), and involve multiple groups in geographically diverse locations.

Online self-service tools help promote engagement, comprehension levels and administrative efficiencies that organizations simply cannot achieve solely through traditional paper-based communications. For example, custom Webbased modeling and enrollment tools allow employees to:

  • grasp the personal financial impact of plan changes;
  • navigate through an otherwise complex decision-making process;
  • “drill” for additional information and submit online queries;
  • make informed investment, buying or other decisions based on personal needs, circumstances and budgets.

This hands-on, cognitive approach gives employees a fuller understanding of, and appreciation for, the value of the rewards available to them, as well as the personal financial stake they have in the organization.

By personalizing delivery, employees can prioritize information based on their immediate needs and interests. Their queries can be answered dynamically so that the reply to a question about health benefits during a maternity or parental leave, for instance, will include links to other related information surrounding leaves of absence.

When it comes to employee rewards, nothing translates conceptual change into concrete terms better than personalized information. Online total rewards statements are intended to show employees that work is more than a paycheque. They provide an all-inclusive snapshot of compensation, benefits and other workplace programs and perks. They also illustrate the full worth of the employee-employer relationship that is difficult to achieve by other means.

Online tools and resources are not just for employees: electronic applications, for example, benefit employers by giving them an easy and economical way to:

  • draw personal data from multiple sources(including pension and insurance carriers);
  • combine and present that information to employees in a highly customized and visual format;
  • generate more comprehensive reports that can be used to support HR decision-making and program management.

New options on the horizon will allow technology to play an even larger role in shaping organizational outcomes. As technology-based communications become more and more the norm, employees may not be surprised to find company information transmitted to their iPods, BlackBerries and mobile telephones. The employer’s challenge will be to use these devices to capture employees’ attention and provide compelling news that is relevant to personal circumstances while supporting organizational objectives.

Gerry Chiasson and Phyllis Berger are consultants with the Toronto-based communications practice of Eckler Partners Ltd. gchiasson@eckler.ca, pberger@eckler.ca