Look at your company’s org chart. Since you’re reading this, odds are you’re comfortably nestled in HR, and marketing is somewhere far away. The marketers at your organization have one job, and you have yours. Perhaps you meet up a bit to think about recruitment or engagement, but your jobs are separate, right?
Not really, says Donna Scarola, interim head of digital strategy for talent development at Johnson & Johnson. In fact, she says, HR has a lot to learn from marketers, particularly in regard to how we communicate with employees — and how we can advance our organizational goals to create a better, more equitable workplace.
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HR’s Problem with Language
Are you ready for a hot take? Scarola says that too often, HR doesn’t consider the human factor when communicating with employees — and that the language HR uses isn’t breaking through. “We don’t think about the human-centricity of it,” she says. “I’m sure people will not be happy with me for saying that, but it is my own experience as an employee.”
Scarola says the issue is that HR is too focused on itself, and approaches communication as if each user is the same — it doesn’t know how to translate its HR speak into something readable and concise. It’s a “brain dump,” she says. “People are spending more and more time working, and they have less time to read things like emails and 12-page documents on change management.”
The Importance of Natural Language
Scarola says HR needs to think like marketers in order to get employees’ attention, and that means using more simple, natural language. An example she cites is the clothing brand Outdoor Voices. “All of their marketing is just ‘Doing Things,’ ” she says, citing the company’s slogan. “It’s the opposite of Adidas and Nike.”
Additionally, HR needs to make sure its communications get employees’ attention. “My team and I will always put our heads together and ask, ‘How can we make it more simple? How can we make it more human?’ ” she says. She suggests thinking in terms of text messages rather than emails. How can you get your point across concisely?
Also, consider other means of getting your employees’ attention. Ask yourself how you can make an employee laugh — or even shock them. It’s the antithesis of the typical dry, long HR email, but it can advance your organizational goals.
It’s a strategy that has seen results at HSBC Bank. Inspired by a study of political propaganda, the organization rethought the communications for its diversity and inclusion programs. The company simplified its language, shortened its presentations and made sure it used fewer words in conjunction with images. The changes showed marked results, which you can read more about in the book “Rewire: A Radical Approach to Tackling Diversity and Difference.” “It’s really fascinating,” Scarola says.