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Averbook: 7 must-haves in your crisis communication plan

Jason Averbook, Mercer
Jason Averbook
Jason is a renowned Senior Partner and the Global Leader of Digital HR Strategy at Mercer | Leapgen, with a career that spans over two decades in the HR and technology sectors. He is a leading figure in Mercer's global Generative AI strategy and services, spearheading innovative solutions in the HR technology landscape. Jason is also an accomplished author, having penned two books that delve into the future of HR and HR technology, further solidifying his position as a thought leader in the field. From 2018 to 2023, Jason co-founded and served as CEO of Leapgen, a company committed to shaping the future workplace. Now, under the expanded partnership of Mercer | Leapgen, Jason continues to challenge executive mindsets, advocating for a shift from executing technology projects to embodying a digital function. This new alliance amplifies his influence, extending his reach to a global market. In addition to his corporate roles, Jason serves as an adjunct professor at universities worldwide, imparting his knowledge and insights on HR technology and digitization. His leadership portfolio also includes senior roles at industry giants such as PeopleSoft and Ceridian Corporation. Jason's expertise lies in transforming HR organizations into strategic partners, having collaborated with industry-leading companies to achieve this. Jason's insights into the future of HR and work have earned him global recognition, and he is frequently quoted by top-tier media outlets such as BusinessWeek, CNBC, Forbes, Fortune, Wall Street Journal, and the New York Times. He is consistently ranked among the top three thought leaders in his field.

Communication is defined by the Merriam-Webster Dictionary as “a process by which information is exchanged between individuals through a common system of symbols, signs or behavior.” We are navigating a double pandemic: one, a serious health crisis, and the other, a serious social-justice crisis. Whenever a CHRO or leader in HR asks me how they should be spending their time, I find myself constantly going back to communication. We live in a time where exchanging information and demonstrating empathy on a frequent and relevant basis are among the most important ways to create trust in the workplace–which is needed now more than ever.

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However, when I talk about communication, many people point out that it is not owned by HR, but instead by their PR or internal communications counterparts. While this may be the case on paper, it is 1,000% the wrong response. We in HR need to step on the accelerator and own communication with our workforce–yes, maybe in conjunction with a communications department. The fact is that driving the engagement, performance and wellness of our talent are key priorities for HR; these should not and can not be handed off to another function. A partnership is key to driving the new “manifesto for communication” in the Now of Work.

Writing Your Communication Manifesto

A “manifesto for communication” serves as a model of communication made up of several key tenets. These should be on your immediate checklist as you create plans and reallocate budget for the remainder of 2020 and beyond. These tenets are:

  • Frequency: Communication cannot be reactive; it must aim to be proactive. It should reach its intended audience when or before it is needed, not in fire-drill mode to “get something out.” This requires planning, of course, but even more importantly, a communication model needs governance and agility to predict when information is needed and to help us know we can react.
  • Consistency: Communication should be something the workforce grows to expect as we and they continue to build trust together. Whether communication is daily, weekly or bi-weekly (not less than that), your model should include a cadence you put in place, and we must be held accountable to ensure this is a top priority going forward.
  • Relevancy: Communication should be relevant to the audience. This means a “peanut butter” spread approach to communication might not work. If you’ve started to think this sounds like a lot of work, you’re right. Getting the right information to the right people at the right time is a lot of work, and it requires more than an email to all employees.
  • Bi-directional: Communication is not just about speaking and being heard; another key aspect is listening. Listening fosters trust as much or more than simply distributing information.  We must become better listeners in a more frequent, more personalized and more action-based way, rather than in our once-per-year engagement surveys or performance conversations. Let’s just call those dead.
  • Digital: Communication must take a digital-first approach as a standard practice. It truly is the only way we can scale and the only way we can drive frequency, consistency, relevancy, directionality and also meet the worker where they are.  It is 2020 outside of work; let’s make it close to that inside of work as well. There are amazing intranet/portal/service platforms that drive communication to new levels in organizations, and budget should be allocated to those immediately.
  • Action-based and Storytelling: Communication must elicit emotion from the audience; this includes capturing their attention as well as driving intended actions from them as a result of the communication. A “spray and pray” model will not work; there is just too much noise in the system. We must tell stories and prescribe actions in each of our communications or we lose about 80% effectiveness of the message.
  • Proof: Communication is not meant just to drive an action but to reinforce the message and behavior. We must communicate the impact of our message and how “champions” in the organization have taken the message and proven the value back to the organization. We love to “flock” together and, when we see proof of our actions, we want to flock together even more. Be sure to share the success, not of random actions, but of your prescriptions and communications.

See also: Respond to pandemic with change, action now

This is not a comprehensive list by any means, but it is a list, I believe, that is mandatory for all HR leaders’ agenda for the remainder of 2020. We live in a time where confusion is abundant. We live in a moment where distractions are at an all-time high. We live in an environment where standard messages are convoluted by the latest “doom-scrolling” and where our strategy and plans change frequently. These times cry out for communication, communication, communication.

Again, when people ask me daily, “How should we spend our 2020 budget and reprioritize what we do?” my answer is simple: Talk to people, ask how they are doing, give some direction and, most importantly, be human. In other words, communicate.

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If you’re ready for a sneak peek of what Jason is calling “the most important HR conference of our careers,” register for this HRE preview of the 2020 HR Technology Conference with Jason Averbook on July 14 at 2 p.m. EST.