Don’t Let Nostalgia Impede Progress

by Jennifer Miller on October 27, 2010

in Human Resources, Workplace Issues

Back in the day when I was a branch Human Resources Generalist for a department store chain with nineteen locations, communicating with employees was pretty straightforward. We received messages from the corporate offices in Chicago and our store manager decided how to deliver the message—via all-store meeting, department managers or newsletter. Newsletters were my responsibility. I created them on the typewriter (yep, it was that long ago), ran off the copies at the quick-print shop and distributed them. Voila! Employee Communications.

If I were in HR today, how would I handle the maelstrom that open source technology has created for communicating with employees? First, there’s the dreaded “What’s Our Social Media Policy?” discussion. According to Universal McCann who has studied social media use since 2006, there are 1.5 billion “visits” to social network sites each day, with 30% of those visits occurring via mobile devices. But wait, there’s more! Even those companies who’ve successfully embraced mainstream social media platforms aren’t off the hook. Enter sites like Glassdoor.com, where employees can anonymously post their company salaries, rate their company culture and give the company CEO a big thumbs-up (or down).

Ah, the good old days.  Indeed, it was simpler. But was it better?

My opening paragraph may give the impression that I think sending out a newsletter  equals effective employee communications. Not necessarily. I’m not naïve—just because we “said it” doesn’t mean the message was received. The simpler times did have one thing going for it: fewer modes of communication. If we wanted to engage more deeply with employees we didn’t have to agonize over the best mode: Webinar? Meeting? YouTube video? Email? And what about the dreaded Legal Implications? Back in the day, we had none of that. Instead, if more input was needed, I simply walked right onto the floor and had a conversation. So in that sense, the simplicity worked in our employee’s favor.

On the other hand, communication could be slow and often inflexible.  In that regard, the simplicity worked against us. In the example of the newsletter, once it was printed, information could become quickly obsolete. There was no way for us to easily modify messages in real-time.

There’s no doubt that the pace of information flow today differs vastly from the stream from years gone by. It’s tempting to look back and remember “the good old days”, to somehow see them as better or easier. WWII bomber pilot Robert K. Morgan once said, “Distance not only gives nostalgia, but perspective, and maybe objectivity.”

So, if I were an HR Generalist today, how would I view employee communications? With nostalgia, certainly.  With some trepidation, perhaps. Most importantly, I’d strive to maintain a sense of determination to keep fighting the good fight for those who matter most: the employees. That’s the benefit that my “distance” from the good old days has given me.

Don’t let nostalgia get in the way of progress.

Photo credit: istockphoto.com © Spiderstock

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