Employee Communication, Diversity and Human Resource Management

Can understanding the principles of Human Resource Management help internal communicators navigate through the complexities of organisational diversity and leadership, and have a significant positive impact in multinational corporations?

While you may be familiar with the term “Human Resource Management” (HRM), its importance to large national or multinational businesses is rarely discussed.

HRM is now considered to be the major differentiating factor between successful and unsuccessful organisations, as important as technology or finance in achieving a competitive advantage across any type of business, primarily for the multinational corporations (MNC).

While the roots of HRM go back to as early as the beginning of the 20th century, it is only relatively recently that organisations began to understand the importance of tending to the social needs of workers while ensuring their job satisfaction through proper motivation and opportunities for leadership.

The prevailing forces surrounding the external environment of the MNCs today are mainly concerned with the impacts of globalisation, labour markets and patterns of employment which focus on the sector and gender division of their internal organisational structure and the legal issues surrounding rights at work and equality of opportunities.

According to Grant, the main ideas underpinning HRM strategies are those related to the establishment of a long term direction for the organisation, driving it forward in order to achieve a sustained competitive advantage.

Today, gender plays an immense role in MNCs’ ability to motivate, retain and develop its quality employees turning them into what they are anecdotally called – “our assets”.

To achieve a meaningful human resources performance and for the organisations to benefit from it, businesses should develop policies to support them integrate a diverse human resource capital. As such, managing the employees’ diversity is paramount.

In the US, the country which currently holds the first place with regard to studies on consumer behaviours, multiple studies have indicated that the organisations open to diversity are closer to the market needs, closer to the consumers and, consequently, they are more successful.

A study commissioned by the European Commission – Innovation suggested that there can be a posi­tive relationship between diversity and innovation in a business context. The respondents to the study strongly as­sociated diversity-led innovation with product in­novation and operational innovation. Importantly, more than half of respondents felt that these ben­efits translated into organisational efficiency and corporate profit.

In the Full-report-Diversity-and-Inclusion-BP-Rigzone, commissioned in 2013 by BP and Rigzone, it was clear that there was a certain level of expectation from the respondents to the survey to see an increase in the number of women working in the oil and gas industry. More specifically, these women were thought to be those who are just entering the industry or were early in their career.

Gender Quotas

There are many MNCs and other national organisations and institutions, primarily in the UK, who are currently publicly embracing the “gender quota” system.

This is a very dangerous path to take, primarily when it envisages the presence of women at Board level who should be there, as the current narrative implies, simply because of their gender.

Such an approach could be considered, and one may be right to assume so, discriminating against men. What would make career women be duly represented in the highest echelons of any MNCs is the upholding and implementing of the term “equal opportunity”.

One should be given a managerial/leadership position based on one’s level of competence and skills, not based on one’s gender or sexual preferences or religious practices for that matter.

The oil and gas industry has been employing women, both onshore and offshore for many decades. However, it is only fairly recently that due to an aging workforce and a lack of apprenticeships across the industry, that most oil and gas operators have begun to aggressively recruit and run training workshops aimed at young girls and women.

However, the debate should not stop just on the level of gender diversity. In the case of the oil and gas industry – anecdotally known as a “male industry” – the underlying issues go much deeper than the old adage of “woman versus man”.

If diversity were to be applied its correct definition, then diversity of any kind should be encouraged, fostered and supported on the level of MNCs: an employee is primarily holding a job title for doing his or her job as per the employment contract and job description; that person is not employed based on his/her sexual preference, religion, gender or nationality.

Unfortunately, since the unconscious bias is still extremely prevalent, the employability of a candidate becomes partly incumbent upon his/her “fitting in” on a personal level, not “fitting in” on a professional level.

Unlike many skills that one could achieve during one’s career, either by participating, observing or actively studying them, leadership is not a “technical skill” – it is about inspiration, about identification, about belief, about example and about legacy. It is about quality and skills that we all have but we seldom put to use.

It is about trust, emotion, empathy, respect, engagement, empowerment, listening and relating. It is about leading by example: our own – if a leader does not believe in what he/she does nor does he/she have the best interests of his/her people and organisation at heart, that leader would never be a true leader.

With a slow but gradual uptake, the Human Resources (HR) Departments of MNCs are slowly starting to be given a more proactive rather than a reactive role in identifying, selecting and retaining the next generation of leaders.

Notwithstanding the above, leadership is very attached to a certain set of behavioural and competence traits that that particular individual needs to display, in such a way that they are perfectly aligned with the organisation’s culture and medium to long term objectives.

In order to reach the organisational objectives and the desired level of performance, there must be a very strong inter-dependency between leadership and management, i.e. (organisation + employee) x culture = performance and productivity.

According to Sisson (2010), today’s employment relations are the study of:

“the institutions involved in governing the employment relationship, the people and organisations that make and administer them, and the rule making processes that are involved, together with their economic and social outcomes”.

Performance management is the encouragement, development, support and sustaining of individuals. It also recognises that performance management should be a strategic and integrated activity with processes designed to facilitate improvements through personal development while encouraging and rewarding appropriate employee behaviours.

Purcell et al (2003) state that the role of individual behaviour in delivering high performance is directly related to that performance being a function of ability, having the necessary knowledge and skills, and motivation by having the willingness to use the skills and the opportunity to have the chance to perform at a high level.

However, leaders can often be found within the structure of the organisation itself, without having to headhunt them externally. But, in order to identify them, the internal programme of employee communication should be as comprehensive and systematic as an external advertising programme carried out on behalf of/for a client.

The MNCs often forget that the most important yet most dangerous category of stakeholders is that of the employees. After all, the employees, across all levels of the organisation, should become the organisation’s main sounding board when strategic development or expansion activities are contemplated.

On a managerial and leadership level, any new strategy would require the update/introduction of new organisational values and culture. Unfortunately, in many multinationals’ circumstances, this is not often the case due to the business complexities: geo-political, financial, strategic and operational.

It is difficult, for an organisation operating in a high risk/high reward industry to replicate an identical strategy across all its operations, geographies and cultures; it is also unproductive.

Diversity, leadership and ethics should be paramount for any organisations, large and small, national or multinational. Organisations are led, driven by and brought down by people. The larger the number of employees, the more difficult the development, engagement and training thereof become.

The role of a robust HRM system should be that of ensuring, first and foremost, that the right people are employed and developed, and that the internal communication function is knowledgeable and robust enough to understand its business remit, broadcast function and insights analysis.

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Featured image courtesy of Flickr user just works

Founding Chartered PR Practitioner, CIPR Board member (2018), former UK Government Communication Services and Institute of Directors mentor, published author and university lecturer, Ella has almost 20 years of high level government and international organisations experience in corporate reputation, leadership and crisis management, across business disciplines and governments, including investment markets, lender organisations, national and international media, NGOs and affected communities. She is a 2014 Service Award Winner of the Society of Petroleum Engineers, Assessor of CIPR's Chartered Scheme, an elected member of the CIPR Council (2017-2018), Founder of CIPR’s Energy Leadership Platform, former Chair of CIPR’s Foresight Panel and a Fellow of the Institute of Leadership and Management. She handled some of the most prominent international crisis of recent times, she developed the Leadership Development Programme for SPE’s MENA young engineers and she has also been an adviser to several governments on their national branding strategies. Her list of clients includes McKinsey & Company, Boston Consulting Group, Total, BP, Shell, Centrica, KazTransOil, Averda, The World Bank, Private Investment Development Group, the European Commission, the European Bank For Reconstruction and Development and many others. She is also Robert Gordon University's Lead Trainer for the Crisis Communication Diploma (CIPR Specialist Diploma).

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