Bridging the gap: how internal communications and HR can work better together

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Bridging the gap: how internal communications and HR can work better together

I am on a mission to promote the value and impact good communication can have for organisations, especially when it is aligned to its vision, mission and strategy. HR leadership and teams play a big part to achieve this, however over the years I’ve noticed there is a gap between HR and internal communication (IC), and how we both relate to each other. And at times it is highlighted by IC practitioners as a challenge to communication from within my industry. Not ignoring the natural differences between the two disciplines, this article aims to share how bridging gaps and working closer together can produce engagement and effective communications for organisations. 

Same destination through different ways

I recently heard about a team exercise where a group of people were set the task to find a way to get to a painting on the wall, from the opposite side of the room. There were obstacles in the way, and it was down to each person to get there however they felt fit. Some went low, beneath the obstacles, some climbed over and others used a combination of manoeuvres. Basically, each person went about the task in a very different way, completing the task at varying times. The good thing is that they all made it to the painting.

I thought about this recently and the fact that sometimes people will take different routes to achieve a central goal. What we would have liked to see here is for individuals to connect more, despite their differences, to find easier ways to get to the destination, which might have resulted in them achieving success at the same time. In some ways, how we work is not unlike this story. Both our disciplines are people focused – we want to see engagement and connection; and we understand the benefits of good communication. It is guaranteed that we will approach this differently, and if we become more aligned and act on the opportunities to work together it can be quite powerful. 

Acknowledged differences

For years I have worked closely with HRDs and their teams and found that once we really start talking and learning from each other, we have a lot in common and get more done. The desire to use creativity, and the excitement around seeing people engaged are just two similarities; but perhaps these are the very things that also causes us to push against each other at times. I believe that in a time where organisations are facing change and challenges with culture and engagement, we should be looking at ways that we can improve the employee experience by creating ways to work together. 

Look out for the gaps 

As mentioned, the perception is that there is tension between the disciplines – creating a gap in how we interact. A question mark on who owns engagement. A resistance to include each other and share knowledge. Exclusion on the strategic and a focus on the tactical. These are things that I have experienced, but in every case the real issue was a misunderstanding on each area’s outlook – how priorities are viewed and how we individually go about achieving them. From being open and taking the time to talk about our different approaches, I have found that although there is a gap it is founded in a desire to see success in reaching and engaging people. 

Interestingly a gap can also serve a purpose – a different perspective can provide new ideas that can be developed into something great. I have seen it so many times, when we come together and talk it through – IC may not have seen what HR sees and vice versa, but both perspectives can be pulled together to reach the right solution. When we acknowledge and understand our differences, we can then figure out how to use the best of our knowledge and experience to engage people. 

People are at the heart of the organisation and everything we do is aimed at bringing them in and enabling them to work towards achieving the vision, mission and strategy. 

So, to take this forward, here are some thoughts from my experience on how IC and HR can work together on some of the bigger issues that take place within an organisation. Some you might already be doing, and some might provide ideas on how you could engage with your IC teams within your own organisation.

Developing engagement around policies

Recently I worked on an EVP programme with the HRD and her team. The external brand attracted great talent – it was inclusive, progressive and purposeful. However, when employees came into the organisation, the experience didn’t live up to the external brand, so people were leaving. Through insight conducted internally and workshops with her team, we found that all the components of a great values proposition were in place. When we dug deeper, we discovered that employees were not aware of the great benefits and supporting policies available. Plus, line managers were not aware, or in some cases, empowered to initiate them. By reviewing the problem from both angles, we worked together on the programme of activities through the year to find ways to connect the policy/programme with the real benefit it added to the employee through story-telling. IC was able to develop plans and stories for a number of programmes within HR to enhance how these were communicated. The discovery of the volume of great benefits for employees provided the basis for content that would engage employees and demonstrate the value to be gained internally.

Employee engagement

My personal opinion on the traditional annual employee engagement survey format is that they are not an effective or accurate way to measure engagement, and there are growing opinions on this*. I do however believe that measuring engagement is an important exercise, and there are many new approaches that can be conducted throughout the year that are much more effective. That said, because it is an exercise most companies will embark on regardless of its effectiveness, there is a lot of support IC can provide that can guarantee engagement through the whole process to enable positive results. Engaging with IC as early as possible, even before the new survey is designed is best. In recent work, doing this enabled me to come alongside the HR lead to ensure the design was engaging and targeted. Messaging and narrative was clear to promote it, and a campaign was developed from design to delivery covering every stage of the survey process. 

*For more perspectives on employee engagement and surveys see Rachel Sharp ‘Is engagement fact or fiction?’

Learning and development

Recently I was talking to an HR business partner who was trying to engage line managers to mobilise teams in a new training programme. We were both genuinely concerned about some of the challenges and the fall out if the programme wasn’t delivered well. We were therefore able to identify a level of engagement that was required to not just tell line managers what they needed to do, but to also find ways to communicate and engage with those line managers to become advocates of the programme, and so inspired, that they didn’t need to be pressured into promoting it. This can only be realised by engaging specifically with this audience, a group who in most organisations have been overlooked in terms of engagement and so are always seen as difficult. This is one of the many ways that we can work together. A great resource is research recently conducted entitled ‘Remotely Interested’ by Jenni Field, on remote or deskless workers which highlights the important role line managers play in communicating and engaging employees. 

What happens next

Gaining an understanding of what HR are working on and why, has meant that I’ve been able to connect with some talented people. I can only encourage everyone both those working in IC and HR to do the same. 

Bridging the Gap: How bridging the gap: how internal communications and HR can work better together was first published on HR Zone / 19 September 2019