Penny Edmondson
Why don’t HR and Comms teams get on, and how to make it work better.

Ever had that feeling that someone’s not speaking your language despite the fact that you work for the same company, you’re at the same meeting, and you’re both conversing in your mother tongue?


Welcome to the HR and Communications meetings that I used to be a part of.


Traditionally, HR and Communications are happy to chat about making sure their work is aligned. Seldom do they actually integrate their efforts to their full potential.


Getting close to launching a new communications initiative…hang on a minute, has anyone run this past HR? Quick, tick that box, and let’s get on with what we need to do.


Got an HR program fully developed and ready to launch? Let’s get the Communications team to get this out to employees, by tomorrow. I exaggerate but the crux of the issue is that both sides tend to treat each as tactical doers, rather than strategic partners.


Despite the often siloed behaviour, Communications and HR have much in common. Both are there to support the same organisational goals. Both have at least one major audience in common – employees. Both seek to influence the behaviour of employees.


So why doesn’t it work better?


Rather than just talking about what each function does, it might well do to talk in terms of value. How would you describe the value you bring as an HR or Communications practitioner? What do you need from each other and, what can you offer each other to increase value for the organisation?


Easier said than done. The barriers can come up when one tries to usurp the other or becomes over protective of their patch.


Who owns employee engagement for example?


HR would say that’s definitely their patch. They run the annual employee engagement survey, they train line managers and track performance to lift engagement and so on. They may see Communications as providing a service to them to support the roll out of the survey and communicate the results.


Ideally the role of internal communications includes employee engagement at both a strategic and tactical level. Strategic communications means working with the leadership to increase their visibility and engender trust via clear and compelling messaging and regular, two-way communication with employees. As a starting point, Communications needs to understand current attitudes and perceptions, which means getting useful data from HR that meets their needs.


So how do we bridge the gap between HR and Communications?


1. Share strategies early and often

Rather than waiting to update each other on a finished strategy, engage each other in the development of both the People and Culture strategy and the Communications strategy. This helps to build understanding of strategic imperatives, co-creation of ideas and initiatives, and better collaboration when it comes to implementation.


2. Integrate high-level activity plans

Because HR and Internal Communications are touching the same audiences, it’s sounds obvious that activities should be chunked and sequenced to ensure the best possible outcomes for employees. Surprisingly, however, often they’re not. Knowing when activities are likely to happen enables better planning of resources for everyone, and makes more sense for the end user. Updates between functional areas then become more around tracking to plan or inevitably how to deal with the changing environment.


3. Look for value and strive for outcomes

Communications and HR might differ in the way they work but the desired outcomes are often the same. Both are striving for an energised, enabled and engaged workforce who are more likely to deliver improved organisational performance.


The irony of the often-maligned relationship is that through greater integration the potential power and influence of each functional area is magnified.