Andrew Harvey: HR & Comms, where’s the line?
The relationship between traditional HR and communications has, for some time, been a fluid one. However the advent of ‘Engagement’ as a dedicated objective – rather than simply a by-product of an Internal Communications strategy – means that the line where PR ends and HR begins is becoming increasingly blurred.
It’s no secret that the remit of HR professionals is evolving and expanding beyond recognition and with this adapting role comes a new set of responsibilities. Perhaps one of the greatest of which is a contemporary need for better communication with a number of stakeholders. Professionals must now engage with a variety of candidate pools to pipeline new talent, create and develop a strong employer brand and effectively communicate with existing employees – often internationally – to aid morale, productivity and retention.
Shifts in employee attitudes and the associated impact on engagement have been highlighted in several recent studies. For example, according to the latest Deloitte Global Human Capital Trends Report, which surveyed over 2,500 organizations across 90 countries, companies are struggling to engage our modern, 21st century workforce. Today’s employees are more discerning and more dynamic than ever before, and as the world of business evolves, the way we manage our people has to develop to reflect and relate to this. But while there is no doubt that effective employee engagement is absolutely vital to an organisation’s growth and success, there is not yet a single set convention of where this responsibility lies.
While companies with over 1,000 employees increasingly have a dedicated internal communications department – who will report directly to the communications director, smaller companies looking to implement an engagement strategy often instinctively turn to their HR teams. This is, unsurprisingly, putting unprecedented pressure on practitioners as they are asked to pull on a whole new set of skills in order to meet this growing demand to communicate with talent.
And this trend is not exclusive to SMEs. It’s not unheard of for large multi-national organisations – some with in excess of 10,000 staff – to manage Internal Communications through Human Resources.
Despite the fact that HR professionals may see Internal Communications as a marketing discipline, communications departments don’t necessarily agree. According to VMA Group’s latest Business Leaders in Communication Study (BLCS) report – which is based on a study of 250 communications leaders of high profile organisations including EY, O2 and Jaguar Land Rover – almost half (43%) of those surveyed don’t believe that building a strong, loyal, well-informed and engaged workforce is an important role of an organisation’s function. There is clearly some disconnect.
To resolve this issue, HR professionals must seek to work in conjunction with those whose role is to communicate with external and internal audiences. Most organisations, regardless of size, have some form of communications, PR or marketing team that can be called upon to offer advice on consumer branding messages and tone, which should be intrinsically linked to employer brand and employee engagement strategy. Consider how you could perhaps collaborate with these experts to better meet the wider business objectives. For example, working closely with an Internal Communications team will not only help to develop your own skills, but also ensure all employee management activity is pushing in the same direction with little or no duplication of efforts.
On perhaps a more basic level, speak to the PR or communications team to develop your own knowledge of how best to communicate with audiences. You’ll find they have a wealth of expertise which can be hugely beneficial when looking at adapting your communications skills.
HR professionals who have been tasked with employee engagement should also look to their colleagues in marketing to develop a more reactive approach to communications. Although VMA Group’s BLCS report found that 85 percent of organisations give formal feedback opportunities to employees once a year or more, this level of engagement is likely to be insufficient. It is now widely recognised that employee trust and loyalty is built through frequent, often informal, touchpoints – similar to those used in a sustained campaign to engage with external stakeholders. By sharing skills and experiences, both HR and PR teams can more effectively work towards a shared objective.
It is also worth mentioning that the metamorphosis in the ‘HR Director’ job-description that the advent of ‘Engagement’ has created can open doors for ambitious HR practitioners. At VMA Group we are increasingly working with candidates with a HR background who have moved sideways into corporate communications through experience in employee engagement. HR professionals are now effectively capitalising on their experience in this area – and communications directors are looking to snap up their skills to add an extra dimension of talent to their teams.
Only time will tell where HR, PR and engagement will sit in the teams of the future, but for now, one thing is certain – collaboration is key to achieving a holistic employee relations strategy which has real benefit to organisational outcomes.
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