Ask a Communicator: How to Achieve Effective Internal Communication with HR
“Ask a Communicator” is a new advice column from SocialChorus about how to improve internal communications. Got a question? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Q: How can Human Resources (HR) better partner with Internal Communications (IC)?
A: When HR and IC are siloed, they need to figure out how to start partnering immediately. The two teams can improve their relationship by:
- sharing analytics tools,
- incentivizing effective collaboration between both teams,
- aligning Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) and goals,
- improving employee information-gathering processes, and
- communicating openly.
What is internal communications in an organization?
Internal communications is responsible for all employee communication in the workforce. The IC team ensures that the company’s mission and overall brand message and direction is effectively communicated to the employees in the organization. In this way, IC is more like internal branding for the company; and IC tends to view the employee experience similar to how marketers see customers. They want to help build trust and deploy employee engagement best practices as soon as new employees are onboarded.
HR, on the other hand, is concerned with recruiting and ensuring the well-being and growth of employees. Much like internal communications teams, HR is consistently in touch with employees and their major aim is to ensure employee success and retain the best talent. They often understand the individual needs of employees in the company best.
Why HR and Internal Communications Need to be Partners
Ideally, HR and Internal Communications should create a strategic partnership.
To achieve effective internal communication, IC needs to collaborate and form an effective partnership with the HR team so it can communicate the brand values effectively to employees. It is essential that HR and IC are on the same page when it comes to messaging, tactics, and branding.
But how can this be done?
How can internal communication be improved in the workplace
The root of most employee engagement problems is poor HR communication. HR and the IC team can achieve employee engagement with business initiatives when they openly communicate their needs and concerns.
Most of IC goals deal with HR-owned processes and initiatives. And HR is well poised to communicate in a language an employee will understand because HR generally hears all the grievances employees have.
If the internal communication is too high-level, it won’t adequately address employee concerns, nor will it explain to employees what steps they must take to thrive; that will make employees feel disconnected and believe management is not listening to them. This is one of the reasons studies have found that less than 30% of employees believe in the brand that employs them, and this can be considered a critical failure of IC.
A good example of how companies are using internal comms for internal branding is the SocialChorus Culture, Comms, and Cocktails Podcast interview with Rey Bouknight, executive director of internal brand and engagement strategy at MGM Resorts International. To ensure their frontline employees were aligned with the brand, MGM Resorts invested in a workforce communications platform.
In 2017, MGM resorts rolled out an external brand campaign, designed to articulate the ties connecting all their international properties. As the company communicated to its guests and customers, it also wanted to communicate with its own employees as well. As we rolled out this external campaign called “Welcome to the Show,” we launched an internal campaign called “We are the Show,” which helped our employees to understand their role, their importance, in delivering on that brand promise of wowing our guests and for them to recognize that they truly are the stars of the show,” says Rey Bouknight.
MGM Resorts made sure to tap a team member within the HR department to join the internal comms initiative, to make sure there was alignment between HR and IC.
Open communication in the workforce between HR and IC will enable IC to understand employee sentiments and when HR understands what IC is trying to communicate, they can help refine the message in an authentic voice that reflects what employees want.
HR and Internal Communications KPIs
With a strategic partnership, it’s important that both HR and IC teams defining your goals clearly. Both teams should understand each other’s perspective and needs and then create common objectives that address each other’s concerns.
Once the goals are defined, both teams then have to decide on internal communications KPIs. It is essential that the goals are measurable; when you measure goals, you can gain insight into how you’re progressing on your initiatives and campaigns.
Some organizations survey employees to understand the company’s vision and strategies, and how the employee’s work is connected to it. With a workforce communications platform, internal communications combines this qualitative data with quantitative data from content engagement to see the full picture.
Internal communications is generally in charge of these kinds of metrics; but educating employees and helping them understand their role (as well as listening to them to understand their challenges) are the jobs of the HR. Hence, both departments need to collaborate when setting internal communications KPIs and deciding on the ways to measure those KPIs for a better partnership.
Performance Related Incentives
One way to ensure that HR and IC have a better partnership is incentivizing effective collaboration by both teams. Performance-related pay incentives or recognition can be used to motivate both the IC and HR to collaborate and work effectively. These can be tied to achieving the KPIs.
When both teams are further incentivized to work together and achieve mutually dependent goals, both teams will be motivated to collaborate more, share data, and listen to input from both sides. It also means that they will be better motivated to solve challenges and refine their processes when they fall short of their KPIs or when unforeseen challenges arise.
How to Improve Internal Communication Through Effective Information Gathering
Gathering the right information is essential to the success of the HR and IC partnership. Without the right information on the needs and state of the company’s employees, both teams can’t function effectively. They should focus on incorporating “a deeply empathetic” internal communications information-gathering system.
Internal content, perhaps more than any other form of communication, must be personalized and targeted, so it impacts employees and provides what they need to do their jobs successfully. At the same time, content should also be strategic.
The role of the HR in gathering information about each employee at an individual level is crucial in this respect. HR could help internal communications create employee personas for the IC team to produce the best, personalized content. It follows that the IC team has to consistently receive feedback from the HR, communicate its concerns, and ask questions to clarify any ambiguity.
This also involves gathering information through survey and analytics data, and ensuring that the HR and IC team go through the results of the surveys to extract the most pertinent information together. IC and HR team may see the same survey/data from different perspectives; a variety of views on data is often more valuable than a single view.
Looking at data together also allows for a more deeper analysis of the data generated and may result in more comprehensive, lasting solutions to organizational challenges. The process needs to be well thought out and geared towards employee success and improving the employee experience.
For instance, Aflac created an employee success center and regularly conducts surveys to understand its employees’ needs and yearnings. Since 2014, “nearly 600 Aflac employees have been surveyed in more than 1,000 development sessions. Thirty-five percent of those employees have been promoted or moved on to jobs that better suit their skill sets.” This shows that, when properly executed, there are tangible benefits for employees when HR and IC work together.
Effective Internal Communication: Technology and Analytics
Another way to better the partnership between HR and IC is to employ technology. McKinsey argues that embedding data analytics into daily HR functions and processes can help improve the process.
According to McKinsey, companies are already employing “HR analytics address attrition, allowing managers to predict which employees are most likely to leave and highlighting turnover problems in a region or country before the problem surfaces. By making the development and delivery of insights systematic, HR will start to drive strategic talent value in a more consistent way, rather than episodically and piecemeal as at present.”
Using analytics to measure internal communications and assess data from employee surveys and actions can also provide insights better, forming the big picture to enable HR to relay information more efficiently to IC where necessary. Analytics will also help ensure that feedback from HR and IC is more consistent (a frequent problem in the partnership between HR and IC is mixed feedback).
A shared workforce communications platform will also ensure that IC can see most of what HR is seeing and experiencing in real-time, enabling them to better match communications to employee sentiments.
Learn more how Human Resources can improve employee retention with our latest eBook, New Insights For HR: A Four-Step Guide To Improving Employee Engagement