The changing role of HR in advocating the use of digital in the workplace.

We expect our HR departments to be a jack of all trades. They’re managing change daily, establishing and maintaining company culture, engaging both employees and leaders – all major factors impacting a company’s bottom line. They’re also onboarding new starters, safeguarding against risk, rolling out performance management or L&D programs, and managing remote staff.

In short, Human Resources is the organizational function that is most responsible for the needs of the employees and professionals that make up the organization. And in today’s modern digital workplace, one of the biggest concerns when managing a network of employees is effective communication.

By extension, then, this should be ranking on the top of the Human Resources agenda. However, given the sheer volume of imperative strategies HR already has its hand in the pot of, are our expectations too high?

Is, or should, HR be responsible for internal communication?

The growing strategic value of internal communication

The importance of internal communication has gained recognition and momentum in light of the ever-changing values of the workplace.

Employees of today hold more importance than ever before: serving, for many, as the key differentiator or ‘USP’ that sets businesses apart, thanks to the experience they deliver for customers. Establishing a dialogue between a company and its employees can therefore yield valuable results, just as the lack thereof can be disastrous.

86% of employees and executives cite lack of collaboration or ineffective communication for workplace failures.

This is fueled by challenges including dispersed workforce, increasing staff turnover, reduced engagement and the pace of change.

Clearly, the cost of failed communication strategies can be significant. There is a much larger need to maximize their effect and success than some companies may admit. As a result, more and more companies are being required to reevaluate the position of communications in their organization. For many, this also includes determining who will be responsible for managing their communication efforts.

But who should be taking the reins? We would probably all agree that communications should be put in the hands of the professionals, but which ones?

HR, who knows the needs, likes and wants of the company’s employees?

Or an internal communications department, whose members are the organizations chosen and professional communicators?

What if your organization isn’t at the size or stage of having a dedicated internal communications team? Should the responsibility fall on marketing, management, departmental heads?

Who should manage your IC?

The decision of who is responsible for IC is an ever-present debate that challenges the very nature of internal communications – and in some cases, holds organizations back from communicating at all.

Defined as, “the function responsible for effective communication among participants within an organization,”internal communications tend to be overlooked and labeled as ‘less important’ that external communications. However, as we argue above, this is entirely untrue. Employee engagement has a direct correlation to how informed your employees feel; internal comms is a company’s direct route into the eyes and ears of its employees. Without strategies and programs designed to engage employees, communication change, and support work crises, an organization’s long-term success could be at risk.

68% of executives believe they do a “good” job of communicating – but only 21% of employees agree.

While HR does have a major focus on organizational development, a number of companies feel that leaving communications to a separate internal department may be more effective. Having specialists in communications may fill in the gaps that HR, in its tactical and compliance-oriented ways, leave untouched: such as the incorporation of digital tools, content created by users and employees, and a platform for employees to express concerns or share stories.

So, coming back to the original question – who should run your internal comms? It may help to ask the following questions:

  • Are your employees satisfied with the current mode of communication? Does something need to change?
  • Do you need to recruit new skills? Would you benefit from communications specialist?
  • What is your organizational goal – are you more business-focused, or employee and brand oriented?

Internal communication is not just HR’s responsibility

Because of the historical methods and systems set in place for numerous companies, many people assume that internal communication planning automatically falls under the HR umbrella. The Human Resources department is inextricably linked to employees’ backgrounds and current workplace behaviors, ultimately holding responsibility for communicating and embedding things like procedures, distribution of information, and compliant adoption of technology.

Although HR is the caretaker of culture, leaving internal communications completely in the hands of HR has historically delivered limited results that prevent communication efforts from coming to fruition.

For starters, communication has evolved. Changes in workforce composition are causing a fundamental impact on not only employee expectations, but also on an organization’s methods for communicating with its new audience. The historic “top down” information relay of vaguely drafted, impersonal memos and alerts can no longer fulfil business needs. Increasingly, employees are looking for more personal forms of content; for the opportunity for two-way conversations, and more user-centric tools that they understand and use in their day-to-day lives.

Because of this, effectivity and engagement is perceptibly lower in those that exclusively assign internal communication to their HR function, as opposed to at companies that bring on a separate communications team or take a ‘collaborative’ approach across multiple departments. Organizations that choose to embrace diversity of ownership will be best equipped to create and distribute content for this new generation of worker.

HR and Internal Comms working in tandem

Collaboration, then, may be the key to success.

Communication programs that end in failure do not collapse due to bad initiatives; instead, the fault lies with a lack of continued investment, effort, or steady communication. Communication isn’t a one-off initiative, a tick-box to be checked as an employee joins a business or at agreed landmarks and checkpoints. It is continual, organic, ongoing and evolving.

A successful company also facilitates the sharing of information, rather than simply pushing it down. It doesn’t control or funnel communication: it builds connections. In the most successful communication strategies, this includes developing a perspective outside of individual department silos.

It’s time to end the age-old war between HR and IC and instead champion the growing need for collaboration. Finding ways to work together successfully and strengthening the community is a goal that both Communications and HR need to support. They can be even more powerful as a unit as the measured objectives they set manifest through lower turnover, more efficient work, and happier, more engaged employees.

What’s more, communication is a conduit for change and successful change is the key for organizational success. When both Communications and HR come together during change, the process is noticeably less painful.

This isn’t to say there aren’t opposing priorities that can cause conflict, making this vision difficult to achieve. The traditional HR functions that have been all about controlling information flows and preaching privacy, for example, must fall to the more recent standards of Communications’ transparency. The goal is a perfect balance of being open and honest with employees, while also respecting their need for individual confidentiality – no small feat. How can departments reconcile these differences and make change successful? Well, ironically, by … communicating.

Ultimately, in companies now everyone is a communicator, whether it be upper management or employees. Individuals possess so many tools to share and find information that HR and old procedures must find a way to grow and find purchase in the change – or risk being marginalized.

Bringing Communications and management into the fold can put an organization in charge of this evolution and help your organization grow a much-needed relationship built on trust. Think of it this way: in the past, HR may have let you know about an issue only after it had already been solved. By incorporating Communications, management, department heads, or marketing, employees get updates and knowledge every step of the way.

Championing Digital for HR and Communications

Technology is at the forefront of change for a lot of organizations. Old procedure falls prey to new tools for management. Ancient systems are tossed out for newer, easier-to-use digital tools. While evolution is considered progression, the extremity of the landscape of change can make some HR departments reluctant to take that leap into the future.

These changes must be embraced, or these organizations run the risk of being unable to relate to newer generations of worker. 49% of millennials support social tools for the workplace. These tools give them an amount of power that they feel puts them on an equal platform with the rest of the company.

Technology is helping to break down the traditional model of management controlling all information flow. Now, with the development of intranets, social applications like Twitter and Facebook and communication tools like Slack, it is near to impossible to have a strict hold on information like in the past; and that is for the best. Employees that feel a connection and trust with their employers are not only more engaged, but are also less likely to leave the company and tend to work harder to achieve organizational goals.

Everyone has their role to play. With information now more readily visible and requested, it takes a collaboration between HR, Communications and management to successfully keep things on track and in line. Some HR champions have already begun to take advantage of these developments in technology, incorporating apps like Snapchat, Twitter and LinkedIn in their recruitment and employer brand initiatives in order to meet the demands and preferences of the younger generations of workforce.

HR as a communicator in action: Addaction

Addaction, one of the UK’s leading Drug, Alcohol and Mental Health charities, demonstrates the strength and value of belief in HR’s role in advocating digital.

Under new CEO, Mike Dixon, the organization recruited an experienced Digital Lead, and identified the need to introduce and embed digital ways of working. The motivation to improve service delivery was a top priority for their senior leadership team, and technology a major contributory factor to realizing that vision.

HR Operational Partner, Nicola Blair, recognized the vital role HR had to play in advocating and promoting the development of employee digital skills, particularly with the rapid integration of artificial intelligence, bots and virtual reality into homes and offices.

“It is imperative to engage staff with these new ways of working, so that organizations are empowered to deliver in a forward-thinking manner within communications,” Nicola explains.

“I am very fortunate to work for an organisation which acknowledges the value of digital skills to the extent that it is one of main strategic objectives for the next five years.

“It’s an exciting time for our organization, and as HR Professionals, my colleagues and I are in a prime position to champion digital skills at various points in the employee lifecycle through coaching, communications and engagement.

“Whilst I am hugely passionate about and excited by our digital roadmap, the key take-away from the event is that with any change it is imperative to engage staff about the new way of working. I’m positive that with the energy and enthusiasm we have already generated, we will meet this challenge successfully.”

Successful companies recognize the importance of keeping an open dialogue with their employees and with the right techniques, tools and procedures these dialogues can be a very valuable source of information for the organization. The impact of digital skills on those roles of HR and Communications is inevitable and by collaborating across departmental lines, we can truly realize the value digital holds for the future of communications.