Ask any HR professional what they think of their internal communications group and you’re likely to get an answer at one extreme or the other.
Either you’ll hear about an incredibly strong and strategic working relationship or you’ll get an eye roll with a story about how impossible they are to work with. When meeting your HR goals requires reaching and engaging employees — like during open enrollment — ensuring that relationship is working becomes even more critical.
While sometimes seen as a roadblock or gatekeeper, an internal communications team can be a vocal advocate for the benefits team’s goals and vision, supporting their efforts and ensuring campaigns resonate with employees. That is why making that relationship strong and successful is a key goal in our work.
With that in mind, my colleague Lindsay Kohler identified these helpful guidelines for working with internal communications teams. As part of our team, she’s designed and orchestrated global internal communications strategies. In her prior role she was part of the benefits team at Nordstrom, managing all benefits communication and working with Nordstrom’s internal communications group.
Appreciate their role. Internal communications teams are responsible for ensuring that what every department communicates is clear, on brand, in support of business priorities and timely. They need to make sure communications are scheduled so that employees aren’t overwhelmed by competing messages but also don’t miss key events or deadlines.
Internal communications teams have to strike a delicate balance. They are the liaison between every department within every business unit and the employee. At the same time, they’re often accountable to the marketing and PR departments, which have different objectives than HR teams.
By understanding their priorities and how they want to support HR, you can better partner with them to make your communications shine.
Understand what’s important to your executive team. Your internal communications partners will share those same organizational priorities, which should drive your benefits goals as well. Keep those strategic goals in mind as you think through what you want to communicate, and you’ll find it easier to win their support to make it happen.
Bring in your internal communications partner early. When you make sure they’re in the loop from the get-go, internal communications can prioritize resources on your behalf and be your advocate and champion. They can point out potential issues before you’re too far along to change direction. And they can even lend a hand in drafting and delivering communications.
Be open to their point of view. HR teams and communications professionals are bound to have differences of opinion at some point. These disagreements don’t need to be adversarial. By being open to their feedback, you can create a better partnership on behalf of employees.
Treat them as equals, not as gatekeepers. Often, we hear HR teams complain that “everything has to go through so-and-so in internal communications.” On the flip side, internal communications teams assume that they have to say something about every deliverable, because they’re being treated as if they are gatekeepers. A slight change in the way you ask for their review can help you shift to a more strategic working relationship. “Here’s what I’m planning to send; I’d like your advice” is much more collaborative than “Can you review and approve?”
Recognize that your priorities may differ from those of your organization. Internal communications teams do their best to accommodate content from all departments. But there will be times that certain initiatives will have to be prioritized over yours. Don’t let that be discouraging. And remember that getting early buy-in will ensure you don’t get many “no’s.”
Ask your internal communications team to schedule regular summits. Communication summits are an ideal way to generate a holistic view of the communication landscape within an organization. With a deeper understanding of everything employees are being expected to absorb and act on, you can adjust your own communication plans accordingly.
HR and benefits teams and internal communication teams play different roles within companies, but your goals align around doing what’s best for employees. You’ll find that working in collaboration with your internal communications partners will make it easier for you to achieve success.