Transforming workplace culture – the combined role of HR and internal communications

There’s been a lot written lately about company culture and how a toxic environment can seriously hold back an organisation’s progress. Indeed, a company’s culture – the shared set of values under which the workforce operates – is an important part of its identity and branding. If the culture isn’t right, or indeed, is terrible than the business will experience a high turnover of staff, low productivity and indeed, poor team morale.

A recent survey by Glassdoor, the global jobs website found that 56% of workers ranked a strong workplace culture as more important than salary, with more than three-in-four workers saying they’d consider a company’s culture before applying for a job there. Furthermore, two-thirds of British millennials ⁠— those aged between 18 and 34 ⁠—⁠ ranked culture above salary, while half of U.K. workers aged over 45 prioritised culture first.

The recent appointment of Archie Norman as Marks and Spencer’s new HR director, to overhaul the company’s culture just shows how important businesses are taking the challenge. Internal Communications (IC) and Human Resources (HR) now have an amazing opportunity to demonstrate their collective value to the business. Often viewed as transactional disciplines that focus on content and just cranking out company information to the workforce they can now come together and collaborate to ring the changes. IC and HR now have the ability to get strategic.

We all know IC and HR teams have traditionally been siloed, and businesses have suffered as a result. According to Gallup,  70% of employees are not engaged. Meanwhile, organisations that do improve employee communications can increase productivity by 20-25%.

The thing is, good engagement and effective communication require a consolidated effort. If HR and IC can come together successfully, they can have a tremendous joint impact.

To delve more deeply into this topic, SocialChorus recently invited two experts – Jason Anthoine, internal comms veteran and managing founder of Audacity; and Erika Migliaccio, HR executive and managing founder of Upstream HR Strategies – to share their insights in a webinar, “HR + IC: The Secret Sauce to Transformation.”

Strive for Excellence Within Your Own Team, Then Collaborate

Erika and Jason both agreed that to be successful in transforming the company culture, HR and IC departments need to achieve excellence within their own team first. By transforming their own functions both will be in a better position and will be able to create the required capacity to start collaborating together.

To transform their teams, both departments need to adopt a customer service-oriented mindset. In other words, learn to think of the company’s employees as their customers, and treat them accordingly. For example, Erika referenced a recent tweet sent by Jason, who asked his followers: “What do you think would happen if we treated our customers like we treat our employees? Internal communicators, would we have any customers left?”

Treat Your Employees Like You Treat Your Customers

Probably not, said Erika, who guides HR teams through transformations using the principles outlined in the book, Uncommon Service: How to Win by Putting Customers at the Core of Your Business, by Frances Frei and Anne Morriss.

Erika highlighted that she’s seen successful results by learning to think of her employees as her “customers.” Here are some of the ideas she has taken from Uncommon Service and applied to her work with HR teams.

  • Segment your “customers” (that is, your employees). Erika says most HR teams will segment by 1) employee, 2) manager, and 3) senior leaders.
  • Understand what each employee segment wants from HR to drive their success.
  • Reorganise the HR team. Instead of having HR manager or HR business partner roles aligned to a specific organisation, create unique HR roles and align them so each employee segment has one point of contact on the HR team that specialises in what they need most.
  • Allow your HR roles to let go of trying to do things that don’t matter to your employee segments (in a world of limited time and budget, you can’t be all things to all people).

Jason agreed that it’s important not to strive for perfection when perfection won’t add value. “In internal comms, we let perfect be the enemy of good all day long. We want those slides on that digital signage system to look absolutely perfect and the reality is, people are going to walk by there and they’re going to spend 1.3 seconds looking at it. So, whether that red is 108 or 201 on the Pantone colour book does not matter to them. What matters to them is to get that information [they] need to get going. We labour over a lot of things that turn out to be perfect but turn out to have zero value.”

Three Steps For Effective IC And HR Collaboration

During the webinar, Jason and Erika laid out the key steps IC and HR teams can take to work together and achieve great results for their companies.

  1. Recognise that HR and IC are serving the same population (employees). “We’re on the same team and many times we’re trying to do the same thing. There is no competition here,” said Erika.
  2. Manage finite resources. “No one ever has enough people do to the great work that needs to be done,” said Jason. The way to manage big demands when you have finite resources, he says, is to agree on a strategy upfront with executives and senior leaders. “A great strategy gives you the ability to say no. And when people come to you with requests, you can say this is not on the list; if you want to swap something out we can do that. Other than that, this is what we’re focused on.”
  3. Blur the lines between HR and internal comms.

“Forget about the organisational lines,” said Erika, who often invited internal communicators to as many HR-related meetings and initiatives as she could, despite the fact that IC didn’t report to her.  “I really wanted that person to be a part of the dialogue from the beginning and really participate as an extended member of the team.”

Agree What Success Looks Like

Importantly, Jason and Erika also discussed what success looks like when IC and HR teams finally align and collaborate to serve all employees.

“[Employees] will start telling you they see a difference,” said Jason. “They’ll say, ‘Hey, I notice that on the intranet our content has shifted and it’s much more about our employees and much less about the corporate perspective. You’ll start to see how people are reacting differently.” Also, employees will start inviting IC and HR into challenges, problems, projects, and ideas far earlier than before, and that will make the job easier for both teams.

Jason and Erika shared many more ideas, tips, and advice during this 60-minute webinar. To see the slides and listen to the full presentation, access the webinar recording here: HR + IC = The Secret Sauce to Transformation.