Podcast: How to work well with HR

The fourth episode of the Candid Comms podcast is out now and focuses on how to work well with HR.

There isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to internal communication functions inside organisations. You may work alongside your HR/People colleagues within the same function or be completely separate.

Or you may report directly into the CEO, and HR are your business partners – or any other combination.

Through this latest podcast episode, I’ve examined the role of internal communication and HR inside companies. I’ve looked at how to work well together and shared some of the techniques I use with All Things IC’s clients. I’ve also revealed how I solve arguments.

In this week’s episode I cover:

  • 02.48: Purpose of internal communication
  • 03.44: How to increase clarity between Comms and HR
  • 04.30: An exercise to help you make decisions
  • 07.32: Who owns what?
  • 09.32: The importance of definitions, including employee engagement
  • 11.00 Comparing notes between HR and Comms
  • 14.58 What you need to do to work successfully with your HR colleagues
  • 17.00 Thinking about the teams as individuals
  • 18.50 How to share knowledge informally.

I’ve revealed what you need to know, do and think about if you want to work successfully with your HR/People colleagues.

Candid Comms

Resources I reference in the episode:

What is the podcast?
The Candid Comms podcast is a weekly show designed to connect internal communication professionals to the latest advice and guidance, to help you thrive in your role.

Each episode is packed with inspirational and practical internal communication advice and ideas. They are released every Monday and are approximately 20 minutes long.

Previous episodes:

Thank you to my Producer Debbie West of Seren Creative. You can listen to Candid Comms below or online. Upcoming episodes include how to measure internal communication.

Thank you to everyone who has tuned in to the series so far. It’s been heard by people in the UK, US, Australia, Sweden, Argentina, India, Germany, Belgium, Luxembourg and Brazil already and had 1050 downloads. Welcome to new listeners.

I’m enjoying seeing professional communicators discovering the show and sharing their feedback. Thank you. Do let me know your thoughts.

You can find the Candid Comms podcast on your favourite player including Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify and Podbean.

Transcript of episode four: How to work well with HR, by Rachel Miller.

Hi, it’s Rachel. Welcome to the show. This is episode four of season one. Today’s topic is how to work successfully with your HR team. Through this show, you and I are going to look at one thing to know, one thing to do, and one thing to think about.

When you work in internal communication, where you sit in the organisation can vary. So the relationship with our HR colleagues could be that you are working alongside them as an internal communicator, as part of the HR or People team.

Or you report directly into the CEO, and HR are very much your business partners – or any other combination. So you might be part of HR, report into HR, work alongside HR. All these things are a reality inside our organisations. Throughout my internal comms career, which I started back in 2003, I have experienced all of those different scenarios.

I don’t have a preference because it depends on the culture, which is the way things done around here. It depends on the type of organisation, its maturity and understanding from both an HR perspective and an internal comms perspective.

What I find works really well, regardless of what that reporting structure looks like, is building relationships with our HR colleagues.

This means we we know who each other are and respect our respective disciplines and the professional knowledge we each bring to the party.

We need to remember what unites us is doing the right thing by our employees – using our respective disciplines to benefit our employees so they can thrive in their roles.

That is why we’re here. That’s why the functions exist.

I believe the purpose of Internal Communication isn’t telling people what to do. It’s to create a shared understanding and a shared meaning, so our employees can align themselves to the company’s purpose.

Could you articulate that for your organisation? What’s the purpose of internal communication – and the team? And what’s the purpose of your HR or people team?

If you don’t know what that is, I encourage you to find that out.

If you haven’t created one, why not think about what you could create to bring some clarity, consistency, and certainty about how you talk about your HR team and how you talk about your IC team.

How to work successfully with HR
I’m going to share what I think you need to know about working successfully with your HR team and your IC team. This is an exercise that I use with my clients in helping them solve arguments.

I was going to say help them work better together, and that’s true. But it is also to solve arguments because very often I find there are arguments going on between HR and Internal Comms, and the reason being, we may not have clarity about why each separate function exists. And there’s a lot of time, money, and effort wasted in arguing over things.

However, when there is a really good working relationship, I often find it’s because everybody knows what everybody else is doing.

It’s really simple. I have an exercise I’d like you to complete.

Draw out two circles. We’re going to be doing a Venn Diagram. And on the left-hand side, we’re going to write down HR team or People team. And on the right-hand circle, we’re going to write down Internal Communication.


What to write
You may be called employee communications or corporate communications, write whatever makes sense for you and your role.

In the left-hand side, write down all the things that HR are responsible for. So it may be union negotiations. It might be pay, it might be policies and procedures, recruitment, retention. I mean, the list is endless.

Do the same for your comms team. And that might be leadership, communication. It might be your channels. It might be reward and recognition. Write it all down.

And the reason I’ve asked you to do this as a Venn Diagram, rather than a list, is because that middle bit where those two circles overlap, if you remember that from your mathematics days at school, the middle bit is where the arguments happen in my experience.

Why? Because it’s where we’re not quite sure who is responsible for what.

I often do this exercise when I audit organisations or if I’m helping an HR team and an Internal Comms team work better together or to work smarter together.

Doing so from a position of understanding is critical.

So that middle bit, typically, I find includes, line manager communication. And this middle bit is, we think that somebody is responsible, but we’re not quite sure who, and I’m sure that will resonate with you.

So think about that. What are HR responsible for on left-hand side? What are Comms responsible for on the right-hand side?

And in the middle are all the bits we’re unsure about, the grey areas. Typical examples for me in there, not just line manager communication. But I also finds employee engagement gets put into the mix there too.

So what is it? What is it that actually it feels like somebody must be responsible for these things, but we’re not quite sure who. Or it’s a bit of HR, and it’s a bit of comms, but we’ve never really written it out. We never really said, “You do this bit, and we do this bit.” So it becomes a bit of a muddle and everyone’s doing a little bit.

The reason I find this useful to do as an exercise when I’m working and advising organisations on their Internal Communication is because those middle bits are often critically important.

Line manager communication, for example, and there’s going to be a show on line manager communication coming up, needs careful attention.

That middle bit needs careful thought. If you’re not sure who owns certain things, look where your budget lines are. It’s a top tip if you’re trying to plan out, well, somebody must be responsible for XYZ. Sometimes the budget is split between HR and comms, but write it all out so you have clarity.

Whether you’re listening to this as an HR professional or a comms professional. I want you to share it with your respective peer in your organisation. Say, “I’ve just been mapping out our roles and responsibilities to help me understand if there’s anything that we need to plan for differently this year, or to help me understand if there’s any grey areas where things are falling through the cracks.”

See what they say. You could even encourage them, maybe send them a blank one and get them to do the same thing.

What we’re looking for here, Comms friends is consistency. What we’re looking for is, and I see this a lot when I do this exercise with teams, particularly if I do it with HR and Internal Comms teams.

What I see is assumption. I see an assumption where HR think Internal Comms are responsible for something. Internal Comms think HR is responsible for something. And as a result, no one is responsible for it. So nothing gets done.

Let me know how you got on. You can feel free to Tweet me @AllThingsIC and show me your Venn diagram, or you can DM it to me or find me on LinkedIn if you want to share it privately.

I’d love to see what you come up with. And are you surprised by the middle bit? The things that fall through the cracks.

I think to work successfully with HR, you need to have clarity in terms of who is doing what. What are our roles and responsibilities? So that’s what we need to know.

What you need to think about
The second thing to share with you today is what to think about. I find when you don’t have clarity it is often coupled with definitions or lack of definitions.

Let me give you an example. If you think about your organisation if you use the word employee engagement, what do you mean? If your HR colleagues use the phrase employee engagement, what do they mean?

Are we all talking the same language?

I’m going to share a link in the show notes to the MacLeod report  from Engage for Success that was created back in 2009. It’s a really solid, structured piece of work. And one of the beautiful things about it is it not only looks at the four drivers of employee engagement, but it also looks at definitions of employee engagement.

Employee engagement drivers

Think about phrases that you use a lot in your organisation. I would hazard a guess that the ones that cause the most confusion include:

  • engagement
  • internal communication
  • people.

When you talk about your people, what do you mean? We often use old phrases in organisations, and talk about blue-collar and white-collar and very hierarchical terms. They segment people. We pigeonhole them into groups.

Think about your audience demographic and your audience data in terms of how you talk about your people.

How do you talk about them consistently from an HR perspective and from an Internal Comms perspective?

The final phrase that list is culture. What do you mean when you talk about culture as an Internal Comms professional, and what does your HR colleague mean when they talk about culture?

The definition that I use of culture is from Deal and Kennedy back in 1982, which is: “The way things are done around here.” Really easy, really straightforward.

So culture is the way things are done around here. What does that mean for your organisation?

What is the way things are done around here?

These are the sorts of conversations that people have when they do inductions or onboarding. When you have people who are new into an organization and new colleagues might say, “Why do you do such and such?”

And the response will be, “Oh, that’s just the way we do things around here.”

That’s what we’re looking for Comms friends. That is the definition of your culture.

What is it? So it might be formal communication. It might be informal communication. What is the way things are done around here?

This is always a good thing for us to bear in mind, even to work successfully as a Comms team. Do you, as a team, have a joined-up approach when it comes to using definitions. So that’s something to think about. Think about defining the keywords and phrases that you use a lot in your organisation, and then swap notes with your HR colleagues.

What we need to be mindful of is respecting each other’s professional disciplines.

I also did an exercise with a client recently where I was looking at the brilliant profession map from the Institute of Internal Communication.


If this is what an excellent Internal Communicator looks like on a page, where’s my equivalent for HR?

I dug out the equivalent from the Chartered Institute of Personnel Development, CIPD, and I looked at their profession map, and I looked for the crossovers.

This goes back to my Venn Diagram example earlier when we were talking about what to know.

I was looking for key words and phrases that appear on both. There’s a lot of crossover. So if you’ve never done that. If you are struggling with this in your organisation about who does what and what does good look like, look at your industry bodies.

Look at your professional bodies and look at what’s been published to help professionals hold themselves to account.


In the final part of today’s episode, we’re going to be thinking about what you need to do to work successfully with your HR colleagues.

I’m going to share some of comms theory with you. I’m not going to have too much theory in all of these shows. But I think in this situation, it’s helpful.

In particular, I want to highlight the Internal Communication Knowledge Framework written by Welch in 2013.

The framework looks at the interaction with HR and marketing.

It’s also worth considering HR in relation to being part of the mechanics of an organisation. And this is something that I’ve heard Dr. Kevin Ruck of PR Academy here in the UK talk about.

I’ve heard him talk about HR is part of the mechanics of the organisation and how internal communication, in particular, is focused on the voice of the people.

When you’re trying to think about how to work successfully with our HR colleagues, one of the things we can do in order to facilitate that relationship and make it work brilliantly is to be really clear about who we’re working with.

I mentioned earlier in the show about knowing who your HR colleagues are. I would take that one step further by encouraging you to create a stakeholder map.

When you join an organisation, we typically create a stakeholder map. I have a course within my Online Masterclasses about how to create a 90-day plan, which is ideal if you are brand new to a new Internal Communication role.

How to create a 90 day plan

Part of that process in your first three months is creating a stakeholder map. I encourage you to do the same for your HR team. So if you look at the team, or you look at the function.

What do they do? Who are they, and what do they do? What are their roles and responsibilities that go above and beyond what we’ve talked about in the Venn Diagram?

Think about your team as individuals.

So who are your peers, and what are their specialisms? I’ve talked about the importance of understanding what our industry bodies are encouraging us to do in terms of what good looks like to be a profession.

But think about it from a skills perspective. So if you’re struggling, for example, and you’re working in Internal Communication, and you’re specialising in maybe leadership communication or line manager communication.

Think about your HR colleagues. What are their backgrounds? What are their disciplines? What are they trained in?

Often I find the HR colleagues are trained in psychology. They’re trained in understanding emotional wellbeing for people and neuroscience. These areas are beautifully aligned with Internal Communication.

So understanding your stakeholders isn’t just knowing about your org chart and who those people are and what they’re responsible for in the organisation.

But get to know your colleagues because, as I shared right at the start of this show, we are united, or we should be. We are united in our desire to do the right thing by our people. I believe as professional communicators, it’s our business to know our business.


Knowledge sharing
And that includes understanding who we’re working alongside because I think we can miss a trick really easily.

Do you know what specialisms and interest your HR colleagues have? And conversely, do they know what your specialisms of interests are? Because there is so much crossover between the functions, if we just swapped notes or shared our passions with each other, we would learn so much.

There’re number of things that you could do within your organisation, perhaps in order to seek that understanding and checking for understanding between your respective disciplines. Maybe you can create some kind of informal knowledge sharing environment.

I’ve done this where I’ve done lunch and learn sessions where it’s really informal. We can do it remotely or in-person where people get together and they talk about a topic.

Imagine you’re stuck on something that’s coming up in your organisation, perhaps reward and recognition. Reward and recognition can be addressed from an HR perspective and a Comms perspective.

So why not unite? Why not get together and share your respective understanding and discipline in terms of what you know about these areas? The reason we go to conferences. The reason we listen to podcasts. The reason we watch webinars is because we want to understand what other people are doing and get really good ideas and be inspired by what we hear.

I often find when I work with teams and I work in organisations, you’ve got all the answers already.

It’s in the collective experience that exists within your comms team or within your HR team.

I wonder if you could do that. I wonder if you’re planning your internal comms or planning a next campaign, what difference would it make if you brought your HR colleagues into the fold? If you had a discussion together, be it informal or formal. Where you were swapping notes.

Bringing in examples of what you’ve seen work well elsewhere. What you might have heard at a conference or an idea that you’ve picked up from a podcast, or maybe you work collectively together to solve a challenge together.

So Comms friends, we’ve coming to the very end of our show together and thinking about how to work successfully with HR.
We’ve looked at what you need to know. We’ve talked about mapping out roles and responsibilities. We’ve talked about what you need to think about, which is the definitions around people, engagement, comms, and culture.

We’ve looked at what do you need to do. I’ve encouraged you to think about creating a stakeholder map, which is not only about mapping out who exists within the HR team or Comms team that you need to work with, and whether you map them against levels of influence or how urgently you need to have a conversation. It’s completely up to you.

But take that one step further and really get to understand your colleagues and understand where you can work together to collectively help and benefit your employees.

I hope you found that really useful. As ever, I’d love to know how you get on. Feel free to find me on Twitter @AllThingsIC and let me know.

Until next week. Remember, what happens inside is reflected outside. See you again soon.

Thank you for stopping by,


Post author: Rachel Miller

First published on the All Things IC blog 15 February 2021.


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