How HR and Internal Comms can strategically lead companies out of shutdown

Retail Execution
June 5, 2020
Zipline Staff Contribution

In the wake of the Covid-19 crisis, it’s up to many municipalities to develop their own plans consistent with country, federal, state and local laws, OSHA requirements, and guidance from CDC and WHO specific to their area’s situation. For businesses, keeping employees and customers safe will require an abundance of resources and time just to stay current. With so many shifting and localized guidelines, it’s likely that mistakes will happen and some details might fall through the cracks.  

But communication glitches now comes with a higher price: mistakes will adversely impact employee trust, commitment and loyalty. How well a company’s employees perform in their roles will influence how customers evaluate that company’s level of safety measures and concern for their well-being. And those impressions will influence their decisions as to if or how soon they return to do business with that company. 

Employees need to see consistency in a company’s direction and expectations so they can confidently follow the directives and perform their tasks. With this in mind, it’s imperative that companies, perhaps more than ever before, ensure messages are aligned from all departments.

Human resources (HR) and internal communications (IC) are two overarching people-centric groups in every company, and can be the calm in the eye of the storm as we return to business. Andrew Harvey, Director of Internal Communications at the VMA Group, points out how internal communications and human resources are not distinctly separate entities today; both functions engage with similar audience groups so it makes sense that the two work together in the process. Enlist these two departments together to gain efficiencies and a crucial consistency of voice for your organization. 

With distinctly different skillsets and perspectives, these two teams can help mitigate the risks of duplicating efforts and information, or worse, sending conflicting messages. Instead, winning companies can capitalize on these differences and engage them as strengths. Leverage your HR professionals’ understanding of audience needs, their proficiency in gathering and outlining regulations specific to where your company operates, and of course, their links to expert resources. Utilize the internal communications team’s command of messaging channels, logistics specific to each vehicle, and expertise in effective cadence. An added benefit? Internal comms brings a unique and holistic viewpoint gained by also occupying various seats at tables throughout the organization. With a lens created by these unique business insights, they’re able to identify and balance business priorities - an invaluable tool to use in equipping your people with critical information at the correct time.

Other possible benefits of this teamwork:

  • According to Tina McCorkindale, president and CEO of the Institute for Public Relations (IPR), the closer working relationship between IC and HR can aid in breaking down other silos in an organization. Wouldn’t it be a plus to begin more collaboration among departments that were formerly centrally focused?
  • Internal communications may span the various silos and help provide broader perspectives of how the parts can work together for the greater good. Ed Muzio, strategic HR expert and author, sees how this consistency in tone from internal comms can help HR share that throughout an organization’s culture and consistency of management processes. Singing the “same song in the same key” can vastly improve the audience experience.
  • Kurt Halvorson, chief administrative officer at Omaha-based Ameritrade refers to the different perspective that each team brings to the process. He suggests a nice balance and benefit is possible in terms of the professional oversight each can provide the other’s group. Similarly, Charlene Wheeless, senior vice president of global communication and marketing at American Management Systems sees benefit to having a partner that can step it back, not being directly focused on the same issue, and say, “Let’s look at this in terms of the business strategy.” The blinders we wear can prevent objectively looking at our projects and messages.
  • When it comes to being heard in conversations and business decisions, there are many times, especially in a retail business, the departments with a direct line to sales/profits get a stronger voice at the boardroom table. Alignment and collaboration by the more people-focused areas of the business could “be a real game changer” according to Andrew Harvey. Because our front lines – the faces of our company - are indeed people. We need to ensure we are consistently and fully equipping them to best represent the mission of our organization.

Divide and conquer the heavy load of collecting and disseminating these ever changing guidelines and new processes as we re-open our businesses; create strong habits by building on the lessons learned during these most extraordinary times. Develop and build on these collaborative strategies to gain streamlined efficiencies and confidence now. Create the necessary foundation of stability and aligned purpose which will serve your company well beyond the shutdown.

Creating messages that resonate is one thing. Getting them to the field is another thing entirely. If you’re looking for a software solution that will help you streamline your communication to ensure that your employees get the right information, tailored to their role and location, reach out. We would love to help.