HR and Communications — the uncomfortable relationship

with 4 Comments

WESTFIELD — Human Resources departments and Corporate Communications departments have a great deal in common. Including a mutual suspicion and occasionally antagonism.

• focus primarily on people
• believe they can use their systems and processes to make people think / do what they want
• don’t like people much

Someone called last night and said: “What is it about Communications people, that they are all so timid? They never say anything.”

And the same can often be said of Human Resources professionals. With some notable exceptions they tend to be quite modest and happier working quietly behind the scenes. However, in working behind the scenes they can also have quite a strong sense of self-importance and self-belief.

If more people listened to them — they are convinced — the office would be a better place.

Communication people know in their bones that they can get ideas across to people. They can move people and make the business better in a multitude of ways. They have creative powers. Awesome powers that are being under-utilised.

HR people on the other hand have processes that are flawless. They can organise, advise and design systems that will make the business run like clockwork. (If only the people didn’t get it wrong so often!)

Fran at Connected Communications recently pointed me towards this brilliant blog: My Hell is Other People.

It’s almost too good to be true. The author claims to be a major London HR Director.

It sums up the frustrations of HR professionals. Not necessarily in a way I agree with, but certainly in a way that I recognise from working in HR half my working life.

The fact is that HR people have great ideas that people don’t understand. And Communications professionals have great ways of teaching people stuff but not enough good content.

If HR and Communications professionals could find common cause — even if it has to be an antipathy towards people — the the world of work could be a better place.


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4 Responses

  1. TheHRD

    David, thanks for your kind words. Not agreeing on everything is absolutely fine the main thing is we engage in proper debate rather than following fads and partaking in group speak, no?

    I work very closely with our Comms Director and I value their insight and perspective more than many within our organization. Together we make a formidable team.

    As for me….I am what it says on the tin. Just don’t tell anyone ok? 🙂

  2. David Ferrabee

    Your secret is safe with me.
    (Having trouble still with the Twitter and comment art that looks like a strange chocolate orifice. It’s making me uncomfortable.)

  3. Mike Klein

    Like your piece–would go farther by saying that the mutual friction between Comms and HR really plays itself out in areas of shared jurisdiction (like “employee engagement”) and when internal communication finds itself reporting into HR.

    To some extent, the tension also emerges from personal or ideological difficulty with some of the methods and ends HR is pursuing (such as the use of one-size-fits-all policies that produce employee pushback) and also with the natural process-agnosticism many business communicators share.

    Nevertheless, your call for greater mutual understanding is welcome.

  4. Rob Briggs

    Whether it’s HR, IT, Finance etc. it’s always worth the communicator spending time with colleagues to understand what their drivers and business needs are. I was lucky enough to spend 6 years in an HR consultancy – so I can empathise and work well with my HR buddies. Personally, I’m not bothered who sits where and does what. I want to understand how we can mutually support each other to increase efficiency or enhance profitability. Some of the best ways of doing that are through effective HR systems embedded and embraced by the business. HRD has it right.

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