HR and communication in one department
HR + C = Like

Skrevet af
HR plus communications in one powerful department: this is the future. Certain challenges might never be solved without this merger. In Coloplast this department has gotten the name People & Communications. If you can unite HR and communication competences you have a department with a task force that’s better equipped to solve the challenges of management and change. Rather than being interested in subject knowledge or background, management simply requires professional help.
In a number of big Danish companies, like KMD, PFA, DR and Coloplast, HR and communication have started to overlap. This could be by reason of cutting expenditure, but it’s also due to a rise in demand on two particular areas that have been growing during the economic crisis:
  • the ability to manage change and transformation in the organisation;
  • management development on all levels.
During the crisis many companies have had to let go, relocate, outsource, professionalise, restructure or integrate departments. In many places there is a new need to develop leaders able to facilitate growth. All business challenges demand a traditional effort to communicate, but particularly changes that have to do with the culture and behaviour of the organisation.
Coloplast: People & Communications
A year ago in Coloplast we merged HR and Corporate Communications into what we today call People & Communications. There has been a cut in the management layer in that the part of corporate HR that had to do with pay and staff conditions were merged with Finance to take advantage of the synergies in processes. Management development, HR business partners and recruitment became a part of the new People & Communications department where today we have 22 employees with the global responsibility for manager development, consulting, internal and external communication with product PR, Corporate Responsibility and Public Affairs. The result is a mixed bag, but with many overlaps that can be utilised to help the organisation with quick, simple solutions to be applied globally.
Turn prejudice to advantage
The merger has not necessarily been accepted enthusiastically by two groups that typically have been physically separated with only sporadic contact.
Just ask an HR specialist what he understands by a communicator and he will answer using phrases such as:
  • quick wrapping
  • form without content.
Then ask a communications adviser about his perception of HR and the answer will typically be something along the lines of:
  • slow processes
  • plans without visibility and impact.
In any case each response will be on the sarcastic side. But let’s presume there is still some truth there. The communications department is good at positioning, messages and using the organisation’s channels; HR has the more difficult task when it comes to developing and combining people processes in the long term, for example in recruitment and retention needs, manager development, performance reviews, employee satisfaction, etc.
If you can unite HR and communication competences you have a department with a task force that’s better equipped to solve the challenges of management and change. Essentially, management is not interested in subject knowledge or background – they just want professional support. Let’s take an example.
The synergy comes with the tasks
In Coloplast we had a classic HR project concerned with developing and embedding a list of leadership principles. We chose to staff the project with both HR and communication competences and in this way force out the synergy. The advantage came in the form of an early line of communication where previously HR had a tendency to not communicate before results were quite ready. Practically speaking, the team made a small film about each of the four new leadership principles that were communicated via several channels and used as a starter for debate in more traditional workshops. HR employees today recognise that it would not have been possible to achieve that momentum of acceptance in the organisation without this method, and could otherwise have dismissed it as an oversimplification.
Behind the principles lies a thorough HR process ensuring that we focus on the right principles, and the commercial effect of the project.
The communications competences create stories from principles that make them come to life. The interesting thing here is that it’s in the meeting between the two modes of operation that the successful impact emerges. The required unified understanding of the project is much harder to create if the two departments only have sporadic contact.
It takes some time to achieve such a common understanding and unified language and it can only come when each of the parties see that the new competences benefit their own projects. “What’s in it for me?” applies here as well.
The roll out of global leadership principles gained momentum
when HR and communication went together and created a
series of videos on each principle. Here is the “Show visible
leadership” principle with CEO Lars Rasmussen in a “Being
John Malkovich” style
The HR partner + the communications adviser = embedding change
Another example of the department gaining more depth can be seen in classic communications advice, especially before and after the execution of a change or in a deeper transformation, as in a turnaround where the entire organisation is part of the change.
A large department is facing a transformation that requires extensive organisational changes, new objectives and even firing and hiring.
The HR partner is part of the organisation in question and therefore is closely connected to both the manager and employees. He has a detailed knowledge of the history, culture and collection of competences in the department.
The communications adviser has typically no close contact with the department in everyday life but has a key competence in positioning and is therefore able to extract the main story from a complicated context and identify the communications needs, recipients and appropriate formats and media.
When they approach the task together they can design one master plan for communications needs and HR execution. Together they can create a stronger storyline and more credible key messages than the communications adviser would be able to do on his own. In addition, together they can identify more stakeholder groups and prepare the management better for realistic questions that may arise. They approach management with greater thoroughness, and the probability for the department coming successfully through the change process is dramatically increased than if the two work separately.
Don’t turn your back
It might not be revolutionary that HR and communication works together in a change process where they each can make a difference. The interesting thing here is that the cooperation is actively established in the midst of the changes.
An integrated HR and communications department provides the opportunity to grow a constellation that, with a common frame of reference, can work together on support before and after a change. Post-change communication is a neglected discipline: those with separate functions have often tended to turn their backs the moment the last all-staff meeting is over.
An ideal cooperation is when the HR partner constantly knows what’s going on and can act quick and proactively with the communications adviser. It makes life easier for management to have a single focal point, typically making it possible to stay ahead and defuse upcoming challenges.
(Forandring = change)
A major change results in turbulence and slows down the
organisation, illustrated by wave tops. The wave tops are
flattened out when an updated HR and communications
team knows what’s going on and is frequently pro-active
with small actions to keep the organisation focused on
delivering results 
Employees’ profile
Complex challenges like the ones we meet today demand complex solutions. The communications employees’ profile must therefore have some latitude when the choice is made to work in a more integrated fashion. Otherwise you don’t get the full effect. As a communications adviser you shouldn’t, with good reason, be an expert throughout the spectrum, but in the consulting situation the employee should be able to identify an HR track or a public affairs track and be able to work together with the more specific subject competences.
(Intern komm. og rådgivning = intern communication and
A palette of the skills needed by communications employees
in an integrated department could look like this. It’s great to
have a special skill, like expert knowledge about product PR,
but that knowledge must be capable of lateral integration,
typically with Media Relations or with Public Affairs playing
a role in messages, media and timing. In much the same
way the specialists should have a basic knowledge of other
disciplines so as to benefit from them.
A paradigm shift?
As mentioned above, it’s the strategy and the challenge in the business that defines the composition of departments, not an academic wish to experiment with subject knowledge. There is a risk of losing the basis of real depth due to the constraints of the merger, that is why the integration probably has the greatest effect in organisations where the schedule moves quickly. In order to support effectively you must be able to react quickly, but in addition the merger provides better perspectives on the transformation.
Each organisation must decide on which constellations make the most sense. Mergers require that you re-think the role of staff functions. It might alternatively be possible to merge PR and marketing, or to put Corporate Responsibility together with Emerging Markets. A crisis has the potential to make staff functions grow, in the sense that the need to be closer to the business becomes clear. Communications staff must show their worth: communicators should view themselves as strategic partners for the business, offering better consultations in the shape of comprehensive solutions that are easy to use. HR still handles pay cheques, and Communications still prints leaflets, but each has far more to offer when they become aware of their roles in the business.
Four checkpoints for a merger
  1. The management should make clear from the start what the main challenges of the organisation are and what the best administrative answer is, and organise accordingly.
  2. It is not possible to micromanage the creation of synergy and it won’t be visible from day one. Put together project teams with interdisciplinary competences where it makes sense.
  3. It’s often only later, even after the project’s conclusion, that the advantages of the process can be seen. Therefore it’s a good idea to frequently evaluate the cooperation itself and systematise what works. Make successes visible and celebrate them as they happen so as to encourage a common language and culture.
  4. Make space for special skills where appropriate.

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