Benefits and human resources professionals are often the unsung heroes within organizations. They work hard—training the workforce, developing and administering programs that people really need, and relaying vital information to employees. Instead of receiving fanfare for their efforts, they typically hear only from unhappy employees. They’re not alone. They share this stage with another group of unsung heroes: internal/employee communications teams.
Internal communications teams are responsible for ensuring that what every department communicates is clear and on brand, supports business priorities, and is scheduled so that employees aren’t overwhelmed by competing messages.
It’s the job of your internal communications team to manage all employee communications—not just benefits-related messages, which are only a portion of the employee-facing comms they handle. Needless to say, juggling all those messages is no easy task.
When I supported benefits communication at Nordstrom, Inc., I saw firsthand the delicate balance internal communications teams have to strike. They are the liaison between every department within every business unit and the employee. At the same time, they’re often accountable to their marketing and PR departments, which have different objectives than benefits teams.
By understanding their point of view, their priorities, and how they want to support benefits teams, you can better partner with your internal comms team to make your communications shine. Here are 6 tips that will help forge that successful working relationship.
1. Understand what’s important to your executive team.
Your internal communications partner will share those same priorities. Plus, organizational priorities should drive your benefits goals to some extent. Keep that in mind as you think through what you want to communicate, and you’ll find it easier to win their support to make it happen.
2. Bring in your internal communications partner early.
If you do, they’ll be your biggest advocate and champion your cause. When you make sure they’re in the loop from the get-go, internal communications can prioritize resources on your behalf. They can point out potential communication “minefields” before you’re too far along to change direction. And they can even lend a hand in drafting and delivering communications. An internal communications professional’s worst nightmare is hearing, “Hey, I have this huge payroll change rolling out next week. Can you help me write an email or something?”
3. Be open to their point of view.
Benefits professionals and communication professionals will always have differences of opinion. But unless a suggested edit is going to derail a deliverable or a communication plan, we generally recommend that benefits professionals take the advice of their colleagues in communications. This way, you’re establishing a partnership on behalf of employees.
4. Treat them as equals, not as gatekeepers.
Often, we hear teams complain that “everything has to go through so-and-so.” That viewpoint suggests that benefits teams are giving up all the power they hold before they even get to the table. Meanwhile, internal communication teams may feel like they have to say something on every piece because they’re being treated like gatekeepers.
Even a slight change in the way you ask for their review can help shift that balance of power. “Here’s what I’m planning to send; I’d like your advice” is much more collegial than “Can you review and approve?” At the same time, it sends a powerful message.
Behavioral scientist Robert Cialdini says that when you ask people for advice, they take a step toward you psychologically and put themselves in a collaborative state of mind. Conversely, when you ask for an opinion, people take a step back to reflect, and they feel less invested in the outcome.1
The bottom line here is that you shouldn’t view any of your colleagues as a gatekeeper. As the owner of the benefits programs, you are ultimately responsible for any employee questions or feedback your communications generate. So, don’t give up that power.
5. Recognize that your communication priorities may occasionally differ from your organization’s.
Believe me, internal communications teams try hard to accommodate content from all departments. But sometimes certain initiatives will have to take precedence and be prioritized over yours. Let’s say the finance team at a large retailer is rolling out a new point-of-sale system for their stores. That week, making sure everyone has information about the new system is going to be more important than promoting the Employee Assistance Program.
6. Ask your internal communications team to schedule regular quarterly communication summits.
Communication summits are an ideal way to generate a holistic view of the communication landscape within an organization. Typically, representatives from all major departments attend and share their priorities. They can determine where to focus their energies and where synergies exist within their quarterly initiatives. And, with a deeper understanding of everything employees are being expected to absorb and act on, you can adjust your communication plans accordingly.
Benefits teams and internal communication teams play different roles within companies, but their goals align around doing what’s best for employees. You’ll find that working in collaboration with your internal comms team will make it easier for you to achieve your goals.
We're proud to work with large employers who recognize the business value of engaging employees in benefits. If you want to learn more, contact us.
1 Robert Cialdini, Pre-Suasion: A Revolutionary Way to Influence and Persuade, Random House, 2016.