Blue Beyond Consulting

How to Create an Employee-First HR Communication Strategy

What does the current business communications landscape look like? According to a Forbes Advisor survey of over 1,000 employed Americans, nearly half of respondents claimed that poor communication negatively impacted their job satisfaction, and 42% said it impacted work stress. People-first internal communications are the crux of trust in leadership, employee engagement, team connectivity, and the overall employee experience, yet organizations seldom invest the time and strategy required to build their internal communications engine (and keep it running smoothly). 

HR-centered communications are one piece of the internal communications playbook that is easy to overlook but critical to fostering a singular employee experience. In this article, we’ll discuss how evolving worker expectations have necessitated new HR communications plans, and we’ll give you the tools to develop a streamlined, employee-driven HR communications strategy.

What Is Human Resource Communications?

HR communications are part of an organization’s more extensive internal communications program and include any messaging that HR or communications teams relay to employees about organizational policies, benefits, performance management, talent development, onboarding, and other critical HR programs. 

Human resources communications resonate most strongly when they are aligned with your corporate culture and developed with an “employee-first” mindset — or, in other words, when HR and communications teams consider how their employee audience will connect to, respond to, and take action from crucial messaging. 

HR departments play a vital role in connecting leadership teams and business strategies to the organization’s people. Having a plan for communicating key HR messaging is, therefore, critical to empowering employees to understand and take actions that lead to business success.

It’s worth noting that different organizations may use different terms in place of “HR communications,” such as “people operations communications,” “executive communications for the CPO,” or “communications for people programs.” People operations teams may typically be responsible for the operational or transactional human resources work, but it’s also not uncommon for people ops teams to support people-centered communications.

Regardless of the language you use, the best practices we outline — and the importance of these communications — hold steadfast.


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The Business Imperative for Unified HR Communications

The way we work is changing, and with it, the expectations employees have for their places of work. In an increasingly VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous) world, poor communications only add to the noise, anxiety, and misdirection, made all the worse when the world around your team already feels unsteady. Blended workforces — such as fully remote or virtual teams — rely on digital communication to operate daily, meaning that ineffective internal messaging can directly impact performance. Add to this the barrage of communications employees receive on any given day, and it’s evident why connecting with internal audiences is more complicated than ever.

That said, HR and communications teams that rise to the challenge and cut through the noise realize a host of benefits that far exceed improved open rates. Our research study revealed that the number one influencer of organizational culture is effective communication for an overwhelming majority (91%) of knowledge workers. Thoughtful internal communications frequently correlate to better alignment, well-being, trust, engagement, and feedback as well.

6 Steps To Develop a Cohesive HR Communication Plan

Having a strategic roadmap for your HR and communications efforts can mean the difference between conversations that propel the organization forward and a presentation deck “plan” that collects dust. We recommend you consider these steps before your next big communications rollout for maximum impact.

1. Audit and Assess

It’s not uncommon for businesses to have several stakeholders who own separate components of the HR program. If this is the case for your organization, the first step is to audit who owns what. Once you have the right voices in the room, you’ll find it much easier to ensure that you account for all relevant parties and align stakeholders from the beginning of the process.

Next comes an audit of your existing communications framework. Ask yourself: Who are your main audiences (e.g., employees, managers, leaders)? What leaders are communicating to them on which issues (e.g., your CEO, Chief People Officer, Other HR leaders, etc)? Is it clear among your leadership who communicates on what and when?

You’ll need to take note of the different channels your internal communications show up in and any variations in how these channels are used, paying close attention to employee groups that often facilitate HR-related conversations. 

Now is also the time to assess the performance of your current-state communications. What’s working, and where is there room for improvement? Where do you typically see gaps between what HR finds important to share and the information that actually “sticks”? How are you currently evaluating the performance of your communications, and what are the results you want to see as you reexamine your approach?

2. Co-create a Shared Mindset and Commitment

Because HR communication is the lens through which employees understand and form many of their opinions on their employers, you should adopt a “co-creation” approach that considers management and employees. The correct mindset begins when you align the right owners of your HR programs toward a cohesive, people-first strategy. Before you can move forward, your stakeholders should reach a consensus on their intentions for the plan, its outcomes, and — most notably — how the confluence of all HR-related communications can work together to inform a singular employee experience. 

We recommend adopting a design thinking methodology — which reframes organizational unknowns by considering the human needs behind them — to help stakeholders channel both their mindset and commitment to the initiative from the employee perspective. HR leaders and specialists who are not customarily involved in communications initiatives may be surprised to learn of the disconnect between what they want to tell people and what employees need to understand to perform at their best. Untangling this disconnect between HR teams and workers is the first step in creating a framework that works for both the business and people.

To take your co-creation activities from theory to practice, stakeholders may consider developing resources to ensure communications, HR, and leadership stay aligned on the right core messages for their audience. 

Employee personas, for example, are an asset your HR team likely already uses to customize their initiatives across each of their target employee segments. But you can also equip your personas to support your communications efforts by tracking them to a consistent employee lifecycle and marking critical touch points where you should prioritize communications. Ask yourself where the most impactful employee moments are and how you should communicate in and around that moment so that the whole employee experience feels cohesive.

3. Equip and Enable

“Equipping and enabling” is all about supplying the organization with resources that convey your core messages and encourage your people to participate in your action plan. You should design these resources with the intention of distributing them widely, as the goal is to help everyone execute. That may include:

  • Internal communications templates, which reinforce a consistent source of truth across the organization as information is further disseminated.
  • Manager communication toolkits, which help mid-level managers summarize the big picture and cascade information across their teams.
  • Process mapping, which ensures you involve the right people without pulling everyone into everything.

We advise our clients to seek inspiration from their marketing teams to create communications that “stick.” Consider creating your templates and toolkits within an omnichannel framework for maximum visibility, distilling the most essential information to its core tenets, using a casual tone, and delivering multiple “snack-sized” messages that are quick to draw attention. 

4. Construct an Employee Experience Campaign

While equipping and enabling should involve parties across the organization, your communications team owns this next step. An employee experience campaign captures the moments that matter most and ties in all of your communication moments under a unified visual system, tone of voice, and messaging. Think of your experience campaign as the final product of all the thought, materials, and positioning you’ve developed thus far, with a few vital characteristics:

  • Simple. Employee experience campaigns are sophisticated in their simplicity. Getting to a satisfactory end product may require several rounds of editing, refining, and paring down until you are left with only the heart of what you want to convey.
  • Visual. An overwhelming 80% of people remember what they see (compared to retaining only 20% of what they read). Telling stories that stick starts by connecting core concepts with well-articulated visual communications
  • Contextualized. Ideally, your campaign should work well within the context of your other enterprise concepts, such as your employee value proposition, so that every touch point feels interconnected. This context helps communications feel intuitive and tied to each person’s singular work experience.

5. Measure and Refine

As the final step of the process, measurement and refinement help HR and leadership observe the success of their communication plan, both in the immediate aftermath and into the future. The specific KPIs you benchmark and measure will depend on your organization, but there are a few standard signals that tend to point to a high-functioning HR communications strategy.

For instance, HR communications may not directly elevate performance management metrics — such as turnover rates, absenteeism rates, and productivity levels — but we often find a strong correlation between the metrics HR is likely already measuring and the efficacy of their internal communications.

Many organizations will find more immediate causation between improved communications and their internal engagement metrics, such as open rates, intranet read receipts, and post reactions. Although these metrics won’t necessarily indicate that your employees are taking actions beyond ingesting the material, they can suggest that your content is more dynamic, helpful, or interactive.

6. Listen and Adapt

When we think of how we communicate internally, we often first think of what we want to say and how we should say it. Rarely, however, do we think of how we should listen to what our employees are saying. Good communication — personal and professional — is a two-way street. Employees and managers should always have a place in the conversation and have a forum to share their inputs, perspectives, experiences, requests, expectations, and questions. 

Your HR communications framework should make space for all of these perspectives. As your communications strategy evolves, its shape should always be informed in part by employee voices. The secret to success is finding the right balance where you can meet the needs of both the people and the business.

4 Common HR Communications Mistakes

Following our steps will set you up for success, but there are plenty of places where your initiative can still go awry. Here are four of the most common mistakes we see that you’re best to avoid.


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1. Derailed by the Details

We tend to overestimate how much information our employees can retain, especially when their focus first lies on their day-to-day work. HR communications can become “too much” all too quickly. Before you hit send, consider the most important takeaway you want your audience to retain, and ask yourself what material could be standing in the way.

2. Telling vs. Crafting Memorable Experiences

“Show, don’t tell” is a popular adage in storytelling, but the advice carries its weight when crafting compelling HR communications as well. Engulfing employees with loads of information — no matter its accuracy — can elicit a poor user experience, often at the expense of having retained nothing. Instead, think about how you can “show” your messaging through more memorable experiences that connect with the hearts and minds of your audience. 

3. Skipping the “Human” Part of Human Resources Planning

When we are heads down in strategic planning, it’s easy to forget the human parts of ourselves and our colleagues. But strategies that leave out the human element, regardless of their intention, are likely to see little to no buy-in or adoption from the organization at large. That’s why beginning the process with a co-creation mindset is critical. Your communications are much more likely to connect with their intended audience when the stakeholders who crafted your HR communications plan loop in the employees who will see your vision through.

4. Missing Out on the Visuals 

Research has shown that 65% of the population are visual learners, meaning that they digest, process, and remember information more efficiently from visual signals than from verbal or experiential learning styles. Infographics, charts, videos, graphic recordings, and other visual storytelling devices take time and energy to develop, but their rewards are far worth the effort. Not only is your audience more likely to walk away with the right message, but you’ll also find they are more emotionally invested and engaged in your story.

Cultivate HR Communications that Move Your Business and Your People Forward

Internal communications are intrinsically tied to each employee’s individual experience. Workers infer much more than leaders may realize about the validity of the information they receive, the strategy of the business, the trustworthiness of leadership, and the culture in which they participate. 

By investing in your HR communications plan, you can help your HR and communications teams work better in tandem while also building both disciplines toward the betterment of your business and people.

Looking for guidance on how you can move your internal communications forward? We’ve helped countless organizations elevate their communications programs and inspire their people toward action. 

Learn how our communications consulting services can work for your business.