How does Tata Gobal Beverages combine its human resources and communications functions? We spoke to its chief HR and communication officer to find out.
You come from a strong background in human resources, but when you took on your current position in 2008 you became responsible not only for Tata Global Beverages’ human resources, but also for its communications. Why do you think Tata wanted to combine the human resources function and the communications function under one head?
The key challenge for Tata Global Beverages was to change people’s view of the organisation and engage them in our transformation journey. This had to be achieved both internally with employees and externally with our other key stakeholders, so it made strategic sense at Tata Global Beverages for human resources and communications to work together as one team. In a nutshell, the beverage interests of the Tata Group were brought under one umbrella – ranging from Eight O’Clock Coffee in the US, Tetley Tea in the UK, Australia and Canada, Tata Tea in India, and so on. There was a clear change management aspect to my role as we were essentially building a new company. We had to stop thinking like different companies and think and operate in a cohesive way.
"We had to stop thinking like different companies and think and operate in a cohesive way."
We had to align ourselves from an employee communications and human resources structure point of view, and introduce ourselves to the outside world to audiences such as analysts and media. We were embarking upon a journey of integration and transformation, for which both human resources and communication capabilities would be vital. The benefits of the joint role were clear. Having said that, I feel it can be a powerful combination in other organisations.
Could you briefly describe your current role?
My role is first and foremost as a member of the Tata Global Beverages executive office, playing an active part in the total management of the business. My position as human resources and communications head is not an added responsibility, because I consider these to be organisation functions that are responsible for delivering business success in the same way as any other function. I think it is very important that my team and I position ourselves and operate as rounded business people with particular expertise or specialities – not purely on a functional axis. We are fundamentally in the business, not a partner to it or supporter of it.
And what kind of responsibilities do you have?
My responsibilities include, among others, delivering business strategy and enabling culture change; boosting Tata Global Beverage’s corporate brand among stakeholders, such as retailers, or partners, such as Pepsi-Co; capitalising on our leadership potential to drive the business toward our mission and vision to be the global leader in good-for-you beverages; developing Tata Global Beverage’s employer value proposition to ensure we attract and retain the best talent; and refreshing and harnessing existing capability.
Why do you think that it is more usual to find combinations of marketing and communication functions than of human resources and communications?
Marketing is thought to be the natural home for communications in many organisations, simply because marketing does a considerable amount of brand communication already. It is also common to assume that capabilities required for marketing communications can be deployed for internal communications. It can seem obvious to house communications in marketing if you look at the design from an internal capability point of view. However, if you now bring in the lens of the external audiences that communications teams are normally responsible for, you start to see a different picture. The efforts of communications teams are normally directed at audiences who have a different ‘choice’ atmosphere. Unlike consumers of fast moving brands, the normal target audiences of the corporate communications teams – investors, potential employees, customers and media – make their emotional and rational alignments in a different way. These audiences need more details of the company, presented to them in a consistent but interesting way.
"Unlike consumers of fast moving brands, the normal target audiences of the corporate communications teams – investors, potential employees, customers and media – make their emotional and rational alignments in a different way."
These audiences build a relationship in which they may have to invest a significant stake i.e. career, capital or shelf space. For this reason it can be shrewd to co-locate communications teams with teams with a higher knowledge of the internal dynamic of the whole company. The relationship with the intended external audiences is more synchronised with the relevant internal teams.
Do you foresee more companies adopting this approach?
To be honest, I don’t know. What I do know is that employer branding is getting ever more important. Great companies are competing for great talent. Internal communication, employee engagement and the external communications of employer value proposition can be synchronised in a very powerful way. For example, what is being said externally about the employer can have crucial role in motivating employees. The truth is that people want to be proud of where they work. Competitive intensity in the market is increasing, particularly in fast-moving consumer goods, so if you can build a compelling corporate brand and healthy reputation externally, it will have a dramatic impact on your ability to attract and retain talented individuals. You can build employee engagement from the outside-in.
You are very passionate about brands. To what extent can the human resources function help drive a company’s brand and how should the communications department help them?
The human resources team is a critical driver of a company’s brand. For example, they can develop 360-degree programmes to build marketing and sales capability within the business; develop reward strategies that are more consumer-oriented; design the organisation in a way that makes it most responsive to the marketplace; and they are fundamental to the attraction, development and retention of great talent. By linking with the communication team at Tata Global Beverages, they ensure that everything they do is consistent with some communication principles we have developed internally, thereby strengthening the impact of each initiative. These principles include include the fact that the communicating organisation is different to the managing organisation – traditionally we think of organisations as having a CEO, other board members and some middle management, essentially a defined organisation structure based around functions or departments and the work of the organisation is carried out via this hierarchy. We believe that the communication goals of the business do not have to be achieved via this route. We want to access the ‘communicating’ organisation rather than the ‘managing’ organisation.
"We want to access the ‘communicating’ organisation rather than the ‘managing’ organisation."
From a human resources and communication perspective this involves facilitating a group of motivated and engaged individuals who sit outside the traditional organisation hierarchy to drive culture change at every level within the business. This team has moved us forward further and quicker than we could have managed through any centrally-managed programme using the formal management cascade. Also, having human resources and communications as part of the same team has meant that we’ve been able to stretch our principles across everything that the wider team does. Our performance appraisal process (‘The Conversation’) and our personal development planning processes are consistent with our communication style, but the processes themselves also fundamentally reflect who we are. For us, the quality of the conversations held between a manager and their team members is infinitely more important than ticking boxes and creating admin. We don’t even store paper records. That fact alone communicates.
How do external communications fit into all of this?
When you turn to external communications, the key is to align it with internal communication and provide access to insightful information about the company on a constant basis. The latter becomes possible by the membership of the head of the human resources and communication function in the executive team. When external communication resources are co-located with the human resources and internal communications function, a lot of synergy is possible with relation to the creation and deployment of intellectual content, communication materials and channels. For instance, we develop webinars for employees on the back of our quarterly performance updates to analysts and media. Our external messaging and data is reflected internally.
What can corporate communicators learn from their colleagues in the human resources department?
Well, at Tata Global Beverages, communicators understand that communications is not effective if it is carried out in isolation of the organisation dynamic. We follow the set of communications principles that I outlined above such as the communicating organisation is different to the managing organisation. A base of these kind of principles is not possible without a rich and dynamic co-existence with not just the human resources team, but also the rest of the business. It makes communication a strategic function with a business-oriented destination, rather than a production line of communication materials. It enables the communications team to constantly face up to the fact that communication has to be dynamic, adaptable, relevant, interesting and often entertaining. The human resources team, through its daily interaction with internal audiences, bring this to life in a real way.
Would you encourage communicators to consider a career change into human resources?
I don’t think communicators should consider a career change to human resources. While the two functions benefit from interaction with each other, both are very different in their capability requirements. There are many specialist streams in human resources e.g. remuneration, organisation design, capability building and talent management that require specialist knowledge and experience. It is also possible that such specialist streams do not appeal to people in the communications function.
Interview by David Phillips