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Mike Morrison

RapidBI - Diagnostic OD tools for change


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Marketing HR: From tactical to strategy


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With the need for internal marketing activities increasing, Mike Morrison offers some tips and advice on how to develop your skills in branding and promotion, so as to meet the specific needs of the business.

As the business environment changes, so does the potential contribution of HR and organisational development (OD) teams. As the day to day workload increases, often the profile of these functions diminishes.

Increasingly, the challenge of HR and OD is to undertake marketing activities internally. This is a need which is increasing and often requires a skill set not readily available within the function.

Why do it?

Many of us say that as a function we are not strategic enough. To a great extent that is true, since the business does not want us to be strategic most of the time.

What we need to do is to avoid re-branding the whole function, and concentrate on re-branding offers and services. For example, an organisational development function may have the following services:

  • OD strategy

  • HR strategy

  • Recruitment

  • Compensation and benefits

  • Employee relations

  • Development

  • Talent management

  • Training

  • Learning

We need to recognise that all elements have their place, and many, if not most, of these are operational and tactical in nature. Let’s not try to make something operational look strategic – it just does not work.

This is a big jump from the direction many HR-related functions have been making in recent years.

Changing mindsets

This is a double challenge. Firstly we need to recognise the need to communicate what we do to the wider world. Secondly we need to be prepared to start advertising our services and celebrating our successes. It is about seeing things from the perception of others.

Available resources to help

There are some books and publications to help HR undertake this role; however more has been published under the umbrella of marketing training. The principles and audiences are the same, so we can use these resources as well as ones aimed at promoting professional services in a wider context. That said, we can also use some of the excellent materials available in the general marketing arena.

Making it happen

When I have done this in corporate life, it’s about spending time with your customers. How much of your week do you spend building relationships? If it is less than two days a week then you are not doing enough. The better we understand our clients and their specific needs, the stronger our position is to offer a customised service. For many HR teams now involved in business partnering, leaving behind the (standard) menu driven offers is an increasing fact of life. Don’t get me wrong, our clients want and often demand a menu – what is different is that we will have a menu specifically for them.

Each customer is unique

It’s also not about advertising or promoting all of your services to everyone – identify a given group or audience and promote relevant services to them.

For example, there is no point promoting talent management services or recruitment strategies to frontline staff – they are just not interested. Equally, hard selling career development to managers is not effective – many managers will want to keep their best people and (wrongly) believe that by not encouraging them to develop, they will stay in the team longer. I know this is not best for the business, but if we are trying to raise the profile we need to see things from our customers’ perspective.

From a professional and holistic point of view we want to tell the world about what we do, yet the reality is they (the public, our customers etc) are just not interested. We need to frame our offer for each audience.

As HR or OD professionals, we need to learn from how companies market to their diverse audience. As a function, do you use your internal communication or marketing team to help communicate key messages?

You would not use a training consultant to design your comp and benefits systems would you? So why look at marketing any differently? As the saying goes – different strokes for different folks.

Who is the audience?

Whilst that is for you to work out, the following is a useful guide:

  • Directors

  • Senior managers

  • Middle management

  • Team leaders/ supervisors

  • Frontline / operational staff

  • Professionals

While there may be overlap – there is nothing to say that any given person does not receive two or more different messages – it’s a language thing, not a conflicting message. We must ensure that we do not communicate conflicting messages as this can undermine the whole communication strategy.

The step up to strategic interventions

By driving HR and OD services to meet the specific needs of each part of the business, we are in effect taking HR from policy driven methodology to strategy driven, thus enabling the business to achieve its goals effectively.


  • Identify your audience

  • Build relationships

  • Promote only relevant offers

  • Get to know your customers

  • Build brands or labels for each discrete offer

  • Promote services directly to your clients needs

  • Did I mention – build relationships and position offers to the client’s needs?


This article is not intended to encourage HR departments to re-brand to OD; indeed the challenge is to celebrate what you do and tell people in an appropriate way for them. Any department or function that calls themselves an OD function, I would ask them, “what business diagnostic tools do you use to identify business needs and to position your offer?” OD requires a completely different positioning from inside the organisation, and this positioning needs to be driven from the top; not from within a function.

Mike Morrison is director of RapidBI, an organisational effectiveness consultancy. He has been involved in HR, OD and strategic development for over 20 years. He can be contacted via He also asks whether you have taken the develop the developer survey yet? This survey is supported by our sister site, TrainingZONE.

One Response

  1. Marketing should be demand-driven not supply led
    Yes, I thoroughly agree HR departments can do more to market themselves to elevate their contribution from tactical to strategic.

    However, I would suggest this is not about ‘promoting relevant offers’ and, in effect, saying “Here are all my products, do you want some?”; it’s about uncovering demand and tailoring a solution to meet it.

    Any buyer wants the results a product or service can deliver; not the product or service itself. People buy things that help them get what they want and/or avoid situations they don’t want.

    So, if we ask line managers something along the lines of “What are you trying to achieve? And what are the biggest obstacles to achieving it?” We’re talking in business terms and appealing to their interests. They’re not bothered about the HR lingo, we just need to respond by saying “Here – this will help you overcome those obstacles and achieve the thing you want.”

    In my experience, every business issue, sooner or later, comes down to people. The HR profession tends to make life difficult for itself by starting to talk about people and attempting to paddle upstream to connect it to business issues. Instead, talk about the business issues first and paddle downstream to the people-related cause.

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