Is there a natural home for internal communication?

My uncle Derek refuses to put my address in his address book. I’ve moved house so many times that after I’d trashed the ‘N’ section of not one, but two of his books, he gave up on me. It’s the same in my professional life; as an internal communicator, I’ve had many homes and it seems that the jury’s still out on where, in the organisation, internal communicators should reside.

This topic was debated by Sydney’s internal communicators at last week’s Water Cooler Session, along with how internal communication teams are structured and what they actually do.

Within our group, we had internal communicators getting cosy with Marketing, HR, Public Affairs and, as is becoming more common, in a communication function alongside our friends, Public Relations. Team size varied from the one-woman band (yes, we’re sadly lacking diversity in our industry) to fairly large teams and that’s before we got onto talking about centralised functions versus ‘sitting with the business’.

I’ve tried and tested most of these scenarios and while my preference is a corporate communication function that reports to the CEO, it’s not always practical. Besides, the best place for internal communication can depend on the type of organisation you work for. So, does it matter that there doesn’t seem to be one natural home for internal communicators?

On the one hand, yes. The function you report to can influence what you focus on. But what’s more important is making sure that internal communication is recognised as a discipline in its own right, regardless of which organisation chart it’s drawn on.

It’s fine to live with Marketing, as long as employees aren’t seen as just another audience to sell to. It’s ok to move in with HR as long as the HR Director doesn’t insist on rewriting everything the way they were taught at school 30 years previously just because they don’t like the house style (I speak from experience here).

Internal Communication is coming into its own. Gone are the days when people joined the internal communication team just because they fancied ‘giving comms a go’. We’re no longer the party planners or the person who takes photos for the company directory. We’re advising the CEO how to keep employees from jumping ship during an economic meltdown.

The role of internal communicators has changed almost beyond recognition since I started out 15 years ago but while that’s exciting for us, our colleagues might be feeling a bit unsure about what it is we do. This confusion isn’t good for our reputation.

We had someone from HR join this month’s session and partway through she asked us what we considered to be within our remit. Even though she works closely with the internal communication team at her company, it had never been clear to her what the team did and didn’t do.

I hear this often. Sometimes I hear comments like: ‘I just don’t tell Internal Comms because they’ll try to stop me,’ and worst of all, I’ve heard an internal communication team described as the Business Prevention Department.

Somewhere in between managing the workload, being on-message, not overloading the audience and managing priorities, we need to let people know how we can help. Regardless of whether you report to HR, Marketing, Public Affairs, Corporate Affairs, Public Relations or Corporate Communications, if you don’t have a clear remit that’s understood by your colleagues, then it’s time to put one in place.

Speak to the leaders of your organisation and find out what’s important to them, ask them about the opportunities and challenges they’re facing. Talk to employees and find out what they know or don’t know, how they find out information and where the gaps are. Assess the strength of your team, how you work, the processes you use and what you’re spending your time and money on.

Once you have this, you can create your strategy and take it to your organisation’s leadership team for review and approval (with the support of the functional director you report to), knowing that you’re representing the business’ needs as a whole regardless of where you live.

Posted on December 7th, 2011.  0 Comments

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