Internal communication as a function has been looking for its place within a company for years. Traditionally it has been seen as an extension of external communication. And sometimes it was reporting directly into the CEO. There are good arguments for both positions. It is indeed important that external and internal communication are aligned. The golden rule is not to tell outside what is not understood inside. On the other hand, internal communication can also function as the ‘spokes person’ towards employees.

The importance of internal communication is changing. This requires companies to rethink its role and therefore also its position within a company. But I must admit that the decision where to put a ‘department’ is the last and least important decision. More important is that the role and objectives are clear and well accepted within the company.

What is changing ?

First of all the broadcasting approach to internal communications is rapidly becoming obsolete. The broadcasting approach is basically a one-to-many approach to communication, just like the radio or a newspaper. The content is pushed from a single point to many readers and listeners. This approach is not very interactive and there is a central point of decision about what is communicated to whom. The broadcasting approach might be useful in some occasions to inform people about certain events, but in itself it’s not sufficient. Broadcasting creates bottlenecks and is not very flexible.

Secondly the audience is changing. In a world that becomes interactive, opinionated, fragmented and beautified, audiences do not longer take information for granted. People do not trust the corporate version of the Pravda. Audiences produce their own information, have their own opinion and want to voice it. Internal communication becomes a conversation. Where the broadcasting approach is mainly one-directional, the conversational approach allows for multi-directional (top-down, bottom-up, lateral, many-to-many….) exchange.

Thirdly, technology allows for easier access to data and information and facilitates interactions. The technological distance between employees is almost naught. What is left, is power distance that is also rapidly decreasing. Communication is synchronous and multidirectional and people can react immediately through their mobile devices. In all this violence we should not forget that face-to-face interaction remains powerful. So internal communication needs to balance all the media at its disposal, not forgetting line managers as one of the main channels for inspirational conversations.

Next, the objective of internal communication is changing. The target of internal communication is no longer to disseminate information or to make sure that people know the values of the company by heart. Internal communication should focus on creating a community of engaged people. That means that it must create a set of experiences that confirm the decision made by people to join a company and remain there. People know what’s at stake and are engaged to contribute. They have a strong feeling of belonging to a culture that enables them to be competent and have personal successes. Internal communication is a leverage for cultural development.

HR and internal communication

Employee engagement is one of the most decisive factors in the success of a company. Companies are recognizing the role of internal communication in the engagement process. So if the objective of Internal Communication is to create that engaged community – and you might not agree with it – than it becomes a strategic process. Another conclusion is that we should strive for a closer alignment between the process of internal communication and people management. So HR and internal communication need to integrate more. Technically it’s in the field of employer branding that both come together. The employer brand holds a promise towards future candidates, but also towards current employees.

Territorialism or realism ?

One might accuse me of territorialism or expansionism. However, I am a true believer that HR is not a function, but more a process that is depending on the alignment of all leaders within a company (cfr blog on this topic). The same goes for Internal Communication. Both professions (if I may call them that) have people as focal point. Both processes need to work through the leadership functions to be effective.

I have witnessed internal communication in many places within the company : as a part of marketing, as a part of external communication, depending from the CEO, integrated with HR, … But based on my experience I am convinced that the integration with HR is the best decision. Realism, not territorialism.

 

see also
The Conversation Company from steven van belleghem

Internal Communication: its changing strategic Role

4 thoughts on “Internal Communication: its changing strategic Role

  • 8th January 2014 at 12:08 am
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    Comments on Linkedin:

    Regret reading this amazing piece so late….this is really informative. I completely agree that Internal Comms and HR should move hand in hand…..there is a wide over-lapping area, which both the functions (rather processes) need to contribute towards.

    Insightful analysis on the changes occurring around both the senders and the receivers of employee communications.

    nteresting post: We see a lot of this change happening with our customers as well, another big change is the blurring of the divide between internal communication and external communication. This is a great opportunity but means we need to be consistent on messages otherwise we’ll add to the noise. The technical savvy generation are used to editing through mountains of content, and they’ll happily use the delete key!

    We did a guest blog with a partner- James Harkness and he shared some of his insights into today’s internal communication challenges and how we need to be more strategic rather than tactical, which I think map to your article. You can read about it here: http://www.newsweaver.com/internal-communication-challenges/

    Love this! One of the best comprehensive summaries I have seen regarding the changes happening in internal communication.

    http://www.linkedin.com/groupItem?view=&gid=59169&item=5822107089031430148&type=member&commentID=5826443487641378816&trk=hb_ntf_COMMENTED_ON_GROUP_DISCUSSION_YOU_CREATED#commentID_5826443487641378816

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  • 9th January 2014 at 4:03 pm
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    Comment on Linkedin:

    I have held Internal Communications positions that were aligned with HR and also that were aligned with Marketing, and I completely agree with this author that it makes more sense to be aligned with HR. I worked more frequently with HR than with Marketing, and the HR leadership was more involved with my projects than any other team.

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  • 1st February 2014 at 2:18 am
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    Good article thank you. Having worked in Internal Communications for some time, it’s interesting to see the shift, enabled by social media platforms, encouraging peer recommendations, facilitating the transition from ‘information is power’ mindset to ‘information shared is power’ and assembling skill based communities. For my money, this is definitely the (dynamic) future of internal communications.

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