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.