It’s a while since the ancient art of “tug o’ war” featured in the Olympics, but it’s alive and well in a boardroom near you. Internal communication, that golden thread between employees and customers, is starting to take the strain!
According to a Melcrum study back in 2006 which compared the generic site of the internal communication function between 2003 and 2006, there’s a very real “heave ho” taking place between HR and Corporate Communication to control the internal communication strings.
During the period in question, 44% of corporate communication functions across the multi-sector survey claimed to include internal communication among their reporting lines. This was a 14% increase in three years. The HR figures were roughly half that amount, but increased by 10% over the same period. It is also evident that, in that time, a number of HR functions were attempting to sweep internal communication into the employee engagement and industrial relations pot.
The growth in the demand for control over internal communication within HR and Corporate Comms was apparently at the expense of functions like the office of the CEO, Organisation Development and Marketing. I believe that’s a worrying trend.
These figures become most interesting, however, when seen in the context of a 2005 study by the same organisation (see Buckingham, Brand Engagement, Palgrave/Macmillan 2007 )* which reports that where organisations claim to have a formal employee engagement programme, 67% claim that this falls within HR, 55% attribute engagement to Internal Communication as a distinct function and 27% claim it is the responsibility of their Organisation Development function. There’s no mention of Corporate Comms which is worrying when you consider that employee engagement is, in effect, the highly evolved form of internal communication at the opposite end of the spectrum from tactical “push” communication campaigns.
Now the more statistically astute of you will have detected that the figures in the last paragraph don’t add up to 100%. And that’s the crux of this argument. Internal communication is not simple message management controlled by the HR or Corporate Comms function. Truly evolved internal communication requires partnerships across the business functions and professional collaboration which is why so many departments believe that employee engagement, its most glamorous manifestation, falls within their remit.
Unfortunately, take a look at the recruitment press and it becomes clear that the internal communication profession is still dominated by message managers. Where’s the glamour in owning the intranet and newsletters?
The cream of the profession, however, are skilled engagement specialists with solid, credible business pedigree who are as comfortable in the newsroom as they are in the boardroom. They have the respect of their executive peers given that the best internal communication role models a partnership mentality.
Internal communication should bring together the key people disciplines to ensure a clear and consistent representation of the vision, strategy, goals and employment brand. That’s why any formal engagement programme needs to evolve out of what I call an engagement axis! If too closely aligned to any 1 department it becomes subjugated to and inevitably falls foul of issue cherry-picking and internal politics (creatives vs pragmatists vs authenticity vs budget hunters etc).
It’s time we all afforded Internal Communication and the respect it deserves and credible practitioners similar kudos. It’s vital to the management of the brand, employee motivation and retention, innovation and ultimately customer service, needs to be led by specialist practitioners and must be properly funded by budgeted not discretionary spend.
Come to think of it, that just might be why so many of the internal generals are bracing their backs and tugging at that rope!
I’m intrigued to hear about the fun and games where you work.