Home Features @loggerheads: Should internal comms be controlled by the HR function?
@loggerheads: Should internal comms be controlled by the HR function?
Tuesday, 22 February 2011 14:41

Should internal comms be controlled by the HR function: each month, we ask two communications practitioners to debate an issue via an exchange of emails.

Arguing that it should is Jane Saunders, a partner of HR consultancy Orion Partners. She’ll be up against Kevin Ruck, a founding director of PR Academy, who’ll be taking the contrary view.

log JANE.jpgDear Kevin,

As guardians of the employer brand – both internal and external – HR teams have a pivotal role to play in managing internal communications.

The tone of voice used by the organisation should be a reflection of its values. As the function tasked with embedding these values in the core people processes – of recruitment and on-boarding, learning and development as well as management of performance and reward – the way in which the how and why of these processes is communicated is key.

In our view, successful HR functions are close to their business and it is this closeness and intimacy, and the business insight it provides, that means HR professionals are best positioned to develop and manage the range of internal communications to meet the needs of different parts of the manager and employee population.

It is on this basis that we believe that HR should own the internal communications agenda.

Best wishes, Jane

 

log Kevin Ruck.jpgHi Jane,

Good point about employer brand... This is important, I agree, but I would say that it is a sub-set of wider corporate communications, and internal communications goes beyond understanding an organisation simply as a great place to work.

The role of internal communications is broader – ensuring that employees have a wider understanding of their organisation that includes vision, values, objectives, and performance. It has an information role of course, but really good internal communications is also about generating opportunities for employees to have a say in what the organisation does.

Real engagement – which is increasingly what organisations want to achieve – comes from employees having a voice and that voice being well informed (which is where the information bit comes in). I wonder how well internal communications practitioners can deliver on this when it sits outside the communication function.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that good internal communications has to have a ‘foot in both camps’. By that I mean it needs to have a degree of independence in order to facilitate the two-way conversation that needs to go on within an organisation. The same applies to other aspects of good corporate communications which is why I think it sits more comfortably as a function of the communications team.

Best wishes, Kevin

 

“Successful HR functions are close to their business and it is this closeness and intimacy, and the business insight it provides, that means HR professionals are best positioned to develop and manage the range of internal communications”

 

Dear Kevin,

Your point on independence is a key one. In work we’ve done on assessing what makes the difference in great HR business partners, independence is a defining characteristic.

The ability to hold the mirror up to the organisation and challenge what they’re trying to achieve and how people are getting there is a key role. Facilitating that dialogue and then helping the organisation formulate a plan for execution is a key role for HR.

I think one of the other key things I would highlight is that real technical expertise in those capabilities that can help differentiate an organisation is also important.

In this sense real depth in the understanding of what and how to communicate combined with specialist expertise in the disciplines of talent management, employee relations, reward etc can be a powerful combination.

I think it matters less where this expertise lies and more whether or not it exists and how it gets deployed?

Yours, Jane

 

Hi Jane,

Expertise is the nub of the issue for me. The thing is – and this is a moan we hear from our students all the time – everyone thinks they can communicate, but as George Bernard Shaw observed, “The greatest problem with communication is the illusion it has been accomplished”.

I think that, increasingly, internal communications is being recognised as needing specialist training, education and experience. And it’s not just about good writing skills, although that is very important. It’s much more about understanding the business and working with managers to understand what communication approach is right for the situation. Doing this well demands an understanding of areas such as communication theory, culture, objective setting, research methodology and evaluation.

The HR remit seems to me to be wide and challenging and I guess I am just not sure that there is scope for HR professionals to give internal communications the emphasis it needs. Sometimes too, it may be the HR function that needs challenging, which again makes me think that sitting independently is best.

One thing that strikes me though from what you say is the similarities in the roles, for example challenging and influencing the organisation. For many internal communicators this is quite new and organisations can still have a tendency to view the role as that of corporate postman. This is what we need to overcome if – as you say – we are to get good communication deployed.

Back to you!

Kevin

 

“Real engagement comes from employees having a voice and that voice being well informed. I wonder how well internal communications practitioners can deliver on this when it sits outside the communication function”

 

Kevin,

I think you’re right that both roles are looking to make a more significant impact on their organisations through very similar means – building deep, trusted relationships with their business customers to then challenge and influence the wider agenda.

It feels as if there are technical skills and expertise that both can bring to bear which can help both to be more effective. It has certainly been my experience that when I have worked with strong communications professionals on major transformation programmes they have added significant value. They have helped craft and deliver the right messages to different stakeholders and have played a significant role in securing buy in to large scale change.

A strong partnership which builds on the skill sets of both can be really powerful. However, I have equally been frustrated when a comms team have professed to be able to help with the challenges of communicating changes or new ways of working, only to be faced with someone who appears only interested in how we police use of the corporate branding!

I think by leveraging one another’s skills and relationships we can both have more impact. So perhaps it matters less where the hard lines are on the organisation chart and more how effectively we can work together. That then comes down to leadership, which is a whole other debate…

Regards, Jane

 

Dear Jane

I think partnership is the key. We are two professions on very similar journeys in terms of transforming not only the way we do things, but the way we are seen and utilised by our organisations and clients.

There are indeed areas where internal communicators do need to raise their game and I think the launch of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations qualifications in internal communications is really helping here. It’s fantastic to see how practitioners’ confidence increases knowing that there is some theory behind what they do – I am sure it is the same in HR.

I’m not saying that we won’t still tell you off about use of the logo (!) but I think professional qualifications are really taking internal communicators to the next level – giving those who previously might have been reticent the gravitas to influence their management teams. But while many organisations and leaders absolutely ‘get’ the role of trusted advisors – be they HR or communications professionals – from my experience in talking to our students this isn’t consistently the case.

The more HR and internal communications can work together to understand and complement each other, the more benefit there is for the organisation. As you say, Jane, this can be really powerful and is perhaps the key to organisations achieving true employee engagement. Now, on leadership…

Best wishes, Kevin