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This was the question that a client emailed me last week and it set me thinking.  My immediate response was, it has to be in external comms.   Then I started thinking about some companies where they have outstanding HR teams and it would sit more naturally there.

I posted this question on LinkedIn and Twitter – and here are some of the thoughts.  Interestingly, internal communications is clearly an activity that everyone wants to own – those in HR said it should sit in their domain, those in marketing and comms insist it should rest with them!

Look at the responses below.  There are contributions from Kingsley Iball, retired ecologist and board member of Leeds Federated social housing; Nick Eggleton who specialises in branding and marketing; Lorna Branton, head of external communications at Sheffield Hallam University; Gareth James was personnel director of Rhone Poulenc and  now runs People Plus – an HR consultancy; and Simon Kingsnorth was head of people experience at First Direct and now runs Optimal HR..

 

Simon Kingsnorth makes a valid point that a lot of this will depend on what he calls ‘the level of HR maturity’ – in essence is HR there for compliance and tactics or in an organisational development role.

J Craig Mundy writes in the Harvard Business Review, on Why HR still isn’t a strategic partner.  He says the very fact this question is still being asked is because in so many organisations it just has not happened.  He suggests that HR leaders should ask of every activity, does this cause friction in the business or flow?  He explains ‘Friction is anything that makes it more difficult for people in critical roles to win with the customer.  Flow, on the other hand, is doing everything possible to remove barriers and promote better performance.’

This very much supports our view – I wrote in this blog about the role of internal communications to understand the customer better.

We are just about to start working with a major new client on their internal communications.  They liked the fact that we are strategic and our starting point is to look at what internal comms are needed to deliver business goals.   We’ve all seen businesses where they have loads of newsletters and an intranet with lots of information that may be interesting but add little value. 

Our role with this client will be to set up communications that create an innovative culture; that will ensure employees trust what they hear from management; that will deliver better value and service to the customer.

So coming back to the original question – where should internal comms sit?  I guess you have to ask the following questions

-        What do you want internal communications to achieve?  What is the biggest issue and what will be its role?

-        What are the roles and skills in existing HR and marketing/communications teams – is either team already a ‘strategic partner’ in the business?  (while J Craig Mundy talks about HR not being a strategic partner, everything he says could equally be written about communications)

-        Do you need to recruit new skills – and where will they fit best culturally?

And that comes back to the debate we had on LinkedIn and Twitter.  I went back to Kingsley Iball to say I agreed that internal comms must sit with everyone including customers and stakeholders, but I think our client was asking about where physically an internal comms person/team should sit and who should manage them.

He came back to say ‘Ah!  Hot-desking freelancer maybe’

And actually, I had already been thinking about this.  When I went to Ernst & Young many years ago, it was just as the law came in that allowed professionals to market themselves (I know, hard to remember all that now!).  Marketing and PR were very new functions and there was no natural ‘home’ for them in our London office and no-one quite knew how to structure marketing – should it be central or functions in divisions or sectors – or part of the international structure?

As a result we were reorganised every six months it seems and my team was located not just on different floors but in different groups and buildings.

It was the best thing that could have happened.  Apart from the rapid promotions this involved, we got to understand the breadth of the business, the gripes in different departments, how communications reached the outer corners of our operations.

In terms of where should internal comms physically sit, I would say ‘keep moving’.  As to who should manage it, I think this should go into the team that is most strategic and business-focused.   As Simon Kingsnorth says, the most important thing is to be clear about purpose and have influence.

But whatever the decision, HR, external comms and internal comms have all got to work as a close-knit team.

So, thanks to everyone who contributed to this debate – and have we ended up with the ‘right’ answer for our client?!! 

 

11 Responses to “Where should internal communications sit – in HR or external communications?”

  • on March 4th, 2013 11:19 am

    @shirleyayres @janehustwit @bristoljames had great crowdsourcing tips to help our client http://t.co/DSHeLlfa2c

  • on March 4th, 2013 11:37 am

    @SingleSphere @NickEggleton @LornaBranton @TootingGareth thanks for great feedback really useful http://t.co/DSHeLlfa2c

  • on March 4th, 2013 12:39 pm

    Wanted to share interesting comments from Lisa Butterworth on LinkedIn

    Lisa Butterworth “So interesting how different businesses view this. At Arena we take an ‘in it together’ approach. No single department or person owns internal communications. I’m intrigued by this statement: “We’ve all seen businesses where they have loads of newsletters and an intranet with lots of information that may be interesting but add little value.” I don’t think a multi-channel internal communications strategy is bad, necessarily. Arena gets a lot of value from a multi-channel approach because different employees engage in different ways. Every channel has its place – a specific purpose – and I think that’s the key, as you rightly advise.”

    Victoria Tomlinson “I have always liked how Arena communicates – and clearly it works because you have achieved so many Outstanding Employer/Best Company to Work for awards I think it becomes more difficult when you have very large and complex organisations – and you probably need someone dedicated to certain aspects and then comes the issue of which department does that person sit in. It’s certainly provided food for thought – and thanks for adding to the discussion!”

    Lisa Butterworth “Thanks Victoria! I agree with you about the size of the business adding complexity. Arena is growing and we are finding that this does present challenges that force us to reflect and change.”

  • on March 4th, 2013 12:41 pm

    What are your thoughts – Where should internal communications sit – in HR or external communications? http://t.co/DSHeLlfa2c

  • on March 4th, 2013 10:28 pm

    Where should internal communications sit – in HR or external communications? http://t.co/gzGnOQbJhE via @nlightspr

  • on March 8th, 2013 10:56 am

    What do you think – Where should internal communications sit – in HR or external communications? http://t.co/DSHeLlfa2c good to hear your…

  • on March 12th, 2013 4:29 pm

    […] needs to be managed and maintained or it will quickly become dated. Appoint an Intranet Champion (great debate on whether this should be from the HR or Communications team here) to lead the project, organise staff training, and ensure content is regularly updated (a content […]

  • on March 18th, 2013 7:54 pm

    […] Set up a Twitter account, also free.  Start tweeting about things that will interest and help your clients – it could be a newspaper article, a speech or a discussion online.  We had a really helpful discussion on Twitter recently when we posted a question ‘should internal communications sit with HR or external communications?’ […]

  • on March 28th, 2013 1:17 pm

    […] should internal communications sit in your business? In HR or external […]

  • on April 11th, 2013 3:37 pm

    […] By working alongside the strategic communications team to ensure that that the company has a strong identity and that feeds into its culture and values expressed both internally and externally through a company’s marketing and internal and external communications (interesting discussion about where internal comms should sit here), […]

  • on November 27th, 2013 11:06 am

    Interesting discussion. I immediately thought HR, but those who think external comms make good points as well.

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