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Where to place internal communication function in the company?

Where to place internal communication function in the company?

There are many companies which are just implementing an internal communication function in their organizational structure – let’s take a look at different variants of IC placement in the company, and the way it influences the IC’s functioning. There is no one good solution – in my professional career I worked in the internal communication function placed in different departments, and I think it still does not exhaust all possible variants. Where to place internal communication function in the company?

PR, HR or marketing maybe?

The decision to create the internal communication function within the company is very often motivated by an urgent need to inform employees about organizational changes or to increase their involvement in implementation of a new strategy. In such cases, IC’s place in the organizational structure is a result of arrangements between departments that are most interested in this area – which usually include PR, HR and marketing.

  • Internal communication placed in a marketing team supports to a large extent external campaigns conducted by the department. In this context, employees are considered another target group for firm’s products or services – they are its internal clients. This approach may reduce credibility of internal communication actions if they use the same messaging and tools, originally dedicated to external audiences. With IC in marketing department, large communication support is given to sales and customer service areas. It is also easier to ensure consistency between brand and internal communication, while the challenge could be to build employee involvement and create two-way communication channels in order to sustain organizational dialogue.
  • The ultimate advantage of placing internal communication in the structures of the public relations team is maintaining high coherence and synergy between company’s internal and external communication. However, in such a variant, in which one part of the team is responsible for media relations, works on important external events and image campaigns, it might be difficult for internal communicators to gain sufficient attention and priority for their activities. Often, in such a model, IC activities focus mainly on strengthening company’s reputation in the eyes of employees, creating good atmosphere in the company and engaging employees in PR activities. The threat here is that other important organizational goals, which internal communication function should serve will be ignored. However, IC within PR team can definitely benefit from great communication skills of its members, their ability to plan and implement communication plans and campaigns.
  • IC function situated within HR department is certainly conducive to high level of employee satisfaction with information concerning social issues, employee benefits and HR procedures. On the other hand this might result in deficit of information describing company’s strategy, its vision and goals. In this setup, there right balance between employee and business related topics communicated by IC must be ensured. A sensitive matter is also the fact that HR is responsible for personnel changes, remuneration and performance management – will internal communication coming from HR be regarded as authentic and honest? In cases of restructuring, layoffs and M&As this might be a challenge. And finally, as in other variants, combining responsibility for two areas – in this case human resources and internal communication – may lead to prioritization of HR goals and tasks and situation in which communication will play only technical role of texts preparation.

Other solutions

Of course, described solutions do not exhaust all possibilities. Companies also adopt other approaches – one of them is the creation of IC competence centers. Thanks to the central location within the company they are able to use the potential of scale, and communication processes and tools standardization. In this solution, strategic and operational communication competences are accumulated in one specialized team, which in some cases might be also an impediment. When organization is internally diverse and geographically dispersed, it might be difficult to adapt the measures to individual, diverse communication needs. Internal communicators need direct contact with their audience since they deliver value by recognizing communication opportunities and deficits which very often are not directly expressed, unless IC function is treated as text production resource. Another solution is the function of IC business partner (similar to the role of HR business partner). These are not common solutions in Poland yet, but certainly with the development of the internal communication area we will observe further diversification of the organizational models of this function.

From the management perspective

Only 10-15 years ago in Poland, the positions of specialists and internal communication managers did not exist at all. Management practice and theory were also at a different level of development – the approach to employees was more technocratic, dominated by the transactional leadership model, in which employee engagement was not appreciated and their information needs not recognized. For this reason, today the senior managers confess that the beginnings of internal communication function in companies were difficult, without best practices to follow. Without good examples, management representatives considered and discussed various concepts, from placing IC in the personnel department, through marketing or the PR / IR department, to locating it directly under the control of the management board and CEO. Interestingly, the last solution, although rare, gained positive comments from the CEOs, who regard direct communication with employees as important management tool. But in many cases, in practice, the advantages of this solution are insufficient – management board members and CEOs have already far too many priorities to directly oversee one additional organizational function – which is gladly welcomed by the heads of PR/HR/ Marketing departments.

So where is the best?

There is no best solution except for the fact that the internal communication function should be located in a place where it can best support company’s goals. Like any other business function, it should be embedded where it is needed, but also, no less important, where it will be appreciated and developed with passion.

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