In the past, it has pained me to experience the limitations of positioning communications under HR and naming it Employee Comms. That just seemed to be the way it always was and appears to result in a function which focusses on messages from the top and those around the subject of employment and events. What a privilege it has been to look at the internal communications of a University. A university where the term Employee Comms was not even mentioned, there was an organisational-wide understanding that everyone was responsible and HR and Marketing desired to worked in partnership to help facilitate that connectivity.
Whilst staying in Anglesey, for a gloriously sunny bank holiday weekend, I was amused by what I found in the cupboard.
It made me wonder why the instruction had not been heeded. Was it because people do not like being told what to do? Was it because someone ignored it and everyone after that just followed suit; "if it was alright for them then it is alright for me". Was it just apathy?
The shelf needed to be kept empty because if it was piled high it was in danger of breaking.
How many times does this happen in the organisations where we work and how often is that directly related to how these things are actually communicated?
One problem I find, when approaching organisations to help with their internal dynamics, is that investment is automatically directed at external comms and marketing but rarely at internal. Internal communications breakdown can often be cited as a reason for 'organisational chaos' but can also be classed as 'soft' and immeasurable and, therefore, difficult to tackle. Subsequently, it is usually considered a side issue and the responsibility of HR.
I love what Tim Johns (Communications Expert and Owner, Orato Consulting) says in his article on 'Simply Communicate' regarding his 2013 predictions for Internal Communications http://bit.ly/16jJiRk
To quote :
"2013 will be the year when internal communications starts to take itself seriously...when it breaks free from its second cousin once removed, HR...and when it recognises that it is not a transactional channel. ...The role of internal communications is not about narratives; in fact, it’s not about messages at all...If the business wants a culture that is open, honest, non-hierarchical, meritocratic, collaborative, curious and empowered, then the role of internal communications is to provide a rich communication environment in which those values can flourish. Rather than designing great channels and hoping people will come to the party, it will be about finding out how they want to work and live and then creating a communications environment that can support it.”
I sincerely hope he is right!
Where should Internal Communications sit? When the name Employee Comms is used it is inevitably located within HR; its focus predominantly being messages related to employment contracts and downward communication from the board.
It seems that Knowledge Management (KM) has come and gone as a key business focus, much like Business Process Re-engineering (BPR), and by many is now seen as an outdated fad. The danger of 'throwing the baby out with the bathwater', however, is that in labelling KM as outdated the unique principles and insights that emerged under that banner can be lost too.
It is interesting to consider the rather non-descript term Employee Comms which was around before KM emerged and remains well after its reputation has dwindled. Perhaps it would be fair to say that Employee Comms, however, is often sidelined by the perception that it is not 'business critical' and is in fact rather 'back office'. I would suggest there is something in a bland name, however; something in words that do not attract so much rhetoric and excitement and therefore do not get held up as the latest panacea.
Internal or Organisational Comms (I/OC) is also bland and I would argue is not the same as Employee Comms although I would suggest that it certainly forms a critical element of it. I/OC should not be located in HR just as KM should not have been located in IT. From experience I would claim that wherever a responsibility is located that function will take on the culture or focus of that department. KM being located under IT would definitely have made it predominantly technology focussed.
The internal connectivity of an organisation is vital for its wellbeing. I/OC must not predominantly be about downward communication from those who own the strategy, or communications about terms and conditions from those who manage all the people issues. Internal Communications has to be about the facilitation of connectivity that shares information, encourages collaborative working, supports the sharing of objectives and behaves somewhat like the neural network.
So where should Internal Communications be located? I would suggest it depends very much on the the structure and culture of an organisation and the answer to this question is 'one size does not fit all'. Wherever Internal Communications sits what remains is important is that it is not a controlling centre, but a hub that orchestrates that necessary connectivity.
How many people do you know who have this 'Relational Radar' inbuilt?
That insightful ability to survey the organisational horizon and just know! They can see the people who will be catalysts and those who will tend to be blockers.
They instinctively know how to develop those relationships and connect them to orchestrate a relational infrastructure that is conducive to collaborative working.
These people are critical. They may be in any role at any level. Finding them, connecting them and tapping in to those bridge-building skills will help to change the atmosphere of any organisation and ultimately its productivity.
Is Communications Breakdown Affecting Your Productivity?
Individuals within organisations, irrespective of size or sphere, struggle with the issues resulting from breakdown in communications. This disease is not restricted to particular departments or grades but one which pervades all organisations at all levels and in all areas. Marketing departments struggle to work well with IT as the creative clashes with the technical. Sales and product development teams reach impasses due to differing objectives. Waitressing staff struggle with their relationship with the kitchen as they are blamed for ruining edible works of art. Law practice managers are abundantly aware that they are not lawyers and will never be treated the same. Damaging clashes of personalities on boards cause a crisis regarding company direction.
A few keys:
These struggles arise from many things such as: misunderstanding and differences in perspectives between teams and departments; lack of information to enable individuals to do their job effectively; significant changes happening around people which they have had no involvement with and feel threatened by, and an inability to work well with certain members of their team due to clashes in personality and values.
Organisations will often say that breakdown in communications internally is a major issue. However, although they automatically invest in marketing and communications externally, they will rarely invest in it internally. Often it is seen as a soft immeasurable area and yet when asked about the effect these conflicts have it is abundantly clear that the result is almost always a loss in productivity. http://business.uni.edu/buscomm/Interpersonal/ConflictPrevention.htm, http://www.ehow.com/info_8380825_poor-communication-affect-organization.html
This is not an Employee Communications issue; not an issue that should or actually can be sorted out by Human Resources. The development of healthy Internal/Organisational Communications is an organisation-wide responsibility. When viewed as an Employee Communications area it is easy to lay the blame for its ineffectiveness there and to walk away from it, viewing it as someone else’s responsibility.
Organisational Communications are like the neural network of organisational life. The neural network has to reach everywhere in the organism, unhindered. If it is cut off or damaged, in some areas, it is possible for the 'head' not to know it has lost an 'arm'. It is not hard to see the potential of applying this analogy to large institutions.