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Here’s why IC should sit in HR… and what we should be doing

Shruthi BopaiahShruthi Bopaiah·

Usually, one of the best things I love about conferences is networking. The knowledge gain is great, but the connect made with like-minded folks from your field can last a lifetime.

But recently, I noticed that at the conferences that I attended, there was a buzz in the air that overshadowed the possibility of just connections.

It was that Communications was racing ahead as a field with greater impact by digital/social/generational changes, and while we all were running alongside to catch up, we have grown with these changes too.

With this in mind, here’s my take on our evolution as a function.

I’ve been in this field for many years, and approached it as a newbie without a background in communications.

I’ve watched it evolve from a nice-to-have function that creates emails and posters, to a can’t-do-without team that has equal say in the direction of both business and people strategy.

We bring the unique view of the employee to the table. Sure, while we still make posters and craft beautiful content, we are no longer restricted to this alone.

Now, with such growth in a short span of time, and a role that is now seeping into the external world, the question is – where should this function lie?

The assumption is that Internal Communications would be a part of Marketing/Corporate Communications.

This is how it is in most companies too, especially when the employee strength is less than about 5000 people.

It’s a growing trend now to have the Heads of communication reporting to the Chief Marketing Officer, and merging with the Marketing function. 

According to a 2016 Gartner/CEB report, 23% of heads of communication reported to the chief marketing officer, and this has more than doubled since 2010.

It also depends largely on whether internal employee pulse, feedback, etc. form an important focus point for the company.

But when the workforce crosses many thousands, it’s hard to ignore the voice of people, and the Internal Communications function increases in strength and importance too.

Should we then start peeping outside the doors of Marketing?

At Infosys, my team of nine people sits within the HR function, and we would have it no other way. Here’s why:

  • Here today, gone tomorrow applies to people, technology, ideas, strategies and structures. In this constant state of flux, internal communications will be the weather vane, pointing the employees in the right direction to manage change. This can only be possible if we sit within HR, the experiential and cultural custodian of the workforce. With one finger at all times on the pulse of employees, internal communications can predict and address both employee needs and leadership expectations. Most Marketing teams are usually separated from the pulse, unless they have one person dedicated only to this role.
  • When you’re in an industry that provides services of any kind, it’s easy to lose sight of your employees, given the constant focus on client value. But it is the employee population that has a stronger voice in how you deliver to your clients. Therefore, it’s important to place the function within HRD, where your most important stakeholder is the employee!

This structure for the Internal Comms team at Infosys was built by an erstwhile, iconic Head of HR, and her vision for the function as an integral part of HR was echoed by her successors. Phew! HR is THE place to be.

Now that we know where we are, what should we be doing?

  • We’ve all got a bit of the rebel in us, more so communications folks. It’s this streak that makes us forever ask “WHY”? This helps us help employees view the larger picture around change, and understand the reason behind everything. Organizational silence is conceived as being rigid and non-transparent, so Internal Communications need to be brought into the conversation of any change management exercise about 75% of the way in to prevent any misconceptions at the time of change. We can then influence the outcome towards a positive reception.
  • We had spoken about employee pulse earlier, but associated with this is the role that the function plays in conjunction with CEO and CXO leadership. At Infosys, we have been the hotline that the CEO and leadership call at any given point, to quickly get an opinion (an employee-centric one) on any large policy decisions, strategy change, etc. It’s crucial to maintain this direct line of connect with the CEO, as the direction that he/she sets will impact and be impacted by the communications that follow.
  • Just as much as we focus on employees, we need to equally focus on the Business organization too. In fact, we need to be Zero Distance to business, if we are to truly achieve our potential as THE integral communication function. By understanding business and its needs, we can successfully manage large-scale cultural and leadership changes in the organization too, lessening the impact on business through the process.
  • To be the weather vane, you need to provide employees multiple channels to learn more and give feedback. This is very important if your workforce is a mix of generations, like ours. It isn’t just the millennials who need to be engaged and connected, and while they require some additional tools like apps and real-time engagement, it cannot be your main focus. The channels need to be open, encouraging dialogue with the leadership. At Infosys, we have an intranet, blogs, articles, an enterprise networking platform, radio, TV, etc. giving employees a plethora to choose from.
  • Most importantly, the employee is now a channel – and internal communications is making an impact on external employer branding too. Communications, with Social Media, becomes seamless and flows from inside to the outside and vice versa. This poses a new challenge: making content interesting enough to grab eyeballs on social media too. This is why the Social Media Policy of Infosys was formulated and finalized by our team.

With so many new and interesting focus areas, it takes a certain type of person to head the Internal Communications team.

Weird and wired, yes, but there’s more: the ability to weave a narrative, navigate change, place the employee up-front, be tech savvy and comfortable with social media.

Additionally, to expand the worldview of the team, the head must understand the business very well, and curate information across the organization, with a keen eye for detail.

She/he must have the ability to work with agencies and the Marketing team to align the EVP and branding internally too. 

With so many people skills required, along with holistic understanding of the workforce, it’s ideal to have someone with a HR background to head the function. And if they’ve previously worked in an agency or marketing, great!

In the last decade or so, the Internal Communications function has grown by leaps and bounds, making it indispensable in large organizations.

But the evolution is ongoing, and with cognitive tech making inroads into business, the potential is immense! With our feet firmly planted in HR, and our direction pointing true north, change will be welcomed. Bring it on!

Bio:  Shruthi Bopaiah has 13+ years of experience across Talent Acquisition, HR Outsourcing, Talent Branding and Internal Communications. She is currently the Head, Internal Communications at Infosys Limited. She also heads the HR Consulting arm of the Infosys HR Function.

She has a post graduate degree in HR from Symbiosis Institute of Management Studies, Pune and a Master’s degree in Labour Laws and Labour Welfare from Symbiosis University. She was chosen in 2014 for the first delegation chosen to be trained in Design Thinking in collaboration with Stanford University, held at Palo Alto, California. In 2016-17 , she got handpicked to be in the list of Global 200 leaders nominated for the Global Leadership Program at the Stanford University.

Shruthi is the only Indian who has been recognized as a ‘Game Changer’ in 2012 by the Workforce Management. The Game Changers Awards honor the next generation of dynamic leaders to watch in HR and workplace management. She was also the winner of the IABC Gold Quill Awards (2013) for Excellence in Leadership Communication. She has also won the Chairman’s Excellence Awards at Infosys for many consecutive years, and continues to do so. She is a regular speaker at various conferences, and is part of the visiting faculty at B-Schools/Communication Institutes.

As a professional, her career has benefited by working in rich multicultural and diverse teams. Hence, she is confident that a diverse workforce will nurture and bring out the best in people across the organization. Personally, she is an explorer, incurable extrovert, traveller, sport lover, a fan of social media and a dog lover – especially Bali, her seven-year-old German Shepherd.

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