Newsweaver and Ragan’s 2016 Internal Communication survey included an interesting development in reporting lines.
Over 20% of respondents had selected “Other” for their reporting line, second behind Corporate Communications. When we reviewed the descriptions we found that one third (7%) listed the CEO/COO (or equivalent) or Head of Strategy. Could it be that the connections between strategy, vision and IC are affecting its position in organizations?
If it is, then IC needs to improve its strategic capability. The survey found more than half of the respondents did not have a long term strategy in place for IC, almost half of their work seems to be ad hoc and reactive and there’s been no improvement in the level of satisfaction with IC measurement. IC is increasingly being asked to work on the strategy and even for the strategy owner but it doesn’t seem to apply strategic disciplines to its own function.
I find this troubling because it mirrors a pattern I witnessed with the Human Resource function over many years of consulting with Willis Towers Watson (formerly Towers Watson!). Internal HR people had become HR generalists who were busy responding to their local line managers ad hoc requests. So they became strong HR generalists and administrators who could produce a new hire letter, administer a grade change or promotion. However, HR best practice has been to return these activities, and many others, to line managers (sound familiar?) via HR self-service technology. Line managers are best placed to own the decisions and data involved and discern any impact on the employees. This reduces the opportunity for scapegoating or blaming HR. It also restricts the role of HR to one of strategic partner who advises on how the people strategy needs to support the business strategy. The business case for most HR transformations was then built on a reduction in the number of these HR Generalists.
I wonder whether IC is following down the same path? If, as our survey suggests, almost half of our communications are reactive and the biggest demand on our time is writing and getting approval for content, are we becoming a Communication Generalist doing too much administrative and not enough strategic work? Measurement and metrics for IC are still in short supply. However, HR started to produce value metrics such as HR employees per 1,000 employees and benchmark these across industries. Similar metrics (IC employees per 1,000 employees) will soon be applied to IC.
So what’s the answer? Well I think we can learn a lot from the HR strategic business partner role. IC needs to hold line managers’ feet to the fire and make sure that they, not the IC department, ultimately own communication. IC has an enabling role and must not “take over” the crucial role of line managers in communication. IC need to reduce the amount of generalist communications they are doing through more rigorous planning, increase their understanding of the business strategy and how IC can help make it happen. Effectively, IC needs to have its own strategy. According to Newsweaver’s survey, those departments with a long-term IC strategy were more confident in their channels, got called in earlier and had more senior leadership support. Interestingly, North America lagged EMEA here according to the survey responses with even fewer long term IC strategic plans in place.
Cost pressure for any central function will always increase as the function matures. With average IC budgets well into six figures, and may seven, there will be increasingly accountability about value-add for the business. Strategic capacity, rather than generalist communication skills, along with some solid metrics will ensure the continued growth and impact of the IC function.