What is the optimum size for an internal comms function?

Project-Management-TriangleI started re-considering this question when I read a LinkedIn status update from my former CommsQuest colleague David Norton who wrote:

It is that time of year again, just had the 3rd meeting this week about Comms budgets for 2016. The good news is that we’re seeing Comms functions get bigger budgets to go with their ever-increasing scope, and interestingly many clients are also looking to recruit new IC specialists next year.

That’s good news for IC practitioners but I find it rather surprising.

It’s true that the companies who have invested in good IC professionals and have experienced first hand the valuable support the function can provide to both the business and the executive team will find ever-increasing opportunities to expand the scope of the function’s activities.  After all, where does employee engagement – a key objective of all my roles over the last several years – start and stop?!

In my view, despite the potential to get involved in a wide range of activities that are ‘urgent’ but perhaps not so ‘important’, the key role of an IC practitioner has largely switched from doing to enabling.  That should require fewer, but more senior/ more influential people in the function.

Let me explain my reasoning.

In the old days the common metric was one IC practitioner to every 1000 employees. By ‘old days’ I mean before the social media revolution forced us to question all the usual communication mores and practices. However for IC to be an effective function in today’s work environment, IC practitioners should be enabling on-going, informed and constructive conversations and knowledge-sharing via a co-ordinated programme of line manager briefings, social media platforms and senior management activities, rather than developing and delivering endless amounts of content.

I recognise that the importance I place on the f2f activities isn’t universally supported. In a recent article by SharePoint and digital consultancy Brightstarr entitled The Five Most Common Mistakes in Internal Communications, number 1 on their list was:

Don’t Be Old Fashioned. Ideas like ‘cascading’ (informing top management, who brief the next level down, etc.) and desk drops have no place in the modern office.”

The article goes on to say: “Dripped down briefings get diluted resulting in the essence of the message getting lost and who needs another piece of paper that will end up in the recycling 0.5 seconds after receiving it? Instead the center piece to a well thought out internal communications strategy should be an employee intranet which allows all employees to view it from everywhere, on any device.”

I agree that the intranet should be positioned as the go-to source for business updates and insights. In my experience, though, this is still an aspiration not a reality for most organisations. Certain groups of employees – millennials for example – are reputed to prefer online comms above any other. However, many (most?) IC campaigns support some type of change initiative that, to be successful, requires the active engagement of employees. I defy any online campaign to be effective at mobilising employees without some direct intervention by line managers to explain the impact on their team/function, plus personal sponsorship at executive team level.

Working with HR, IT and the leadership team, IC can develop a set of organisational competencies that will provide a flexible, readily accessible and trusted communication infrastructure capable of responding quickly and effectively as the occasion requires:

  1. Line manager competency
    Line managers who are capable and confident in their role as key conduits (up and down the organisation) of corporate messaging will enable all employees to understand their role in helping the company achieve its goals.
  2. Social media channels
    The deployment of effective and inclusive social media channels will both facilitate the spread of employee advocacy and engage that section of the employee population for whom this is their preferred means of receiving and sharing information.
  3. Leadership as comms champions
    A leadership team that is a committed, cohesive and trusted participant in the day-to-day communication infrastructure will be well poitioned to mobilise quickly and effectively for the more challenging events.

The Internal Communication and Technology Survey Report jointly produced by Newsweaver and Melcrum in February 2014 revealed that the majority of IC teams continue to work to a ratio of 1 per 500-1000 employees. I guess, as David Norton references, the IC function is having to fulfil its old world obligations as well as respond to the new. At this stage we’re probably all still working out what the optimum size and shape of the function might be.

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About madeleinekavanagh

Internal comms specialist with a career spanning advertising, car sales and management consulting. My greatest legacy (so far) - my son!
This entry was posted in Business Leadership, Change, communication channels, Culture, employee advocacy, Employee Engagement, Internal communications, Leadership Behaviours and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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