Communicating effectively internally is a responsibility for every organization, regardless of size. Brilliant external branding with sophisticated messaging and well-executed reach can easily become a fragile exoskeleton if internal audiences are operating in silos with little understanding and knowledge of or appreciation for what is going on holistically.
There has long been a debate among senior managers around where internal communications should live: in the marketing communications department or the human resources department.
In my organization, internal communications is a key component of corporate communications. In other places, I’ve seen the function reside in human resources and do just fine. There is no right or wrong approach, but I have some observations on each.
Employee Communications Versus Internal Communications
I believe there is a difference in employee communications and internal communications. I see employee communications as transmitting extremely important information about benefits, employment policy, hiring, recruiting, career planning, etc. Clearly, those data points are human resources functions and communicating them should originate in the human resources (HR) department, with execution by the HR team or supported by internal communications as part of the marketing and communications team.
In my experience, internal communications serve a broader role that extends external branding, including the organization’s mission, to an internal audience that encompasses not only employees but management and board members. In that sense, I’ve grown to see internal communications as its own discipline. It demands a precise skill-set, ranging careful and empathetic listening, clear and concise writing, oral and visual communications expertise, intellectual and emotional agility, and an almost journalistic sense of objectivity that enables telling a story straightforwardly with none-to-limited personal opinion.
With what may be a biased position, I believe internal communications should live with other structured communications disciplines, as it does for my own team. Our internal communications staff members work closely with the HR department but also with every other department. This effort provides them with an all-inclusive prism through which to view the entire organization, helping them to help others understand and appreciate what everybody else is doing and why. This also works well in my current organization because of a strong relationship the chief human resources officer and I have built together and between our teams.
Effective Information Gathering Is Key
The cross-organization information-gathering function could work from an HR home — and it does in some workplaces. In other organizations, communicators work more effectively and comfortably with other communicators from creative and delivery perspectives.
Meeting the challenge of communicating with internal audiences is especially acute because it is naturally easy to push internal messages way down on the to-do list. That is why I suggest it is important to incorporate a deeply empathetic internal communications information-gathering system.
Internal content, perhaps more than any other form of communications, must be focused enough to impact every individual in the organization, yet broad enough to have overall, mission-strategic significance. So, regardless of where internal communications lives, it is an essential discipline that takes care, patience, determination and, I respectfully submit, a full-time focus.