Internal Communications - is rebadging the answer?
In a blog earlier this year entitled “Internal communications must seize its opportunity in 2019”, I remarked on an interesting development we had observed during 2018 and that has continued into this year. This was the addition of the word Engagement to the role title, as in Director of Internal Communications and Engagement (a search we conducted in 2018). Another FTSE20 has changed the function’s title from Internal Communications to Engagement and we have heard of other similar instances.
“It is a positive development”, I said in the blog, “so long as the function has influence over the recognised drivers of engagement. Communications on its own does not, and cannot, drive engagement”. So what are the drivers of engagement? The common themes that David McLeod and Nita Clarke identified (although they acknowledged there is no master model for successful engagement) in their seminal research, “Engage for success”, were:
Strategic narrative – a visible empowering leadership providing a strong narrative about the organisation, where it has come from and were its going. That does not necessarily mean communicating strategy and ensuring employees understand the strategy, a common mistake so many companies make (my opinion, not theirs)
Engaging Managers – who focus their people and give them scope, treat them as individuals and coach and stretch them
Employee Voice – employee seen as central to the solution, rather than the problem, and to be involved, listened to and invited to contribute their experience, expertise and ideas
Organisation integrity – the values on the wall are reflected in day- to- day behaviours. There is no ‘say-do’ gap. Promises made and promises kept, or an explanation given as to why they are not kept.
Internal comms should certainly have the remit to influence one and three. Influence over the other two will depend on the calibre and authority of the leader of the function, their remit as well as the leaders themselves and the culture.
Often the reason for the changing the name to engagement is to make the function sound more substantial/strategic (internal comms, with some exceptions, has failed to establish itself as a strategic, heavyweight function and has some baggage that continues to hold it back so we understand why). But it rarely denotes a genuine broadening of responsibilities and remit to encompass the levers, influence, scope, along with the empowerment from the senior team, to truly impact engagement. It is, in essence, just window dressing. The advice we give to clients is not to do it, since they may well be setting up the function and its leader for failure.
There is a way forward that we identified in our report last year, “The Missing Link”. An integrated team bringing the best of communications, HR and marketing/customer experience together into a multi-disciplinary, digitally savvy team that would help develop and manage employee engagement, the employee experience and brand. A team that would be underpinned by a data and analytics capability and a behavioural science capability in order to provide the executive team with a more rigorous and systematic analysis and investigation of employee behaviour and motivation, to help them make better outcome predictions and better decisions. It would, of course, include internal comms. Reporting line really should be into the CEO or perhaps chief of staff, not comms and not HR. Having canvassed a few CEOs on this concept I don’t think this is such a distant prospect.
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