Let me start off by saying this article is biased. I'm not even going to try and hide it. I'm in HR. But, I've forced myself to take an objective look at why HR should and shouldn't own internal communications (IC). Before moving forward, I want to clarify a couple of things:

First, IC is the function, or the process, responsible for effective, internal communications among employees within an organization. Second, I believe that every leader is responsible for internal communications. Therefore, this article is really about which department or function helps drive the IC strategy. 

I understand that HR's role and strategic contribution varies by organization. In some companies, HR may not be best positioned or resourced. While I certainly don't believe this is the case in my organization, I realize that in others, there may be some negative bias as it relates to HR. 

So here's the issue. IC is widely recognized as a vital component of organizational health and employee engagement. However, most companies have a hard time building a business case for a dedicated IC function. Thus, ambiguity creates questions around who is responsible for things like the intranet, employee apps, and communicating broad organizational strategy inside the company.  

In a study that was conducted by Karian & Box, an employee engagement consulting firm, it found that when removing a "dedicated IC unit" from the equation, 21 percent believed PR should take the lead on IC compared to 18 percent for HR. But, when asked the follow-up question of which department takes it more seriously, those who answered in favor of HR believed that it held IC as a higher priority than others -- suggesting that HR is more likely to manage IC as a top priority.

Ideally, the most effective IC strategies connect HR and PR. It's critical that both departments be on the same page when it comes to branding, messaging, and tactics. But, I have a few ideas on why this research showed that HR might be more passionate about IC. 

The majority of IC goals deal with HR owned initiatives.

Most IC goals deal with improving employee engagement, communicating employee needs, aligning the organization with the business's strategy, change management, and culture development. 

In the majority of the organizations that I've been a part of, these are all HR responsibilities. HR is typically accountable for implementing change management strategies, developing and aligning organizational goals through performance management processes, spearheading culture initiatives, employee relations, and satisfaction.

So the way I see it, if HR owned IC strategy, it would further streamline the process.

Quick clarification. I'm not trying to eliminate anyone's job. IC is absolutely and undeniably a full-time gig. You need dedicated resources. The work that an IC specialist does is critical. I'm just saying that if your organization doesn't have the luxury of an IC department or a dedicated IC professional, then think about leaning on HR. Minimally, if an organization has separate HR and IC functions, the partnership between these two functions needs to be rock solid.

HR already hears the grievances.

At the root of all problems is a lack of communication. It's no different at work. A survey showed that employees would be less frustrated, more impactful, and more passionate about their work if management teams did a better job of disseminating information down to the rest of the organization. 

The lack of communication is often the cause of many employee relations issues. So, what I'm saying is that HR already knows what employees want but aren't getting. We know the "audience" better than most and will have an easier time translating business speak into a more "human voice."

HR has unique skills that could increase the effectiveness of IC strategy

HR (as a department) may not be synonymous with typical PR abilities. But, we do have a few insights that could help.

  • We receive the most interview training. A significant responsibility of IC specialists is the ability to structure and conduct interviews with key constituents to synthesize information into major takeaways. With talent acquisition being a part of most HR functions, some of your organization's most skilled interviewers are likely HR professionals. Plus, we also know what you can and cannot say. 
  • We're negotiators and mediators. Anytime you're negotiating salaries, job responsibilities, or communicating constructive feedback -- things are bound to get a little tense. IC is one of the bridges between executive leadership and the rest of the employee base. As you can imagine, those two things aren't always aligned. To be successful, IC needs to intercede for employees and moderate leadership messages based on known sensitivities.
  • We see the big picture. Career and succession planning force HR professionals to think long-term. We have to make short-term decisions knowing they'll have long-term effects. Sometimes the best thing to say is nothing at all -- and, vice versa. There may be information not customarily communicated that could help in the long-run.

These are just a few of my personal opinions. What has your organization decided to do? Is it working? Let me know your thoughts. 

Published on: Jan 29, 2018