The debate around the best place for Internal Communications to sit within an organisation has raged since the profession came into existence. The reason there is no real ‘right’ answer is because there are persuasive arguments for both. Having worked out of a Marketing and HR department, I have a view around the structure that I feel gets the most of an Internal Communications function.
To get the most of Internal Communications it has to be closely aligned with your business strategy; it has to be a strategic function, not just a tactical one. The issue with positioning Internal Communications within a Marketing or HR department is that the purpose and objectives of the function can become integrated, which can essentially limit the focus of IC to a particular agenda, when the view should always be holistic.
In my experience there are very good reasons for an Internal Communications function to sit within HR, especially at times of change. HR is also ultimately the department responsible for employee engagement; an engagement strategy is the fusing of your people and communications strategies, so it is a logical fit for IC to sit within HR. A change programme is also usually managed from within HR, so aligning your communications to that change agenda gives a strong rationale.
Working from within HR allows you to get closer to the decision making process; it helps you to shape the agenda, not just deliver it. But, it can also mean you become very inward looking.
An Internal Communications function that works from within Marketing has a much closer alignment with brand and values. Being closer to the organisational narrative enables you to deliver integrated communications. Providing you develop a strong relationship with HR you can have a holistic view of the business agenda, and tailor your communications according to priorities.
In my experience working from within Marketing does require a bigger focus on tactical delivery, and requires a more traditional marketer skillset. Influencing culture and change is less of a requirement for an IC function within Marketing, but being innovative in channel development and vehicles for keeping employees engaged are more of a focus.
One of the observations I have made is that when trying to achieve cultural change, it is essential that you position yourself as a cross functional resource; avoiding departmental territories and fusing the objectives of both.
The right solution for me is for Internal Communications to sit as a standalone function; either as part of a Corporate Communications department, or within the CEO office. For Internal Communications to be fully effective, it needs to work across functions, and have that holistic view. A dotted line into Marketing and HR is essential, given that both departments are drivers behind an IC strategy.
But, if your overall business owner for Internal Communications is your CEO, you are on the right path to getting the most out of the function. Being close to strategy and having an influence on culture and narrative is where you will leverage the most out of an IC function. Many stakeholders don’t always recognise that IC is the one organisational function that has a true holistic view of the business.
That being said there are always circumstances that will determine where an Internal Communications function will sit within a business. There are strong arguments for IC to sit within HR or Marketing, and if you develop the right relationships IC will have real impact across an organisation.
By taking the idealistic viewpoint of IC as a function out on its own, I am advocating that Internal Communications can influence business transformation and change. And within the profession, that is the holy-grail for an IC practitioner that knows the value they can add to that process.