What’s that got to do with internal communication?

It’s surprising what some people working in the internal communications profession, and organisational stakeholders, think we should have responsibility for. We should be careful what we claim ownership of, willingly or through coercion.

Where do the boundaries of our remit lie, as internal communication practitioners and as a function, in organisations these days? What really shouldn’t be on our to-do lists?

I am sometimes surprised by what some people working in our profession, and our organisational stakeholders, think we should have responsibility for. We should be careful what we claim ownership of, willingly or through coercion.

I’ve seen a few things circulating on social media recently which caused me to raise my eyebrows and brought the question ‘What’s that got to do with internal communication?’ to the front of my mind. For me, the commentators who intentionally or unwittingly seek to blur the lines of our core purpose, to inform and listen to employees, and to extend our remit into that of other organisational functions are simply diminishing our identity as a distinct profession.

Boundaries….what boundaries

Unfortunately, the internal communication profession has few clear boundaries, which exacerbates the problem. This often manifests itself in internal communication job adverts and descriptions. You’ll doubtless have seen the kind of thing I’m talking about. They are the ones with the huge and disparate range of duties and tasks shoehorned into the responsibilities of the unwitting internal communicator who ends up with the role.

Then there is the absence of any clear and consistent professional framework which conclusively and universally sets out what we all need to know and what we should be able to do from entry level to ‘head of’. Such competency frameworks do exist, scattered across professional bodies and sectors, but we are largely a fractured profession with no single representative voice to advocate what we should be, and what we should do.   

This lack of clear boundaries and identity enables our organisational stakeholders to sometimes make unreasonable requests for our involvement in, and to take ownership of, projects, initiatives and issues, which frankly, others in the organisation should be ‘getting their fingers out’ to deal with.

At the basic level this can be that seemingly innocuous request from a stakeholder for a ‘communication plan’ to help them achieve their project or business objectives. Your counter request for sight of their project or business plan, to help develop a complementary communication plan, results in blank looks and suddenly (if you acquiesce to their request) the communication plan is at risk of becoming the project plan and you are de-facto on the hook for a whole host of stuff which any communicator really shouldn’t be.

My advice is to politely send these people packing until they have got their ducks in a row and can field a credible implementation plan before even trying to draft a communication plan for them.

Just ‘saying it’ doesn’t make it happen

More broadly, some organisations and stakeholders think that just communicating about an issue can bring a resolution to a problem, elicit action and drive change. Now whilst communication can be an enabler to making many things happen, it is rarely effective just on its own. You don’t make something happen or change by just saying that it will. Often the systems and processes in organisations, that underpin how they operate and do business, need a radical overhaul and reform to create the environment for the desired change to happen, supported by communication. That radical systems change needs to be firmly in the remit of others, and not that of the communicator.

It dismays me when I come across internal communicators grappling with thorny issues such as wellbeing, ESG, organisational development and DEI when their organisations have given them absolutely nothing tangible to work with, because there is no real or deep commitment from the organisation to address these issues properly. The commentary I’ve recently seen, which encourages internal communicators to get involved with and ‘own’ issues like these, is misplaced if it effectively sets communicators up to fail or exposes them to accusations of aiding and abetting performative organisational activism.  

Saying no, is one of the most difficult things an internal communicator can do. But, perhaps saying no more often and withholding our skills and tacit support when we need to is one way to make some organisations sit up and realise that they need to get serious about some of the more fundamental societal issues of the 21st century. If they do, then maybe we will have something to communicate about for them.

Finally, to those who seek to extend our remit into that of other organisational functions, internal communicators don’t need a ‘new purpose’, thank you. We already have a perfectly relevant and good one.


Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay 

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