Are internal comms roles “dead”… or is IC heading for a renaissance?

In the nearly 20 years I have been an internal comms pro, Internal Communication has been prematurely pronounced dead on a number of occasions, to be subsumed into “sexier” or more exalted specialties.

In his blog post earlier this week, London’s Dillan Shikotra makes a similar prediction:

“My prediction is that Internal Communication will evolve into ‘employee experience’. It will look more holistically at all the touch points an employee has with the organisation, starting from offer, onboarding, training, right through to offboarding & beyond. Job titles such as Internal Communications Advisor/Manager/Director will be replaced by Head of Employee Experience, Employee Engagement Manager and Employee Experience Executive. And we are seeing this already, with companies like Sky, Vodafone and Airbnb appointing their very own ‘Head of Employee Experience’. “

Dillan adds:

“What does this mean for us IC practitioners? It means we must evolve like Pokemon Go characters. It will require us to have a deeper understanding of employee needs, be subject matter experts on digital/social media channels, challenge the leadership team more and stay current on new ways of working. We will need to move from a channel based approach to an employee experience approach. It’s not going to be easy, but then change never is. We’ll also need to start working more closely with our HR, L&D and IT colleagues to ensure the first interaction with the company is positive (strong employer brand), that everyone has a positive onboarding experience, that 2-way communication channels are in place from day one and that the employee’s voice will always be heard.

Those who embrace this change will be the ones who will drive & shape the next phase of this evolutionary journey of internal communications.”

What made me take notice of the piece was that it received a large number of likes and positive comments—somewhat more than the usual for an opinion piece about internal comms.

But the enthusiasm for having the adoption of sexy nomenclature by trendy companies portend “the new future” for internal comms needs to be tempered by a few realities:

  • The “Head of Employee Experience” and related job titles themselves, with their focus on employee touchpoints with tangible processes as well as communication moments, sounds much more like an IC-savvy HR roles rather than a defining evolution of internal comms, because IC serves other key purposes and stakeholders than HR departments and their current pressing need to keep millennial (and other) employees happy.
  • Political upheaval, especially in the West, will create unprecedented demand for internal communication to drive and sustain perceptions of organizational stability and resilience in the face of what is happening in the larger context.
  • If the political upheaval leads to economic turmoil, and internal communication has been able to demonstrate its value to a given organization, IC may play a key role in helping the organization retain and connect key people even it shrinks or merges.
  • Even if the impact on business of the current political crises is relatively painless, organizations are unlikely to subsume the change communication, employee advocacy, operational support and leadership comms that IC professionals currently lead into a function with an unrelated or even a conflicting purpose.

I bring these points out not to scold Dillan – whose piece raises valid points and who has opened up a potentially critical conversation about the future of the profession. But I encourage IC practitioners to consider an alternative view, that rather than being on our deathbed as a profession, Internal Communication’s best days may soon be to come.

Already, we add value across a variety of crucial organizational activities.  And as our world looks turmoil in the eye, we may find ourselves playing many crucial roles in enabling our organizations to survive and even thrive.  We may need to adapt, but there is no need to surrender.

 

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