Communication Plan Toolkit – Module 2 : Structure

Toolkit: Your Communication Plan

By Marc Wright

 


How do you structure your IC team?How do you structure your Communication team?  This module gives you advice on:

  • Functional location: Where does internal communications sit in terms of reporting lines, and what effect does that have ?
  • Geographical location:  Is you team centralised, distributed around the operating functions, or virtual ?
  • Career path and development: Where are you recruiting staff from and how do you develop them ?
  • Investment:  How much do companies spend on internal communication, and how do you measure up ?


Functional Location
Unless you are setting up your team from scratch, where you are based and who you report to are probably fixed.  However, this section will tell you how to balance your Communication team depending on where you sit in the corporate hierarchy, whether it's in Corporate, Marketing or HR. These reporting lines can influence strongly the type of IC capability that you have, and it can be helpful to understand the strengths and weaknesses of each position.


The Corporate Communicator
Corporate Internal Communications have the advantage of a stronger link to the CEO and the levers of power but they tend to focus on top-down messages and ‘sending out stuff’.


Advantages:

  • You are closer to the seat of power
  • Your get status from having the ear of the boss
  • It’s easier to co-ordinate internal and external communication.

Disadvantages:

  • Operational managers can distrust or undervalue your work
  • You can become remote and irrelevant from day-to-day business
  • You could become closely associated with a senior executive who will eventually leave.

Jim Shaffer and Roger D’Aprix argue forcibly that Communication knows no function and that it should permeate all departments and divisions of an organisation, rather like IT does.


Strategy:

  • Imagine for a second that the world does not revolve around the Corporate Centre but, like Copernicus, you have discovered that this is an illusion and that like those other planets called Sales, Operations, Manufacturing, Logistics, etc, you all travel in complex orbits around the customer. 
  • Then try imagining what life might be like on Planet Despatch. 
  • Then review the last 3 months of communication you and your team have been sending out to this planet. 
  • Examine your employee attitude centre and then go walk about that Department asking people what they thought of your newsletter, or the management conference, or the last video. 
  • Then move your desk there for a month.
  • Then do a piece of internal communication either exclusively for or exclusively from this Planet, and then gauge the result.
  • Then, when the month is up, choose another planet and move in there for a month. 
  • Carry on doing the same work, and attending the same senior meetings, but become a nomad.  Don’t ask for permission – just do it.  And, as you camp out on each of these different planets, do some good by building on the communication tools you find there.

After six months, you will have developed a completely new view of your universe, a view that not only puts the Corporate Centre in its right perspective but also teaches you the subtle relationships and interdependencies of the different functions and silos in your company.


The Marketing Communicator
A Marketing-based team will be closer to Internal Marketing techniques, which use the tools of advertising to get staff to buy into new ideas and messages. Budgets tend to be spent on high-profile videos and live events.


Advantages:

  • You are surrounded by people who understand the power of good communication, design and how to use media.
  • There is more money around (you just have to find ways of tapping it)
  • It’s fast paced
  • It’s brand-focussed
  • You are closer to the customer.

Disadvantages:

  • External communication is given more money, attention and status
  • Strategies are short term and your boss is more likely to be impatient for results
  • Focus is on ‘stuff’ like videos, brochures, websites, rather than people’s attitudes and developments
  • Kevin Thomson, author of Emotional Capital, was an external marketeer who became a leading Internal Communication strategist.  He argued that you can apply external marketing techniques to internal audiences to improve morale, innovation and productivity.

Strategy:

  • Use the language of marketing to present your boss with a proposal for a 'living the brand' programme, with the promise that it will improve customer service - which will increase customer brand loyalty, giving higher levels of repeat purchasing and hence greater sales.
  • Then go to the HR Department and sell the same programme to them, using the language of People Development.  This will give you the best of both worlds (and budgets) to create a truly involving communication programme across the whole organisation.

The HR Communicator
HR-owned departments tend to have a more involving approach, with a stronger emphasis on enabling people through communication training.


Advantages:

  • There are some key HR models that can be used to improve your internal communication
  • Your boss is a specialist who will respect your own specialism
  • HR professionals are capable of taking a longer view.

Disadvantages:

  • HR does not carry as much clout or kudos as other departments
  • Decision-making can be slow
  • Budgets for non-training initiatives can be small and vulnerable to cuts.

HR is the default home for Internal Communications and there is more support and expertise for IC from this sector than any other.  Consider the large consultancies such as Mercer and Towers Perrin who have developed strong IC practices.  And publishers such as Melcrum and Sift have an HR dimension to their work.


Strategy:

  • Stand out from the crowd.  Make Internal Communication the glue that binds HR to Operations, to Marketing and to the Corporate sector. 
  • Market and communicate what HR is doing throughout the organisation in an internal advertising campaign.  This will have two beneficial effects : 
    • Your HR colleagues will rise to the challenge and become the dynamic, go-ahead, engaged bunch of people that you say they are. 
    • And other functions will be queuing up to have you on their side to promote themselves internally.
  • Create a network of champions for internal communication throughout your organisation; this will give you a virtual team to augment your own permanent staff and increase your influence and capability.

Team Locations
A key decision that should come out of your communication strategy is where your team should live and work. In fact, if you are uncertain of your company culture, just look at where the Communications team traditionally sits. If they are all based in Head Office, then you tend towards a command-and-control culture; if they are dispersed around the regions, then yours is more of a family culture.

  • By putting your Communications team into the heart of the business’s operating units, you will produce communication that is more closely tailored to the needs of your different populations and, in return, you will receive more accurate feedback on what people are actually thinking.
  • If you centralise your team, you will get greater consistency of top-down messages, less duplication of effort and some cost savings.
  • If you run your teams from virtual bases – especially if they’re working from home – you will encourage communication systems biased towards email and your intranet.

Strategy:

  • Use your own team to pioneer new ways of working, such as blogs, wikis and webinars, to road-test the productivity of these new methods.  (See Module 3 for more information.)
  • Find ways to work smarter (rather than harder) and surround yourself with the best quality suppliers and consultants you can afford.  

Career Paths
Is your Communications team made up of dedicated professionals who will spend their entire careers in communication roles, or do you use it as a development opportunity for general management ?

Do you recruit on experience and skills, or do you ‘grow your own’ ? And how do you reward your Internal Communications team : is there a glass ceiling, or is there a career path to the Board ?
These characteristics will have a marked impact on the type and effectiveness of communication in your company. The ‘video girl’ or the ‘newsletter writer’ can become great repositories of knowledge about the stories and personalities around the organisation. But are they able to turn that knowledge into competitive advantage for your organisation ? Not as long as you keep them in a process-orientated role.
However, if you can train them on the wider aspects of Internal Communication, they can become internal consultants who will add real value, with measurable outcomes. (See Communications Champions and Measurement & Research for more information.)


Strategy :

  • Join the International Association of Business Communicators and enrol in their professional qualification of Accredited Business Communicator (ABC).  For more information see their website : http://www.iabc.com/.
  • Encourage your staff to take sabbaticals in other parts of your organisation, and even in your supplier base.  Six months with an agency will develop a team member dramatically, and agencies will often leap at the benefit of building longer-lasting relationships.

Budget
Your structure will be determined by budget. (See Statistical Evidence In Favour Of Communication and What It Costs To Invest In Internal Communication for both information and benchmarks for your organisation.)
Spending on Internal Communication per head is increasing faster than any other functional budget, simply because companies are becoming more knowledge-dependent and staff are becoming better educated and more aspirational.
The reality is that, whatever you are spending on Internal Communication, it’s probably not enough – but then we would say that, wouldn’t we ?


Strategy :

  • Build support at Board level for Internal Communication by allying your projects to the big money investments going on in your organisation; (see Module 1 : Strategy).
  • Alternatively, use the Value/Volume Matrix to optimise your current budget spend.  With the money you free up, choose a particular small-scale internal communications project that will give you a quick win in terms of savings or greater productivity. 
  • Then use this evidence to launch two more projects, and build from there.

See also the article on Demonstrating the Value of Communication Systems to help your case.

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