To set the context for this debate, Q&R conducted a ‘live’ Pulse Check™ across 600 + UK Internal Communications VPs and Directors in April 2014, asking the question – ‘Will Internal Communications ever make it to the Board Room?’.

Participants were asked to provide a comment to explain their response and here the variation in opinion was clear.  In particular, those who believe Internal Communications (IC) will never make it to the Board Room, offered some pertinent reasons as to why not: 

  • (because) there is already contention between HR and Corporate Communications Board level
  • there are too many egos in the Board Room
  • (because) frustrated comms practitioners are delusional about the value they bring at Board level
  • internal communications should be back office support
  • internal communications professionals are too operationally focussed and inward looking and are not capable of providing the strategic perspective required to have a meaningful discussion with other board members

The other response options also provided more insight into the obstacles Internal Communications faces as a discipline. In particular:

  • there needs to be an enhanced understanding and appreciation for the profession
  • more clarity of the mission and scope (of IC)
  • a senior Director needs to take responsibility for IC at Board Level in the first instance
  • we need to build business cases, beyond a shadow of doubt, that internal comms reaps business benefits that are separate and different from HR or PR
  • too many internal comms practitioners ‘pander to ‘delivery mode’
  • for internal communications to be truly accepted at the table, it needs to focus more on business outcomes and less on internal communications deliverables

The panel of speakers, chaired by Lesley Allman, Director, Institute of Internal Communication, contributed powerfully to the discussion and a summary of their collective observations (as well as comments from attendees) are compiled below:

Olivia Gadd, Director of Communications, Grant Thornton LLP

  • IC is about helping employees understand the company strategy but it doesn’t live on the board – it’s a conduit between the Board and the employees

Lorna Gozzard, Head of Corporate Communications, London Legacy Development Company

  • IC is about having someone in the room who is a champion for IC because it is a shared responsibility

Catherine Fallon, Head of Internal Communications, Corporate Banking Division, RBS

  • we should be more ambitious with IC – the formula to drive this is a combination of EQ (Emotional intelligence) and IQ. 
  • IC is not as curious as it should be about the world and broader economic picture – there is opportunity to drive more value into this discipline,if people can get it right

Lucy Adams, speaker, writer and business adviser and former HRD,BBC

  • where does IC sit?  It is a poor relation in the comms mix. 
  • Who do people trust – it isn’t the CEO (as indicated in the Edelman Trust Barometer), it’s the next layer down in management terms
  • a pure IC specialist is becoming completely redundant.  People need to have a broader mix of skills
  • it is all to do with influence rather than a position of power – who is the guardian of your reputation?  They are the ones who will be listened to and senior management will be guided by
  • there is too much focus on process.  It’s more to do with really thinking about the impact of what we do 

Madeleine Kavanagh, Head of IT Communications, Carlson Wagonlit Travel (CWT)

  • what is required is a change in behaviour – we need to behave in a more responsible and accountable way
  • IC has a bright future but needs to operate at Board level 
  • there is a massive difference in the skills set of a marketing communications lead and a communications lead.  
  • we need to prove the assertions that people are our best ambassadors.

Ben Matthews, Head of Strategic Communications, eBay

  • Board meetings are dull places to sit in – why would you want to be there in the first place?
  • will Internal Communications ever make it to the Board Room is a false question – it is not about being in the Board Room.  It’s about access, understanding and influence.  
  • IC professionals are awful at talking the language of the business. 
  • the question you should be asking is how are you making the business more successful?
  • in many ways, IC is already in the Board Room.  HR is too process orientated.  
  • we need a different group of people who can understand the wider disciplines of comms….
  • IC only tends to make it to the Board Room – mainly in change communications…when there is a specific issues to be addressed

General comments:

  • if you can add value to the business, you will get noticed
  • keep the discussion on track – be effective 365 days a year
  • there is a real opportunity for IC to take on the role as Trusted Advisor
  • the quality of the IC team – is usually very poor – and we don’t have the skilled staff and we need to address this
  • IC is a relatively ‘young’ discipline in the mix….delegated to junior people
  • it is important to determine the difference in the type of question you get asked by senior management i.e. a suggested value proposition for IC would be:
  • “We’re making this change and how do we communicate it?” This question does not see IC as the role of the trusted advisor – purely as a delivery agent 
  • “We’re thinking about this change – do you think we should make it?’ This is where IC needs to be
  • the language of emotional intelligence is nothing to be frightened of – we should ban the word ‘engagement’
  • a new initiative being developed by eBay is the full colleague life cycle specifically how do you build a framework that manages the life cycle of the colleague in the organisation?
  • if you retain more people and reduce unwanted attrition, it all contributes to a hard dollar figure…
  • IC should be more about working with the team and contributing to the timing, phasing and impact on the business
  • getting what matters to a Board member and what matters to someone who works in Sheffield is really important – it’s an issue of dexterity when dealing with the complexity of issues
  • millennials who are coming through have a different take on work life balance, different expectations in terms of how they want to work
  • audience mapping is key
  • ultimately, be good at your job and you will be valued