Is IC a barrier to corporate agility?

At simply IC Live, May 2020, Sir Martin Sorrell said that in his view ‘Internal Communications teams are a barrier to the speed of organisational response.’ But is there any truth in this? Here, Alison Boothby shares what we’ve heard from both sides of the debate.

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As we look towards either getting people back into the workplace or to how we reimagine how we do business, one thing is for certain – the need to be agile and adaptable is going to be crucial to the future success of the organisation. Following the enforced, and largest, remote working experiment in human history we’ve seen how quickly things can move in order to the business to continue as usual.

At simply’s event in May, controversially, Sir Martin Sorrell claimed ‘internal communication teams are a barrier to the speed of organisational response’. Unsurprisingly, this ruffled some feathers. With those working in communications having taken centre stage during Covid, is this fair?

Kieran Young Head of Communications and Engagement at Arriva Bus (UK) thinks that the point of view depends on what the IC function’s focus is. “If it’s focused on empowerment, infrastructure and growing leadership capability then I’d argue it accelerates corporate agility. If its focus is control, censorship and policing the internal brand then it may well slow down the conversation.” This notion was developed by comments from Shan Chatoo Group Head of Corporate Communications at OCS Group who suggested, “There could be a variety of reasons Sir Martin has this opinion. Perhaps his experience of IC is the ‘control’ function that Kieran describes above, or perhaps there was a lack of trust or relationship between the organisation and the function which led to an overtly heavy sign off process. Or maybe Sir Martin hasn’t experienced how IC can bring a voice to every employee by introducing the right channel set for the organisation, a brand and a tone of voice that is developed from the ground up and processes that enable and not disable, as well as a team that manages stakeholder expectations from the outset.”

And this leads into something that Andrew Hasselden has written about before where he examines the tug of war between different aspects of an internal communications role. In this blog he discusses the different imperatives of employee engagement related comms – what he calls the think and feel stuff –  versus the operational day to day and change comms which are all about know and do.

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