The communicator as a strategic partner

Generally speaking, a greater understanding of the important of internal communications and how it is related to coworkers’ commitment, well-being, trust and quality of work has emerged over time. Communication professionals have also shown an increased interest in communication related to change and strategy implementation - areas where communication holds significant value for the organization. Research also shows that, in Europe, there has been a shift towards seeing internal communication as a more strategic function and one of the most important areas for modern communication professionals.12

The role and function of the communication professional in regards to internal communication has also developed over time. The unilateral focus on

The historical development of internal communication. Source

Figure 10 The historical development of internal communication. Source: Yaxley and Ruck (2016).

the communication professional as an internal journalist has been curtailed in favor of a more strategic perspective, where communication is connected with the organization's core business (see Figure 10). This has also meant a shift from focusing on providing coworkers with information to two-way communication, where coworkers are seen as one of the organization’s most important resources with great knowledge and experience that need to be utilized. Here, the ability of managers to communicate well is important, and good interaction between managers, communication professionals and other parts of the organization's communications system can have a strong impact on value creation. Social media also provides excellent conditions for working as a communicative organization, but it requires management to understand the importance of communication (see further in Chapter 5). Communication professionals have the opportunity to move to a new position, where coworker engagement is in focus, where communication professionals also work as internal consultants.13

Service role gives communication professionals a low status

Although there has been a shift away from the role of internal journalist, communication professionals in many organizations struggle to work with strategic issues and be seen as a strategic partner. They are often held back by the many operational tasks that prevent development and reflection. This applies in particular to communication professionals who work with internal communication. Top management and managers often expect communication professionals to simply deliver what they order. Simply put, the communications department is seen as a service function. It is important to acknowledge this phenomenon, as if it happens there is an imminent risk that the communication function will stagnate or diminish it its role and value in favor of other functions. It is not surprising that often HR or marketing, which are already valued higher than communications in many organizations, may step in and give their input on strategic questions.14 When this happens, communication professionals are often busy with operational work and become a sort of letter carrier for the organization. Over 30 years ago, PR guru Professor James Grunig and his cowriter Todd Hunt already warned about this happening:

If you choose nothing more than the technician role, however, be ready to accept low pay and prestige. And be prepared to accept the fact that your organization someday may no longer need your technical skills.15

Newer studies also show that communication professionals often work against a relatively low status in organizations.16 The study Communicative Organizations also shows that managers still consider the primary competence of communication professionals to be as content producers and media specialists.17 Even the communication professionals themselves say that they devote most of their resources to operational work, such as writing texts and updating the intranet. This is also supported by a Finnish study, which shows that communication professionals mainly contribute to decision-making by disseminating, writing and publishing information in various channels about decisions that have been made.18 As a result, the communications function is often seen as a supporting or service role.

At the same time, both communication professionals and managers believe that strategic communication, such as change communication and communicative leadership, contributes value to the organization and helps it achieve its goals. In other words, there is a clear gap between what managers expect from communication professionals and what they are actually doing in practice. This does not mean that operational communications work does not give value, but the value it gives is clearly not strategic.

The communicator role is also often put into question from various angles in society. There has long been a critical discussion in Sweden about the number of communication professionals in public organizations, especially when looking at municipalities. Critics question whether municipalities should engage in brand work, and point to, for example, the number of nurses who could be hired in place of communication professionals. It has also been said that the number of journalists has decreased due to the increase in number of communication professionals. While we are for critical review, it often seems that criticism of communication professionals is a bit absurd and unprovoked.

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