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By Charlotte Dahl

I always look forward to the publication of this global survey into IC. You can find the whole report here, but if you want a bitesize version of the best bits plus a bit of Woodreed wisdom thrown in for good measure, then read on.

At last year’s Engage Employee Internal Communications conference I opened the day as Chair by talking about the silver linings for the Internal Communications sector as a result of the pandemic.

One of my observations was that the profile of IC had risen and would, if we played our cards right, continue to rise. Gallagher’s State of the Sector 21/22 agreed with me with two thirds of internal communication professionals believing their level of influence within their organisation had increased.  It’s heartening to see this is still the case, but a read of the report in its entirety tells us we’ve still got a long way to go as we work out what matters in the new, new, new normal and how to keep our seat at the table in terms of influence.

In terms of priorities, engagement around purpose, strategy and values were still at the top position (53%). Unsurprisingly in at no 2 was ‘adapting our channel strategy to hybrid working (39%). Enhancing people manager communication was just behind it with 31%.

For the first time, employee disengagement is now seen as the biggest challenge by respondents. Have organisations finally woken up and smelt the EE coffee? It’s hardly surprising we’re not on our top forms at work. We’re all still on hyper productivity overdrive, we’re exhausted, we’re still worried and uncertain. Workplaces must ask themselves if they are really treating their people as well as they should? Is EX lip service? It’s safe to say that we’re far from seeing the wholesale shift in mood that many of us so desperately need.

The report summarises the findings under five key themes or questions.

  1. Purpose and strategy – is IC driving understanding?

Regardless whether you think like Unilever investor Terry Smith, who went on record at the start of the year to claim Unilever has ‘lost the plot’ with its focus on sustainability, brand purpose matters. Sorry Terry but Millennials and Gen Z increasingly expect their places of work to have a visible purpose and authentic values. These values will then be brought to life by collective and individual behaviours aligning to a greater collective purpose and vision. Creating a sense of belonging and a true connection to organisational values that matter is where it’s at – it’s culture innit?

Woodreed says
Spend time crafting your strategic narrative demonstrating the alignment between values, culture and strategic priorities. Coach your leaders to tell this story in their own words and stick to the key messages. Oh, and keep listening to your people, collect their stories and add them to the narrative to create your own organisational tapestry.

  1. Employee experience – Can it be a competitive advantage?

The battle for talent pre pandemic is now an all-out global war. Employee experience (EX) matters and will only continue to become a major priority. 82% agree that internal communication is seen as the key driver for EX. Internal communication is no longer ‘just’ about communicating an organisation’s purpose, vision and strategy; it needs to expand to cover a variety of more inward focused themes and messages. IC and HR need to divide and rule to proactively deliver the best possible EX. Just a reminder – the six influencers of EX are culture, reward, recognition and benefits, working environment, wellbeing, career and communication.

Woodreed says
If you’re not obsessing about your EBP (employer brand proposition) of which EX is at its heart, you’ve got to be prepared for a major loss in the battle for talent. It’s a sellers’ market and those disengaged will vote with their feet.

  1. Hybrid working – Are organisations adjusting their strategies?

People’s expectations and attitudes to work have changed forever. The preoccupation with hybrid working shows that organisations are very aware that they can’t go back. In fact, many don’t want to go back, realising the real positives from smart working. All the pandemic did was to press fast forward on something that was an inevitability.

With this shift has come the need to revaluate channels used to reach employees. The use of mobile apps is up again YoY with the figure as high as 45% for orgs with over 10,000 employees. Employee magazines are down (although you could argue the apps are providing the same content but through a different media).

What seems to be sadly lacking is embracing the full potential of digital to provide tailored experiences for employees.

“Maybe the whole tailored content thing is just a slow burner, perhaps people aren’t really aware of the technology that’s available to them within their organisation, or possibly it just feels too much like hard work. Whatever the reason, when you look at the fact that 1 in 5 respondents (20%) say that their existing channels don’t actually enable them to reach their people, it’s hardly surprising that implementing more advanced levels of personalisation isn’t exactly a priority for many.” (Gallagher State of the Sector 21/22)

It’s disappointing to see how far we still appear to be behind our consumer marketing colleagues in delivering a more personalised experience for our people.

Woodreed says

Think about the kind of talent you want to attract then use your smart working policy to your advantage to make your workplace the most attractive proposition.

Find time to research digital solutions to let you deliver personalised content to your people. It’s not that onerous or expensive. Woodreed have a platform that does just this, whether you’ve 10 or 10,000 employees.

  1. People managers – What is their role in the new world of work?

The role of the line manager is one of the most important in an organisation. It remains one of the Engage for Success’ key enablers for employee engagement. Gallagher says, “figuring out how communicators can leverage this essential group is the key to unlocking the future of hybrid working — 100%, without doubt”. In addition, making sure they equip themselves to be the best communicators they can is key to success in a hybrid workplace. Though digital is helping reach people, the need for clear human communication with a large dollop of EQ will never go away. Particularly during times of change and uncertainty. The report highlights a real concern – people managers are mostly seen as a top-down, cascade mechanism as opposed to a group of influencers who can help shape the narrative. Investment in training and developing this group as key communicators is down – which can only be detrimental in the long term.

Woodreed says

People don’t quit their companies they quit their bosses. As much as we implored senior leaders throughout the pandemic to show EQ, be authentic, communicate with simplicity and clarity, these qualities matter just as much for line managers too. Organisations need to invest in coaching and training to equip line managers with the skills needed to communicate effectively in the new world of work.

  1. The new golden age – What can we learn from world-class communicators?

Last year, we found that – in spite of the huge challenges brought by the COVID-19 pandemic — 2020 had created significant opportunities for internal communicators. In fact, many respondents reported that they’d seen their influence over leadership teams increase.

How can we keep that ‘seat at the table’? Gallagher asks, “what new strings should internal communicators be adding to what is an already impressive bow”? Respondents put data analysis and measurement at the top spot, with broader EX themes such as recognition, wellbeing DE&I, a greater understanding of employee expectation and attitudes to work.

The report suggested we are still mostly a pretty tactical bunch with just 31% having an overarching IC strategy in place. How can we keep our influence without being strategic? World class communicators are able to focus on the longer term and articulate goals which enables them to have better conversations with leaders.

Woodreed says

Identify the barriers that are stopping you from being a world class internal communicator. We know the internal job is harder, with time, resource and budget all ever present issues. Think with a consumer marketer’s hat on. Look outside internal communication and look at how adland does it. Keep up to date with thinking around behavioural economics, look at case studies from leading organisations around best practice. Attend conferences like those on the Engage Business Media calendar. Then do what leading employee engagement guru Sir Eric Peacock says: “Steal with pride, adapt with glee, pragmatically implement”.

Looking forward to seeing you at the Digital Workplace conference IN PERSON, on 10 March where I’ll be Chair. Purchase your tickets here.

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