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What does world-class internal communication look like?

Are you struggling to engage teams around purpose, strategy and values?

Are disengaged employees a challenge you’re facing this year?

If so, you are not alone.

The State of the Sector 2021/22 research is out today and as ever, it’s an interesting read for internal communicators.

The survey is produced by Gallagher and I know IC pros find it useful to help benchmark and get a glimpse into what peers are doing.

It’s a long read, I encourage you to check it out in full via Gallagher’s website and download a copy for yourself.

Internal Communication Strategy Masterclass

I’ve read through and extracted some of my key highlights, which you’ll find in this blog post. I like the focus on organisational listening and diversity, influential internal communicators, getting organised with IC strategies and the role of people managers.

If you want to know where people report into, how many IC pros are in the team and what their budgets are, you’ll find that out too.

I tried – and failed – to keep this article short. It’s a long one. Grab a cup of tea. I got through two writing it!

Thank you Gallagher for once again equipping us with insight and ideas to help IC pros benchmark, compare and have informed discussions.

I like the North Star addition, which is described as the answer to the question ‘what does world-class internal communication look like?’. You’ll find it at the end of this article.

Are you ready? Let’s dive in.

Gallagher-SOTS2022

What is it?
State of the Sector is an annual study of IC professionals. The 2022 results were created by responses from 1,300 organisations around the globe, including 46% in North America.

The study has been capturing the views of IC pros since 2008, when the headline finding was talking tactics – figuring out how practitioners made their voices heard. Remember that?!

Today’s headline is the shock of the new: “Hybrid working, employee burn out, the Great Resignation… internal communicators have become integral to mitigating the fallout and preserving employee and organisational wellbeing.”

Being purposeful with our internal communication 

When asked how well they think their people understand their organisation’s purpose and vision, 63% of respondents rated this as either ‘excellent’ or ‘good’. There was a significant drop, however, when it came to the actual business strategy — more than half of respondents (53%) said understanding is either ‘average’ or ‘poor’ in this area.

Gallagher state: “Results were more disheartening still when it came to assessing employees’ understanding of their personal impact on the organisational purpose or strategy. Only 41% of respondents think their people have a handle on this — which isn’t great, when you consider that the primary objective of internal communication is to add clarity here.”

Further reading via the All Things IC blog: What IC pros need to know about the Great Resignation.

State of the Sector responses 2022

Image showing more than a decade of insights

What you need to know

The sections I always find the most fascinating are the priorities and challenges. I use this insight to create content to support IC professionals as I know these are the topics you are grappling with.

According to this year’s research, the top three 2022 priorities for IC pros are:

  • Engaging teams around purpose, strategy, values (53%)
  • Adapting our channel strategy to hybrid working (39%)
  • Enhancing people manager communication (31%)
  • Building our internal communication function (29%)
  • Improving impact measurement and evaluation (26%)
  • Enhancing leadership visibility (26%)
  • Developing our communication strategy and tone of voice (26%)
  • Developing/implementing our employee value proposition (EVP) (23%)
  • Introducing new digital/social channels (14%)
  • Developing a business case for more resource (11%)
  • Personal development (10%).

All Things IC Associate Comms Consultant Caroline Cubbon King and I were discussing this list earlier today and it’s incredibly familiar. These are the exact topics we are being asked to advise on at All Things IC, and in a remarkably similar order.

In line with the past five editions of State of the Sector, ‘Engaging people around purpose, strategy and values’ remains the number-one priority for more than half (53%) of the world’s organisations — a result consistent throughout all geographies and organisation sizes, reminding us that this is the very essence of internal communication.

Commenting on the research, Gallagher’s Global Practice Managing Director, Ben Reynolds says: “It’s as much about painting a picture of where internal communication is today as it is about anticipating the trends that lie ahead; it’s about enabling internal communicators to aspire for better, to reach higher, to shout louder, to stand taller, to step up to the plate and refuse to budge. It’s about helping you understand your level of value through valuing your level of understanding.”

Top-three-priorities

How do these compare to previous years?

‘Adapting channel strategy to hybrid working’ (new to this year’s survey) came in as the second highest priority, with around 2 in 5 respondents (39%) saying this will be a priority for their organisation.

‘Enhancing people manager communication’ made it into the top three for the first time ever with 31% — even though it was considered to be a lower priority in organisations with 10,000+ employees.

By contrast, ‘Enhancing leadership visibility’ scored a lot lower this year. While it was consistently in the top three priorities between 2016 and 2019, it only made it to sixth place this time around — a notable drop when you consider that the last report named increased leadership visibility as a positive side effect of the pandemic.

According to this year’s research, the top three challenges for IC pros in 2022 are:

  • Disengaged employees (37%)
  • Lack of capacity / human resource in my team (32%)
  • Lack of analytics / measurement (27%)
  • Poor people manager communication skills (27%)
  • Internal technology not fit for purpose (22%)
  • Volume of communication too high (22%)
  • Lack of clear direction from the top (20%)
  • Lack of advance notice for corporate announcements (12%)
  • Lack of involvement in decision making (12%)
  • Non-wired / deskless employees (12%)
  • Teleworking / remote employees (11%)
  • Lack of financial resource (11%)
  • Too many internal communication channels (9%)
  • Lack of distinct internal brand (9%)
  • Lack of support from senior leaders (8%)
  • Lack of skills / experience in my team (7%)
  • Lack of structure / organisation in my team (6%).

Does that resonate with you?

Gallagher state: “In an unprecedented move, employee disengagement was seen as the biggest challenge by respondents. Last year we saw it reach third on the list, but with nearly 4 in 10 citing it as a major hurdle this time around (37%) it’s probably safe to say that we’re far from seeing the wholesale shift in mood that many of us so desperately need.”

Focusing on diversity and inclusion, plus environmental, social and governance themes

Gallagher state: “Although they’ve been important components of the organisational narrative across the past decade, themes such as diversity and inclusion (D&I) and environmental, social and governance (ESG) have emerged as the hot topics of the past two years.But how well are organisations embedding these larger, societal themes into their narrative? And how genuine is this global concern for the future of the planet?

“From an employee perspective, very — with an encouraging 77% of respondents saying that their people care about their organisation’s commitment to reduce its impact on the environment. What’s bound to be disappointing for these employees, though, is the considerably lower proportion of participants (just 50%) telling us that their organisation actually has a compelling ESG narrative in place. However, this was a lot higher in larger organisations (68% in organisations with more than 10,000 employees), who were also a lot more likely to believe that the sustainability imperative will impact their business model significantly in the next few years.

“Respondents were slightly more positive when it came to D&I, with 61% saying that their organisation has a credible narrative in place that they can share internally. Organisation size seemed to come into play here too, suggesting that larger organisations have embraced these themes in a much more structured and systematic way than smaller ones.”

Diversity questions from state of the sector

Further reading via the All Things IC blog: How to write about equity, diversity and belonging.

Further reading via the All Things IC blog: How to start a conversation about racism and unconscious bias.

Changing channels?

When asked about the ability of their current channels, 80% of respondents told Gallasgher they enable them to reach their people wherever they are based (unsurprisingly, this number drops to 69% in organisations with levels of deskless employees over 50%).

The channel review that organisations say they have conducted doesn’t translate into significant shifts when it comes to methods of delivery in communications.

There are, of course, a few notable exceptions — especially when you look how trends have developed over a longer period of time (this is examined in much greater detail in a separate section):

  • The use of mobile apps is up to 31% (from 24% in 2021) — a number that rises to 45% in organisations with over 10,000 employees.
  • Environmental channels such as posters, banners and noticeboards are down to 44% (from 63% in 2021). Although this shift is partly due to the change in demographics this year (the use of environmental channels remains higher in larger organisations — 50% in those with 2,500 to 9,999 people and 59% where there are more than 10,000 people), this is definitely a drop from the 70%+ we observed prior to 2020.
  • Employee magazines are down to 16%, even if still used in greater numbers in larger organisations of more than 10,000 people (26%). Again, here we’re seeing a drop from pre- pandemic levels when it was ranging between 35% and 45%.
  • Informal get-togethers and social events (either in person or virtual) are up to 57% (from 35% in 2021 and 46% in 2020).

Gallagher state: “All of this suggests that the channel review 19% of organisations say they have completed has not necessarily resulted in the introduction of new channels or the decommissioning of existing ones. And it’s also worth noting that only 14% of overall respondents told us that introducing new digital or social channels would be a priority for them in 2022 — suggesting that we may not see radical changes next year either.”

The use of the employee magazine seems to be in decline compared to pre-pandemic levels (16%, compared to 35-49% between 2017 and 2019) — although they are still used by 26% of enterprise organisations (over 10,000 employees) and they still score quite well in terms of effectiveness (70%).

Used by around 4 in 5 larger organisations (over 2,500 employees), video ranks as the most effective medium (74%). The use of podcasts is quite low at 18% and materials sent home remains pretty marginal (15%), with lower reported levels of effectiveness (59%).

Further reading via the All Things IC blog: Who is using podcasts for internal communication? 

Channels stats

Face-to-face channels

Compared to the pre-pandemic period (2017-19), it’s worth noting that the use of virtual conferences and town halls for all employees (76%) is higher than that of virtual conferences and town halls for people managers (60%); as is the use of web calls for all employees (52%), when compared to that of web calls for people managers only (49%). Pre- 2020, these channels were always used to reach people managers in much higher proportions.

Interestingly — and in spite of their high levels of effectiveness — the use of work councils and communication champions is very low across the board (35% and 31% respectively).

Want to read all the results? I recommend checking it out in full via Gallagher’s website and download a copy for yourself.

Setting ourselves up for success

I have a lot of conversations with internal communicators about brilliant basics and setting yourself up for success.

If you’ve listened to my recent Candid Comms podcast episode on how to set standards in IC, this will be familiar terrority to you.

This year’s State of the Sector looked at how we are preparing ourselves. They asked: “How much extra time and attention is being dedicated to planning and strategy post-pandemic? And, if it’s there, is this increased focus delivering when it comes to real results?”

Good question!

This is what they uncovered:

SOTS-2022

Gallagher state: “Surprisingly, respondents this year reported even fewer established planning practices than last year. However, the decrease seems to be partly due to the larger proportions of respondents from smaller organisations, while those from larger organisations (with more than 2,500 employees) seem to demonstrate a much more robust and professional approach to internal communication.

“Overall, the focus seems to be on planning on a campaign-by- campaign basis — and, disappointingly, only 31% of respondents say they have an overarching internal communication strategy in place (this does rise to 40-42% in larger organisations though). Even simpler tools, such as channel frameworks or channel-specific editorial calendars (whether for magazines, newsletters or the intranet), are not used by more than half of respondents. World- class communicators were much more likely to have established these documents, even if a surprising 8% said they didn’t have any of this.

“The biggest gaps between this group and the rest, however, were having an ‘Internal communication “master” plan’ and ‘Overarching internal communication strategy (covering a period of more than one year)’, which suggests that the ability of world-class communicators to focus on the longer-term and articulate goals enables them to have better conversations with leaders.”

How to create an internal communication strategy

This resonates with me! I revealed on LinkedIn earlier this week we are working hard on a brand new Online Masterclass here at All Things IC. It will be launching soon and uses a brand new framework I’ve developed to support IC professionals. The topic? How to create an internal communication strategy. You heard it here first.

Thank you to my team, clients, Inner Circle and Comms friends who have been testing the framework for me. I wish it existed when I worked in-house! I know how useful you will find it and can’t wait to share it with you soon.

Readers of my monthly newsletter, The Water Cooler, will be discovering how to have early access to the course when it launches. If you’re not on my email list, do add your name.

All Things IC Online Masterclasses

The role of people managers

To what extent do you rely on people managers to share and reinforce corporate information with their teams?

This is always a hot topic in the wonderful world of internal communication!

A third (35%) of respondents said people managers were the primary communication channel for many of their employees; a figure that rises to 45% in organisations where more than half of the workers are deskless.

People managers as channels

It’s worth noting there are some regional variations here too: organisations in Europe are less likely to treat people managers as a primarily channel, while those in North America are more likely to consider them as the main channel.

Influential internal communicators?

The questions around influencing internally are worth checking out if you are trying to work strategically in your organisation.

This year internal communicators were asked has your ability to influence leaders’ decisions changed over the past 12 months?

A whopping 62% said yes it has increased, with just 7% believing they may have gone backwards.

The comparison chart for the question around being seen as trusted advisors stats 85% of respondents believe they are viewed by senior leaders in that way, a drop of 2%.

My friend Jenni Field published a book last year along similar lines: Influential Internal Communication. You can also purchase it via the Kogan Page website. Use the code ALLTHINGSIC20 to save 20%.

State of the Sector influential internal communicators questions

The numbers bit

I wasn’t going to include this as I’m aware how HUGE this blog post is already. But I know you love this section of the research, so here goes.

Looking at the stats, the number of dedicated IC pros is pretty much the same as last year.

How many dedicated internal communicators are there in your organisation? 

Size of team

Budget question

Our North Star

I’ve never heard the phrase North Star as much as the past 12 months!

Gallagher has created these nine aspirations in terms of what IC pros should be aspiring towards to answer the question ‘What does world-class internal communication look like?’

They describe this as:

  1. Have a defined purpose and strategy — and make sure you’re clear on this. Think about how your function supports your organisation, what it’s there for and what your value proposition to business leaders is.
  2. Construct a clear narrative. This will not only ensure that every single communication you output is clearly aligned, it’ll help you to make best use of your budget and support your strategic narrative too.
  3. Remember, it’s YOU that drives change, not the platform(s) on which you share your ideas. So manage your channels effectively — make sure they are fit for purpose and review them regularly.
  4. The core purpose of any internal communication team is to support its leaders to become ace communicators, so build a robust communication capability that helps them maximise employee buy-in.
  5. Promote open dialogue and collaboration with a focus on listening. Your ability to keep your finger on the pulse and see things through a human lens is what will keep that employee voice at the top table — don’t lose sight of this!
  6. Being able to demonstrate your value is key to building your influence where it counts. So focus on insight, measurement, and evaluation to prove your concept by concentrating on impact.
  7. Become the experts that people go to when it comes to driving new behaviours. This is all about your ability to influence change and transformation — so work with those in the know to keep things people-focused.
  8. As a communicator, you have an opportunity to shape your organisation’s EX and change the way people feel about work. So champion the importance of your people’s wellbeing — physical, emotional and career — which fosters a better company culture and overall organisational wellbeing.
  9. There’s nothing wrong with wanting a seat at the table when the decisions are made — it’s the end game, after all. So become a trusted adviser and make your presence felt where it counts.

I agree with lots of these, and would challenge some of the wording and focus of a few of them. But broadly, it’s a good list.

Thank you Gallagher for once again equipping us with insight and ideas to help IC pros benchmark, compare and have informed discussions.

Want to read all the results? I recommend checking it out in full via Gallagher’s website and download a copy for yourself.

Phew!

I hope you found this a useful read. What stood out for you? What are you taking away from this year’s State of the Sector.

Thank you for stopping by,

Rachel.

Post author: Rachel Miller

First published on the All Things IC blog 8 February 2022.

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