At Gatehouse, we have been taking the pulse of the internal communication and employee engagement industry for nine years now. The 2017 edition of our State of the Sector research report was released last Wednesday, with a slew of surprising insights to boot.
This year, we received responses from over 450 internal communicators worldwide, meaning this edition of the State of the Sector is one of our most detailed and representative yet. The study revealed six standout themes and key differences which are worthy of discussion.
The good news is that, after years of feeling like the poor cousin of PR and the misunderstood brethren of HR, there are today clear signs that the confidence of internal communicators is on the rise – and for good reason! In this year’s study, we have seen evidence that internal communication is increasingly seen as a value-adding function and a maturing strategic discipline. IC practitioners worldwide have been acting to cement their advisory role to senior leaders for years. Now, an ever-broadening range of activities handled by IC functions on behalf of other divisions points to an improved reputation of IC across organisations.
But there remains a paradox at the heart of our profession. Whilst confidence is on the rise and there are many signs that IC is winning more respect and recognition in 2017, our ability to gather insight, develop strategies and plan effectively is questionable. Once again this year, we have seen that some of the foundations upon which any respected corporate function is based – the ability to take a long-term view, to align to corporate strategy and to effectively plan tactical delivery – are below par.
We were delighted to see that practitioners have responded to our call to action following last year’s study and are beginning to take line manager communication more seriously. Improving line manager communication is now part of the top 5 priorities listed by practitioners, which is an encouraging sign, although our view is that more effort will be required to tackle a challenge of this magnitude. Training is only part of the key to making managers more engaging, but it is an important one, that is all too often disregarded.
The report points to a notable increase in the use of social channels in the workplace – driven specifically by the rise of Yammer and SharePoint. Whilst there is evidence of other channel providers making ground, the gap between these and the Microsoft supported products is significant. We feel this is down to the ‘Office 365 effect’. The switch from the traditional Microsoft Office model to Office 365 gave many organisations automatic access to Yammer and Sharepoint as part of the software bundle, likely pushing them to include these social channels in their IC channel mix.
Linked to the previous point, this year’s research shows that, whilst the channel landscape is certainly changing, digital isn’t the game changer many thought it would be – at least not yet! Technology not being fit for purpose was named the second biggest barrier to success by the communicators who participated in our study. The reality is that for every organisation innovating in this area, there are many more with outdated technology and systems. It is perhaps no surprise then that face-to-face channels remain king – and that, once again, there was no notable decline in print channels this year.
If, like us, you believe that internal communication is key to unlocking engagement, then our ability to give employees a voice must be high on the professional to do list. What we see, however, is that approaches to organisational listening remain fairly unsophisticated. For instance, despite predictions about the demise of regular ‘set piece’ engagement surveys, they remain the most used feedback tool for practitioners, with email a close second! Turning our attention to impact measurement, a similar pattern appears – with the engagement survey being the most used impact tool, despite it very often being ‘owned’ by another function and relatively limited in its coverage of internal communications.
While the internal communication and employee engagement industry has seen some growth and improvements since our last report, there remains much to be done. We look forward to the 2018 State of the Sector to find out how successful (or otherwise) the industry has been in taming these increasingly powerful beasts!
In the meantime, if you’d like to read about the above trends in more detail and see how your organisation stacks up, you can download the full State of the Sector report and infographic at www.gatehouse.co.uk/stateofthesector.