The Gatehouse Blog

State of the Sector in North America 2019 – Conclusions & Recommendations


Welcome to the 2019 State of the Sector – North America edition! We are passionate about research, and the State of the Sector is just one of the pieces of research we produce every year. In 2019, we received more responses, from even more countries, than ever. We’ve cut and spliced the data many ways, and have discovered some fascinating trends specific to internal communications in North America, which we’ll be covering in a three-part blog series. Read on to find out more! No time? To summarise our findings, we’ve created a handy infographic. Click the preview below to view and download the full infographic!

And if you want even more insights into the latest trends and best practice in internal communication, don’t hesitate to sign up for our knowledge bank. In the meantime, happy reading!

Who responded?

Over 100 internal communicators from the United States and Canada responded to this year’s State of the Sector survey. Respondents hailed from 26 different industries, with the most highly represented being Healthcare (19%), Local and Central Government (10%), Technology (excluding hardware) (8%), Banking and Finance (excluding insurance) (7%) and Education (7%). Headcount of the organisations respondents work for also varied greatly: Whilst one in five (19%) work for an organisation of 500 people or fewer, 14% say their organisation employs over 50,000 people!

Areas for improvement

This week, we’re providing an overview of the key themes when it comes to the state of internal communication in North America. We’re also giving our suggestions as to how the US and Canada can move the needle!

Fail to plan; plan to fail

Yet again in 2019 it’s been highlighted that internal communicators in North America do not utilise planning documents quite as much as their global peers. Whether soon or a long time from now, many practitioners in the US and Canada simply aren’t sure where they’re heading, or how they’re going to get there. Needless to say, colleagues across the business are none the wiser.

North American organisations now have so many channels available, surely it makes sense to ensure these are used in the best possible way, to ensure the best possible outcome? And with the amount of information being shared within organisations, a little bit of scheduling to avoid overlap no doubt wouldn’t go amiss?

Digital channels: prioritise quality over quantity

As we’ve seen, digital channels are slowly replacing print and face to face in many organisations. Whilst usage of the latter channel types is continually declining, the usage and number of digital channels in use continues to climb. Every year we see a, or multiple, new digital tools added to the channel mix, and it’s clear from survey results that this just isn’t working for people: 11% say they are hindered by the sheer number of IC channels they have available, and 57% say their digital tools are unfit for purpose – making this the second most prevalent challenge to practitioners.

Just like at a global level, digital channels are making things harder for internal communicators. Take a step back, think about which channels are really adding value, and focus on those. If you’re unsure, we couldn’t recommend an internal communication audit highly enough.

Line managers: it’s nurture over nature

You have to feel for line managers. They’re usually promoted to the level they are because of how skilled they are in their area of expertise – it’s recognition of their competence. They achieved that level of competence through years of study, training, and experience, not just from being naturally skilled. Yet, when a person becomes a line manager, we entrust them with a long list of communication and engagement responsibilities – without ever offering them any support in executing these. Is it any wonder just 28% are seen as competent communicators, when a tiny 3% prioritise line managers when it comes to internal communication support?

It seems like an evidence: it’s nurture over nature, with line manager communication skills, yet just 18% intend to make these an area of focus over the next 12 months. We know, it’s hard, but if there’s one recommendation we want to hammer home, it’s this one. Line managers have such a key role to play in informing and motivating employees that this really can’t be ignored any longer. Globally, communicators seem to have surrendered the battle against line manager communication skills – the US and Canada may start with a disadvantage but it’s better to start than to surrender altogether…

Missed anything?

Go back and read the previous two parts of our three part blog series on internal communications in North America. Read part one on strategy and planning here. Read part two on channels and tactics here.