The Gatehouse Blog

State of the Sector in North America 2019 – Strategy & Planning

 

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? Click the image below to take a look at our full infographic summary!

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!

Remit

As with last year, the majority of respondents stated they cumulate their internal communication responsibilities with others – namely external communications, PR, and marketing. In fact, one in five said there are no dedicated internal communicators in their organisation, and 61% of the remainder estimated the number of dedicated specialists to be below five! This shows there has been little evolution from last year in terms of the perceived importance of internal communications – it does not appear to be seen as a fully fledged function in and of itself, thus it isn’t considered necessary to have internal resource focussing entirely on this activity.

“There has been little evolution from last year in terms of the perceived importance of internal communications…”

IC function: purpose, practices, priorities

Core activities

So, when these people are supporting their organisation’s internal communication, what exactly are they doing? Nearly nine times out of then, they’ll be either crafting corporate announcements (87%), communicating the strategy (86%) or supporting organisational change (86%). This closely mirrors the core activities of internal communicators across the rest of the world – but that is not to say that they do everything in the same way. North America-based practitioners are more likely than their global counterparts to regularly be involved in knowledge-sharing and collaboration: 71% cited this as a key responsibility, compared with just 64% globally. And whilst a meagre 39% globally say they provide communication coaching and training, nearly half (47%) of North American communicators say the same!

It’s beginning to sound like communicators in the US and Canada are jacks of all trades: they provide expertise in multiple forms of communications, and are involved in a very wide range of activities within their IC remit. Impressive!

How involved is your internal communication function in the following activities?


“IC practitioners in North America feel they are widely viewed by senior leaders as trusted advisors: 73% agree they are viewed in this way, compared with 68% globally.”

Perhaps as a result of their varied skill sets, IC practitioners in North America feel they are widely viewed by senior leaders as trusted advisors: 73% agree they are viewed in this way, compared with 68% globally. That said, fewer communicators than globally (66% vs 69%) believe that they and senior leaders are in agreement on the purpose of internal communications. So, whilst they are clearly delivering on what their leaders want, they may not feel able to capitalise on new opportunities which arise due to leaders’ differing priorities.

Priorities

Asked about what their teams’ priorities are, communicating strategy, vision and purpose came out on top: 57% cited this as an area to focus on for the next 12 months. Other big ticket initiatives included communicating a transformation programme (42%), making improvements to digital channels (41%) and enhancing leadership communication (38%). All of these appear to align with core business priorities which are becoming increasingly commonplace: organisations are growing, and strategising to grow even more; they’re often evolving their internal structure to better support strategic objectives; they’re becoming more agile and digitally oriented to serve colleague and customer demand; and they’re ensuring leaders are sponsoring these initiatives on a wide scale.

IC priorities

But what these activities aren’t doing is helping IC teams to overcome the biggest barriers they face. Three in five (58%) say they struggle with a lack of resource, but just a quarter (26%) are planning on making a case for additional resource. Over half (51%) say poor line manager communication skills are a hurdle, yet a paltry 18% plan to enhance line manager communication this year. And despite believing they are seen as trusted advisors, 51% complain of not being involved in strategic decisions – perhaps the traditional approach of aligning with senior leader wishes is doing IC teams a disservice…

Challenges

Another noteworthy oversight is around improving planning activities: just 24% intend to develop or refresh an IC strategy. Planning documents are immensely useful to ensure you are clear on your objectives and able to deliver on them – yet they are few and far between in North American communication functions. Only a quarter (25%) currently have an IC strategy in place, and scarcely more than a third (35%) have a channel framework. Under half, 45%, have a short-term communications plan! For what should be a strategic function, this simply isn’t good enough. And it would appear to be having an impact on employee understanding: fewer than two in five believe employees are clear on their organisation’s long-term strategy (34%) and short-term business plan (38%), and only a quarter (26%) say employees understand their contribution to these. In a sense, this justifies dedicating time and resource to communicating the strategy, values and purpose – but there are doubtless some accessory activities, such as improving planning practices and equipping line managers to cascade strategic messages, which would help equally as much, if not more.

“Despite believing they are seen as trusted advisors, 51% complain of not being involved in strategic decisions – perhaps the traditional approach of aligning with senior leader wishes is doing IC teams a disservice…”

IC challenges

 
Next week…

So, 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. Next week, we’ll delve into the tactics used in North America – stay tuned!