By: Ciara O’Keeffe, VP of Customer Experience

I’ve reflected back on the five emerging trends in internal comms that I wrote about five years ago in 2015, and I’ve realized that while a lot has changed in the industry, some trends that emerged in 2015, like the rise of mobile, are still on the up and up. Luckily, we are still seeing huge amounts of growth in the industry and the 2020 State of the Sector (SotS) illustrates this. Based on these findings, here are what I think are going to be the five biggest IC trends for 2020:

Internal communicators seen as strategic advisors.  

Fast fading are the days of communicators seen as internal journalists and event planners. Leadership is realizing that the employee voice is missing from strategic conversations and decisions. Who better to holistically represent employees than the internal communications lead? In the SotS, 72% say the IC function plays a critical role in capturing and amplifying employee voice.

Organizations are also focusing on the employee experience, which requires strategic partnership between HR and Comms. Being able to influence the employee experience is far more likely when you have a seat at the table. I’ve worked in companies where IC was recognized as a strategic function and in others where it was seen as ‘just a support function’. At each company, there was a significant difference in the employee experience.

Shifting to data-driven cultures.

Being able to measure your impact and proficiently share your results is the key to being recognized as a strategic communicator and having a seat at the table. Company leaders want to know impact, reach, and sentiment just like external PR and social media. Why are we using the channels we’re currently using? What is their impact? What are employees reading, sharing, talking about? Most importantly, what impact are IC activities having on the business? The ‘so what?’ behind your actions are the strategic insights leaders are most interested in. 

When you have data, you’re better able to adjust your strategy and really accomplish your goals. Say you’re able to deduce that only 48% of employees in your Michigan plant read the new health and safety policy. This allows you to quickly react to help ensure you reach your goal completion rate. You can then hold line manager briefing sessions to ensure they are aware of the importance of this update. You can share the stats as to how many of their team have yet to read the information. We always suggest that line managers have KPIs included around communication deliverables (the “so what”), given the importance of these types of messages to help increase compliance and the effectiveness of their messages.

Investment in digital channels.

In the SotS, one of the top 3 challenges mentioned was “Internal tech not fit for purpose.” On the IABC webinar, attendees asked Gatehouse to elaborate on the meaning of ‘fit for purpose’ when it comes to internal tech. Matt Frost, from Gatehouse, stated that employees are increasingly expecting organizations to bridge the gap between ‘work tools’ and those they use at home. There’s no longer an acceptance of bad user design or slow ‘enterprise-grade’ tools. If organizations don’t provide tools that meet employee’s expectations, they will use externally available tools for work purposes that aren’t as secure. Given the impact of data breaches on a company’s reputation, this isn’t something IT departments will want happening in their organization.

The report also mentioned another barrier to success: the “volume of communications that is deemed excessive, and a resulting difficulty to cut through the noise.” What can companies do to address this universal issue? Segmentation is one approach. Channels that can provide targeted information, based on data, that matters to the organization and that sort the need-to-know from the nice-to-know will have a winning edge.

Commitment to improving line-manager communication. 

We avoid what we find most difficult. This has been near the top of the priorities list for the last three years, yet we don’t seem to be making progress. Poor line manager communication skills are still rated in the top three barriers to success. Managers are key to enabling change within organizations, yet how often do we fully engage them and provide them with the training, tools, and resources they need? Line manager training should be run periodically in every business to ensure all new managers are provided with training. Think of it as them earning their ‘license to lead’. Core to that training will be conflict resolution, performance management, and, of course, communication training. 

Reaching non-desk employees.

It’s crazy that this is still a carry-over from 2015. One of the emerging trends that I talked about five years ago was the importance of reaching all employees, yet this remains a major challenge in the industry. I think our mindset needs to shift slightly here. When looking for channels to communicate with non-desk employees, I often get asked how can companies ensure they won’t alienate desk-based employees? I find this interesting, since all other channels are provided for desk-based employees and often alienate non-desk workers. 

Every channel will not and should not be expected to reach everyone. If you take that approach you will end up with channels that are trying to be everything to everyone and, therefore, lose their core purpose and usability. Adopting a channel matrix mindset is what is required to ensure there are no gaps in your communications strategy. According to the report, in order to address this challenge, UK communicators are working to enhance line manager communication skills and North American communicators aim to improve digital channels. I advocate for a strategy that focuses on both to really address the issue of reaching non-desk employees.

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