What is the state of the sector?

Last week I attended the Gatehouse (Gallagher Communications) State of the Sector research*. It was an insightful morning with some good debate in the room and a clear desire to further understand some of the data points.

The research shows the results from over 650 communication professionals representing more than 400 organisations and based all over the world. 57% said their remit was purely internal communications.

Our focus for the next 12 months:

  1. Communicating strategy, values and purpose
  2. Improving digital channels
  3. Enhancing leadership communications
  4. Supporting a change and/or transformation programme
  5. Developing/refreshing an internal comms strategy

How has this changed to previous years? Interestingly the top one has seen a drop by 5% taking it back to the level in 2016, although still top of the list, and the fourth point about supporting a change/transformation programme has seen a significant drop – 8% – the lowest it has been for several years.

The barriers to success:

  1. Poor line manager communication skills
  2. Internal technology not fit for purpose /legacy systems
  3. Hard to reach employees
  4. Volume of communication too high/lack of time for employees to read communications
  5. Lack of resource/budget/investment

The issue of technology and the hard to reach employees have both seen a significant rise in 2018 at 6% for both. Interestingly in the table you can see that the barrier of the hard to reach employee has risen up the list and in 2017 would have been at the bottom of the top five.

What I find interesting about these two points is the lack of correlation between the barriers and the focus for the next 12 months. The barrier of line manager communication has been on the list for a number of years, yet it never seems to make it into the focus list – what’s stopping us from investing the time and resource into getting this right?

The channel mix is shifting, and we aren’t seeing much change in the use of social channels

We still use email the most and regardless of effectiveness it comes out as the main channel for most audiences – leaders, line managers.  There is a rise in printed newsletters – and it’s not a small rise either with a 40% gap between the 2017 and 2018 data. I would suggest that we need to define a newsletter as to how it differs from a magazine, but I wonder if the rise is due to the difficulty in communicating with hard to reach employees.

The social channels piece was startling. Since 2014 our use of social channels is at best limited, followed by embryonic, non-existent and then advanced. At every event I have been to social media inside organisations comes up and yet we are still seeing little movement to the advanced stages. Is there an average time for the changes to take place? Is it a five-year journey and next year we will see some of these numbers really shift? I’m not sure. 

The research also shows that in 2017 75% of respondents were planning to invest in their digital channels and this year this has dropped by 5%. Is this because we are tired of trying to invest in systems that aren’t fit for purpose? Or because we need to focus on other things? Either way, improving digital channels was in the list for the focus for the next 12 months so I’m intrigued to know what this looks like, if it isn’t investment in either the platform, the training or the engagement.

There is an alignment issue

There is an 11% drop on the point that leaders and the internal communications team agree on the role and purpose of internal communications. There is a 6% drop in the internal comms function having a clearly articulated purpose and there is a 5% increase in the lack of clarity around the organisational strategy.

The research published by CIPR Inside in November 2017 highlighted the importance of aligning the function’s role with leadership – without it, success will be hard to reach. We know that defining internal communication is difficult given the broadness of the role and alignment inside your organisation is paramount to success. Seeing such a shift in these numbers is still a surprise and a trend I hope we can reverse in 2018.

Overall, I left the session thinking we have yet to drill into the content side of communications. We don’t talk about the messages or what we are talking about – it’s just the channels, leadership and team information. I wrote the word content down about six times during the 70-minute session because for me, all the points above suggest a need to take a look at the content strategy, alongside the channel strategy and ensuring all of it is working behind a common strategy and purpose.

* Caveat from the team: The results are a little different from previous years as they had many more responses from the US than they usually do

The future of marcomms

Last week I was part of the panel discussion around the future of marketing communications at the CIPR Marketing Communications group event in London. It was a great evening with a few of us talking about the journey of PR as a profession, the use of digital and video and the fundamentals of PR. I was talking internal communications – looking forward and back.

For the 10-minute talk I took five themes that I think are important today and will be in the future so I thought I would share my thinking here:

Specifically trust in leadership which we know from the latest Edelman survey is on the rise. What we saw this year for the first time was a drop in the trust of peers to an all-time low. This brings us to fake news which for me is just a new phrase for the rumour mill inside organisations. Overall the trust piece is about authenticity. Our profession is so much more than ghost writing for the CEO as it used to be and I can see this trend of leaders taking ownership and accountability for their own communication continuing into 2018 and beyond.

Verification and Governance
As we see the rise of fake news we also see the importance of verification and governance. How often do we still hear “it’s ok, it’s only internal”? It’s not ok. Firstly, your employees deserve the same rigour to the story you’re writing as any external stakeholder and secondly, there is no such thing as truly internal content. Running a global comms team after an IPO was my first experience of the importance of verification and governance and using the same thoroughness through all our communication channels only improved our internal reputation. With the rise of Glassdoor and employee reviews online, verifying and having governance across channels has never been more important.

Corporate reputation
Glassdoor raises further questions or statements for organisations – what happens on the inside shows up on the outside. We can no longer create a consumer brand that doesn’t reflect the same values internally. The number of emails that are leaked to the press during times of crisis, or videos of customer experiences that are shared online – the risk with our current technology is huge. Let’s avoid the risk and ensure that when we talk about corporate reputation, the internal communicator is at the heart of that conversation.

I have recently been catching up Black Mirror – the 2014 episode ‘White Christmas’ is almost a reality today as we introduce Voice into our homes and are able to control the lighting, temperature and more from afar. AI is the big trend we seem to come back to – through fear of the unknown and curiosity – and the trend I think we will start to get underneath this year. For internal communicators, the rise of the chatbot seems to be high on the list of technology to explore.

We are seeing the conversations around ESN move to a discussion on the integration of a variety of digital channels – there is no one size fits all and we need to talk about content alongside the channels to make them work for our organisations – it’s time to move away from talking channels independently of content.

Data is something I’m talking about more and more. How we do we follow the same approach as Marketing to build data profiles for audience segmentation, content mapping and measuring what we do.

Basic skills
As we get caught up in the newest tech and shiny new toys to play with our basic skills as communicators are the fundamental elements that leaders are looking for. We should be confident in writing stories, constructing messages based on the content we are given and knowing how to use the right channel to reach the right audience. We talk a lot about being strategic but we shouldn’t forget the absolute basics. The importance of line manager communications is still a big topic on the barrier list to success and it has been there for at least 10 years – maybe it’s time to look at some of these less strategic challenges and get them right before we run to try and sit in the Boardroom.

You can see more about the event on Twitter using #futureofmarcomms and there are some great takeaways from the other presenters on there as well – including a list of tools mentioned by @wadds during his talk about how technology is enhancing insights into audiences and how PRs are harnessing that power to develop strategic communications.


Should we view change as a specialist skill or is it the norm?

When I think about specialisms within our profession PR, media relations, Public Affairs, Internal Communications etc. come to mind – but not Change. This thought came to mind as I was looking at research which specified change management as a discipline and when I was looking at a job spec for a permanent role which was a change specialist.

The question that came to mind was around whether anyone permanent would consider change a separate skill and whether it is only interim consultants that cover the change programmes today.

I have worked in-house in communications for 13 years and I would never consider change a specific skill. However, I have managed communications around new CEO’s, COO’s and CFO’s, a company going through an IPO and another being acquired as well as large IT programmes like adoption of enterprise social networks or a new email provider – yet I don’t think about change as anything different to the day job.

So is there a disconnect between what employers are asking for and what communicators see as a distinction within the internal comms specialism? And does anyone in-house consider themselves a change specialist?

I took to LinkedIn to ask the question and was pleased to see that I wasn’t alone in my thinking that change is business as usual but also surprised to see change as a specific role within the communications function with many people commenting ‘I’m in-house and I specialise in change’.

Thank you to those that took the time to answer – here are some of those comments:

  • I would agree with you because ‘change’ is often viewed as a finite project. But transformation is becoming BAU for many organisations, so perhaps change comms roles might become a more permanent feature. (Philippa Melaniphy)
  • Change is BAU. Does anyone know any in-house practitioners not working on change? But when PMOs are set up to manage a change programme, IC functions are normally stretched to their limits and have no capacity/capability. So they go to the interim market. This is the product of underinvestment and downsizing. IC functions that are set up in a project-based structure are always more effective than those that follow the Ulrich model. That’s my experience anyway. Hope that helps. (Sean Trainor)
  • I handled change comms in house, along with a team, we handled all internal comms but it included big and small scale change as part of an ongoing transformation programme. (Jennifer Hayward)
  • I did this and it was highly effective. Though to what Sean Trainor said, all leaders must be skilled in managing change. What I found was often, leaders and managers believed change management was all communications. It is not. Communication is crucial, but Comms can’t be solely responsible for managing change within the organization. Leaders have to be willing to buy in, articulate the why and be willing to have the hard conversations around the decisions that have or are being made. (Kelli Holland, JD, MBA, CBP )
  • I think most comms people I talk to are involved in communicating change. It may not be the bulk of what they do, and every organisation/situation is different, but it’s there to some extent. That said, there’s a good market for experienced change comms interims because a) they can bring specific experience to the table and b) change comms is often linked to (and paid for by) the programme team, so it’s seen as a short term need, hence not perm. (Mark Muscroft)

Interestingly the 2017 Inside Insight report from VMA Group shows that 61% of interim contracts are linked to change programmes and change management is in the top 5 important skills for IC professionals in the future – so clearly not just an interim role in today’s communication function.

On Twitter @wetfootprints replied to the question to say that “The company environment has to be open enough to have a continuous improvement/change culture otherwise will always be seen as temp fix.” And I’m left wondering if company culture needs to shift into this mindset, using the skills of change management and change communication to continually evolve in today’s climate.

Is internal social media a danger to mental health?

Earlier this year I started following Matt Haig on Twitter. This was partly because I was taking part in the charity ride to Hull which was linked to men’s mental health and suicide prevention. A few weeks ago, Matt shared an article he had written about social media and the links it has to depression and overall mental health. For many this isn’t news. We know that the likes and comments on social media release dopamine in our systems – the same chemical we release when we drink, take drugs or gamble. The dangers are easy to see when you look at the science and when you see more and more people putting their highlight reel online for all to see and compare to.

I started a brief Twitter conversation on how this translates to social media inside the workplace and realised quickly that 140 characters wasn’t going to be enough to get my thinking across (even the new 280 won’t cut it).

What is the potential damage of social media inside organisations? No one thought social media could be linked to the likes of drink and drugs when it started but the parallels are frighteningly real.

I’m not comparing like for like here. Internal social media isn’t necessarily about sharing your photos from your holiday and projecting a perfect life. But, as a manager of a retail store, how do I feel when someone smashes their target and posts it online for all employees to like and share? Am I left feeling deflated and depressed that I haven’t done so well without knowing all the facts about how they achieved it?

Are we mature enough, cultural, for the manager without the great sales to comment with a question asking how did you do it? Any tips? Or are we still fostering competitive environments inside the workplace that go against every grain of collaboration you can imagine? I fear the latter.

Being ok with failure, being ok with saying I don’t know is not easy. We don’t live in a world where making a u-turn is ok. We are under huge pressure to know everything and to just get on with it. But not all of us can, and we shouldn’t have to.

The buzz around wellbeing has been on the corporate agenda for a number of years but what is this really? As we introduce these new channels to the workplace are we considering the mental health aspects? Are we considering the introverts, the late adopters, the people who want to come and do a great job and go home?

Can our wellbeing plans catch up with the pace of society and the reality that a charity bake sale and football match won’t cut it? Can the workplace start to explore its role in our now dopamine filled lives and help us get back to some of the basics of human behaviour? Can we have time in meetings to chat about our weekends, rules to put the phones away and regular breaks on the agenda to check in on things outside the room?

We are not too busy to take this seriously. We are not mindless enough to rush from meeting to meeting, task to task without considering the impact of it all. And social media inside organisations needs to come with a little warning – think about the impact on people and think about the culture you are trying to create. It’s not just a channel, for many it is the only way they know how to communicate.

Focussing on the reasons for your digital channels

On Thursday I attended the 2017 Intranet Now conference in London –  a day of talking digital with a room full of people responsible for intranet development. As always, the day was filled with 9 and 15-minute talks from a range of companies, experts and organisations.

So, what were the themes this year and what were my top takeaways from the day?

Task based content is king

It was amazing to see all the different intranets out there, and how some have been changed and adapted over the years. This is what I love about this conference – it’s the only place you can see behind the firewall and into the intranets of other organisations.

The example from Standard Life Aberdeen was the best example I have seen of changing to task based content – just six months after launch. You can see from the images below the change they made to the top level and the mega menu – it’s not a small change!

The need to focus on tasks when designing menus and the overall IA of the intranet is a definite shift from previous years and something to consider for anyone reviewing their intranet.








The six things we want from an intranet

The team at Barnados presented a great case study of the journey they have been on and shared the six things people identified in their discovery phase. Both Rachel Miller and I commented that based our experience – this could be any organisation. Those six reasons are:

  • Simpler processes
  • Easier connections
  • Saving time
  • Personalise
  • Single source of truth
  • Feel part of a bigger story

Finding the right solution to meet these six themes will vary for every organisation but taking them as the principles for the rationale for an intranet platform is a great starting point for anyone.

What was interesting about this example was the need to combine a social platform like Facebook Workplace with an intranet platform that allows for the single source of truth – I hope the team come back to share how the final solution came together and how the launch went!

Remember the reasons for the platform

The presentation from Sarah Moffat was a real highlight for me. Partly because it echoed some work I have done in the past to use digital solutions to engage managers, but mainly because it was ultimately using the technology to solve a particular challenge and integrating it into the wider channel mix. The line manager page with a supporting email cuts through the noise, provides everything in one place and saves time.

My definition of internal communication includes the need for efficiency and using digital platforms to do this should be part of any internal comms strategy today.

There were other presentations throughout the day that echoed the importance of the goals of the project. Don’t create something as a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist.

There are always some big themes and some smaller takeaways from events – here are my smaller takeaways from the sessions:

  • Consider just how much governance you really need and don’t create rules and processes for the sake of it
  • Everyone learns at a different pace so make sure you have time in the plans to build people’s confidence in the platform. The stats around computer skills were a real eye opener!
  • Being the most senior person in the room doesn’t mean you’re the most powerful anymore
  • Accountability and the RACI model are important. I use RASCI – Responsible, Accountable, Support, Consult, Inform. Support is a useful addition
  • We have yet to really solve the challenge around search. It seems to be the thing people complain about most
  • We are creating an intranet that is a front door to the digital campus
  • The theory behind change projects hasn’t changed – we saw a model from 1987 which is still very relevant today

I was lucky enough to join the panel at the end of the day and there was a question on personalisation and collaboration that has stayed with me – further blog to follow on that theme!

So, if you’re working with intranets do check out @intranetnow and be sure to look out for the tickets next year. This event is a must-attend for those working in digital.

Five rooms of internal communication

This week I was invited to present at an event in London called The Five Rooms of Internal Communication – this was an afternoon event giving internal communicators the chance to discuss the different elements of a communications model created by Masgroves and hosted by Engage International.

As an introduction to the event I combined some of my thinking that has been bubbling away for a while thanks to Simon Sinek, VMA Group research and the first #ICBookClub…

We know that the CEO does not always think about internal comms when they think about their communications function. In fact, for many it only comes up when they are going through any sort of change. But what they do think about is corporate reputation and risk. This was my topic at the IOIC summer party when I got on my ‘soap box’ about internal communicators thinking like their counterparts in external comms when it comes to reputation.

The reputation of your organisation should be included in your internal comms strategy. If you’re still having trouble getting your voice heard at a senior level read the research and then leave a copy on your CEOs desk! if you don’t have a copy of the VMA Group report then let me know and I’ll get one in the post to you.

What I find fascinating is that in the world of social media, employees discussing the organisation online is not on the mind of the leadership. With websites like Glassdoor opening the internal world up to the outside world, the importance of the employee experience has never been more so.

And from social media I turn to the rise of the millennials. I blogged about seeing Simon Sinek earlier this year but one of the main themes in his discussion is how we use technology, how technology makes us feel and how dangerous it can be for society. I wonder what this means for the rise of social media as an internal communications platform (that’s another blog for another time).

And as social media use rises, our connection with technology becomes ever more present every hour and every minute. The phone buzzes with notification after notification and now watches mean you are physically attached to it all. This makes our lives increasingly noisy and ‘busy’. But what are we busy actually doing? I can waste a good hour or so scrolling social media feeds and enjoying a game of candy crush – but that’s not busy. We are consumed by data with companies fighting for our attention every hour, every day. Our brains simply cannot cope and when it comes to internal communication, it gives us a lot of noise to cut through.

How can you break through the noise to make sure employees know what they need to know, that they really hear you and you are making an impact? The brain remembers the obscure, the unusual, the thought provoking.

The event this week provided attendees with a model of communications but this wasn’t the core message. It was an experiential session where the delegates worked their way through the five rooms – Orange And Chocolate Waffle Meal. If you want to know more speak to the team at Masgroves but for me, my ‘five rooms’ were CEO, Corporate reputation, Social media, Millennials and Busy and I’ve only just started exploring them all as one.

Thanks again to the team for hosting such a different event and for Ellwood Atfield for hosting it all.