Internal comms in 2021 - what to expect?

Written by Becky Hall, CIPR Inside committee member

With most of the financial year still ahead of us and as we deliver our comms plans, if you haven’t already benchmarked against what other internal communications professionals are focusing on this year, now’s the time.

Gallagher’s State of the Sector Report 2021 was published in March, giving an overview of our sector as experienced by 800+ Internal Communications practitioners across 45 countries and 34 industries. This year’s report highlights four key themes: digital experience, employee experience, transformation and insight. 

CIPR Inside hosted a call for Andy Macleod, Gallagher’s Director Employee Experience and Communications. There was insightful commentary and discussion on the call - here are some of the takeaways.

Impact of COVID-19

  1. IC is more influential. In the last year, IC has become significantly more influential in a number of areas. There have been up to 20% increases in scores for measures including the role IC plays in capturing and amplifying employee voice, employee experience, and leaders seeing IC colleagues as trusted advisors. There is also significantly more alignment between what leaders and IC see as the role of IC.
  2. Increased focus on some topics in response to current events: Mental health and wellbeing (70% respondents), D&I (55%) and new ways of working (52%).

Digital experience - time to raise the bar

There have been massive increases in use of digital channels across the board and this year usage rates are significantly higher for Teams (80% up from 47% last year) and Yammer (65% up from 39%).

However the results suggest there is work to do in terms of our channels supporting our goals. While the majority (~80%) think the channels help with connecting with leaders, only 50% think channels are good for collaboration and even fewer think they’re helpful for employees’ sharing their opinions with the organisation. The solution? Andy from Gallagher had a couple of recommendations:

  • Planning tools - A large number of IC pros have not established how channels should be used. Only half of IC teams have a channel framework and only 51% have a channel specific editorial calendar to plan ahead. Andy stressed the importance of having these tools to make effective use of digital channels.
  • Let people choose - Only 4% respondents said employees can currently choose how they receive communications (eg subscriptions) – and over half say there are no plans to do this. Andy emphasised this is low considering the changing demographics of the workforce.

Employee experience (EX) - not just another buzzword

EX is gathering pace! One in three respondents said there is a clear mandate from the top to drive it and another third said it is discussed but is not formalised yet.

Many organisations have strategies for the various components of EX - with the most commonly formalised being purpose, culture and vision (60%). Only 27% already have a strategy for ways of working, although over half respondents say this is in development which is encouraging. 

Change - the ‘new’ new normal

The top three types of changes that organisations are undertaking are to culture (43%), process (40%) and system (37%).

One of the biggest areas IC pros will be involved in in 2021 is all of the changes involved in moving to a hybrid world of working from home and working from office. Andy shared that feedback from Gallagher’s clients is that employees are finding the discussions about hybrid working even harder than the conversations about working from home.

Data & Insight - turning feedback into action

It is still the case that more IC pros are measuring reach than outcomes. A large majority (80%) measure reach (attendance, hits etc)

  • This drops a bit when measuring understanding (surveys) - 75%
  • It is lower again for measuring satisfaction 60% (IC audits, interviews)
  • And lower still for behaviour and outcomes under 60% (adoption rates, turnover)
  • 36% benchmark against other companies

IC’s place in organisations

While it’s still most common for IC to be part of Corporate Communications, one in four teams report to HR and this proportion is increasing year on year. HR is also the team that most IC pros report they’re working more closely with, followed by IT - collaboration with PR has decreased slightly.

And good news for anyone looking for a new role - small organisations are growing their teams and, post-pandemic, have boosted their budgets for IC. Though the majority of IC pros will be doing more with less as respondents reported smaller budgets this year.

IC teams’ priorities

The focus area that most (49%) respondents had in common for the next 12 months was engaging employees with purpose/strategy/values - though this is a focus for fewer people this year compared to 2020. Unsurprisingly with the pandemic and working from home, more IC pros are focusing on improving digital channels. A positive finding - keeping in mind the majority of us are working with tighter budgets - is that more IC pros are prioritising improving measurement compared to last year (+6%). 

Alarm bells may ring for the fact that ‘upskilling your team’ was only a priority for 10% of respondents. This seems low considering the role IC has to play in initiatives relating to the future of work. Andy commented that this number seemed unreasonably low based on feedback Gallagher has had from other functions in organisations, who say that their IC teams are “traditional”. Do more of us need to be more forward-thinking?

Listen to the recording

A full recording of the call with Gallagher is on YouTube (23-minutes) Well worth a watch!