Whether it’s seeking reinforcement of emerging trends, or shining a light on new areas, the State of the Sector report from Gatehouse is always hotly anticipated. Alison Boothby caught up with Simon Wright, co-founder of Gatehouse, to discuss some of the highlights from the latest research.
Now in its 10th year, the State of the Sector report gives us insight into the purpose, priorities and challenges facing the Internal Communication profession. Although the results themselves do not show many startling variances year on year, they do quite clearly reinforce certain trends over time and point towards new areas that are starting to have an impact in our corporate environments.
Reasons to be cheerful
A significant 71% say that the IC team are viewed by senior leaders as trusted advisors. Good news then that we are no longer seen as glorified post boys and girls. With our CEOs taking a more active interest in communications and budgets holding up, you’d like to think that all was well. And there is much to celebrate around the practitioner’s day job: strong on communicating strategy, vision and values; a key driver of employee engagement; heavily involved in change programs and directly involved in developing and launching new communication technologies. Dig a little deeper into the data and you soon realise that there is still much to work on.
Let’s talk about digital
“Let’s start by talking about something we just cannot ignore: two of the most universally unpopular channels are used by huge numbers of organisations. Yammer and SharePoint are both part of Office 365, and the impact on our corporate and IC landscape is going to be very big indeed” says Simon. “Our data shows that already 48% of organisations have implemented Office 365 and a further 21% are planning to do so. It seems that the likes of Jive and Chatter, once strong in this area, are unable to raise serious competition against the ‘juggernaut’ of Office 365. Even the highly anticipated rise of Workplace has been lacklustre to say the least – fewer than 10% of companies taking this up despite the hype. The reasons, we believe, are down to cost – Yammer is essentially ‘free’ within the Office 365 environment – and the fact that organisations are moving increasingly to a fully integrated and collaborative tool set, rather than bolting on ESNs as separate channels. It’s about giving people a better way to do their work, an easier way to get stuff done without adding to the confusion of switching between platforms and apps.”
Lack of integration and adding complexity to the channel mix, came out as the second biggest frustration in the survey behind low adoption, so it is heartening to see that in terms of where IC professionals are intending to focus their attentions in the next 12 months, the survey shows that the improvement of digital channels has jumped into second place, up from fourth last year.
Slower uptake of new technologies
In some areas of the survey the results are sensational just because they are not, in fact, sensational. I asked Simon why he thought that some of the most talked-about ‘trends’ of the past few years had not become trends at all: “If you look at something like BYOD we have seen no real growth in its take-up even though many predicted it would be the next big thing in line with the increase in mobile-first communication. While the digital workplace revolution is much talked about, we are seeing a far slower adoption of new technologies than perhaps we had expected. We see SMEs leading the way on this one, perhaps because they are more agile businesses.
“Chatbots haven’t quite taken off yet either despite a great deal of media interest; however, 72% of our survey say that they intend to make greater use of chatbots in the next 12 months along with increased focus on mobile apps and social channels. Yes, there are lots of cool technologies out there that IC would love to use but adoption is far slower than you might expect. From our experience this is particularly true in the large corporates who, for the most part, are committed, like it or not, to a SharePoint or O365 environment.”
It seems it’s a case of ‘if you can’t beat them, join them’ then. Simon again: “We do expect to see a rise in hybrid solutions – the sort of thing Brightstarr and Beezy build for example. These are relatively inexpensive, simple to use, attractive user-friendly interfaces on top of SharePoint and O365. This makes sense – IT are happy; IC are happy, and your users are happy.”
Face to face still king
The figures again this year reinforce the fact that face-to-face communication is the most effective. No surprise there. But we are seeing a steady commitment to increasing the use of other digital visual channels.
Simon agrees: “Certainly we are seeing greater use of video in clients we work with and a mix of both user generated and pre-recorded output. We see CEOs taking a more active interest in communications and video is a great tool for them to use. Live- streaming technology is still too expensive for general corporate use but it is certainly part of the mix. While digital visual comms is growing, SMS/instant messaging and email are still seen as more effective channels for the time being.”
Planning and strategy weak point
In the areas of planning and strategy the survey results are disappointing. Only 50% of organisations having a written annual communications plan that identifies key IC activities; only 1 in 3 having any sort of strategy covering a period of more than a year ahead; and 21% having no plan or strategy at all! Simon says: “For all the progress made and the many indications we have from our IC audits that suggest the role of IC in UK and Europe is becoming increasingly important, we still have a lot to do in terms of planning and strategy. This simply wouldn’t – couldn’t – happen in other departments. What makes this harder to swallow is that year on year we are making no progress in this area.”
Line managers perform poorly
For the past three years, it is line managers who continue to top the tables for being a barrier to IC success. 56% cite poor communication skills in their line managers as the single biggest barrier to IC being a success. Providing communication training and coaching, along with collaboration and knowledge sharing, is lingering at the bottom of the core activities that IC are involved in. Also, improving line manager communication skills has dropped out of the top 5 IC priorities. Does this suggest that our priorities need to change? Simon says: “It is certainly obvious that line managers need to be far better empowered. This is something at Gatehouse we continue to champion. However good the use of collaboration platforms and social technologies is within your organisation, the ability of your line mangers to create motivated, engaged and high performing teams is always going to be critical. Part of this is their ability to have meaningful conversations with their people, to show they care about employees, to really listen, to provide context for corporate decisions, to motivate and to inspire.”
For starters, it looks as if IC could do with cosying up to the L&D team. All the digital bells and whistles in the world are not going to create strong line managers which are crucial to IC success. Having said that, the focus for the future is digital and improving digital channels looks to be high on the IC agenda. The question then is how to help more than 26% of organisations make a resounding success of these social channels.
Gatehouse is one of Europe’s leading internal communication and employee engagement agencies and publishers of the definitive survey of the internal communication and employee engagement landscape. They recently merged with Gallagher Communications, recognised as world-class experts in employee communication.