Dion Hinchcliffe, Chief Strategy Officer, Adjuvi
For its part, 2014 was a growth year for internal collaboration, as the platforms matured and companies continued to deploy new and updated tools, usually with a special emphasis on social and mobile collaboration. The good news: Overall, growth in newer forms of internal collaboration tools continued on a double digit year-over-year pace according to market research firms.
This growth trend will actually ramp up into 2015 as organizations get more proactive about getting ahead of digital workplace change. In general, I predict there will be increasing focus on rigor with workforce collaboration this year, especially in medium to large organizations. Specifically, this will mean deploying and getting value from digital communications and collaboration by pro-actively refining and tuning methodologies, policies, skills, standards, and underlying technologies. In other words, the last few years have been about learning about new ways of collaborating. This year will be notable for a focus on figuring out how to get the most out of these approaches.
Analytics was a star last year too, with a lot of attention focused on building capabilities to make sense of and increase the leverage of the vital business information flowing through corporate digital channels. But much of the activity only reflected corporate interest, as many discovered that analytics solutions for internal collaboration weren’t ready for prime time. 2015 will tell a similar tale, but collaboration platforms, and 3rd party solutions from companies like ViewDo will begin to measure up by delivering usable analytics capabilities. This could lead to noticeably increased corporate investment in collaboration in 2016 budgets as data-driven feedback loops allow collaborative improvement programs to be more successful than in the past by working with ground truth on a regular basis.
For more specific trends, here are my top predictions for internal collaboration in 2015:
1) Social will remain the most strategic new form of collaboration, but mobile will become the top focus for many companies. Mobile collaboration tools are just now reaching acceptable maturity points across a range of desired platforms (leading the pack: Android, iOS, and Window Mobile) as corporate interest in getting capable collaboration tools onto mobile platforms is at an all time high. Expect lots of new mobile collaboration deployments in 2015.
2) Lightweight file sharing, video conferencing, and comprehensive suites bristling with a broad spectrum of collaboration tools will also see sustained enterprise interest and extensive growth this year. Unlike last year, however, there will be much more in interest in reconciling these across social, mobile, and unified communications strategies, as collaborative channel fragmentation becomes a broad and growing concern.
3) Multimedia collaboration will become part of the minimum feature set in most organizations. This includes multi-point video, web conferencing, virtual conference rooms, and even the early adoption of 3D video and virtual reality in some companies.
4) Learning management systems and unified communications will face market losses to a new era of unified collaboration vendors. Companies have long had little interest in knitting together best-of-breed toolkits from fragmented solutions. SharePoint/Yammer/Lync, Box, Connections, and others will continue winning with solutions that bring more and more types of collaboration together into a consistent vision, even though there will likely never be one master collaboration environment.
5) Employee skills for taking advantage of new digital collaboration tools will (needlessly) remain well behind their capabilities, and the value they can deliver. While techniques like Working Out Loud and Letting the Network Do the Work are getting some awareness and traction, a large and growing skill gap will remain between what employees know how to do and what internal collaboration platforms are able to achieve. Companies will seek to address this but continue to struggle due to collaboration often being situated too low in the organization chart.
6) Companies will seek to get more value and ROI from their internal collaboration solutions. The last few years have seen companies put together proactive employee education and skill-building campaigns, often using the new collaboration environments themselves. As these approaches mature, the collaborative centers of excellence that emerged a few years ago will continue to proliferate in organizations in 2015 to drive new collaboration tools and matching skills into the organization more consistently and strategically. In another encouraging development, more HR departments will add next-generation collaboration skills to their employee on-boarding and continuing education programs.
7) Collaborative silos along with poor search, discovery, and organization of collaborative data will remain problematic and block higher levels of ROI in many organizations. Top performing organizations will work closely this year with their community management teams, intranet departments, enterprise search leads, collaborative architects, and master data management group to sort this out. But for most, fragmentation will get worse before it gets better.
8) Wearables will see pilots in many organizations, but mostly for very specific and situated collaboration needs. However, as interesting solutions are developed for new technologies such as smart watches (examples: ambient notifications and lightweight responses/approvals) their features will likely flow into the mainstream collaborative tools. Expect to see this starting towards the end of 2015, with 2016 the big year for the convergence of wearables and collaboration, especially with the advent of major new products like the Apple Watch, which could have significant management and executive appeal.
9) Vocabulary for next-generation collaboration will continue to emerge and evolve. We often don’t have words to describe the new collaborative activities that are made possible — or at least much more commonplace — in the workplace today. For example, in 2014 the analyst firm Forrester coined the word “micromoments” to describe the hundreds of small events we experience daily in today’s apps and mobile devices as we process notifications, alerts, and short messages from our digital apps. IBM also made a big investment in the term “social e-mail” last year. I also noticed a new bow wave of people adding the word “social” to things like task management, selling, and hiring when they spoke about collaborating in these functions. Developing better vocabulary will help us better focus on and design collaboration solutions for these collaborative scenarios, and we’ll see rapid evolution of terminology this year because of the sheer requirement to talk about so many new ways of working together with digital tools.
10) Redesigning the digital workplace will become a major top-line activity in many organizations. As I’ve pointed out in this year’s digital priorities for the C-suite, most organizations are falling behind digital change, not catching up. Companies are beginning to realize that too much one-off adoption of technology and not enough focus on an overall design for the digital workplace, especially collaboration, is slowing down adoption and creating disorganization, fragmentation, and an inconsistent workplace. I am seeing a growth in these efforts, and they work best when they involve a broad swath of the workplace in the effort. There will also be some effort to re-think management for how digital is changing the organization, with concepts like Holacracy, Wirearchy, and podularity being experimented with the most extensively, but management transformation will still be in its developing phase this year.
Overall, the enterprise collaboration space has become quite vast and complex — precisely because it’s so vital to how businesses work — that it’s hard to create a single complete view of what will happen this year. I believe, however, that virtually all of these trends are likely to take place in 2015, even though they’re only part of an exciting story as digital fundamentally transforms collaboration more this year than perhaps ever before.
Weaving together disparate apps
In 2015 we are going to see some really interesting developments in Microsoft technology as many features of its disparate apps are combined to unleash exciting new functionality. We have already seen some announcements along this line in 2014 and we believe that this is a trend that will continue to grow. Office graph and Delve are a great example; combining Office 365, Yammer, and SharePoint and applying powerful machine learning to deliver the most relevant and important information and connections from across your work life, in a quick and accessible way. On top of this Jared Spataro, Microsoft General Manager of Enterprise Social, has already stated that Microsoft wants to weave social utility into pretty much every application where it can add value. This means we can expect to see Yammer further integrated with Office 365, perhaps even in Outlook and Lync. Yammer might even find its way into the desktop Office applications, Microsoft Dynamics and Skype in the near future. The Microsoft technology stack is coming together in new and fascinating ways and we can’t wait to see what we can do with it for our clients next year.
Stronger mobile security
Flexible working and BYOD environments have led to significant productivity gains for organisations in 2014 and remain hot topics in the enterprise. However, these growing mobile trends also result in a growing number of devices becoming access points to important and potentially confidential information. With this rising challenge we expect to see a big increase in mobile security improvement and investment in 2015. Microsoft has already shown an awareness of the need for stronger mobile security through its recent announcement of the new mobile device management (MDM) features built in to Office 365. These new MDM capabilities, arriving early 2015, will help you manage access to Office 365 data across a diverse range of phones and tablets, including iOS, Android and Windows Phone devices. In addition Microsoft is bolstering its data loss prevention (DLP) capabilities. At the start of 2015 we will see DLP arrive for SharePoint Online, OneDrive for Business, Office apps and Windows classified content. As the number of ways we can access data and collaborate with it increases, Microsoft will offer us better ways to operate more securely.
Regular SharePoint alive and kicking
This year Microsoft Office 365 and SharePoint Online has taken the enterprise by storm, but it is important to remember that the vast number of organisations are still using on-premises deployments of SharePoint. With this in mind it is great to know that Microsoft has already committed to at least one more release of SharePoint on- premises. This means that businesses using this technology will still be able to do everything they always have. There is no cause for alarm as the growing Office 365 platform won’t take from their features or capabilities, but it will however provide a new opportunity in the space of hybrid deployments. IT departments working with on premises SharePoint deployments are already often integrating third party cloud services to support greater business productivity but they are also beginning to recognise that employees need to be able to quickly and easily create content, access it on mobile devices and consume it. Having Office 365 alongside your big enterprise SharePoint environment on-premises allows both the management and control to exist, but also the flexibility users are seeking when working. So yes, SharePoint on Office 365 is changing as Microsoft is offering a very strong Office 365 Collaboration solution that integrates more seamlessly with your own in a hybrid scenario.
1. The internal communications function will assume more responsibility for facilitating communication by employees. “Every employee involved” will become more of a reality this year for a variety of reasons. An increasing number of case studies demonstrate the value to the organization of using collaborative tools instead of email. At the same time, frontline staff is increasingly using social software for day-to-day business communication. And data proves that employee brand ambassadors who share their employer’s social media posts within their own communities can have a massive impact on the reach of those messages. Internal communications is best positioned to promote and support the adoption of these practices.
2. Internal communications will use collaboration tools to distribute its own content. Companies like Pitney Bowes and ConAgra Foods – among many others – have demonstrated that significantly more employees consume their content when it is distributed through collaborative channels like Yammer than when it is published magazine-style on an intranet home page. As these case studies spread, more companies will adopt this approach.
3. Intranets will pivot toward mobile. Some tiny steps have already been taken, but “mobile first” will become the mantra in a sizable number of companies as they revamp their intranets to accommodate the undeniable shift toward mobility. While many organizations will stumble with this transition, there will be more companies like the U.K.’s Barclays Bank, which has reimagined its intranet as a mobile-centric tool designed to be as easy to use as the other apps employees take for granted.
4. Communicators will ramp up their visual communication efforts. Concurrent with the rise in use of mobile devices, communicators will increasingly emulate external news organizations in their use of images to tell stories that can be consumed quickly over a smartphone. Meme graphics, infographics, data visualization, and images that tell stories (with captions serving only as supplemental information) will become routine communication vehicles in organizations that recognize how much more information will be absorbed by employees who increasingly get their company communications via their phone or tablet.
5. There will be moves to eliminate internal communications as a separate function. Some arguments have been published recently noting that separate messages for distinct stakeholder audiences don’t work in a digital, social world, and therefore there is no need for a department that focuses just on employees. A stronger case for the importance of the function will need to be made to convince leaders that folding employee communications into a PR or other department is not a good idea, particularly as organizations increasingly rely on employees to be brand ambassadors and advocates for company positions and causes.
6. Print will re-emerge – Studies continue to pile up revealing that comprehension and retention are greater with print than online communication, and that even the younger demographics that are supposed to be leading the digital transition prefer reading longer text in print. Some organizations that are struggling to communicate with employees through intranets and email will take this research to heart and experiment with new print publications in an effort to reach more employees with more information that is not time-sensitive.
7. Employees will become part of more advertising and marketing efforts – As the need to humanize the organization becomes more evident to leaders, and as recognition of frontline employee credibility results in tangible strategies, organizations will shine a candid and authentic spotlight on employees for everything from marketing to recruiting.
“Making predictions is a scary proposition at the best of times, but it’s particularly daunting when looking at the rapidly evolving space which is social business and analytics. However, not one to run away from a challenge I’m going to give it a shot. Before starting I looked back at my predictions last year (Privacy, the Enterprise, and Share of Voice) and while I over-estimated how quickly things would evolve, the general themes were correct, so bolstered by that I’m going to jump in with both feet and make 3 more predictions for 2015.
This year I am going to suggest the following themes: Employee Advocacy, Social Capital, and Business Outcome.
Employee Advocacy: Over the last year I’ve seen more and more marketing and communications specialists give up the fight and accept that their future success lies in their ability to activate their workforce to be brand advocates. There is still lots of fear, even paranoia, about “unleashing the employee” but the more progressive organizations recognize that this is the future. Studies, such as Edelman’s Trust Barometer, show that the employee is the most trusted company representative. I predict that in 2015 we will see the more successful companies unleash their employees into the socialsphere. They will do this carefully, thoughtfully, and likely wrap it up in lots of risk and compliance processes that will probably be counter-productive. They will make lots of mistakes, but by 2016 having your employees represent your brand out in the social wilds will become more widely accepted as the norm and not the exception.
Social Capital: In order to effectively activate a workforce, companies need to be smart about how they recruit their brand advocates within the ranks. Not everyone will be willing or able to take on this role, even in a small capacity, so it will be a case of companies needing to really understand advocacy potential from within their employee base. Companies will need to better understand what makes an advocate; knowledge, communication skills, social reputation, ability to drive engagement, to influence, and to be provocative (within reason). To pluck these people from obscurity will require an understanding of their own corporate networks. This is where identifying and valuing Social Capital and not just Human Capital will be important. Companies that have existing enterprise social networks and analytics capabilities will be at an advantage, not only because they are more likely to have an employee base with some level of social savvy, but also because they will have the data laid down to allow them to perform the type of network analysis required to measure these advocacy characteristics.
Business Outcome: I kind of hate calling this out as a prediction as it’s a real “Doh! Tell me something I don’t know”. However I do feel that we are turning the corner in terms of being able to enable companies to connect social and collaboration activity with business outcome. I’ve seen us being more and more successful at doing this in IBM, and more clients are asking for these capabilities. Social is no longer the cool kid on the block and it’s also not something that is going away; so now it needs to roll-up-its-sleeves and get serious.
How far we will move forward on these 3 items in 2015 is anyone’s guess, but I am fairly certain that move forward we will.
Brands will truly become social in 2015. Consumers deluged with inappropriate content will fight back. Much of so-called content marketing is the equivalent of direct mail in the 90s and noughties – too often it’s inappropriate and spam. The difference between what came through your letterbox and what is served on your Facebook or Twitter feed is the volume. Our news feeds are packed with brands trying to hijack a news event or own a moment. They don’t really care about what you think, but in 2015 they’ll have to. The brutal truth is that brands which fail to engage with their audiences on a social level will be ignored.
In order to get started with my thoughts on the next 12 months, I went looking for the following quote, which has been on my mind lately. It’s known as Amara’s law, named after Roy Amara, a past president of The Institute for the Future
«We tend to overestimate the effect of a technology in the short run and underestimate the effect in the long run.»
We over-estimate short-term effects of technology because we tend to forget all the constraints … habits and structural and protocol-and-policy based practices…we have tightly incorporated into the existing way(s) we do things. We under-estimate the long-term effects of technology because we tend to extrapolate in linear fashion the current ways and rhythms of doing things, whilst in fact they typically change, evolve and then grow in exponential fashion.
I believe most of us have this odd relationship with the web whereby we integrate exchanging and sharing information into our lives both casually and cautiously. In the case of how we work (formally), the process is relatively slow and thus we lose sight of why and how it impacts so much of what we do. Notably in the workplace, there are constraints imposed by reluctant or wary management, existing IT architecture, decisions about changing how things are done, existing process and structure for accountability, etc.
But bit by bit, our relationships with information flows is changing, for each and everyone of us. And thus, we are beginning to learn that how we process those flows and what we do with it eventually can have significant impact on who we are and how we are experienced by other people, which in turns interacts with the work we do (or do not do).
2015 will see significant growth in awareness that the Web and hyperlinks are with us for good, and in the understanding that the impacts are real and require This in turn will build greater awareness that the current resistance to deep change regarding work design and management practices remains the key challenge.
Whether this will translate into real efforts to develop new organizational structures and new leadership and management models and dynamics remains to be seen. I don’t expect deep changes yet, as the central assumptions from the industrial era still often ignore the impact of network dynamics on centralization-versus-decentralization of decision-making and remain essentially unchanged.
But I expect that there will be some additional experimentation, and reporting and analyzing new examples as they are discovered. The issues are not going to go away, and the longer they are not dealt with the longer they will fester.
There will be an initial attempt to re-define and re-invent HR. That process has already started but 2015 should see the challenges and opportunities therein become a mainstream trend. It’s a necessary adaptation, directly linked to the ongoing awareness and deepening of the impacts introduced by connected flows and exchanges of information. But HR philosophies and methods, most of which date from the 60’s – 80’s, need profound reinvention for the networked environment.
2015 will also see the introduction of significant amounts of algorithms used to stimulate predictive choices and augment the decision-making process where there are crowded and messy flows of information, and the introduction of artificial-intelligence based smart and capable avatars for people care and knowledge retrieval. This promises some extreme increases in quality, reliability and standardization of a range of services / types of work currently carried out by relatively senior knowledge workers.
There will be continued growth in the concept of communities within and connected to organizations. Community ‘management’ will continue to refine understandings and begin the commoditization of best practices, which in turn will be generalized to relate across to principles of complexity. This will likely beget a host of problems due to lack of understanding what that means for change, but Cynefin principles meets Art Of Hosting practices offers us some foresight into the emerging future « hows » for managing projects and people in complex conditions.
The tools for working in connected groups, whether in the same space or in shared space online, will continue to evolve by integrating a range of functions into almost all applications and platforms. We are approaching a moment when all the main productivity tools offer the same core functions with essentially generic commands and dashboards. Highlighting the growing impacts, differences in why and how the tools are used and the cultures in which they are used will increasingly reveal that the sociology of working and managing collaboratively is the critical performance differentiator. More open organizational cultures provide greater flexibility and adaptability, and this will continue to be reinforced as 2015 unfolds.
2015 will also see a much greater awareness of and debate about the rapid growth and spread of what we all call the Internet of Things. Smartening up many aspects of how humans interact with the things that make up their environment will have major impact on both the elimination of (old) and creation of (new) forms of work, and change many of our ways of relating to the world. I think we are just at the beginning of a next phase of deep(er) change based on connectivity and exchanges of information, and we will get more and more interested in, and concerned about, the psychological and sociological impacts of this next phase.
Silvia Cambie, Digital Strategist
An Apple Watch for the enterprise?
2015 might just be the year when wearables will graduate from gadgets to proper tools for the enterprise.
There is a lot of hype about the upcoming release of the Apple Watch. Mostly when we think of wearables, we think of B2C and reaching consumers through glasses or health-monitoring devices. But we should not forget that the enterprise has also strong potential for the wearable community. Data-enabled devices are bound to change how we interact with our co-workers and perform business operations.
According to Evernote CEO Phil Libin, wearables are going to change how offices will look like in the years to come. “What is the point of having rows and rows of people sitting in front of monitors and not talking to each other”. He believes that wearable devices will break that by enabling more eye contact and face-to-face meetings during which we will have constant access to the information we need.
It is definitely happening. The automotive industry is already using data-enabled glasses in their production chain. And it’s not only the manufacturing sector. Dave Shepherd is leading Barclays’ efforts to teach SMEs how to use social media. But he knows that in six months it might all be about wearables and how businesses can apply this technology to access, for instance, their POS data.
Freedom for employees on social media
Many companies are still keeping employees on a tight leash when it comes to allowing them to post online. The Pew Research Center conducted a survey showing that out of 1,000 employees, 46% still can’t access a number of websites because their employers block them. Another 46% says their companies have developed rules for what they are allowed to say online.
In spite of this, the trend is definitely towards empowering staff to post on social media and act as ambassadors. Employees might start by tweeting about the community work they do as volunteers for their company’s programs, like Barclays’ @digitaleagles. Or, take the example of an employee of an insurance company who is a big opera fan and has set up a Facebook page with a large following where he posts about the performances he attends. His employer happens to sponsor opera houses. The smart thing for them to do is to enlist the help of this employee and get him to talk to his followers about the great support his company provides to music and opera. More and more corporations have come to understand that the benefits to be gained from having employees spread the word on social media are likely to outweigh the risks. Some of these companies are in banking or retail, two sectors where getting customers to use technology (like a tablet to search for products) once they enter a branch or shop is paramount. However, for this to happen in a sustainable way, the customer has to be given the opportunity to interact with the bank or shop online through social media first. That’s how they get used to the idea of using digital. And what better way to build a strong presence on social media than allowing employees to talk about the work their company does.
Communicating to the graph
I have always found the enterprise graph highly intriguing. I first learned about this combination of collaboration and business networks a couple of years ago when I interviewed IBM’s Marie Wallace. There is an increasing number of products out there that, like Marie says, “help you identify, understand and improve the flow of information within and between teams”. One of them is Microsoft Office Delve.
In a great blog post Marie explains how the right tool helps you read the graph and analyse how good information flows between and within teams. It can help you identify who are the information brokers and blockers. I find the role of “weak ties” in organizations fascinating. They are apparently responsible for the bulk of the structure of social networks as the more novel information tends to flow through them rather then through strong ties. The information we receive from close ties usually overlaps with what we already know.
I believe one of the challenges for communicators in 2015 will be to learn to cater to the graph and tailor information according the needs and roles of the different links in the networks.
Ian P. Buckingham, Author, consultant and lecturer
The economic downturn has been tough for the professions reliant upon discretionary spend. Comms and engagement are no exceptions.
There will still be a need to manage unpalatable messages. But while there’s plenty of talk of universal growth and recovery, the employment statistics are slewed by zero hours contracts, internships, locum work and short term, essentially self-serving thinking.
In addition, it’s a poorly appreciated fact that more businesses go to the wall coming out of a recession than during its darkest days. And not everyone will see that coming.
What these two facts point to is a frustrating sluggishness when it comes to breaking from cost control, business as usual and steady state. Reactionary executives will still protect their corporate and personal asset base, very reluctant to take risks in case there’s a sting in the tail of the downturn.
In short, while the clear thinkers will push for it, I’m not expecting massive change in 2015.
If you’re an optimist however, and are familiar with the “journey” genre as reflected in films like How the West was Won or even Battlestar Galactica, it may be useful to picture a group of wagons or a brave flotilla of spaceships at the avant garde, recognising that change is no longer a “nice to have” but is essential.
This hardy band will boldly set out to seek new territories, new routes and new ways of working. These will be the indomitable change leaders while the rest will go backwards, standing still, until they eventually stall.
I’m expecting the crew of these craft to consist of a healthy mix of wise mentors who’ve forgotten more than most will learn with a firm grasp of key engagement techniques and principles. They will be joined by innovative buccaneers riding the waves of social media, people with portfolio careers who will blend traditional with emerging channels to influence organisation culture, the root of business performance.
I expect to see greater collaboration between departments like HR, marketing and comms in order to finance fresh thinking initiatives while budgets remain tight. I’m hoping for much more joined up, systems thinking to overcome constraints, fuelled by the wisdom that brand and business development starts within organisations, not with advertising and sales.
With this blended thinking should come a new found sense of respect that spans rather than reinforces generational and gender divides and new and better ways of working that will be more grounded in ethics and values.
If there’s a major learning to be taken from recent events and repeated PR disasters, it’s that values and ethical behaviours do indeed have great commercial value and may well be the key to sustainability and differentiation. All organisation disciplines that help communicate and cultivate values and behaviours are hugely important. Executives ignore them at their peril in these days of increasingly liberated communication.
Sadly, I rather suspect we are going to see the demise of the engagement bandwagon, robbed of the oxygen of credibility by the overwhelming chatter about “initiatives”, “events”, “apps” and “things” devoid of context or the simple “horse sense” that the role of internal communication is to act as the oil in the engine of performance and that engagement is just an important cog driving the same vehicle. It is patently not an end in itself.
So, here’s to the pioneers, the innovators, the risk takers and the catalysts for change. Liberate enough and empower them to work their magic and 2015 may well turn out to be a pivotal year.
More internal social platforms will open up their doors to external partners and customers. Social media will become not only a vehicle for communicating and interacting but also a place for innovating and developing new products. Ideas will be turned into services. In order to help lead this transformation, internal communicators will be required to better collaborate with IT, marketing and human resources. They will need t
o be fully aware not only of how employees relate with one another but also with the outside world and what their corresponding requirements are.
More companies will start to embrace the ‘failure’ culture, accepting the risks that come with trying and testing new business models. This holds true to both the implementation of new technology, investments as well as new management approaches. The latter includes the involvement of a broader base of staff that goes beyond titles or seniority. Teams will be formed on the basis of talent, quality of creative contributions and individuals’ commitment to help the company succeed.
We will continue to see more freedom given to staff to manage their own workload and decide where and when to perform it. Yet, the office will still be a key place, reuniting all the ‘troops’ in times of key decision-making and internal meetings.
As companies continue to expand globally, there will be even more focus on a ‘Return on Values’ (ROV), ensuring that the entire organisation is aligned and engaged to the company’s core principles, mission and vision. Yet, local activities will vary significantly in response to the local environment. The challenge for internal communicators will be to support this process, while creating a strong and shared network of know-how and experience. This is another area where social technology, from platforms to enterprise apps, will play a key role, enabling seamless sharing of corporate stories.
With social media and smartphones the amount of pictures and videos taken and shared will continue to grow exponentially. Visual storytelling will be even more powerful to engage staff in crowdsourcing key company’s moments for both internal and external campaigns.
As a sort of evolution of the mobile trend, connected devices and wearable technology will find favour inside a bigger number of corporations. For some it still will be at an experimentation stage. For others it will be a more established business model for example by equipping staff with tools that track their health, or giving them life-logging cameras to take huge numbers of images when working on site.
My hope, as much as prediction, is that 2015 will be the year when investing in your skills is seen as the key to success for all internal communicators.
It’s been a while coming and there have been some major strides in recent years. Melcrum have been quick to see the demand for skills and learning and have built heavily on the work that I did a few years back with Sue Dewhurst on competencies.
But there seems to be something in the air.
Consultant Stephen Welch has been talking about the attributes of a strong communications advisor, the IABC is getting closer to launching the first ever global certification for communicators and there seem to be more books published on the subject of best practice in IC this year than for a long time.
There seems to be a groundswell of interest in the issue of what it takes to be effective at the job. My sense is that the desire to be given more latitude is driving communicators to reflect on themselves. Forward thinking practitioners know that you can’t be taken seriously if you don’t take yourself seriously.
And in 2015 there is more scope than ever before to develop professional skills.
The IoIC is offering great short courses and Melcrum’s Black Belt series continue to develop and get strong reviews. In the UK, the CIPR’s Certificate and Diploma in IC are as strong as ever and deserve an even greater take-up. And of course let’s not forget the excellent masters program at Kingston University. Increasingly though, practitioners seem to be thinking about their skills as advisors and recently I’ve noted some very interesting offerings in this area. Sheila Hirst has developed a very interesting-looking course on coaching and I’m hearing of several people who are looking at programs on offer from people like the CIPD to become stronger advisors.
So, my prediction (and hope) for 2015 is that this is a year when more practitioners than ever before make a step change by investing in their own development.
My internal communications predictions for 2015
1. ‘Internal’ will no longer be enough – it is time to include the ‘extended’ organisation of supply chain, partners and distributors.
This is a new frontier for internal communicators. They must use the digital workplace to extend beyond purely internal-facing services. CEOs are now looking beyond their traditional borders and seeking to influence and lead a wider organisation – and so must the communicators who support them.
So much happens not only among those on the payroll but also with those in tis extended organization – logistics, suppliers, dealers, intermediaries. For Unilever, for example, this means an external “workforce” almost as large as the staff it actually employs. Don’t be left out.
2. Mastery of emerging and existing digital services will be a core skill set.
There was a time when internal communicators treated new technologies as less than essential to their role. Disruptive services like Chatter, Yammer and Jive plus unified communications like Lync are the norm. Internal communicators must be in the vanguard in how to exploit these digital workplace services. That requires a natural level of comfort with the online world and its pace of acceleration.
There will also be a blurring between services that are considered ‘internal ‘ and those that are external such as Linkedin and Twitter. Whether internal communicators approve or not, conversations will be happening on all platforms and therefore all services need to be included in the digital workplace of the company.
3. Cultivating community using collaboration services is the key ‘starter’ role for anyone new to internal communications.
If you entering internal communications, where should you direct your attention? The best place to get noticed and make a difference (as I saw with one superb new starter at Accenture) is be acting as the ‘go to person’ for a social network like Yammer. You get your name front and central, gain an understanding of governance and politics – and learn through experience about what matters to people when they talk to colleagues.
4. Internal communicators must exploit high-grade digital workplaces for recruitment and retention.
The truth for many large employers is that finding and recruiting the right new staff is getting harder and harder. One large law firm says it can find people but they are just “not that good”. This is a big challenge which employers must solve or new young recruits will be thin on the ground.
This means internal communications will need to engage new recruits as a place where they can gain meaningful, dynamic work, with a flexibility and power in the digital services that impresses the “millennials”, who are fast taking over the workplace.
5. Seize your moment as real-time communication systems pilot enhanced virtual reality-style technologies.
In July this year, Facebook acquired the virtual reality firm Oculus Rift; and the fastest growing enterprise software offering from Microsoft is currently its Lync Communicator, which provides a broad range of audio and video communication pretty well.
But what we will see being tested in 2015 will be how these new technologies, or versions thereof, can be melded to provide an experience of virtual communication that feels like we “are there”. This will be a world that needs new ‘hybrid internal communicators’, skilled in such new communication formats or it will take shape of its own accord. For any ambitious communicator these new virtual world offers great opportunities but you must travel without a rule book.
I recently shared 5 trends that will shape internal communication in 2015 and beyond. My predictions for 2015 are:
The internal communication function will operate as a ‘start-up’. That will mean working with less, managing ambiguity, constantly evaluating trends, staying ‘boundaryless’, operating with limited budgets and taking calculated risks. It will also expect the internal communicator to revisit skills and capabilities they currently have.
Employee brand will take centre stage as the employer brand will become less important and limiting. Marketing concepts will continue to blend into internal communication practices. The employee will play a larger role in how internal communication is created, structured, curated and measured while the internal communicator will take the lead in building brand ambassadors from within.
As more and more organizations leverage the power of enterprise social networks there will be a rise in social media education and risk mitigation initiatives for employees.
There will be an increased expectation from stakeholders for ‘Return on Communication’ effort and management time. The internal communicator will also be expected to champion ‘culture’ and leverage storytelling to differentiate the internal brand.
I really enjoy this time of year, for all of the obvious eating, drinking and merriment related reasons, but I also welcome the opportunity to reflect on the year that has been and to look forward to what next year might bring. I’d going to take this opportunity to highlight a few areas that I’d like to see change in 2015 within the world of employee engagement. Are my points wishful thinking or poised to become a reality? I’d love to hear what you think….:
1. Happiness is no longer a dirty word in organisations
Despite a growing body of evidence that happiness at work can lead to positive business outcomes, it is still a dirty word in many organisations. Zappos famously grew from a shoestring start-up to a $2 billion dollar company by creating a business model fuelled by happiness. We know that happier people are more productive, healthier, more likely to stay and the list goes on.
Shawn Anchor, author of The Happiness Advantage, makes a compelling case that the greatest competitive advantage in today’s economy is a happy and engaged workforce. Some of the business outcomes he cites are increasing sales by 37%, productivity by 31%, and accuracy on tasks by 19%. Happiness at work is prerequisite of success, not simply a result. And yet few companies focus on creating a happy workforce. In 2015 I think we need to reclaim the word happiness and view a happy workforce as a desirable business outcome.
2. The deficit approach starts to make way for a strength-based approach to employee engagement
Analysing problems, and poor performance when it comes to employee engagement is still the dominant approach in most companies today. It is interesting that engagement is considered to be a positive psychological construct, such as happiness, wellbeing and flow, and yet the research and practice then takes a deficit, problem solving approach. There seems to be very few companies who are asking what works well, what good looks like and how can we use a strength-based approach to improve and develop engagement. I think 2015 could be the year that more companies start to sit up and take notice of the power of a strength based approach when it comes to employee engagement.
3. The death of the annual survey
The employee engagement survey is still the preferred method of measuring and analysing engagement within organisations, but surely if we are serious about improving engagement we need to move with the times and find better ways to do this? Sites such as Glassdoor have ensured companies are now much more transparent than they used to be, how it feels to work in an organisation is no longer a well-kept secret.
In addition the way companies collect survey data is still predominantly annually, or maybe monthly, via an online tool, or a hard copy questionnaire. However with the rise of smart phones and tablets, even wearable devices, surely this is set to change?
Big data is also a term we are familiar with, meaning the ability to pull in data collected from a variety of sources to reveal deep insights. However, once again employee engagement is behind the curve in utilising these developments. There are many advances in technology and the way data is used that could really help us improve engagement.
4. The rise of social media to engage employees
Social media has become an increasingly important feature within our lives: an estimated 60% of all Internet users now access some type of social networking platform (CIPD, 2012). However research into the ways in which social media impacts our psychological wellbeing is still scarce. This is particularly true of research which looks at the impacts of social media used within the confines of an organisation: referred to as Enterprise Social Networks (ESN). Use of ESN is on the rise within organisations, with many commentators arguing that ESN will become an essential communication tool of the future (Gose 2013). However to date there is no published research which specifically investigates if, and how, ESN impacts employee engagement. Intuitively it seems that social media could present a huge opportunity for employee engagement, enabling more collaboration, feelings of connection, conversation and more. However this journey is just beginning as companies begin to adopt ESN such as Yammer and Jive.
Social media is here to stay and, I believe, offers a great opportunity for engaging employees. Keep up to date with the latest developments, find out what other companies are doing, ask your employees how they feel about using social media at work. This is a new area, and we don’t yet understand how social media at work will impact employee engagement which provides a great opportunity for experimentation within this area: watch this space.
2015 will see the beginning of the end of Internal Comms.
And that’s a good thing.
Socrates taught us how to ask questions and Aristoteles came up with some pretty good ideas around how to answer them. Communications has evolved since then, yet at its core in practice are universal principles: Ethics, Consistency, Context, Analysis, Strategy, Engagement.
Somewhere along the way we forgot that and got distracted by being a ‘function’. Organisations have been busy building silos for far too long, losing sight of the real value we can bring as professionals. We should focus relentlessly on solving problems that make a difference to the people we work with, the organisations we serve – and if you’re so inclined – the world. Then, draw on the unique cross-functional skillsets as relevant to make it happen.
The end is a new beginning. It is a switch from Internal Comms to Communications competence in general.
Now, Socrates might have asked ‘Why do you say that’?
Well, at a recent roundtable hosted by the recruiter VMA, one of their senior headhunters talked about the challenge of finding good people who truly understand the organisations they’re hired to serve. Implicitly, this means stepping beyond the silo. A good communications director now needs to know how PR, marketing and internal communication works – worrying less about how to label the work and more about realising strategic outcomes. It is also a given that they can measure in a way that the finance guys can understand.
It is a question of alignment to organisational purpose – a topic I am passionate about – and I am glad to say that IABC is also working to address this for the profession. It is reflected in the IABC Career Roadmap directly, which helps professionals navigate their careers. It covers Foundation skills, Generalist/Specialist competencies and maps the route to Strategic Advisor and finally – for those who are inclined – Business Leader. All built on a shared application of a Global Standard for Communication, or #ECCASE – our practical, universal principles in action.
Here are five resources from 2014 that’ll help you accelerate into 2015:
• A good diagnosis of the shift and what’s next: a Communication World exchange on the future of communications
• A bigger picture take on the shift happening more broadly: understanding ‘new power’
• A worthwhile and up-to-date manual for practitioners that stretches beyond its silo-implying title
• A great list of questions every communicator should keep to hand when facing a tough gig
• A panel debate you may find useful if you’re a PR or a journo – or simply if you’re interested in the intersect between the two.
In closing, there’ll be an opportunity to discuss all of the above at Eurocomm ’15 in April – the theme? Power to the People.
Be ready for 2015! It will be a transformative year.