The State of the Sector survey is out again. It may be number twelve in the series, but for the team behind it is first time round. Marc Wright met up with the two communicators who now share the front door keys to Gatehouse.
The annual State of the Sector Survey has become an institution in IC circles; it is the largest single snapshot of our industry with over 1,000 communicators on 45+ countries giving their views from around the world. The changes it tracks are incremental – each year a few shifts in percentage points can give clues to trends that will revolutionise the way IC is managed 5 years ahead.
But the team behind it have changed much faster. Gallagher is one of the largest insurance brokers in the world and it has now accumulated one of the largest teams working in IC globally. First Shilling, then Gatehouse and then last October AHC, means a combined team of some 170 staff in the UK, US and Australia.
The State of the Sector survey was started 12 years ago by Gatehouse but last year the consultancy waved goodbye to the two co-founders, Simon Wright and Lee Smith. They are off conquering new things, which in Lee’s case means flying out to the Caribbean to mix up a new take on the marketing of Rum – it’s a tough job, but someone has to do it. The new team at Gatehouse is headed up by Andy Macleod and Kevin McDougall. Andy leads their People Services and Excellence team and has a background of 15 years in-house at Nationwide Building Society, Lloyds TSB and LV=, followed by a stint at VMA. Kevin McDougall (ex Hiscox, BBC, Unilever and KPMG) heads up the Client Services team.
You can download the report here – it is well worth some browsing, but we wanted to know what were the key issues that struck the two new hands on deck.
Andy Macleod goes first:
“It surprised me that the top three challenges that IC teams face, do not align with the top three priorities their teams pursue.
“In the UK, there is increasingly a strong focus being put on driving the people agenda and improving the employee experience: nine in ten respondents (88%) said they are involved in this on a regular basis.
“Yet when you look at the IC team’s priorities these come down to the traditional tasks of communicating a change or transformation programme, and developing or refreshing an internal communication strategy.
“As we looked round the room at the IC practitioners who came to our launch events we could not help asking if the push is coming from their leadership to focus on bottom-down messaging, whereas the challenges are all about creating a better employee experience from the bottom up.”
Both Kevin and Andy are concerned that IC teams are fighting the battles of the last war – not the current one. For instance, the age-old complaint about line manager communications might be becoming irrelevant as many staff have more than one manager, and can be taking news and opinions online with colleagues around the world rather than from the manager in their office (if they still have an office).
Our own worst enemies?
But it is not all bad news. Kevin’s biggest surprise from the data is that IC practitioners often do not realise how good a job they are doing.
“We run a lot of audits and when you compare what our clients tells us with this benchmark data there is a huge gap. Audits consistently show a higher appreciation of IC folk then how we rate ourselves. For instance, in the survey we think that only 23% of employees truly understand the company strategy. Yet when we ask the staff themselves in audits the average is much higher at 54%. And while only 34% of IC think that employees are clear on how they contribute, the staff themselves rate their awareness much higher at an average of 67%.”
A striking statistic in the report is that 70% of IC people say that their leaders agree on the purpose of IC, which sounds very healthy, yet only 33% of IC teams have a written strategy for the year. Andy again:
“We live in a world of change. So maybe this number – which is the lowest we have seen for many years is driven by increasing churn of senior executives and shortening time of CEOs in role. Whenever there is a change of leadership then there will inevitably be a change of strategy.”
“I think that the rate of change is increasing, and it is a real question whether IC can keep up. I do pick up on a daily gap between what IC is focussed on and what are the immediate needs of the business, such as the impact of the Coronavirus.”
What Gatehouse are seeing is the transformation of the comms role. Many are being drawn into change management as large organisations struggle to transform in the face of market and technology disruption. This means that the successful IC professional is spending less time on managing channels and messaging and more around people, purpose and strategy.
“Last year we identified the need to have a data driven culture, but still few IC professionals are engaging with the data that will drive AI in their organisations. In 2020 we want IC to delve into the employee experience. In too many organisations we see separate teams of Employee Experience, Employee Engagement and HR Comms all working in silos.
“At Gallagher we are developing our proposition round the People agenda. With the acquisition of AHC we have deep expertise in all parts of the employee journey from on-boarding to retirement.”
Follow the money
Perhaps the most interesting page of the State of the Sector is the first section on Budget and Resources where numbers of in-house IC practitioners is on the rise:
Interestingly, many organisations have opted first and foremost to increase headcount within their IC team over the past year. Organisations with fewer than 500 employees, on average, now employ two IC specialists – double the headcount from 2019. And at the opposite end of the spectrum, organisations of 50,000 or more people now benefit from an IC team made up of 16 dedicated internal communicators, up from 15 last year.
Andy believes that the role of the IC partner is changing with companies buying expertise rather than stuff. The overall budget to spend is actually going down as organisations expect their own team to act as internal consultants.
Kevin agrees that the demand for training is growing and Gatehouse are already expanding their Accelerate training programme into North America with dates in Toronto, San Francisco and Chicago for the first time.