The 3 keys to IC success in 2017

On digesting the recently published State of the Sector report, three themes in particular caught our attention. Simply-communicate quizzed Lee Smith, co-founder of Gatehouse, to find out a little more. Alison Boothby reports:


On digesting the recently published State of the Sector report, three themes in particular caught our attention. Simply-communicate quizzed Lee Smith, co-founder of Gatehouse, to find out a little more. Alison Boothby reports:

Theme 1 – Technology not fit for purpose

In this year’s survey, poor technology was second only to poor line manager communication skills as a barrier to success for internal communicators. Lee Smith told us: “This is something that really resonates with us as an agency. The reality for many large organisations we work with is that the technology they have is simply not fit for purpose. We talk to many, many communicators who are working in organisations relying on Sharepoint 2007, Lotus Notes or some other archaic platform for their digital communications. In the era of the social intranet, ESNs and apps there is now an increasing recognition that this is seriously holding us back.

Lee Smith, Director, Gatehouse

“When we run our IC audits we often hear that employees expect a seamless digital experience – they want to access information at work in a similar way to how they access it out of work. That means having control over what they see, personalisation of content, enabling access from multiple devices, putting video at the heart of your content, making material easy to share, comment or like and much, much more. Communicators who can’t provide this are increasingly on the back foot.”

It is worth noting, however, that the formal internal comms ‘plumbing’ is only part of the answer: face-to-face remains king inside most organisations and that’s why the engagement skills of line managers are considered an even bigger challenge, remaining the number one barrier to IC success.

Lee again: “What’s interesting is that even those who do have the very latest tools and technology point out that they are rarely getting the most out of it. Yammer, for instance, is increasingly dominant as a social tool in large organisations – no doubt because it is bundled in as part of the Office 365 suite – but often we find that it has simply been unleashed on the business, usually by IT, without any real input from comms. As a result it’s often a platform looking for a cause.”

Theme 2 – The rise of mobile

When we look at how people are accessing company platforms and content, we see that there has been a general shift towards more flexible working over the last four to five years. More people are accessing content from mobile devices and from their home PCs and devices. While the use of mobile channels is steadily increasing, it seems that there is still enormous untapped potential for IC in harnessing the power of mobile as a channel.

Lee says: “The much-discussed Bring Your Own Device approach hasn’t really materialised and the number of people able to access things from their personal phone has remained surprisingly static over this time. There is no doubt that bespoke employee-focused apps can be hugely powerful and our research shows that those that have one as part of their internal comms framework are generally very positive about their effectiveness.”

Apps come in many shapes and sizes – there are those that are little more than corporate brochureware, and those that are genuinely useful, providing access to powerful employee tools and functionality. We’ve taken a closer look at employee apps in our latest smileguide which you can download here.
“As practitioners we have to remember that any channel is only ever as good as the content within it – you can have the whizziest technology in the world, but if the content isn’t right, relevant and engaging, it’s all for nothing!” concludes Lee.

Theme 3 – Organisational listening

We all know that employee voice is a key driver of engagement, but we’re still not taking it seriously as a profession, according to the research. “Our approach at present is very unsophisticated and this goes hand in hand with our approach to measurement, research and evaluation more broadly – it’s a real professional weak spot.” Lee states. “A lot of what we do remains very one way and top down. Very few teams have developed any sort of strategic listening programme – a massive missed opportunity when you consider the enormous value we can bring to senior leaders by regularly capturing and sharing employee insight.”

It is fair to say that it is not enough to just rely on the annual or bi-annual engagement survey – this may be a well-used listening tool, but in far too many organisations it is merely a tick-box exercise. And at best it’s a snapshot in time.

What advice does Lee have for us here?
“We have to raise the bar and find new ways to listen to and involve employees – be that through events and forums, technology, regular listening sessions or something else entirely. This is something internal communicators are incredibly well placed to make happen – we should know what employees are thinking and feeling better than anyone. And we should use this intelligence to guide decision making.”

If you would like to share your stories about how you are tackling your own IC challenges, please do get in touch with us. We would love to hear from you.