Internal Communications Trends 2018
Welcome to 2018. For serious internal communicators, this is one serious year. From pushing leadership to be more vocal in social issues to designing programs built on what employees are telling them matters most, this will be the time for ICs to flip the internal communication model on its head. This is the year of employee, not leadership, driven communication.
Ann Barlow and Courtney Ellul from Peppercomm shine a spotlight on some of the top internal communications trends for this year.
- Employees expect their leaders to take a stand – and IC needs to guide. This is the year employees will expect, even demand, that leaders take a stand on important social matters. Most companies have historically avoided taking a public stand on social matters. Not anymore. Today, 62% of employees expect their leaders to speak up (Glassdoor). Easier said than done with so many constituents and viewpoints to consider, but this need gives ICs the chance to guide leadership teams through the process, beginning with the organization’s purpose and values.
- Companies seek traditional and nontraditional expertise to navigate a changing world. With so much to handle – digital transformation, fake news, Trump-era reputation management and changing laws to name but a few, IC professionals need to turn to a broader array of expertise to effectively navigate. In addition to traditional sources (data scientists, change management experts, etc.), we need to solicit input from non-traditional types such as psychologists, sociologists and comedians if we are to be effective. These sources will challenge communicators to think differently, push for more transparency and step up engagement. Since Gallup says that employees who are “engaged and thriving” are 59 percent less likely to look for a job with a different organization in the next 12 months, the investment is well worth it.
- Communication gets (even more) personal. New technology is enabling ICs to take a much more tailored approach to internal communications. UK-based Virgin Trains, for example, has found ways to appeal to audiences with different levels of social media adoption. It created a news digest called “VT News Lite” which has been very popular with employees slow to adopt social media. The news service delivers company “news you can use” in a static environment, removing all social and commenting functionality. By contrast, the IC team also set up an internal app that praises employees in an online forum, appealing to those who regularly use apps and who like sharing information and opinions widely. It also uses gamification, leaderboards and cause-linked rewards to engage technophiles and the socially conscious.
- Tech steps up recognition game. Per the above, companies are tapping into tools, or developing their own apps, that allow employees to recognize each other in real time through badges and other forms of praise. TapMyBack, for example, is a clever employee motivation and recognition app, used by the likes of McDonalds, that helps team members recognize each other while allowing for team leaders to view useful data and analytics about the team as a whole. On this growing trend, TapMyBack CEO Salvador Barros, told us, “It’s important to not just recognize the large accomplishments or big milestones; we also need to celebrate the small things that carry us away. It’s important to empower people – not just leaders – to make it easier to appreciate each other. The power of peer-to-peer recognition simply creates a stronger culture.” And it’s essential for a distributed workforce, which brings us to our next prediction.
- Remote employees are no longer a distant thought. A real challenge for ICs is to keep a genuine, strong connection among workforces that largely work from home or away from a desk. Those who work from home are in danger of spending hours on conference calls as they multitask (or, worse, check their Twitter feed or scroll through Instagram). Those who don’t spend much time in an office because they’re in the field or on warehouse or factory floors can’t easily rely on HTML emails and intranets to feel connected to their colleagues. If you haven’t set up an internal social network, one that’s easily accessed with a smart phone, it’s time. There are of course Slack and Yammer, but also a number of others like Campfire and Bitrix24. Some companies have created their own apps. Content needs to be especially easy to access and consume.
- Face-to-face continues to be preferred form of communication. It probably surprises no one that people – being, after all, people – still prefer to get their information in person. Employees at a client we recently completed a study for told us how much they are enjoying the videos we’ve created, new intranet pages and Yammer posts. But they’d still rather hear directly from their bosses or from the company boss – AND have the chance to ask questions, at least in small-group settings. That’s why we are adding communication training for this client’s managers in 2018. Which leads us to…
- Companies look to the “middle” to reach the top. How many times have you heard or seen that communication somehow gets stuck in the middle ranks of organizations? It’s a common complaint. But as we have found from our own past miscalculations, it’s every bit as important to spend time with middle managers to make sure they are as comfortable with, and bought into, delivering information as they are with the information itself. They want the flexibility to say things in their own way, and you need them not to lose the message in the process. They want to deliver information when it makes sense for their business priorities, and you need them to be timely. They may want to communicate more information or less, and you have determined how much can and should be said. And, they need to be able to answer questions or direct team members on where to get them. This means ICs need to look beyond creating messages and using channels to setting up both training and a meaningful exchange between managers and communicators. That doesn’t happen over email, so spend some time meeting with managers around the company to gain trust and educate.
- Analyze this: As IC professionals demonstrate value, they’ll be more valued. A number of years ago, marketers began demonstrating their ability to contribute to the bottom line thanks to data and analytics. Now, some of that same kind of discipline is coming to internal communication and employee engagement. One of our B2B clients, for example, is studying which communication programs are changing thinking and actions in ways that support the business goals. The closer we link IC and business goals, the better for all, so be sure that your measuring not only what only which channels are most effective with which audiences and which messages are getting through, but how what you are doing is correlating to productivity, satisfaction and even sales.
Ann Barlow (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a partner and president of Peppercomm’s West Coast operations. Courtney Ellul (email@example.com) is a senior director at the firm and divides her time between New York and London. Both Ann and Courtney are passionate about internal communications and helping clients to be the voices of employees and facilitators for engagement – and lasting, positive change.