Trying to plan ahead for the next 12 months? Predicting the future is harder now than it’s ever been. If you’re struggling to get started, we’ve got the top trends and internal comms must-haves to include on your plan.
Are you ready for 2020?
If the past year — or, indeed, decade — has taught us anything, it’s that we can never truly predict what lies ahead. Terrifying as it is to accept (especially for those of us who love to plan things out in minute detail) it’s impossible to prepare for every eventuality.
But as we step into planning mode for 2020, it’s clear the coming twelve months are going to bring some BIG changes.
We’ve got the presidential elections in the US, against the background of an impeachment trial and wider societal issues around immigration, climate change, corporate misconduct, and more.
And following the UK’s recent decisive election result, the country’s new government will now face the long-drawn-out challenge of Brexit and the resulting implications for global trade, financial stability and considerable changes to law and policy.
We can’t know exactly what the implications of these will be for business. However, it’s safe to say there will be a domino effect impacting everything from our supply chains and regulatory compliance, through to skill shortages, expansion plans, and more. Against this socio-political climate, only one thing is for certain: 2020 is going to bring some challenges.
To weather those issues and changes within our own organizations, an effective, strong internal communications plan is critical. Keeping our staff informed, engaged, productive, and continuing to deliver an outstanding employee experience has never been more important.
So, where do you start?
What do I need to include on my 2020 internal communications plan?
How you approach and execute your internal communications plan will vary according to your organization, its culture, aims, channels, industry sector, and more. No two plans look the same.
However, at its most basic level, any successful internal communications plan should cover some core elements:
- Where: where are we now? An audit or analysis of the current state of IC in your organization should look at internal data and measures, benchmarking against previous performance where possible. Not got an IC reporting structure in place? You’re not alone, surveys show — but now is the time to start.
- Why: why are we doing this? Your plan should consider the overall business goals and objectives, and how can internal communications support these. What are your specific objectives as a function?
- Who: who are you targeting, and what are their unique needs, requirements, interests? Understanding your internal audience isn’t a one-off event, but something that should be revisited on a regular basis.
- How: how do your staff access and respond to communications? This considers your channels, working patterns of staff (for example, are they on the frontline with limited access to a computer? Dispersed geographically?) and any noteworthy trends in terms of behaviors (for example, peaks in traffic to your intranet that may indicate comms are best sent during the Friday afternoon slump).
- What: what does your IC plan need to include? This considers the different types of content, information, and communication that take place in your organization: everything from policies and business updates to birth announcements or details of the next company social.
Outside of the basic framework, however, there are some internal communications trends for 2020 that we need to be factoring in.
Here’s our top ten.
1. Change communications
It will come as no surprise that change communication is our top-ranking comms plan must-have for the coming twelve months.
For your 2020 plan, it’s important to consider those potential changes that lie ahead — whether it’s organizational restructuring, growth, office moves, or changes to policies, processes, and regulations — and how you’ll communicate those to staff. Town halls, manager cascades, small group face-to-face meetings and drip campaigns over a period of time are all traditional go-to’s for these types of comms.
Do you have a standard process you can follow? A centralized and trusted ‘single source of truth’ for your staff? Where can they go when they have questions? How will you engage those on the frontlines, who are likely to be the ones most greatly impacted by change but also the hardest to reach? How do you ensure everyone gets the right information, at the right time?
We may not know what those changes look like yet, but getting the foundations in place will mean we’re in a better place when they hit. Even simple workflow plans that outline the who, what, when, and how, can answer some of these questions.
2. Audience personas and data-driven personalization
Who is your audience, and how do they engage with your communications or your organization as a whole? What’s important, relevant, or of interest to them?
Audience segregation has been tried and tested in consumer marketing, to great success. Internally, though, we’re still overly reliant on traditional departmental structures when it comes to sending out communication.
But our employees are more than just the department they reside in. And just as they’ve come to expect tailored experiences as consumers, they’re increasingly looking for the same from their organization.
Place internal personas on your 2020 comms to-do list. Taking the time to understand our employees in terms of their interests, preferences, skills, experience, work arrangements and more, will empower us to refine and target communications more effectively.
Coupled with the growing capabilities of data-driven internal intelligence, our comms tools will increasingly have the ability to contextualize communication: surfacing what staff need, when they need it, in the format they require. These tailored messages get better engagement, giving you a better ROI.
3. Visual storytelling
We already know how powerful the visual is in getting a message across. However, as the information age continues to overload us, it now needs to be the centerpiece of your 2020 internal comms plan.
Don’t be afraid to experiment.
This means supplementing — or even replacing — the traditional written memo with digestible, engaging, and visual forms of content. Think photos, graphics, video, infographics, digital signage, slides, posters, branding: it’s time to get creative.
One interesting trend we’re seeing is the gradual relaxing of expectations for internal comms. We’re not saying that it’s time to revert back to the dark days of clipart: but there’s a balance between keeping it professional and shying away from doing anything at all due to the lack of skills or resources available. Sometimes, a simple iPhone video clip can do the trick. Don’t be afraid to experiment.
4. Purpose communications
Why am I doing this, and what’s the impact? How does my role contribute to wider business goals? Where are we headed, and what’s the point?
These questions are now a top priority for the younger generations in our workforce. It’s our job to answer.
Our staff want to know that the work they’re doing contributes to something.
This type of comms overlaps with several others; our leaders, for example, are key to setting out the organizational vision and direction. It also falls into change comms, and the need to keep our staff informed of where we’re headed and why. It overlaps with recognition, where celebrating individual contributions (especially in line with company values) gives staff a sense of purpose.
However, ensure you’re also making space in your 2020 internal comms plan for purpose-driven storytelling that follows the entire consumer journey.
Simply put, our staff want to know that the work they’re doing contributes to something.
If you share customer stories that demonstrate impact or value and trace that back — right to the efforts of the junior accounts assistant who is responsible for processing invoices from your supply chain — you’ll help connect everyone to a sense of purpose in what they, and your organization, does.
5. IC as the aggregator
One of the greatest challenges continuing to face the internal communications function is lack of time and resource. In fact, it ranks fourth in the ‘top barriers to success’ in this year’s State of the Sector report.
However, there is a huge volume of communication already taking place within your organization.
Tap into that ready-made content and increase the visibility of different departments, locations, roles, and individual employees, by shifting focus from the role of internal comms as author/creator, to aggregator and distributor.
In planning terms, this calls for establishing best practice guidelines, governance, training, and permissions for other contributors; creating a seamless workflow for submitting and approving of communications; and identifying those areas of the business that are currently unrepresented and understanding how to get their voices added into the mix.
Employee-generated content is also a big win for internal comms; if you haven’t already opened up your channels to those on the shop floor, it’s time to visit the idea.
Internal staff champions can be a powerful comms tool: they’re trusted by their peers, see higher levels of engagement and best of all, passing the baton relieves pressure on the IC function.
Aggregating content also comes down to channel and digital workplace management. Are your different platforms integrated, so information can be easily found in one central location? Do staff know what channel to use for different types of communication? If critical updates are being missed in Slack channels or buried in your company SharePoint, your comms strategy is set to fail.
6. Real-time, visible recognition
Acknowledging teams or individuals for their behavior, effort, and accomplishments in line with your organization’s goals and values is one of the biggest drivers of a positive employee experience. But it’s still not happening enough.
8 out of 10 millennials think they deserve to be recognized more for their work — a growing trend. 69% of employees also say they would work harder if they felt their efforts were better appreciated.
Why is this under the remit of internal comms? Because recognition is something that needs to be embedded into the culture of a business: it shouldn’t be kept behind closed doors or hidden in email chains, courtesy of line managers. Making recognition visible and celebrated across an organization not only fosters a positive culture, it actually ‘breeds’ further recognition.
For 2020, consider how to make those small moments of appreciation — not just formal rewards programs based on results, but the everyday ‘thanks’ given for effort or behavior — front-and-center in your business.
A centralized peer recognition program on your intranet with a ‘live’ feed is just one example, or perhaps it’s a ‘thanks of the day’ on your digital signage, or a dedicated Slack or Teams channel for shout-outs.
7. Culture checks, balances, and communications
Our corporate culture is now one of our greatest assets: or, if not tended to, our greatest liability. In an age of Glassdoor, social media, review sites and more, both consumers and employees are demanding accountability and transparency around how organizations operate and treat their stakeholders.
A staggering one in five employees report experiencing a cultural crisis — a significant incident indicative of troubling workplace attitudes and behaviors — in the last year or two.
There are many different factors that contribute to an organization’s culture, but IC again has a pioneering role to play. This includes communicating expected values and behaviors, publishing policies and communications around diversity and inclusion, or internal transparency and accountability around decision-making.
Partnering HR, IC also needs to focus on promoting and nurturing an organization’s ‘people investment’ opportunities: whether that’s L&D training, principles around work-life balance and flexible working, or your benefits package.
It also calls for ‘checking in’ on employee attitudes and engagement. This may be through employee Net Promoter Scoring (eNPS), pulse surveys, or perhaps focus groups and small group discussion.
Empowering staff with channels and opportunities to have their voices and concerns heard — and then acting on the feedback — is at the foundation of a positive corporate culture. Ensure culture comms makes it into your 2020 planning.
8. Employee advocacy
2019 saw a surge in the value and use of employee advocacy: staff acting as public ambassadors or endorsers of their organization’s brand.
It’s a powerful marketing and employer brand tool. 92% of us trust content from friends, colleagues, and family above all other forms of brand messages. But despite the gains, many organizations still aren’t tapping into the potential residing in their own workforce.
Giving staff the nod to take your internal business messages public may make leaders quiver in fear; however, 50% of staff are already posting about their company publicly. It’s happening, whether we like it or not.
Internal communications has a major role to play in championing, managing, and shaping this trend in 2020. Empowering your staff with the right tools, support, and content to promote your brand (the right way) externally is crucial.
Make it easy for them: guide staff to the latest product launches, brand updates, success stories that they can share with the click of a button. Provide the necessary training and guidelines where needed. Set out clearly where the boundaries lie in terms of what can be known publicly, and reward or recognize your existing champions to encourage the behavior.
9. Mobile comms+
Cellphones and mobile-focused communications aren’t new. Company mobile apps are already a growing trend and seeing positive impact — they’re downloaded by 40% of employees and the requirement for an app ranks top of the wish list for almost every IC pro.
However, the mobile app can’t stand alone. It’s important to look at how it integrates and works alongside your existing channels, so your communications align and support each other, rather than compete.
In terms of your 2020 planning, this is a case of channel management: creating a framework to ensure consistency of what’s being published across mobile, desktop, digital signage, and more. No matter what device your staff are using, they should have the ability to access the information or content they need, when they need it.
10. Authentic leadership comms
Our leaders have a huge role to play in shaping the culture and employee experience of work. We look to them for direction, to set the company mission and vision, to shape its values and to give us steer during times of change.
What’s different for 2020 is this growing demand for authentic leadership communication. Rather than hearing formal corporate-speak updates from a representative of the organization, our employees are looking for more frequent, engaging and genuine updates from our leaders as individuals.
Steering those in the C-suite towards more personable interactions may be a challenge, but it’s worth the effort. Add into your plan more informal, outside-the-box approaches to connect staff with their leaders, such as small group sessions, informal blogs, or vlogs: it will invite more interactions, feedback, and overall engagement from employees.
2020: a changing comms landscape
We aren’t quite at the age of widespread AI assistants or autonomous cars, but it’s clear the coming twelve months are going to bring some exciting opportunities and challenges for our digital workplaces: and, in turn, our IC functions.
The blurring of lines between internal and external communications will be one of the biggest influencers on how internal communications strategy and tools develop over the coming years.
Now, the flow of communication is no longer one- or even two-way within an organization. Thanks to advances in technology and the growth of social media, we’re seeing messages flowing from management to employees, to their peers, colleagues, customers, and back again. As intelligence develops, much of the nitty-gritty of manually pushing content to our audiences will be removed. We will become smarter, learning from our audiences’ needs.
For internal communicators, this spells a valuable opportunity. Closer collaboration throughout organizations will be necessary. Contextualizing of content — who, how, when — will become a priority. Comms and content formats typically reserved for external audiences — videos, infographics, success stories, quizzes, eBooks — will need to be shared within the organization, paving the way for ‘global comms’, rather than an internal/external divide.
Even traditionally internal documents — our policies, organizational strategy — may be pushed into the public domain, as consumers demand transparency and accountability.
Planning for what may come is a challenge, but is now clearly a strategic priority for every organization. Communication will be at the heart of business success in 2020.
Originally published at https://www.interact-intranet.com on December 20, 2019.