Employee Comms

10 trends and challenges for internal communications in 2020


 — December 10th, 2019

10 trends and challenges for internal communications in 2020

As we head into 2020, and a new decade, organizations smart enough to know that delivering an exceptional employee experience is essential to their future will focus on their strategic organizational communications.

They will focus on better, not more. Because we’ve had lots of ‘more’ in employee communications in 2019: more tactical activity, more pushing out content on more channels; ever more new technologies and team collaboration platforms.

Lots more options and lots more noise. Not the recipe for great employee experience.

The ultimate guide to HR employee communications strategy

There’s no simple answer or solution, of course, but a starting point for 2020 has to be organizations taking a holistic view of their communications across the enterprise, with an employee-centric approach that delivers a better experience through connection, personalization, and relevance.

If anybody doubts that internal communicators shouldn't be focusing what they do in 2020 and beyond through the prism of employee experience, they should have a look at new reports by Forrester and Willis Towers Watson.

How do others feel about the challenges that lie ahead in 2020? I asked 10 leading voices in internal communications and employee experience and here’s what they had to say:

Mark Levy pioneered the shift from HR to Employee Experience at Airbnb. He is a Senior Faculty member of the Josh Bersin Academy, and an EX Advisor. He will be a keynote speaker at Engage 2020.

The shift to Employee Experience is about moving away from doing things to your employees, and the new way of working is about doing things WITH and FOR your employees.

This means providing your employees timely, relevant, transparent and authentic information as well as creating the opportunity for two-way dialog and co-creating.

So, this means that employee communications need to bring employees along, sharing the strategy and updates in a way that they truly know what is going on and have ways to contribute to the conversation.

Global communications need to resonate across many countries and languages, so the spoken and written words must be understood, not just in the native language. Be sure acronyms are explained- enough of the alphabet soup and need for a secret decoder.

In addition, the information shared needs to have input and be inclusive of all parts of the company so everyone feels their contributions are acknowledged. Too many times the HQ dominates the share of voice.

In addition, a company is successful when everyone feels they belong, which starts from the individual and their team, so the same employee communications efforts need to be taken at the function/department level, as well as the country level.

Finally, find ways to listen- whether it's through engagement surveys, pulse surveys, Q & A’s at All Hands, Focus Groups, Workshops, and most importantly asking for input at all levels of the organization.

Utilize the employee voice to prioritize initiatives and design a more efficient workplace as well as to share better ways to support the customer.

When you treat employees the way you want them to interact with the customer you create a virtuous cycle that will drive engagement, performance and improved business results.

Jacob Morgan is a multiple best selling author, keynote and TED speaker and founder of the Future of Work University. He is the author of The Employee Experience Advantage and hosts The Future of Work podcast.

If we're specifically looking at communications then one of the greatest challenges is going to be story-telling and communicating in an authentic and non-scripted way, especially with employees.

With so many employees struggling with purpose and meaning, telling stories to connect what employees and organizations do to the impact they have, is going to be essential. We have to do a better of painting these pictures. It’s not just about numbers and information anymore it’s about connecting to that information.

Those who work in communications are also going to have to embrace a less sanitized and filtered way of communicating with their people where every word and detail is planned out.

There’s nothing more frustrating than seeing an executive deliver a message to the company in an environment and in a tone that employees can’t relate to. Be ok with filming things on iPhone, and be ok with mistakes. This is one of the things that creates trust and connection inside of an organization, being vulnerable.

Katharina Auer, Principal, 24Auer Consulting

Looking at employee communications in 2020, I see positive trends and I see continued room for improvement.

On the positive side, it seems more companies are waking up to the importance of internal communications and effective communication practices. They recognize the business impact of effective employee communications and they understand what employees expect from organizations and communication.

Many organizations seem prepared to invest more in employee communications and employee communication professionals. I also see that most organizations are in various stages of transformation, which is an opportunity for us to take a lead.

Still, on the positive side, there is a growing number of employee communication professionals who focus on making a difference for their organization – that is a focus on organizational outcomes and shaping communication strategy and plans accordingly, thus being able to quantify ROI and business impact.

On the flipside – the continued room for improvement – there are still organizations that see employee communications as a kind of tactical internal broadcasting service. This is not helped by tactically minded communication professionals who focus on tools, channels, and tactics rather than on delivering measurable value and having the right conversations with their stakeholders.

I also see a need for communicators to better understand and use research and data.

All this, in turn, does not help business leaders to better understand the impact of effective employee communications and their own role, and so many of us continue to get tactical requests for ‘stuff’.

Nothing new, really?

And finally… technology is making great and exciting strides. But for now, most organizations are made up of people, humans. And humans remain quite predictable when it comes to their needs and desires at work. Let’s not forget that.

Ann Melinger, CEO, Brilliant Ink

In the past few years, there has been a rapid proliferation of tools and resources for communicators. While there’s no question these tools have helped us to bring our communications approach to a whole new level of sophistication – from gathering and sharing meaningful data and metrics, to engaging our audiences in new and exciting ways – they’ve also created quite a lot of clutter.

Just like Marie Kondo introduced us to the joy of decluttering, I believe we’re going to see a similar trend toward simplifying and cleaning up communications tools and processes. We owe it to our people to cut down on the number of tools they need to use to get information and do their job well.

So, as we head into 2020, I hope we can challenge ourselves to review and clean out our suites of collaboration and communication tools to ensure we’re not overwhelming our people – or our communications teams (because they’re the ones who have to create content and manage all those tools and processes!).

Instead of adding an exciting new tool or feature, consider streamlining to create a more seamless, simplified experience.

After all, can’t we all use a little more simplicity in our lives?

The ultimate guide to HR employee communications strategy

Ethan McCarty, Founder & CEO, Integral Communication Group

1: It’s no longer just about the C-Suite

The rise of user-centered-design practices (starting with employees rather than execs!) is not a passing trend. It has implications for how we communicate, driving a shift from executive-driven, content & campaigns, with employers at the center, to stakeholder-driven experience design, starting with employees.

2: It's about experiences, not content

Change the focus from creating content to facilitating experiences. When we inspect the intentions of teams entrusted with employee experience, we observe a desire to create connections, community, pride – all indicators of engagement.

Yet these teams’ output is typically content to read or watch. This is a mismatch. Leading practices produce content – but primarily as an input to an experience remembered more for interactions with people than the consumption of content.

3: The future is a mobile system

There will be an increasing shift to cloud-based, mobile-only, data-personalized systems. We rarely work within one “program” or “tool” anymore and instead navigate an interconnected system of systems sharing functionality and data through APIs.

4: Collaborate until it’s awkward (and keep going)

Collaboration is the core competency in employee experience. Teams responsible for managing the flow of information and experience between employees and employers are decreasingly centralized departments of specialized skills, and increasingly mission-based-teams of multi-position players, partnering at deeper levels –the data, budgetary, mission, and method levels.

What does it mean?

Organizations will undertake significant work in 2020 like EVP development, deploying technologies, enabling managers, advocating brand, social media advocacy, reorganizations, new hire programs, and other employee experiences.

We must approach this work with an eye to the future by interrogating plans with the Four Shifts in mind.

The winds of change blow hard – let them blow at our backs!

Zora Artis, CEO Artis Advisory, and Chair of IABC, APAC Region

2019 was the year where Edelman’s Trust Barometer shone the light on the importance of the employer-employee relationship in trust equation within and outside the organization.

My hope for 2020 is that we will see more internal communication professionals invest in themselves to learn the language of business and be prepared to engage in meaningful dialogue about organizational challenges.

Substantiating one’s business knowledge along with communication expertise builds the credibility of internal communication and adds to the stakeholder trust bank.

I was at a recent event with the French Australian Chamber of Commerce where a leading business journalist posed the question “How do you lose your social license to operate?”.

He reflected on the numerous examples of organizations that have allowed their cultures to become corrupted over time. We've seen plenty of recent examples of poor organizational behavior in the past year and more, and organizations recognizing the importance of culture and ethics in maintaining their social license to operate.

Culture and ethics need to work together and as internal communication professionals, we have an opportunity to connect the two through alignment and robust ethical advice. This year we’ve seen the growing movement in a society where they expect brands to take a stand on societal issues and we’ve seen more and more brands do this.

In many cases, it’s authentic to who they are and what they stand for. But where there is a mismatch or superficial woke-washing, we see this called out by employees, customers, media and in some cases regulators. I expect this will continue in 2020.

Alan Oram, Creative Director, Alive With Ideas

Change on fast-forward – carrying on the 2019 journey into 2020, one of the key challenges to impact employee comms will be for people to move at the pace of change their organization is demanding.

We’re seeing client organizations really shifting through the gears to drive change. I’m confident that we’ll see more of this happening even faster.

Maintaining a sense of rhythm and clarity to effective comms can be difficult at such a time. From bold new operating models to radical ways of addressing sustainability and the environmental agenda to further digital evolution – comms will need to be a part of all of this. Not only through using strategic know-how but also by pulling on tactical insight to stay on top of things. It’s going to be busy!

Supersonic skills – as the pace of change accelerates, so too will the need for employees’ skills to grow in line with where the organization is heading. Pushing and accommodating learning and development opportunities will be crucial if organizations are going to meet their own expectations and ambitions when it comes to turbo-charged change.

Keeping our minds in mind – as we all ride along on this breakneck journey, it will be extremely important to remember to look after our own wellbeing and mental health. Our ability to function at our best and look after ourselves is crucial. This will also be a challenge that will need comms support for the rest of the organization.

Aniisu K Verghese, Director of Corporate Communications, Sabre India

Workplace culture is critical to the success of organizations and also a top barrier to transformation. Globally, 487 million people are expected to get added to the workforce by 2027 and millennials, who will comprise 75% of this group will decide to stay or leave a workplace due to the technology used.

Likewise, one in four organizations is expected to have 30% temporary workers. The Global Leadership Forecast 2018 report indicates that attracting and retaining talent are among the top challenges CEOs face. Organizations are facing skills shortages and talent gaps. There is a growing demand for soft skills and flexibility at the workplace. With trust in organizations eroding rapidly and content on social media trusted by people ‘we know’, the need for trust-building measures and employee advocacy is inevitable.

As organizations invest in identifying new roles and skills related to artificial intelligence and build digital-savvy workforces, there are more opportunities for internal communicators to be connectors, catalysts, collaborators, and curators of change.

By helping employees make sense of their surroundings, appreciate change better, listening and enabling employee voice, partnering on experiences and empowering employees to shape the organization’s narrative.

Employee communications has a part to play in storytelling that inspires stakeholders to look at the organization favorably. The role of employee communications in aligning and engaging staff is expected to get even more essential.

Recognitions and personalized communication can boost morale and is a key component of employee engagement. Enabling and empowering employees to co-create will be a differentiator in 2020 and beyond.

  • Aniisu K Verghese's views above are expressed in a personal capacity.

Shruthi Bopaiah, Head of Client Engagement & Communications, Bridgeweave Ltd.

Someone once said “In a crisis, employee communication is often the thin thread that holds everyone and everything together!” and I couldn’t agree more with that! In fact, I would like to add, that whether or not in crisis, employee communication is essential to ensure seamless execution of company strategy.

We all know that the world is under constant change but the one big change you can see is the rapid increase in startups.

The startup culture is trending and makes most of us want to even shift from large companies to startups. But, with a culture so lucid and a hierarchy this flat, how can one ensure you have effective employee communication?

Having worked with both large and small organizations, I noticed there is a thin line between the communication within a large company versus a startup. In a large company, you find a diverse crowd, a more broken down communication process and great internal communication tools to ensure there is always information flowing.

However, in a startup, the scenario is quite different. Here you have an open culture, a not-that-strict environment, crazy work schedules and to top it all, a lesser number of employees!

But, did you know?

An organized and effective employee communication will also reflect as effective and efficient client management as well?

Tackling the whole challenge of effective employee communication within a startup can be difficult but there is a way you could make this process easier. Here, are ways you could maintain great employee communication!

  1. Build a pattern where you learn, share and collaborate as one unit every day.
  2. Don’t smother around with it. Make sure you are interacting more regularly and systematically.
  3. Transparency is a must! This avoids the frustrating back and forths!
  4. Ask your employees to voice out their opinion and value them!
  5. Break all the ice with your employees, bring that connection, know them well!

So, the ground rule is that be it a large or small organization, communication is vital and not to be compromised, because your business is always in between changing landscapes, busy schedules, and jam-packed to-do lists!

The ultimate guide to HR employee communications strategy

Luis Ramos, Head of Corporate Communications and Government Relations at Uniper SE

The biggest challenge for any internal communications team is dealing with the many changes within the organization, such as modifications in strategy and markets, in management, and so forth. This challenge is just a constant one. Trying to hit a moving target is part of the job!

In a world where permanent transformation is everything, internal communications has a key role to play. Change is necessary, but it also brings a temporary sense of loss that shouldn’t be ignored.

In addition, the separation between internal and external no longer exists. Think about it. Most of us share what happens in our personal and professional lives on social media, messages circulate through the social channels and mix with other mass media.

Employees consume that mixture, which contributes significantly to how they feel about their work. No company can ignore this!

Also key is the good connection that communications practitioners maintain with the company leaders. The more involved the expert is, the better he/she can identify the what and the how to communicate. Business leaders need to think of their communications people as sparring partners!

Internal communication as a support function has a provocative strength. It has the duty to attract attention, aiming at exciting employees. It is a powerful partner that can dramatically increase the visibility of projects and people.

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