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The Top Trends, Challenges & Opportunities for Internal Communications in 2023

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 — December 16th, 2022

The Top Trends, Challenges & Opportunities for Internal Communications in 2023

Recent CEO research revealed the staggering financial impact employee communication has on organizations, but as we face another year of economic uncertainty and disruption, what are the main challenges and opportunities going to be for 2023? We asked comms professionals from around the world and here's what they had to say. — Tim Vaughan, Editorial Director, Poppulo

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Aniisu K. Verghese Ph.D., is an award-winning corporate communications practitioner and hosts the acclaimed blog Intraskope. He is also the author of Internal Communications–Insights, Practices, and Models

As the world continues to grapple with a looming recession, rising inflation, mass layoffs, and more, internal communicators have immense challenges on hand as well as fantastic opportunities to tap into.

Just 21% of the global workforce is engaged and the degree to which HR professionals think employee experience will improve over the years (72%) doesn’t match with how staff believes it to be (38%). Also, toxic cultures are influencing the Great Resignation, and organizations need to address it swiftly.

My prediction is that in 2023, internal communicators will need to go back to the basics – especially as values, culture, and staff experiences drive employee behaviors and organizational change more than ever.

1. What began as an experimental 4-day week is now becoming mainstream. 78% of employees working the shorter week are happier and less stressed and 63% of businesses find it easier to attract and retain talent.

This will mean revisiting internal communication practices related to collaboration and connection. Also, strengthening how, when and where communication can increase efficacy for organizations to adapt to the shorter work week.

2. Bridging the gap between what staff truly want and what employers think staff want is an opportunity for internal communications to ascertain. According to a McKinsey study, staff want to be valued by their managers and organization and get a sense of belonging while employers think staff want better pay, benefits, and an emphasis on well-being.

3. This is closely linked to culture, which leaders fear is swiftly eroding in organizations with fewer in-person interactions, lesser opportunities to drive behaviors in employer workspaces, and weaker ties to the organization. Despite that 76% of staff believe culture is crucial for their job effectiveness.

4. According to a 2021 study on how organizational values influence employee behavior, employees with a clear sense of their organization’s values are more likely to perceive the organization positively.

Furthermore, employees who feel their organization reflects their values are most likely to be strong advocates for the brand on social media, which has important implications for internal communications.

In essence, in 2023 and beyond, the internal communicator will need to:

  • Re-orient their focus to encourage, enable and empower staff to be involved in shaping how communication is curated and assimilated.
  • Educate leaders and managers to appreciate and decode these trends in a hybrid workplace and to use communication to be more intentional in their engagement.
  • Coach leaders to be more aware of their limitations and increase empathy, adaptability, and authenticity in their interactions.

Zora Artis, Alignment, Brand and Communications Strategist, and CEO, Artis Advisory and Co-Founder, The Alignment People

The pace of 2022 was exhausting. More disruption with the war in Ukraine, energy insecurity, inflation, a labor shortage, return-to-office struggles, supply chain issues, and the transition to net zero.

Organizations are adapting to continuing turbulence and uncertainty over the next few years. Whether they recognize it or not, there’s a need for realignment of expectations and strategies.

Working with executive and senior leaders over the past year as they tackle the above has been eye-opening. There’s a clear dichotomy happening on several levels that present challenges and opportunities for IC.

Some businesses embrace the strategic value of Internal Communication as an enabler of alignment and connection and a sense-maker. They’re investing in building leader capability in having great conversations, coaching them to listen to understand, and aligning the operational and teamwork with the strategic.

They’re helping to create a shared understanding and connecting to why the work matters.

Others are falling back to pre-pandemic mindsets and hoping the cascade and push mode of communication will work to engage and energize team leaders and employees.

They may be training their leaders but are less inclined to provide coaching on being better communicators or pragmatic and dynamic tools that are easy for leaders to use.

Irrespective of the approach to IC, one thing is common. Resources are tight and will continue to be. So, like many other functions, IC will be expected to do more with less.

• The challenge and the opportunities are to be strategic and courageous. Know when to be the advisor and when to be the tactician. It takes courage to say no.

• Spread the load through leader capability uplift. Work with organizational development in P&C to create the right leader development programs to help take people leaders from good to great communicators.

This means a mindset shift from communications being seen as a task, to what effective leaders do.

Shaun Randol, Founder of Mr. Editorial
In 2023 the shift in power dynamics will move from employees back to executives. One result will be fewer communications about social and political issues–internal and external. Comms pros will breathe a sigh of relief.

Why will this shift happen? To quote the American political strategist James Carville, “The economy, stupid.”

A recession, sinking stocks, declining revenue, and, thus, the threat of layoffs will outweigh any concerns employees have about their company speaking out on social issues. Employees will want their leaders to concentrate on keeping the ship afloat.

Executives will push back on activities that don’t boost revenues, which means spending less energy on saying something about everything. Such moves started on the fringes at places like Coinbase and have moved to Big Tech mainstream, with Meta recently announcing, “going forward, as a company we will only make public statements on issues that are core to our business, meaning they are required in order to provide our service.”

Other companies will follow suit. A recent survey of 360 CEOs and high-ranking comms leaders shows that 85% agree that CEOs and other senior leaders should be careful not to leap ahead with public positions their organizations cannot take or back up, and 75% say that CEOs and other senior leaders more often than not get in trouble for taking public positions or commenting on political and social issues.

A vocal minority of employees will be upset about these moves, but only a very tiny percentage of that group will leave an organization because of the change.

Besides, only 14% of Americans privately agree that CEOs should take public stances on controversial social issues. (And this is before the layoffs started.)

Managing the change might be a struggle for some comms teams, especially those who have to manage stakeholders who are used to leadership paying attention to their causes.

The struggle will be brief. Ultimately most comms pros—internal and external—will be glad guidelines are put into place. Frantic and reactive messaging will recede so we can spend our time on the proactive strategic comms we were hired to do.

Jennifer Sproul, Chief Executive, Institute of Internal Communication

The pandemic changed how we work for good. Coupled with rising geopolitical tensions, it’s triggered the highest inflation rates in decades, a cost-of-living crisis, and looming recession. The impact on people and organizations can’t be underestimated.

Internal communicators have helped organizations and colleagues adapt and there’s more to do. In 2023, we’ll focus on:

Quality Conversation: Aligned understanding helps us better respond to global events. Facilitating quality conversations and helping managers evolve their communication styles improves community and connection at work.

Listening to understand: Organisations must respond quickly to changing circumstances. Data helps us understand employee sentiment and opinions. When we use this information to improve strategic decision-making, we demonstrate we’re listening.

Technology: Advances in AI and ChatGTP could help us reach colleagues to create personalized experiences. This frees us up to invest in human connection.

People, Planet, and Profits: Employees increasingly want to work for organizations willing to address environmental and societal challenges. By placing organizational values front and center, internal communication moves beyond words toward collective action.

Effective two-way communication delivers return on emotion. It helps us feel appreciated at work and underpins collaboration to deliver great outcomes. Internal communication is now pivotal to organizational resilience.

Joss Mathieson, Chief Encouragement Officer, Change Oasis

In 2023, it’s inevitable that there will be more and faster change. Again.

Given the macro picture—you know, rising costs, slower economic growth, and even more uncertainty—organizations of all shapes, sizes, and sectors will be really challenged.

But the external expectations and internal targets will still go up. How do you successfully navigate that? Capability is key—invest in yourself and your team like you’ve never done before.

And think differently—your employers will want more for less (again), so you need to work much smarter, not just harder. Really smart.

As a change coach and consultant, I work with leaders and teams to help take the pain out of change. I use a simple and powerful model for positive personal and team change:

Curiosity: what’s really going on for you, for your team, and for the people in your organization? Ask questions, test your assumptions and gain insights

Clarity: where can you make the biggest impact for your organization and its people? And if you say yes to that, what are you going to say no to?

Confidence: as an expert in your field, act like one—value your skills and state your point of view with confidence, backed with insight

Courage: it takes courage to step outside our comfort zone and try something different; if you don’t, you’ll get what you’ve already got. And that’s not going to be enough

Conviction: it can be easy to get sidetracked by the myriad (sometimes competing) requests you will get, so stay focused on your purpose and goals and stay the course

When we fully leverage the power in these five things, it transforms how we think, feel and act. So, to navigate change better, change how you approach it. Can you afford not to?

Modernize Communications to Improve Digital Experiences & Workforce Engagement

Sharon McIntosh, CPC, Founder &President, And Then Communications

Our workplaces have come so far from our pre-pandemic world. Changes that would have taken decades happened in weeks. What’s next? Simply: more. We need more change, more learning, more adjusting—all while ensuring the long-term success of our companies. 

Let’s look at three trends that may affect how we work and communicate:

What we can no longer ignore: Employee burnout. In a recent survey from Aflac, nearly 60% of American workers are experiencing at least moderate burnout, on par with levels reported in 2020 at the height of the pandemic. The study found that employees are asking for mental health care in higher numbers than ever before – and employers are increasingly offering mental health benefits.

We must move beyond the “quick fix” of apps and services – and take a hard internal look at our organizational structures, cultures, and behaviors. That’s where internal communicators should be having tough conversations—not just about reacting in the moment, but systematically rethinking how work is done effectively.

One of your most powerful (and often untapped) channels: people managers. As you develop your channel strategy for 2023, make sure the list includes managers—those tasked with communicating and increasing their teams’ engagement. They remain one of the primary ways employees want to receive information, so you’ll need to use your other channels to inform and engage them.

But here’s the rub: 69% of managers are uncomfortable communicating with their employees. And, according to Gallup, only 50% of employees know what their manager expects of them.

These managers need communication training, information that’s easy to share, and an open feedback loop. Who knows how to support them better than you?

Take it from the top. Watching the dumpster fire of leadership mistakes unfold at Twitter offers a playbook of what-not-to-do when it comes to layoffs, employee engagement, and mental health. Fortunately, the majority of leaders are not walking into their buildings holding bathroom fixtures. (That’s not communication; it’s grandstanding.) 

We need human leaders with humanity. As communicators, we can assist these leaders to be more effective with their messaging and learn more about the value of storytelling over spouting financial spreadsheets.

Let’s act with urgency and expect more of our leaders—and ourselves. Our employees and organizations need us more than ever.

Priya Bates, President, Inner Strength Communication, Inc.

2023 promises to be a wild ride— and Recession, Reorganizations, and Recovery is my prediction for the year ahead.

The end of 2022 started conversations about the recession and the cost-of-living crisis that will impact large swathes of staff. As organizations share results, they need to be conscious that the celebrations can be met with skepticism as eyes focus on the size of leader compensation and bonuses.

Reorganizations will follow as leaders prioritize and may be the result of M&A activity, along with the impacts of digital transformations and the efficiencies that result.

Internal communication professionals must find a way to be integral in communicating these changes. I do believe that we’ll see communication staff let go, especially if they are mostly tactical deliverers versus strategic and accountable partners.

That being said, we will see a recovery in the back half of the year as organizations realize that issues of recruitment, retention, reputation, and results are still important—and that communication is needed to create connections in a hybrid world.

There is a very real opportunity to keep employees and leaders informed to deliver on the strategy and drive the stability and success needed in times of uncertainty to limit disruption.

Mark Dollins, Author of Engaging Employees Through Strategic Communication; and President, North Star Communications Consulting.

Is the post-pandemic culture the one we want? 2023 will test us on that.

Returning to work sites won’t mean returning to normal in 2023. If anything, it’s a return to establishing and reinforcing new norms for the workforce. It should be a year of intentional cultural re-awakening.

Think about it: we’ve been sent home, and brought back to company locations full-time, or a few days a week. Some new hires either have never been to a company work site, or may never have a desk in one.

Over the last few years, do we think the Zoom-driven, Teams-molding world we’ve lived in since 2020 might have some impact on “the way we do things around here?”

As much as remote working options offer in terms of flexibility for hiring and retention, there is a price to pay when it comes to introducing and reinforcing cultural norms to newer employees who have never reported to brick-and-mortar facilities.

The same applies to longer-term employees who, inarguably, are less engaged, and less committed to living the “brand” for their employers.

Whether we call it the “secret sauce” that makes our organizations unique and successful, our shared values, or simply compliance requirements in regulated industries, culture demands care and feeding. Left unattended, culture changes on its own --- and usually not in helpful ways.

Yes, some may call it the “soft stuff”—until a team member bypasses a safety requirement, violates customer privacy laws, or abuses colleagues, customers, or other stakeholders.

Then it’s priority No 1 and employee communicators should be uniquely capable of leading the re-charge.

Why wait? We need to get ahead of the need for issues and crisis management by doubling down on communications that introduce, clearly articulate, and reinforce the culture our employers want, not the one we’re developing simply by hanging in there.

Be intentional, collaborative, incessant, creative, and clear in empowering, enabling, and equipping leaders to define culture, and employees to live it.

Shama Hyder, Founder & CEO of Zen Media

The number one challenge for WorkTech next year is going to be speed. Understanding it and responding to it. Content moves at the speed of the feed, so the fastest wins.

For anyone in workplace comms, this is going to be crucial. This is a huge part of what we do when working with WorkTech companies. You have to see what’s happening in the ethos and then capitalize on it. This is not slowing down.

The second, is to recognize that workplace comms today matter more than ever before. Studies have found that the most credible source of information is ‘my company’s newsletter.’

As trust deteriorates in politicians and governments, more and more look to their company for leadership and guidance in an ever-changing world. That makes workplace communication more crucial than ever before

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