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August 1, 2022

5 Trends Happening in Internal Communications Right Now: What’s Driving Them and What You Can Do in Response

Internal-communication-trendsOne of the most exciting aspects of our daily work with clients is the variety of industries and span of projects on which we have the opportunity to partner. Interestingly, those same diverse interactions often offer a lens through which we are able to identify trends revealing themselves across the board in internal communications.

5 Key Topics Currently on the Minds of Leaders and Communicators

As of late, several common topics have bubbled to the top of conversations with our current and prospective clients when we ask them about their needs and pain points. More than merely identifying the trends, we’re delving deeper to offer insights on why these shifts are taking place right now and what communicators can do to address and/or take advantage of the shifting tides.

1. Linking internal communications to business value has never been more important.

While COVID opened the door to notable business investment in internal communications, two years later companies are tightening their belts based on concerns that the nation is heading into a recession.

This is putting more pressure on internal communications teams to demonstrate their ROI by linking to business strategy, yet the trend also creates an opportunity to secure additional resources for highly strategic initiatives that may have been in the queue pending support until now.

What you can do: Develop or update your channel strategy to ensure it is meeting your employees’ needs in the here and now. If your communication plan is the brain that drives your department, the channel strategy is the heart – pumping life-sustaining messages across the entire organization. One way to make the most of your channel strategy is to ensure your core messaging ties directly to business strategy and that content is being delivered to the employees in a way that works for them based on their firsthand feedback gathered via employee listening.

By creating this direct correlation between communications and business outcomes, you are not only creating a line of sight for employees to understand where they fit into the bigger picture, but you are also solidifying the value of internal communications as a business driver. And to take these efforts even a step further, consider hosting a roadshow for internal communications to help stakeholders better understand how to make the most of the channels available to them and to identify opportunities to collaborate with your team at the strategy level.

2. Shifting from meeting employees’ basic needs to understanding and addressing their wants.

You’re likely familiar with Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs which essentially states a person cannot begin considering their psychological and emotional needs until their basic physical needs, such as shelter, food and water and safety, are met.

In the workplace, we reference a similar model, called “The 8 Key Questions All Employees Have.” These questions are a lot like Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, in that employees’ basic needs – the “me-focused” needs that include safety on the job and having access to tools and information needed to merely do their job (not necessarily at peek performance) – have to be addressed first before employees can begin to think beyond themselves.

With the “new normal” now truly just our everyday reality, employees are realizing they want and need more than the basics from their employers. They are calling for a transition from focusing on needs to wants and in the throes of the Great Resignation, this is a call that employers cannot afford to ignore.

What you can do: The best way to find out what employees want is to ask them! Now is the time to conduct listening in the form of surveys, leader interviews and stakeholder focus groups, so you have quantitative and qualitative feedback to inform the creation of a new or updated channel strategy that addresses both wants and needs and that allows for real-time feedback as their wants evolve.

This also presents a prime opportunity to engage outside experts not only for the listening efforts – since employees are oftentimes more comfortable sharing with someone from outside their organization – but also to assess your current channels in relation to industry best practices. The results of such efforts are worth their weight in gold not only by laying out a clear roadmap for activities to maintain vs. those to consider changing in the short- and long-term, but you now also have benchmarks from which you can measure the efficacy of efforts going forward.

3. Revamping channels to meet today's workforce where they are.

With trends in remote and hybrid work, internal communication as usual isn’t going to cut it. Employers have come to accept that the traditional office environment isn’t a must-have for many jobs, which is why new channels such as virtual meetings and team collaboration tools have become the norm. Now that Pandora’s Box has been opened, there’s no putting the lid back on these new ways of communicating, but there are strategic ways to leverage them.

What you can do: This goes back to the importance of reassessing your channel strategy and listening to what your employees are telling you when it comes to their desired means of communication. Most importantly, it means thinking differently and customizing communications to targeted segments of your audience to drive meaningful dialogue.

For example, we’re currently helping a number of our clients as they:

  • Reimagine their Town Hall meetings from traditionally onsite events centering around check-the-box communication activities that don’t engage employees to informative and inspiring events that resonate in today’s work environment, improve the employee experience and drive action in support of the organization’s strategy.
  • Consider best practice and process training on how to make the most of Microsoft Teams (or communication platform of your choice) as more than an instant messaging or file sharing tool, and, potentially most important, to prepare mid-level leaders as a new channel that brings with it the benefits of culture, engagement and information sharing.
  • Establish a comprehensive leader communication program that includes training, leader toolkits and other such resources that help leaders better understand what it means to be a communicator, best practices for delivering in that role, and how they can integrate communications into their day-to-day so that it becomes a seamless part of how they work. That way, you're not only creating a new channel through expanded capabilities, but you're also creating some of the most powerful internal communication ambassadors a company can have.

Click to download your free Town Hall eBook4. Internal communication is playing a key role in culture work.

After two years of hybrid and remote work that certainly has its benefits, some cracks are beginning to show. With fewer informal interactions taking place at the water cooler and over lunch, employees are at risk of feeling isolated and experiencing a disconnect from company culture that tends to rely heavily on peer-to-peer and face-to-face communications.

However, in today’s tight labor market, many employers are hesitant to rock the boat, opting instead to ignore the problem, or in some cases offering superficial incentives to drive team members back to the office setting. Neither approach is good for employees or businesses. Combine that phenomenon with current economic factors, including the possibility of a recession, that has employers emphasizing performance over culture, and it seems companies are heading into a perfect storm. Luckily, internal communication teams are uniquely positioned to offer a solution.

What you can do: There are several immediate steps that can be taken on the communications front that offer a direct and positive impact on company culture. First, consider integrating engagement as a part of your communications strategy. That likely means partnering with HR and other functions traditionally tapped to “own” culture to enable a more holistic approach – which seems only fitting since culture, at its best, truly is woven into every aspect of the company, so it only makes sense that the culture strategy is formed in the same way.

Another important step communicators can take on this front is to partner with company leaders to determine if the organizational purpose, mission, vision and values are reflective of the organization today and the employee experience. Everyone changes over time and the last two years have thrust even more change upon us. Companies are not immune to this, which means it may be time for a refresh of the core elements. With such fundamental updates comes the need to ensure the new company essence is shared, understood and consistently integrated into communications and messaging at all levels.

5. Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) as a key tenant of internal communications.

ESG issues are not new to the world of business, but they have traditionally been a focus for investor and customer relations. However, research confirms that today’s employee cares about much more than just their paycheck. Employees are taking notice of the impact companies have on communities and the stand that leaders take on social and geopolitical issues when it comes to deciding whether to stay with a company or take their valued skills elsewhere.

In fact, 60% of U.S. employees (a 2-point increase from the previous year) choose or leave jobs based on their employer’s racism response, according to the 2022 Edelman Trust Barometer Special Report: Business and Racial Injustice in America. With social issues including race, violence, and personal liberties driving the media cycle in combination with employees coming out of the pandemic with a realization that there’s more to life than work, they’re expecting more from the companies where they dedicate a large chunk of their time and energies.

What you can do: As with engagement and culture, ESG is certainly not just a “communications issue,” but that doesn’t mean communications can’t play an important role in helping form and advance the ESG strategy internally. One practical step is to develop corporate messaging that appropriately reflects and integrates these critical concepts – especially into leader communications. Additionally, members of the internal communications team have an opportunity to, once again, strategically partner with internal stakeholders on DEI, social responsibility and other such civic-minded initiatives, while helping leaders better understand how this mindset shift should impact when, how and what they communicate.

If you need help with employee listening, leader communicator activation or channel strategy planning, shoot me an email at dfield@yourthoughtpartner.com. We’d love to help you!

—Debbie Field

About Debbie

Debbie_Field_VP_The_Grossman_GroupDebbie is Vice President at The Grossman Group where she provides internal, executive, and change communication solutions through strategic communication planning and delivery. She has worked across industries including, higher education, healthcare, technology, and public utility, among others. Some of her clients include Novartis, NiSource, Boston Children's Hospital, NYU Langone Health, Kaiser Permanente, Southern New Hampshire University, and Protiviti, to name a few. Connect with Debbie on LinkedIn here.

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