Insights into IC in 2016

vma4-550x275On 28 September, the Belgian chapter of IABC brought together a group of communications professionals at the beautiful UM Campus Brussels to listen to VMA’s presentation on the state of the internal communications market in Europe. Here, IABC EMENA Board Member Alba Perez Grandi gives her overview of the event.

The enlightening presentation, run by Willem De Ruijter, Executive Director of VMA Group, focused on their Inside Insight 2016 report, results of the first market survey dedicated to the role of internal communications (IC).

As De Ruijter shared very interesting survey findings, key insights, and participants started a discussion around the function of internal communications today and the challenges of the IC profession that may come in the future. Some of the respondents’ answers (50% of which had nine or more years of experience) to various questions related to the internal communications profession caused a surprising reaction among the attendees in the room:

  • Over 40% said that their organisations have an IC function yet no formal IC strategy in place
  • Over 30% said that they do not report to the corporate communications director nor to the CEO but see the need to change this
  • More than one third of internal communicators think the CEOs don’t value their role.
  • Most IC practitioners believe they are viewed by senior leaders as intermediaries but not key advocates
  • 64% of respondents said that they work in companies where IC teams are centralised
  • 45% of IC teams manage a specific programme of leadership communications for top level managers within their business

Inward looking

“Communications are far too important to leave it to just the communications directors.” This statement highlighted in Willem’s presentation that in my opinion is very true and that we need to remember. I think good communications start from having employees engaged in a transparent, authentic and bold way. Employees need to know first about company news. A blog is a precious tool CEOs can leverage to foster the human connection, employee advocacy, openness and getting the message across to their employees.

The truth is that internal communications professionals are seen as a subcategory of corporate communications, or HR communications, or marketing communications even public affairs or investor relations but seem to lack a voice at the top of the table.

On a more positive note, the IC profession is maturing and there is a huge appetite amongst IC professionals across all levels of seniority to explore new opportunities within the current changing market.

Some external events such as the banking crisis have had a clear impact on internal communications, reinforcing openness and articulation on company communications.

However, a one-size-fit-all approach is not applicable with IC. The role of IC depends also on the size of the organization, the culture, the vision, the values, governance, if it’s a top-down management hierarchy, the overall communications team, etc.

More important skills for IC professionals

VMA asks two questions: 1. what where the most important skills to work in internal communications, and 2. what where the skills they perceived as lacking in candidates applying for IC roles?

Interestingly, change communications skills, writing skills (for corporate messaging) and coaching senior leaders came in both answers. As often as we hear senior leaders say “change is a new normal”, we understand how critical it is for IC professionals to handle change communications.

Several people in the room agreed that internal communications qualifications don’t always guarantee a successful IC practitioner. Moreover, in Belgium, there is no Internal Communications specialization degree.

The majority of IC professionals have personally invested between one and three hours per week in their personal development.

IC Channels and the role of social media

The strongest IC channels revealed to be the intranet, management cascade, team briefings followed by leadership conferences. Of course, traditional communications methods such as newsletters and printing still play an important role.

In the digital and virtual era in which we are living, social media and new media have an important role to play in shaping, supporting and integrating the future of the IC profession. “Not including them will be a huge missed opportunity and signal to an outdated attitude towards information sharing, empowerment, collaboration and engagement at the workplace”: a powerful quote from a Head of Communications Development, to find in VMA’s Inside Insight report.

“59,6% of respondents believe that their organisations’ use of digital media is poor or average”. With this percentage in mind, internal communicators need to be active on digital media tools and leverage them to the benefit of their organisations.

By extension, VMA asks whether social media the only future of IC? In my opinion adopting social media tools is a clear path that is bringing in a new B2C consumer approach. However, without strong internal pride and brand advocacy the use of social media tools can mislead and damage an organisation’s external reputation. So employees need to be brand ambassadors.

The future of the IC role

Regarding the future of the IC role, participants in the room and De Ruijter agreed that it is not about renaming the role of internal communications to “ambassadorship, change communications, employee information & engagement, & human communications” or something else, but more about the actions that the role entails. So the real IC function can vary depending on the tasks assigned to the role.

Measure employee engagement across the organization will help to analyze the effectiveness of IC. To this aim, putting together one or several employee engagement survey(s) on a regular basis seem to be the route most IC departments have taken, although interestingly, to this day not all companies do so. Interestingly, 55,4% believe IC will have more influence in their organization and 81,2% believe that the demand for IC will increase within the next year, so if these trends reveal to be real, there will be more demand of internal communicators in the coming years.

The discussion continued and was extended during the networking drink.

Do you think the internal communications function is ready to adapt to the market, by shifting into a new function or face extinction? Tweet your answer to @IABC_be

  • If you would like to receive a copy of the VMA Inside Insight 2016 survey on Internal Communications, please contact Elise Guillet, Senior Consultant at VMA Group – [email protected]