Gazing into the crystal ball

By Simon Monger, SCMP®

Predicting what’s going to happen in 2021 might seem even more of a laughable prospect than usual. You might well ask yourself why anyone would even want to.

Jenni Field recently posed a question on Twitter: ‘What do you think will be the big trends for communications and business in 2021 #internalcomms #business #trends.’ There’s some interesting thoughts in the thread, so I recommend taking a look.

It got me thinking. And three things very quickly came to mind:

  • Employer brand and organisational culture.
  • Employee listening.
  • Human communication.

Employer brand and organisational culture

Every organisation has an employer brand, whether it knows it or not. You only have to look on Glassdoor to see the good, the bad, and the downright ugly. The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), in their 2008 guide, ‘Employer branding: a no-nonsense approach’, define employer brand as ‘a set of attributes and qualities, often intangible, that [make] an organisation distinctive, [promise] a particular kind of employment experience, and [appeal] to those people who will thrive and perform best in its culture’.

Of course, employer brand is closely connected to organisational culture and values. Which is all well and good when you’re in a working environment. But how do you foster the right culture with people working remotely?

As we begin to vaccinate against COVID-19, we may well see some companies returning to their workplaces. But this isn’t going to happen overnight, and many organisations are very unlikely to return to the old ways of working.

So how do you ensure that your employer brand and culture are fit for 2021 – and beyond?

You already have an employer brand and culture. Hopefully, it’s even one that you like. It might not be perfect, but it’s there. You may be one of the many organisations we’ve seen this year really stepping into their own, putting their values into practice. 

But is this experience consistent throughout the employee lifecycle? From induction to performance management, from the way you communicate to how people leave your organisation, you need to be consistent. What are you doing to sustain this in the new remote working world?  

The new year might be a great opportunity to take stock and reset. Because as we know, culture eats strategy for breakfast.

Employee listening

Listening to employees isn’t new. Or at least, it shouldn’t be. While it’s true to say that, historically, communicators might have been better at communicating out and less good at listening to what comes back, that’s definitely changing. And as we enter a new year, with many of us still away from the workplace, ensuring that we’re really listening to what people have to say is more important than ever.

This ties in nicely with culture. Do you have a listening culture? If you do, have you been able to maintain this through lockdowns and remote working? If you don’t, what small steps could you begin to take to begin to establish trusted ways for employees and management to share? 

The ‘Who’s Listening?’ report – a joint activity between the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC) and the PR Academy – showed that effective listening delivers a more competitive organisation, a greater sense of employee engagement and advocacy (reducing reputational risk and enhancing that employer brand), more trust in leadership, greater innovation, and openness to change, resilience, learning and wellbeing.

But fear can be a barrier to listening – both for employees and leaders. And it’s not just speaking the truth to senior leaders that can be difficult. Some leaders and managers avoid listening because they’re afraid of being asked a question they feel they can’t answer, but should be able to.

The report was updated in 2020, showing that with COVID-19, organisations have sped up the rate with which they are adopting new, online ways of listening to employees, and listening will only grow in importance. 

A note of caution: the research also shows that some companies still undervalue listening as a leadership capability, and often pay lip service to it. This will not wash with employees in 2021 as we continue to adapt to different ways of working.

Human communication is here to stay

You might well ask what type of communication it was before, but the truth is that this year we have really seen the human side of organisations. 

OK, so the novelty of seeing your CEO with a cat on their lap, or your HR Director trying to wrangle a screaming four-year-old while presenting, may have worn off. But no one can deny that we now know more about our colleagues – and leaders – than ever before.

Internal communication is often criticised for being too formal, too corporate – and rightly so. This year has seen many organisations really focus on bringing empathy and humanity into their communications – and it’s here to stay. As we settle into a routine of ‘COVID normal’ and, eventually, whatever kind of normal comes after that, we should never lose sight of the fact that people are behind every communication we craft and send. 

There will, no doubt, be many surprises in the coming months and years. Notice I didn’t even mention Brexit! But no matter what happens, organisations can’t go wrong focusing on culture, listening and clear communication. Because at the end of the day, we’re all human.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *