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The State of the Sector: are internal communicators missing something big?

BY mikeklein Not long ago, London-based internal communication consultancy Gatehouse published its eighth annual “State of the Sector” survey looking at how internal comms practitioners are experiencing their roles and how they use their time, money and energy.

Having spent the last four years in an in-house comms role, none of the conclusions particularly surprised me. Practitioners these days are focused on “digital,” channel management and event management, in pursuit of informing people about corporate strategy and, to a lesser extent, supporting the ongoing push for “employee engagement,” whatever that might exactly be.

They are worried about their budget levels and dabbling with a range of measurement tools in order to have some facts that can justify sustaining at least part of those budgets. But what the Gatehouse survey does not touch is any effort to sharpen the impact of internal communication by identifying and focusing on high-value and high-impact individuals and audiences within their organizations.

Whether this is a simple omission in the Gatehouse methodology or a major gap in current practice is a question I will leave open for now. But when at 28% of survey respondents anticipate taking a budget hit this year, the question of whether one can drive more impact with fewer dollars, euros or pounds is one that ought to be on most communicators’ radar screens.

Now, to answer that question, a few other questions are worth asking:

  • Does the 80-20 rule have an equivalent in internal communication?

According to Innovisor, a Copenhagen-based niche consultancy specializing in identifying and mapping the relationships between formal and informal leaders in organizations, the internal comms equivalent actually reflects a 3%-90% rule, where three percent of a company’s population has the ability to drive and influence conversations reaching 90% of employees.

These three percent are not merely senior leaders at the top of the pyramid, but the internal experts, role models and social networkers who combine high connectivity with high credibility to move and validate messages, official and otherwise.

  • Isn’t it more difficult or expensive to find the right people than to just focus on everyone?

The process of identifying an organization’s most influential employees and, if desired, mapping out their connections and their spheres of influence, is a task that requires actual work, either through a survey where employees identify their key personal and professional contacts in the workplace, or, less precisely, through a combination of interviews, desk research and management input.

Once found, the list of influencers and their maps of connections and influence have to be updated in a manner reflecting the level of change, turnover and organizational momentum. But even factoring the degree of work involved in developing definitive lists and maps, the opportunity for saving money, reducing noise and increasing impact is immense.

  • Isn’t this a function of management and not internal communication?

A sharpened focus on high impact employees and audiences isn’t the same thing as a focus on high-status employees. Top-down communication may remain the gold standard for delivering authoritative pronouncements, but employees look to select peers and experts to define, sanity check and contextualize those messages. This is an approach that combines management with management in a powerful, integrated way.

  • Has anyone actually done this successfully?

Selective engagement, which focuses on identifying, connecting and mobilizing key individuals, whether through Innovisor’s approach to social mapping, or Leandro Herrero’s Viral Change approach, is an increasingly popular and efficient way of making things happen in organizations and communities.

In doing such an excellent job of identifying what internal comms leaders and practitioners are doing and focusing on, Gatehouse does a massive service to the IC community.

And in highlighting such a gap in the arena of audience focus, Gatehouse, perhaps inadvertently, has created an opportunity for internal comms pros - and those who employ us - to look at how they can engage more selectively, and in so doing, increase their impact while making better use of money and organizational bandwidth.

6 thoughts on “The State of the Sector: are internal communicators missing something big?”

  1. Hey Mike
    Thanks for your kind words about our survey – and, of course, we’re all delighted State of the Sector (SOS) is once again stimulating some interesting discussion and debate! Having launched SOS eight years ago, we’ve been careful not to shift too far away from our original purpose, which was to focus on the ‘nuts and bolts’ of internal comms and try to lift the lid on common practices and approaches. That said, we did use the latest survey to delve a little deeper than previous years – hence some stand-out insights around poor planning, social media impact and line manager comms, to name a few. We did ask a limited number of questions around leaders and managers, but you’re quite right that we didn’t dig down into influencer groups, social network analysis, viral change and the like. This is something I’m equally passionate about and I would also be really interested in exploring further – so we’ll certainly consider adding that into the mix next year. Thanks again for your considered thoughts Mike – and for sharing the research more widely.

    All the best,


  2. Hi Gatehouse guys and thank you again for coming along recently to our Government ‘IC Space Live’ professional event and presenting on your survey. Very interesting.

    Mike makes a good point here : instead of peppering our entire staff can we select the small percentage that will make a difference?

    We do this sort of segmentation all the time for external comms, so why don’t we focus more on this for internal communications?

    Nuts and bolts is useful but Mike’s suggestion is that we should be using more sophisticated fasteners.

    I’m interested to know which corporates are.

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