According to the recently released 2018 State of the Sector on Internal Communication, U.S. and Canadian companies prioritize internal communication far less that those in Europe and other parts of the world. In fact, just 43 percent of respondents to the new Gallagher survey of North American internal communicators are tasked solely with internal communication, compared to 57 percent globally.
“Companies risk being shortsighted if they view employee communication as a cost center rather than a revenue driver,” said Leslie Lemenager, president of the international region of Gallagher’s Employee Benefits Consulting and Brokerage, in a news release. “High-quality internal communications can improve employee morale, engagement and wellbeing, which helps boost productivity and reduce turnover. And yet, internal communicators aren’t doing enough today to measure their impact and demonstrate their return on investment to leadership.”
Better internal communication not a priority
Most respondents combine their internal communication responsibilities with other duties that usually involve external communication, public relations and marketing. For 86 percent, internal communication is part of a broader department such as corporate affairs, marketing or HR. Theoretically, this integration should ensure closer alignment between internal and external communication efforts, but more than half of respondents (51 percent) disagreed this is the case.
Just one in 20 respondents indicated they are part of a dedicated internal communication and employee engagement team, about half of the global average. This is less than the 8 percent who indicated that responsibility for internal communication is scattered across a number of functions, possibly supporting the hypothesis that many North American organizations see internal communication as a secondary priority.
Insufficient measurement minimizes insights
Similar to global findings, North American internal communicators aren’t prioritizing impact measurement. About one in eight respondents don’t measure their communications in any way (12 percent), while another quarter (27 percent) do little more than report on their activity and its immediate impact. A lack of insight into results limits the ability to identify and apply better strategies for increasing employee engagement and wellbeing.
Among organizations that do measure impact, many use techniques that are relatively simplistic, output-based models such as online analytics and email statistics. Meanwhile, the opportunity to reap the benefits of rich, qualitative data are often overlooked. Just 9 percent have completed an internal communication audit with the help of an outside partner in the past three years. One positive sign is that two in five (40 percent) believe improving measurement and evaluation of internal communication activities is very important in the year ahead.
“Not having a robust measurement process makes it very difficult to demonstrate the value created by an internal communication program,” Lemenager said. “It’s not enough to just measure activity. You really have to know how the activities—individually and collectively—are engaging employees at different organizational levels and supporting a stronger sense of total workforce wellbeing.”
Face-to-face channels are one of the better ways for employees to share direct feedback about what is—and is not—working for them. Yet, usage of face-to-face channels is very low. For example, while 89 percent of North American internal communicators see face-to-face events and calls as an effective feedback channel, only 38 percent measure impact this way.
Phoning it in (the right way)
One bright spot for North American internal communicators is their rapid embrace of mobile channels compared to other countries. Even though just 23 percent of U.S. and Canadian companies use mobile apps, nearly three times that many (67 percent) intend to increase use over the next 12 months.
Another stark contrast in mobile phone policies is evident from the 59 percent of North American organizations that allow employees to use their personal devices to access organizational communications, compared to just 38 percent of companies in the U.K. and 29 percent in continental Europe.
“Employers have to adapt to the behaviors of their workforce, which is increasingly populated by younger workers who prefer to do everything on a mobile phone and tablet,” explained Lemenager. “Developing customized apps requires an upfront investment of time and resources, but has significant potential to positively impact internal communication and employee engagement.”