CIPR Inside on The Next Level, a report by IC Kollectif

Earlier this month IC Kollectif published The Next Level report on Internal Communications and how business leaders perceive the function within their organisation. We asked our fabulous committee member, Trudy Lewis, to write a blog about the findings and the overall report…over to Trudy!

It was great to see the publishing of another in-depth study on internal communication, its business value and effectiveness. The Next Level, a global report presented by IC Kollectif focuses on research with leaders and practitioners, as well as a showcase of case studies and trends on IC in Europe and best in class practices. Editor and curator Lise Michaud, boldly addresses the issues of the understanding and appreciation of the function by leaders. As well as the need for IC practitioners to step up, become trusted advisors and according to her ‘change the game’. She said: “Internal communication (IC) is one of the fastest growing specialisations. In many companies, its value no longer needs to be proven at every juncture. However, its level of maturity varies greatly from one organisation to another. While several communication professionals are successfully leading the way, for different reasons, others struggle to get the buy-in from their managers and business leaders that they need”.

The report is reminiscent of the research we conducted last November entitled ‘Making an Impact: The value and effectiveness of internal communications’, (download infographic) where we explore the views of CEOs and practitioners around these themes. It also confirms much of the facts and findings we presented, providing a global perspective. Their findings, not unlike ours highlights the need to continue the dialogue with our clients i.e. CEOs and leaders, of the organisations we support.

Interestingly, ‘The Next Level’ showcases many examples of good internal communication from companies around the world. It was encouraging to see that the issues are similar, but also that advances are being made to address the themes we know will enhance and build the profession. Everything in this report points to a more proactive and less reactive approach. Indicating that leaders are expecting more and so we need to do more to demonstrate our expertise, knowledge and business acumen.

Mark Dollins, President of North Star Communications Consulting said: “…seeing the core commitment to driving results is important to getting – and keeping – a seat at the table to influence senior leaders…If we expect our work to be seen as something other than order takers, we have to own the agenda and not be afraid to learn what’s working and what isn’t. That kind of transparency is what moves our function forward”.

The report states that ‘there is light at the end of the tunnel’ and this is due to communication leads asking the right questions, managing strategically, and doing the heavy lifting needed to educate senior management about the business value of good internal communication.

But it is so evident that we need to do more. The report asks the question: ‘What will it take for internal communication to earn its place as a business imperative across all companies’? The answer, very much places the responsibility to make a change on IC practitioners, their response said: ‘A critical mass who understands and has the knowledge and expertise to champion the function’.

It also highlighted some of the big issues for internal communication in terms of business value, effectiveness and the future. It adds further commentary to where we need to be in order for ‘practitioners to win’.

Highlighted themes included:

  • Changing the perception, behaviours and mindsets of leaders and practitioners.
  • Who we need to be – the strategic position we should take in order to influence and impact leadership and the organisations we support.
  • The blurred lines between internal and external communication – the challenges and opportunities.
  • The need to increase the levels of business knowledge and acumen for IC practitioners to truly be seen as effective.
  • The importance of measurement and aligning this to the business and its KPIs.
  • The overall effectiveness of IC and its business value.

Trends in Internal Communication in Europe

Another highlight is the article covering a pan-European research report conducted in 2017 by the Italian Association for the Development of Internal Communication (ASCAI) and European Association of Internal Communication (FEIEA) on ‘Trends in IC in EU companies’.

Massimo Greggia, vice president of FEIEA said: “Internal communication – an important source of competitive advantage for companies”. He explained that research confirms that ‘…the ability and willingness of a company’s top management team to invest in an effective IC system represents a key element of success’.

So, based on these findings (and we haven’t covered all of them), here are the areas that as practitioners we should focus on:

  • Consider how leaders in IC can position themselves to support strategic company decisions and influence the executive
  • Find ways to provide support to other company functions, both in developing their communication skills and providing consultancy
  • Make sure that your communication strategy is aligned to achieve business objectives
  • Become an advisory force to senior management – be that ‘trusted advisor’
  • Ensure you are delivering quality through every level of activity, and measure effectiveness
  • Design measurement in line with the organisation’s priorities and KPIs.

The Next Level then goes on to lay out a ‘game changer’ for IC practitioners suggesting that ‘Combining research-based resources and business acumen will enable practitioners to describe their contribution to organisations…’ presenting hard evidence of what they can do, instead of just saying it. They felt that this could help to create a common understanding between communication professionals and senior management about IC and its contribution to corporate success.

What executives want

The final section featured commentary from C-suite executives explaining what they want from IC. The question I had from my experience was – are leaders and executives ready to work with us on this level? It is easy to say what you want, but to achieve this IC practitioners would need a higher level of support and commitment from these very leaders.

Here are the main things leaders would like to see:

  • Business people with an expertise in communication
  • Courageous counsel grounded in an outside-inside perspective. Bill McDermott, CEO of SAP said: “Give business leaders candid advice, based heavily on a true ‘outside-in’ perspective” and,
  • Strategic storytelling, consistent with corporate purpose and character.

Overall, I thought this was an interesting presentation of thoughts around the value and effectiveness theme. It provides solid data to develop ideas and approaches to establish the IC industry further, indicating again that we need to keep talking and engaging with the people we support.

I hope this summary provides enough information for you to want to take the time to read ‘The Next Level’ in more detail.



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