AB Thinks  →  12th March 2021

Tips and trends from Kate Jones’ dissection of State of the Sector

AB Thinks

Katie Macaulay’s guest for episode 43 of The Internal Comms Podcast was 25-year IC veteran Kate Jones.

As Head of Communications and Corporate Affairs at construction industry giant Tarmac, the elected Chair of the Board at the Institute of Internal Communication, and the 2016 Internal Communicator of the Year, Kate is very well placed to dissect the 2021 Gallagher State of the Sector report.

Here are our top five takeaways from Kate and Katie’s discussion of this revealing annual benchmark of our activities and ambitions.

#1 – Relationships are more important than reporting lines
I’ve reported everywhere in different organisations: I’ve reported into obvious places like brand and marketing, and business development. I sat with finance for a short and reasonably unhappy time. I now report into HR so that does make us typical. But it doesn’t really matter where you sit, because you’re going to be working across the whole organisation. That said, I do appreciate the reputation of the function where you report is going to make your life easier or harder, depending on that function’s reputation, and it can also bring with it a perception of what you’re there to do, which you may have to battle against or may serve you. But it’s more about relationships than reporting lines.

#2 – Covid-19’s raising of IC teams’ profiles is an opportunity we must grasp
I truly hope the increased status of internal comms that we’re all reporting is based on the right things. We have undoubtedly raised our profile, but I wonder how much of that has been based on tactics, on great information delivered really quickly to help people understand the organisation’s response to covid, and also the impact outside of work. Because covid, of course, has not been just a work change: it’s infiltrated every aspect of our lives. So how we maintain that is the right question. How do we use that platform we’ve now found, and push the conversation where we want it to go? This is a genuine influencing opportunity we have. We can’t slink back into the shadows if we have now stepped forward.

#3 – The decline of business-as-usual messaging is one upside of the pandemic
You can do anything and blame it on covid and nobody will bat an eyelid. We certainly used it as a catalyst to change our channels mix. We turned off a lot of our business-as-usual communications to leave the bandwidth clear for the safety messages to reach through to the frontline. So we introduced a new weekly roundup, which we’d wanted to do for a while, and everybody thought it was brilliant because their inbox wasn’t busy. And it did leave the bandwidth clear for the messages to get through, particularly to the operational people whose world did not change. They carried on doing their jobs in the same way, on the same sites, albeit with new covid-secure protocols. We had to find that balance between making the point that people were struggling and were working in new ways with many new demands on their time, without ignoring the fact for the bulk of our audience, life went on as normal.

#4 – Making friends with the bean counters will help with measurement
None of us came into comms to be analysts or statisticians – or at least I didn’t. I came into comms to tell stories and help people join the dots. But there are people in my organisation who love that sort of stuff, and I bet those people are on your change programme. They’re just in a different workstream, so go and find them, ask them for their help. They’ll be tracking benefits from here to eternity for the change programme, so get them on yours. See if they can either give you some insight to help you do it, or even better, they could perhaps bring some of that measurement into the change programme for you, because it’s their skill. It’s not necessarily ours, so let’s use them.

#5 – Obsolescence is the logical endgame for IC
Communications is already part of everyone’s job, whether you realise it or like it or not, and internal comms needs to get better at helping people do that job, whilst we are still around. We will make ourselves redundant one day if we truly enable and empower line managers to do that all-important job. I’m confident in saying that, because I know it won’t happen in my lifetime or in my career, but I do think line managers really hold many more keys than we let them use.