It is never easy to predict the future, but the last two years have given us a great indication of things to come in the brand engagement and internal communication space. There has been a drastic shift among corporate South Africa towards recognising the strategic business role and benefits that engaged employees can deliver.
Arguably, one of the most significant realisations has been the necessity to focus on leadership and engagement, as opposed to communication channels.
- Re-engineering corporate structures
2012 will likely see a greater realisation of the business benefits that communication can deliver to the bottom line. To achieve this, communication must take into account other key business functions and tailor their activities to business and reputational priorities.
For 2012, these are likely to be around productivity in the marketplace after two difficult fiscal years; streamlined management structures and rightsizing; and a re-evaluation of technological platforms at a business level.
These times of economic uncertainty are a treasured opportunity for communicators to raise their profile and have their voices heard at C-suite, providing they are able to demonstrate how an intangible can produce and impact upon tangible results.
- The role and responsibility of the internal communicator
2012 should see internal communicating becoming more active at a strategic and executive business level, where they help shape, develop, and deliver the business strategy. It is their responsibility to translate that into a vision of the company's direction and create a brand engagement compass that will demonstrate the role of leadership and employees in delivering the vision.
As the next few years will see a drastic shift away from once-off internal brand activations and other broadcast media - such as industrial theatre and passive tools - to a greater focus on the role leadership and management play in the organisation, internal communicators will find space to step-up their support of management to build their communication abilities.
2012 will also see business leaders requiring sustainable business initiatives from communicators which have a fundamental and lasting impact on corporate reputational priorities.
Thirdly, professionals who occupy the internal communication space will be called on more than ever to increase their focus on partnership with external communication and marketing to ensure alignment between what the company says it does, what it actually does, and what customers' experience.
- The role and responsibility of leadership as an engagement driver
It is becoming increasingly important to raise the profile of senior leadership, as well as the communication capabilities of supervisors and management. The last two quarters of 2011 already showed many local companies moving towards this international trend, recognising that broadcast media tools alone cannot achieve an engaged workforce.
In 2012, we should expect to see communicators providing their managers and business leaders with practical, tangible communication skills that can enhance trust and improve transparency in business communication.
While certain internal brand activations may have their place, few - if any - drive management accountability for their leadership role; foster a culture of dialogue; or enhance management confidence - all three critical areas for achieving engagement.
In order to drive business results, these training sessions must go far beyond an online module or classrooms. They need to be reinforced and supported by the communication department and business regularly. Effectively, unlike passive broadcast media, this becomes a continuous learning experience. An investment, as opposed to an expense.
In 2012, internal communicators should also start involving management more in drafting their communication strategies to (a) better align them to business priorities, and (b) secure buy-in for their programmes from the outset.
- Measurement and research
2011 was definitely a turning point for measurement and research in internal communication. 2012 and beyond will no doubt see more financial directors demanding to see the impact of their budget allocation to communication in a meaningful way. We are already seeing FDs in large multinationals asking for impact measurement of internal communication campaigns to show that their investment has produced results that can in turn benefit the bottom line of the business and the brand value on the balance sheet.
All in all, there are some tall challenges ahead in the internal communication space for 2012. Without a doubt, the biggest shift is the role of leadership. Communicators will have to step up in support of their leaders, and ensure the implementation of interactive programmes that empower managers to have critical conversations with their employees, and do so effectively.