Jen Sproul has worked as Chief Executive of the Institute of Internal Communications (IoIC) since 2016, having previously worked in several other senior marketing and comms roles. She also hosts the organisation’s own podcast ‘Internal Communications in the Raw’, helping promote a deeper understanding of the industry for all its members.
Having previously featured on the Engaging Internal Comms Podcast at the end of Series 1, Jen is returning to give an overview of what has been a challenging year for the sector. She and Craig Smith discuss the disruption and innovations that have been accelerated by the pandemic and what impact this will have for internal comms in 2022.
The impact of 2021 on IC
Jen admits the last year (2021) has been turbulent for internal comms, with the difficulties of the pandemic playing a significant part in this. However, she feels these difficulties have merited some great rewards as 2021 turned out to be a much better year than anticipated.
Membership for the IoIC has grown significantly in this time as communicators look to develop new skills and overcome these new challenges together and as a community. Jen feels the fact the organisation is a trusted source for best practices has also helped attract new members, while simultaneously offering a lot of credibility. The professionalisation of internal comms and the important role it has had to play for business over the last two years has also had a large influence on increasing membership.
The move back to some face-to-face working has been accelerating this year Jen says and is something she believes shows the power of human connection. She also highlighted the increased focus on wellbeing this year. For communicators this often means helping people within an organisation, but Jen stated these people should also be looking to care for themselves. Communities like the IoIC can help with this, as Jen explains to Craig how dialogue can help ease the burden of any obstacle.
“We are not meant for isolation,” Jen said. “As social creatures, in our DNA and our makeup, we are simply not meant for it. We are not meant to figure things out on our own and we need to express, converse and challenge.”
Jen continues by discussing the IoIC’s ‘#I Chose IC’ campaign, which was explored in depth in Episode 27 of the series. This is central to why organisations like the IoIC exist and is something Jen states is a passion for everyone at the IoIC. It also links to the professionalisation agenda, which has gained more importance this year, and will go a long way to helping attract a pipeline of strong and diverse talent to the industry.
This is helping fix one internal comms biggest issues, namely attracting new talent to the industry. Jen recognises that a lot of those who work in this profession can ‘fall into’ their roles through natural progression. However, she feels there should be more opportunities for people to enter the industry with a focus solely on internal comms, with the campaign doing so by reaching out to university students through ambassadorship programmes.
The challenges for internal comms in 2022
When it comes to bringing talent to the industry, Jen says this will be a constant process with no end point. Furthermore, taking factors such as social mobility into account will help determine its long-term success. Therefore, there has also been a focus on attracting school leavers and not just university students to internal comms, which will be a priority for the IoIC next year.
Opening up new internship and work experience programmes to young people is something that will help with recruitment and bring more talent to internal comms in 2022. Jen wants to see more young people look at the industry as a career choice and showing them the pathway from entry to senior level is a good way to get them onboard with this.
“There is progress being made all the time in the internal comms industry,” Jen said. “But I still feel there is a lot more progress to do, because that in essence drives us towards becoming a bigger professional community of good and diverse talent.”
Looking to the future, Jen says there has been a lot of work put in from the IoIC this year to find out what is next for the profession. Dealing with challenges such as hybrid working, pace, burnout and wellbeing will be key to being successful in role in internal comms in 2022. These people-centred problems are taking much more of a focus now and it is crucial that the sector does not revert to a less empathetic style of communication that was more common pre-pandemic.
For Jen, internal comms in 2022 should revolve around community and collaboration. Helping create cultures within organisations that adapt to their people and allow for the progression of great talent. According to Jen, communicators can become natural leaders, which is an opportunity that should be grasped by those in the sector.
“If you communicate well, you lead people,” Jen said. “That’s fundamental and it is a great opportunity for our profession. The power of what we say and how we say it is really important.”
Change management is another facet that those in internal comms should be looking to have an influence on. This is constant in many organisations and is paramount to its success, but how this change is carried out is constantly evolving. The new ways of working are a good example of this, with other societal pressures and the need to ‘do the right thing’ now being considered when it comes to making transformation decisions that affect employees.
As communicators, change management is a discipline that needs to be understood and shouldn’t be underestimated. Instead of simply telling employees what change is needed from leaders, Jen wants to see a more proactive role from those in internal comms in 2022. Good listening is critical and can help enable emergent change from the ground up. This will help shift people’s roles from communicator to implementers of change.
Jen reiterates how community can have a big role to play, as talking about these problems can often lead to solutions. She says the IoIC is looking to take the topics discussed this year and turn them into action in 2022, which is a continual process of learning and development.
Hybrid working from a communicator’s perspective
The positive and negative impact of digital communication should not be underestimated when it comes to employees choosing their preferred working arrangements. Communicators need to ‘wrestle with this’ to find the best solutions for their organisation.
The pandemic has helped instil trust between workers and leaders and this has often helped get the best out of people. This progress with digital communication has also allowed people to make strides when it comes to connectivity with their colleagues. Jen says dialogue around issues in many organisations has greatly improved because of this.
On the other hand, this can influence engagement levels with employees. Many people have developed new habits with their new ways of working and this is not always advantageous. Digital communication has also brought challenges in making everyone’s voices heard.
Information overload is also another issue when it comes to these new ways of working. This links to these dropping engagement levels as communicators struggle to cut through all the other forms of digital communication employees are receiving. A solution to this can come from revaluating an organisation’s communication channels and reimaging the design process.
The impact digital communication can have on relationships between employees is also something that needs to be addressed. Jen says it can be easy to lose empathy with people when you cannot see them, but it is vital from a learning and development standpoint that people are given that exposure within their organisation and feel like they are being listened to. She again links this back to community and how it can help people deal with this issue.
Hopes for internal comms in 2022
Craig asks Jen what her biggest wish for internal comms over the next year would be. Although it is a difficult thing to nail down to one point, Jen says she wants to see an increase in that sense of pride from those in the internal comms community. These people should thrive at the idea of helping manage change and becoming a trusted advisor within their organisations.
She admits that the change she wants to see will take time but remains confident that through their community and collaboration it can be achieved. Learning from past experiences is vital and it will help communicators have a larger sense of influence and impact from their work.
IoIC – https://www.ioic.org.uk/
Internal Communications in the Raw Podcast – https://ioic.podbean.com/