For nearly a decade, internal communication agency Gatehouse have been polling professional communicators to find out what keeps them awake at night. Gatehouse publish the results in their State of the Sector report annually, and make the study available to download for free here on their website. This way, everybody who’s interested in internal communication and employee engagement can get a better understanding of what’s working in the industry and what isn’t, and can benchmark their own organisation’s practices.

This year’s study provides some valuable and thought-provoking insights into the state of our maturing profession, as well as the day-to-day practices of practitioners.

The biggest barrier to success – again!

In 2017, for the second year in a row, line management communication skills were named the biggest barrier to success for organisations. But what is it that makes line manager communication so poor?

Irregular contact with direct reports

Over half of Gatehouse’s respondents (52%) told us that the biggest barrier to their organisations’ success in 2017 is the lack of line manager communication skills. What’s more, they say that a shocking two out of three line managers hold team meetings less than once a week. It comes as no surprise that 32% of internal communicators say that disengaged staff will be a key challenge in the year ahead.

Disproportionate line manager visibility and capability

In line with last year’s results, a whopping 94% of respondents say that line managers in their organisation are either very or reasonably visible to their teams. Line management communication abilities, on the other hand, scored poorly, with just a quarter of respondents describing line managers as excellent or good communicators. This shows there is a huge gap between line manager visibility and line manager capability. Unfortunately, these results are unsurprising, given that just one in ten organisations across the world are delivering one-to-one coaching in communication aimed at line managers.

In contrast, senior leaders were said to be visible by just a fifth of staff – yet were rated effective communicators by just under half of practitioners.

In a nutshell, the more visible they are, the less proficient they are as communicators!

So, what can HR do about this?

The State of the Sector 2017 points the finger of blame towards line managers – and with good reason.

A lack of good line management communication creates a disengaged workforce with a detrimental impact on the business as a whole. How could internal communication’s partner, HR, assist?

The Recruitment Process

The first, crucial step to shutting the door on poor line management communication is reviewing the recruitment process. HR need to ensure that communication is high on the list of prioritised job responsibilities when advertising the position. The function must ensure that candidates are appropriately screened for the role that they are applying for. If it’s any type of managerial role, then HR should complete a background check and review given examples of candidates’ experience of effectively communicating with their teams. Any line manager worth their salt must be able to prove that they are capable of communicating in a clear and consistent manner, and turning high-level strategic messages into ones that are relevant to their teams. Only with skills like these can they create and maintain employee buy-in and engagement – key ingredients for the success of a business.

Line management training

Training and development are also essential within organisations, and HR should put a stronger focus on communication training. Coaching line managers on communication could essentially solve the rest of the issues that the State of the Sector 2017 respondents and their organisations are facing by enhancing their skill sets and giving them the confidence to gather and distribute information within their organisation and ensure everything is running as smoothly as possible. To give just one example, a line manager that has been schooled on the dos and don’ts of communication will hold more efficient team briefings – meaning they have the potential to meet their teams more frequently and drive engagement.

Without HR stepping in, businesses could face the same problems year on year – stalling the success of the world’s economy.


To read Gatehouse’s full State of the Sector report, go to here or give them a call on +44 (0)207 7754 3630.