Along with influence, 72% of communications leaders also say their teams are larger than a year ago, however, staff resignation rate is alarming – analysts point to a lack of flex work options
According to Gartner, 83% of communications leaders surveyed say their influence among the c-suite has grown. And it’s grown to the extent it outweighs other business functions.
Three-quarters of respondents (75%) say “they have slightly or much more influence than their non-communications counterparts. Only 5% said they have less influence.
“Companies are placing a larger emphasis on stakeholder communications and cross-functional collaboration,” according to a press release on the survey quoting Jennifer Sigler, Ph.D., director analyst in the Gartner Marketing & Communications practice.
She continued, “Given communicators’ unique talents in stakeholder relationship management, it would make sense that CCOs and their teams are being asked to play a central role in efforts to improve collaboration and other employee-related outcomes across the organization.”
It’s not every day the technology analysts at Gartner poll communications leaders, which I think lends credence to the idea of influence. Gartner tends to serve clients in the B2B technology sector, so I imagine the results are weighted here.
Size and turnover on comms teams also rise
The survey also found 72% of communications respondents say, “their teams are either significantly or slightly larger than they were 12 months ago.” The headcount growth is an “objective indicator of growing influence,” according to Sigler.
“If those managing the budget feel communications efforts are valuable, they’ll provide more money and staff to CCOs,” she said. “Communications leaders appear to have received both last year.”
Yet the influence and size of the comms team have brought another leadership challenge: retention. It seems in-house communicators aren’t immune to the so-called “Great Resignation.”
According to the Gartner survey, “the median staff resignation rate was 20%, which is twice as high as marketing’s.”
“Analysis of the survey data suggests that limited flex work options on communications teams may be one reason staff are leaving. Communications teams that are offering neither flexibility in work location or in workdays reported 54% more turnover than teams that offered both.”
It’s a good observation in my assessment. Business leaders that rely on their comms people often want them nearby – especially in times of crisis which is what I think has pushed comms up a rung or two on the influence ladder.
In his assessment of the survey on the Hanson & Hunt podcast, Arik Hanson says the resignation rate is being propelled by burnout. Communicators have effectively been in a “constant crisis mode” for the last few years.
He also points out the sheer volume of opportunities for junior communicators today. Communication is a skill that’s in demand and the cultural acceptance of remote work means talent competition isn’t limited to a specific geography anymore.
It’s a point worth underscoring: if your organization does not embrace remote or hybrid work environments, you will still have to compete for talent with organizations that do. Office walls painted like an elementary school and foosball tables probably aren’t enough to make up the difference.
Gartner findings reflected in an earlier survey
The findings in the Gartner survey were reflected in a survey of 300 senior communications professionals published in June 2021 (88% report having 11 or more years of experience). The 2021 JOTW Strategic Communications Survey found in the wake of a tumultuous year, 80% agreed their organizations were placing a greater value on communications.
When asked about specific functions, respondents overwhelmingly said employee communications (93%) grew in importance compared to pre-pandemic times. This was followed by customer comms (78%), partner comms (59%) and investor relations (51%)
“This is a pivotal moment for PR and communications professionals to get out of the media relations spin cycle and demonstrate the breadth and depth of our value,” wrote Karen Swim, of the survey results at the time. “Organizations saw the impact of well-rounded strategic programs and we must lean into that.”
She was one of six contributors Ned Lundquist and I was invited to the fourth annual JOTW survey. Swim is a long-time PR, Marketing and Social Media Consultant at Words For Hire, LLC and the President of Solo PR Pro.
That survey also pointed to the rise of flex work: More than half (64%) of respondents anticipate their organizations will adopt a hybrid work environment.
“The hybrid model, which will look different from organization to organization, needs to be communicated as an organizational change initiative,” according to Shel Holtz, another contributor to the JOTW survey.
“The key issue is around whether leaders will trust employees to be in the office on days their work requires it and work from home when the nature of their work is primarily solitary,” he said. “This internal communication needs to be proactive and address the vision the company has for the hybrid model and the reasons your employees may resist it.”
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What should comms leaders do about it?
Gartner’s recommendations on what communications leaders should do range from what should be obvious:
“Identify and address the root causes of low staff engagement and high staff turnover on their teams.”
…to organizational design:
“Redesign teams and roles to eliminate overlapping responsibilities, ensure workflow compatibility and encourage collaboration between true specialists.”
…to workflow and collaboration, which doesn’t get enough attention from the PR technology vendors in our sector:
“Work closely with functions with whom communications shares activity responsibility to create a clear, efficient division of work and smooth collaboration across team boundaries.”
The research firm says it surveyed “182 communications leaders in the U.S., Canada, France, Germany and the U.K. from November to December 2021.” The press release announcing the survey in part helps to promote a forthcoming marketing conference Gartner is hosting – and new report the group published which is only available to subscription customers.
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