Top Challenges for Communicators in 2020

Employee change fatigue, prioritizing high-value work and information overload top the list of challenges for communications leaders in 2020.

2019 has thrown curveballs to business leaders — Brexit, the U.S.-China trade war and growing concerns of an upcoming recession, to name just a few — that illuminate how taxing it can be to navigate information and changing conditions and try to deduce what requires their action. 

“Unfortunately, the high frequency of change is stressing out employees,” says Emmett Fitzpatrick, Senior Principal, Advisory, Gartner. “That stress impacts employee performance and overall business outcomes.”  

The average employee experienced 12 changes in 2019

The Gartner 2018 Employee Culture Survey finds that employees who are moderately stressed underperform those who aren’t by 5% — reducing a $1 billion top line by $32.5 million at an average company. Highly stressed employees impact revenue even more. The 2019 Gartner Change Fatigue Survey showed that the average employee experienced 12 changes in 2019.

Employee change fatigue tops the list of strategic challenges facing communicators in 2020, followed by the need to deliver high-value communications projects and overcoming the audience’s information overload, according to the Gartner 2020 Agenda Poll.

Shape a Culture to Support Change

Communicators play an integral part in the success of organizational change

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Employee change fatigue

This is a top challenge for the third straight year, but only 6% of communication leaders feel confident in their ability to manage it. In a recent Gartner poll of employees, 66% of respondents say that change has a greater impact on their work now, and 71% say that the pace of change has increased in the past three years. 

Communicators, to the best of their ability, must plan for organizational change, carefully and deliberately craft change messaging, and measure and monitor the success of the change messaging. 

Learn more: Shape culture to support change 

Prioritizing high-value communications projects

Comms leaders say they struggle to focus on high-value work — they get hung up on tactical projects they feel obligated to do or chasing after business partner requests. 

It is also difficult to collect metrics on communication activities, and even more difficult to understand how those metrics apply to the business. 

Leaders should consider how communications provides value to the business in four distinct ways:

  • Improves employee performance
  • Enables leader effectiveness
  • Reduces organizational risk exposure
  • Differentiates organization from competitors

Audience information overload

More and more content is being created, by an increasing number of contributors, and dissemination channels are proliferating. Gartner research finds that 94% of respondents agree that competition for external stakeholder attention from other sources of information has increased in the past three years.

This information overload significantly reduces employees’ ability to adapt to change, which is why it’s so important for communications leaders to help employees figure out what they need, and support each other in targeted ways, without adding to the noise.

Only 48% of the communications collateral used by companies to influence stakeholder perceptions is easy to process. The majority is complex, containing too much extraneous information. Leaders must eliminate the nonessential and remove clutter so that messages are concise and easy to digest.

Learn more: Change stakeholder behavior

Focus on change and planning

The amount of change is only expected to increase. This will require communicators to focus on managing and planning for change.

“All the uncertainty and the abundance of information is very taxing for employees to navigate,” says Fitzpatrick. “With the amount of change only expected to increase, communicators must take deliberate actions to prepare the organization for success.”

To combat these challenges, communication leaders indicate these initiatives will be of great importance in 2020: 

This article is based on insights that are part of an in-depth collection of research, tools, templates and advice available to Gartner clients. Gartner Communication Leadership Council clients can watch an on-demand webinar on Key Trends in Communicators' Budgets and Priorities for 2020 or access the report 2020 Strategic Priorities for Communicators.

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