internal communications – it’s not rocket science

Internal comms can often be the Cinderella channel. But to get things right outside you need to get things right inside.

by Hannah Rees

When Cornwall Council was first formed three years ago, there were no real internal communications channels to speak of. An organisation going through major change, with seven councils merging, a total of 22,000 employees and a huge geographical spread, it needed some serious TLC.

We had several failing services, financial problems, a new Chief Executive, 123 new elected Members, a new political hue, Leader and Cabinet and a very strong new approach to our direction of travel.

We needed to bring our employees with us on the journey to have any chance of turning it around.

So what did we do? Well, we didn’t reinvent the wheel, but we did put our employees at the heart of everything we did – we wanted to enable managers to manage and employees to access the information they needed, as well as help to strengthen the leadership and direction of the new organisation.

Our corporate internal comms hamper became:

  • A brand new, task based intranet with interactive media module and Google search (this is critical to its success)
  • New email circular templates ‘Keeping staff in touch’ and ‘Keeping managers in touch’ for a quick and dirty reach to the majority of staff on organisation wide messages that managers or the wider employee group need to know or action
  • Chief executive email to employees, a fortnightly look at what he’s been up to and what his thoughts on the big issues of the day are (with an instruction for managers to print for non-networked employees)
  • ‘Team Talk’, a fortnightly core briefing system for managers to discuss key organisation wide issues, actions and updates with their teams
  • ‘People Matters’, a bi-monthly e-zine (with a print run for non networked employees) which has a ‘by the staff, for the staff’ ethos (and has won a silver CIPR South West award, up against the private sector)
  • Chief executive monthly videcast – Kevin Lavery talking to camera once a month about what decisions are being made, what the national picture means for Cornwall, or even discussing the silly summer season in the papers and what the facts behind the headlines are

On top of these corporate channels, we provide a number of templates for directors and heads of service to keep in touch with their tribes, managed locally by their own support teams.

So – nothing ground breaking, just simple, clear and reliable channels (reliability is crucial, so that employees know what to expect when and are on the look out). The real key to our success has been our yearly corporate comms survey, which has seen major updates and changes to the way we deliver some of the channels. Almost all of them have gone through several iterations to get them right for what employees need - and to get the most out of them for employees and for us.

The secret is the different voice for each – we might be delivering the same message in some instances in several channels, but the ‘owner’ of the message changes and this gives us the power to tailor how its delivered to increase understanding across all camps.

We’ve also found that nothing beats a good old floor walk, and our Chief Executive is fantastic at spending time going out to our main office sites to find out how our employees are. Our next step is to make him more accessible through use of our webcasting system and intranet forums for live Q&A sessions.

Finally, we are starting to consider enterprise social media. With the organisation moving now to far more flexible ways of working, we need to give our employees easier ways to keep in touch. There are, as always, barriers to something as seemingly radical as this, but since we’ve created some really strong internal communications currency, I reckon we can win that battle eventually…

The icing on the cake? Well after what has been a bit of a struggle at times (you internal communicators out there will know what I mean) we are seeing real benefit from what we’ve put in place – our people actually feel informed. Internal comms got a nod for being strong, strategic and useful in both our recent LGA peer review and our latest Investors in People assessment, which has come from the employees themselves. We’re pretty chuffed with that.

Hannah Rees is Communications Manager at Cornwall Council

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