a brilliant internal comms case study

You know that line about staff are your greatest asset? Wouldn't it be great if you actually listened to them when shaping your internal comms? Someone here has...

by Stuart Mackintosh

We all love a bit of value, right? At Redcar & Cleveland Borough Council, we love a bit of valuing, too.

The internal challenge was the most significant facing a new-look comms team installed in 2010.

We knew what we needed, that wasn’t rocket science – an army of well-informed and motivated advocates and ambassadors for an authority with plenty on its plate.

If you’ve not heard of us, we’re a borough of extraordinary contrasts up here on the North-East coast. We’re a genuine industrial powerhouse, from Europe’s deepest mine at Cleveland Potash to one of the largest deep sea ports in the UK, handling more than 40 million tonnes of cargo each year.

We’re also home to some of the most disadvantaged wards in the region, with the average life expectancy for men and women 12.5 and 8.5 years respectively less than the borough’s wealthier areas.

And yet just a few miles away you’ll find some jaw-dropping beauty spots within our boundaries. Saltburn boasts a magnificent beach, pier and one of the world’s oldest water-balanced cliff lifts. The resplendent Roseberry Topping was named the sixth most romantic place on the planet for marriage proposals at the World Travel Awards.

And all this in a borough of 135,000 residents, served by our workforce of just over 2,500, excluding schools, and 59 councillors.

Guided tour over, how did we tackle that internal comms challenge?

Working with HR colleagues, 2010 saw the start of a ‘Valuing Our People’ (VoP) programme, which aimed simply to improve communications with employees; improve staff health and wellbeing; and recognise and celebrate achievements.

Our most ambitious undertaking was launching a fortnightly, eight-page magazine, available on a revamped, more interactive Intranet, with limited numbers of black-and-white hard copies for staff in remote bases.

Rather brilliantly, such a publication was the chief demand among the findings of a survey one dedicated comms officer carried out by hitting the road and speaking to more than 250 employees face-to-face over the course of a couple of months. One interview was conducted with the brake man on the aforementioned Saltburn Victorian lift as it travelled up and down the cliff face; another with a lollipop lady by the side of the road in between her guiding youngsters safely across.

True, it took some doing, but it proved a huge hit in engaging with those in our more far-flung locations, demonstrating that their views were valued and would make a difference.

Format and frequency agreed, weekly meetings with the Valuing Our People project team helped shape the content, with a mix of corporate messages, consultations and light-hearted features such as charity fund-raisers and unusual hobbies. Staff are encouraged to submit their own stories and images.

Meanwhile, several new initiatives were introduced – changes to the holiday entitlement programme; childcare vouchers; staff discounts with local firms; car lease and bicycle salary sacrifice schemes; cycle storage, lockers and showers for employees. Small things individually, but collectively an impressive package of employee support and all pushed heavily through the magazine.

VoP’s Better Health at Work programme delivers a monthly event available to all employees, from healthy heart and blood pressure checks to mental health and breast cancer awareness sessions. A programme of events to recognise and reward employee achievement was introduced, from monthly ‘Mayor’s Thank You’ events to annual long service awards. Again, the magazine has carried all names and pictures of staff honoured. Simple, yet effective.

It’s paid major dividends: the latest Valuing Our People survey showed 84 per cent employees regularly read the staff magazine, rating it their favourite method of communication.

Ninety-five per cent said they had taken advantage of at least one of the new VoP initiatives; 86 per cent were aware of the Better Health at Work programme and more than 500 employees took part in its events over a 12-month period.

VoP has since landed us a gold CIPR Award for internal communications, while the council was a finalist in the ‘workforce’ category of the LGC Awards 2012.

There’s more to be done, no question, and that’s a challenge we’re looking forward to.

But right now…value? Added.

Stuart Macintosh is a PR officer for Redcar & Cleveland Borough Council. He first blogged this post here. 

Picture credit.

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