Conversations that count

In every organisation in which I’ve worked, the same refrain can be heard from some quarters:

‘My manager never tells me anything.’

The response of internal communicators can sometimes be gung-ho. In my first steps in the profession I was tempted to see this as something that could be overcome or sidestepped by me, directly.

I tried to reach those individuals myself, using our channels of communication to get the information people needed into their inboxes. Because it must be the job of internal comms to make sure everyone knows everything, right?

This is to fail to understand the deeper forces at play. Even in the most digitally-enabled organisations, where every member of staff works primarily from a laptop or smartphone – and therefore can be targeted with digital internal messaging – there are more important issues to consider than just ‘how do we get information to our colleagues?’.

Surveys are great for building your evidence base, as is more anecdotal feedback and the bread and meat of clicks and views. But none of these things alone or in combination can replace a conversation between humans. People need to hear news from other people. It’s why we have newsreaders.

Conversations that count

Building two-way conversations that link senior leadership with all other levels of organisations is a key part of delivering on the principles of Engage for Success (check out MCOM 2.0).

Dialogue is essential for ensuring that teams understand and ‘live’ an organisation’s strategic narrative; for making sure that managers are engaging, that employees have a voice, and to demonstrate and maintain integrity.

But sparking conversations between managers and teams can be a difficult thing to do, particularly in organisations where such conversations might not be naturally occurring for geographic reasons (e.g. my manager is in London, I’m in Liverpool) or because of structural or cultural barriers. It’s not always clear at what level these conversations should be happening – who should be engaging who, when, and how.

Team talk – flexible solutions

Teams have to talk to each other, and managers have to be visible and engaging. This is a basic fact of any business.

A common way for corporate internal communications teams to try to inculcate these conversations is to provide a regular briefing that line managers can lean on to deliver important corporate information to their teams and to feedback any concerns they may have to the centre for resolution.

We’ve had a line managers’ briefing at Crown Commercial Service for a while now, going through several different iterations as we track delivery and engagement with the actions or behaviour change we’re trying to generate.

We recently overhauled the briefing to try to avoid duplication of news across our different channels, and to focus in on key steps that we wanted managers to encourage their teams to take – like reading our Business Plan, or completing their mandatory Declaration of Interest forms.

We advertised the new Team Talk widely via our internal comm’s channels and many new managers across the organisation got in touch to ask to be added to our distribution list. We’re now tracking completion of some of those ‘key tasks’ to see what impact we’re having, and we’ll be surveying line managers in the Autumn to get their feedback.

What you need to consider

Here are 4 things to think about when developing your Team Talk briefing:

1. Who is going to deliver it?

Look at your organisational structure. How many managers are there, and where are they based? How many staff do they manage? How regularly do they deliver team briefings? As you begin to understand your stakeholder map, you will be able to decide who is best placed to deliver Team Talk. It may be that you end up with a mix of senior managers and more frontline team leaders.

2. What information do you need to communicate?

Think about what you’re asking your line managers to say, and how long it will take. Which items require action, and which are there to raise awareness? What are your key requirements for the month – do you have a new, mandatory form that everyone needs to complete, or is there a new policy that you want a certain group of people to read? Team Talk may be targeted at a whole organisation or you could choose to segment your updates by directorate or function. At the end of the day, the information you choose will define the evaluation process you will need to carry out afterwards, and the strength of your insights.

3. What are you asking staff to do as a result?

Think about how Team Talk will fit into your organisation’s team meetings. Some news can be delivered verbally – for instance, flagging that the organisation has a new health and safety policy that staff can find on the intranet. Other news might require staff to complete a survey or take other action. For office-based or remote working staff, line managers could be asked to forward your Team Talk document on to their teams to follow the links you include. If your teams are more used to being on their feet, you’ll need to think about how they’re going to do what you’re asking.

4. How will you define success?

As with all communications activity, we have to be able to evaluate success and deliver insight to inform future behaviours, so set your objectives at the outset and make sure they are SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, timely). For civil servants, you might want to track success against People Survey responses; previous questions on this invaluable piece of annual research have included ‘I get the information I need to do my job well’ – which ties nicely into lots of internal comms activities. If you’re using an email delivery service you will be able to track open and click rates – and if you’re asking line managers to forward the updates on for others to use, that you may be able to track traffic to whatever resources you’re directing people to. Finally, don’t be afraid to ask your staff what they think directly in the form of pulse surveys.