Engaging your people about priority issues 

By Christine McGuiness

22 July, 2020

In organisations of every size, internal communicators support senior leaders to engage and emotionally connect with their teams. No matter how geographically or physically dispersed our people are, we have a duty to inform and engage people on our values, strategic priorities and developments. 

CIPR Not-for-Profit recently teamed up with CIPR Inside to bring together a panel of industry leaders for a live webinar Q&A to provide valuable insight on how to engage with people on priority issues such as the global coronavirus pandemic and supporting colleagues and communities affected by systemic racism.

Top Takeaways 

Internal Communications needs to be strategic, but it is not a solo gig. Doing it well and effectively is a team effort.

. Build relationships early and nurture them fast.
. Learn who the influencers are.
. Speak the company language.
. Understand the organisation’s issues and priorities. 
. Understand people’s motivations. 
. Work with colleagues to co-create look, feel and sound of messages.
. Leaders need to be authentic and need to be seen during a crisis. 
. Support managers who are the key links with their staff.
. Co-create look and feel of messages to provide shared ownership and ensure that messages are not just ‘top down’.
. Keep the message simple and straightforward.
. Understand where any resistance comes from. While Some people may be afraid of change, others may not have the equipment or skills to use new technology.
. Don’t leave people behind – find the right way to communicate with people who don’t work at a computer all day or don’t have access to new channels.

Use stories to bring strategy and culture to life in meaningful ways to communicate your business purpose.

. If your organisations needs to take a step back to understand its purpose, Simon Sinek’s Start With Why is a great place to start thinking about this. 
. Weave the purpose into everyday communications.
. Learn to say no with confidence. Explain why something won’t be effective, needs delayed or provide a better way to achieve the desired outcome.

Volunteers are a vital part of the organisational family and should be treated that way.

. Understand their motivations.
. Recognise and appreciate what they are doing.
. Keep them engaged by sharing stories showing the impact they are having. 

Return to the Workplace will be an anxious time for many, so provide reassurance that staff wellbeing, health and safety is top of the agenda. 

. Create videos or take photos that show what the workplace looks like.

If some employees have been furloughed, take care on how and what you communicate to them.

. Excellent advice is available in CIPR Inside’s guide on communicating with furloughed employees 

Supporting Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) colleagues and influencing senior leaders to address structural racism requires everyone taking responsibility.

. Empower everyone to speak up and call out anyone who does not live the culture or values.
. Senior leaders need to know how staff feel, so ask staff what fair looks like.
. Provide opportunities to share experiences. 
. Establish a BAME network with a voice and authority to represent their colleagues. 

Communicators need to think about their role in balancing the playing field.

. Identify and understand your own unconscious bias. 
. Take positive action until it’s embedded in everything you do.
. Make equality and diversity a core part of the communications team’s principles and the language and images used to represent the organisation. 
. Communications messaging and imagery needs to be inclusive, accessible and representative of the people we work with and for.

Measurement and evaluation are the Holy Grail of internal communications. It’s important during business as usual operations but is critical in a crisis when people are psychologically (and sometimes physically) in different places. 

. Evaluate as you go to check if the message is effective or needs to be adapted.
. Short, simple evaluation like quick polls and pulse surveys can provide meaningful information in just a few minutes. 
. The last few months have been an active stress test on internal communications channels, so take stock of any lessons learned that can be carried forward into the new ‘normal’.

Crisis priorities, pace and timeframe can contribute to mental and physical exhaustion, so remember to look after your own wellbeing. 

. The line between work and home is extremely blurred for many, so find a way to manage your energy throughout the day.
. Prioritise campaigns to focus on what’s important now. 
. Look after yourself and each other.

Overnight change to agile working is only one positive to come from COVID-19, there are many others.

. People are reaching out to each other more and sharing personal experiences.
. Leaders have put themselves out there to be held to account and answer questions.
. Organisations have quickly moved services and events online to make them accessible.
. Intranets have become popular again.
. Reduced expectations for perfect and polished content have enabled more authentic messaging. 

Internal Communications is having a moment and it’s a privilege to be in a position where people notice and appreciate what we do. As a profession, we are doing an immense amount of fantastic work, some of us with very limited resources. We now we need to have confidence in ourselves and our profession to step up, demonstrate what we have achieved and showcase what more we could do with even just a little more resourcing. Instead of putting words in other people’s mouths, let’s make our own voices be heard for a change.

Christine McGuinness is Communications Manager at NHS Golden Jubilee.

CIPR Members can log 5 CPD points for attending the event or watching it. Search ‘engaging your people about priority issues’ on the CIPR CPD ladder to watch the webinar on demand. And don’t forget to log a custom event to claim your 5 CPD points.