My Top Focus Areas for a Head of Internal Comms
By Jos Harrison
Over the last 14 years I’ve provided interim leadership of internal comms for businesses as diverse as MotoNovo Finance, ITV, Principality Building Society, and Wonga, and for me the key focus areas have remained pretty much the same – albeit with new technology playing an increasing role.
Here’s my view on the ‘big ticket issues’ a Head of Internal Comms should be focusing his or her time on to really make a contribution to the success of their Wongabusiness.
What’s the story?
CEOs are usually clear on their vision, strategy and priorities. But turning that into a compelling story that employees at all levels can relate to, with related key messages to run through communications, is a big challenge – and this should be a key focus area for IC Heads. Creating that line of sight between employees’ day to day role and their contribution to the business’ success is powerful for any organisation. There are agencies out there which specialise in creating a compelling story but they can be hugely expensive. I believe that a senior internal comms pro should have the creative power to develop and bring this to life themselves as well as the ability to engage people in the story with an effective comms plan.
Connecting leadership with front-line
One of the most common employee comments we hear in our internal comms reviews is ‘We want to connect with the CEO and top team regularly and informally.’ They want to see the whites of their eyes and know what they’re thinking; they want their voice to be heard – to be able to ask them pokey questions and give them direct feedback. Once a year isn’t enough for an agile business – leaders need to be out there in the organisation connecting with people informally at all levels, maintaining a continual dialogue as part of the face to face programme. It’s up to the IC Head to make this happen, enable this connectivity and give the debates a wider airing through the channels.
Face to face at the heart
One thing I always look to establish is a rhythm of face to face communication throughout the organisation, from regular team meetings and ‘town halls’ to listening lunches and leaders’ events. Engaging face to face communication has to be at the heart of any internal communications strategy if it’s to make a real difference to your organisation’s performance. Yes, it takes time and sometimes it takes money – but it will be worth it.
In the social media age, face to face communications has lost its appeal for some, but it’s more important than ever and the Head of IC needs to be a passionate advocate.
Encouraging conversations and collaboration
With just about every organisation we work with ‘collaboration’ is a hot topic. The Head of IC can’t just focus on top down and bottom up – he or she has a key role to play in encouraging collaboration and enabling conversations across the business through innovative face to face formats, intranets and enterprise social networks. Employees increasingly expect the same interactive digital experience at work that they take for granted in their personal life. IC Heads need to become experts in how to apply this technology effectively as a key element of their strategy.
Getting change comms right
Change is now a constant in most organisations and it is widely acknowledged that the success of any change implementation is driven by the effectiveness of communications – but we are still seeing organisations getting this wrong. The typical score for agreeing with the statement ‘Changes are communicated effectively’ in our internal comms review survey is a lowly 30%. So giving employees a consistent, positive experience when it comes to change has to be a key focus area for IC Heads and that often means hiring experienced change comms resource.
We hear a consistent message from employees: ‘Involve us as early as you can in planned changes to enable us to give our input to drive a good solution. Then ensure effective communication through to implementation and beyond, particularly face to face.’
Making managers accountable
Employees are looking more than ever to their manager to involve them on the key business issues that impact on them and to feed concerns up the line. Here at the Internal Comms Team we believe you have to make your managers accountable for communication and equip them to do the job with the right support tools and training – but this is easier said than done, especially as genuinely ‘making managers accountable’ only tends to work in organisations with a strong performance culture!
The Head of IC needs to drive this because it is a long, hard journey to get it right.