Internal communication is usually done badly – a sweeping statement, but in my experience one that rings true.

For one reason or another many organisations put talking to colleagues low down on a list of priorities that includes customer communication, trade press coverage, social media, marketing and a raft of other sexier communication activities which sound much better in reports to boards.

In reality, communicating well with your colleagues is the most important thing that you will ever do and the lack of investment in this area ignores a very simply truth – the service that you provide is fundamentally a reflection of how informed, engaged and motivated your colleagues are.

You can have the best approach to customer communication, the most innovative marketing techniques available and be the most high-profile, respected organisation in your sector – but you’ll never fulfil your objectives or reach your potential if your staff are not bought into what you are doing.

This is easier in some sectors than others. I am lucky to work in social housing, where a clear social purpose and the people-centred nature of the service we provide makes buying colleagues into a vision and mission that bit easier.

But by following some simple rules and taking the time to invest, any organisation can benefit hugely from a strong internal communication function.

Our experience at Citizen has shown just how much this matters. In 2018 we embarked on a major transformation programme which has seen us amalgamate our group, rebrand from WM Housing and launch a series of major projects to transform the way that we provide services.

Positive as this change has been, when so much is happening at the same time a lot is asked of our colleagues. More training, more briefings, more information to take in – it’s hard enough for us communications professionals to take in even with oversight of it all, so what chance do our colleagues have?

Without a clear narrative to understand why this change is happening, how it is progressing, what the results are and perhaps most importantly of all, how it fits into a bigger picture – it’s so easy for staff to become disenchanted and demotivated.

When I say internal communication is the most important thing you can do, this is what I mean. Not that it is a nice thing to do to make everyone love you and sing songs about your organisation, but because there is a very real danger if you don’t do it well that you will derail any change you are trying to make and fail to meet your strategic objectives.

All good communications activity should support an organisation’s objectives and internal communication is the only discipline that can support all of them. If your staff understand your objectives and what you are trying to achieve, you can start to communicate everything through this lens.

So, when you talk about a major project, you’re not just talking about that project; you’re talking about its place in something much bigger. This is extremely powerful and it’s how we all make sense of the world around us.
Of course, there’s more to internal communication than just informing people about progress. In my experience there are four elements to successful communication with colleagues:

• Informing
• Engaging
• Motivating
• Inspiring.

A range of tools are needed to do this and at Citizen we’ve done a huge amount of work to look at how we can best achieve this.

Most tools are simple and don’t rely on major investment: ramping up the amount of content on your intranet, telling positive people stories from around your organisation, profiling individuals, teams and major projects, introducing new bulletins and newsletters, using leadership briefings, utilising video and other technology and so on.

Get these tools in place, give some focus to your messages and the rest will start to follow.
People will start to come to you to profile things and they’ll know the communications team is the team to come to. This will in turn create a new network for you of go-to people that you can rely on again and again. It will contribute to a positive culture of sharing, a sense of collective buy-in to your work and real sense of engagement.

With some focused effort at Citizen we have gone from an unloved internal communications function; with sporadic updates which gave an incoherent picture of our transformation, to a thriving function which gives colleagues a narrative in which they understand the mission of our organisation and how what they do is fundamental to our success.

It’s crucial that we share these lessons so that as communications professionals we can exert a collective influence about the power of our work and make the case for investment in it.

I look forward to talking about this in more detail in my session during Comms Hero Week – Informing, engaging and motivating: how to master internal communication and why it matters.

Steve Hayes

Head of Communications at Citizen