Internal Comms: The “Cinderella” of communications.

Head of Internal Communications,  Lindsey Harrison, at the Government Communications Service, is a seasoned marketer, who has brought the passion for external communications inward, to Internal Communications, the ‘Cinderella’ of communications. But this isn’t about glass slippers and pumpkin carriages, Rachel Emson, MD at Vivid Marketing and Vice Chair of Communications for the CIM North West board, catches up with Lindsey to discuss the importance of having an internal communications strategy and building an internal brand - something businesses underestimate the importance of. 

What has been the biggest challenge?

Our purpose is to save lives and prevent work-related death, injury and ill health. Even before the pandemic we recognised that the Health and Safety Executive was a complex organisation with a range of roles, locations (including operating in devolved nations) and functions. All of this complexity was brought into sharper focus during the pandemic.  Working with Senior Leaders to keep on top of daily messaging for anxious colleagues, who wanted immediate answers following every press conference, sorting out what was different in Scotland and Wales, and segmenting our messaging for those working at home or those carrying on their regulatory duties were some of our biggest challenges. As a team we didn’t always get it right, but we always responded quickly to clarify, and our professionalism and attitude were appreciated by all.

How has an innovative approach to internal communications / marketing allowed you to meet the challenge?

I think in some ways, it’s the other way round; the challenge and the immediacy required, allowed us to be more innovative and our audiences to be more forgiving as we tried new approaches. For example, we stopped using a monthly briefing which went only to the most senior colleagues for cascading down, and introduced other channels and products to brief more line managers (LM) on a more frequent basis. Our internal research shows the importance of that connection between LM and teams. As we move to hybrid working on a more permanent basis, we’ll continue to use these newer approaches. 

The use of new technology means that we can now be even more flexible and inclusive when organising events, consulting and training colleagues.

What kind of internal communications have worked / what is a standout ‘campaign’?

Our internal campaign supporting colleagues was named “All Together” and was split into phases.

  • Responding Together – focussing on what colleagues needed to know as both workers and citizens to stay safe and healthy and to allow HSE to continue with its important work in the early weeks and months
  • Virtually Together – keeping up morale, showing how we can carry on connecting even when we are apart.  We were able to “expand” the “together” theme at different times e.g
    • #rememberingtogether to mark Remembrance Day when many weren’t able to attend at a cenotaph,
    • #sociallytogether when we couldn’t have Christmas parties
    • Thankyou Thursdays using Yammer as a new channel to show gratitude for the support of our colleagues  
    • #Leading Together – a virtual event for our senior leaders
  • Back together – most recently completed phase which incorporated a safe and healthy return to working in an office and face to face events 
  • Better Together – the current final phase as we transition to the future with a new strategy, mission and purpose launching in May 2022

We measured individual initiatives during this time and tweaked and improved along the way.  The significant measure that tells us that we were getting this right most of the time, is an overall colleague engagement score which increased by 6% points between 2019 and 2020 and colleagues continuing to feel connected, supported and safe whilst working. For us as a communications team we were particularly pleased that the vast majority of colleagues (80 - 90%) felt that communications they received during this period was useful.

How important is an internal comms strategy and what tactics do you deploy?

As we come out of the other side of the pandemic, we’ve taken the opportunity to review our Internal Communications strategy.  It helps us focus on what we do as a team to support the organisation’s mission and where we add value. It provides the framework to organise and prioritise workloads and speeds up decision making. We use the 4 pillars of engagement as a framework

  • developing a coherent internal narrative which we weave into corporate communications to reinforce priorities and behaviours,
  • facilitate opportunities to give our colleagues a voice, whether it’s through a Q&A session with senior colleagues or through regular surveys
  • support our leadership by raising their visibility as champions for certain areas of work
  • providing guidance on how they communicate more locally with their teams with integrity and authenticity

How do you align your internal comms to the HSE brand?

Colleagues already have a very strong connection with our purpose and what the “brand” stands for. It will be our challenge in IC to help to maintain this connection through a period of change. Our activity must be aligning with the new strategy and will include a refreshed look and feel for channels and content, that focuses on celebrating the wide range of successful delivery across the organisation against objectives.    

What would you like your internal comms ‘brand’ to stand for and are you doing any work to close the gap?  

We’re in the process of re-evaluating our team “brand” and we’re still working on the precise wording but it goes something like this; 

The focus of the Internal Communications team is to promote the organisation’s values, ambitions, and support colleagues to deliver organisational objectives. We amplify all voices so that we can connect to one another, understand our role, recognised our achievements, and work together to protect people and places.

As trusted advisors, we offer strategic expertise and facilitate open dialogues between colleagues and senior leaders to open the conversation up and help make our organisation a great place to work. 

Our strategy for the next few years has just been agreed and continuing with all our great work to date we’ll be actively learning more about what internal communications are being delivered at a local level and how we can add value and sourcing more content for our channels. We can be quite shy about our achievements internally and we need to encourage sharing of experience.  

Learn more about Internal Communications:

Find out about the latest CIM workshop for Internal communications. This workshop is designed for those with responsibility for internal communications. It is also valuable for those in broader functions such as HR, CSR or PR who take on certain responsibilities for employee communication and want to understand more about the discipline of internal communications and unlock higher levels of employee engagement.