Resetting the relationship between local and national government. Read our Local Government White Paper

Communicating with your senior leadership

As the heads of your organisation your chief executive, leader and senior management team are vital to the successful delivery of internal communication.

They add gravitas to your messages and, as the team in charge of the council’s overall success, they have a vested interest in making sure all employees deliver the vision of the organisation. They are also some of the people with greatest responsibility for delivering internal communications, as it is their vision and objectives that will form the basis of your messages. As Nathan Elvery, chief executive at West Sussex County Council says, “How can you lead if others do not know where you are going, what you are thinking and what you are doing?”

But with so many competing demands on their time, how do you effectively engage them in the importance of internal communication?

Our top tips

Understand your organisation

Before recommending channels or key message it is essential to understand what the big issues facing your council are. It could be anything from devolution or financial pressures, partnership working or merger proposals. Once you have an understanding of the challenges facing your senior teams you will then be able to consider the ways in which internal communication might be able to address them.

Present solutions not problems

Your senior teams will already have a good understanding of the challenges facing your organisation so it is important to present them with solutions not problems. Show them how more effective internal communication can fix the issues they are battling and, where possible, makes sure your solution is backed up with tangible evidence.

Do your research

Senior teams are extremely busy and do not always have time to delve into detail so it is important to do your research before asking for their sign off or approval. It would be foolish to achieve sign off for a new weekly video if your IT systems cannot support the technology, or creating a detailed programme of roadshows if your audience is not available on the dates. Make sure you have looked into the finer details before you present your solutions, so you’re in the best possible position to respond to any challenges and start delivering straightaway.

Stay authentic

It is important to take into account your chief executive, leader and senior team’s personal styles before developing any internal communications channels or messages centred on them. While it is good to try new things, it is important that your senior teams are comfortable and communicate authentically. If internal communications is entirely new to your senior teams consider starting slowly, with a regular blog or all-staff message to build confidence and appetite for more activity at a later point. It is also essential to work closely with your senior team to develop a communication style that sounds authentic to them. You do not want a disconnection to occur between the messages staff read and the things they hear in person. Work with your teams to develop a tone of voice that is consistent and authentic.

Don’t be afraid to challenge

It is often said that council communicators must speak truth to power and the same is true for internal communications. While your senior team will have a broad knowledge of the organisation, they cannot know everything, so if something has not worked, or been received well by employees, it is important that you are honest and tell them. It is not about being critical, it’s about being constructive and working with your senior teams to act on the evidence so you can keep improving communications across the council, and ultimately, bring your organisation closer to fulfilling its ambitions. Be brave – they’ll thank you for it.

Evaluate your activities

With so many decisions to make on a daily basis senior teams rely on thorough, well presented evidence and evaluation to make their judgements. Make sure all your internal communications activities build in time for evaluation and include steps for capturing feedback. Collate your findings into clear and concise reports that can be used to inform senior teams about the effectiveness of your recent internal communications activities, and use that information to base your recommendations for the future.