Understanding who your employees are is critical for effective internal communication. It is even more important within a local government context given the huge range of roles that employees perform within a council.
Understanding all of your employees’ experiences and needs can be a daunting task, but it is important to invest as much time as possible into doing that if you want a wide internal audience to engage with your messages.
How to do it
The most effective way of understanding your workforce is by getting out into the council and meeting your colleagues. Spending time on site with as many different teams as possible not only gives you an insight into the roles that they perform and the stories worth celebrating, it also provides you with an appreciation for the technical challenges they face, the time they have available to consume messages and an understanding of what else is competing for their attention.
Spending time with different departments will also help you absorb the culture of different parts of your organisation and experience if the values your organisation says it stands for are reflected on the ground. In many cases they will match exactly, but if not, first-hand experience gives you an opportunity to think about solutions for fixing the gap, which in turn allows you demonstrate the strategic and business benefits that internal communications can deliver.
Tips for getting out into your organisation:
Check your calendar
Look at your council’s annual content calendar to see where the big proactive stories for the year are focused. If any feature specific parts of the organisation, consider devising an internal communications plan from within the department rather than from the communications office. Creating an internal communications plan on site could help you to pick up opportunities you might otherwise miss, and helps showcase the work of internal communications to the rest of your organisation.
Use your networks
Let the people you work with know that you’re interested in visiting different parts of the organisation. Not only might they be able to help arrange visits, they will also be able to share the message with their networks, giving you an even wider reach.
Publicise your interest
Instead of asking departments to send you their stories, consider asking departments if they would like an opportunity to showcase their work by showing you what they do or how their work is contributing to the council’s strategy. Teams do not always have the skills or confidence to produce their own stories, but many want the opportunity to show someone.
Make the most of meetings
Try to attend as many meetings as possible to understand the issues affecting the organisation. The more discussions you’re exposed to the better your understanding of what challenges are facing the council. You will then be better placed to consider how internal communications can help address them.
Use your channels
Share your interest in finding out about different aspects of the council through as many channels as possible. Include requests on your intranet, manager briefing packs, staff magazines, team meetings and in your day-to-day interactions with colleagues. Opportunities may present themselves from a number of different directions.
Other things to consider
While there is no substitute for on-site experience it is not always possible to spend as much time out in the field as you might like. If that is the case in your council, here are some of our top tips for other things you can do to get to know your people:
Although more commonly used for identifying external stakeholders, the principles of segmentation work just as effectively for mapping your internal audiences. You can choose to segment your audiences in any way you want - maybe dividing by job role, or demographic, or access to different communication channels. Drawing a map of who your people are, where they sit and what level of interest and influence each group has can help to paint a picture of your workforce and more easily see where activities can be grouped together or require completely different approaches. In larger communication teams, internal segmentation can also help to more easily divide the workload of pitching messages in the right way.
Talk to your HR and ICT teams
HR and ICT have access to a wealth of information about your workforce. From stats about how many employees live in your area or work part time, to information about who has email access, this information can help you to better understand your staff.
Look at your data
Increase your available data sets by running internal communications surveys for all employees. Tools such as SurveyMonkey allow you to develop quick surveys that employees can fill in a matter of minutes. This provides you with a rich picture of how people consume information and the channels they want to use in the future. Remember to promote the availability of the survey across all your internal communication channels and provide paper copies for employees without computer access.
Talk to your trade unions
Your trade unions’ representatives are on the frontline of the issues affecting employees so it is important to involve them in your internal communication plans. Meet with them regularly to discuss the issues affecting the workforce and test out your messages and communication plans with them to identify issues or contexts that you might have missed.
Make the most of the talent across the council and develop a network of communication champions based in different parts of the organisation. Employee communication champions are not only a vital tool in supporting the cascade of information, they also have valuable insight into what talent already exist across the council. They will be well placed to tell you what people really think about your internal communications. Try to get a balanced a group of people with a mix of ages, backgrounds, job roles and seniority to provide as broad a picture as possible and don’t shy away from encouraging critical and dissenting voices to take up the opportunity to act as champions – they’re sometimes the people with most influence among their peers, and will provide useful challenge to your ideas.
Focus groups provide a helpful facility for testing out how your employees respond to messages before you launch them. Consider developing a programme of focus groups as part of your campaign planning to ensure that your employees have a stake in developing the council’s communication messages and collateral and use the groups as an opportunity to find out what people think about key issues in a relaxed environment.