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Spilling the beans: our internal communications journey

19 April 2021

by Neil Cox, Senior PR and Communications Manager at Capital City College Group

“Why not present at the conference? It could be fun!”, I thought when I saw the AoC’s email asking for volunteers to run an Internal Communications workshop at their Marketing and Communications Conference.

I’ve been responsible for staff communications at Capital City College Group for about a year and we’ve made great strides, going from no activity to using a range of tactics to communicate regularly with a (generally) appreciative audience. The conference seemed a good opportunity to share with my fellow communicators what we’ve done and what we’ve learned.

So, without thinking, I fired off an email, saying I’d like to help. They accepted. Then the doubts crept in. In classic imposter syndrome style, I wondered if what I had to say would be interesting. I feared that the audience wouldn’t see any value in hearing about our journey and head for the (virtual) exit.

I needn’t have worried. The session was well-attended and my co-presenter (the amazing Eva Oliver from Activate Learning, who spoke about her internal communications strategy) and I had a great time sharing our stories and experiences.

So what did I talk about?

At Capital City College Group our challenge is to reach out to all our 2,100 colleagues (a mix of full and part-time staff) and make sure that they get the information that they need to do their jobs – be that a new policy, an urgent COVID update or the latest DfE guidance.

But we also want our communications to engender a sense of shared purpose, shared values and belonging among our colleagues, and be a tool for staff to share their good news and best practice, so that others may benefit from it.

It’s a tall order and we’re certainly not there yet. Currently, our communications activity is operational. We issue a weekly update to all staff with important and useful information and, every two weeks or so, we host a topical live broadcast show on Microsoft Teams. It has covered a variety of themes, including our values; funding; mental health; and we’ve interviewed students and staff on the show too – giving staff really valuable insight into how their students and peers feel.

We share a lot of COVID information too, mainly via our COVID Intranet pages. Updated every week, they are packed with information, links to guidance and numbers of positive cases among staff and students, so people can see the infection rates in our colleges.

And what have we learned? Here’s a few (hopefully) helpful pointers for your internal comms activity:

  • Measurement is key. If you can’t measure it, find a way to measure it – whether that’s the number of staff who read your updates, or how staff feel about working at home. And if you can’t find a way to measure it, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it?
  • You can’t please everyone all the time. There may be a small hard-core of staff – probably not many – who really don’t like your communications. Try to find out who they are, and engage with them to find out what their beef is… but accept that you might not be able to make them all happy.
  • Give line managers the tools to communicate. Managers are essential and trusted message-givers. By communicating with their team regularly, each manager can reinforce your messages and they can share feedback and ideas from their staff too.
  • Be honest and transparent. Build trust in centrally-issued staff communications by being honest and believable, and making sure that communications come from named people, not a faceless head office comms team.
  • Make the best of whatever budget you have. We have no money, so we’re being creative and making the most of the tools at our disposal (SharePoint, Office 365, Sway, Teams etc) to build a case for future investment in internal communications.

And finally… listen to colleagues at all levels. Invite feedback and act on it. Take advice from wherever you can get it, including your staff.