“We were sending out messages without wondering if people actually needed this information.”

This article is from Gatehouse’s Journal of Internal Communication. Here, Patrick Fox – internal communications manager at National Grid – explains how he put line manager communications at the core of his strategy.

When I joined the team, our senior leaders were sending out all kind of messages – business updates, local business news and big organisational changes… the sort of messages that you would expect to hear in any organisation of a certain scale.

We took some time to step back and figure out if that was the right way to engage with our people. Sometimes people tend to think about “What’s in it for me?” rather than having a general interest in understanding what the strategy is about or where the business is moving.

So that was one of the challenges we faced in communications. We realized that we were doing a lot wrong, actually. We were sending out messages without wondering if people actually needed this information.

We also had a channel architecture which was complicated both for our employees and the internal communications team. I have previously worked at the call centre so it was easy for me to think back and analyse what kind of communications I would have liked to receive and how. The first thing that came to mind was: who would I speak to when I’m on shift? I would speak to my line manager.

We’re lucky that our line managers are already engaged and up to speed on where the business is going – otherwise we’ve probably got the wrong people in that position! So we thought, why not start with them and ensure that they translate the news into something which is relevant to their teams?

Make them feel special

Rather than differentiating between our senior management team and line managers, we insist that everybody is part of the leadership team. Our head of department hosts leadership calls that line managers are invited to join. It’s more of a psychological thing but it ensures that everybody feels a bit more tuned in and part of the business.

We don’t refer to them as line managers; we always address them as leaders. We tell them “This is for you, the leadership. This is what we want you, as leaders, to do”. It’s always going back to that word.

Remind them of their communication responsibilities

Communication and engagement is an integral part of their role but ’leaders’ don’t necessarily know that. They tend to focus on the performance without actually wondering whether their team members know where we are going or why we are doing this.

We insist that this part of their role is crucial as we rely on them to pass the most important information to their teams during our monthly leadership calls. As a communications team, we still send out a weekly newsletter called ‘Synergy’.

However we really split things up: the newsletter incorporates the “nice to know” information if you’ve got 5 to 10 minutes in your day, as opposed to the team briefs which are compulsory and convey the “need to know” information.

So leadership communications are not replacing our other channels – but we’ve put them at the heart of our strategy: they are our most important communications channel. You can send out newsletters all day, every day, but they’re not half as effective as a conversation with the person you sit next to or the person you report into.

Equip them with the right tools and information

We host a monthly leadership call and organize leadership conferences twice a year. We also wanted a central point for our leadership team. We’ve used SharePoint in the past but it didn’t do the trick – so we decided to develop a dedicated section within our Intranet – something a bit more intuitive, engaging and exciting, something that would make them feel special. Our leaders can find all of the contents that we deliver during the leadership calls and leadership conferences. They can then take that content and deliver it to their direct reports. We regularly update this site and develop tools like a “How To Do a Team Brief” guide. So we believe we’re giving them the right tools and the opportunity to do this engagement activity at the best of their abilities.

Encourage feedback

To make it work, you really need to ensure that ’leaders’ are comfortable using your tools or doing what they’re asked. After each of the calls or conferences, we ask them for feedback about how the sessions ran. We ask them if they are confident delivering the team brief to their team and if they need additional support. We tell them that we are available to support them and promote a two-way communication.

Adding Value

Of course, it’s also important to demonstrate value with everything you do. I measure all of our communication channels and campaigns. Before introducing this strategy, we were unable to measure our weekly newsletter ‘Synergy’, now we boast an average weekly hit rate of 45%! Over 160 managers attend our half yearly conferences and more than 100 dial into our monthly calls. We also receive great feedback on the quality of content and discussion. For the first time, we can demonstrate value across the board.

Patrick developed and then delivered a communications and engagement strategy within Customer Operations at National Grid. He is now an Intranet & Multimedia Editor at National Grid and an active member of the Social Media Leadership Forum

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