Finding our 'communications feet'

11th June 2020

Sarah Turton, Director of Group Communications & Engagement at Civica, questions how we can keep our 'communications feet' moving to enhance our organisation's culture and drive employee engagement

Throughout our lives we continue to ‘find our feet’ - from settling into a new school, university, or job, to setting up home and becoming a parent. Whether you’re an introvert, an extrovert or somewhere in-between, the events of recent months have certainly prompted us all to find our feet and become better communicators in an effort to collaborate with our colleagues and combat feelings of disorientation and isolation. But, now that we’ve found our ‘communications feet’ - whatever their size - how do we keep them moving so we play our part in enhancing our culture and driving employee engagement and productivity from hereon in?

From the second we’re born, our instinct is to communicate. To connect with those around us so we can share how we’re feeling and exchange ideas through sounds, expressions and gestures. While the power of this interaction could never be disputed; the uncertainty and trepidation of recent months has certainly magnified its importance. Overnight, employees’ boundless appetite to keep informed, connected and purposeful has advanced to another level; motivating each and every one of us to become better communicators and prompting internal communications and employee engagement teams to make a quantum leap from a necessary, to a critical business function.

As the storm of the pandemic calms and the majority of us look to return to a new, more blended way of working, (a combination of home and office working); for internal communications and employee engagement professionals around the globe, there’s now an opportunity to not only play an important role in helping organisations shape and bring to life new ways of working; but further support and empower employees to become their own Chief Communications Officer so they can play their part in enhancing their organisation’s culture and driving employee engagement and productivity from hereon in.

Bringing our new ways of working to life

Many of us have promptly seized the opportunity to re-imagine the way we live and work, clearly informed by the lessons learnt, and insights gained over recent months. As organisations continue to evolve each strand of their operating model, e.g. their people, property, development strategies, and simulate how this will play out in reality; clear, concise and timely communication will take a pivotal role in effectively sharing the vision (what), ensuring employees are fully on-board and engaged (why), and in re-educating and supporting them through the transition (how).

One-off, one-way communications will no longer ‘touch the sides’ and help effect, what in essence will be a series of ongoing company-wide change programmes. We’ll need to look wider, to those equally important, but often overlooked dimensions of communication - listening, observing and empathising - ensuring they feature equally within our communication and engagement strategies.

Those existing and proven channels such as leadership update calls, podcasts, newsletters, listening boards and town halls, will certainly continue to offer a strong foundation in ensuring employees feel informed, connected and purposeful. But, if we’re to really take our communication and engagement strategies to the next level, then we’ll need to be more proactive and innovative than ever before. This shift will demand that we build more space and reflection time into our agendas; listen more closely to our company’s heart-beat - leveraging the insights of ongoing pulse surveys; keep not one, but both eyes on industry best practice, trends and themes; and also give employees a greater opportunity to participate in the conversation and offer suggestions and improvements to inform the way we work and engage with our employees. But, perhaps most significantly of all, employees will now have the opportunity to take on the unofficial role of Chief Communications officer.

Supporting and empowering employees to take on the unofficial role of Chief Communications Officer

For those of us whose culture has, until now, been greatly influenced and defined by the physical workspaces we occupy; how will we keep our differentiator alive as we spend more time working remotely and ensure that it not only remains intact, but flourishes as we navigate ourselves through an infinite period of change? How will we maintain the innovation, the banter and the fun?

Over the years, internal communications and employee engagement has often been regarded as the responsibility of a central team. And, while a central team is certainly key to setting the tone of voice and crafting consistent and well-articulated messages, presented in a way that’s clear and engaging; the events of recent months have certainly highlighted that whoever we are, whatever our role or experience within an organisation, we all need to communicate to ensure that we get the best out of ourselves and those around us.

Moving forward, the role of the central team will be to listen, observe, digest, translate, define, promote and support. But, what about the employee? Identifying and empowering those who live your values and have a reputation for demonstrating your ‘culture first’ behaviours will be a rewarding tactic in ensuring that messages are not only received, but interpreted as they were intended. This will be especially important on those occasions when you have more challenging messages to convey.

At Civica we encourage all of our people to be their own Chief Learning Officer and take personal ownership and control of their career. So, moving forward, why wouldn’t we also empower them to expand their unofficial role to include Chief Communications Officer - in an effort to ensure that communication stays top of everyone’s agenda? Why wouldn’t it feature in our objectives as we put the ongoing learning and development plans in place to ensure that we continually upskill and support our people to expand their ‘communications feet’ and ultimately be the very best communicators that they can be? Surely this approach could be extremely advantageous as we look for new and improved ways of keeping our diverse talent pools engaged in the new world of work?

Final thought…

Communication is a skill, but like a relationship needs to be worked at - continually. It doesn’t matter if we start by making a conscious effort to communicate. Nor does it make what we have to say less valid or authentic. The important thing is that we all now put communication top of our professional and personal agendas and keep our ‘communications feet’ moving.