At a time of unprecedented change across the care sector, the focus on colleague engagement is more important than ever before. Austerity measures, public funding challenges, the National Living Wage, an ever more competitive marketplace and an increased demand for support, all continue to have a massive impact on our operations and on our people.
Like many care providers, we are an exceptionally complex organisation, with a diverse internal audience, making it hard to underestimate the scale of our internal communications challenge. We have more than 5,500 colleagues, working across over 450 services, from the top of Scotland to the tip of England. The vast majority of our colleagues work in frontline care roles, delivering support to people with care needs in their own homes.
“… our success relies upon Community Integrated Care having a truly engaged workforce, where people believe they are personally involved in the success of our organisation”
We recognise that it is the relationships between our colleagues and the people we support that will determine our ultimate success. To become a leading care provider we must have well-informed, motivated and empowered colleagues who understand what we are trying to achieve and the part they play, who care about the place they work and the people they work with and for, and who understand the connection between their role and the vision of our organisation. Ultimately, our success relies upon Community Integrated Care having a truly engaged workforce, where people believe they are personally involved in the success of our organisation and because of this, are prepared to ‘go the extra mile’ because they care.
Having just completed the IOIC Accelerate programme – which is sponsored and delivered by Gatehouse – I saw an opportunity for us to work with the team to get a deeper understanding of our internal audiences and discover what they really wanted from internal communications. Three years into our 5 Year Corporate Strategy and on the back of a huge organisational change programme, I recognised that now was the time to really reconnect with our workforce and listen to what they were telling us.
“Up to that point, there had been a lot of educated guess-work going on…”
Up to that point, there had been a lot of educated guess-work going on – from Comms, HR, Operations and everyone in between – about how colleagues wanted to be communicated with and about what. I strongly believed that if we were ever going to do anything meaningful around internal communication, we had to get to a place where we had a definitive answer to that question – from the only people who could really answer it.
So, I commissioned Gatehouse to conduct our very first organisation-wide ‘listening exercise’ – a rigorous employee communication and engagement audit, carried out in three stages. This began with face-to-face interviews with our Board of Directors, to understand their perceptions of the state of employee engagement and internal communication within the organisation. Next was an all-company survey sent to every single colleague asking their views on both the day-to-day ‘plumbing’ – the tools and tactics, but more importantly, the broader aspects of engagement – we wanted to know what it really felt like to work for Community Integrated Care. Finally, we held a series of 7 regional focus groups, involving people from all levels and roles within the charity, to explore these themes in-depth, to get that rich qualitative data we needed.
To say that the results were revealing would be an understatement!
Yes, we got plenty of really useful insight into the preferred tools and tactics (finally we could stop with all the guesswork) but far more importantly, we gained an insight into the psyche of our staff that we had never had before.
Whilst positively, a significant amount of people said they knew what our values were, what these meant to them and the role they play in contributing to our success, worryingly, one third of colleagues felt they were being kept in the dark about our strategy and most disappointingly of all, another third did not believe in our ability to achieve our goal of becoming the UK’s leading health and social care charity. This painted a clear picture – we were failing to bring our strategy to life for people in a way that they could understand and relate to.
“… we were failing to bring our strategy to life for people in a way that they could understand and relate to.”
While employees were overwhelmingly positive about their leaders’ and managers’ values and behaviours, they were disappointed by how infrequently they saw them. This feedback was embellished further with a significant proportion of people (over 40%) believing that leaders didn’t listen to them or take on board their views before making decisions.
In fact, people demanding more influence and involvement within the organisation was a predominant theme throughout the audit and was perhaps one of the most unexpected pieces of feedback. There was an overwhelming appetite from staff to be included more in the way our organisation is run, with many feeling passionately that they are in the best position to know what is right for our customers.
There was also a lot of really practical stuff in there too – we gathered from this research that employees’ preferred communication channels were face-to-face ones, such as team meetings, but over two thirds of employees said that they had team meeting less frequently than every month.
Also, no matter the channel, the topic colleagues were most interested in was success stories – both of the people we support and of staff. Recognition was also crucial – people didn’t believe they were being thanked for the role they play in the success of our organisation.
Probably the most illuminating part of the research was our final question: “If you could make one change to Internal Communications & Engagement within Community Integrated Care what would it be?” The top five responses were: 1. Listen to staff before making decisions 2. See and hear from Leaders more 3. More respect and recognition 4. More face-to-face communication 5. More honesty and transparency.
The Gatehouse audit is, without doubt, the most significant piece of employee research ever conducted in our charity’s 30-year history. In many ways, the audit told us that if our strategy is founded on the people we support being at the heart of our vision, this means that we have to put the people who support them there too.
“In many ways, the audit told us that if our strategy is founded on the people we support being at the heart of our vision, this means that we have to put the people who support them there too.”
Armed with this knowledge, we set about developing our new Internal Communications & Engagement Strategy. This was a brand new experience for us. With internal comms having previously fallen under the Marketing & Communications banner, we had never had a formalised internal communication strategy, nor any dedicated internal resource responsible for it. In fact, it was often dismissed at the “soft and fluffy stuff”. Finally, the audit gave us the power to demonstrate internal communication and employee engagement as a true bottom line issue.
Our first step was to create a specialised IC team. We split the Marcomms function into two, creating distinct internal and external communications functions.
We then defined six key objectives for the new team to work towards: building an effective framework, empowering line managers, unlocking employee voice, building leadership trust and visibility through face-to-face communication, creating a positive and vibrant organisational culture, and putting the people we support at the core of all of our internal communications. All of these objectives are linked together and hard-wired to our corporate strategy. This was something that was really important to me; if as an IC team we are really going to earn our seat around the table, we must be able to clearly demonstrate how the work we do supports our organisation’s strategic goals.
Once we had defined our objectives, developed our key messages and conducted a detailed audience segmentation exercise, we were finally able to start looking at the channels that we would use to support the strategy.
Interestingly, a lot of what we were already doing was well-received – it was just about doing it more frequently and more regularly. Of course, there were also things that we found just weren’t working, and we had to be big enough to put our egos aside and bring an end to these! Throughout the audit, a phrase that stuck with me from one of the consultants we worked with was “vanity communications” – sometimes, we can be so caught up in how slick or beautiful a piece of communication or a campaign is, we don’t take the time to really check if it is doing the job it’s meant to. That’s a big lesson I have learnt.
“As well as creating a better framework for the existing channels, we have also introduced lots of new tactics and initiatives too.”
As well as creating a better framework for the existing channels, we have also introduced lots of new tactics and initiatives too. The audit gave us a clear steer on where we needed to dedicate our very limited resource (a team of two, 5,500+ staff, 450 locations) and that has been vital.
Upskilling frontline managers and reinforcing their positions as local leaders will be key – we have to make them competent and capable of owning their own communications, ensuring they have the tools and content they need. Introducing what we have called the Welcome to Our World (WOW) tour – which will see our Regional Directors, Executive Team and Board of Trustees taking part in a formal programme of informal ‘shop-floor’ visits is a big one – we are building on the positive feedback these groups received about values and making sure we change perception around visibility.
We are also looking into organising job swaps between our Head Office teams and staff out in our services, to develop a better understanding of what our frontline teams face day-to-day. To build trust in managers, team meetings will be rebranded ‘huddles’, and we plan to make them a regular occurrence. We will also be introducing our first ever network of National and Regional Employee Forums, to make sure that frontline staff have ample opportunity to achieve the influence and involvement they told us they want. All of these actions will contribute to unlocking employee voice and creating a culture of trust and communication throughout Community Integrated Care.
To celebrate the incredible work our people do and to keep them motivated, communicating employees’ successes and achievements throughout the year will be vital. Some of the channels we have earmarked for this include an annual award event to supplement our existing quarterly Care Stars programme, celebrating frontline colleagues’ work. Print materials will still have a place with us for a long time to come, so we will be relaunching our much-loved employee magazine and introducing regional newsletters, but we will be making sure that we also move with the time by creating an app version of the magazine, and we have now introduced our very first internal social network, Yammer. These channels will help us connect employees from one region to those of the other regions and give staff a better sense of belonging.
“Although this strategy is very new and very ambitious, we are confident it will help us reconnect with our colleagues”
Although this strategy is very new and very ambitious, we are confident it will help us reconnect with our colleagues, take them on our journey to become the UK’s leading health and social care charity and bringing our brand promise – People, Passion, Potential – to life.
BIOGRAPHY – DANIELLE CHAN
With a background in law, Danielle Chan joined Community Integrated Care’s in-house marketing and communication team in 2008 – named as the Chartered Institute of Marketing’s North West In-House Marketing team of the Year award in 2014. 8 years later, Danielle now heads the newly formed Internal Communication team.