The Gatehouse Blog

The benefits of building trust

Grant Springford is the news, stories and campaigns lead at the DfT, a ministerial department that works with 24 agencies and public bodies — such as the British Transport Police Authority, the Civil Aviation Authority and Network Rail — to support the transport infrastructure and keep the UK on the move.

The DfT consists of around 3,000 employees in the central department — and this includes remote workers.

Grant joined the Department around three years ago with a specific remit to lead its Be Yourself diversity and inclusion campaign. His team forms part of the Internal Communication (IC) function, which reports into the Department’s People function, and works closely with DfT’s wider Communications Directorate.

Education & awareness

The DfT already had in place various self-managed networks for staff who are disabled, colleagues who are black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME), LGBT+, 50+, young people and individuals with young families, to name but a few. The DfT’s family of networks has continued to grow and now includes support for ex-service men and women, and neurodiversity.

These networks operate a busy calendar of events and other opportunities “to help people understand the different aspects and cultures of pretty much everyone who works in the Department”, says Grant.

They all work closely with the Department’s Diversity and Inclusion team, which has three overriding objectives: 1) to ensure that people feel safe and happy to bring their whole selves to work; 2) to encourage people to celebrate that fact in the workplace; and 3) to reflect and represent the general public that the Department serves.

As part of this, they also embed educational strategies that run across the civil service. For example, ensuring people have the right training to reduce unconscious bias in selection processes.

Clearly, a diverse and inclusive culture was already established and embraced at the DfT. What it was lacking, from an internal communication perspective, was direction.

Walking the talk

“People were sharing their stories, but we certainly didn’t have a campaign to spearhead it and we didn’t really have clear objectives to make that happen,” says Grant. “So, the Be Yourself campaign was created to really get the message out to say: ‘Look, we celebrate diversity and inclusivity at the Department. We don’t just simply write stories about the strategy and the importance behind it. We’ve got a campaign to make it happen.’’’

Grant and his team decided to take forward a storytelling approach to help bring the strategy to life, being careful to use the voice and idiosyncrasies of individuals. They also developed specific branding for all visuals, news pieces and screens.

The campaign was launched with a ‘Bring Yourself to Work Day’, encouraging people to wear an item of clothing or bring something to work that would reflect who they are as an individual.

It received a tremendous response.

“In previous Departments I’ve worked in, if we’d done such a thing, we might get a handful of people. But, even then, we’d have to twist their arms to take part.

“I think because there was already this nice positive vibe to the organisation, people threw themselves into it. There were close to a hundred people who took part; they wore T-shirts, they wore hats, and they brought in items that reflected who they are.

“We got lots of photographs. We got lots of goodwill. We got lots of stories we were able to start sharing. And that kind of led the way.”

We celebrate diversity and inclusivity at the Department. We don’t just simply write stories about the strategy and the importance behind it. We’ve got a campaign to make it happen.

Listening & insights

It was at that stage that Grant and his team started really talking to the networks and people around the business, asking: “OK, we’ve had some fun with this, but what serious stories have we got? What can we do to start sharing and celebrating the fact that we’re open and honest and we’re all individuals.”

A breakthrough moment came early on in the campaign when one brave individual from the network supporting mental health got in touch with Grant, saying he wanted to share his story about his battles with suicide.

Grant spoke with him about what that might look like. “He was very candid and honest. But I think because we’d already done that publicity around the campaign and spoken about this culture we’re trying to build around positivity and support, he was up for it.

“He wrote a really powerful story for us about the fact that on several occasions, he’d attempted to take his life. And, thankfully, he got the support he needed. Although it was an ongoing battle for him, he was still with us and he was getting the help he needed.”

The story received a huge amount of comments via the internal news channel, says Grant. One or two individuals even said that by sharing his story, he’d given them the courage to reveal to the Department that they’re in the same boat: feeling the same and going through the same battles.

Support, honesty & empowerment 

“I get goosebumps when I talk about that,” says Grant. “Because, to me, that’s one of the powerful things about internal communications. If you can nurture a culture where people feel supported — where they feel they can open up and share something that personal and know they’ll be supported — that’s when you know you’re getting things right.

“For me it was a real turning point for the campaign. The doors really opened on a number of topics: really tough, personal stories around, for example, depression and battles with cancer. Also, some lovely light-hearted stories as well; not everything was hard-hitting or soul-searching. We had lots of stories about volunteering and different aspects of life in different cultures.”

One of Grant’s favourites included a lady who’d been a carer for many years and hadn’t told anyone at work for fear of issues. Feeling empowered by the campaign, she felt she could open up to her line manager. As a result, they figured out a working pattern that would better suit her. Plus, she went on to become chair of the carers’ network.

The Be Yourself campaign has proven such a hit, the blog space is now booked weeks, if not months, in advance.

Campaign evaluation

Clearly, this is a strong indicator of campaign success. But what other measurement tools do the team use?

“In addition to measuring the engagement of our stories, like the number of hits and comments, we use our people survey. This is an annual survey to help us learn how people are engaged within the civil service, what’s important to us, and what issues need to be tackled,” explains Grant.

Meanwhile, as part of their regular news items and stories, they introduced a sister channel a year ago. Entitled ‘Who am I?’ this is intended as a fun, 10- to 15- question interview, aimed at all levels of seniority. In addition to some diversity- and inclusion-focused questions, it asks things like: what makes you proud to be a civil servant? What’s your job at the department all about? What’s the most embarrassing moment in your life? Who would you play in the movie of your life?

“That channel skyrocketed,” says Grant. “It’s really encouraged people to engage.”

2019 also saw the rollout of a campaign to mark the Department’s centenary: DfT100. A lot of the team’s diversity and inclusion stories were absorbed into this campaign to help talk about the history of the Department and the networks. “We were absolutely delighted when DfT100 was given the ‘Best Ongoing Communication’ award at last year’s IoIC Awards — judges fed back that they were impressed by the extent to which employees were actively involved in the campaign,” says Grant.

What’s next?

So, what does 2020 have in store for Grant and his team?

“We’re now looking to embed DfT’s new vision and values — and the message that diversity and inclusion is important to us will be an integral part of this work.”

Grant says he and his team plan to take certain elements from the DfT100 campaign, such as involving staff at an early stage in the thinking and development around content and activities.

They’re also working closely with their colleagues from the Communications Directorate to help staff better understand how their work positively impacts on the public and using this to further develop the DfT’s employer brand.

“We want to ensure people are aware of the fantastic culture we have here at the DfT, so they start to realise it’s a brilliant place to work. We want potential new recruits to think: ‘It’s an inclusive department. Just look at all these stories that are being shared internally. It’s a place I really do want to come and work.’”

Biography: Grant Springford

Grant joined the civil service in 1991. In that time, he’s worked in a number of government departments and roles that include Staff Learning and Development, Personal, Social and Health Education, Policy, and Ministerial Private Office.

He’s been a member of the Government Communications Service for 10 years, working in a range of internal communications disciplines, including reporting, magazine editing, and account management.

In his spare time, Grant is a writer and illustrator, and has produced a number of self-published comic titles.