Internal comms can often feel like the poor relation to PR in the public sector, but with the current workforce challenges facing the NHS it’s becoming more important than ever before.
The always excellent NHS provider comms network focused on internal communications this time around and it’s clear that this is something at the top of the agenda for colleagues right across the country.
One thing that struck me from the presentations was an understanding that internal communications and employee engagement are often used interchangeably but are two separate things. Although closely linked and with many similar aims it was useful to see some distinct definitions of each one.
Inside and out
Many organisations have a strong, positive external brand with the public but then a completely different experience for staff who work there and the challenge now is to provide seamless internal and external communications.
The image an organisation presents to the public and staff must be consistent if it’s to be authentic and believable at a time when trust in institutions is at a real low.
Employees now access messages from so many sources that the lines between staff and public comms are blurred and far less defined in the social media age. Coupled with this is a growing feeling that people generally are becoming more disengaged, cynical and suspicious of authority according to measures like the Edelman trust barometer.
The ultimate people business
The NHS is essentially a people business, perhaps the ultimate people business, so internal communications are vital as we face up to some of the most significant workforce and financial challenges for many years.
Not only that but it’s essential that the tone of voice and approach are as clearly thought through and well defined as they are in our external comms. It shouldn’t be just formal, broadcast messages using NHS jargon because our staff are our public too. They are people, from our communities just like everyone else and we should take the same care that we do on social media.
One thing I’ve noticed is that the NHS can quickly become obsessed with itself and too regularly that’s reflected in the communications to staff which is packed with jargon and health system naval gazing.
One of the easiest ways to find out if your channels to staff are hitting the mark is to ask them. We did a big survey with all employees last year and while we were surprised by some of the answers, they gave us a brilliant framework to make some real improvements.
We know that our staff often make the key difference to the overall NHS experience so last year we ran a campaign designed bring a public voice to our work and harness the power of our social networks to tell positive, shared stories about the QE. The Gateshead Angels campaign was designed to reward and recognise staff, but at the same time connect our values with the wide public. Read more about the campaign here
In the session I went to there was also some excellent advice on making messages stick from Jude Tipper who explained how the 27/9/3 method had helped with some of her recent internal campaigns. (see here for more).
The final challenge tackled by the panel was in trying to gain more confidence as communications leaders in the NHS, by understanding the type of ROI we can deliver and then providing the right type of data to the board.