Local comms: the view from where you are

Reflections on what internal communications looks like outside of the corporate team – and a reminder of how effective local comms are an essential building block for corporate internal comms.

Effective local comms is an essential building block for corporate internal comms

The view from the Yew Garden at Packwood House (through a narrow gap).
The view from the Yew Garden at Packwood House

When you are working in corporate comms you feel that you have to focus on supporting communications which further the org’s strategy.

Very often, sat in a corporate team, I’d despair at the functions who wanted help with their local comms. (In every corporate team we were never resourced to support local comms.)

I’d give some top-level pointers on what they could do and then move on to looking for stories to demonstrate our corporate messaging, all the while bemoaning the quality of line manager communication.

And sometimes we’d run comms communities to upskill and pool info.

Catch 22

The Catch 22 is clear. And all the clearer for recently spending five months embedded with a team outside of the world of corporate comms.

Good comms within your function reduces frustrations and confusions in your role and makes you feel better about work.

It also makes your team more efficient, reducing duplication, overlap and work at cross-purposes.

And it makes it easier for others to work with you. Especially key if you are offering services and products to others.

Lastly, it also makes it more likely that you will use and support corporate messaging and campaigns by carrying out the essential local context-setting and relevance-adding.

So, my new perspective has confirmed what I secretly knew all along. By not investing in, and supporting, good local communications, corporate internal comms teams are missing a trick.

Good basics

My recently-drawn observations about good basics for local comms (and there’s no rocket science in this, just salutary reminders) are:

  • Two-way face-to-face is still king – equip your local managers and be human about it
    • Brief them regularly with useful info and content – give them a chance to fully understand and interrogate the info
    • Task them with getting their people up to speed face-to-face (but however works for them) – and give them a reasonable amount of time to do it
  • Functional, regular, very short and disciplined, stand-up briefings (in person or online) help people to share essential updates and give visibility of who’s doing what right now
  • Minimise the amount of push and inbox comms
    • Try and consolidate as much as possible into round-ups (including the corporate and divisional comms)
    • Try and allow people to opt-in and out of as much as possible so they can tailor what they receive as a push
  • Maximise the amount of pull communications – and make it easy and effective
    • Build an easily navigable, single place for pull communications which has everything they could reasonably want including the links to the corporate resources they need (recruitment/ reporting/ induction)
    • Make your local management meetings and decision-making transparent by sharing agendas, minutes, meeting dates etc.


This is part of the prescription for the team I’m working with right now (backed up by some proper comms research) – but it’s close enough to my guess in week one. The key is to invest time in taking the people on the journey and getting the buy-in so that they can own and operate the approach themselves.

Inside out

Meanwhile, on the other side of the job, I’m looking at improving communications with customers and stakeholders within the organisation. And the other truism is that it’s hard to do that without getting the team’s own internal comms in hand. More on that in my next post….


Nudge (shove) theory

Cat sat in a box looking grumpy.  The cat is called Rosie.
No. I will not think outside the box.

I need to learn more about nudge theory. All the examples that I read (everyone’s favourite is the gov.uk one, surely) are fantastic – but I struggle to apply it in real life.

(Any recommended reading on this anyone?)

I’m less of a nudge practitioner, and more of a shove practitioner. *blushes* (I can see the people who know me IRL guffawing.)

Often I can carry people through on a wave of energy and enthusiasm. But occasionally it has the inevitable effect of entrenching people.

Sometimes though you have to take a moment to celebrate and encourage a tiny shift. Even when you’re knocking at an open door.

Working out loud

At the moment I’m encouraging the people I’m working with to Work Out Loud. I’m working on the basis that we can amplify their content in the internal (and maybe even external) corporate channels *if* they are sharing.

They are planning a kind of internal hackathon with mentors, similar to the Data Science Accelerator.

The full monty

I’ve painted a picture of a world that they are not ready for:

  • Working in a designated internal public space – like Grazia at Westfield
  • Set up a space on an internal channel where you can curate and build your content
    • Explain what you’re up to
    • Explain your challenges and the benefits
    • Introduce your cast
    • Introduce your customers/ users (even better if the challenges have customers/ end-users outside of your function)
    • Generate regular content (think of it like a live feed)
      • Tweet-length posts
      • Photos (of people doing – close ups)
      • Short videos (explaining – how’s it going – think Diary Room)
      • Longer blog posts
      • Links to Work in Progress
      • Voice of the customer
    • End with a big Show & Tell in a public space
      • Invite all the people who should be interested.  All of your team.  All of your profession internally.  All of the people to whom your examples might apply.  Target as many as possible.  But make it a publicised open invitation as well.
      • Choose the biggest possible space.
      • Video it.  Borrow a PA system, tripods and lights.
      • Capture the content – it will be useful for later.
        • Share it on your space.
  • It’s that easy 😉

Amplify and exploit

Then in the internal corporate channels you can use this content to tell stories… amplify it for a non-specialist/ internal customer audience and turn up the volume on these bits of the mix:

  1. Specific things that are done, not things that are coming (e.g. jam today, not jam tomorrow)
  2. Who benefits (which end-user or internal customer)
  3. How is it innovative (this clearly should be an easy mark to hit)
  4. We are skilled technical specialists (ditto)
  5. We can apply our skills to help our customers and end-users (see point 2)
  6. We work end-to-end (not just tactically)

Meanwhile in the real world

Obviously they’ve not gone for that. They see practical blockers that they don’t have the appetite to resolve. It’s fair enough. Especially as I’m encouraging *them* to do the work.

But, what I’m celebrating today is that they haven’t rejected it out of hand. They are ready to build on what they’ve done in previous years (they have blogged and showcased before) and do a bit more working out loud than they have before.

So now it’s over to us to demonstrate how we can amplify a little working out loud – and nudge(?) them to keep thinking bigger.

Storytelling: show, don’t tell

One thing that I find people really struggle with is telling a story about what they are working on.

Sock puppet and toy giraffe
Simple stories are powerful. And stronger than asserting something or giving an opinion.

This is a shame because storytelling is powerful.

Alongside stats/facts, and quotes/endorsements, stories/anecdotes are the most powerful tools you have.

If you can tell a story to illustrate your point it helps people to understand – and it gives them some evidence (a situation and some action). And they can own the story and re-tell it to others.

So what?  What’s the “So what?” of what you’re saying?

If you can’t tell me in a sentence then it’s not a story.

Here’s a way of testing whether something is a story.

If you can fill in these headings it’s probably a story. (The added benefit is that your people will understand organising their thinking in this manner from STAR model interview prep.)

What was the background?

What needed to happen?

Who was the (internal) client?  Can we speak to them to get their perspective?

This is important because it’s someone else saying we made a difference – not us saying it about ourselves.  Even better if you can get some customer/end-user voice in it.

If you get stuck on this ask yourself “who benefits?”, and speak to them.

What did you do?

What was the result?

Give it a try…. but probably without the sock puppets 😉

Performance management and employee engagement

A former colleague of mine was asking me last week about the norm for objective-setting. Is it to cascade down or to build bottom-up?

Post-it reading "It ain't what you do, it's the way that you do it."
And that’s what gets results.

This started me thinking about the role of objective setting, regular performance management conversations, and performance appraisals in engagement.

Years ago, when I used to work with the Civil Service People Survey, we used a definition of the key drivers of employee engagement which has stuck with me.  It’s still my go-to definition.

Go-to definition of the drivers of engagement

Almost all of the drivers relate to performance management:

  • Vision and direction – creating and communicating a clear and motivating picture of the future for employees
  • Career development – opportunities for professional and personal development and advancement.
  • Recognition – acknowledging the importance of the role each individual plays and thanking people for superior effort and performance.
  • Line management – enabling managers to be advocates of the organisation and their staff.
  • Work itself and environment – creating absorbing roles and suitable and effective work spaces.
  • Employee involvement and autonomy – making use of employee expertise and opinion in operating and managing the business.
  • Reward – valuing employees through a total reward package of pay and a range of other benefits.And the Cabinet Office model also specifically draws out performance management and some other relevant things among its list of critical success factors:
    • Meaningful performance goals – organisational outcomes linked to employee actions
    • Effective communication – regular, tailored communication to explain the benefits of the approach, acknowledge challenges, recognise the efforts of employees and update on progress.

So back to the question…

Does a performance management system ever work?

I’ve never worked in an organisation where performance management works.

I’ve worked for several extremely good line managers who’ve made it work in their teams.  But as a whole the process and forms in every organisation seemed to change annually and the supporting HR systems seemed to make everything much harder than it needed to be.

Top-down or bottom-up?

In a top-down system there always seems to be a delay in waiting for the cascade of objectives.  Are you waiting for the CEO to have their objectives approved by the Board?  Or are you waiting for a Director to share their objectives with their own team members?

Then, if everything is very tightly cascaded, what scope is there for defining your own objectives and what does that mean for your sense of autonomy?

And what happens if you work in a speciality which isn’t really represented in your line manager’s objectives – say, for example, if you work in a matrixed organisation?

But then in a bottom-up way of working – how do you make sure that your objectives are aligned to the year’s organisational objectives?

And how do you avoid falling into the trap of setting objectives that are really just about delivering your day job? How do you co-ordinate your objectives with those of your team-mates?

Dialogue is the key

As always, ongoing dialogue is the key.  Exchanging ideas with your manager, having visibility of your manager’s thinking, sharing and testing with your colleagues to make sure you’re joined up, having the ability to influence each other.  All of this ideally informed by a strong understanding of the organisation’s vision and current circumstances and your team’s purpose.

Ongoing dialogue

And keeping the conversation going is equally important.  We hear so often that conversations about progress and performance should not be three times a year (objective-setting/ mid-year appraisal/ end-of-year appraisal) but should be regular.  This makes a world where there are no surprises and you can get feedback and support as you go.

tl;dr – it’s the line managers stupid

It ain’t what you do, it’s the way that you do it​

So, for me, whether it’s top-down or bottom-up, it’s about informing and equipping line managers.

It’s the old internal communications chestnut – it ain’t what you do, it’s the way that you do it.

Here’s my checklist:

  • do they understand the vision?
  • do they understand their team’s purpose?
  • can they explain them to their team members?
  • do they know the process timelines and logistics – and are they given enough notice?
  • are the supporting systems user-friendly?
  • can they explain the process to their people (including any performance-related pay)?
  • are they equipped to deliver feedback constructively?
  • do they know to focus on the ‘how’ as well as the ‘what’?
  • are they enabling people to have autonomy over their objectives (people can, at least, define the specifics, and the how, and the SMART measures)?
  • are they making sure that the objectives are about this year’s point of difference (and not the day job)?
  • are they creating opportunities for dialogue both in objective-setting and throughout the year?

What would you add?

You might like to read:

House of Lords Martini In and Out on Toast – revisited

Writing about: https://caseyleaver.wordpress.com/2006/08/31/house-of-lords-martini-in-and-out-on-toast/

I’ve since learnt that a House of Lords Martini refers to a martini made with Booth’s House of Lords gin. So there.

And if you want to know what in and out on toast is you’ll have to read the earlier post.

(As an aside, I can heartily recommend Everyday Drinking by Kingsley Amis as a good read.)

Anyway, the point remains, you can’t under-estimate the knowledge of those people who spend time with your customers.

This is true in both of the projects that I’m currently working on – one on customer experience, and the other on building better relationships with the business as a service function.

Also, I’d much rather hear than the much loved and almost certainly apocryphal story of the conversation between President Kennedy and a NASA janitor.

Because this one is about recognising a colleague’s knowledge and insight. About enabling empowerment and autonomy to get things right. Not just about recognising the contribution to the bigger picture.

Let’s tell this story more.

Good multi-site huddles: land of make-believe?

10 effective and engaging minutes weekly

Is it possible to manage an effective and engaging 10-minute huddle across different locations?

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say yes.  But you have to be disciplined.

And to have to be issued with a good headset with a microphone as a standard piece of IT equipment.

Lessons from Smarter Working

I was very struck by a story about virtual meetings on the DfE intranet last week:

We used to hold our weekly team meetings by Skype – with the majority of our team located in Sheffield dialling in from a meeting room, and then just a couple dialling in from other sites.  Inevitably, the people in the meeting room dominated the conversation and the others struggled to interject.

We were aware it was making some of the team feel isolated. So we tried a meeting where we all dialled in from our desks, putting us all on the same footing.  It worked really well, everyone felt equally included and able to contribute.  We now do this for every weekly team meeting.

Here’s the proposal.

Everyone dials in promptly and puts themselves on mute with video.

One person opens the meeting and chairs. Each team decides in advance one or two speakers who work briefly to the following agenda:

  • How did we do last week?
    • Well done: well done to X for achieving Y and doing it by demonstrating behaviour Z
  • Were there any significant issues that carry over and still require our attention this week?
  • What are our priorities for this week?
  • What do we need help from other teams on?
    • Who can help?  Find the people and take it offline.

Anyone can ask questions by typing them in the chat – they can unmute for a brief discussion once the question is picked up.

The chair must make sure that it stays brief and/or gets taken off line. 

Any Change Champions can give brief updates.

There’s an open section for questions at the end.

The session is recorded and subsequently shared (on Teams, or whatever you’re using).  Any docs/info referenced are also shared there.

Meeting rules

  • Have an active chair
  • Have your video on
  • No multitasking
  • Have you mute on
  • Ask questions in chat
  • Keep it brief
  • Assign a Yoda
  • Finish with the water cooler

Meeting Yoda

Assign a Yoda.

Candour is difficult even for co-located teams, but it’s the number one gauge of team productivity. To keep people engaged during virtual meetings, appoint a “Yoda.” Like the wise Jedi master in Star Wars, the Yoda keeps team members in line and makes sure everyone stays active and on topic. The Yoda keeps honesty from boiling over into disrespect by being courageous and calling out any inappropriate behaviours. At critical points during the meeting, the leader should turn to the Yoda and ask, “So, what’s going on here that nobody’s talking about?” This allows the Yoda to express the candour of the group and encourage risk-taking.

How to run a great virtual meeting​ (Harvard Business Review)

Water Cooler


Have everyone go around and say what they would’ve done differently in the meeting. This is like the final “Yoda” moment – it’s the “speak now or forever hold your peace” moment. This is the time when you say what you disagreed with, what you’re challenged with, what you’re concerned about, what you didn’t like, etc. All of the water-cooler-type conversation happens right now, or it never happens again. And if does happen later, you’re violating the ethics of the team.

How to run a great virtual meeting​ (Harvard Business Review)

Why huddle?

  1. Because everyone gets a chance to see the big picture
  2. Because everyone can see themselves as part of a wider team
  3. Because everyone gets a sense of relative priorities for the team as a whole
  4. Because it helps information exchange
  5. Because it makes you more focussed and productive


Know, Feel, Do: how to plan comms and stakeholder engagement

Empathy. It’s more than pink and fluffy. It’s a business tool.

I’m working with a CEO who’s in the midst of rethinking her company’s strategy so it can better meet customer demands and thrive financially. These are major changes that will affect every aspect of how the firm operates — from the services it offers to the structure of her organization.

When I sat down with the CEO and her executive team to think through their communication plan, I asked not about the change itself, but about how her employees might feel about what’s ahead.

These quotes are from a Harvard Business Review article on change management.  The Secret to Leading Organizational Change Is Empathy.

This week we started the stakeholder mapping and message planning for the my client’s Customer Experience change programme.

I facilitated the workstream leads in thinking about who our programme-level stakeholders are.  The informal definition that I tend to use is:

What is a stakeholder?

  • People who can really help you to achieve your objectives or who can really throw a spanner in the works if they are not onboard.

Once we’d listed the stakeholders that could boost or bury the programme as a whole – we then ranked them using a four-box grid.

Mapping stakeholders

  • How much power do they have over the programme succeeding V how much impact does the programme have on them/ how much interest do they have in the programme.

Then, concentrating on the high power/high interest and impact folks, we identified what we want them to do.

Know, feel, do

And what they need to know and how they need to feel to enable them and motivate them to take the action we need.

Finally, we tried to identify the best ways to influence or reach our key stakeholders.  Particular people or particular channels?  And what we needed to equip them with.

We’ve made a start, but we haven’t finished yet.  Once we’ve finished we’ll sequence the activities that we need to deliver and assign owners.

Keep up-to-date

And, of course, this isn’t a one and done exercise.  As things move on the relative power and interest of stakeholders will shift so we’ll need to update the mapping and planning.

Programme comms Vs Workstream comms

The other great thing that we identified is how the programme-level and workstream-level plans can work together.

  • Person A is a programme key stakeholder at the moment because we need their approval of X.  In order to approve it they need to know Z and feel Y.  The best way to reach them is through Person B.  And we’ll need to equip Person B with the necessary information and make sure that they are in the right place too.
  • Person A will be a key programme stakeholder in the Programme plan.
  • But managing Person B is in the relevant Workstream plan.


If you’re being even more thorough – you can map the ‘as is’ and the ‘to be’.

What are they doing now?  What’s causing that?  What do they ‘know’ at the moment?  How are they feeling at the moment?  What shift do we need to make in what we are sharing and how we are behaving?

Communicating: it helps you get your job done

The most important sort of communication is not the loud above-the-line corporate type of ‘internal communications’ – rather, it’s the kind that you do as part of your day job.  If you do it well, it makes your job easier.

But sometimes we’re so busy trying to get stuff done that we forget that spending a bit of time on gaining and maintaining allies would make things smoother.

Some people are natural influencers, and do it without thinking.  For those of us who aren’t, here’s a guide to getting started.

  1. You start by thinking about what you need to get done.
  2. Then you think about who could help you or hinder you.
  3. Identify what you need each specific group or individual to do.
  4. Put yourself in their shoes – what do they need to know and feel to motivate them to do the thing you’re asking of them.
  5. Work out the best way of reaching them or influencing them – usually face-to-face works best – and sometimes through a trusted third-party
  6. Keep in touch and keep them onboard – share as you go

Working out loud

Building connections – being more human

About a billion years ago I supported the adoption of WarwickBlogs at the University of Warwick. (I think I’d read somewhere that putting one heel up like that would make me look slimmer.)

We won awards and everything. CIPR Midlands PRide Awards 2005/6

I became a total convert to the community-building power of working out loud.  Sharing your thought process as you go.  Giving colleagues a window onto what you’re up to.  Allowing them to follow you – and chip in if they want.  Testing the mettle of your ideas.  Getting builds and challenges.  Just lurking and learning what others are doing.  Understanding colleagues more as humans.

Blogging not communicating

In this sense blogging is not ‘communicating’ – you’re not addressing a plural audience.  It’s more reflective.  More like letter-writing or journaling.

I think we’re all a bit more used to it now than we were 13 years ago.  Now, it’s just like a long-form Facebook post or Tweet.

I’m currently working at the ESFA and I’m challenging colleagues to Work Out Loud using our Delve blogs.

What does that mean?

Part of the process is learning ways to make your work visible and frame it as a contribution.

How to work out loud – Rachel Miller: http://www.allthingsic.com/wol/
  • Encouraging sharing
  • Opening up to knowledge exchange
  • Continuous improvement
  • Building a team
  • Celebrating and sharing our professional expertise

What’s your source for that?


The big why – beyond even the immediate benefits – is that it helps us to show people what we do, what we’re good at, what we’re working on, and what we’re doing for the wider organisation.

Have you got any examples?

Why, yes!  I’m delighted you asked:

Ain’t nobody got time for that meme / Time spent blogging is time invested in clarifying your thinking.


Blogging about: How To Find Your Ikigai And Transform Your Outlook On Life And Business

Listening to all the former colleagues and current contacts who’ve been kind enough to speak to me so far has prompted me to have a think about what I want – rather than just which roles I could potentially be placed in.

No-one has mentioned Ikigai – but the conversations so far have brought it to mind. I think I saw it first last year when Rich Baker posted something about it on LinkedIn.

With no direct English translation, it’s a term that embodies the idea of happiness in living.


I’m a sucker for a visual aide to thinking – especially if I can sketch it myself with sharpies on huge sheets of paper – but I’ve quickly realised that I need input from people who aren’t me.

I’d be grateful if you can help me to validate/ add to these lists:

Things I love
(I know that I should really be able to fill this one in by myself –
but sometimes I forget things)
Family and friends
Food (cooking, eating, watching TV about, Slimming World)
Reading and books
Running (and walking)
Travel (especially in Europe – and by train)
Rupaul’s Drag Race
Social Media
Organising/ planning/ writing lists
Learning new things
Things I am good at
(I might have been a bit too inside the box here –
what would you put on a list?)
Writing (copy editing/ subbing)
Organising/ planning/ writing lists
Social Media
Events (planning/ organising/ delivering)
Leading (teams)
Developing (teams)
Sharing enthusiasm
Getting to grips with a lot of information quickly
Explaining things
Empathy (putting myself in other people’s shoes)
Getting to the point
What I think the world needs
(Tell me I haven’t forgotten anything that you know I care about)
Less poverty
Less hunger
More equality (gender / LGBT+)
No homelessness
Toilets and sanitary-ware for all
No Brexit
Less Trump
More education
Social justice
No torture – more human rights
Animal protection
Employee Engagement
Trade unions
Less exclamation marks
Things I can be paid for
(Now then folks – keep it kind –
and again I think I’ve probably been a bit narrow with this)
Writing and editing
Comms planning
Employee engagement
Change communications
Internal comms
IC team set-up/ team development

Thank you – once I’ve got your input I will make a beautiful Venn diagram and use it to guide me.