Organisational purpose and remote working | S2 E25

First published: 14 September, 2021

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Engaging Internal Comms Series 2
Organisational purpose and remote working | S2 E25

Organisational purpose and remote working

Niall Ryan is the latest guest to feature on the Engaging Internal Comms Podcast, as he speaks to Craig Smith about his work at the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC). This government division has taken centre stage over the last few years and has been crucial to its management of the pandemic. Internal communications has been at the heart of this and Niall is a key contributor through his role as Head of Internal Communications and Engagement.

Having previously held similar roles at companies such as ASDA, Harrod’s and Liberty, Niall brings over 20 years of internal comms experience to the DHSC, which previously did not have a team operating in this role. When the pandemic kicked off, the department’s influence grew significantly, which led to a huge increase in the number of staff. This highlighted the need for an internal comms team, which Niall helped establish.

Giving these workers a purpose and showing they are contributing to something bigger is a key philosophy of the DHSC. Niall tells Craig how his work has helped implement this, sharing techniques and tools that can be useful to those in a similar role. Bringing people together through organisational purpose.

Being at the heart of the pandemic

With this influx of staff on the back of the pandemic came a range of new challenges for Niall and his newly formed team. The country’s eyes were fixed on the DHSC as people looked for guidance, which put it under further scrutiny. The group’s primary objective is to help people live longer and healthier lives according to Niall, which was brought to the forefront in March 2020.

The department’s main focus was immediately switched to the creation of a ‘Covid Battle Plan’ and it was Niall’s job to help communicate this to all new employees. Its main challenge here was bringing people on board with this strategy, to make sure it progressed and was rolled out smoothly. Because of the urgency of the situation, this had to be communicated very quickly, with processes like inductions being condensed and accelerated. The DHSC’s internal comms teams outlined the key things they would need to achieve if they were to do this. Niall tells Craig about the three main points he needed to help communicate to each member of staff:

  1. The DHSC – What the organisation does and how it will play a role in helping manage the pandemic.
  2. Their role – What their job entails and how to best do it.
  3. How they contribute to the ‘Covid Battle Plan’ – Making sure those who are involved in its implementation feel they are contributing to this and that their work is making a difference

These three factors contributed to engaging their people through organisational purpose.

Getting workers on board

Like many organisations, the DHSC utilised the opportunity for remote working during the pandemic. The lack of face-to-face interaction can always bring new challenges to those involved in internal comms and it certainly did for Niall and his team, especially when it came to getting staff on board with its ‘Covid Battle Plan.’ He says one of the crucial parts to this was breaking down this plan and explaining to each member of staff about their specific role. Here each person’s impact would be communicated to them, and they were shown how they would be contributing to it.

The main success for Niall here is that it gave employees ownership of their work, particularly for remote workers. Staff knew how their work was helping people, which was a major factor in the journey of helping deliver the Covid Battle Plan. This again comes back to the department’s main purpose mentioned previously.

Niall does recognise the importance of doing this job correctly as he says, like any government department, there is a high level of scrutiny on their work. This meant it was vital staff were not only on board with its values, but they also had any barriers removed so they could do their job.

Tools, techniques and channels

When Craig asked Niall about how he successfully implemented the plan, his immediate reaction was to talk about how pivotal the department’s intranet became. He says a huge amount of work had to be done to improve this, therefore it became a key platform. Updates to content and information helped guide staff, which eased the newly discovered pressures for remote workers.

Another channel that assisted was new forms of communication introduced to the DHSC. Remote communication became key to this, particularly when it came to relaying messages and guidance from the organisation’s leaders. Decision makers needed to ensure their policies were being taken on board by every member of staff.

One of the key factors here for Niall and his team was allowing staff to communicate with the department’s leaders, such as Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Whitty, through daily video calls. This created the chance for regular remote dialogue through software such as Microsoft Teams, all of which was linked back to the idea of showing employees both the organisation’s direction and purpose.

Measuring impact

This daily communication with the DHSC’s leaders needed to have an impact on employees understanding of both their organisation’s purpose and their own performance. One of the ways Niall and his team measured this was by looking at the level of engagement each of these daily videos had. He said it eventually led to leaders being asked up to 300 questions per call, which showed their willingness to get involved with the organisational purpose.

Analytics of course played an important role in measuring this success, with relation to newsletters and other content on the group’s intranet able to show what staff are taking in. However, a more unusual technique that he used was what he calls ‘spotlighting.’ This form of storytelling involved Niall and his team speaking to members of the DHSC and presenting themselves and their role to the rest of the organisation.

For Niall this made sure that people were not getting lost in the group were given the chance to not only demonstrate their contribution, but also provide them with a voice. Different subjects were used for different topics, which helped create a sense of collectiveness among staff while also facilitating conversations about people’s work business wide.

Reflections from the pandemic

While the last 18 months have been a unique time for anyone involved in internal comms, Niall acknowledges that he has learned things which will serve him well in the future of his role at the DHSC. The three words he has repeatedly highlighted through the episode were purpose, impact and feedback, which all link to organisational purpose. To finish, he reflected with Craig about what he has learned as well as what he will be taking forward in the months to come:

  1. Reinforcing purpose

For Niall he says one of the main things he feels has worked during his time at the DHSC is helping employees understand what impact their work is having. This has been particularly crucial during the pandemic and is something he is committed to continuing to make sure all staff understand the group’s function and role for its people.

  1. Create an environment for conversation

This has been particularly prevalent in Niall’s effort to spotlight some of his colleagues as well as his efforts in connecting workers with the organisation’s leaders. This allows people to find out further about what they are contributing towards whilst also giving them an opportunity to be involved in decision making.

  1. Gaining feedback

Critical for success in any organisation, Niall says the response from those he is working with has been one of the main factors in measuring his success.

“What has sharpened my focus is the need to make purpose and strategy relevant to individuals to showcase how they are making a difference in what they deliver,” Niall said. “It’s not about leaders sitting down and deciding how we go forward, it’s how we bring that to life for our employees.”

Useful links

LinkedIn – https://www.linkedin.com/in/niallryanjones/

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