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How to engage senior management with internal comms

11 December 2014

As an internal communications professional, you’ll often find yourself in situations where you need the backing of senior management.

You might be working for greater transparency, urging speedier reporting of bad news, or explaining the need for better communications by different layers of management around the organisation. Perhaps you’re working in a communications role without a strategy endorsed by your senior management team. Maybe you find yourself setting up promising communications channels that experience low take-up.

Communications play a key part in every effort made to inform, motivate and inspire loyalty among staff and volunteers in your charity. However, the task of engaging employees in this way requires the communicator to command a high level of strategic involvement and influence.

While an increasing number of organisations run discreet internal comms (IC) departments reporting directly to the chief executive, for many charities the IC function is an add-on to an external comms or HR role. At the same time, personnel who carry out IC tasks aren’t always part of the senior management.

Whether or not you report in to your senior management team (SMT), you need to pause for a moment and ask yourself: are you paying due heed to the importance of management involvement in your communications? Have you fostered strong relationships with management — and with the HR department, which puts management policy into practice?

How many of the following key communications pathways are flourishing in different locations around your organisation?

Management involvement checklist

1. The CEO and senior management team articulate a clear vision for your charity, which is heard, read or seen by staff and volunteers in all locations.

2. The CEO and SMT buy in to the importance of internal communications in the organisation and encourage managers in all locations to do the same.

3. CEO/SMT meet regularly with internal communicators, listen to their advice and involve them in early stages of planning for new initiatives and big announcements.

4. CEO/SMT are committed to a culture of transparency and act as role models; their own updates to all parts of the organisation are honest, timely and relevant. Where possible, significant information is not withheld from staff/volunteers.

5. CEO/SMT are personally involved in regular updates to the entire organisation, through for example:

  • CEO’s weekly/monthly message/blog
  • Contributing information to a team briefing system
  • Appearing at staff/volunteer events/roadshows

6. Where appropriate, CEO/SMT offer consultation with and respond to feedback from staff and volunteers.

7. CEO/SMT expect managers throughout the organisation to communicate regularly with their line reports.

8. Line managers/volunteer leaders in all locations conduct useful, informative meetings and briefings with their staff/volunteers.

9. Senior managers are visible, listening and creating opportunities for the voices of staff and volunteers to be heard — through attendance in person at meetings or events, or through virtual meetings and events where necessary.

10. Emphasis is given to good personal communication skills and line managers are given training where appropriate.

Making the best of what you’ve got

A strong standing with senior management involves an ongoing relationship. You should ideally be in a position where you expect, for example, to contribute regularly to management briefings, or to devise your own regular comms update for managers all over the organisation.

If you don’t already have regular meetings or any kind of formal relationship with senior management or HR, you will need to take the initiative to get things started. Perhaps you could identify a sponsor who can help you with this.

For comms people working in charities where there is no separate IC function, and possibly no formal relationship with management, there is no need to give up hope — you may just need a few extra tricks up your sleeve. Many do amazing things with limited staff and management resources. Internal comms working groups made up of willing staff from around the organisation can work well, given sufficient encouragement from the communications team and support from charity leaders.

For more advice on engaging senior management with internal comms, download your free copy of HQ and beyond, CharityComms’ guide to effective internal communication for charities with branches, regions or local groups.

Read more

The future direction of internal communications

Kay Parris

freelance journalist and editor

Kay Parris is a freelance writer, journalist and editor working in the not-for-profit sector.