For those of us working in internal communications teams, we often find ourselves in a unique position. We’re both role models of change in our charities, championing it within the organisation and through our work, and individual members of staff experiencing the change. It’s a really interesting duality, requiring the holding of uncertainty while we hone and cultivate our organisations’ visions and work through it with teams.
At the Stroke Association, we’ve recently restructured our operating model to make sure we’re able to serve stroke survivors long into the future. This has meant some difficult decisions about what we can deliver, and in some cases the departure of some fantastic staff and close friends.
While these processes are never easy, one of the most promising things to come out of this work has been our new cultural vision. In this vision, we strive to embed accountability and trust throughout the charity by allowing staff to learn by doing (and vitally) failing, with support through high quality mentoring and coaching. It’s a commitment to openness and transparency that asks us to engage with tensions when needed, so that teams can thrive. With that in mind, I wanted to share some of the ways that it’s helped me to better understand and deliver my work as an internal comms professional.
In October 2021, our newly established Internal Communications team hosted its first staff and volunteer festival, with a view to reengage staff after a challenging restructure and unprecedented external obstacles. There was a lot to learn in a short amount of time, researching platforms and developing content to share with the charity, as well as empowering staff to take ownership of festival sessions they were hosting.
Our cultural vision really came into play for the first time, and the openness of the process really brought out the best in all the teams involved. From the outset, colleagues were involved in the naming of the festival and suggested the types of content they would benefit from. Session hosts joined drop-ins to raise their concerns and brainstorm ideas and this ownership led to some fantastically innovative and diverse sessions, including Big Top sessions looking at our new strategy, how we can do more to alleviate health inequalities and a day in the life of one of our support coordinators.
It felt like a totally collaborative process from start to finish, and after a really challenging few months for us all, there was a real buzz around our new strategy and all of the exciting work we now had the capability to start carrying out.
Coaching has been a great addition to my role, but is arguably the most difficult part of this vision to embed as it throws up a lot of questions – what type of training do we need to coach? What role do conventional managers play in a coaching culture? Does everyone find coaching a useful mechanism?
I found my initial coaching experience quite challenging, as it felt like you were just being put on the spot. What really came through was that this was something you could do as an equal with your line manager – the use of questions like ‘What’s the impact if you make that choice?’ or ‘What’s another way to look at it?’ eventually became really practical and helped me reason out the best outcome available. I could then bring this into my conversations during both the festival and my work since, helping hosts to find their own solutions to potential issues and other teams to consider the various outcomes of any decision they might make.
It’s a really useful tool when it comes to challenging conversations too, particularly at a time where responsibilities, roles and relationships are still being reformed at our organisation. I’ve been pleased to see other teams gradually introducing this thinking too.
Living the values
It’s very exciting to be the team piloting this new vision to the rest of the organisation. As part of our restructure, I moved up to the role of Internal Communications Officer, which brought with it a new set of responsibilities and autonomy. As well as, of course, a new set of challenges.
As a more junior member of staff in what’s been a bewilderingly fast-moving external world, confidence has been an issue at times and picking the right time to say my piece was hard moving into this new role. Aligning our culture to our values, two of which are ‘We say it how it is’ and ‘We are human’, has helped me develop in this space and build this confidence when working with my own team and more senior members of the charity. Even if at times this results in a failed experiment or tensions, the climate of acceptance has been vital to my development over the last few months.
While my experience of this new culture which encourages autonomy and devolved decision making has been a really positive one, the really intriguing part of this work is its mosaic-like nature. Each person will react in their own way to this vision, and there will naturally be some push back as the charity confronts some really big questions about how we work.
The nature of culture is amorphous and always changing, and for this reason, our cultural vision will have to evolve with the organisation. Personally, I’ve found these changes to really harness my personal skillset and allow me to approach challenges in a new and more collaborative way. It’s always worth taking a moment to consider whether your culture is getting the best from you.
And if you’re going through a similar restructure or a turbulent time in your organisation, what helped me was:
- Staying close to friends and colleagues – it’s easy to feel atomised, especially working from home.
- Voicing my concerns and listening closely to those of others.
- Keeping a sense of perspective – what opportunities are available to you with this change?
The charity sector is in a period of change. Read what comms professionals had to say about remote working and workplace culture in the Salary and Organisational Culture report 2021.
Banner Image: Nick Fewings on Unsplash