Guest blog: Communication at Cornwall Council

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Internal communications – keep it simple

When Cornwall Council was formed three years ago, internal communications was a real challenge. We were going through major changes, with seven separate councils merging into one, 22,000 employees and a huge geographical spread. We had a new Chief Executive, a new Leadership Team and 123 new elected Members.

For many employees, it was a massive change – moving from a council where they knew practically everyone by name, to suddenly being part of a much bigger organisation where people weren’t sure who was responsible for what. We had to do something to build the culture of the new council and to help people in practical ways to get the information they needed to do their jobs well.

So what did we do? Well, nothing radical, we put our employees at the heart of everything we did – we wanted to enable managers to manage and employees to access the information they needed, as well as help to strengthen the leadership and communicate the direction of the new organisation.

Our corporate internal comms hamper includes:

  • A task based intranet with interactive media module and Google search (this is critical to its success)
  • Email circular templates ‘Keeping staff in touch’ and ‘Keeping managers in touch’ to reach the majority of staff on organisation wide messages that managers or the wider employee group need to know or action
  • Chief executive email to employees, a fortnightly look at what Kevin Lavery’s been up to and what his thoughts on the big issues of the day are (with an instruction for managers to print for non-networked employees)
  • ‘Team Talk’, a fortnightly core briefing system for managers to discuss key organisation wide issues, actions and updates with their teams
  • ‘People Matters’, a bi-monthly e-zine (with a print run for non networked employees) which has a ‘by the staff, for the staff’ ethos (and has won a silver CIPR South West award, up against the private sector)
  • Chief executive monthly videcast – Kevin Lavery talking to camera once a month about what decisions are being made and what the national picture means for Cornwall

On top of these corporate channels, we provide templates for directors and heads of service to keep in touch with their employees, managed locally by their own support teams and giving a ‘local’ slant on the corporate issues of the moment. There are also various internal events, roadshows and the annual SMARTies awards, which recognise employee achievements.

So – nothing ground breaking, just simple, clear and reliable channels (reliability is crucial, so that employees know what to expect when and are on the look out). The real key to making things work has been our yearly corporate communications survey, which gives us feedback from the floor and helps us to adapt and change our channels accordingly.

Of course, internal communications is only as good as the people that deliver it. We are only a small team, and with such a huge organisation we rely on managers and employees to spread the word. We can provide as many tools as we like, if they don’t get used, there will still be pockets of the organisation who feel out of the loop. We try to combat this in a small way by taking our Chief Executive, Kevin Lavery, out to various buildings on an informal walkabout – where he will answer any question employees have, which is a rare gift for a communications team in local government!

Moving forwards we feel like it’s time to get radical; Perhaps using enterprise social media, or our webcasting facility to do live chats with senior officers and Members.

We are passionate about trying to reach everybody somehow – my utopia would be a council where regardless of whether the message is welcome or not, it’s at least been received and understood.

Hannah Rees is the communications manager of the chief executive’s department at Cornwall Council.

You can contact her for more information at corpcomm@cornwall.gov.uk or follow her on twitter at @hanlrees