We asked Dave Webber, Head of People & Organisation Development at the Cystic Fibrosis Trust, about the challenges of engaging an internal audience and internal communication’s key role in inspiring the Trust’s community to take its message to a variety of stakeholders.
How long have you been in internal comms David?
I actually started in a technical job with BT, and then moved into training, followed by HR and change management where I took on employee communications around 1999.
I’ve been at the Cystic Fibrosis Trust for about two-and-a-half years now, after a 12-year stint with the Workers Education Association.
My team works closely with the communications team and we ensure that our internal
and external communications are aligned.”
What kind of team do you have to support you?
We have a head of communications whose team looks after both internal and external communication. My team works closely with the communications team and we ensure that our internal and external communications are aligned.
How does internal comms differ in the charity sector?
If we look at the stakeholders for comms they’re slightly more complex than if you were a commercial organisation. There’s the policy and public affairs side and a wider community of people who have an interest in cystic fibrosis, including parents and relatives of people living with the condition. From a communications point of view we have to service that community as well as employees and the direct beneficiaries.
What does employee engagement mean to you?
I always think of what I call the three Cs. For engaged employees you need them to be Clear; they need to be Competent, which means giving them the skills and tools to do their job; and they need to be Committed. Internal communication is an enabler of all three of those.
What channels do you have?
We have a lot! A weekly email newsletter shares lighter news, including communicating changes to HR practices, people moves, details of events like the cystic fibrosis UK conference, and information about big fundraising wins.
A monthly email newsletter is more focused on developments in the cystic fibrosis field and strategic initiatives the Trust is involved with.
Then there’s the monthly all-staff conference call hosted by our CEO, which is very popular. Out of 115 or so people, typically 75 will dial in to that call.
The CEO also meets with our five employee representatives every month to test the temperature of the organisation. Those same people have more regular meetings with me and my team on policy development.
We also have Yammer but we’ve only done a soft launch. It’s more informal and tends to be used to organise social events rather than for announcing policies or corporate changes. There are a number of groups that people can join like learning and development, recognition, and fundraising.
How do you measure your
Some of it’s subjective, but we measure how many people open emails or visit the links within them. And we’ve just introduced an annual employee attitude survey. It asked a whole range of questions to find out how well people understand the Trust’s work and how they contribute. We also asked more direct questions around how effective they feel our different channels are. I’m looking forward to seeing the results, which might inform whether we pare down or consolidate some of our channels. We will ask similar questions every year so we can track progress over time.
Do you find the lines are blurring between internal and external comms?
I think they are very much blurred. Because of the nature of people who work in the charity sector, they often have an interest in the cause they are working for. We have people with cystic fibrosis working here, as well as parents of people with CF, so they are talking to other people in the wider CF community on our social media channels. This presents a great opportunity, but it’s also a challenge because you can’t rely on the old forms of communications and have to be aware of what’s going on externally too.
What’s the biggest difference between working for a corporate and working for a charity?
The main difference for me is that you have to touch people at a heart level as well as a head level. People in the charity sector are more likely to have their own view on the right way to go. One of the challenges when you have a vision in the non-profit sector is that people sometimes share a slightly different view, so while not pulling in totally different directions, some are heading north and some are heading north east. It can be hard to get everyone aligned and understanding that we’re heading north, rather than close to north.
Do you have a seat at the top table?
We do and we don’t. The CEO has his monthly call with all staff, but we have more work to do to ensure that we use internal communications more strategically.
Everyone thinks they can communicate and manage people. Unlike a discipline that you either know or you don’t – like finance or IT – people always have an opinion on the best way to communicate and manage people. At a senior level that sometimes means people don’t necessarily recognise the professional expertise that’s available to them from the internal comms team.
As a result, the kind of support we are often asked for is around the physical mechanisms for delivering communications rather than crafting the content.
What are your biggest challenges?
Keeping a strategic focus amid all the noise that’s out there in the different channels and trying to maximise that as effectively as we can.
Another challenge is that people with cystic fibrosis aren’t able to meet in person because of the risk of cross infection, so we use Skype and conference calls a lot.
More about the Trust
The Cystic Fibrosis Trust is the only charity in the UK fighting for a Life Unlimited by cystic fibrosis for the people who live with it. The Trust funds and supports cutting-edge research to find new and better treatments for cystic fibrosis and campaigns to raise awareness about the condition.
It is also the charity Sequel has chosen to support this year through fundraising events and activities.