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Northumbrian Water's winning internal comms strategy

A look inside Northumbrian Water Group's HR Excellence Award-winning strategy

Northumbrian Water Group’s (NWG) internal communications strategy is particularly impressive because not so long ago the organisation had nothing of the kind in place.

The strategy was born out of an extensive research project, encompassing 121 key managers, individual conversations with employees, and focus groups, which found a lack of any real communication planning or processes.

To rectify this, the group decided one size would definitely not fit all, and that the strategy should reflect the wide-ranging diversity and different working conditions of employees. The strategy was split into six main themes, the first of which was ‘Focusing on the inside out’. This was designed to ensure all communications were consistent, with a style guide devised as a quick reference point.

The next area, ‘Building a shared story’, was about really emphasising the company’s values as a framework for the strategy. A new vision and values booklet was produced, and the employee awards scheme was refreshed to ensure good-news stories received plenty of recognition.

Crucial to the project’s success was NWG’s small internal comms team aiming to make themselves a centre of excellence. An ‘Internal Communications Forum’ was set up, with organisations such as BT, Nissan and Sage taking part.

The ‘Developing a suite of engaging channels’ aspect of the strategy aimed to turn around employees’ perceptions of existing communication channels as old-fashioned, undynamic and unprofessional. A bimonthly, face-to-face ‘Teamtalk’ briefing session was launched as a chance for the management team to update people on key business information, with shift workers able to access recordings of these sessions.

NWG also launched weekly newsletter ‘H2info’, accessible on smartphones and on the 800 ‘toughpads’ rolled out last year to field workers, and ‘The Big Splash’ newspaper, which NWG invites people from around the business to contribute to. The company’s first intranet, Cascade, was also introduced, allowing for two-way communication in the form of polls and blogs, and for NWG’s chief executive Heidi Mottram to start ‘Heidi’s Blog’. The company also holds roadshows that are attended by Mottram and other NWG directors.

For the fifth prong in NWG’s internal comms strategy, it launched ‘Engaging our managers in the communications game’, which involves manager training sessions on skills such as creative writing and presentation. The sixth element, ‘Supporting the business’, entailed the internal communications team ensuring close working relationships with vital internal stakeholders, including the HR team.

The impact of the strategy can be clearly seen in 2014’s employee survey, which found that 86% of colleagues agreed with the statement that they are kept up to date with new information relating to the business. NWG also saw an increase of 10 percentage points for the statement that ‘communication across the company is good’, taking it to 77%.

“I liked the fact that they linked all communications back to the ethos of the business,” commented one judge on why this was an award-winning entry. The judges also admired the high level of senior buy-in achieved – specifically that NWG’s chief executive attends all roadshows and has garnered 20,000 hits per month with her blog – and the clever use of so many different platforms to reach both office and field-based employees.