Chapter 2.6: Internal communications
Prioritizing internal communications is not merely informing employees and issuing directives. It involves putting communications at the heart of the organization's interests and concerns.
An organization that attains its strategic objectives in an effective, sound and responsible manner does so foremost by means of informed employees who are adequately equipped and trained to do their job well, and who are also committed to a common vision and goals. This commitment is only possible if these employees feel the agency and its senior management listen to their concerns and suggestions. This is why it is important to have effective communications both top down and bottom up.
Internal communications therefore play two inseparable roles that represent good management and governance practices:
- An information role: This involves conveying useful and relevant information to employees using appropriate mechanisms. By conveying information, the agency not only informs, but also ensures that a consensus is achieved regarding its explicit and implicit rules.
- A consultation and engagement role: The agency makes sure to provide a range of mechanisms accessible at all levels for sharing ideas, seeking feedback, and proposing options or solutions to deal with new challenges. The agency engages employees by celebrating the community in order to create a sense of internal solidarity and build cohesion among teams.
Management of internal communications should be designed, planned and implemented on the principle of two-way discussions and sharing. This does not mean giving instructions and guidelines, and expecting employees to assimilate and follow them to the letter. Communications, as the name indicates, suggest an ongoing conversation, a dialogue that benefits everyone—the agency, senior management and employees.
Internal communications are also a responsibility shared between the agency's official Communications function and its managers. The role of managers and supervisors is crucial due to their strategic position within the agency: they are the ambassadors of senior management and are in close contact with and in proximity to their teams. Therefore, they are in the best position to get information circulated and to consult with teams.
Statistics Canada, for example, recognizes the importance of internal communications as a support to programs and a management tool and has always closely followed these best practices and appropriate governance. This partly explains why the agency was named one of the top 100 employers in Canada for five consecutive years, from 2008 to 2012.
Strategies, mechanisms and tools
This section deals with the strategies and mechanisms that Statistics Canada uses to inform, consult and engage employees of the agency.
1. Information strategies and mechanisms
Statistics Canada relies on various strategies and mechanisms to ensure that employees are aware of the relevant orientations, directions and decisions.
Regular communications, formulated in accordance with the governance structure, are the key to effective internal communications. As a result, Statistics Canada's governance structure facilitates the transmission of information. The Executive Management Board, chaired by the chief statistician and made up of all of the assistant chief statisticians (ACS), meets weekly. The day after each of these weekly meetings, each ACS shares the decisions of the Executive Management Board with the management team in their field. This team is generally made up of directors general, directors, and in some cases, assistant directors. Lastly, the directors share the information in meetings with the section chiefs who, in turn, inform their employees. If the management team has questions or concerns about the decisions or discussions presented to them, the ACS can share these with their Executive Management Board colleagues, who may then wish to review certain matters.
The intranet site is the internal network for employees. It contains a myriad of information about the agency, its programs, policies, directives and guidelines, human and financial resources, administration, and major internal initiatives. For complete transparency and efficiency, the intranet site also includes the list of management committees, their mandate and members, and the minutes of all meetings. Modules such as the Chief Statistician's Corner are very popular. This module houses presentations made by the chief statistician, as well as reports or documents he presents or discusses at institutional events or official meetings. The intranet site also provides employees with access to the Self-service Hub. This administrative procedure hub is organized into four sections: matters pertaining to employees (Time Management System, training, travel requests, etc.), project management (translation requests, service-provider contract management, IT service requests, travel authorization requests, etc.), employee supervision (performance management, supervisory tools and techniques, etc.) and, lastly, the workplace (office supplies, emergency services, repairs, cleaning, temperature, etc.).
Electronic information bulletins are transmitted regularly. An electronic bulletin entitled Weekly info is sent by Communications to all employees on Thursdays. It includes all information about initiatives, changes in policies or directives, training and seminars as well as news for the coming week. Distributing this kind of newsletter is considered a best practice since employees receive all the information in a single email. Other email messages may be sent directly by the chief statistician to all employees when very important changes are made or senior managers are appointed.
In addition, the agency publishes @StatCan, its monthly internal newsletter for employees. This publication is considered to be the in-house newspaper. Built around a variety of well-developed in-depth articles, it provides information on events, programs, new initiatives, employees with special talents or any other information deemed relevant to employees.
Fields and divisions are encouraged to organize presentations to groups of employees at appropriate times. These presentations and discussions are led by directors general or directors and deal with specific topics, such as statistical data analysis, or with new internal or external program or service initiatives.
Furthermore, collaborative tools such as the Wiki are very popular and enable employees to discuss and share information and work together online to carry out projects or initiatives. This online collaboration encourages everyone to participate and promotes information sharing. It also offers the advantage of being flexible and efficient and leads to many more interested, engaged individuals working together. It is therefore an important alternative to email exchanges or long work meetings.
Events, conferences and symposia on technical and specialized topics are organized throughout the year and are open to employees, external partners and data users. For example, the annual Methodology Symposium is a highly regarded event, bringing together international methodology experts to discuss the latest developments, techniques, best practices and challenges.
To help employees to get better acquainted with policies, procedures, and guidelines, training sessions are held to give them the opportunity to ask questions and interact with specialists in the field.
Lastly, various meetings take place throughout the year. These meetings may be formal, including multi-field planning meetings, or rather informal, such as meetings organized by social committees to celebrate important dates in the year or special events.
2. Employee consultation and engagement strategies
Statistics Canada makes a point of planning and implementing consultation and engagement strategies aimed at getting employees to participate in setting their work unit's objectives, choosing the activities or methods for implementing the program or service, and the implementation schedule.
In March of each year, the chief statistician gives his annual speech to the agency's managers. This speech covers the major accomplishments of the previous year, and the challenges, opportunities and priorities of the coming year. The speech is followed by a question period. The meeting is broadcast live by videoconference and is accessible to all agency employees through the intranet site.
The chief statistician meets with groups of employees to discuss specific topics related to data analysis, identification of possible data gaps, or improvements or changes to programs or services inherent to Statistics Canada's mandate.
In addition to meetings with all managers or employees, the chief statistician meets informally with groups of employees at coffee sessions with the chief statistician. These sessions enable the chief statistician to connect directly with employees in order to take the agency's pulse and to gauge the degree of internal engagement. The sessions are also occasions for employees to discuss ideas, opportunities and concerns, and to bring them directly to the attention of the head of the agency. All matters discussed at these sessions are presented to the Executive Management Board for consideration, discussion and possible decisions.
Every two years, Statistics Canada also holds the agency's Middle Management Conference and Senior Management Conference. These annual events are an opportunity to discuss emerging issues, set new priorities, and establish action plans for implementing them.
Discussion groups and exchange tools, including the online forum, are very popular with employees, especially the Innovation Channel. This is a portal accessible from the agency's intranet site that encourages innovation. It all began in March 2013 with the organization of the Big Ideas Conference, an internal event open to all employees. Regardless of their level, home division, or occupational profile, all employees can submit an innovative project (that meets predetermined criteria) to a jury made up of agency managers. Projects selected by the jury are published in the intranet module, the Innovation Channel. Employees are then invited to ask the project managers questions, to vote for the projects they prefer, and to follow the development and implementation of the ideas. This component of internal communications is a prime example of the importance of making the agency's work employee-centred, of consulting employees, and of getting them to participate in identifying improvements to the agency's programs and services.
Decisions are made in accordance with the governance structure, which promotes listening, consultation and evaluation of options and includes all stakeholders. In fact, discussions and consultations with experts are held for all new policies, standards, initiatives and program changes so that the options and associated risks can be explored.
Follow-ups with teams are done regularly by managers who supervise employees. These managers are responsible for following up with their team; for ensuring that their employees are adequately equipped and trained, and understand their responsibilities; and for supporting their employees in completing their tasks. Managers must also make sure that they keep their supervisor apprised of how their own work and their team's work is progressing. This component is explained in detail in the chapter on management of human resources programs and services, and employee performance evaluations.
3. Evaluation and readjustment
Statistics Canada has established mechanisms for measuring the success of its internal communications programs and services in order to examine the current situation and make any necessary adjustments.
The Public Service Employee Survey is the main tool. This survey has been carried out every three years since 1999 at the request of the Treasury Board Secretariat.
The results show a solid degree of engagement and a high degree of employee satisfaction with their job at Statistics Canada.
The results of these surveys are presented and published on the intranet site. The overall results are also shared by the chief statistician with the entire staff and by each divisional director with their team. The highlights of the past year are evaluated as a team, and the points for improvement are discussed constructively in order to identify and implement agency-wide or divisional corrective measures, as the case may be.
Other mechanisms are also used, such as level of participation, level of feedback about events, and degree of compliance with policies and procedures.
Key factors for success
Statistics Canada aims to continually improve the effectiveness of its internal communications by leveraging the following key success factors:
Employees' level of knowledge must be adequate and appropriate to their information needs for fulfilling their responsibilities and completing their tasks. The crucial element of internal communications is to ensure that relevant information is circulated using the appropriate, accessible vehicles so that employees have the information they need to effectively assume their responsibilities.
One of the biggest successes at Statistics Canada is the recognition and support by senior management and all employees of the importance of two-way communication, from the top down and the bottom up. The agency recognizes this to be a necessity and a responsibility of senior management for sound and effective governance for the benefit of one and all: the agency, senior management and employees.
Effective and credible communications are a strategic means to achieve organizational objectives and priorities. They are the foundations of the agency's values and culture, which are good management, informed governance, transparency, respect and compliance with established rules, transmission of decisions, and finally, achievement of objectives.
Employee engagement and support make it possible to deal with change in a positive way, whether these changes are decided upon internally or imposed from outside. Change management and the deployment of transformation initiatives in the agency are based on internal information and consultation mechanisms, and especially on the trust and credibility capital built over time between senior management and employees. The greater the amount of solid capital, the better and faster the transformations are understood, assimilated and implemented. There is less resistance to change, and that resistance is weaker.
One last success factor is mixing both traditional and innovative technology-based participation mechanisms to encourage employee involvement. Statistics Canada's Innovation Channel is one example of this.
Challenges and Looking ahead
In conclusion, the mandate of internal communications is to ensure that
- everyone understands the strategic vision and directions
- everyone shares the organizational values and engagement culture
- employees are consulted and mobilize to move programs forward
- the work is completed on time and according to the rules in force
- employees are satisfied with their job
The challenge in fulfilling this mandate thus lies in the balanced pursuit of relevance: determining who needs what information when, using which means and which resources.
Knowing that internal communication needs are always important and demanding, priorities must be set, and there must be differentiation between what is mandatory and necessary, and what is less important and secondary. Lastly, communications must always be open and ongoing. This requires a good sense of judgment and anticipation while taking care to manage issues proactively before they become actual problems.
Internal communication is a critical link in every organization. Internal communications are sources of recognition, integration and promotion of a sense of identity around an ideal, project, vision or mission. The way group members perceive communications can profoundly influence the achievement of objectives, depending how well they are deployed.
A diagnosis and ANSD employee satisfaction survey revealed a lack of clarity of the Agency's vision and missions, a lack of understanding of some management decisions, poor understanding of regulatory texts, departmental silos, the absence of formal communication tools, no graphic charter, etc. The ANSD therefore undertook a revitalization of its internal communications.
Corrective measures put in place
While waiting for a more formalized internal communication strategy to be implemented, senior management initiated priority measures to improve the operational framework and focus all energies on the Agency's objectives. These measures included
- systematic transmissions to employees of reports from directorate coordination meetings and summaries of Governing Board deliberations;
- regular coordination meetings expanded to include all ANSD senior personnel;
- publication of an internal newsletter;
- organization of a discussion and information-sharing meeting with all staff, broadcast live on the Internet so travelling colleagues and those in the regions could participate;
- creation of a suggestion box.
Results and positive changes observed
Establishing priority actions made the following advances possible:
- Inclusive participation and effective involvement of all officers, regardless of their level of responsibility, in determining the Agency's strategic directions and priority projects.
- Decompartmentalization of branches and improved flow of information. All information related to the Agency is now accessible to all staff, in particular through the newsletter.
- Establishment of a more conducive dialogue framework with social partners, such as representatives of the union, the Collège des délégués and the Amicale des agents de Direction de la statistique.
- The creation of more direct expression frameworks (through information meetings open to everyone and the suggestion box), enabling all officers to express themselves freely regarding the Agency's operation and to share their suggestions on working conditions.
Main risk factors
Below are a few risk factors that should be avoided for the process to succeed:
- Avoid succumbing to the illusion that communication is the key to solving every problem.
- Ensure that staff do not think that this new dynamic or change is being imposed on them from above. This process must be done with and for the staff.
- Despite the urgency of certain issues and priority measures, avoid setting a pace that the staff cannot keep up with. Doing so could reintroduce a climate of misunderstanding and distrust.
- Reassure senior management regarding any disruptions in the chain of command that might occur, particularly given that communication has become more horizontal than in the past.
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