Finding ways to improve workplace communication is something I have been passionate about for a long time. Just how much is being done where I work at Cambridge Judge Business School (CJBS) was highlighted to me in a meeting I recently had. I was contacted by someone in another University department who had been asking around for ideas on improving internal comms and was sent in my direction after being told ‘They’re doing loads of things on that at CJBS and are ahead of the game’.
On meeting with this University colleague (another Julie funnily enough) and talking through the things we do and the more that we want to do, I realised just how much we have going on in this area. Julie went away with lots of ideas so I hope you find these examples useful too.
1. Working groups
Each working group has been set up to bring together a diverse group of people from across CJBS with a commen interest or set of skills in a particular area of strategic importance to the School, regardless of their position in the organisation. They are given clear direction to come up with proposals and actions and not to be a talking shop. We currently have working groups on internal communications, social media, faculty liaison and planning and online learning. These working groups not only address key strategic issues for the school, they bring together staff and faculty who would not necessarily normally interact for a common purpose, improving communication and collaboration between different parts of the school.
Some brilliant initiatives have already come from these working groups, some of which are mentioned later.
2. Job swap and secondment scheme
This scheme was launched to encourage staff to experience working in different parts of the business school. It is a development opportunity for individuals to help them to learn new skills and gain experience in areas they may not have exposure to in their current role, but it is also a chance to enhance collective understanding of different parts of the school. Someone seconded to a role in a different department not only learns about what is going on in another area but they share their experiences of the area they normally work in and when they go back to their normal job they share their experiences of the secondment too, spreading the knowledge of what is going on across CJBS.
I also plan to expand this scheme to include work shadowing which will involve less of a time commitment than secondments and job swaps, and does not require there to be a vacancy so hopefully will encourage more take up. Shadowing colleagues even for short periods of time will still encourage better understanding and communication.
3. Friday coffee
Every Friday at 11am all staff and faculty are invited to come for free coffee, tea and biscuits in our common room for an informal opportunity to mix with each other, chat and socialise. It is always popular and often cited in exit interviews as something people really value for bringing people together and getting them talking to each other.
4. Staff meetings
Following a recommendation that came out of the internal communications working group the all staff and all faculty meetings we hold two or three times a year are now more interactive. As well as involving presentations providing information and updates, the meetings now include break out groups to gather views and ideas on key strategic issues, and we also plan to provide some interative training opportunities as part of these meetings in the future too. The purpose of this is to encourage participation and bottom up communication from staff rather than just provide top down information to them, and this has been well received.
5. Managers Meetings
When I joined CJBS the termly managers meetings were run to provide information and updates to staff with line management responsibilities and to chastise those who had not done their duty by being up to date with completing appraisals etc. While I still use them to provide information on changes to HR procedures and on new initiatives, I have redirected their focus to be about information sharing and discussion. At the start of the meeting each manager around the table has 2 minutes to give a quick update on the 3 key things in their area that they are working on, to give a taste to everyone there of what is going on across the school.
In addition every other meeting is attended by the Director of CJBS who seeks their input on key topics and encourages discussion. This gives an opportunity for these managers to not only share with their peers information on what they are doing, and gain an understanding of what others are doing, but also to contribute to school wide matters. In a recent feedback session the updates from managers at these meetings were cited by some staff as their main source of information about what is happening across CJBS so they have become a key communication tool.
6. Recognition awards
I have introduced recognition awards for staff who are nominated by colleagues for demonstrating admirable qualities such as collaborative behaviour and helpfulness. The prize is a small gift of their choice but the important thing is to be called up to be given a certificate by the Director at a staff meeting and quotes from the nominations read out. As well as recognising individuals it reinforces the behaviours we value and reward and that we want people to replicate. We follow up with news items and photos about the award recipients to spread this message further.
Providing development opportunities is important in its own right but the training programmes I have been involved in putting together have also been about giving staff the opportunity to mix with and get to know colleagues they may not normally have much interaction with. Four training programmes have been run in the last six years that have brought together groups of participants for a series of sessions over several months. The feedback after every single one has been that while the participants felt they had learnt new skills and developed as a result of the course, the key thing cited that they found most beneficial was getting to know their colleagues, finding out what they do and forming new bonds with people that often continued beyond the end of the course.
8. Meet the team lunches
I can’t claim credit for this great initiative which enabled people to see the real face of the Director of CJBS and ask him anything they wanted to. Lunches were arranged with small groups of staff at a time to give them the chance to tell the Director about what they do and to ask him about things they were interested in. Questions could be anything at all, from ‘How long do you plan to stay here as our Director?’ to ‘What is your favourite restaurant in Cambridge’ and he was happy to answer them all! Staff really appreciated the Director taking the time to do this and he got a lot out of it himself. I would definitely recommend having this kind of opportunity for informal interactions and discussions with the boss to any organisation.
9. Social media
Unlike some businesses who ban their staff from using social media we actually encourage the use of it. Many staff need to use social media channels in their day to day work anyway, for marketing purposes or keeping in touch with students and alumni for example. We try to use a variety of mediums for internal communications so that staff can keep informed and also share information. We still communicate a lot if key info via email but also have our own intranet where not only resources such as forms and procedures can be found, but also news and updates on key projects. There are also Yammer groups where ideas are shared and discussions on different topics take place. A whole host of information is shared on Twitter and Facebook and we plan to set up a LinkedIn group for staff too. This may appear to be a bit scattergun but different people prefer different platforms so we don’t want to dictate which they have to use, instead we try to communicate with them using whichever social media channels they are using anyway, in order to reach and engage more staff.
10. Senior management buy in
It was clear by the end of the meeting I had with Julie that the biggest thing she was jealous of was the support I have from the Director of CJBS for initiatives to improve communication across the School. Her main concern was getting buy in from her head of department who did not think internal comms was important or something he should be spending any of his time on. She said she didn’t think she would ever get him to take the time to come to managers meetings or something like our Friday coffee’s, let alone do meet the team lunches which would be a huge investment of time. We are very lucky at CJBS that the Director and senior management recognise the importance of good workplace communications and support initiatives to improve them. If like Julie you don’t have that though I still think it is possible to put in place some of the initiatives I have mentioned here. Julie and I discussed how she shouldn’t talk about improving communication, which her boss thought of as a waste of time, but instead she should talk about improving collaboration, which is one of the desired outcomes of improving internal communications anyway. Telling him that putting some of these initiatives in place would result in more collaboration between staff and therefore they would be identifying more synergies across the organisation, improving efficiency by minimising duplication and ultimately resulting in cost savings. If you can bring the argument back to saving money you can usually get the senior management buy in you need!
Phew, as you can see there really is so much going on at CJBS to improve workplace communications but we are still far from perfect in this area and there is so much more I want to do.
photo credit: stavos via photopin cc
photo credit: Flооd via photopin cc