Northwards Housing s Communications Strategy

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1 Northwards Housing s Communications Strategy Executive Summary 1. The purpose of this strategy is to ensure a fully integrated approach to communications; one which is aligned with Northwards business strategy. The importance of protecting the organisations brand and therefore its reputation is a primary objective. This will be achieved by: Supporting stakeholder management through communications Providing a responsive communications team A greater communications input at a strategic level; Ensuring a close working relationship between managers and communication staff to support joined-up communication planning; A greater level of brand consistency between internal and external communications; 2. The strategy supports the need to embed Northwards vision and values and to provide managers with a responsive, high quality internal communications function that addresses the following key areas: Media relations Public relations Design and production E-communications and technology development to support digital inclusion Internal employee communication Event management The strategy maintains our existing approach to produce innovative, customer focused and accessible communications. The Strategic Context 3. Effective communication is not just about sending out information or supporting Northwards vision and business objectives; it is also about changing and influencing the behaviours of our customers, employees, partners and anyone who experiences Northwards and what we have to offer. Strategic communications need to accurately capture, reflect and respond to stakeholder experience. The success of Northwards depends on how we are viewed by those who have a direct interest or involvement in our organisation and experience the services we offer. Building, maintaining and protecting Northwards reputation is at the heart of the Communications Strategy. 1

2 4. The strategic context for communications is to focus on the following: i. Support the delivery of Northwards Business Plan and future priorities; ii. A greater focus on value for money and efficiency which still enables the organisation to deliver on the requirements of its management agreement with Manchester City Council; iii. Support the organisation s income management and financial inclusion strategy in view of anticipated pressures as a result of welfare reform; iv. Maintain the organisations reputation for delivering high quality home improvements and responsive repairs during a period of wider austerity measures and budgetary constraints; v. Promote the continuous development of the Resident Involvement Strategy with effective use of business intelligence; vi. Support a range of accessible services and communications within the broader context of Northwards Equality and Diversity Strategy; vii. Support the delivery of Northwards People Strategy through continuous improvement of our internal communications; viii. Promote tenants priorities, in particular partnership working that supports our Anti Social Behaviour Strategy; ix. Create a greater awareness of Northwards commitment to the environment and green agenda; x. Promote the organisation s wider commitment to corporate social responsibility. xi. Embrace and keep pace with the latest developments in technology and e- communications to enhance and develop all of the above. 5. The effectiveness of this strategy relies on a close working relationship and a joint understanding between those responsible for making strategic decisions and communication practitioners. That way, senior managers and communication staff together can identify communication-related management problems and agree actions for dealing with them, as well as opportunities for communicating and engaging with stakeholders. 6. At Northwards our aim is to achieve a fully integrated approach to managing communications; one that supports the corporate identity. Key concepts of mission, vision, values, strategies, image, reputation and brand, should all be delivered in a broadly consistent manner and in line with the corporate identity. Exactly the same applies to all our internal communications, especially with regard to consistency and quality. Communicating a consistent image is extremely important. It avoids conflicting messages, such as failing to match internal and external communications, which can threaten employees perceptions of the organisation and Northwards integrity i.e. experience doesn t match the message. It prevents employees from becoming confused about what is important, what is information, or unclear what they are supposed to do. In addition it avoids communication practitioners and others implementing initiatives that are at risk of not being fully supported and understood. 2

3 7. Communication campaigns are aligned and controlled to protect the corporate image and in all situations where customers have contact with us. There is also a need to ensure an effective process for agreeing the communication of new strategies and how these are managed and co-ordinated. To support this approach the Head of Business Effectiveness and Communications, as the most senior communication practitioner, is represented at strategic management level. 8. Northwards has established communication and branding guidelines to support the brand and style of communication. These are circulated widely and variation away from them is actively controlled. 9. Strategic communications has a key role in supporting stakeholder management and accounting for the organisations performance in social responsibility and community involvement. This includes for example the need to clarify and communicate Northwards corporate social responsibility (CSR) activities, protecting the organisation from the risk of potential accusations of paying lip service or not trying to embed CSR within the organisation. An awareness of this wider environment and this interdependency with stakeholders is key to the success of this the strategy including, where necessary, the need to develop specific strategies to most appropriately deal with each stakeholder. 10. Equally we recognise that a range of groups can affect Northwards operations, its performance and also its reputation. The diagram below (fig. 1) illustrates this interdependency, highlighting contractual stakeholders for whom Northwards survival is critical (inner circle) and community stakeholders who have the capacity to mobilise public opinion in favour of, or in opposition to, the way Northwards conducts its business. 11. In planning joined up communications the task is to ensure the link to the corporate identity (the picture presented to external stakeholders), and the core values that employees themselves associate with the organisation (culture) is defined in the organisation s mission and vision (identity and corporate personality) as in fig.2. The Communications Team, in particular, has a key responsibility to present the culture, identity and corporate personality in a creative and positive way. 3

4 Fig.1 Interdependency with Contractual and Community Stakeholders Communities Political Groups Regulators MCC Employees Board Customers Media Tenants Northwards Government Suppliers / Partners Trade Associations Fig.2 Corporate Identity Behaviour of ALL employees which leaves and impression on stakeholders Behaviour Corporate Personality Communication All planned communication Corporate advertising Events Sponsorship Publicity Promotions Core Mission, Strategic Vision Corporate Culture Core Values Symbolism Logo; House style 4

5 12. Generally speaking, whilst the Communications Team has direct responsibility for Northwards symbolism and for communication of specific products and others have responsibility for services and operational matters, the construction of the overall image sits with strategic communications and not with a particular team, as communications is everyone s responsibility. 13. Northwards will ensure that its corporate identity is rooted in its organisational identity to ensure that the image it is projecting is authentic rather than cosmetic, and that it is actually shared by those responsible for service delivery. This alignment and transparency between the organisational culture; the corporate identity; as well as reputation is exactly why strategic communications is critical to the future success of Northwards. 14. Northwards brand identity is not only cost effective (because we control variations away from it) but it supports the approach to consistent communications and strong alignment between vision, culture and image. The role of all our employees is very important, which is why they need to be engaged fully in communications. They are central to the credibility and coherence of Northwards brand, by living and enacting it as part of their day-to-day jobs, and to that extent employee engagement is important to ensure an alignment of both customer and employee experience. Tenant involvement is at the very heart of Northwards Housing, and employee communications also need to reflect this mutually beneficial relationship. 15. Our publications and design at Northwards is strong on innovation, and this creativity in copy writing and design must have clarity of focus: Visibility. Ensuring the organisation s key messages are visible in all internal and external communications. Distinctiveness. Making sure Northwards stands out from the crowd. Authenticity. Communicating values that are embedded in Northwards culture. Transparency. Openness and lucidity about Northwards behaviour Consistency in messages through all internal and external communication channels. The Communications Team 16. The Head of Business Effectiveness and Communications is the owner of this strategy and the responsible person in the organisation for the delivery of it. To facilitate this requires a close working relationship with the Executive Management and Corporate Leadership Team. 17. Management of the organisations corporate identity (brand), image and reputation is a key function of the Communications Team. The emphasis being on management rather than passive communication of the brand. The team has a responsibility to 5

6 project a particular positive image of the organisation and to build and maintain strong reputations with stakeholders. This is not simply a matter of sending information to stakeholders so that they can make informed decisions, but crafting and projecting a particular image for the organisation. A distinct image of the organisation creates awareness, triggers recognition and may instil confidence among stakeholder groups who have a clear picture of what the organisation stands for, which in turn can lead to support for the organisation and emotional investment if the impact is strong. 18. The Communications Team interface with all aspects of the organisation s work and relay and interpret information to the outside world. This should not be a technical gathering of information and merely carrying out of publicity and promotional campaigns. At a strategic level the Communications Team will be involved in decision-making and advising and supporting corporate strategy through the active development of business knowledge and awareness and analysis of Northwards activities. The function is therefore more outward looking across the business, assisting Northwards to identify emerging issues and advising those responsible for strategy of any significant implications for future strategy development, such as different stakeholder perspectives and likely reactions, allowing potentially for a more balanced consideration of the issues and then helping to clarify and communicate strategic intentions to avoid any misunderstandings. This is effective communication strategy as opposed to simply deploying tactical measures and in this way communication strategy is integrated with Northwards corporate strategy. 19. The co-ordination of all internal and external communications (marketing, public relations, and corporate identity) with the overall purpose of establishing, maintaining and building favourable reputations with stakeholder groups, is a key objective of Northwards Communications Team. 20. The key elements that Northwards Communications Team need to support are: Corporate branding, design and production Advertising, publicity and sponsorship Internal communication to employees Issues and crisis management communication Media and community relations Change communication Public relations Marketing and promotions Event management 21. Greater planning, communication and information sharing, enables the Communications Team to be alert to and identify opportunities that actively support Northwards corporate strategy; tailoring the message style for greatest impact. 6

7 Messages that potentially impact or change behaviour as opposed to general information. 22. The Communications Team will develop a range of message styles, but within a framework and style that is consistent with Northwards brand. Any issue that has consequences for communication with a large audience, or is likely to impact on the reputation of the organisation, should involve some kind of discussion with the Communications Team to determine and agree an approach that is consistent with the brand ( Northwardsised ). 23. Communications will generally be organised to avoid a risk of sending out conflicting messages. The purpose and importance of the message should be clear and staff need to be able to differentiate between messages from different sources, making it easier for people to understand why they are being sent the message and what priority they need to give to it. 24. The Head of Business Effectiveness and Communications has delegated responsibility for ensuring compliance with and protection of Northwards brand. However the overriding purpose here is not to introduce more control or bureaucracy into the process, but to coordinate more effectively a range of communication tasks and activities from anywhere in the organisation, by supporting service areas to develop and execute their own communication plans. Internal Communications 25. Our approach to internal communications has one overriding aim: To encourage and support employee engagement. Engaged employees are more productive and more customer focused. Extensive research has produced compelling evidence that proves the link. An engaged workforce has a direct impact on key organisational outcomes: customer satisfaction; productivity; innovation; absence; turnover. 26. Employee engagement starts with good communication and it needs to happen at all levels within teams, between teams and between staff and management. 27. Relevant, planned communication is a part of everyday working life. However, it is down to managers to ensure that both they and their staff are taking practical steps to improve communications. Good communication is everyone s job. 28. Employee and customer experience of communication, whilst different, share similar traits. Messages need to be aligned to safeguard the corporate brand and reputation, even though the messages will be tailored to suit different audiences. We don t work in a vacuum and the speed of communication means that a message that was intended for internal audiences can also make its way into the 7

8 public domain and we should therefore consider how internal comms will be perceived. 29. We will use insight and intelligence about the workforce to plan communications effectively. The audience will be considered before any communications plan is put in place. The method of communication will be the most effective for the situation and the message we have to convey. Different audiences may need to be reached in different ways. Timing will also be considered, so that external and internal communications are in line. The communications team will be able to advise on this. 30. At Northwards we also encourage direct engagement across all levels and business areas via the Yammer network which helps to build relationships and a greater level of sharing and collaboration. 31. It is important that employees receive regular feedback about their performance and where they sit within Northwards. Knowing how their role fits in to the wider business is empowering and helps to keep teams motivated and inspired. This feedback will be given through formal channels like, for example, 1:1 meetings annual reviews/appraisal as well as informal contact. 32. Managers have scope to adapt the principle of team meetings to suit their own style and the needs of the team and staff will have the opportunity to receive and give information to their manager regularly and inclusively. 33. Knowing who s who in the business supports a joined-up approach and an appreciation of colleagues in different areas of the business and their respective priorities. All new starters receive induction, with regular updates on secondments and promotions posted on Yammer. A who s who guide is available to staff as a resource to find phone numbers and information. 34. Up-to-date policies and procedures are made available via the Yammer intranet. Changes to these or new strategies will, where possible, be communicated to teams usually via their line manager, who in turn will be briefed by the relevant Head of Service. There will also be a culture of openness and transparency so that staff can ask questions and make suggestions which will benefit them in their role. 35. Employees should have the opportunity of understanding what is happening at board level and where we are going as a business. Non-confidential board papers made available to tenants via the Northwards website will also be highlighted to staff with a summary of the important information. This will help staff understand the strategic direction Northwards is taking, which will put important decisions in context. 8

9 36. Employees feel most engaged when they feel they have a voice and have influence. Staff suggestions are a good way to increase engagement, regardless of the value of the specific ideas. Encouraging feedback on Yammer will also be supplemented by managers and EMT in particular, actively seeking out feedback from their teams. 37. Effective leadership involves being visible and approachable. Increased visibility of EMT and the chief executive will organically help improve lines of communication. There will also be a proactive drive to consult staff members and answer questions, particularly when communicating change. 38. Yammer is available to all staff and is easily accessible on the move through mobile phone apps. It provides the opportunity for staff and managers to share news on their work; to collaborate with colleagues and to actively seek feedback from the whole organisation. It also explains who does what in the organisation and provides contact information. Viewing Yammer should be considered an important part of the working day. 39. Decisions coming out of EMT will be shared across the organisation and key points will be cascaded via regular updates via /yammer and supplemented by face-to-face meetings as and when needed. A bi-monthly e-bulletin from EMT will highlight current strategic thinking. Directors will also be responsible for sharing information and important messages throughout their directorates, with the help of the communications team. 40. Our annual staff conference is another opportunity for effective face-to-face communication and may include a keynote speaker, updates on the strategic direction of the business and workshops based around key messages. 41. Particular care will be taken when communicating change. Change communication will be honest, accessible and above all, planned wherever possible. Announcements across the business will be controlled and timed to maximise impact. External Communications 42. Northwards places great significance and value in delivering tenant focused communications to our customers by: Supporting events to facilitate face-to-face communication and opportunities for feedback. Involving customers directly in the production of all our written communications and by having them assessed and approved by tenants as appropriate. 9

10 Supporting the communication needs of leaseholders in consultation with the Leaseholder Forum and Manchester City Council. Co-ordinating and controlling the number of satisfaction surveys by supporting the organisation to obtain feedback through a range of different media. Providing access to additional resources to assist with translations (e.g.the Big Word) Ensuring that our Local offices are welcoming appropriately signed and provide access to a range of information via posters, leaflets, freephone to the customer contact centre, internet access and access to a private interview room. Key Functions and Communication Channels 43. This strategy requires the delivery of specific functions as well as a range of communication methods to be deployed both internally and externally. The main functions are as follows: xii. Media Relations: The organisation as per our policy, and using established protocol, will develop and maintain close working relationships with the local press and manage Northwards exposure to protect both our reputation and to promote business activity. xiii. Public Relations: The management of our contact with stakeholders and protection of our brand and public image. xiv. Design and Production: The creative production of a range of products to deliver key messages from ad-hoc productions to regular newsletters. xv. E-Communications & Technology development: The continuous development of interactive services such as our website, intranet, digital and social media and new advancements that meet the requirements of our customers. xvi. Internal Employee Communication. The delivery of key messages to support employee engagement and investment in the corporate values, initiatives, campaigns and policy. xvii. Event Management. Support for the delivery of a whole range of external and internal events to facilitate customer and employee engagement. 44. A number of discrete functions around marketing or issues of change communication are included within the above functions as they are more likely to 10

11 be ad-hoc or specific projects within the wider business e.g. award submissions or agreeing a communications plan to implement a new or changed service. 45. Northwards also recognises that formal, informal and unofficial channels of communication exist, as they do in any organisation. We will deploy a range of formal communication channels to ensure an efficient flow of information. At the same time we will provide opportunities to capture feedback via a more informal free flow of information externally and across the organisation. Accessibility 46. Northwards is committed to providing accessible services to customers as outlined in our Equality and Diversity Policy. All our publications will be available in a range of formats (i.e. on DVD, Braille, CD and large print on request and within reason). As per Northwards Translation Policy they are also available in nine community languages. 47. We will ensure our website is easy to navigate, and has a high level of usability and accessibility and provide access to material in alternative formats as appropriate e.g. on film. Relationships with MCC 48. Northwards work in partnership with Manchester City Council and ensure effective working protocols are in place so that our communications are timely and consistent with the Council s Housing and Community Strategies. This will be supportive of the wider framework for the regeneration of north Manchester and may include joint or shared communications as appropriate. Northwards will comply with the legal requirements concerning communications and publicity during the period of local elections. 49. This strategy will take into account what works for Northwards and it will be reviewed and updated to reflect the changing needs of the business to ensure it remains relevant and fit for purpose. Updated

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