Nothing compares to EU: lessons for communicating about the EU Transition Period for internal comms…

Post by Sam Dodson, Senior Internal Communications Manager for EU Transition and Windrush, Home Office

Tuesday 20 October 2020

Sam Dodson with a coastal view

It’s been over six months since the UK formally left the EU, and the artist formerly known as Brexit has morphed into what many Civil Service comms professionals now “fondly” know as EU Transition.

It may seem odd to anyone who has been even vaguely involved in communicating EU Exit/EU Transition changes since the 2016 referendum, but since the UK left the EU, ‘Brexit’ hasn’t been the centre of attention that it once was. New kid on the block, coronavirus, has – understandably – knocked Brexit down a peg or two.

This means that, despite being the subject of such intense media scrutiny for four long years, internal communicators now face a bit of a challenge in reminding staff about the significant changes that will accompany the end of the Transition Period from 31 December this year.

But, as internal comms professionals, we love a good challenge. And we also love to talk about the challenges we face, and share best practice and ideas. It’s pretty much our whole jam.

Ways and means

So, as we try to refocus colleagues’ attention back towards EU Transition, here are some of the ways we’re trying to do just that, based on our learnings from four years of Brexit-related internal comms in the Home Office:

  1. Get creative! Nobody wants – or has time – to read some dry, process-heavy and complicated technical copy. So, wherever possible, we’ve looked to use creative and engaging comms channels to break info about EU Transition down for staff in a way that focuses on the things that matter to them. For example, our ‘Ask the Brexpert’ series featured short films of senior leaders providing clear and engaging answers to the most frequently asked questions staff have about EU Exit and/or the EU Transition period. We’ve also set up new channels including podcasts, and ‘Permanent Secretary Question Time’, inspired by the BBC show, where staff at all grades and from all areas can join Skype calls and quiz senior leaders directly on all Transition Hot Topics.
  2. Give the people what they want. As comms professionals, we’re gathering insight and evaluating our work constantly. Regular focus groups and internal staff surveys showed that Home Office colleagues wanted a single, ‘one stop shop’ for all their EU Transition needs, and more opportunities to engage directly with senior leaders. So, we developed an EU Transition ‘hub’ on our intranet, where all colleagues can come to find out all the latest news, information and guidance about the changes taking place as a result of the EU Transition process. We also set up regular dial-ins between staff and our most senior leaders, alongside regular ‘roadshows’ (all socially-distanced, of course) and webinars.
  3. Let’s get personal for a moment. You can’t forget that everyone of us working in the Civil Service is impacted by the EU Exit process on a personal, as well as professional, level. So, as well as providing regular and timely updates about how EU Exit and the EU Transition Period will affect colleagues professionally (in terms of new work processes and policies), we’ve also been highlighting the steps we all need to take personally to ensure we’re ready for the end of the Transition Period. For example, this means focusing on things like checking our passports, and providing EU Citizens who work here in the HO and across the wider government with information about the EU Settlement Scheme.

There’s obviously so much more we could talk about and share – from ways to align our internal communications with key external campaigns and messaging, segmenting your audiences and targeting key groups of colleagues. But, in the interests of time and space, we’d like to share just one more lesson from our EU Transition comms work – and it’s possibly the most important one:

Follow your internal comms gut

At its heart, EU Exit and the subsequent EU Transition process have just been large-scale transformation and change programmes. It’s easy to forget, when you think of the sheer scale of the process, and the intense media scrutiny that has surrounded Brexit since 2016, but keeping this in mind means that, actually, as comms professionals we are uniquely placed to help out and provide value to our stakeholders.

By treating everything about EU Transition through the lens of communicating change, therefore, we know that the same communications principles apply as they would for any other piece of organisational change.

We’re well versed in what these principles are (communicating in a timely manner, providing concrete details, being open and honest, inviting two-way feedback, etc), and so, rather than learn how to lead change, what we really need to do is have the confidence to put our gut feeling into practice, and challenge leaders to follow these principles when communicating about EU Transition as we would when advising them on any other change programme.

Internal Comms (non-)Anonymous

As internal communicators working across Government on some of the biggest issues of our time, there’s always more we can do to share best practice and workshop ideas. So, if any fellow EU Transition internal comms professionals fancy getting our heads together to improve our comms, please do feel free to drop me a line [sam.dodson@homeoffice.gov.uk]?