What is it like to work in the field of internal communication in Australia?
What’s the reality of establishing an internal communication function during a pandemic?
Sarah Blinco is Head of Internal Communication at Icon Group, Australia’s largest private cancer services provider.
She’s written for the All Things IC blog to share her experiences from the past few years with you.
You can find her online via sarahblinco.com.
I’ll hand you over…
Comms, cancer care and COVID
I know as internal comms professionals that you can look back on the past couple of years and spot moments that range across the spectrum – from tiring and challenging (or downright impossible) to funny, exciting, and proud.
‘Funny’ for me, for instance, was just last week during a working from home day. I happened to have two dogs in my one-bedroom flat. They’d been silent all morning, then just as I joined a team meeting heaving with guests, the fire alarm rang out at mine.
As I scrambled to maintain composure while fumbling for the camera and microphone ‘off’ buttons, two frantic white fluff balls darted in and out of focus behind me on the screen, squealing over the top of my colleagues’ conversation. [insert my most used 2020-22 emoji here: 🤦🏼
Proud, would be developing an internal comms function from scratch for a fast-paced healthcare company during a crippling global pandemic where rarely has one week looked like the last.
Establishing internal comms during COVID
In January 2021, I was tasked with establishing an official internal comms (IC) function to support around 3,000 staff at a wonderful company, Icon Group (icongroup.global), headquartered in Brisbane.
Icon is Australia’s largest private cancer services provider with a swiftly growing reach into the Asia-Pacific and beyond.
Our Executive team recognised the need to formalise IC before the business grew further and to support whatever we would face next with COVID.
Our key IC aims were to amplify connection and reduce ‘noise’ to clear the path for critical messages. We began with ‘simple wins’: establish a news feed on the intranet as a single source of truth for company updates; and design a series of curated monthly e-newsletters for our seven business divisions.
Along with the creation of new channels which would consolidate messages and reduce email traffic, we would formalise strategy for how, when and where messages would be disseminated going forward.
It was exciting work, but not without obvious IC challenges. Our staff audience looks different from site to site: our people are in hospitals, pharmacies, at chemotherapy compounding facilities, and in office roles which ‘overnight’ became home office roles.
Language and culture differences must be accounted for too, and engagement is that much harder to achieve without the ability to travel and develop face to face relationships.
COVID challenges for our cancer care business
While we face differences across our roles and regions, there are two things we all have in common at Icon: our mission to deliver the best care possible, to as many people as possible, as close to home as possible; and our collective nemesis, COVID.
The difficulties encountered by our frontline teams are significant: restrictive PPE, staff shortages, fatigue, and the ramifications of ever-changing Government rules. But cancer keeps going despite a pandemic.
Last year, every Friday for many months straight, a fresh and usually urgent comms requirement dropped for one or more of our audiences. So much for ‘Fridays being quieter’!
Lockdowns and border closures, along with mandates on mask wearing and vaccinations were top of the agenda. I’d join an 8am call (that had sometimes appeared in my diary overnight) with Icon’s Exec and medical, HR and WHS leaders; we’d discuss an approach and make it happen.
We worked at pace and shouldered some stress, but it was rewarding – especially to be in an IC role that ultimately pulls the messaging together, supports the direction for leadership, and ensures people have the critical information they need.
Recognition: a key driver of engagement
Mid-year we took the decision to fast-track the implementation of a reward and recognition (R&R) platform into the business, with a view to emphasising how important recognition is in challenging times.
Adapting our current R&R program (that was a split of on and offline activity) and aligning it in various languages, proved to be anything but straightforward. However, it was a proud moment to discover that over 4,000 eCards of gratitude, celebration and hope were sent via the platform during its launch campaign just a few months later.
Additionally, over 1,000 employees were nominated via the new platform for Icon’s Annual Awards. It was an honour for me to be named as one of a handful of finalists for those awards – recognised for leading IC with passion and purpose.
I was pipped at the post by a colleague who had facilitated emergency deliveries of life-saving chemotherapy to several hospitals during the devastating floods in New South Wales earlier in the year. Given that the disaster meant all roads and airports were closed, he had his work cut out for him. He managed a miracle, and the chemo was delivered – I wholeheartedly applaud his award win!
The content highlighted in our R&R space stands testament to the value of engagement vehicles like this and has certainly paved the way for positive sentiment, even during our most difficult of days.
What’s ahead for Icon’s internal comms
At Icon, I’ve had success implementing new channels and strategy (and corralling many a ‘rogue email’).
Our internal campaigns continue to gain traction too. Just recently for World Cancer Day (WCD) our coordinated internal and external comms activity saw hundreds of bespoke WCD eCards sent, staff publishing moving personal blogs, high engagement on our internal community forums, and trending conversation on LinkedIn, led by Icon staff.
I still have a way to go on this IC journey, and no doubt there lies ahead further fun surprises, unique challenges, and ‘professional’ video calls complete with yelping dogs.
For anyone starting out in a new role leading IC, I’d share the advice that was given to me: don’t lose sight of your grand vision to solve all your comms problems, but start with just one – score a win, then another.
That’s just fine, and I continue to live by it.
Post author: Sarah Blinco.
Thank you Sarah for sharing your thoughts with All Things IC’s readers. You’ve done so much in a short space of time and should feel really proud, well done.
Learn about internal communication with All Things IC
I’d love to invite you to come and train with me face-to-face at the All Things IC Hub in London.
Current courses include:
- Effective Internal Communication on 16 March 2022
- Comms Director Mastermind on 30 March 2022
- Change Communication on 20 April 2022
- Strategic Internal Communication on 11 May 2022.
Prefer to learn remotely?
See the dedicated website to access all the latest Online Masterclasses. They are packed with bespoke text lessons, videos, workbooks and quizzes to help you learn about the wonderful world of IC at your own pace.
They are pre-recorded, which means you access the content at the time you choose. Most courses have 12 months’ access.
- How to review and plan your 2021 – 2022 Internal Comms
- The internal communicator’s guide to hybrid working – to help you navigate through different ways of working.
- How to be an internal communicator – ideal if you’re new to the world of IC or have up to three years’ experience.
- How to be a Comms Consultant – Exploration – this is for you if you’re thinking about going freelance.
- Introduction to internal communication channels – get up to speed quickly.
- How to create a 90 day plan – to set you up for success in your new Internal Comms role
- How to be a strategic internal communicator – to help you improve your Comms capability.
If you are a CIPR member, you can claim CPD points for completing a course, listening to an episode of my Candid Comms podcast or reading a blog post.
First published on the All Things IC blog 17 February 2022.