By Julie Ford on November 17, 2022


Listen to this episode to learn:

  • How to develop an effective internal communications strategy
  • Why it's so important to uncover your company’s challenges before developing your strategy  
  • How to determine when a company will benefit from an internal comms platform
  • Why listening is the first step to learning about any organization
  • How to build and scale a successful internal comms team
  • And more! 




About the Speakers

Shan Chatoo Julie Ford
Shan Chatoo,
Communications Warrior
Leading Global Law Firm
Julie Ford,
Head of Content,
Sparrow Connected
“Your role as an internal communicator is to connect your audiences to the bigger picture, to what's important, to the purpose of the organization. And the way you approach your internal comms strategy and the thinking behind it, is going to be slightly different for every organization.”

- Shan Chatoo, Sr Internal Communications Manager at a leading global law firm based in London, England
Julie Ford, Head of Content at Sparrow Connected, chats with Shan, a Communications Warrior who has worked in internal comms in-house and as a consultant for companies of all sizes over 25 years, about why there is no formulaic approach to internal communications strategy and the important factors to think about when developing an effective strategy.




Julie Ford 00:01 

Welcome to the IC connected or ICON Podcast. This podcast will challenge conventional thinking about internal communications. It will force you to think differently, consider bold ideas and step outside your comfort zone through real, unscripted insights from some of the best internal comms pros and subject matter experts in the world. But most importantly, this podcast will help you elevate your career, and together will elevate the internal comms profession to the C suite. Hi, everyone, my name is Julie Ford. I'm the Head of Content at Sparrow connected. Joining me today on the ICON Podcast is Shan Chatoo. Shan is in international communication where you're based in London, England. She recently joined a leading global law firm as a senior internal communications manager. Thank you for taking the time to join me today, Shan. Before we jump into a conversation about internal comms for startups and small businesses, are you open to sharing what a communication warrior is? 

Shan 00:58 

Hi Julie, it's really good to be here today. Yes, of course. So it's a term that I use for myself. If you look up what warrior means in the dictionary, you will see that it will say a fighter or someone driven to achieve the impossible. And I guess that's what I do. I'm a very different communicator, I am constantly striving to connect our audiences, to our leaders and our leaders to our people, and therefore to the business. And I do that in a variety of ways, most of which many people don't like or uncomfortable with, because it involves data. But that's the premise of what I do. 


Julie Ford 01:44 

Amazing. I like how you've framed yourself as a communication warrior that really stood out to me when I was looking at your LinkedIn profile before the conversation. So, I understand you've worked with a number of startups, small businesses and larger companies over the years. Can you tell me a little bit about your career journey? 


Shan 02:01 

Yeah, sure. So, I didn't start in comms. I actually started in sales, phone sales, I was selling advertising to multinational businesses around the world for the first year of my career. And that actually taught me quite a lot. It taught me how to really connect with someone when you can't see them first off on the phone, and gain trust, so much so that they spent hundreds of 1000s of pounds on advertising in key publications. And from there on, I developed a natural love for connecting with people, understanding what made them tick.  


How can we enable people to do things in a different way, but that they understand why they're doing it. And I spun off into HR, and then into communications when I was offered a role as employer brand specialist based in Sweden. And I guess that's where my career really took off. And my love of communications really took off. And from there on, I have moved from contract to contract, as you say, small businesses, medium sized businesses, startups, but also larger, multinational firms, with frontline workers and deskless workers. And it's been a fantastic discovery. 25 years of doing what I love, I actually feel quite honored and privileged to do so. 

Julie Ford 03:26 

That's a really amazing journey. And it's really interesting that you started in sales that went to HR and then and finally found your home and internal comms, which is really cool. I've heard that's a pretty common scenario that people don't necessarily start their careers in internal comms but find themselves they're just sort of organically through the years. So very cool story. Thank you. So, you mentioned working with different sizes of companies. Haveaou seen internal comms differ from company to company? So how would internal comms strategy differ for a smaller company versus a larger company versus a startup? Can you share some insights on that? 


Shan 04:11 

It was interesting. Overall, I would say it isn't really the strategy that differs. It's how you approach that strategy. That's different. You know, your role as an internal communicator is to connect your audiences to the bigger picture to what's important, the purpose of the organization to leaders to those people as well. And every organization even if you have to exactly the same size organizations, the way you approach that strategy, and the thinking behind it, is going to be slightly different. At the end of the day, everyone has channels, everyone will communicate in one shape or form, but the idea is to really understand what bid is that one company needs and those people need in that company to make that connection. There isn't a formulaic approach, it's impossible to have one. So it is very different. So it's difficult in a sense for me to give you an exact example, because it is very different and depends on the organization, the purpose of the organization, the purpose of having the communications in the first place, and also what it is that we need to achieve. 


Julie Ford 05:30 

Interesting. So, the size of the company is not necessarily what determines the strategy or the approach, because there's so many more factors. 

Julie Ford 05:42 

You mentioned deskless, and frontline employees? Do you find this strategy differs for that segment of the workforce? 


Shan 05:52 

Yeah, I would say so. I mean, there are definitely different ways you need to reach frontline employees. I think, you know, in my experience with frontline employees, they have been completely cut off from organization comms because they have been mobile less, and desk less, for example, and actually, their only connection into the organization is through their pay slip and their frontline manager. And therefore, you really need to think very differently about how you connect with those people. But taking a step back as well, you know, what is it they really need to know? Because it will differ from a desk-based employee? And I think that's where strategy does really differ. When you're in a situation like that, especially within the same company. 


Julie Ford 06:39 

Getting into that a little bit more, do you find there any specific channels that work? Well, for the deskless or frontline, 


Shan 06:49 

face to face, I'm afraid, you know that, from the environments that I've worked in, unless someone has been given a company, mobile phone, or a device of some sort, it's very difficult to convince them to upload an app where there'll be using their data that they're paying for to access the information on their own device. That's just one argument that I've heard in the past. Also, you've got to remember that, you know, the leader connection to the employee is perhaps the most powerful. And what is that frontline employee going to trust more an abstract article on an app, or actually that face-to-face contact with their line manager. If we can prepare line managers in a better way to deliver that communications, we're onto a winner. So that would always be the preferred channel of choice, of course, then you can back that up with the other channel set that you have in your back pocket, such as mobile apps, and, you know, posters, flyers, whatever else you need. But actually, the initial comms should really come from the line manager. 

Julie Ford 08:00 

What would you say the top internal comms challenges are for startups and smaller companies. 


Shan 08:05 

So the top challenges are growth. So when you think of a startup, you think of two people sitting in a room talking to each other, building their business. And then those two people become four people. And then those four people become eight people. And then suddenly, the business is 5060 people, and you're no longer sitting in the same room, and you're spread across, you know, maybe countries or offices, or working from home remotely. And it's that growth, the rapid growth of startups and small companies, that actually adds to a disconnect, because you cannot communicate in the way that you were communicating when you are only two people, four people or eight people. And that's the moment of change. 

Julie Ford 08:55 

Do you find that there is a magic number for when a company needs an internal comms platform to help reconnect the organization? 


Shan 09:05 

I don't think there's a magic number. I think, you know, when people start saying they don't understand or tasks aren't managed in the way that you expect, or there is real confusion as to what are we doing and why? I think that's the moment where you start to think, do we need some real expertise here? Do we need a platform to enable us to better share, collaborate, understand how people are doing and feeling but I don't think there's a magic number because it will differ. 


Julie Ford 09:42 

Sounds like no company is the same in this world. You know, based on size, location, deskless versus corporate employees. It's very unique to each and every company that you work with. Absolutely. 


Shan 09:59 

And I think culture plays a big role as well, you know, think it think about, you know, company country, sorry. Think about country culture, and the culture that you find yourselves in when you're working in a particular location. If you have gross and your gross is in another country, actually, and that's quite quick, and maybe there's only 40 of you, you will need that platform to help you work. asynchrony, for example, so if you don't have that, and you're actually only in one location, and you're in the shared office, she probably won't need that with 40 people. So it is really, really dependent on every company's situation and circumstance. 

Julie Ford 10:45 

Yeah, so there's more to it than number of employees is what you're saying? Absolutely. Yeah. All right. So, when you join one of these companies, so when you've joined a company in the past as an internal comms consultant, what's your first step? 


Shan 11:01 

Listening. You know, there's, there's something really important about listening. I think it's overrated, people overrated. But it's the primary tool you have as a communicator. Understanding why there are challenges understanding what those challenges are listening to different perceptions before jumping to solution mode is perhaps the best thing you can do when you walk into an organization, particularly in a small business where you do have the capability of hearing pretty much everyone's point of view. 


Julie Ford 11:44 

Would you say that is true for someone who's joining as a full time in house internal comms professional, as well as a consultant? 


Shan 11:54 

Yes, I would, because I've done both. And actually, without that primary step, it's very difficult to pull together a strategy. Even in a bigger organization, your first piece is to sit back and listen. 


Julie Ford 12:08 

And do you take the initiative to book meetings with different departments and listen, across the organization? 


Shan 12:16 

Yes, absolutely. You have to. It's funny, lots of comms people are actually introverts. And we have to step out of that comfort zone sometimes. And we have to reach out and we have to bang on the door of the CEO and the CFO and anyone else of importance and ask the right questions to understand what the challenges are, and how aligned are people to the purpose. There are other things we can do to listen, not just have conversations, there are surveys that we can run, there are focus groups that can follow on from the surveys and the initial conversations with leadership. But it does all come down to listening. Because without listening, you're not going to understand what the challenge actually is. So 


Julie Ford 13:05 

what advice could you offer internal comms professionals who are looking to grow and scale an internal comms team? 

Shan 13:11 

I would say, understand the challenge first. Because how you want to shape that team is going to depend on what you want to achieve. A really good example, is, you know, where I've just been, prior to my current role, where it was a very small organization, so 300, strong, grown significantly, in eight years from two people to 300. And, they were confused what, why? Why were people not acting in the way we needed them to. Why were we Stuttering a little bit on growth? Why is our client strategy not aligned across our business?  


Why do we have silos, and it would be really easy for me to have just said, actually, you know, what, you need an intranet, you need this, you need a bigger team, when actually what they really needed to do was focus on conveying that strategy in the right way. So, I would be really careful to jump to solution until you really understand that challenge. And that is I know, I've reiterated it before, that really is the key to the solution that you put in place, how you scale your team, the platforms that you choose to put into place and the processes and governance that are going to help align everyone through the internal comms process. 


Julie Ford 14:50 

So, thank you so much for these incredible insights, Shan. It's been great speaking with you today. If our listeners want to get in touch with you, what's the best way for them to do that? 


Shan 14:57 

Connect with me on LinkedIn are always open to have more connections and to build a network. 


Julie Ford 15:05 

Great. Thank you again. Shan Thank you. Thanks for listening to the ICON Podcast. This podcast has been brought to you by Sparrow connected. Head over to sparrowconnected.com to learn more about the internal comms platform that is elevating the internal comms profession and be sure to follow #WeLeadComms on LinkedIn. If you liked this podcast, please subscribe to your favorite podcast channels and tune in for the next episode. 

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