Interview: Curiosity ‘ is essential for internal comms’

Curiosity ' is essential for internal comms'

July 28, 2016

Ruth Jackson, who started out as a barmaid and is now Head of Internal Communications and Engagement at Premier Inn and Whitbread, shares her career highs and lows.

How long have you been in your current IC role and what does it involve?
Since January 2015 – it’s a dual role and the IC part is for Premier Inn’s 733 hotels across the UK.

What do you like most about your role?
I’ve worked for Premier Inn for a long time and we’ve got some amazing people so my job has a real feel-good factor. It’s all about engaging our teams so they feel pride in the business, connecting people to our purpose and recognising good behaviours.

Is there any part you don’t enjoy?
We want to do so much – the difficulty is prioritising it all. I’m very lucky that our Premier Inn exec understands the importance of internal comms in driving our culture.

Ruth Jackson
Ruth Jackson

What did you do before your current role?
I’ve been in HR for five years and my previous role was Head of HR for Premier Inn Operations. Prior to that I was a Regional Operations Manager running restaurants and hotels in the Midlands – I grew up in Operations from the age of 19 after starting work with Whitbread as a barmaid when I was a student doing human biology!

How did you get into internal comms?
Premier Inn decided to move the IC function from Marketing to HR and created this Head of Internal Comms role, which I was asked to do. My role is 50:50 – I also look after the employee engagement programme for the whole of Whitbread.

What’s the proudest moment of your career so far?
Developing our new employee comms app, in conjunction with Headlines. It’s creative and innovative, and really addresses the challenge of getting daily content to our 18,000 team members across multiple locations who don’t have constant access to a computer at work. The feedback has made me realise it’s actually more revolutionary than we initially thought – not many people have this kind of thing in the workplace.

What are the benefits of good internal comms?
It aligns everyone with your purpose and culture by ensuring the right messages go through everything the organisation does.

And what does bad internal comms look like?
It can cause too much noise and create confusion around an organisation’s direction and focus if messages conflict or clash.

How has the world of IC changed since you started working in it?
I came into the role just over a year ago and hadn’t had much to do with IC before that so I can’t really comment on what’s changed. What’s apparent to me, though, is that we must stay innovative and agile and keep abreast especially of digital trends. People are so used to having instant access to information, with everything really transparent, that they expect it at work, too, and we need to meet that expectation.

How important do you think the social media boom has been to IC and what do you see as the advantages and disadvantages?
Anything can be shared so quickly and you need to be very aware of the messages you’re putting out there. Social media has great advantages in terms of being able to drive messages and culture quickly but disadvantages if the messages are wrong or misinterpreted.

What would you like to be doing in five years’ time?
I’ve learned not to be too specific because I’ve had fantastic opportunities to do roles I would never have seen coming! As long as I’m doing something to support people to enjoy being at work and flourish in their career, then that’s the most important thing to me.

What would be your advice to anybody wanting to start a career in internal communications?
My background isn’t writing, I’m a scientist at heart, but I’m constantly impressed that my team members know how to craft a good story. I think that’s an important IC skill. Having curiosity is also critical. Look, read and understand what’s going on in the wider world, and that will help inform you in internal comms.

Quickfire questions
When I was growing up, I wanted to be … a surgeon or a Formula 1 driver
My very first job was … working in a video shop, which shows my age!
I couldn’t live without … my gym classes – I’m a complete addict
If I won the lottery tomorrow … I’d take all my friends on a fabulous holiday then work out the rest from there.