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How to avoid internal comms breaking down

Healx's Charlotte Chorley shares comms advice for startup teams as they hit scale

By Amy Lewin

Charlotte Chorley, Healx

If you can communicate clearly about AI, healthtech and regulation, then you should probably be able to communicate to your own team. Enter Charlotte Chorley, director of strategic alignment and communications at Healx, the Cambridge-based biotech startup which is using AI to find treatments for rare diseases. In a recent issue of our Startup Life newsletter, she shared internal comms advice for teams as they hit scale. 

Transparency is great — but not all information needs to be shared

A good rule of thumb is that people should have the info they need to do their jobs. You don’t want to get into a situation where people feel stagnant or can’t action something because they need to ask someone else something first.

Equally, sharing too much can become a distraction for people. When you’re 5-10 people, everything can be really open and transparent — but as you scale, it becomes less helpful to know the ins and outs of every function.

Use managers to disseminate information

As you scale, managers play an important role in taking big ideas and translating them into meaningful next steps for teams. Use managers to share information related to strategy, and to people and culture.

Managers have the best relationships with individuals and so they can tailor the message so that it lands in the best way. During Covid, we used managers to triage questions employees had [about the situation].

Share semi-regular company updates on big strategic points 

We pull out top strategic wins and blockers and share that in our monthly internal newsletter. It’s a very top-line view of how broad programmes are going. It’s not getting into technical details. We also use Confluence; it’s basically a company wiki. It’s a one-stop shop for any information you need or question you have about Healx. There are pages on strategic priorities and OKRs which get updated on a monthly basis. We also use Slack for announcements.

Make sure all meetings have a purpose 

We have a checklist for people organising meetings: Could this be resolved by Slack? Or by a short call? If not, make sure that these things are in place: that there’s an agenda — key things to discuss and outcomes to get out of that time — and that the meeting is kept to time, relevant people are invited and notes are taken. Make sure that people feel empowered to make decisions on behalf of their teams at meetings.

Hire an internal comms person as early as possible 

I was brought into Healx post Series B… but I would say the earlier you bring someone in, the better. It’s important to have someone to help build the brand narrative cohesively, lock in the tone of voice you as an employer have with your employees and build a robust system to share information. It’s a role that straddles ops, people, culture and strategy, but it’s often left quite late as startups often prioritise external comms and PR.

Listen to your gut when it comes to comms 

Think: in what situation would this message land well with me, and in what situation would it land badly? Would announcing this in an all-hands be too formal; would it be better in a team meeting? An internal comms person is often the buffer or the last point of defence before an announcement goes out — tap into that gut feeling.

Amy Lewin is Sifted’s deputy editor. She covers VC, foodtech and diversity in tech, and tweets from @amyrlewin. She’s the coauthor of our weekly Startup Life newsletter, which you can subscribe to here.

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Matt Grimshaw
Matt Grimshaw

It may just be the way you’ve chosen to phrase it, but I (respectfully) disagree with the point about using managers to disseminate information. If you want to share company wide information, don’t treat managers as a channel unless you’re deliberately trying to create a hierarchal and siloed culture. Plus, people managers in a scale-up already have enough to do – so why add to the burden and why create unhelpful variation in the timeliness and quality of the information transferred. Treating managers as a comms channel is an anachronism from when companies didn’t have the technology to engage directly… Read more »