Show 35 – Strategic Internal Comms: Virgin Trains, Telefonica, HSBC

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  1. Drew McMillan, Virgin Trains
  2. Sarah Mullins and Nicola Green, Telefonica
  3. Jenny Varley and Dee Gosney, HSBC

The first two parts of the show were recorded at PR Week’s Strategic Internal Communications event, London.

The conference had a theme of creating a more agile, digital and customer focus culture in the business.

Part 1 – Drew McMillan,  Head of Internal Communications and Innovation, Virgin Trains

with Virgin Trains’ Drew McMillan (left)

Drew’s keynote address at the conference was on how to create an amazing place to work by borrowing techniques more often used for customer insight.

His gut instinct was that whilst many consumer brands quite rightly spend millions understanding their customers, they spend way less than 10% of that amount understanding their people, yet so many business use the mantra of their people being their most valuable asset!

He explained that Virgin is a customer led brand that is big in the consumer space, and that the company invests accordingly in understanding its customers.  However, he felt that historically, the organisation hadn’t invested near as much effort and energy in understanding its people and that, like most employers, had previously thought that an annual survey (that often takes a long time to do anything about the responses), perhaps with some additional activities ‘around the edges’, was all that was required.

Virgin Trains has removed its annual employee survey “Was just like a snake eating itself = didn’t get us anywhere”

Drew believes that today’s employees expect to be listened to more often and their input to be acted upon much more quickly.  He therefore wanted to look at a fundamentally different way of applying customer insight to an internal audience.  He therefore adapted the company’s consumer facing tool, ‘The Awesometer’, to create an internal Pulse dashboard that has sub components looking at Trust, Empowerment and Engagement.  This dashboard shows an aggregated sense of how Virgin Trains’ people are feeling on a four weekly basis, i.e. how awesome the company is.

Drew’s Pulse dashboard works alongside other Internal Communications tools.  He explained that the company is in the middle of transferring to Office365, although had already implemented Yammer, which gives him rich analytics on sentiment within the business.  In fact, Virgin Trains has been independently audited as one of the most engaged Yammer users in Europe (with 2800 active users) and in the top 12 Yammer Networks worldwide, with a daily Yammer Engagement level of 68% Measure of Active Engagement (MAE), which Drew confirmed is very high.

Virgin also combines this with more traditional one-to-one research, working with Ipsos Loyalty to speak with colleagues in their homes in a very frank and private way about working at Virgin Trains and how the company can improve as a business.  Drew feels the importance of doing these interviews in the home is that people are in a completely different psychological place and will therefore talk differently to how they might do so in a typical open focus group environment.

All these various tools and research methods are part of Virgin’s ACE (Amazing Colleague Experience) program – born out of their ICE program (Incredible Customer Experience), which helped define the seven stages of their customers’ journey with them, from thinking of travelling, through to arriving at their destination. Therefore ACE takes the same methodology by breaking their people’s daily lives into a number of stages, from preparing to come to work in the morning through to getting home at night.

Have staff engagement surveys had their day? Drew McMillan @VirginTrains discusses their staff insight programme @PRWeekHub

Part 2 – Sarah Mullins and Nicola Green, Telefonica

[starting at 15:45]
Chatting with Telefonica’s Nicola Green (left) and Sarah Mullins (centre)

In Part 2, we caught up with Sarah Mullins, Head of Change Communications at Telefonica and Nicola Green, Telefonica’s Director of Communications and Reputation, who was making her second appearance on the show (you can listen to Nicola on Show 11 too).

Sarah and Nicola had just spoken at the conference on the topic of Internal Communications / External communications convergence: ‘how can you effectively join up all functions of your organisation’, a great presentation sharing the journey, complete with good and bad experiences, that Nicola’s team had gone through over the last four years since she took over as the company’s Director of Comms and Reputation in the UK.

Nicola explained that one thing she noticed when she first took on the role was that the team was working in silos, and so she felt that they could bring more value to the organisation if they joined up and became one team that worked together collectively and relied on each other to do the best work possible.  She believes that her team have felt quite empowered by the process they have gone through.

Sarah has been in the organisation for five years and so was there at the start of this process and admitted that when she first joined the Internal Communications team, whilst she knew Nicola headed up PR, she didn’t really know who else was in the team.  She explained that back then, they had different teams communicating to their stores, customer service teams, social customers and the press.  Now everyone in the team has a greater understanding of what each of their colleagues do across all the different functions of the team, which include Public Affairs, Social Media, Press Office and Reputation, Proactive PR, Internal Comms and Change Communication (where Sarah’s main role is now). Sarah added that it’s been an enormously creative experience too, being able to share ideas with each other.

Naturally, with all those communications functions coming together, as Nicola said, with all change, some people like and embrace it and some don’t, and as a result some colleagues did leave the organisation.  But those who stayed saw it as an opportunity to help develop their own skills further,.  This is what Nicola said she majored on, i.e. helping them be the best they could be, not just in their specialist subject but across all the other communications disciplines, which she added many organisations are looking for, i.e. more generalists.

Nicola said that a good example of the merged team working well was when the organisation faced a network crisis, which of course put the company under immense pressure in a very short space of time.  In that instance, everybody in the team experienced lots of different disciplines.  For example, the internal comms team posted on Facebook and the Public Affairs team dealt with Press enquiries. Basically, it became ‘all hands to the pump’ with the whole team working collectively together and she believes that it was only by doing so, that they could contain the situation and get through it.

Nicola highlighted to any company looking to follow suit and merge their teams that putting structures in place is the key to make it work.  She said that that unless you give opportunities for the leadership team to come together and talk through different problems, it’s never really going to work because people in comms disciplines are very busy doing what they need to do and moving on to the next task, so you almost need to force them to step back and think about whether they are doing the right thing and get insights from others about what they are feeling.

Despite the merging of her teams, Nicola still believes specialists have a role to play and that we shouldn’t underestimate the insight that they bring in the communication discipline.  However, she also believes you should aim to get as many people to be generalists as possible as this can both help them as individuals, but also the wider team too. For example, if you have someone who falls ill for a long period of time, you’ve then got a bigger pool to pull on to ensure the comms team doesn’t fall over.

Part 3 – Jenny Varley and Dee Gosney, HSBC

[starting at 30:35]

The final part of the show was recorded at the offices of HSBC in Canary Wharf, where we were joined by Jenny Varley, Global Head of Content & Employee Digital Platforms and Dee Gosney, the team’s Senior Editor, to talk about their multi-award winning Internal Communications video platform, HSBC Now.

HSBC Now was introduced to the organisation in 2012 and, as Jenny explained, is employee led content, or as Jenny called it, a ‘boss free TV project’, that essentially flipped the traditional top down communication model on its head. She said that it is a platform to tell the stories of employees (of which HSBC has over 250,000 across 71 countries), celebrate their achievements, magnify their strengths and cover topics that are important to them with radical honesty, such as mental health, LGBT, how war zones and disaster recovery can impact on employees, living through illness, and celebrating personal achievements inside and outside of work.

Jenny is clearly proud of its success, with some episodes achieving over 80,000 views.

In 2013, to keep it relevant, and responding to demands from employees who wanted to share the content with family and friends or watch the content outside of office hours, HSBC made the decision to make the channel public via YouTube and Twitter. This also worked for HSBC from a cultural perspective as taking time out to watch video during offices hours is not always seen as a good thing, although Jenny said they’ve done a lot to change the culture within the organisation and video is now seen as an important currency for content. At the time of writing this post, the channel has now received almost 2m views on YouTube with 4,100 subscribers, and has over 52,000 followers on Twitter.

Dee talked through the type of content that’s uploaded to the channel, which naturally includes short form videos.  However, the team has also produced a few series and long form documentaries too, but always told from an employee perspective.

Having the right cultural environment in the company is crucial for a project like this to work as far as Jenny is concerned.  She said that you need to ensure it’s not designed by committee or that you do not have a multi-led approval process, because that would introduce a huge barrier in keeping it relevant and consistent and getting the content out in real time.

Initially the content was uploaded fortnightly and then they switched to weekly but now they are experimenting with content length and whether they should have a schedule with an appointment to view, or upload content on an ad-hoc basis driven by story.

Whilst all the stories that have been uploaded since 2012 were about employees, Jenny explained that they had, essentially, been created by professional film crews.  Therefore, to keep the content relevant, and allow the employees to take the filming into their own hands, and therefore have more UGC content on the channel, the team launched a platform to enable this to happen and partnered up with Seenit, who provide a video crowdsourcing mobile app, to achieve it.

Dee explained that firstly, HSBC have branded Seenit’s white label product so that it can be used internally.  Secondly, it’s used purely for crowdsourcing the content, not for distribution, which was a key challenge when they launched the app internally.  Dee said that, being a highly regulated, complex and risk averse organisation, there were obviously quite a few concerns raised about the prospect of launching a ‘selfie’ YouTube channel.  She therefore had to educate people to help them understand that this was a video crowdsourcing tool that would be aiming at an already engaged audience of employees, inviting them to, not only take part in the company’s storytelling, but to become part of the storytelling production process.  Employees film the stories themselves, in their own words and their own way, and then allow the production team to take that content down from an online virtual studio, and incorporate it into their programming, communications campaigns and their other production projects.

Dee confirmed that nothing is live and that her team curates the content that they make visible.  However, they were really encouraged that 99% of the content uploaded to the app was shot outside of the office and outside of office hours too.

Dee said that the app was initially only accessibly to employees via an internal enterprise site because of the concerns that, as a non customer facing app, HSBC wouldn’t want to make it public and then have customers stumble across it and then become disgruntled because they didn’t know what it was and couldn’t use it.  However, this lead to a nine-step download process for employees to access the app and so the decision was eventually made to make the app available on the public app stores.

To finish off the interview, Jenny shared her top tips to any organisation looking to launch a channel and app like HSBC have done, which were:

  1. Manage upwards and persuade people at the top to take a risk with you – Jenny’s team lobbied and achieved their aims by throwing a spotlight on the fact that soon, 75% of the organisation’s workforce will be millennials (and younger) and that if the digital experience inside the organisation remains out of touch with how they communicate and engage with their networks, then employees would find it more difficult to do their jobs and interact with colleagues.
  2. Learning to fail – when you manage a team, people need to feel safe to fail, to try new things and experiment, which is important to an environment that is fuelling innovation and creativity
  3. Keep moving – at no point can you sit back and think you’ve nailed it as the environment and content is constantly changing and so you have to keep checking that you are relevant to the audience

To continue the discussion on twitter, please use the #csuitepodcast

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