The Gatehouse Blog

Bringing employees along on a journey of market-led change

Fundamental changes to the core systems, ways of working, and direction of marketing are all evolving to reflect the changing needs of customers.

In this article, Nina Embra of Creative Minds Consulting explains how she navigated this rocky terrain for one of her clients.

For almost a decade, it has been my job to help organisations keep people engaged, motivated and informed through turbulent times but also inform them of the best ways to ensure that everyone is on the same change journey. One of my client’s sector as a whole had been experiencing a revolution of sorts. Clients wanted to make their purchases in different ways and businesses needed to acknowledge that and change their platforms and systems to reflect these new requirements. This was largely driven by technology, which itself is very fastpaced and constantly changing. To ensure they had the best product in the right place at the right time for their customers, a 5-year change programme was set up in my client’s organisation. I worked alongside them to deliver a oneyear pilot programme that saw the launch of a new product lifecycle management system (PLM).

A three-pronged approach to change

The first phase of the change programme focused on the product development stage and streamlining the approach right from the designers sketch through to how a product fits into the market. The organisation wanted one system that took you through step by step, so people could come into the lifecycle when required, but there was complete visibility all the way through. This was a fundamental change to how the teams had worked previously. My first six weeks were spent reviewing the channels in place, what was available and how people preferred to work and collaborate. There were two core support centres in addition to the individual locations, which meant people were actually quite closeknit. Direct contact and face-to-face were very important to everyone and encouragingly, the leadership team really cared and was invested in the well-being of people. They wanted to make sure they were as involved as possible with the change, which helped shape our approach. They became one of the key elements of our triangle approach: leadership training, peer engagement and organisation-wide communication. We knew that for the programme to be successful, the change had to come from the top. So the leadership group, a few hundred people which included executives, heads of functions and other directors, were identified and then our priority was to educate this group. Regular meetings were set up to educate them about the entire change process, but also to talk about their role and how important their communication about the programme would be to the ultimate success. This phase was also about building up a level of comfort for them – we were always here to support and guide but they would be the face of change for their teams.

Getting deeper insights into the heart of the workforce

Once we had the endorsement from the leadership team, we turned our attention to the peer group. This new programme was going to be much more emotive than traditional campaigns within the organisation and we really needed to tap into what everyone was saying and the best way to do that was through a champion network. Each team nominated people who were very positive, picked up change quickly, were influencers within their groups but also people who were willing to challenge us. We then set up informal workshops with these 50 individuals once a month where we took them through the progress and asked for their feedback. This was an excellent way for us to gather intelligence about what people on the ground were thinking and feeling about the change, which helped us to adapt our approach.

“Each team nominated people who were very positive, picked up change quickly, were influencers within their groups but also people who were willing to challenge us.”

What developed was a very unique communication approach, based on how the individual teams operated. We were also able to minimise resources required from the centre by having this  champion network; we could feed them core information but we then empowered the champions to take the lead on what was best for their team. During our meetings, we used a chart to help us map the comfort level of each team, which was a useful tool to talk about any substantial changes. If one team was feeling less informed the week before, we could tackle that and quickly provide them with what they needed. The regular meetings and chart really helped us to stay on top of how people were feeling about the changes and if there were groups that were feeling disengaged, we could go back to them and review any issues, let them know this was a pilot programme so there would be challenges but their input was vital to the success. This was extremely effective for us as programme leads.

Keeping people informed every step of the way

The final element was focusing on the programme itself and the steady supply of the latest information, which was separated into three distinct channels: how we updated the leadership team, how we updated that change champion network so they could work with peer ambassadors, and how we communicated directly with the teams ourselves. The programme itself tended to use complicated terminology but we created a tone of voice that was very simple and open. We challenged the teams to think about the communication they were sending out; if they couldn’t say what they needed to in a couple of sentences, they should rethink what they were trying to say. We carried this tone of voice onto Yammer, which we maximised during the campaign. People had organically started to use it but there hadn’t been an official roll-out or explanation about how and why they should use it. One of the biggest challenges for us was the adoption of the channel because while field colleagues were very receptive and usage was high, office-based staff were less likely to use it. To tackle this issue and officially launch Yammer alongside the change programme, we set up a public group that anyone could join and see the latest updates and this became quite visual with groups posting photos from workshops. This helped to create an identity for the programme and people could then see who the leads were; it wasn’t a nameless, faceless change initiative driven from the centre. People were encouraged to use Yammer as a two-way communication tool, helping us to gather feedback and give people a voice in the programme development – becoming more human and social.

“One of the biggest challenges for us was the adoption of Yammer because while field colleagues were very receptive and usage was high, office-based staff were less likely to use it.”

While Yammer was very useful to inform us as we went on, we knew we needed to prove the effectiveness of the approach and that what we were doing was worthwhile. To do so we set up pulse surveys. Three months prior to launch, after the development of the engagement programme with peers, we found people were enthusiastic about organisational change and what it could bring to the organisation, but were unconvinced of benefit to them. The third survey was two weeks before launch to enable last-minute changes, and informed us there were differences between teams, with some teams requiring more support. The final survey came a few months after – at this point, questions changed and became more tactics-focused. These surveys were immensely helpful to us to adjust our approach and get the teams what they needed.

Continuously changing over the coming years

A key learning for the project team was that for the change we were driving to be successful, we had to be accepting of change ourselves. Working alongside the PR team, we are forced to be more agile in the campaigns we are running, not being afraid to evolve them as we go along. As communicators, it can sometimes be easy to make excuses for things that aren’t working, but it can be more effective to go back to the drawing board and take a more flexible approach.

“People were encouraged to use Yammer as a two-way communication tool, helping us to gather feedback and give people a voice in the programme development – becoming more human and social.”

While our three-tier approach to engagement was the right decision, I would alter this for future campaigns by developing them together rather than individually. It would be very valuable to bring together the leadership and peer groups more and turning that into a two-prong approach within their teams. I would also like to encourage stronger relationships between those peers in the champion network and those in the leadership team. Regardless, it’s been an exciting journey for the company and a great opportunity to craft a change programme that’s tailored to the workforce and informed by their feedback.

BIOGRAPHY – Nina Embra Nina is a creative employee engagement and communications specialist, with expertise in business transformation and strategic messaging. With a background in creative writing and qualification as a graphic designer, she takes complex projects or ideas and turns them into simple, yet effective engagement programmes. She has worked at, and with a number of large organisations in sectors including retail and construction. Follow her on Twitter @CreativeMindsIC.