The Gatehouse Blog

Flourishing not floundering

Before pursuing my master’s in professional communication, I studied sociology. I’ve always had a keen interest in people, organisations and culture, and how these three elements work together. A big part of that, for me, is looking at how to ensure employees feel heard.

Communications at Pembina is very people-centric. Over the last 10 years or so, our employee numbers have quadrupled in size, with a lot of that growth coming through acquisitions. This can obviously lead to disruption and apprehension. The loss of employee voice. Yet we’ve managed to retain elements of a small town, family culture.

We’ve managed to retain elements of a small town, family culture.

People are change fatigued now, though. They don’t want things to be different all the time. But, at the same time, they still like the company. They thinks it’s a great place to work, they value the brand and reputation.

Not only that but Pembina is flourishing in a sector that’s been hit hard. We’re expanding globally and, while there’s always going to be resistance to oil and gas, people largely want Pembina in their communities because we offer so many great benefits, investment and career opportunities. In 2019, we invested $10 million in communities where we have a presence. Our employees volunteered thousands of hours and donated to their favourite charities, dollars that were matched by the company.

It’s not always plain sailing in local communities, of course. But if there’s ever an issue, we work really hard with stakeholders to resolve it.

So, in many ways, we’re achieving success – internally and externally – somewhat against the odds in terms of the internal impact of acquisitions and the external impact brought to bear by the issues in the sector. Why are we doing so well? Because our culture is so strong at Pembina.

Leadership buy-in pays

We refer to our culture as ‘The Pembina Way’. It’s not something that we’ve officially articulated to employees. In fact, in every department, it means something different. But there are certain consistent themes — such as innovation, best practice, honesty, transparency, collaboration, community and people focus — that help ensure everything hangs together. Our employees just seem to get it. I think that’s probably because it’s driven from the top down.

We’re lucky to have a CEO who really embodies the values of Pembina. This has ensured a focus on our leaders as front-line communicators. It gets harder to maintain that small company feel as the company grows. The leadership team can’t possibly know everyone’s names and have their presence felt in all locations. That’s why face- to-face communications are so important.

Internal communications play an important role in ensuring the culture of Pembina remains part of the fabric of the workforce. Our channel framework ensures consistent messaging and supports the focus on face- to-face communications with leaders: town halls; regular huddles; and bullpens for safety meetings.

We’re lucky to have a CEO who really embodies the values of Pembina.

Whenever we need to communicate something that’s a big deal — an acquisition or a new system implementation — we have a leader’s talk sheet with speaker’s notes and key messages. In short, we give leaders the tools they need. This includes lots of leadership development, where we coach people how to communicate effectively.

We also have newsletters to help us tell our employee stories. These are really important. When you’ve got a company that’s expanding into new communities, it’s important to help make people feel connected to the organisation. Telling real-life stories is a really powerful way to achieve this.

We’re conscious of over-communicating, though, a by-product of all the change: the need to constantly communicate on behalf of other parts of the business. We want to have initiatives led by communications, too. So, it’s important that we always ask ourselves and other parts of the business: is this really necessary? Is it going to actually connect people to The Pembina Way?

Pulling in the same direction

The integration of our internal and external communication teams has also helped here, in terms of better alignment of messages, information sharing and consistency, resource sharing and learning from each other.

The teams became one during a restructure over a year ago. Now, rather than competing for resources, we share an events manager and a designer. We have the same goals and objectives, and we share the same key messages. We’ve created various document templates and standardised processes.

This makes it easier for all of us. The cross-collaboration means we can move a lot quicker on certain things. For example, it’s allowed us to be much better aligned on acquisition announcements. Also, due to the fact that we face a lot of regulatory requirements around pipeline safety, we have to ensure strong, transparent communications in all of the communities in which we have a pipeline. We now use templates with the same branding and messages reflected internally and externally, to allow for one voice and alignment of information.

We also share our approaches and are always learning from one another. This has opened up career opportunities for members of the team.

Looking to the future

Personally, I’d like to see the Communication team help build The Pembina Way narrative over time. Although there’s an element of ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’, I’m passionate about the need to manage the language and storyline of the company; to become more intentional with our communication with regards to aligning with the company vision, values and purpose. Ultimately, for the profile of IC to be raised. This is something that keeps me motivated. It’s what drew me to the profession in the first place.

However, due to the change fatigue being experienced by employees right now, I fear it’s not the right time. We need to ensure our efforts come across as authentic and that we have strong success measurements in place, so it doesn’t feel like ‘just another campaign’. The priority is initiative communications and that’s what we’re working hard to support.

I can see the goal. The jigsaw picture on the box. We just haven’t quite got all the communication pieces in place yet.

Biography: Magdalena Matracki

Magdalena Matracki is a communications generalist with more than 10 years of experience in developing creative, impactful company-wide campaigns to drive employee engagement, influence perception and behaviour, and achieve business results. In her role at Pembina Pipelines, Magdalena is a trusted advisor with a mandate to inform, connect and build trust with employees through innovative and integrated communication strategies and channels.