The Gatehouse Blog

Integrating an internal communication function and setting it up for future success

Internal communication at Hammerson, a FTSE100 property development company, was still in its infancy due to its rapid growth against the backdrop of a small, family business culture and needed to be elevated. Gatehouse interim consultant Natalie Henderson talks us through how she helped to drive a new strategy, brand and channels to take the function, and the organisation, into the next phase of its IC evolution.

The challenge

As a FTSE100 company which specialises in creating the most desirable retail destinations, Hammerson has grown rapidly in recent years, and now operates an impressive portfolio of shopping centres across the UK, Ireland and France. As the business has evolved, its traditional, home- grown approach to internal communication has become less effective and so, at the start of 2016, the business turned to Gatehouse for help.

Following a discovery workshop that looked at current state challenges and a series of executive interviews, Hammerson began the first phase of work to evolve its internal communication (IC) strategy, channels and content, to better meet the communication needs of diverse employees, across multiple sites.

A clear overarching IC strategy for Hammerson was developed – setting out the long-term approach to move people from passive observers to engaged advocates and the priorities were to:

  1. Provide a suite of world class internal communications, with a new internal hub at the heart
  2. Introduce a regular and reliable ‘drumbeat’ of communications built around a formal, pre-agreed plan
  3. Provide an environment for rich two-way conversations and ongoing dialogue supported by engaging managers
  4. Have a dedicated and specialist communications resource in place, empowered to advise leaders and make things happen
  5. Introduce a ‘one Hammerson’ culture where all colleagues feel connected, wherever they may be based
  6. Produce engaging content and campaigns that support business vision, values and strategy

The strategy also fed into and helped shape a clear future-state vision:

“By 2018, we will have truly exceptional internal communications at Hammerson, creating an environment where our colleagues feel well informed, engaged and connected. Clear, coherent, strategically aligned messages and appealing content will be shared in a timely way via a range of world-class channels – and we will be celebrated for our conversation culture, where managers and leaders listen, colleagues contribute ideas and information flows freely up, down and across the organisation”.

The next step was to mobilise the support needed to help drive the strategy forward, as well as support the first phase of delivery – launching this new approach to IC, with a fresh new brand and intranet relaunch. This is when I was brought in.

I met with key stakeholders to understand their main challenges and what they felt improved internal communications looked like. Stakeholder engagement and management was a crucial first step to galvanizing support in driving the IC strategy forward.

“Stakeholder engagement and management was a crucial first step to galvanizing support in driving the IC strategy forward.”

Step 1: The intranet

The initial area to be tackled right away was the relaunch of the intranet; Hammerson wanted a new intranet platform launched six months within my arrival.

In partnership with Gatehouse, we carried out a piece of research to find out what both the business and employees needed and wanted from a new and improved intranet. I also used every meeting I had to gain feedback on the intranet and Hammerson’s approach to IC in order to frame my recommendations.

Based on the research, the decision was made to move forward with a new platform. BrightStarr’s Unily seemed to be the perfect t, and three months after having them onboard as our new supplier, we launched Ondemand, Hammerson’s brand-new intranet and communication hub.

Ondemand was launched through an email campaign led by the CEO, posters and pop-ups, a teaser animation, webinars and a comprehensive user guide. Hammerson employees could now read more engaging news; find people, documents and information faster; connect and collaborate more easily; access it through any device; and generally, work smarter than before.

Step 2: The IC brand and approach

In parallel to launching a new intranet, we needed to tackle the delivery of corporate internal communications. We needed to distinguish between corporate, local and personal information – an IC brand was needed.

Gatehouse had already done significant work on designing a look and feel for internal communications, utilising the ‘On’ of Hammerson. With this fresh look, I devised and launched a whole new approach to delivering IC at Hammerson. It was necessary to introduce this before the intranet launch so that employees would understand the name of the new intranet and how it all fit together.

To professionalise internal communications, some things needed to change. The previously relied upon informal style of internal communication sometimes caused colleagues to miss out on relevant information and news only shared locally. Whereas in other cases, very local and more personal information was communicated to hundreds of employees, where it had little relevance for that wider audience.

As a result, I started by introducing a formalised approach to mass emails as well as restricting mass emails to approved users. I also made sure all Senior Management communication went through the Internal Communications function, to ensure that all the messages were carefully crafted and aligned with the vision, strategy and values. Furthermore, the use of Ondemand was encouraged for news that was previously emailed. The social area on the vastly improved intranet gave employees an alternative space to share their news.

The new approach to IC was initially explained in launch emails from Hammerson’s CEO; everyone needed to be more organised in planning their communications and utilise the great functionality of our new intranet, Ondemand, as well as the expert guidance from the IC function. This was then further driven home in every conversation I’ve had since launch!

“The new approach to IC was initially explained in launch emails from Hammerson’s CEO; everyone needed to be more organised in planning their communications and use the great new functionality of our intranet, Ondemand, as well as the expert guidance from the IC function.”

The result and next steps

The feedback from the business was fantastic. Senior managers are delighted at the huge reduction in poorly targeted emails and that internal, corporate communications are more carefully crafted, and have real impact. A permanent IC Manager is now in place and building on these strong foundations.

Hitting the ground running as an interim

To hit the ground running and activate the new IC strategy in a limited amount of time, it was essential to engage with the key stakeholders and as many people on the ground as soon as possible, making them feel part of the change and involving them in its success.

It was also important to be proactive. As an interim, you often get left to your own devices and people can’t guide you because they don’t know what they need. Part of this is being confident in your own ability and expertise as an internal communicator; helping people to understand what good internal communication looks like for their business.

Looking back, I’ve learnt much from this experience: I learnt that I can create something from nothing, that attention to detail is essential in any project, and that I love setting up IC functions from scratch.

The challenge of the intranet relaunch was one of the biggest of my career and I’m proud that I could do it in record time and achieve the level of engagement we did, so quickly. We were even awarded ‘Highest Intranet Adoption’ by our supplier, which is a great accolade!


Biography: Natalie Henderson

Natalie is a senior communications professional with extensive internal communications and employee engagement experience gained across a wide range of privately owned businesses and public limited companies in the retail property, food, logistics, drinks, utilities and construction sectors.