The Gatehouse Blog

Developing a central IC function at Laird

The following is an extract from the Journal of Internal Communication. See if you qualify for a free industry subscription at www.internal-communication.com/joic.

Starting an IC function from scratch to cover 9,000 employees from the ground up is a big task. VP of Communications and Marketing Paul Mottershead explains what steps he’s taken.

Laird PLC is a 115 year old company which has grown through acquisitions – resulting in businesses which operated independently but in common markets. Three years ago, under a new CEO, the company started going through huge change – becoming more integrated and operating as a more coordinated company. Two years ago, I joined Laird with part of my remit being to put a formal internal communications strategy and team in place. At that time, IC was mainly managed by HR teams and local managers disseminating their own messages. This was a major challenge because of the geographical dispersion of staff – 6000 of the 9000 employees are in Asia – and communicate in multiple languages.

Good practice, limited resources

The first thing I did was to visit as many sites as I could and speak to lots of people. I found we had no real internal comms prior to my arrival, and no internal comms resources beyond a very old intranet, used initially as a document repository, with a thin communications layer over it. What we did have was a lot of good practice.  Many sites did excellent regular briefings to employees. In Asia, they did some really good newsletters. The first step was identifying, and trying to get some of the other business units to adopt that good practice.

Building a strategy

Having done the audit and understood where the business was going and what the challenges were, I started to design a strategy. With the hiring of an internal comms manager, we reviewed some of the good practice and looked at how to replicate them – developing processes that could be shared across the organisation. We put some templates in place to implement a more formalized structure, a common look and feel, and language – we embedded a few controls, just to make sure we achieved some core consistency.

It’s been about getting the basics right first. The problem wasn’t the content – there are plenty of great stories taking place across Laird; it was surfacing it and sharing it in a timely manner. For example, we wanted to make better use of the intranet. We used to publish most things via email, now we put more on the Intranet and send a summary email telling people what’s available; we cut down their inbox count, while providing the information in a more dynamic way.

Delivering the message

A key aim has been to be consistent in our messaging. We have an internal mantra of innovation, reliable fulfilment, and speed.  That came from a management meeting a couple of years ago, it exemplifies the way we do things in Laird, and it’s stuck. It really resonates with people, so we keep going back to this as a part of our differentiation strategy. When we send out communications, we always frame it so it fosters more of the same: “This is an example of innovation,” or, “This is a really good example of delivering with speed”.

We want to keep improving the channels. I’d like to develop an app-based platform to replace or supplement our intranet. Many of our people, particularly in Asia, don’t have a PC. But everyone’s got a smartphone. We use apps more and more for our events, hooking it into an internal network to retrieve documents and processes seems to me like the right way forward whilst reducing our reliance and cost on expensive IT infrastructure (which will make our IT team happy!).

Last year we implemented an ‘Essentials of leadership’ training programme, a 1 week-course targeted at all of our top 250 leaders, right up to the Chief Exec. We’re currently running ‘Essentials of leadership 2’. That’s been a great help in driving understanding of the need for internal comms at the top.

Challenges of success

I haven’t yet done a communication survey as such, but I can see the benefits by the feedback we get. Since we’ve started internal comms, the floodgates have opened and we’re involved in an increasing number of projects at a much earlier stage. It’s been a challenge to keep up with the workload and still have time to continue developing the function.

The company has very dynamic targets. We aim to treble in size which means that none of us can just work harder or do the same things that we do today in a better way. We have to change the way the company operates and the tools and processes we use – without damaging our fantastic culture. Communication is a critical element of that. We’re introducing a new ERP system – a significant change in a global company with such a diverse geography as ours – this is a critical activity in our growth plans but one which will cause significant disruption.  Getting our people to understand the need and willingly support its implementation is key to our success.

I’m developing the central team, so we’ll have three new people by this time next year. But I recognise that proximity is critical and want to also develop the network further – people need to bring messages together locally.

We will run our first communications survey later this year. We’ll set up some regional focus groups as well, to see what traction we’ve got in the last 12 months or so.

Lessons learned

Starting an IC department from scratch to cover 9,000 people is a big task, but if you’re doing something similar, these are the two key things I would advise you to bear in mind.

Be careful how much you take on to start off with. Sit down with senior stakeholders, understand their expectations and deliver those well. Keep it narrow, develop value in some key areas, and then look to broaden out. That will open up opportunities for more resources and you can build from that.

Be clear on messages. Get some consistency and then some cohesion. Don’t change language, especially in multinationals. Get the language right to start off with, and stick with it unless something fundamentally changes.

BIOGRAPHY – PAUL MOTTERSHEAD

As VP for Communications and Marketing at Laird PLC, Paul is responsible for providing Laird with capabilities that deliver focused, consistent and cohesive messages to both internal and external audiences globally. Paul has held senior Communications posts for over 15 years in global organisations including Thales and BAE Systems.