How do you get high-level messages across in large, global organisations and still make it relevant to every staff member? Global IC manager Arun Kayal shares his experience developing an ambassador network to build engagement in the field with the help of story-telling and video-enablement techniques.
Being a leading global communications provider, our staff is deployed across geographies including Asia, Europe, Americas and the MENA region.
Last year, we rolled out a communications programme to launch and raise awareness about our business strategy. We articulated our vision around four business imperatives and wanted each staff member to be able to understand and commit to the four imperatives.
We introduced this at a global internal event attended by all sales teams and central support teams. The corporate imperatives were introduced during our CEO’s keynote speech and were supported by formal presentations by our leadership team – explaining to the audience how their line objectives align to the corporate imperatives and what their teams need to focus on. Shortly after this event, we followed up with a series of email to all staff.
In theory, our communication plan seemed ideal: it covered all audiences, meaning that everyone should have heard of our business imperatives in some way. However, only a few weeks after the conference, our CEO had an informal meeting with some of our staff in Singapore. He realised that not many were able to articulate our strategy; few of them were not even familiar with all of the four imperatives. Even after our efforts in enabling face-to-face and other communications, we could see that the message had clearly not landed.
We had a meeting with our leadership team to figure out how we could build on the momentum and take it on to the next level of awareness – and what alternative actions we could take to ensure that our employees were fully onboard and aligned with the strategy. The challenge was to not make it another top-down campaign. We wanted to create engagement and a sense of belonging at every level within the organisation.
Building an ambassador network
We came up with the idea of creating an ambassador programme. The principle is simple: you can’t send an e-mail and expect people to act upon it. On a day-to-day basis, people are influenced by the persons they work closely with. They don’t ‘listen’ to a mailbox, they look to those they recognise as experts for professional advice and guidance. The idea behind an ambassador network is to identify top influencers who will communicate and answer questions on your behalf – and become a part of the communicators’ extended network. The staff needed to feel engaged. The ambassador network created engagement, advocacy and a ‘desire to win’ within the business.
Influencers can help you get your message across because they have credibility and a proper relationship with your audience. They lead by example and also they know how to turn theory into practice. They understand how to translate high-level messages into real-life best practices, making your message relevant to your audience.
The question is how do you identify influencers in a business spread across continents?
Being an influencer isn’t the same as being a leader. In order to ‘qualify’ as an influencer, you need to interact with various teams and other influencers every day. So we decided that our influencers should meet at least three criteria: be a top performer for the past few quarters, manage at least five people and interact with various offices and teams across the business.
Obviously, a lot of people meet those criteria, so we asked our business leaders for help. Based on these criteria and on their prudent judgment, they nominated 32 people who they thought were the most influential individuals among their teams.
We then reached out to our ambassadors telling them that they had been selected and that we were expecting them to be the voice of our CEO. We connected with each one of them on an individual basis and explained to them that we would need their support in rolling out our communications in the coming months.
The ambassadors were asked to articulate their understanding of each of the four imperatives. We then helped them devise quotes which were used in various internal communications.
Once the role of the ambassadors was clear and we had quotes for each of them, we raised their profile within the business by declaring them the ‘corporate imperatives ambassadors’. This not only led to a lot of pride for the ambassadors, but also created a strong sense of belonging and ownership to deliver the task at hand!
We also used videos made by them in a dedicated section in our weekly global newsletter, and their quotes appeared in the screensavers. This helped raise awareness of the campaign and increased the visibility of ambassadors significantly.
Giving the staff a purpose
We wanted every staff member to understand how they contributed to each of the imperatives, in turn contributing to the success of the business. We wanted them to share their stories – their successes and their challenges. This inspired us to launch a video contest: teams would be asked to film themselves showing what they were doing to support the business imperatives. By doing so, they would have to understand what those really meant for them from an operational, practical point of view. We wanted to encourage them to have conversations with their colleagues and to figure out how their team was contributing to the bigger picture.
We launched the contest with a video of our CEO explaining that we wanted to hear stories about our people bringing our strategy to life. We didn’t give them strict guidelines – except that the clip shouldn’t exceed three minutes. They were free to use the equipment of their choice. We kept the contest open for a few months, rolling out imperatives one by one.
Our ambassadors played a critical role in making this programme a success. They helped us get buy-in from managers and leaders around the contest: there was a little bit of resistance to it at the beginning, as filming videos can be time-consuming. We used our ambassadors to overcome this challenge.
We also encouraged people to go and talk to our ambassadors. They could discuss the business imperatives with them and ensure they got their message right. Obviously, we gave them materials to help them answer the questions, but we also gave them a lot of freedom in the way they would advise people on the messaging. We had regular calls with them during the whole campaign to ensure they felt supported and were promoting the contest actively.
All of this was a revolution within an organisation with an average age of 34; and our staff wanted to be a part of it!
More than 80 videos were submitted in less than six months – which is a brilliant result given the effort it takes to make a video. The staff were encouraged to post them on our internal social media platform and to ask people to comment and ‘like’ the videos. We received more than 700 comments and over 3,000 ‘likes’, which helped us determine the best videos. The videos were not only well received, but some of them even raised the bar on internal video production standards.
During one of the biannual calls with our top 220 leaders, we ran a quick poll that showed that 92.7% of them thought that employees had a better understanding of the corporate imperatives than last year.
In order to measure the level of engagement across the wider organisation, we launched a game. We involved our ambassadors again and used their quotes on specific imperatives without actually mentioning the imperative. The goal was for people to guess what imperative each ambassador was talking about.
We now have a pool of very talented people who can help us achieve whatever we want to achieve. In my view, the trick would be to be able to use this network carefully – overusing it would make it less efficient.
Arun Kayal is a communicator with over ten years of experience working with global organisations. He enjoys working on engagement campaigns with senior leadership teams, introducing new techniques and strategies. A social-media enthusiast, Arun is a self-confessed gadget geek who loves spending time outdoors.