106 Communications

6th Sense

Unleashing digital internal comms: lessons from Amsterdam

May 2017 | Digital Employee, Internal Communications

23rd May 2017.  Amsterdam.  50+ communications professionals.  All focused on Unleashing Digital Internal Comms.  Henry was the Chair.  There were a range of great speakers from Denmark, Finland, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Czech Republic and the UK.  Here are our key takeaways.

Transforming what?

Any organisation trying to become more digital is in the process of transformation.  The secret here is to make it feel less like something happening to them (i.e. ‘look at our new intranet’); more a way to improve their work, grow their capability and give everyone the chance to contribute in new and different ways (i.e. ‘let’s show you how this will help’).

Adriana from Vodafone talked about their digital transformation, and I was impressed by some of the tools and initiatives (AI, Digital Ninjas, the use of Flare to connect screens); but my biggest takeaway was the set of impacts: flexibility, lean, efficient, agile, innovative, inclusive, tailor-made and of course, cost reduction.  In fact, digital has enabled them to reduce their physical workplace by 20% saving a huge amount of money.


Understand your audience

There is a temptation in this tech world to pick up a new shiny toy and assume that it will be the answer to all our problems.  Isn’t everyone on a smart phone?  Shouldn’t we all be collaborating more?  Let’s just build a sharepoint site.  Or an app.  But we must refrain from playing to our assumptions and go out and talk to our people – through surveys, focus groups, discussions and more.  Okay, this sounds straightforward, but without good research (and not just an online survey), we could be wasting huge sums of money.

Jorunn from Norsk Hydro opened our eyes to the importance of understanding your audience.  She was talking in the context of an intranet project for 13,000 people around the world.  But the lessons are relevant for any project.  While they thought they had created something smart (and had done a lot of research), they went back to key groups to understand why the Intranet wasn’t working for them.  In particular, with a large Brazilian population, they found (through focus groups) that many of the web principles that we hold true as communicators weren’t relevant to this group.  For example, some didn’t know how a web browser worked.  Other key lessons – language is critical (not everything in English), make it local and make it a portal for other systems as well.


Think about the future

Tech is changing fast, and while we must resist the temptation to grab the new, shiny toy, we must also think about how technology and, more importantly, human behaviour are changing. Stefan at Plek gazed into his crystal ball to tell us more about the future of communications in the enterprise, from the importance of in-team and team-to-team communication, to the way we must onboard everything in the new gig economy.  Of course, it is difficult (and unwise) for organisations to try to constantly keep up with trends; but we do need to think more about what is relevant, useful and intuitive for our users and how we can bring new innovations into the business to meet their needs – whether that’s a more personalised approach to content (as demonstrated by Franck at Debble) or a different way of delivering information, such as chatbots, TV screens or

Job from Thales showed that sometimes we have to take a leap to make a change.  Here was a company (Thales) that was closed off from the outside world – quite literally, with a big, imposing fence.  Job’s vision was to open up the world of Thales in the Netherlands with an app that enables them to share news and content across the organisation of some 2,000 people.  But how do you get people to view the app, if they only have a personal phone?  Simple, you give everyone a company smartphone!!  Job equated this to the cost of a new intranet. A smart move and it is paying off.  Also the app is external, so anyone can view it – and it helps to attract new people to the organisation.  How can a business in a highly regulated industry do this?  Because regulation means that things have to be transparent!


Personalise your approach

Personalisation is tricky.  Especially in big organisations.  It’s not simply a question of different content.  People consume information in different ways.  Some prefer video.  Others prefer face-to-face content.  Some are digital.  Others remain analogue.  Certainly, from the research we do, we see that while people consume a great deal of social and digital media in their downtime, they still value face-to-face meetings and conversations more than any other form of communication.

Lene from AbbVie shared with us her story of engaging colleagues in Denmark.  What stood out here was the way that they mixed the digital and analogue to meet the needs of different people (and different ages).  And speaking of ages, it was also interesting to hear how they had embraced a ‘No Limits’ training programme to create a more innovation-based culture, which encourages ideas and collaboration.  So an idea is never rejected instantly; everyone is encouraged to be open to new ideas and reflect on them, rather than dismissing.  So you never get that moment when a younger member of staff says ‘What about doing it this way?’ and an older member of staff responds ‘We’ve tried that and it doesn’t work’.   


Making your people your storytellers

What is the role of internal communications?  Is it simply to broadcast information?  Or is there a greater need to improve the employee experience and make communications more about them than simply the organisation?  We think the latter, and certainly the sentiment of the day supported this.  As well as the speakers mentioned already, we heard from Juriaan at LEWIS about the value of employee advocacy, and how it can engage colleagues as well as build reputation externally.  But what we also saw was a common desire amongst all speakers to get their people more involved in content and to become storytellers, whether for advocacy or just simply contributing to the debate.  This ranged from the digital ninjas at Vodafone to Intranet Editors at Norsk Hydro.

Francesco from Autostrade per L’Italia outlined a novel way of internal communications.  He focused attention on three areas of engagement – a wiki, a Yahoo type Q&A tool and LinkedIn to grow skills and encourage development.  The wiki was fascinating in that employees could post questions and topics, and comment on them – but also the company would present an official view as well.  So while there might be a company view, all views were welcome – and this is especially important in a company with a high union membership.  We also got to see how Autostrade uses events such as the Giro d’Italia as a way of recognising employees. 


Challenge the organisation

Digital is a way of living, but it’s not always a way of working.  All the speakers showed how they had challenged their organisations to go beyond the conventional or tried and tested, and embrace a more digital way of working.  Of course, for some, this was still a slow process; for others, quicker – albeit big tech transformation projects can take one or two years.

Amos from Wartsila showed that transformation doesn’t happen overnight.  It can almost be like grass growing.  You watch it and nothing seems to happen; and then one day it seems to be inches taller.  It needs to be a continuous journey, and more than anything to show that there’s real value.  In the early days, Amos was trusted to get on and make things happen.  Now the business has big revenue targets from digital, and so it’s more important than ever to embrace digital in the organisation.


It was a great time in Amsterdam.  Excellent speakers – and because it is European rather than national, the experiences and case studies shared were very different.



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