So how do you really get your message across?

Communication: your People will always tell you they want more communication, especially when you talk to them about improving engagement.

But is ‘more’ the right solution and, if it is, how do you truly get your message across and effect change? How can you measure if it even works?

I think I am finally learning that successful communication is absolutely a volume play – you have to do lots of communicating in lots of different ways, through lots of different channels – especially when, like us, you have four sites and almost a thousand field-based personnel. Added to this, it has to be done in a way which makes it easy for the recipient to consume and, perhaps most of all, makes your audience want to listen and, as much as is possible, participate.

It is also essential that your messages are consistent across the board and these messages are delivered by more than just the people at the top.

Having set out our strategy two years ago, we knew early on that if we were to achieve real change and tangible buy-in from all our People and actually get them to own and deliver the strategy, then effective communication was critical. Since then, there are four things in particular that we have done that I think have helped us to achieve change.

Talking face-to-face to all of our 2,500 People in real-time is a challenge but we have found a great way of making it happen. We call them ‘cascades’ and we do them twice a year at locations around the country. We get mixed groups of around 100 – 150 People together and share with them the same messages delivered by the same team. We run about twenty of these ‘shows’ each cascade season and the content is always a mix of presentation, group work and, critically, Q&A…which is always lively!

It’s a big commitment, and for the presenters and support team, it’s tiring (and exhilarating!) but the results, both in terms of the engagement at the event and afterwards, are incredible. And without a doubt the most important thing we do is make the events and the content personal – personal stories, personal interaction, personal accountability.

We’ve also focused on face-to-face engagement at a smaller group level through something we call Big Conversations. Every month, I hold a three to four sessions with around 20 of our People at our different offices. There is no agenda other than me giving a quick business performance update and them asking me questions and telling me what is on their mind. Again, the engagement in these sessions is really strong leading to great conversations.

While the set piece events are wonderful, everyday communication in which everyone participates is just as valuable. Social media has fundamentally changed the way we communicate in our personal lives and it’s been a game-changer for us at work too. We use a social channel called Yammer, which has become part of our fabric.

Yammer is the kind of social channel we are all used to away from work – you can have conversations, share news, pictures and videos, ask for help, set up groups, everything. Of course, everyone in our business can, and does use it and participation is incredible. Since we started a couple of years ago, we have had over 190,000 messages posted leading to conversations and in the last month alone over 1,500 different People engaged through Yammer.

The most important thing about Yammer, however, is the openness and honesty of the discussion. We have difficult debates and tough questions are asked, and there are positive and negative comments made. But the reality is better you know the negatives than they remain unsaid!

I have also learned that if this kind of channel is to really cut through then you can’t over-manage, and if you trust your People they will do the regulation for you. In the years we have used Yammer, we have only ever removed two posts, and that was probably two posts too many.

And finally, our newest communications technique is the Big Red Sofa. I have to admit this is an idea I stole from Google – I heard about a company-wide broadcast that Larry & Sergei do every week from HQ…with beer! – and I thought we could give that a go. So every two weeks, our ‘funny man’ PR guy John Greaves, me and a guest have a chat sitting on a sofa and we film it. There is a quick five minute chat beforehand to decide the topics to talk around and then we just have a conversation.

It started out as a recorded piece that was available to view in ‘iPlayer’ format, now it is live with an audience and is streamed to all our sites and everyone’s desk top and mobile devices. Viewing figures increase with every single broadcast and now it is part of who we are…so we’ll never be able to stop. We even produced our own trailer for internal promotion purposes!


Throw in all the usual email comms, team briefings, newsletters etc etc etc and you start to connect with most of your People at least some of the time in ways that work for them and you. And because it’s now a volume play, maintaining consistency and quality of the message is critical.

We think it is working – our engagement score is strong and our People tell us that they are with us on our journey through various methods, Glassdoor being one of them. And, best of all, we are having fun as we go!