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Behind the scenes at Scottish Water’s IoIC award winning event
By Jack Burrows
In a period of financial austerity, you could perhaps forgive some companies for investing their resources into a corporate event. How do you manage engagement, and come up with a “proud” collective of staff if you don’t find ways of bringing them together?
Simply-communicate caught up with Ruth Findlay, internal communications manager at the public-owned water business, Scottish Water, to find out more about their recent award winning event, the keys to their success, and her thoughts on the use of events as a tool to instil employee engagement.
Scottish Water captures IoIC Scotland Best Live Communications Event, National Best Live Communications Event and Overall Gold Award
For Findlay and her team, winning the Scottish live event award was something of a surprise:
“I didn’t expect it. I thought we had a really strong event, however the difficulty with events is, unless you’re actually there, as a judge I’m sure it’s really quite difficult to understand the impact that an event has and be able to feel the energy impact it has.”
However their teams’ IoIC submission did enough to convince that amongst all the other very tough competition, their event was award-worthy, both in Scotland and at National level. Back home at the Scottish Awards however, nothing could have prepared the team for what was to follow, as they took the prestigious Gold Award home that evening. “We didn’t imagine winning the Gold Award for one second,” Findlay enthuses. “For us that was really, really unexpected and just fantastic!”
“Shaping Our Future”; what’s it all about?
In 2009 Scottish Water launched their ‘Vision’ to become “Scotland’s most valued and trusted business”. This ‘Vision’ would be communicated through a multitude of different routes so as to give their people, stakeholders and customers a clear picture of Scottish Water’s business and aspirations. Employees grasped it with both hands.
Two years on, Scottish Water decided that they wanted to continue to involve and engage their staff by informing them about how they were performing on their journey towards the ‘Vision’, and to invite staff to voice their own opinions of the direction of Scottish Water’s future. A core team created the concept and months of planning, research and extensive organising resulted in the “Shaping Our Future” events being born.
Twelve events took place at different locations across Scotland, from the Borders to the Outer Hebrides; nine in mainland Scotland, and three in the Isles. 3,200 employees attended the events, while each mainland event had between 300-400 delegates. Hundreds of employees were involved in the running of the events – whether logistics, content creation or delivery. This helped to build a sense of shared ownership for the message.
One of the real successes from the event was in its delivery. As Findlay tells me, “There were no boring PowerPoint presentations,” but instead multimedia presentations from company directors utilizing audio, video clips, imagery and animations alongside panel based discussions.
In addition, there were interactive exhibits and workshops, all manned by Scottish Water staff, to demonstrate what the business might look like in the future. Findlay explains how this tactic was key:
“Taking something that on the face of it seems quite dry, but using ways that bring out people’s creative instincts you can come up with a range of fun and engaging tools.” Indeed, Findlay found that employees were learning without even realising it, as they worked on key issues via specially designed monopoly boards.
“The success was down to finding something that is a bit creative, a bit different and a bit fun, and that works really well with our employees. At the end of the day, you can have a great story to tell, but you need to make sure your planning and logistics are spot on, otherwise that will ultimately let you down. We have a very strong planning ethos in the team here, and we are meticulous about the detail. We have a great events team, and a strong commitment to our events from our senior leadership and employees in general – this makes a tremendous difference.”
Is the employee event ‘dead’?
A source of debate recently has been whether the corporate event is in fact somewhat ‘dead’ in today’s society; with many companies’ reluctance to spend and invest, are such occasions merely a waste of corporate time and money?
Findlay claims she understands such concerns, noting that unless out-sourced, events are “very labour intensive, stretching and all-consuming.” She suggests however, that they do work, at least for her company:
“It’s an interesting debate because we do see a good return for events; so is that something just unique to us here? Maybe it just suits our demographic or maybe it’s something about the way we’re doing it.”
While quick to admit that she can only comment on the work that is done at Scottish Water, Findlay advises me that the concept of the ‘event’ can still prove to be effective, as long as they are used appropriately, and meet a necessary need.
“We go to considerable lengths to ensure we have detailed, thorough understandings of what our audience wants and their needs, and also what they think and feel about the organisation. I do get the feeling that sometimes events happen for the sake of it, whereas what we do is identify a business and employee need, and then utilise and structure events to engage people with it.”
Indeed, there are a whole host of issues that attribute why events work for Scottish Water. One of the company’s biggest challenges is reaching out to and engaging with staff across “disparate” locations, and so by bringing them together at events Findlay notes that they “feel as part of ‘one’ big organisation, which is key.”
But how do you convince employees that these events are not a one-off and that their opinions do matter, as well as remove employee cynicism towards corporate initiatives? For Findlay and her team, the strong belief is “that it’s all to do with telling a compelling story” and using a range of communication techniques.
“There’s no point getting employees together and standing in front a big screen full of charts and PowerPoint and everything else; telling them a story that is so dull that they’ll never engage with it, they’ll never remember it.”
Findlay claims this to be the most important feature as to why their event was so successful. Following what she describes as a process of “meticulous planning”, they made sure their ‘story’ was compelling, inclusive, and told in real terms, to ensure their audience could listen to it, provoke thought, and that it would resonate with employees all over Scotland, no matter what their role.
Since the event, Scottish Water has noted an increase in employee engagement scores compared with scores from the previous year. Indeed, at the beginning of 2011, 56% of employees felt ‘engaged’, while in Spring 2012 this has increased to 70%. “I understand that the survey company have never seen results like this, so that’s extremely satisfying,” Findlay explains.
Other qualitative feedback found a significant rise in the number of employees who are inspired by the vision, feel proud of Scottish Water, and positive about the future, Findlay remarks, “I can’t say that it’s all down to these events, but I think and I’d hope they’ve made a real impact.”
Looking to the future
Following the success of their live events, Findlay noted the temptation is there for Scottish Water to repeat their program, although warned of the dangers.
“There has to be the need. There is a danger that if you keep running these events every couple of years you can get into a routine of just doing it; losing sight of what you’re aiming to achieve.”
It is clear from our interview that new strategies will undoubtedly be thought about, however for now the job for Findlay and the Scottish Water team will be to ensure that the current engagement they have from employees is maintained, and that “as people’s expectations rise, we keep ahead of the game, which is challenging.”
Jack Burrows is a contibuting writer to simply-communicate.
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