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How Aviva UK got employees on board with its business strategy
By Kelly Kass
It isn’t often you see companies with 20,000 employees successfully engage their staff while communicating their business plan.
In November 2010, Aviva UK introduced “Our Plan” after leadership approached the internal communication team to assist them in articulating their strategic goals to become the most recommended company in their markets (retirement, investment and insurance). The region-wide plan would involve its Life, General Insurance, Health and roadside protection businesses – a first for the company.
The challenge of the program: to share Aviva’s story in an engaging way to diverse audiences with various needs and wants. So, in the summer of 2010, extensive research was conducted by the in-house internal communications team to learn about employee demographics and what they wanted to learn more about and how they wanted to hear it. That way, the company could fully understand who worked for Aviva UK and their communication needs.
The research involved 2000 employees working at all levels and disciplines to see if different employees had different communication needs. Among the methods used were focus groups, telephone interviews, face-to-face meetings and an online survey. In each, staff were asked how and when they wanted to hear about Aviva UK’s business strategy.
After gathering the feedback, one thing was clear: a single solution wouldn’t work for everyone – employees wanted different amounts of information communicated in different ways.
Vicky Bulman, Senior Communications Consultant at Aviva UK, recalls:
“The first step for us was to establish two test groups. One was made up of leaders across the business - directors and team heads. The second group was comprised of colleagues from all levels and all areas of the business - we had about 50 in this group. Both groups helped us shape both what and how we communicated our corporate strategy, providing feedback on how the solution and messages we were proposing would land in their parts of the business.
Along with this we worked with the strategy team and our UK executive to shape the story."
So what came out of the 5-month research?
“For us, a big thing we learned was that employees wanted to hear this kind of information from their heads of departments. So those leaders would now take on more significant roles in delivering corporate strategy communications to their teams,” Bulman explains.
To assist leaders with the process, at the annual senior management conference in November 2011, each were given the necessary materials to communicate Aviva UK’s business plan to their team. This included a booklet on how to run an effective session, discussion exercises and supporting material, an interactive CD ROM and templates consisting of blank boxes for department heads to articulate their team plan - clearly showing how it links with the UK goals.
“The reason behind giving leaders a template for communicating their area plan was to make it easy in a visual way for everyone to have a clear line of site to how they could contribute to the overall company objectives,” Bulman explains.
"Our UK exec briefed everyone at the conference, explaining the role of heads to in ensuring they went back and briefed their teams using the materials they'd received in their 'Our Plan' 2011 pack. They also sampled some of the film and discussion exercises, going through the materials they'd have to then roll out to their teams."
Leaders also took part in discussion exercises and watched training videos. Meanwhile, supporting materials were also posted on Aviva UK’s intranet and supplied on a CD ROM containing footage of customers, employees and senior executives. Enabling these different tools would support managers whether they were at their desks or on the road, and they could access the information at their convenience.
After the conference, heads of departments returned to the office to communicate the high level objectives of what Aviva UK wanted to achieve in 2011, what their team would do to support this, and how every colleague could play their part in the success of the UK business.
The aim was for everyone in the UK to have an "Our Plan 2011" session by the end of January 2011.
A post-implementation survey analyzing the success of “Our Plan 2011” sought to reveal how well the initiative met its objectives to help employees better understand the business priorities.
• 95% of respondents understood the UK plan and 94% understood the plan for their part of the business;
• 90% were motivated by the session;
• 93% understood how their area contributes to the plan;
• 97% felt compelled to go the extra mile to make the plan work;
• 81% felt excited and inspired;
• 95% found the experience helpful and informative;
• 78% believe the plan is the correct approach to achieve Avivia UK’s vision.
• 65% reported they were proud to work for Aviva UK; many would recommend Aviva products, services and as a place to work.
Looking at last year’s feedback, Bulman and her team are currently rolling “Our Plan 2012".
“The main summaries revealed less is more. Employees wanted shorter, more regular updates on our business strategy. So instead of two large sessions in January, and at half year, we’ve opted for a smaller launch sessions in January, and we’ll provide regular updates throughout the year," Bulman explains.
She continues, “People told us that they enjoyed and got a lot of value from the varied delivery formats and particularly the discussion exercises, so this was something we retained for 'Our Plan 2012'.
This year's proposal was built on the position of strength after a successful roll-out in 2011. Sure, we had areas to tweak, but we had opportunities to take it to the next level."
That includes helping colleagues understand more about the external context – Aviva’s market, customers, competitors, as well as macro-economic and regional influences.
“Our employee test group revealed a massive appetite to understand a bit more about the economic environment and how it affected Aviva’s share price. There’s also a strong desire to better understand what our products are and how they work, as some of them are fairly complex,” Bulman points out.
“Our Plan 2011” has been recognized by the Institute of Internal Communications (IoIC) who recently presented Aviva UK with the national award for 'best communication of organizational strategy'.
So what were the real key ingredients of developing and executing a winning business initiative?
According to Bulman, “It’s about how you approach the testing and engage with employees while being completely open to what the results of your research will be. I led the test groups in 2011 and 2012 so I made sure I recruited people who were passionate about creating effective internal communications and the impact of communicating well.”
As she continues to roll out “Our Plan” in 2012 (with plans to wrap up the initiative by the end of February), Bulman says she’s engaged with her test group of 75 employees to “make them feel their contributions matter and show them that their comments have shaped the communications relevance to their 20,000 colleagues across the UK.”
Thus far, she says, the feedback has been extremely strong.
“I’ve had amazing feedback from employees thanking me for letting them take part in the research. As a result of the program, we’re truly creating a work force of passionate ambassadors for Aviva UK.”
Vicky Bulman's top tips for communicating your business strategy to a large audience:
• Research, research, research. Having a really clear view of what your audience wants and needs from the intervention means you can develop something that will really hit the mark when it’s rolled out.
• Keep an open mind – you might be surprised by what some of your research tells you!
• Keep it simple - by keeping the number of catchphrases and priorities to an absolute minimum.
• Design a flexible solution – in a large business, one size is unlikely to fit all. "Our Plan" is designed so you can run a 2-hour session, or split it into several smaller sessions. There are also options on how to run certain parts of the session – such as have table discussions or get everyone on their feet moving around the room.
• Get buy-in from your leadership team from the start. Ultimately you’re articulating their vision for the company, so they need to be integral to the design process.
To contact Vicky for further tips and information, you can contact her via her LinkedIn page:
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