Want to spread happiness? Try communicating!

Jan 12, 2017
  • people
  • IT
  • sales, marketing and service

“Why should we communicate to our employees? They just need to do their job, that’s all.” That statement is still heard in many a company. Fortunately, there’s a growing number of managers, and IT managers specifically, who understand the power of internal communication in building a great team and steering their company or department through changes.

Why communication matters?

To quote former Chrysler CEO Lee Iacocca, “You can have brilliant ideas, but if you can’t get them across, your ideas won’t get you anywhere.” All of us are communicating constantly, to our friends and families, to our colleagues, to anyone we meet actually. That makes it all the more stunning that the power of communication is so often underestimated in a business context. Through working with IT teams, we have found that a solid communication strategy will take away fear, resistance and uncertainty. Good communication can create an engaging climate where people actually feel empowered to adopt a change.

Last year, we assisted EDF Luminus CIO Peter Billiau when he reorganized his IT team and completely changed the way of collaborating with the business. Honestly, Peter Billiau is one of the most courageous CIOs we have ever met, and the challenges he faced were daunting:

  • The IT staff were weary having undergone too many reshuffles in the past
  • The NPS (Net Promoter Score) was going south at breakneck speed
  • The business was highly critical of whatever the IT department delivered. 

Sounds familiar? 

In his ‘Butterfly’ program, to turn things around, Peter decided to change the organization of his IT department to get a more logical division of tasks between teams while, at the same time, ensuring the separate teams collaborated better and more. Parallel to this, he instigated a spirit of co-creation between business and IT, in order to focus only on these projects that really delivered business value. The basic idea behind this strategy? Working on less projects means a faster time-to-market, more focus and higher quality.

Anything but the kitchen sink

To pull this off, EDF Luminus realized it had to invest in a communication plan that… 

  • Aligned everyone, 
  • Instilled a sense of pride in the IT department, 
  • Raised the trust of business in IT. 

That’s why we drew up a comprehensive plan that took into account internal communication inside the IT department, communication from IT to the business, as well as external communication. We developed a set of messages for IT, all of EDF Luminus and the external world, based on careful groundwork and a detailed stakeholder analysis.

  • In our experience, getting buy-in from people is still best achieved by communicating face to face, not through digital means. Key to the success of the program were frequently held IT Town Hall meetings that gathered the entire IT population and got the IT staff themselves on stage. 
  • A series of open and interactive ‘brown bag’ sessions, outlining the new way the IT team interacted, invited everyone to actively participate in co-creating the functioning of the team. 
  • Openness and interactivity were also key in promoting the use of Yammer as an internal communication tool. Here, IT staff could discuss issues, raise concerns and celebrate successes. 
  • Training everyone in the use of Yammer was part of the success of this medium in our communications mix. 

We intensively worked  together with the Corporate Communications team, using their channels to explain the IT strategy to the entire EDF Luminus population and demonstrate the success of projects. Whenever possible, we asked end-users to talk about their successful collaboration with IT.

Inside out

External communication was the icing on the cake for this project. Not only did we encourage Peter Billiau to confide his thoughts on the change project to blogs published on his LinkedIn profile (which was important in employer branding, as EDF Luminus wanted to recruit new IT talent), we also supported the team in participating in the ICT Project of the Year-contest of Data News. Winning that coveted prize gave a tremendous boost to the credibility of the IT department inside the company. Having the CEO openly congratulate IT with the award was one of the high points in the communication campaign.

The results?

Half a year into the communication program, NPS in the IT department had risen exponentially (more than double the increase of any other department) and business was openly praising IT. We had come a long way, in a short space of time.

We’re not here to stay

“You’ll be crying when you will have to leave us,” CIO Peter Billiau said when we started on the Butterfly project. And indeed, we were sad when the communications story at EDF Luminus ended for us. But it gave us enormous satisfaction to see that our role had been taken over by a communications steerco that we had helped form. From the onset, we had involved a number of communication volunteers among the IT-staff and had worked closely with them during the last months of our 10 month mission. By the time we waved our goodbyes, they knew how to blog, how to manage the internal social media and how to build a long-term communication plan. Whenever we have contact with them now, we feel proud on their achievements and know our work is in good hands.
Author: Caroline Hillaert. You can follow Caroline on Twitter or connect with her on LinkedIn

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