Adapting internal comms to changing situations
In this episode of Engaging Internal Comms we are talking with Tanya Pakhuta about adapting internal comms to changing situations. Tanya is Senior Global Internal Communications Manager at LeasePlan.
Tanya is a fluent English, Dutch, Ukrainian and Russian speaker and is a passionate communications professional with experience across diverse industries with expertise in internal communications on a global level. Prior to LeasePlan, Tanya worked at Canon and several other major multi-national businesses. Tanya is also a qualified dance instructor and we will find out how she has combined that talent with her IC role later in the interview.
Tanya is based in Amsterdam which is a fantastic city despite its poor weather! LeasePlan is a car leasing company operating in two large and growing markets:
- Car-as-a-Service for new cars and
- High-quality 3–4 year-old used car market.
So essentially to put it in simple words LeasePlan purchases vehicles directly from the manufacturers and finds and manages these vehicles for its customers. They also provide a complete end-to-end service for a typical contract lasting 3-4 years. In carnext.com this is a digital marketplace for high end used cars and is supplied by the LeasePlan fleet and also some third-party suppliers. Altogether LeasePlan have about 1.9 million cars on the road in 32 countries with over 8,000 employees so is a large and complex business from a people perspective. Tanya is responsible for the internal comms for all the employees though they do have focal points in each country which are part of Tanya’s responsibility.
Responding to the challenges of a global pandemic
Tanya explains that it feels like we have been going in circles after going through the first wave of lockdown, then a certain degree of freedom, then back to lockdown with no end in sight despite the production of a vaccine. For an internal comms professional this has been a very challenging time. From one day to another Tanya and her team have had to rethink how they were going to operate. They had to decide how to approach COVID and they had to figure it out fast. One thing they learnt very quickly is that silence wasn’t an option. They found it was better to over-communicate rather than under-communicate so that’s when they put all hands-on deck. They also realised all the carefully crafted plans that they had made for 2020 could be thrown in the bin and they had to start over. LeasePlan’s senior leadership team played a key role in this as well as they knew what to do and how to do it. They were very responsive, and they knew how to communicate. They had to keep adapting internal comms to the changing situation.
Honesty and transparency is key
The first thing that they did for the sake of honesty and transparency was to make their CEO, CCO and other senior leaders available for three hours every Wednesday to speak directly to their employees on an all employee call. They made it three hours to cover all the 32 countries and different time zones. Tanya has been asked why they wouldn’t simply record the message and then replay it, which would have been possible, but for the CEO it was a priority to make himself available to people. He wanted the employees to know he was there for them and taking the time to walk everyone through what is happening and make them understand what it is they can do.
There was also practical advice on how to talk to the customers and make sure they were transparent with them too when talking about their contracts. People were hungry for these types of communications, it was the first time the CEO had been so available to everyone and Tanya thinks people needed that. They had thousands of people dialling in to each call every week eager to hear what the CEO had to say that day. This call played a key role in their strategy when they first started doing it. Craig confirmed he’d heard the importance of transparency and visibility and also the willingness of leaders to step forward and field some difficult questions in other organisations. Tanya explains that the internal comms team managed the Q&A side of things for the CEO, employees could log in and ask questions and then get an almost immediate response.
Building a community to keep people connected
The immediate priority was to stay afloat as a business and the CEO sessions provided a platform to ensure everyone is up to date. The next thing was focussing on people’s physical, spiritual, intellectual and community needs. The CEO understood that now was the time to make this happen, we needed to be there for our people and build on the community that has been around for the last 50 years at LeasePlan. Working from home and in lockdown circumstances was not something that LeasePlan was used to, it was a totally new concept. As a comms department they were met with the challenge of how do they make this happen digitally?
Within two weeks they had a digital platform up and running called Nextgen LeasePlan community. The platform was packed full of activities for each day of the week to feed the employees body, mind, soul and community spirit. Previous to this LeasePlan had a fairly standard and traditional mix of internal comms channels such as the global internet, local internet, the company newsletter, digital signage in some of the offices and global email.
New platforms for communication
Prior to the pandemic the comms team were starting to look at using different platforms for communication but had wanted to do it in a planned and well thought out manner but within two weeks of lockdown they had launched new communication channels using Yammer and Instagram. Why Instagram? Tanya explains that the IT departments have been working hard to provide a secure working from home environment for their people so there’s been quite a bit of restriction on which platforms could and couldn’t be used.
From their platform they ideally wanted interactivity, engagement and something familiar that people already knew how to use so there would be no need to invest in extensive training. It didn’t take long for the comms team to decide on Instagram. Another key element they wanted to implement was live streaming and Instagram provided an easy solution for this.
“So, we started using an external channel for internal communication purposes.”
Instagram was set up alongside Yammer with the distinction that things not suitable for Instagram could go on Yammer, so the two channels worked hand in hand.
Practical tips on using Instagram as a platform
The four ‘buckets’ that the comms team used were:
For each bucket they had a list of activities that they would offer to their employees to partake in every day. Each week a schedule would be published of what was happening when on each day so people could follow it. For example, for the body bucket they introduce high intensity interval training (even for kids as they were suddenly at home 24/7), yoga lessons and dance workouts. The yoga lessons were taught by an employee in LeasePlan Greece who is a certified yoga instructor on Monday and Wednesday mornings via Instagram live feed stories. Tanya decided to take off her ‘internal comms’ hat twice a week and teach the dance classes she would normally teach at a gym. She was very happy to do this as she couldn’t teach at the gym and it was the perfect way for her to interact with the employees on a different level.
Tanya explains that they used Instagram mainly for the livestreaming activities which were mostly physical activities but also for daily mindfulness sessions. In the soul bucket they also used it for an introduction to Enneagram which is a system that explains all the different personality types and they invited guest speakers to discuss it further.
They also introduced a “Meet the Team” series where Tanya would interview the senior leaders from the organisation about what they do, their focal points, how are they responding to the COVID challenges and so on. This meant their people felt much more engaged with, for example, the managing director of LeasePlan in Finland who they wouldn’t normally have any touch points with.
Using Yammer alongside Instagram
To Tanya’s great surprise the uptake of Yammer was also successful. She’d always been reluctant to open up those gates as she wanted to have a structure in place before it was put into use but then life has other plans. It actually worked out very well, people knew how to use it and kept on engaging with all the content (everyone knows how hashtags work). This was when they got to do some of their most fun stuff, for example, lip sync challenges to “I Will Survive” and “Can’t Touch This”. They saw the CEO lip sync and dance together with his dog in his living room!
One of the most popular engagements was ‘The LeasePlan Games’, each week a challenge was launched by one of Tanya’s colleagues and the first week the CEO kicked it off with a plank dance with his daughter. They had various submissions and each week they would vote for the person they thought had performed the best in the challenge. They’ve seen a variety of skills such as juggling, dancing, spinning bowls on their fingertips, doing burpees, all sorts of things.
Adapting internal comms to changing situations
Tanya explains that they’d done so much in such a short space of time that some people must have felt bombarded with all the activities going on but they knew it couldn’t go on long term, so they had to look at their communication strategy weekly. They asked the questions ‘Where are we now?’ and ‘What is the most important need our employees have that we can satisfy at the moment?’. They knew they couldn’t go on singing and dancing around forever, so they’ve moved on in their strategy.
For example, their approach to Instagram has completely changed, it is now an employer branding platform and where they shout to the outside world about what LeasePlan is all about. It’s now a channel they would like not only their customers to follow but potential employees, suppliers and clients. This is a real change in their communication approach due to the pandemic and is going well even though it is all fairly new.
Rather than having five activities, five days a week they’re now going to pick big projects that they can focus on no matter what the circumstances to help connect their employees to each other and keep that sense of belonging that they have created.
One of the projects Tanya is particularly keen on is ‘LeasePlan runs to the moon’ where the employees are encouraged to walk/run/bike the distance from the earth to the moon. Every mile that is completed turns into money for charities that support mental health. It was launched a couple of weeks ago and the employees are absolutely ecstatic, posting pictures from runs and walks, taking their kids with them etc. There’s a leader board so you can see who’s first, second and third which encourages people to leave their house and simply go for a walk, you don’t have to be training for a marathon. This project is something that LeasePlan are going to run for the whole of 2021 as it’s been so well received and is a collective goal for the whole community.
The change of use of Instagram seemed to happen organically over time and everyone seemed to understand what was happening. It is full of faces and testimonials from employees, every second Friday they have a LeasePlanner who takes over Instagram and does ‘A day in the life of…’ which is a good way to learn more about each other. What does it mean to be a commercial account director, an insurance manager or a marketing manager in Greece? These are the things that the comms team are busy with at the moment along with positioning themselves as a forward-thinking company in terms of diversity and inclusion, this is a big thing on the agenda at the moment.
In terms of other platforms Tanya thinks they’ve also developed a bit more on Yammer and they’ve also adopted a Microsoft Teams way of working. They’ve also plotted their global intranet into Microsoft Teams so whenever anyone opens up Microsoft Teams for a meeting, they will see what’s happening within the organisation. It might seem like a simple thing, but it took quite a while working together with the digital team to make sure it worked seamlessly for everyone regardless of device. This solved the issue of having almost too many channels, so now they are all in one place it makes them accessible to everyone and everyone knows where to find them. This has led to a spike in data in terms of views, readership and the comments and likes have gone through the roof which is a really big thing for LeasePlan.
Learning about comms in a pandemic
The comms team, and Tanya personally, have learnt so much this year –
“the pandemic might have been the best thing that happened to our careers”
While this might sound dark the world has changed completely overnight and as communicators, they had to stay ahead, act fast, be creative and not be afraid. The key learning for Tanya would be to see how eager their employees were to engage with each other while being physically apart. For a traditional organisation like LeasePlan, it was incredible to see that people were so hungry to have contact with each other, engage with each other and to build this true sense of community which elevated LeasePlan’s culture further.
All the initiatives they created for employees were so well received that they really got to know each other on a different level, they’ve met each other’s families in various situations. If someone had told Tanya two years ago that this was going to happen, she would have laughed, she couldn’t see this change in communication coming. This is something that money can’t buy and it’s a big testament to their culture and the people that work at LeasePlan as they make the company what it is.
Tanya would like to keep this level of engagement going forward. Another thing would be to keep being honest and transparent at any time, even when things aren’t going right because by doing this, you’re opening up the doors for people to add value. At the end of the day, for their own job satisfaction, everyone wants to add value as they’re not there only for the pay cheque, they want to feel like they contribute. This is a lesson they learnt through the whole process as they became closer to each other while they were physically apart.
Craig agrees that this has been a tremendous opportunity to learn and he’s heard this a lot from the people that he speaks to. Despite all the negatives of the pandemic people have been able to draw on inner strength and look at it as a chance to learn and reflect on. We need to recognise that we can’t just go back to ‘business as usual’ and the old way of doing things in so many different areas.
Tanya admits that she’s still learning every day, especially during this last year and will continue to learn in 2021. The key takeaway personally for her is that you shouldn’t be afraid to be brave and experimental in communications. Be creative, there are other ways of doing things and if you make communications more human, they will be more successful, and you will see the results.
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