Bringing company purpose to life for your people | S1 E10

First published: 11 August, 2020

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Bringing company purpose to life for your people | S1 E10

How do you share company purpose with your people?

In this episode of Engaging Internal Comms, The Big Picture People’s Craig Smith talks to Hannah Shepherd about sharing company purpose with your people.

Hannah’s role is Head of Customer Marketing at Virgin Media, where she has worked for 16 years. She has held a variety of roles, from retail to external communications, including positions such as Head of Retail Experience and Head of Internal Communications.

Hannah shares a plethora of stories and examples that demonstrate the role of communications in an organisation. Her passion for her work shines through.

Experience shapes knowledge, which shapes business strategy

Hannah shares her journey to employment with Virgin Media – from a musician with big dreams to a role in internal communications – before diving into the knowledge she gained from her in-store role and how that has helped inform her in her position in internal comms.

She describes how her in-depth knowledge of the front line – the capability of store staff to access communication channels and her knowledge of what customers want – made her a go-to person at a senior level very quickly, and the passion she maintains for connecting front line needs and business strategy.

Getting to the crux of an issue

One of Hannah’s most memorable experiences at Virgin is the story of a ground-breaking connection between the customer journey and the employee journey. The company wished to “map out the customer journey, uncovering all the customer touch points.

What they discovered was that customers felt that staff were pushy, and that the customer wasn’t being listened to. All that mattered was making the sale. Typically, this learning would result in training needs for employees, or, perhaps, even disciplinary measures.

Instead, though, what Virgin Media did was map out the employee journey ‘underneath’ the customer journey. What they discovered by doing this was that “the member of staff was under tremendous pressure because of the commission scheme.” Employees were concerned that they wouldn’t get a bonus or even be fired for underperformance. The root cause of the issue – how employees treated customers – was the incentive scheme.

Hannah describes this discovery as “the secret sauce, and to learn “this is the crux of the issue and this is where we need to go to make tweaks and changes to be able to enable our staff… to do a good job.

In short, Hannah is now acutely aware of the need to always explore both sides of an issue to fully understand it and take the correct course of action.

Listening to employees

It is often said that the most important communication skill is listening, and this certainly proved the case in Hannah’s role in internal comms at virgin media.

The more we spoke to staff,” she says, “the more we found out that they had amazing top tips.

But listening isn’t enough. Having listened and learned so much, Virgin Media created a platform on which employees could share their tips as best practices – user-generated content that really makes a difference. Hannah shares examples of how this works, before moving on.

Company purpose in action – winning the hearts and minds of employees

A couple of years ago, Virgin Media’s new CEO wanted to relaunch the organisation’s purpose:

Building connections that really matter.”

The internal coms team shared research and stories, and its leaders talked around purpose constantly. Hannah describes Virgin Media’s culture in many terms, but the sense of fun and cheekiness of the company is evident in all it does. The company purpose is serious, but is delivered in ways that confirm its authenticity, including in how leaders behave.

Hannah says that components of effective internal comms strategies that have successfully connected employees to the organisation’s purpose include:

  • Talking and listening to employees
  • Providing a platform to encourage user-generated content
  • Interviewing people across the business, helping them to understand the part they play toward delivering purpose
  • Keeping purpose alive in conversations
  • Making it alright to point out practices that don’t align with purpose

Hannah says it is crucial to mirror how people communicate and receive information outside of work to cut through the noise. Virgin Media have used short video clips to do this successfully. You’ll love the story of the CEO and COO getting matching tattoos that prove just how cheeky the Virgin Media culture can be (I’ll say no more!).

The Virgin Media purpose comes to life

As the discussion moves to the situation of COVID-19 and the lockdown, Hannah says that it has served to prove that the organisation really does live by its purpose. “If ever you needed a test to see if your purpose was true, this global pandemic is certainly one of those.” She has been stunned by the way that employees have stayed connected and collaborated across functions to ensure that customers also stayed connected.

Internal and external communications – not so far apart

While Hannah’s last role focused on internal communications, her current role focuses on customers. She sees huge overlap between the two functions:

They are different but so similar in the sense that communication is at the heart of it. Making sure it’s giving people the information they want and need. And it’s doing it in an engaging way.

Whether it’s to your people or your customers, it’s exactly the same methodology. I think all that stuff is really transferrable.

Useful links

Hannah’s LinkedIn profile: https://www.linkedin.com/in/hannah-shepherd-51ba0749/

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