10 minutes with Kirsty Walden, IC Manager Ageas UK

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Digital Social Network

Kirsty Walden has made an impressive impact at Insurance company Ageas. She’s led a revolution to their Internal Communication by putting Workplace by Facebook at the centre of their IC Strategy. Now she is off to Brussels to launch Workplace by Facebook for the Ageas Group. Here is her story:

Why did you decide to develop an employee social network?

I joined Ageas UK two years ago. A new Communications Director had just been appointed and there was a sense that internal communications wasn’t performing as well as it could. There had been a lot of merger and acquisition activity over the previous years, many legacy channels were not fit for purpose and there were further regulatory pressures in the industry more generally. In short internal communications was not seen as a credible function.

We had the chance to consider how we’d approach rebuilding the function with a clean sheet of paper. I knew that the only way I could get the Board’s buy-in to some radical changes was if we could play back real data and examples so we conducted a thorough audit which included quantitative surveys and a series of senior leader interviews as well as some employee focus groups.

Kirsty Walden, Ageas

What was your strategy for internal communications?

We went for a fairly radical re-organisation and stripped the internal communications function right back to basics, focusing on getting the quality of output and correctly measuring impact. We reduced the headcount and used more agencies to give us both flexibility over skills and the expertise required for different challenges.  We worked on the very clear principles that the internal team were strategic advisors and Business Partners to Ageas. From the audit activity we identified a number of challenges with the intranet and that many saw it as a ‘broken’ communications tool so we changed the emphasis on it as a channel .

The audit also identified a clear need to identify cultural issues and so the high priority was for an Enterprise Social Network tool. We understood that only by introducing a social community did we have a chance of building a cohesive culture where employees were not overly-reliant on email.

Why did you choose Workplace by Facebook?

We looked at a range of tools, including Jive which I had used at another large organisation, but it did appear to be the MySpace to Facebook. We also liked the Workplace business model in that you only pay for the licences you use and you can switch it off at a month’s notice.

How did you introduce the platform?

We kicked off with a good pilot group made up of representatives of the people we really want to reach: these 1,000 UK employees came from a wide variety of demographics and business functions including Selected Sales & Service call centres and partner brands like Toyota and John Lewis.

Did you use champions in the pilot?

We have a good network of Communication Connectors who were our champions from Day One. We made sure they understood that WorkPlace is not just a comms/chat tool but a real business tool. We helped them experiment with the functionality but most of all we were looking at their behaviour online.

The way you can get a community to thrive is by knowing what works. It is a living breathing conversation.

What were the results of the pilot?

The results were off the scale, we smashed all the KPIs. We hired Swoop to do the analytics for the full roll out as the stats out of the box from WorkPlace are very basic. With Swoop we are able to get a better sense of the quality and sentiment of engagement, plus we can drill into who is posting and commenting by function and geography.

The only KPI we did not hit was for mobile usage, but as most company phones are on the Windows platform and personal devices are banned in the workplace for many this isn’t surprising. Nevertheless Swoop did show us that there was high usage out of work hours and on weekends.

So how did the full launch go?

We got the go ahead from the UK Board for a full-scale deployment. But as we headed towards launch we hit a snag and had to delay for two months while our compliance, information security and legal teams did final check to ensure we’d considered all the risks. It was a huge learning for me: get your alliances in early with these key teams. They need to be involved from the start.

When we finally got the go-ahead I did not want to wait any longer.  That meant the launch plan was not as perfect as it could have been but we balanced that with the need to capitalise on the momentum from the pilot and followed-up with a training programme to upskill the right people.

How did you encourage adoption from the start?

We immediately stopped sending out senior leader emails, and replaced the all-employee email from the Chief Executive with a video interview ‘Update with Andy’, adding subtitles to this more creative communication so it could be viewed in the office without headphones.

Suddenly people had something to react to and a real personal they can relate to.

We did the same with our new IT director when he joined, introducing him to the whole IT community by Livechat. People could send him questions ahead of broadcast, which went down really well.

How has the new platform benefitted the business?

The first effect was to improve people’s confidence.  More and more people came to us looking for video and animations so they will be stand out on the network with their key messages. It is about curation – our job is to help people present their stories in a more compelling way.

Workplace Live has revolutionised the way communication is done at Ageas. People can use video to have live meetings where before it would have been a conference call.

And the groups have become a business tool for collaborating and working together better. Someone working in claims can now communicate directly with the team who arrange car repairs helping them find new suppliers and processes to help our customers.

What have you learnt from the process?

Some of the feedback is that it’s too dynamic. The newsfeed changes too quickly for some and they yearn for content that is more static; we have listened and a new intranet is planned.

We have also learnt to be careful in the introduction of innovations. There were a lot of discussions around the format of Workplace. For instance, gifs have caused uproar. They are either loved or hated depending on people’s age. So we have spent time educating the comms connectors when to use them.

Some of our colleagues have struggled with the Workplace user experience. The dynamic personalised service of content is never the same for everyone yet some are more comfortable with a linear and chronicle service of content. It was a big education process to show people how to refine their feed through the right use of groups. Notifications are also something that can cause stress until people learn how to tailor them.

What is your strongest piece of advice to any team putting in a new employee social network?

The challenge is not about the platform it is about cultural change and about allowing the organisation to use the platform to collaborate.

Can you give me an example?

This September, the Ageas Management Forum will meet for the top 800 managers from around the world. We want to use Workplace as the default platform where content will be posted both before, during and after the event. This will replace the event app and website as a living, breathing interactive channel.

To help launch Workplace by Facebook at a global level I am taking on a secondment in Brussels with Group to spread these new best practices beyond the UK.


Kirsty Walden will be onstage at smileexpo with Julien Lesaicherre to explore how they are using Workplace by Facebook at Ageas in the UK. Also joining them is Roeland van der Heiden, Digital Director at AstraZeneca.