Aviva World – a maturing social intranet


“We have a very clear strategy at Aviva and a clear set of values. We know what we want the business to be doing and the story we need to tell. We also know what people can do differently to contribute to our success. Alignment to strategy is a very big part of what we are here for.”

Jon Hawkins leads global internal comms at Aviva plc, the UK based insurance group that has grown over the years and has almost 30,000 employees around the world. Around half of those employees are in the UK, with the other half spread around the globe. Aviva provides a diverse range of products, including pensions, savings and investments, general insurance, asset management and health products.

“Conversation is a word we use a lot. We used to tell people the strategy. Then we started to give managers tools to have better conversations with their teams. Over the past 3 years we have reduced the amount we tell people and now focus on sharing stimuli; giving them questions and prompts and conversation starters. They come up with the answers themselves. At a Global level we do use social – we ask them to share their thoughts, comments and feedback and even their selfies to create a sense of a global conversation.”

Aviva was an early adopter of digital platforms and so the intranet is a well-established channel and driver in the group’s move to a more digital workplace. Head of Global Digital Channels, Mhairi McLaren brings us up-to-date:

“We are working in a pretty exciting time. We upgraded SharePoint last August and that has made a big difference in adoption levels – particularly outside the UK. In France alone we saw an increase in usage of 290% with similar increases in other markets. We have better tools and templates that are easier to use and lots of the functionality is more effective since the shift to SharePoint 2013.”

The platform – called Aviva World – has been in place for many years. It now supports approximately 7,000 team sites across the globe, with around 450,000 pages of content in 8 languages.

Working effectively in a global business is something both Mhairi and Jon believe can be aided by the right technology. “We do use Lync/Skype for Business and it’s brilliant,” claims Jon. “It has revolutionised meetings and replaced teleconferences. It has made them more effective because you can see someone.

“The best thing I did last year was to go to Canada. I had worked closely with the Canadian team but without meeting them face to face. Anyone in a global comms function will tell you there is always a healthy tension between local country teams and the central team. But going out and meeting them face-to-face has revolutionised attitudes on both sides. Now on Lync calls we can recognise each other’s faces and the whole relationship is more personal and productive.

“Tech helps us drive collaboration by getting people working in cross-functional and often international project teams, sharing best practice, and helping everyone to feel involved. And when it comes to comms, tech allows us to change our role – to one of prompting a conversation and letting others be the contributors. We still have a news page on our intranet but now underneath each piece is a comments box and we end every article with a question to encourage dialogue.”

Visible Leadership though video

Aviva World also acts as a portal for video content – both live and on demand. Mhairi explains:

“In the past 18 months we have ramped up video streaming. It’s become another tool to help us achieve the right outcomes for our people. “We stream sessions with our Group Executive and senior leaders, because face-to-face is not always possible. It was first used in our strategy conversations and it was also key in helping us explain our deal with Friends Life in April 2015.

On Day 1 following the Friends Life deal, Mark Wilson, our Group CEO and Andy Briggs, the new UK Life CEO were online doing a Q&A with a presenter about what it meant for the business and our people. We now use video more regularly to communicate our financial results or explain strategy, or relay analyst days. The feedback is very positive and while we’re always looking to do it better, our people really value being able to have two-way interactions and get those burning questions answered”

Everyone has the opportunity to post a question into a portal to the room where the event is being filmed. We moderate the questions to ensure we get a fair spread representing the various audiences and markets, but also to get a range of topics. Mark Wilson is adamant that no question is off limits. That creates a debate and positivity and the senior team are keen to create a culture of transparency.

“Our senior team have really embraced video streaming – once they could see the impact of sharing key issues with employees and getting immediate feedback. They use these sessions to understand what their people are thinking and the current hot topics.”

Digital first – but not yet mobile first

Being early in the game does mean that Aviva World was designed for a workplace before the true impact of mobile was appreciated.

“Our intranet is not mobile enough,” admits Jon. “ Things are moving quickly so we need to be ahead of the game and forcing the pace. Although our current channels work well, we have to really understand the value of social and online collaboration and that includes access for our people through mobile channels. Or we’ll find ourselves behind the times.

Mhairi agrees. “We may need an app. Or we might not. But we have to ask why would people use it instead of Aviva World if everyone has a computer on their desk? We are not blindly chasing mobile and apps: we are looking for opportunities where we can hit our outcomes. We know we need to consider mobile but we want it to address a specific need.”

Mhairi admits that contact centres, where many of Aviva’s UK employees work, are the most interesting group for Aviva World usage.

“Our front line people are on the phones helping our customers. When they have breaks or lunch they use their own phones to catch up on Facebook or other social media – they don’t necessarily use Aviva World.

“We are thinking about where mobile needs to feature in our communication to employees, but we need to understand what it would achieve and think about what it means for all of our employees.

Thriving communities

“We have both social forums and business forums on Aviva World. The forum posts are active conversations between employees with many challenging questions being asked. However for many, the business forums have a specific purpose: 70% of posts are asking for information and employees use the forums to simply help each other. The social forums cover topics ranging from gaming, rugby, Game of Thrones to how far any British teams will get in Euro 2016.”

Mhairi concedes that the forums are most active in the UK. Other markets have been slower to adopt because of language and culture, but now staff in Canada and France are becoming more involved. To support employees and encourage best practice usage, the forums and online community sites on Aviva World are moderated by an experienced Community Manager who works in Mhairi’s channels team.

“We also encourage the creation of more community sites that allow people to post pictures and form a community that drives engagement in the company. For instance Heartbeat of Aviva is a community where people anything which demonstrates why they are proud to work for Aviva – from our recent Red Cross Mapathon, to volunteering or fundraising opportunities to the LGBT Allies event.”

Crowdsourcing a better way of working

Although Aviva World has been around a long time, it is not immune from financial review. Mhairi admits that the costs are always being looked at.

“It can be challenging but it does make us think about whether we are we using it in the best most effective way. To be a successful business, costs always need to be a consideration”.

One benefit to the business is an annual ideation programme called the Customer Cup. Teams are encouraged to come together around a captain and a sponsor to register innovative ideas on how to improve the business.

“Aviva World is the platform that supports the whole competition. Employees come up with suggestions on things like how to improve processes; how to make a document easier to complete using digital tools or a new niche product to support a particular group. In 2015 the programme generated 680 ideas across 18 markets. Those teams went through a rigorous process and were whittled down to a top 10 at the Final, where the ideas are presented to members of the Group Executive, including the Group CEO.”

The top idea is awarded £10,000 to take it forward into implementation – a much coveted prize. Aviva World supports the idea generation, the team support, the judging process and the communications before, during and after the competition.

External pressures

Like most financial services companies, Aviva is pursuing a digital first strategy when it comes to interacting with customers.

“We want to make it simpler and more pleasant to do business with us. We are actively streamlining the online process. The myAviva app usage is growing fast and customers are embracing our approach, just as they have with online banking. Mhairi is clear, “We want to do the same for our employees with the tools we use internally. “Our biggest challenge now is to keep Aviva World relevant and up to date. I strongly believe that it is a tool to help people do their jobs rather than just a communications tool and that it should continue to grow and deliver those benefits on a global scale.”

Jon Hawkins agrees:

“As communicators we need to force the pace or we will blink and fail.”