From 49 offices around the globe, G-Star coordinates over 6000 points of sale in more than 80 countries. Corporate Responsibility Director, Frouke Bruinsma spoke to Alison Boothby about how and why they needed to improve their internal communication.
For almost 30 years, G-Star RAW has pushed the boundaries of denim design. It has changed an industry obsessed with the past by manifesting its own vision of the future – one that has sustainability at its heart. At the forefront of denim innovation, respect for people and planet informs their approach and they manufacture and supply their product to the very highest ethical standards.
“Since our creation in 1989, G-Star’s philosophy has always been, ‘Just the Product.’ This single-minded approach has led to many denim ‘firsts’ but, as the company has grown, and our focus has switched from wholesale to retail, we realised that we needed to improve our internal communication.” Frouke Bruinsma told me.
What problems are you trying to fix?
“Our ‘Dutch’ approach to communication encourages openness and clarity within our relatively flat organisation. There’s tremendous energy and drive here; it’s a place of collaboration and across our entire business we value innovation, yet our old-fashioned static intranet was not at all in line with who we really are as a business. It wasn’t intuitive and was rather dull. Unsurprisingly, no one was looking at it! We needed to improve our internal communication and, in particular, we needed to reach our non-desk workers in the retail stores without access to a PC and the intranet. And we were keen to get people away from using WhatsApp.
“We looked for a solution that would be interactive, support multimedia, and enable us to communicate worldwide and on mobile.”
Why choose Speakap?
“Speakap was one of the first to offer this type of product and had good functionality. We had looked at several other tools and platforms – Skype/Lync and Google Chat, for example – but realised that just a chat function wasn’t enough. Speakap allows real conversation and gives visibility too.
Another point in its favour is that Speakap works like FaceBook and other common consumer social tools so it’s not a hard sell in terms of knowing how to use it.”
“We have called our platform Raw Connect. With regard to the set up and launch, we started a year ago with a small-scale pilot of 100-150 people in the Netherlands to help work out what the right structure might be. Speakap’s dedicated Customer Success team worked closely with us to set up the organisational hierarchy and the group structure to ensure employees get placed in the relevant areas and have an effective content calendar in place.
“We then had a roll-out plan by country with head office functions first and then the stores. We work through a team of ambassadors who are active in each country; these people tend to be the natural enthusiasts, keen users of social media and are invaluable in encouraging others to share.”
Training & Governance
“Full training has been provided to our global offices. For each region, representatives were assigned to take part in Raw Connect training. With this training we wanted to explain the purpose and the functionalities of our internal communication platform so they could provide training to their local offices. My IC colleague led this training via video conference calls. By the end of the call, we provided them with training material such as a presentation, a manual and a video tutorial on how to upload a profile picture and complete their profile. A year on and we are just getting the last stores on board now so it has been a long, steady process.
“Before we rolled it out to the stores, we made sure our Retail Managers knew about the new platform and understood why we were introducing it. Manuals and infographics helped them introduce the idea to their staff. Then Store Managers had access to the platform earlier than store employees so that they were able to help and offer support to their teams when needed. Wherever possible we encouraged Retail Managers to gather store employees together to explain and train them on the platform. It helps build excitement and enthusiasm around the new technology as well as well as being time efficient, of course.
“In terms of governance we started with very little in terms of rules. It essentially polices itself and as long as everyone has had the same training we are happy to see how it evolves. As an administrator you can access all public groups and, if necessary, delete the updates and posts of others. This never happens, but it’s good to know it’s a possibility.”
Use case examples
Frouke explained that Raw Connect is really helping to improve day-to-day efficiencies as well as bringing people together.
“Our stores are using Raw Connect to upload images of their window displays and visual merchandise. The countries’ VM manager can see if the display is accurate and can easily provide feedback by leaving a comment under their posted image.
“Our HR department uses it to store all HR related information in their own group. This makes it much easier to find important HR information, which is available in one place.
“Our IT Helpdesk has a group with all relevant IT information, from how to install a printer to how to set-up your work email.
“We have one group called: What’s happening at G-Star. In this group, unlike some other groups, everyone can post an update. We just want to have everybody’s input, and especially from our global offices, to keep each other informed about what is happening in their office or country. This really creates more awareness and it’s very easy; you don’t have to have one person who is responsible for posting all this information in the group. Example of updates posted in this group include new store openings, team activities, events, summits, exhibitions and factory visits.
“Before we had Raw Connect, it was pretty difficult to know what was happening in other stores and offices around the world. This definitely makes us feel better connected.”
“To be able to communicate worldwide on mobile across time zones with our 2000+ people in stores has been a huge positive” explained Frouke. “Our senior leader team have embraced it well and it’s definitely a valuable add on to the other comms channels, supporting the regular face to face company briefings. Success at store level really depends on how enthusiastic the store manager is, so this is a target group for ongoing training. It’s great for pushing messages about new product but relies on the stores actively engaging with the platform.
“People were a bit cautious to start with but a year on and the difference in the business and how people communicate and share information with each other is amazing! I’ve seen an immense improvement in communication across the business compared with the old static intranet. It’s a great set up for sharing knowledge, finding out key information and linking up with colleagues around the world.”
“Our single biggest challenge has been getting the structure of groups set up correctly. Speakap is highly customisable with lots of flexibility in how to set it up. We have taken advantage of this at country level although the functionality is more limited for our worldwide groups. It’s a balance of worldwide and functional groups – targeted enough to streamline messaging, but not so focused that there is no broader benefit to a wider community.
“And then adoption is always a challenge. Using Raw Connect is not compulsory but key things are only available on the platform such as people directory – this makes people use the platform, even if they are not actively sharing on it…yet.”
“The platform is incredibly straightforward to use and although adoption has been good in the early stages it is a full-time job to keep on top of it and keep encouraging people to use it. Our small team of ambassadors helped launch the platform and build enthusiasm for it, but it quickly becomes clear that ongoing adoption is all about the content. Having a dedicated person responsible for the platform with a good project team around them is essential. It won’t thrive without this.
“We will continue to get more insight into what types of information is being shared, communicated and discussed between colleagues on a regular basis, and use this to help us decide what email communication can be moved to Raw Connect. We are already identifying where in the business it has had positive impact like reducing use of Whatsapp too.
“Also, we will encourage each other to share fun updates on the platform. Not only strictly business news, but also other updates e.g. events that take place, team activities and achievements. The more we show people what can be shared on the platform, the more likely they are to pick it up and start sharing themselves.
“We are at a point where more and more people are coming with their own ideas. This is exactly what we want, the platform becoming more self-driven.”
Frouke and her colleagues have done a lot of things right and are seeing the benefits of their new communication platform. In hindsight, Frouke admitted that they have learnt a lot too and I asked her to share advice for others who may be embarking on a similar venture.
Here are her top five points:
- Rather than the ‘Just get on with it’ approach, if we did it again we would plan the implementation better! A good project team is the key with HR, Comms, Legal and front- line representatives involved from the outset.
- Think very carefully about the structure of groups. We have spent too much time reworking the structure and it would be better to have spent longer getting it right from the start. When establishing the groups and the content, a content plan helps you to structure and monitor the content on the platform. Find out which areas of your business can provide regular updates and incorporate these into their regular cycle of work – fresh content is essential for ongoing adoption and engagement with the platform.
- People like efficiency and simplicity, especially at work so establish the mandatory and most used documents and information and make sure this is all easy to find. Speakap has a widget on the main timeline where you can place web links. This is where we have placed all our important websites such as the main company website, social media sites and links to the HR and ICT groups inside the app.
- Be very clear about why you are introducing a new technology like this. Train employees on how to use it, however simple and intuitive it may seem.
- Get the positioning right and keep this focus – in our case, it was to replace the static intranet and get a social platform for sharing and internal communication.
“We measure success mostly by monitoring and seeing how much the activity has grown month on month. When you notice more and more people start sharing, posting and commenting, then you know the platform is being embraced and used more and the statistics back this up. If you compare last August, when we had been live for just a month, and the figures for July this year, the numbers have doubled. In the meantime, we have deleted our old intranet and we have added our store employees. In approximately a year, updates have gone from 279 to 1.6K. The use of private messages has tripled and use of the comment section is increasing steadily all the time. Currently, users log in approximately 10 times a day and an average of 31.6% of users is online, each day.
“We are definitely looking at lots of integrations including e-learning, work schedules and a task manager. It’s a super good communication platform and it can really help reach colleagues outside the offices like our retail staff. Our focus is on keeping it active and adding in functionality as and when Speakap release it – things like live streaming, for example. At the moment we can post short video clips but can’t live stream. Speakap are looking to introduce full events functionality, polls and a statistics dashboard too.
“We started with the aim of improving our internal communication, but it will become a one stop shop for employees, making it easier to communicate, collaborate and get work done.”
Speakap will be presenting a case study with Rituals on stage at smilelondon, on November 12th 2018 – find out more here