Employee Communication Employee Engagement Storytelling

Guest Interview & Case Study | Binu Merin Jacob | Building a Culture of Learning with Internal Communications

The 25th edition of Intraskope’s Spotlight on Internal Communication Series features Binu Jacob, Global Corporate Communications Executive of M.H. Alshaya Co who talks of her journey in the field of communications and an exciting case study from her current employer.

Binu has a decades’ worth of experience in communications. She started her career in PR and communications in India’s Silicon Valley, Bangalore, after receiving her Masters from Cardiff University in 2008. Working with major global PR consultancies, she managed key projects for global clients in technology, healthcare, financial and retails sectors.

She embarked on the next chapter in her communications career, when she moved to Kuwait at a pivotal period of growth for Alshaya’s internal communications team. Alshaya is a leading retailer in the Middle East and North Africa, operating more than 90 of the world’s best-known international brands across 17+ markets.

An enthusiastic communication professional, Binu has experience of a broad range of projects and initiatives, managing many responsibilities, including: editor of the company-wide employee magazine; planning and managing the content hub and managing corporate events. She has led the roll-out of multi-market, multi-channel launches, including the company’s first customer loyalty programme, learning management system, as well as numerous key business transformation projects.

Read on to know more. Do share your feedback on this episode and the series overall.

Interview

  1. What does internal communication mean to you?

The most valuable asset of any organization is its people. For me, the true value of internal communication is in facilitating positive and purpose-driven employee experiences; it’s about using the right tools, to effectively communicate the right information, at the right time – explaining “how”, and more importantly “why” every contribution stacks up towards achieving a common business goal.

  1. How is it practiced in your organization?

Alshaya is one of the largest retailers in the Middle East with 53,000+ employees, operating in more than 17 markets. Given this scale, a number of online and offline methods are used to communicate with employees across the business – in head offices, stores and warehouses. These include the intranet, our in-store comms platform, screen-savers, and positional comms in common areas (corridors, canteens, coffee shops) via digital screens, pull-ups, posters etc.

The introduction of O365 and other digital collaborative tools, has been bringing about a positive shift in the way information is shared and consumed – conventional email cascades are complemented with more tailored and targeted approaches in helping employees stay informed and connected on-the-go.

  1. Please share an example/campaign that you are personally proud of working on and that made a significant impact to your organization. Kindly elaborate with proof points

One of the biggest highlights has been the successful launch and roll-out of an online Learning Management System – the biggest learning and development change at Alshaya.

As a business growing at pace and with more than 110+ nationalities, it was becoming increasingly important to introduce a cost efficient, one-stop learning platform that all employees could benefit from, anytime, anywhere, on any device, and in their language of choice.

Working together with the Learning Development team, we delivered a multi-market, multi-channel, campaign that resulted in a 95% sign up (38,000 employees) within the first 100 days, with the entire project costing just KWD 1,000 (approx. INR 2,26,077).

Following the huge success of the campaign, the team entered into a competition and won the Institute of Internal Communications Award, under the category – ‘Success on a Shoestring’ – a proud milestone which undoubtedly has raised the team’s profile as well as the credibility of internal communications as a key business function in the eyes our stakeholders.

  1. What is the biggest challenge you face while going about managing internal communication?

As the owners’ name is on the door, we work extra hard to protect the reputation of the business. Traditionally, this has meant being cautious about the flow of information. Also, due to our sheer scale, it can be a challenge to break down silos, and enable open and transparent communications between all levels of employees. There is a real need for managers and senior leaders to create an environment where employees know their opinions will be valued, where they can confidently participate in exchanging ideas in ways that they are most comfortable.

  1. What according to you is the biggest opportunity that internal communicators have?

It’s not enough to roll-out a company-wide plan, turn around endless amounts of content, or carry out a well meaning employee survey if the results are not measured effectively to improve employee engagement and experiences. As internal communicators, we have opportunity and responsibility to continuously evaluate whether our communication is helping achieve the right results in line with the goals of the business.

  1. How can internal communicators add more value to the business?

The larger the organization, the easier it is to fall into the trap of a siloed work culture. Internal communications can help break the mold to facilitate company-wide and inter-departmental communication by introducing the right tools and technology to create a culture of knowledge sharing and collaboration.

  1. What is your advice for people who are keen to join internal communication and make a career? What skills must they have or develop?

A strong understanding of the business (developed over time, of course), along with excellent writing, project management and people skills are some of the key attributes that are required for a career in communications. More importantly, remember to always keep it simple; a short 90-seconds video is much more effective than a clunky newsletter or an announcement running into several long paragraphs.

Case Study

The story behind an award-winning communication project that helped drive change

The Issue

As a growing retailer with a very diverse audience spread across multiple markets, there was an increasing need to empower people development at Alshaya; to have a centralized learning environment that all employees can learn and benefit from in their preferred language, at their own pace. For the Learning & Development team (L&D), this would mean saving time and cost on travel to deliver training sessions, tracking development progress, managing course registrations etc. easily via a central platform, as opposed to relying on sending out individual invitations via Microsoft Outlook.               

The intervention

Our goal was to show how the introduction of a centralized learning management system – Learning Links – would demonstrate the business’s commitment to developing staff. The registration target was 50% in each market (three months following the launch).

The communications made clear to our people that Learning Links:

  • is a one-stop online platform that supports all their learning and development
  • can be accessed anywhere, on any device, at any time, and in their language of choice
  • allows them to learn and grow at a pace best suited to them
  • allows them to identify and discuss individual development needs with their manager
  • is the biggest L&D change in Alshaya’s history

The solution

Working together with the L&D team, we prepared a complete communications plan, from strategy, to tactics to success measures. Messaging across all channels was carefully crafted to encourage understanding and usage of the new online service; and visibly aligned to our core competencies (which drive our behaviours) of customer/growth/performance.

The campaign was split into three phases:

  • Build awareness and drive advocacy (pre-launch)
  • Encourage sign up (go-live)
  • Reinforce benefits (post launch)

The impact

Our multi-market, multi-channel, campaign resulted in a 95% sign up (38,000 employees) within the first 100 days – originally targeted at 50% in mature markets (after three months). And the entire project cost just KWD 1,000 (approx. INR 2,26,077), equating to a tiny spend per employee.

As a business tool, Learning Links has revolutionized the way we learn on the job. And in terms of an internal communications campaign, it definitely over delivered. We displayed our commitment to developing our staff, and 95% of users registered with an average of 7.2 visits per month per user, which proves that the site is definitely useful.

How it changed the way stakeholders perceived your team

“Taking pride in what we do and delivering the best performance we can” is part of our core competencies. We not only over delivered on the campaign; we also exceeded expectations by winning the coveted Award of Excellence at the Institute of Internal Communications Awards ceremony in London, under the category – ‘Success on a Shoestring’.

As the biggest L&D change in Alshaya’s history, the team’s contribution was key in driving adoption and engagement of the new one-stop online learning platform. And receiving this global recognition helped the team in proving its talent and winning over the trust of stakeholders within the business.

Your personal learning which other practitioners can benefit from

Less is more – planning and rolling out a company-wide campaign does not have to be an expensive affair. You’ll be surprised at what can be achieved by doing more with what you have and making the best use of the team’s talent, from storytelling to final design and implementation.

What would you have done differently if you were to revisit the campaign?

Campaigns tend to plateau once it’s achieved its peak/ target. I would try to find ways to proactively sustain the buzz around post-launch communications.

Missed previous stories from organizations featured on the Intraskope’s Spotlight on Internal Communication Series? Look them up here –  Proctor & Gamble, InfosysSOBHA Ltd.ICICI SecuritiesFirst AdvantageCK Birla GroupTVS MotorsGE,  SuzlonTata SonsPerceptKnight FrankTCS EuropeVedantaOxfamDanske BankDiageoPandoraSymantecISS Global Services, Telia, Thomson Reuters, IBM and Philips.

Intraskope (www.aniisu.com) is the first blog on internal communications in India and among the earliest around the globe. Begun in 2006, the blog has over 530 posts on topics such as employee engagement, leadership communication and employee branding and receives thousands of visits from across the world. The blog, receives over 50,000 visits every month from over 50 countries globally, offers learning resources for practitioners, academicians, and students including industry workshops, research reports, and checklists. Intraskope has been featured on leading global internal communication forums like Simply-CommunicateIC Kollectif and International Association of Business Communicators. It is hosted by Aniisu K Verghese, author of Internal Communications – Insights, Practices & Models (Sage, 2012).

If you are an internal communication leader working in a firm or a not-for-profit anywhere in the world and have an internal communication case study, campaign, research insight or a guest blog post to share please contact me on intraskope@yahoo.com

You can also visit my website www.intraskope.com and You Tube channel to know more about my work

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