The pressure on communications teams to support business outcomes is rightly greater than ever. Effective communications teams aren’t about just ‘sending out stuff’, they’re about supporting organisational objectives and delivering against the priorities of an organisation. But does your team have the leadership, skills and implementation approach to succeed?
We’ve recently finished an assignment with Welsh Water to help transform their communications function and give the organisation the communications structure, focus and capability to succeed. The team knew they needed to change. They had a really good track record of delivery, but expectations and demands were increasing and they wanted to take the very best of what they did and make that part of supporting the company in both its business as usual and transformation agendas.
Understanding the challenge
With an organisational objective of ‘earning the trust of our customers every day’, communication is a priority for Welsh Water. Like most organisations the company is entering a period of significant change with a new spending review period about to start, a new chief executive at the helm and the need and desire to deliver against customer and stakeholder expectations and its customer promises.
Their challenges may be familiar to many of you. The last four years have seen an increase in demand from all areas of the business for the services of the communications team. A relatively small team given the scale and scope of their work, they have had to manage this demand against a backdrop of increased expectations and high profile operational incidents such as Storm Emma in 2018. This has put pressure on resources and also highlighted issues with the structure and overall capability of the team. Organisational understanding of the role of the team and the benefit they could bring to the delivery of company objectives was low and there were significant challenges around delivering more with less.
Fast forward 12 months and the transformation has been significant. The team has undergone a complete redesign, ways of working both within the team and with the wider company have been agreed and implemented and the skills needed across the team have been identified with development activities in place to fill gaps. Is there more to do? Of course, there always is, but the team is now in a position to take on those challenges and has the capability and desire to succeed.
5 step capability approach
A tried and tested formula for us at Perago, we took our 5 step capability approach into Welsh Water. Based around 5 main areas we took a project management mindset to transforming the ways of working and delivery approach of the team:
- Establish the status quo
- Create clear objectives for change
- Manage the change
- Be open
- Celebrate success
Establish the status quo
Before embarking on any changes we worked with the team to undertake a capability review of communication across the company as a whole. We used a model that those of you in the Government Communication Service may be familiar with, the review methodology was based on interviews, focus groups and background reading and assessed strategy and planning, people and resources and implementation. Not only did we speak to executive team members about their expectations and requirements, but we also held sessions with the team themselves and internal and external stakeholders. This resulted in a report that contained an assessment of current capability and allowed us to develop a series of recommendations for improvement that were agreed by the Director and his senior team.
Clear objectives for change
Once we understood what was needed, we launched the project with a clear set of objectives agreed by the executive and the senior team and shared with the wider team. These were to:
- introduce a team structure based on current and future organisational requirements
- ensure capabilities were identified and in place or being developed
- understand the transformation requirements of the company and build these into the team’s approach
- put campaign based comms delivery in place aligned to strategic objectives with clear KPIs
- put a framework in place to ensure the comms team could work effectively with the wider business including agreed ways of working and outputs
- provide clarity of understanding of the role of the corporate communication team in relation to both business as usual and change programme activities
Manage the change
As a change and transformation delivery organisation we use our approach to change delivery across everything we do and this was no exception. We knew that there was a lot to be done. Splitting this into short, medium and long term actions brought a sense of realism to the challenge in hand. Breaking it down made it achievable. Taking agile change delivery tools and techniques we created a clear roadmap for change and a kanban board to manage progress, breaking the activities into monthly ‘sprints’ and holding regular stand ups to monitor and focus on the delivery of agreed outcomes. This way of working was new to the team, they were curious at first, skeptical even, but as we moved post it notes across the board and change started to happen they got involved and openly challenged, supported and owned the work.
Openness and transparency were agreed up front as key principles for delivering the change. We made being open part of what we did from the outset with weekly stand ups and focus groups meaning that we could also get team input into the timetable for some of the more challenging parts of the change such as announcing a restructure and working through a period of consultation. We encouraged the team to share lessons learnt, what didn’t work as well as what did. We held lunch and learn sessions and created forums for the team to get together to share their challenges and successes and learn from each other. We provided weekly written updates to the whole team alongside the Monday morning stand ups. We designed a performance dashboard to not only allow the whole team to monitor progress against campaigns, but to prompt questions and debate around the implementation and evaluation of their activities. This transparency has provided the basis for the team culture as they move into business as usual, a supportive, open environment where people can contribute, challenge and learn.
A transformation project the scale of the one the Welsh Water communications team embarked on can be tough. As they’ve progressed they’ve listened to feedback, tested new approaches and used the evaluation techniques they’ve learnt to ensure the changes they’ve made are the right ones to achieve results. There’s been a lot to achieve and a lot to learn. It can be easy to forget how far you’ve come and what you’ve actually achieved. Our ‘be open’ principle helped keep successes to to forefront, but it was a visual ‘stuff we’ve achieved’ board that really brought the scale of the achievements home.
The team will now be evaluating their work as part of the campaign framework they’ve introduced and they have the ability to course correct when they need to. Add to that recognition of individuals and teams as they’ve tested new approaches and learnt new skills and the team is well on its way to being the high performing team they set out to be.
In fact I’d go as far as to say they will be one of the best. They’ve demonstrated the bravery to tackle the challenges they had, been open to learning and sharing and stepped up to take ownership of what they do and how they do it. Our work there may be done, but we’ll be watching with interest and keeping in touch with the next part of their journey.