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Creative ways to fire up your people with a new business direction

If working during a global pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that many of us are more tech savvy than we realise.

Sure, there’s still the odd person who needs reminding You’re on mute!, but on the whole we’ve embraced the likes of Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Slack and all the other apps that are now vying for attention on our devices.

Studies suggest employees have also on average clawed back 10 per cent of their working week by not having to commute – time that can now be dedicated to friends, family, exercise and mindfulness.

At least, that would be the case in an ideal world.

In reality, employees are racking up more hours – about 25% more – with shorter lunchbreaks, working through illness, and not clocking off until well into the evening adding to the daily grind.

And it’s not forward planning or future projects that are bogging us down – it’s simply dealing with the here and now, adapting to uncertainty, firefighting and trying to navigate a new normal. Which let’s face it, is anything but normal for many.

The pandemic has dramatically disrupted the ‘normal’ planning cycle. Everything is more immediate. And the priorities previously keeping bosses awake at night have shifted. They’re now so busy battling to keep increasingly fatigued teams informed, energised and healthy that long-term business direction planning has been reeled in.

With many businesses facing reduced demand for their products and services, keeping people engaged and the books balanced has become more pressing than figuring out how to keep the wheels turning two, three or even ten years down the line. And when you consider that almost half of SMEs believe they might be out of business within three months, it’s a very valid concern.

In short, employees – and the organisations they work for – have never been busier.

Digital fatigue

Remember all those apps and platforms that are keeping us connected in a virtual world? Well, many of us are finding they can be just as distracting as a busy office. We’re now having to work harder to process non-verbal cues such as body language, facial expressions and tone of voice. It’s sapping our energy. And now we’re suffering from digital fatigue.

But now is not the time to hit pause – if anything, quite the opposite!

It’s one thing to put your long-term strategy on hold, but having a clear business direction is a cornerstone of employee engagement.

And if you have the motivation and desire, with the right support you can get your employees on board incredibly quickly – just days in fact, as we’ve proved through a partnership with one of our longest-standing clients.

A new business direction in 10 days flat

At the start of 2020, Arco was preparing to launch its new three-year plan. The ink had barely dried on the paperwork, colleagues were anticipating its imminent launch… and then the global pandemic turned the business world upside down.

As the UK’s biggest supplier of PPE, Arco is in a unique position to make a difference to employees’ lives – not just in the UK but on a global scale. Providing the goods and services to protect workers during the pandemic was a striking example of its purpose to keep people safe at work.

But to meet customer demand Arco had to completely shift the way it operated – switching from its usual delivery model to a super agile way of working. And, the business had to convince its 2,000 employees (most of whom were for the first time working remotely) to instantly change the way they did things.

Arco could have pressed ahead regardless with its three-year plan – after all, reaching the launch phase had taken months of painstaking planning. Instead, the company quickly leapt at the opportunity to change tack, capitalise on the learnings and new ways of working resulting from covid-19, and reshape a new strategy that would enable the historic business to tackle new challenges and embrace new opportunities.

It was a tall order. But Arco succeeded, achieving results beyond expectations. How? By making the strategy personal to its people, rallying them behind a purpose bigger than their individual role and bringing to life the vast benefits the new strategy would deliver – for employees, customers and the business.

Our Future Now

We supported Arco’s leadership team to develop a communications programme that had one simple yet powerful message at its heart. And we pulled out all the stops to plan, develop and roll it out in just 10 days.

Our Future Now encapsulated the idea there was no option but for everyone to act fast, and act now. It appealed to the rational, giving a clear business direction and highlighting why it was so critical to get on board. And crucially, the programme appealed equally to the emotional – motivating each employee by highlighting the huge benefits it would bring to them personally.

To set the scene and generate excitement, we kicked off with a fast-paced animation that embodied the speed and energy that would drive the business towards its one-year ambitions. The key messages were then outlined in an engaging leadership presentation before employees were given the opportunity to explore what Our Future Now meant to them through rich manager-led conversations.

And thanks to a series of short, punchy activities, every employee rapidly formed a personal link with the new plan – and devised their own personal pledges detailing the actions they would take to make it happen.

Now six months into the programme, the business is performing ahead of its operational and financial targets. And employee engagement levels and confidence in leadership are scoring above full-year targets.

Our Future Now is a powerful showcase of how meticulous planning, moving fast and appealing to both the rational and emotional can quickly spark change and deliver outstanding results, in spite of the biggest health crisis the world has witnessed for more than 100 years.

Forging connections across Asia

Our very different but equally powerful approach delivered similarly outstanding results for three of Asia’s leading automotive brands. The three brands had merged to create an organisation with the potential to become a powerhouse of the automotive industry. And, it had a shared vision it was confident would deliver on that promise.

However, the comms team knew engaging everyone behind a new vision – no matter how inspiring that vision was – would not be easy; each brand had its own unique history and culture, plus, each had been doing things ‘their way’ for decades.

Rather than merely telling people about the new vision, our experience proved it would be far more powerful for employees to experience it for themselves.

With one pillar of the new strategy focusing on digital capabilities, we let employees explore and experience first-hand the benefits of innovative technology. And when you consider the world was thrown into lockdown just weeks before the programme launch – with face-to-face conversations out of the question – our approach couldn’t have been more timely.

We designed and built a digital app that connected employees across Asia, wherever they were –at home, in the workplace or on the shop floor. The app housed a series of experiential activities that tapped directly into the way people were feeling, thinking and behaving, allowing them to forge strong personal links with the organisation’s vision and values.

The digital format enabled employees to get up close and personal to the strategy at their own pace, providing a tangible understanding of the impact innovative new technology would have across the business while avoiding the danger of digital fatigue.

And an in-built mechanism for easy data capture meant the comms team benefitted from a continuous source of super-rich insights, with the resulting dialogue, comments and participation rates being fed back instantly, in real time.

Strategy communication digital app example

Firing imaginations with a bold approach

For an organisation whose people had historically been ‘fed’ information from the top down, this people-centred approach was a bold move. Hierarchy is a non-negotiable aspect of many Asian cultures. Our in-depth analysis of this organisation’s culture revealed it was an ideology shared by many and challenged by few.

Yet the results show this ‘bottom-up’ digital approach fired imaginations throughout the organisation, with an 89% engagement rate and nine out of ten employees agreeing they could personally see the benefits.

Whilst digital has become a necessary bridge between face-to-face and virtual communication for businesses across the globe, this programme succeeded by putting digital centre stage and highlighting the powerful – and personal – results it can deliver in its own right.

And the icing on the cake? Digital came out as one of the top strategic ideas that colleagues were most excited about.

Designed during a pandemic, effective for all future possibilities

These two very different programmes prove that gearing up your employees behind a new business direction doesn’t have to conflict with keeping them energised, motivated and engaged.

Providing people with a clear direction and equipping them with the means to explore, engage and form their own personal connections with it will reinvigorate them, and your bottom line.

And while both programmes overcame many of the hurdles presented by remote working, at their heart was a people-centred approach that’ll deliver powerful results in, or out of, lockdown.

Want to discover how we can help get your people – and business direction – firing on all cylinders?

Get in touch – we’d love to hear from you.

Meet the author

Catherine Lea

With an extensive background in journalism prior to setting up shop at H&H, it’s safe to say words have played a leading role in my career. As a copywriter, I love playing around with language to communicate exciting messages in the most compelling way. I find great joy in interpreting complex client briefs and finding the best words to condense them into simple but inspiring communications that everyone can understand.