By Gloria Lombardi

Inside a large multinational company with a strongly developed external brand, the drivers to employee engagement can easily vary depending on geography, from country to country and from region to region. It is often the case that what really works depends on which particular area the message is being received in. It could be because of the conventions and lifestyle of specific geographic locations.  For instance different regions have different sizes of branch networks and the resources of the various parts of the organisation will vary the effect they have on developing the culture, strengthen the values and ethos around employee engagement.

In addition, engagement seems to be more and more related to the employee’s social connections with the outside world. Employees talk about their workplaces externally and are proud working for a particular brand which is perceived positively. These social connections align the work experiences of employees with their company’s brand.

Therefore, initiatives that give employees a sound understanding of the company’s external communications strategy are a key component of internal communication strategies and behaviours.

However, many people work for large multinationals which can often spend a great deal on brand and sponsorship activities but the only internal engagement is what employees read about in the news.

Often employees see their companies’ logos advertised on bill boards, jerseys or on television but actually get little or no chance to really be a part of it. It can often be felt they are not benefiting from the company spend on developing the external brand, a feeling which is likely to bring dissatisfaction or disengagement in the workplace.

Vodafone Ireland is one of those companies that understands the relevance of leveraging the power of their employees’ connections with the external brand.

Since 2011 they have been implementing innovative ways of doing that. By bringing their external brand internal, the company has seen improvements in their engagement scores and employee goodwill.

Padraic Knox, Internal Communications Consultant at Vodafone Ireland (pictured right), told us what and how the company delivers such initiatives.

“A lot of times, internally, employees may not really feel or understand why their company has been associated with certain external activities. Often what they see is that the company has contributed and been a part of a particular sponsorship activity: they may see their company logo on the television, magazines and lots of other products…However, they may not fully understand these activities tie into their organisation’s overall strategy or vision. So, our initiative was to really give employees this opportunity.”

How it works

“You start to let people know internally what is really happening with the brand outside”, says Padraic.

That implies being very clear when communicating with employees about: what is the company sponsoring? Why are they sponsoring? How are they going to sponsor? What are the organisation’s desired outcomes from sponsoring?

“So for example, if you are going to sponsor a sport or music event or a festival, you will have to explain why you are targeting a particular audience and demographic, why you are sponsoring that particular football match or musical…you start creating clarity around how that is going to impact the business, and how you are going to leverage an opportunity for the whole company.”

“And the benefit for the employees is that they see all the connections between spending all that money externally and how the company is going to bring extra money back internally for benefiting employees.”

Padraic highlights the key role of the company internal communications media. The main channels used by Vodafone Ireland are the intranet, weekly newsletter, plasma screens around the buildings, banners on the internet and quarterly updates.

More than informing…involving

Padraic stresses the importance of not relying purely on informing employees. That may not be sufficient to engage them with the value of the external brand.

“If you are having the launch of a new sponsorship initiative, you start having communications internally informing about the sponsorship. However, what happens next at Vodafone Ireland is that you also allow your employees to take part in those external events by having “mini launches” internally, let them experience what really is happening outside inside with their brand.”

“You need to build an “internal communications story or plan” to trailer your external brand and sponsorship opportunities to make your people feel part of it.”

How can you do this? “With internal events, for example”, says Padraic.

“In your employee bulletins, have brand and sponsorship updates (e.g. where the team you sponsor are playing this week, where in the league they are). Then, get agreement with your brand and sponsorship team that you get certain allocation of tickets for each event which you give away internally “fairly” through competitions. Your external affairs team and corporate teams can secure ticket allocations for their top customers, so why not share these with employees also.”

Bringing the external brand internal

Vodafone Ireland sponsors the Dublin Senior GAA football team, they let employees enter draws for match tickets. They also sponsor five or six large music festivals. Some of the festival line ups have performed in the Vodafone Ireland HQ and emloyees can also win tickets and help out at the festivals.

The Dublin City Senior football team visited the company office when they won the league in 2011. Comedian Michael Winslow (from Police Academy), top Irish singer song writer Cathy Davey and Little Green Cars all put on gigs for them at work. All of these were made possible owing to the company’s external sponsorship involvement.

During the summer the company has two internal launches for those festivals. For each external launch they have an internal launch. They invite some of the artists that promote their brand externally to come and do the same internally. So they start to engage with employees, bringing the external engagement with the brand, internally.

“Thanks to these initiatives employees can really feel they are a part of these big programmes as well as understand the strategic benefit of external sponsorship and the part they play in your overall company strategy.”

Padraic points out the efforts needed in the planning stage: “You really have to think properly on how you are going to launch an external event internally, you have to think about how you are going to deliver it, what is the hook, how are you going to use the buildings. You really have to ask yourself: ‘Will that external event appeal to our internal audience?’, ‘Are we going to differentiate our internal audience into niches depending on the events?’”

Padraic firmly believes that this kind of approach has to be naturally embedded into the business: “It needs to become second nature, you work proactively with your brand teams to think about how they can mini-launch internally what happens externally, create hype and buzz internally and more importantly facilitate how employees understand your strategy.”

Furthermore, benefits are also seen in the way the communications teams are managing their budget internally: “Since people know how it is going to be used as well as what is going to be given back, the internal communications teams is much better able to allocate budgets appropriately for every initiatives for the whole years.”

Looking to the future

The outcomes from adopting these kind of programmes have been very positive so far and Vodafone Ireland has imbedded this new culture of activities positively across the organisation. They have developed a framework internally which brings their brand team, product owner, business owners – managers and their teams together – taking part in organising and launching those initiatives (either internally or externally).

“We have understood that people internally want to do what we celebrate externally and they want to take part in those celebrations. The objective is to let all the business know what is happening with those events. We want to create awareness of the overall goals of such initiatives and their impact on the company. We are seeing very, very positive results and it absolutely contributes to higher level of employee engagement.”

 

*Padraic Knox is on twitter and can be contacted through @padraic_knox

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This article originally appeared on simply-communicate