Power to the people!

How do you engage employees with your shiny new company strategy?

That was the question posed to two speakers at Friday’s Aspic seminar in the Soho Hotel, London.

It soon became apparent that what you don’t do is cascade your message through senior and harried middle managers where it will most likely languish in an ever expanding inbox.

What Kate Jones, Head of Internal Communications at Atkins, and Jim Connors, Internal Director of Communications, Commercial Banking at, Lloyds bank were both united in their believe that action rather than words was most effective along with, in Jim’s words, ‘the democratisation of communication’.

Let the people decide – what the strategy means to them, how they can contribute, why they want to contribute.

“Engagement is shorthand for involvement,” says Kate Jones. “The key themes in engaging people with your strategy are Awareness (what it is), understanding (why it’s important) and Ownership (what it means to me).

“You can’t communicate a strategy and then tell people what it means to them. You need to help them work it out for themselves.”

And of course the message has to be clear. “Make sure that everyone is clear about the mission vision and values before you start communicating it. Be clear about the group purpose – why you’re in business, and where you want to be in 2020.”

In Kate’s previous role at EON, that involved whittling 57 company-wide visions and strategies down to a single strategy with four key goals.

The nut and bolts of the strategy were distributed in document form – ‘why waste valuable face-to-face time on something they can read?’ – while the important work was done in teams.

“We recognised that not all goals are relevant to all people so we set the teams some basic questions: What do you find exciting about this goal? What’s going to get in your way? What do you need help with, and who is going to find that help?”

From there, the teams developed their own action plans and pledges which were uploaded to a storyboard on the intranet. Confirmation indeed of buy-in and recognition that they have a key role to play in the business objectives.

Following the companywide activity, an employee survey revealed that 85% of respondents understood what the company was aiming for, while a whopping 94% wanted to make a contribution.

At a very unengaged Lloyds bank, where command and control had historically been the company culture, Jim Connors took a similar approach by getting people together to discuss what the business was trying to achieve and what it needed to do to get there.

Using the ‘old school’ big picture activity he got people to visually illustrate the challenges and the journey they would be jointly making. When drawn the xxx by xxx picture was showcased on a series of roadshows where conversations took place and ideas added or evolved.

The picture now features as part of a toolkit on the company intranet where, as well as accessing all manner of support tools, people can post the commitments they made on the roadshows and explain how they are going to achieve them.

“In a very short timeframe we started to join things up. Events were linked with a common purpose and people owned the vision,” says Jim. “There’s a healthy shift in attitude and everyone has a greater understanding of the bank’s purpose – as well the important part they have to play as individuals.