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Internal Communications Strategy Case Study

How does one of the world’s largest engineering conglomerates communicate to a workforce of 65,000 employees in North America?

They do it in a human way.

According to Head of Internal Communications for Siemens Corporation, North America, Shelley Brown, the goal of their internal communication plan is simple: “to foster engagement while helping employees understand the company’s business objectives and how they fit into them.”

Communication at the company is driven by employee involvement with the goal of helping them to become ambassadors of Siemens. However, rather than resorting to the typically used “hero messages”, Siemens tries to resonate with employees without just presenting their corporate strategy. “We tell employees that ‘whether you know it or not, you are an ambassador for the organization.’” Brown explains.

While Siemens AG is headquartered in Germany, Brown and her team tailor the messaging for a United States audience working in the business units of Industry, Health Care and Energy.

Channels used for employee communication

1. Online communication

At Siemens Corporate, Brown strives to keep online content as “fresh” as possible for employees, thanks to an online communications team that has helped the intranet become the #1 channel inside the company.

Siemens often looks toward social media to give people a voice and transparency in their communications. Employees have the ability to comment on every article – and through the help of a couple of web interns – a social polling system has recently been developed for employees to rate content (thumbs-up or thumbs-down) and give feedback to questions and comments.

According to Jim Lukach, Manager of Siemens Online Communications, the tool was inspired by Digg.com as a way to see “who is leading the content and how to interact with them.”

The polling system has proven to be quite effective due to its cost-effectiveness (it was designed in-house) as well as its ability to measure employee opinions on a particular subject matter.

Employee conversations are also enabled through the use of Yammer. The Twitter-like platform has recently been embraced in the organization with dialogues centered around relevant work issues for employees. “Thanks to the social media tool, Siemens staff can find out much-needed company information making Yammer a growing knowledge-sharing tool inside the company,” Lukach says.

2. Video & Blogging

Popular sites like YouTube have inspired Brown and Lukach to use more video in Siemens’ employee communications. “Content always comes first before the technical production quality. Presenting a ‘down and dirty’ style of video keeps the communication gritty and authentic,” he explains. Use of Flipcams inside the company is not uncommon.

Lukach says he relies on sites like posterous.com to facilitate blogging platforms and also uses the site to alert employees about new story postings on the intranet via Twitter updates. RSS feeds are frequently pulled from relevant external websites which Siemens integrates onto their own intranet content. That way, bandwidth issues are avoided – and so is IT. Lukach’s theory: “Go around IT – do it first, apologize later.”

3. Executive communication

The CEO of Siemens’ Industry Sector in the US has begun using video to deliver corporate messages to employees. He also blogs once a week which exhibits the forward thinking of executives.

Two years ago, Siemens experienced strong executive participation when rolling out their award-winning “Values Fest”. In the United States, a live in-house blog was organized by Brown and her team, where executives got on board to discuss Siemens’ values with employees. “The 3-day online event was hosted by a corporate communications manager overseeing a rotating schedule of executive bloggers. We trained them on how to use the blog, how it works and how to log on. It was our grand attempt to pull Management into the modern age,” Brown recalls.

During major times of change inside the organization – namely the stepping down of Siemens’ CEO last August – the company opted to place the traditional quarterly email letter that broke the news onto the corporate blog so employees could comment and react to the move.

4. Print publications

In spite of the strong increase of online communications and social media, Print continues to live on at Siemens. The company publishes a monthly global magazine (published quarterly in the United States) called Siemens World with each region receiving its own edition. In North America, employees receive a division-specific version of Siemens World bundled inside the global magazine.

Among the content employees expect to find in the publication are typical articles written about corporate programs, values, compliance as well as anything noteworthy happening online that Siemens Corporate wants to promote.

As a global company with employees in 190 countries, Siemens makes a strong effort to accommodate the different languages spoken throughout the organization.   Stories that are published overseas are translated into English and adapted by the IC team for its own use. Any articles that are re-written are cleared with the head office in Germany.

Since many employees still rely on email to receive pertinent information about Siemens, an HTML version of company newsletters is created to enable sharable content between colleagues across the globe.

Accessibility for all

For the more than 5000 employees who do not have internet access, Brown says the company always tries to develop an offline component a particular story. For factory workers, there is usually some kind of paper component posted in break rooms giving people a jumpstart on information that will soon be posted online.

Ensuring strong employee engagement

As Siemens looks to connect employees via the aforementioned communication channels, perhaps no other greater opportunity is offered than through Siemens Caring Hands. Employees have the chance to participate in rewarding community activities, assisting a variety of different charity organizations (e.g. the American Heart Association and the American Cancer Society). Among the activities people take part in are walk-a-thons, as well as the refurbishment of schools, playgrounds, and housing for the elderly.

Across the United States, each Siemens location appoints one staff member who – in addition to their day job – organizes local volunteer activities for employees. To date, nearly every Siemens employee has volunteered in some way or another.

Caring Hands’ activities are frequently covered in Siemens World, the intranet, as well as on company blogs.  This helps to create excitement about the program, which in itself, “is a proven morale-builder for employees,” Brown says.

Other CSR and corporate citizenship opportunities made available to employees include ‘Siemens Science Days’ where employees assist children with science experiments at local schools, while educating them about an area close to Siemens’ heart: science. “As a result, employees also learn about our brand while doing something worthwhile and interesting,” Brown points out.

Creating brand excitement

For the first time in Siemens history, the company has invested in a sizeable budget for advertising in the U.S., which includes new commercials currently airing on U.S. television, radio and in print publications across the country.

To encourage employee pride in the Siemens brand in America, the company has begun a new campaign, “Somewhere in . . .”, encouraging employees to blog and take photos and videos anytime they see the Siemens name on a particular product or piece of medical equipment. “The goal of the engagement initiative is to raise awareness of Siemens efforts to publicize their name in the media,” Brown explains.

Employees who submit pictures are then given a prize that ties into the theme of how they came across the product. For example, a person sending in a photo of a Siemens’ conveyor belt in an airport is apt to receive a travel duffel bag for his entry.

According to Brown, the engagement campaign has become quite a hit with U.S. employees. “It’s created a connection and an awareness. Some employees didn’t even know we have a location in Oklahoma. The program has been a real eye opener for everyone.”


NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- There's a lot Akio Toyoda can learn from a cup of coffee.

Much has been made about "the Toyota Way" -- the company's almost cultish fixation on quality -- and as it looks to climb out of the mess, Mr. Toyota could learn from how Starbucks's Howard Schultz righted that brand.

In 1995, Scott Bedbury, then the chief marketing officer at Starbucks, got a visit in his office from CEO Howard Schultz, who wanted to discuss an issue that was starting to worry him -- the company's rapid growth. That year the chain had just opened its fifth store in New York City and was about to go from opening one store a week around the country to one store a day while rapidly expanding its product offerings.

"Howard said he was deeply concerned that we were beginning to compromise the values that got us where we were and that he would rather commit to a slower growth curve and take the wrath of Wall Street than compromise what he had worked so hard to build," said Mr. Bedbury, now CEO of Brandstream, a brand-development company. In the end, pulling back and refocusing the company's mission internally is what saved Starbucks, Mr. Bedbury said. Without it, "I am convinced it would have peaked 10 years ago and gone the way of Boston Market and others that chased short-term financial rewards at the expense of brand equity."

It's a lesson on the importance of "marketing inward," or staying true to a company's internal mission and keeping the frontlines focused on it -- something Akio Toyoda, president-CEO of Toyota, and Jim Lentz, Toyota Motor Sales USA president-chief operating officer, have conceded they forgot in their quest to make Toyota the world's biggest automaker.

"With the rapid expansion of production, perhaps we weren't able to develop appropriate engineering skills and human resources," Mr. Toyoda said. "The basic rule of the Toyota Production System is to build only as many cars as can match demand, and we ourselves broke that rule."

Many industry professionals believe that breakdown caused many in the company to lose sight of its mission of producing safe and quality cars. Peter DeLorenzo, author of "United States of Toyota," said Toyota's obsession with becoming the world's No. 1 automaker clashed so strongly with its normal operating procedure that it "completely went off the rails."

"Part of the 'Toyota Way' was always based on making sure that Toyota's human resources were trained, ready and up to speed with the 'way' things were supposed to be done, before a new facility opened," Mr. DeLorenzo said. "But in recent years, they were doing everything at once -- building, the plant, hiring the people, training them and shortcutting their own processes -- and it's been a train wreck. When you start shortcutting time-honored processes in a company that's so big on tradition like Toyota, things fall through the cracks and something like becoming No. 1 was more important, per se, than the time-honored calling cards of safety and quality."

Mr. DeLorenzo said internal communication is crucial in any rapidly expanding organization, but especially so for Toyota, which is insular to begin with. He believes the lines of communication only extended throughout the organization on a need-to-know basis.

"You just can't do it that way," Mr. DeLorenzo said. "Toyota was opening plants and accelerating new-product programs at a breakneck pace, and ultimately they lost their way completely."

Conversations in hallways
Mr. Bedbury, who also served as Nike's head of advertising, said effective internal-communications programs have to be a mix of the formal, like the quarterly open forums held at Starbucks, and informal programs. The motto at Nike was "the brand was sacred," he said, adding, that hitting monthly targets wasn't the most important thing. "Meeting rooms and formal meetings were the necessary banes of our existence at Nike," he said. "The real insightful conversations about what was happening at the company happened in the hallways, jogging trails or in the sports pub on campus. We called it 'the hallways of influence.'"

Mr. Bedbury said the fix won't be easy because of the culture within Japanese companies. "Toyota thinks this is going to be fixed by reworking their HR program," he said. "But a lot of this is about culture and how Japanese companies work. There's a big divide between leadership and the average worker in a Japanese corporation."

Bob Matha, senior council at OgilvyImpact, the internal-communications and -change group at WPP's Ogilvy, said a breakdown in internal communications is a common thing in a fast-growing company. "What happens is that leadership's direction, as they see it, becomes inconsistent with the business process," Mr. Matha said. "Leadership speaks in very broad terms, and as it goes deeper in the organization, people are driven less by what top leaders say and more by their business-planning processes. Maybe they did run out of trained engineers, but more likely they were pushed by business priorities to take shortcuts and actions that were inconsistent with how the organization has always acted in the past when they were successful and built very safe cars."

Mr. Bedbury said the Toyota crisis has revealed issues on so many levels that it's going to be more than just a case study in crisis communications. "We'll look back and this will rewrite the textbooks on crisis communications, business ethics and HR processes," he said.

So how does a company keep its mission top of mind for all employees without getting overly preachy?

Chanting the company's mission statement each morning or requiring everyone to make it their screensaver will only make employees feel like part of a cult. Careen Winters, exec VP at Interpublic Group of Cos.' MWW Group, said her clients integrate the content of their mission statement into daily conversation -- when it's demonstrated as part of day-to-day operations, it sends a signal to employees that it's important.

A mission statement and business objectives need to be tied together for a company to succeed, said Brian Burgess, VP-director of employee engagement at Publicis Groupe's MS&L. "If you demonstrate the alignment of company actions to business strategy and mission, it can keep people and companies on course." And align your performance metric with components of a mission statement.

The speed of growth can mask a focus on mission. "But that makes it even more critical to treat internal communications as a discipline across the enterprise and not something that is only owned by the internal communications group or the HR group," said Jerilan Greene, exec VP-change and employee engagement at Edelman.

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