G picBy Gloria Lombardi

The goal of the Riyadh Metro in Saudi Arabia is to provide residents and visitors with a world-class transportation system – 176km of track, 85 stations, and 6 lines! The project, currently being developed by three consortiums one of which is FAST, is also expected to create jobs and elevate living standards specifically for women.

To deliver three lines out of the six, FAST has partnered with eight companies worldwide including FCC, Samsung, Alstom, Strukton, and Freysinet. This joint venture has brought together 8000 employees, 32 nationalities, and 22 languages – indeed, they also brought big challenges to internal communications.

In fact, an internal communications department was built from scratch to help create a “8 Companies, One Team, One Goal” culture, and to enable FAST employees “to become ambassadors while delivering the project safely, on time, and on budget,” explains Corporate Communications Manager, Gihan Hyde (pictured above).

With that in mind and to overcome some of the challenges, Hyde’s team created the Humans of FAST and FAST in the Community initiatives.

The FAST internal communications’ challenge

Back in January 2015, one year into the project, the competition among FAST’s eight companies was high. “They were working in silos and constantly challenging each other’s work and budget spent,” says Hyde. Employee engagement was not the priority, “nor was it part of their ways of working,” she adds.

FAST values creation

Rather than the leadership determining what the value statements of FAST were, “we wrote approximately 50 statements – fitting in with the business strategy and goals – and asked employees to choose the top 10 which they think suits them as humans and the Consortium as an organisation.”

Collage Face of Fast part 1

Humans of FAST

In fact, at the core of Humans of FAST was the idea of linking the consortium values to employees’ lives and beliefs. This is done through a series of interviews.

The values statements are discussed ahead of each interview. Subsequently, staff are asked questions about their personal life. “The result is a personal, non-work-related story that highlights a value statement.”

A good example comes from Alexandre Glenat, an Assistant Manager who spoke about respecting each other’s choices:

“Football is my passion and I support AC Milan. I live and breathe football. I play it, discuss it with my friends who are from different nationalities and backgrounds, we all support different team but it’s the game that unites us. When we are all in France we call each other not txt and arrange to play matches every Sunday, or we meet for drinks and pizzas. If you ask me what is most important to me in life I would say first my mother, second is football and third is my future wife.”

As simple as this story may appear, it delivers an important message: “we are one team.” In fact, almost 60% of the FAST workforce is expatriates who specifically went to Riyadh to build the metro. They work 6 days a week, 10 hours a day. “Basically, their world revolves around their work and delivering the project on the tight deadline. They don’t have the time to practice their hobbies, interests, or even enjoy Riyadh.”


FAST in the Community

To help the citizens of Riyadh understand how the city would change as a result of the metro project, Hyde’s team partnered with the Arriyadh Development Authority (ADA). Together, they organised FAST in the Community – weekly 4-hour visits from local schools to the FAST’s major construction sites. During the visits, employees from different departments talk to the students about “what it means to be an engineer.”

Additionally, students have their pictures taken on the site. By the end of the visit a photo frame with their pictures and a map explaining the metro project is given to them as a memory of the day. Sometimes, the media is also invited to capture the experience.

Indeed, FAST in the Community not only is enhancing the consortium reputation with the local community. “It is also allowing the construction team to demonstrate the pride they have in their work.”


Communicating the initiatives

Both Humans of FAST and FAST in the Community are communicated across the consortium through a monthly e-newsletter, town halls, and meetings with the Health and Safety, site managers, and HR. “In other words through our communication ambassadors who are all over the project.”

Leadership, of course, play a crucial role too. “They are always visible during the town halls, project milestone celebratory events, and their monthly site visits.” The Project Director Jaime Freyre de-Andrade, also writes a monthly blog, which is included in the e-newsletter.


The results so far

Hyde conducts measurement and tracks every communication initiative. And, she is already seeing positive results. For example, the e-newsletter is currently being read by 40% of the employees. It is a great achievement considering that in the first 6 months it was only read by 28% of staff.

The attendance to town halls has also increased by 30% since it started in June 2015. And, according to ADA, FAST is the most popular and interesting consortium among students, In fact, FAST have received over 40 Monthly visits from different entities so far.

Employee engagement around the consortium’s values continues to increase too. Hyde still receives emails from her colleagues sharing their thoughts or giving suggestions on the next communications campaigns.

“We still have colleagues coming and saying ‘Can you please take a picture with me and my chosen new statement that I would like to add to the group of statements you developed?’”

Cleaning our city

Another initiative that Hyde is currently developing is named “Cleaning our city.” As the name suggests, it is about encouraging employees and their families to go out and clean the city. Additionally, “all of the collected garbage will be sent to the recycling skip, and transformed into materials that we can use in our offices.”


Bringing internal communications into Saudi Arabia

The fact that Hyde’s team won an award by CIPR Inside recently, is testimony of the hard work and long hours that they put into internal communications.

In fact, internal communications is a relatively new discipline in Saudi Arabia – there are only around 15-25 practitioners in Riyadh. “The best feeling is when you are able to create something from scratch, especially without relying on any previous work for assistance.”

For Hyde, one of the most important lessons gathered along the journey, is to be diplomatic. “My negotiation, business acumen, and inter-cultural skills have become stronger. If the 5 top board members are not convinced of my campaigns I would have to go back to the drawing board to see how I can improve the idea and sometime I would resolve to cancel them.”

Similarly, or perhaps even more importantly, is the fact that in an all-male dominated sector and society, a female is heading a communication department.

“This is the most challenging aspect of my work. But hey! We did it, and we are continuing to do so.”