An intranet that only broadcasts static, top-down news is barely fit for purpose in the 21st century. Intranets should support contribution, collaboration, and better decision making as an important part of the digital workplace. Principality Building Society needed all this and more, as they worked to create an employee experience that matched their external rebrand.
Principality’s new intranet directly supports their business direction, providing staff over 70 branches and agencies across Wales with the product information and collaboration tools they need to get more done, and please more customers.
The new intranet, built upon SharePoint using EasySharePoint, was launched in November 2016 and the staff have embraced the many social and collaboration tools, says Senior Manager for Internal Communications, Emma Price (pictured), completely transforming employees’ ways of working.
The need for a new social intranet
Principality’s old intranet was built over 14 years ago. It was run without developer support on unsupported IT infrastructure. “It provided a poor user experience. It stored lots of information that had no owners or that was outdated. It was not enabling connections among staff and it was not an effective way to communicate across the organisation,” says Price.
The company embarked on a journey to transform itself to better serve customers in the digital age. It was crucial to bring all colleagues on that journey. The intranet would make or break the success of the new business direction, and needed to be a key engagement tool.
At that time, Internal Communications was sitting within the Marketing department. But after undertaking a review, the organisation recognised that it was time to build a separate internal communications function too. Price became the team manager, and the intranet project sponsor.
Choosing the right platform
The intranet requirements were carefully designed through a channel review. The new intranet needed to be the go-to place for all essential information and news, becoming the communications hub of the business. More than a broadcast channel, it would be social, facilitating conversations and the co-creation of content. The capabilities of the intranet and contributions from staff would signal Principality’s move into the digital era, and express the refreshed brand, aligning the internal experience with the external presentation of the business.
After considering a number of suppliers and seeking advice, Principality chose EasySharePoint for their new intranet. “The deciding factor was that it enabled us to bring everything under one roof – we could make use of existing licenses and easily integrate Yammer and SharePoint team sites that were already in operation,” explains Price.
The elegant look and feel was in line with Principality’s requirements and the ‘out of the box’ solution meant that no SharePoint developers were required. “We felt that by buying an out of the box intranet we would be able to build the solution quicker than going down the route of a custom build project.”
Approaching content migration
“We had the ambition to make the new intranet simple and straightforward. But also to bring in what was missing from the old channel.”
With 14 years of legacy content on the old site, Price’s team engaged the relevant business owners to understand what was current and needed to be migrated. “Our priority was seamless access to internal systems, forms, manuals, and documents.”
Price wanted all the news stories that people might remember and need to be migrated, and so over 100 articles from 2016 were published within the news section of the new intranet.
Easy access to reference material and systems was another priority: “This meant the intranet could not be based on the old navigation. We designed a site architecture that was fit for the future and followed industry best practice.” This included creating new content to meet people’s needs, and ensuring content owners knew exactly where to publish material.
An extensive communications campaign was run over three months to raise awareness and get staff ready for the new intranet.
Forty champions from all key areas right across the business were enlisted as testers and super users. “They had access to the site during the build. We designed a series of tests for them to check functionality and we invited their general feedback, and specific feedback on the user guides and communication materials.”
Champions helped promote the use of the new platform, and showed colleagues how things worked.
To date, champions are still highly visible and helpful. “While not a formal role,” explains Price, “if someone, using Yammer for example, has questions, the comms team doesn’t often need to respond because the champions have already helped out. This community involvement is really reassuring!”
What’s in a name?
Price’s team launched a ‘name your new intranet’ competition, asking colleagues to suggest a name for the platform, “because after all it is their communication tool”.
The name needed to align with Principality’s identity, and they had plenty to choose from. “We short-listed names from the 173 suggestions we received based on our brand identity.”
Everyone was asked to vote on their favourite name from the shortlist at the employee conference. The winning name was Cwtch, a Welsh word which means ‘help’, ‘cuddle’, or ‘embrace’. “The name suggests warmth and affection, which is how we want to operate as a business,” emphasises Price.
Throughout the launch campaign, Price continued to stoke staff enthusiasm for the new intranet while setting expectations. “Activities included countdown posters, ‘say your goodbyes’ messages on the old intranet site, manager briefings, and we updated our social media policy to include our internal social network, Yammer, so everyone could see the guidelines.” The social media policy was brought to life with videos and animations to explain the guidelines. “We outlined some key pointers around privacy and data protection, but still encouraged an environment where people can feel safe to speak up.”
On the launch day in November 2016, three articles were posted on Cwtch, highlighting key features and benefits of the new platform and encouraging feedback and suggestions. Posters were displayed and a ‘Getting Started’ guide was handed out. On launch day the Cwtch intranet received 935 unique visitors, and 919 colleagues signed up to Yammer – “that was over 90% of our workforce!”.
Social uptake beyond expectations
Today, Cwtch consistently receives over 800 unique daily visitors and nearly everyone is on Yammer. “It was surprising to see how quickly people adopted the new intranet.”
Before embarking on the Cwtch journey, Price did a lot of research around intranet launches in other companies to gather advice and understanding of the work being involved. “In those stories, there was always a lot of effort made to seed content into the social networks and get them flowing.”
Adoption of Cwtch was quick, and beyond Price’s expectations. The intranet is not only a business tool but also a connector for strengthening relationships. For example, employees started to coalesce around common interests and non-work related activities by setting up Yammer groups – around 200 to date – such as the popular cycling community.
For Price, the key to such a positive response is the culture. “Social uptake is absolutely linked to the culture of the organisation. Principality encourages an open, honest, and authentic working environment. There is a ‘one team’ mentality that promotes working together.”
It also helped that employees wanted a social intranet. “Our people constantly post on their favourite social networks externally, in their personal lives. They felt confident and excited to finally start using similar tools at work as well.”
Empowering the workforce
Another contributing factor to the successful uptake of the platform is employees ownership. Cwtch empowers people across the organisation. “Traditionally, Internal Communications has been seen as a gateway for information – creating and sending out official content to the business.”
There is of course still room for formal, corporate communications, but user-generated content is the lifeblood of the new intranet. “Employees share best practice among each other. They praise one another without the ‘formal’ recognition from the company. They comment on the articles, provide feedback, suggestions, ideas for improvements or just ask for more details. Cwtch has enabled so much more engagement and two-way communications.”
The intranet also brings customer experience closer to head office. “A lot of our front-line staff share stories; they might describe how they made a customer’s day, detail a thorny problem, share best practice, or make service improvement suggestions.”
“We are very fortunate that the leadership team embraced the intranet. It helps to make them more visible, and connects them directly with colleagues at every level.”
The new CEO, Steve Hughes, was appointed in March 2017. From the start, he wanted to get out and meet with colleagues. “He wanted to hear the voices of our people and talk with them.” Cwtch became the enabler of Hughes’ ambition. Whenever he visited a branch, the local teams would take photos and share them on Yammer. “They would talk about what the CEO said; everyone was able to follow his journey. That wouldn’t have been possible without our new digital platform. It was all user-generated content and organic engagement.”
Hughes himself has embraced the tool enthusiastically. He goes on Yammer on a weekly basis, often talking about who he has met with, but also sharing his personal thoughts and experiences. “This real, genuine storytelling is the reason why our people follow him on Yammer, comment on his posts, and look forward to what he says.”
The home page – news and productivity apps
Cwtch’s home page design is customised and aligns to Principality’s brand. Its major focus is the latest news and highlights of the week. However, employees can smoothly switch to the Yammer newsfeed to access to all the user-generated content.
The most popular news articles are those that directly impact staff or affect colleagues personally. For example, new courses and development opportunities, or new appointments, which often receive congratulatory comments from employees. News on competitions are also well received; Principality Builsing Society is the sponsor of Principality Stadium (formerly the Millennium Stadium) in Cardiff, which hosts many entertainment events. “We run competitions on Cwtch giving free tickets to the events. They can be hugely popular.”
As important as news is, the home page also provides easy access to the many apps and online systems staff need. “We wanted to ensure that all the applications and software that people use for their daily work are easily accessible to them.” As you can imagine for a building society, customer facing staff need their dedicated line of business systems, as well quick access to product reference material. Everyone needs the learning and development platform, the HR system, and the IT service desk, and there’s a link to the library of apps used throughout the business.
The importance of powerful search to the business
Not only has Cwtch brought a new level of connectedness and sense of belonging inside Principality, it has quickly become a trusted hub of information. The powerful search engine (based on SharePoint search) has made it quicker and easier for colleagues to find the information that they need to do their jobs. It has helped to improve the service that employees are able to deliver to customers.
Price tells the story of a ‘thank you’ note her team received from a branch for launching the new intranet. A customer was in the branch, asking for detailed information about savings rates. By using Cwtch, colleagues were able to find the right figures and key messages, ultimately solving the customer’s problem. “They managed to keep the customer with the business by being able to talk with authority on the subject. They were able to do that because they could easily find the up-to-date information they required. That wouldn’t have not been possible with the old system.”