The specialist UK financial services group, Just, provides companies and individuals with retirement products and services. The group was born in 2016 following the merger between Just Retirement and Partnership. Inevitably, as with any change of this sort, Just went through a period of complexity: a new brand and identity, new processes, new management practices, policies, and indeed relationships. Though exciting, a merger can be challenging for employees and may well be a particularly unstable time. So, what could help Just consolidate content, practices, and culture, so that everyone could look forward to the future?
Speed is a key factor in mergers; some things just have to happen quickly in order to hit milestones and maintain momentum. Built in six months and launched in summer 2017, HQ, is the new intranet of the unified business. Based upon SharePoint using EasySharePoint, HQ is not just a digital workplace tool, but an enabler of cultural engagement among 1,000 employees across Surrey, London, and Belfast.
Just a big milestone
Prior to having HQ, each legacy company had its own intranet which were used to provide the same messages across the business. The intranets played a crucial part in supporting the merger in terms of keeping staff informed about the progress to completion. “It was important to keep talking about progress and the work to be done, and so there was a continuous flow of communication throughout,” says Internal Communications Manager at Just, Stephanie Woolford.
The launch of HQ marked a big milestone for Just. Showing the new name and the new company identity, HQ was a significant step towards bringing the new brand to life and helping to instill the sense of moving forward as one business.
Involving employees from the start
“We involved people from all over the company in HQ development to ensure the intranet fitted the needs and wants of the business.”
When the project kicked off in January 2017, Woolford started a series of focus groups with staff from various departments. Compliance, for example, wanted to ensure that all the documents and forms were referenced and that it would be easy to access previous versions. Speaking with Customer Service, their priority was being able to find colleagues, quickly. Everyone wanted a well-structured intranet that was easy to get around, with a good search experience. The EasySharePoint Team knew that information architecture and metadata would play key roles in success.
Because Woolford and the team included employee needs from the start, there was a much greater sense that HQ was created for them and that they’d had a hand in it. “We have always strived to be more informal and conversational in our communications, which align with the brand values and support a greater sense of shared vision and purpose.”
HQ now provides one central place for news, information, and resources. “Everyone sees exactly the same thing and a constant flow of communications delivered in a consistent format helps to provide clarity and reassurance, which is particularly important through a period of change.”
Building the intranet through agile project management
Using agile project management methodology meant that the IT and Internal Comms teams worked closely together with shared goals, helping to move the intranet project forward quickly. Formal meetings set key priorities, while fortnightly sprint reviews tracked progress and results. Solid project management helped to develop a very clear dialogue between the teams around what needed to be delivered and when.
Woolford says they chose to deploy EasySharePoint after researching the SharePoint intranet market. She particularly appreciates the search function, the general look and feel, and how it enables the Comms team to easily look after the home page and publish communications. “Our previous intranet felt clunky and messy, which was frustrating. HQ is simple. With all the communication overload typical of our time we can easily cut through the noise and ensure that the information is useful to everybody.”
As the new intranet became launch-ready, the IT and Internal Comms teams worked together to plan the switch over. The IT Service Desk was prepped to help anyone who experienced any kind of glitch. “We did not want anybody’s day-to-day work interrupted.”
But the switch to HQ went very smoothly. “Yes, there were some areas that needed some tweaks in terms of access or a few links that were missing, but nothing major. Sometimes, you end up expecting the worst, especially during a change, but you have to trust the process, don’t you?”
Intranet content must be relevant, interactive, and…
For launch, the Internal Comms team created a quick five-minute video to introduce HQ to the organisation and address potential concerns and doubts. “We expected questions to come up because of the fear of the unknown and resistance to change. So, we wanted to encourage familiarity with the new tool as well as start dealing with possible issues immediately.”
Essentially, the video was used as a short guide, which Woolford, her team, and a group of volunteers filmed at the University of Hertfordshire against a green screen. Thanks to the help of IT, the video was the first thing employees saw when they logged in for the first time. They were able to skip it if they chose to, but could still view it later via the HQ homepage.
Since launch, news is published daily and the most popular topics usually focus on people – especially colleagues’ achievements and their charity work. Business results are also widely read. “We have just recently released our H1 results and this has been the top story by far over the week.”
As part of Just’s developing culture, people now get a day off on their birthday. This gives people the chance to spend their birthday doing something special and to take time for themselves, and is highlighted on HQ as a part of Just’s developing wellbeing programme.
The Library stands out on the home page and it is something Woolford is proud of. “It may not sound exciting, but having one library for all our documents has been a real win for HQ and Just. When we had two intranets, we ended up with forms in different places; it was difficult to understand where the information was kept, what was current and what was out-of-date. Having all our documents in one place means everyone can be sure to work on accurate and updated content.”
Getting people involved with content and organisation goals is of course important for an engaged workforce and the success of an intranet. Just used a quiz widget embedded within the HQ intranet to get staff thinking about their own retirement plans. The widget was developed for customers and the external website to support a big piece of customer research. “The topic of retirement is core to Just business, and we like encouraging our own people to start thinking about it early on.
“It was an engagement piece to get people interested in the research results but, more importantly, to understand the diverse attitudes and concerns of people.”
It wouldn’t be an effective 21st Century intranet without the social aspect. HQ is integrated with the enterprise social network, Yammer, which surfaces all employee-created content. The feed appears on the home page alongside the news so people can keep up to date with the latest discussions and get involved as they like. “Yammer is our big discussion forum, which we use as much as possible.”
There’s a Yammer group for almost everything. “Things range from work groups, simple work-related questions, learning and development, sharing articles of interest, social events, buying and selling items, charity fundraising activities, through to a daily joke.”
There is also a ‘Good Deed Feed’, a place for people to thank colleagues personally for a job well done or an achievement or success. Anyone can like or comment upon these good deeds, and it’s a well-used Yammer group, and might be something other companies could try.
Another popular Yammer conversation is about office refurbishment, which was born following a 24-hour Yam Jam called ‘Just Work Smarter‘. The Yam Jam involved members of the leadership team discussing, for instance, how to better communicate with customers, how to work more efficiently, and how the working environment affects productivity and culture. “It got the entire business involved. The executives did an excellent job responding to almost all queries. It was a boost to engagement, and must have helped people get more familiar with Yammer and HQ.”
Engaging leadership comms
Some leaders are also particularly active on the leadership blogs. “Leaders are embracing the tools available through HQ to create awareness and debate about topics related to their areas in a more creative and engaging way than perhaps they were able to do before.”
For example, the Marketing Director is very visible with his blog. “He writes extensively about what happens in his division, gives industry updates, and shares advice as well as thoughts on the conferences that he attends.”
The Head of Risk is another popular leader among employees. He tends to share thought-provoking pieces on risk in everyday life to help raise awareness of what risk means and how it could be understood in a business context.
Cementing the business
Woolford believes the main benefit HQ has brought to the business is the “cultural engagement”, which was vital to achieve after the merger. “We’d been talking about becoming Just, becoming one single business for months. But before we had HQ as our single intranet, our messaging was diluted by the separate intranets – employees would still see different things on different systems depending on what part of the business they were working in.
“HQ helped cement us. We now log on and see the same brand colours, the same, design, and the same content, and we are confident that everything on there is updated and accurate for everyone. We feel just one whole company.”
Just looking forward
A key priority for Just is to ensure HQ continues to develop, remains fresh, is always well-used, and that it continues to be fit for purpose. “To that end, we conduct our own reviews and consider future developments but, more importantly, we continually review feedback about the site and have a programme of enhancements to make sure it continues to meet the needs of our employees.”