Leadership Lessons: How Amec Foster Wheeler engineered a successful intranet launch

The role intranets play when two organisations merge can be crucial. When staff need a lot of support, when cultures merge, and old systems need turning off, steering an organisation’s communications through a difficult period of change should make an intranet come alive.

To understand more about this, I talked to Tereza Urbankova, Head of Corporate Communications of Amec Wheeler Foster, over in their new offices in London’s Canary Wharf financial district late last year.

In 2014 AMEC merged with its US-listed competitor Foster Wheeler, bringing together 44,000 staff across 55 countries at the time into one much larger consolidated organisation. Amec Foster Wheeler are a leader in supplying engineering, consultancy and project management services to the oil, gas and chemicals, mining, power and process, environment and infrastructure markets.

Tereza Urbankova told me the goal: "You want to keep your people engaged throughout. And even more so during a major change.” Continuing, she said from the start of the acquisition process in 2014, they recognised the “need to keep them informed. Motivated about and understanding the change that is actually coming."

The challenge of combining different cultures, locations and technologies is never an easy process. Rumours can abound, with some staff being sceptical with a difficult set of changes that they may never have asked for.

As she went on to explain: “We were two separate entities. We couldn’t find out about each other or communicate to each other.” What they did next was to put up a simple temporary common intranet site to communicate progress of the deal and explain why they are doing it and what it will mean for the organisation as well as for all our employees.

A robust communication platform is vital 

As their merger meant a significant increase in the size of their workforce, she knew they needed a robust communications platform that could deal with the increase in scale.

Their goal was to have “a one stop shop that will make people’s work easier and more efficient… by accessing one tool, and they will be able to everything in one place from anywhere in the world.” Hence, they decided upon a digital workplace platform unlike a traditional intranet.

As she told me, at the outset, management had bought into a digital workplace concept — enabling efficiency and collaboration, improved productivity — so there were already good positive expectations from the business about what they would get from a more sophisticated platform.

After trying to develop their own SharePoint 2013 based digital workplace, they realised they needed a much more sophisticated platform. “It worked for us at very beginning. But we wanted to achieve much more with a much more complex tool.”

However, this meant her team had to look externally for help. They had to find the right arguments about why making a bigger investment was necessary, in not just a news platform but in a business focused and strategic tool.

So, they went about building a business case. “We needed to demonstrate through use cases how digital platforms helped other businesses and how they contributed to their success.

Precedents help make change happen 

A common problem faced by many doing something new. Without an internal precedent, often the next best thing to do is to look further afield. “Others cannot see it because they don't have enough information, they don't understand the vision… If you can demonstrate that, even by using someone else… another company, then it becomes clear.”

As Tereza told me, at this point they took a broader look at what else was available, comparing several tools. In the end, they choose Unily as their digital workplace solution.

Then the real battle began. The challenge was about how to quickly put it in place, populate it with key content and successfully launch it among staff who were desperate for information whilst maintain high levels of adoption that would continue to justify its investment to management.

How did they do all that and get it right? They ended up creating a lot of fuss around it, setting expectations of how it would change how staff work. Tereza and her team used a Star Wars based campaign to launch the newly minted Onespace digital workplace with the tag line 'May the Fourth be With You’ (launched on 4 May).

Big expectations indeed! As she told me, the core message was: "Star Wars changed the film industry. And we are changing the way you work.” To cushion the change, her team ran both old and new intranets together in parallel. This gave staff time to adjust, while her team did their utmost to communicate what was happening through Yammer and the new intranet. “We invited people to come and take a look first before we swapped the sites... the experience was very very different so our people needed to get familiar with it.”

How did staff take to it? Her team got “quite a lot of feedback about what people think, how difficult or easy they found it, whether they liked it or not, ideas for improvement. Then communication intensified as we were coming to the swap date. Then we swapped the sites.”

Adoption pays off with effort 

Looking back, what did Tereza and her team think about what they have achieved? “It was a huge undertaking but our people helped us. They are quite vocal. They do let us know when things don't work for them.”

While a merger is potentially going to be a good case for an intranet, as Tereza told me, it was not always plain sailing. Getting adoption levels right still took many months of hard work. “I would say about six months, potentially slowed down due to several legacy intranet sites that our people were using as it took us some time to migrate the key content.”

In the end, did she think it has been worth it? “Yes, although it’s not the end of our journey, we have come a long way. Not only in the quality of the tool we have or the vision which we are going towards. But also, I think in terms of people really understanding that this is the right tool to enable us to achieve what we want.”

What would her one single piece of advice be to someone else about to go through a similar merger or acquisition? Her answer was simple enough but something to take heed of: “To me it’s really about keeping people engaged, motivated, informed, taking them along with you.”

Speak to us about launching your own successful intranet solution. 

Martyn Perks Head of Customer Insight

Martyn is a business consultant with wide ranging experience in both public and private sectors. His expertise is in helping world-wide and small organisations improve how they communicate, share knowledge and innovate internally — aiding their growth and competitiveness. He works with senior leadership to front-line staff advising and mentoring them with compelling insights, recommendations, prototypes and business cases. Because his background is in design, he uses these skills whenever possible to help make complex ideas simple, in tandem with tangible and insightful analysis.

In addition to his consultancy work, Martyn regularly speaks, produces debates, and writes about a wide variety of topics including about privacy, big data, social media, innovation, design, 3D printing, behaviour change, usability, architecture, and artificial intelligence. Publications he has written for include The Independent, International Business Times, Telegraph business, the Guardian, Big Issue, Core77, Design Week, Netimperative, spiked, Web Designer Depot and CMS Wire. He co-authored Winners and Losers in a Troubled Economy: How to Engage Customers Online to Gain Competitive Advantage (2008), contributed a chapter on online communities to The Future of Community: reports of a death greatly exaggerated (2008); founded the Big Potatoes: The London Manifesto for Innovation; and conveyed the Big Potatoes: Manifesto for Design group.

He has spoken at debates across Europe and in America including at the Cheltenham Science Festival, Battle of Ideas festival, Design Exchange at the London Design Festival, Anglo Israeli Association in Jerusalem, Zurich Salon, Dublin Salon, Hellenic American Union in Athens, London College of Fashion, and at the private members club Home House. He has appeared on R4’s PM radio news programme debating whether blue-skies thinking is a management fad with FT’s Lucy Kellaway, and more recently debated whether artificially intelligent machines will take over humanity on SkyNews’ lunchtime #SkyDebate. Thankfully, he said they are still lightyear’s away from being as smart as us!

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