Communication to inspire action

Sometimes, communication is not about coordinating stakeholder action, but about inspiring stakeholders to take action of their own accord.  This kind of communication is almost always about capturing hearts and minds—the mobilization and alignment of stakeholders with the achievement of the project outcomes. One of the key questions here is who is the right person, who is best positioned to influence and inspire action?

Case 5.8 describes the successful implementation of phase 1 of the Eurostar link to the centre of London. Right from the start, the Chief Executive adopted the role of champion, communicating and inspiring the behaviors he felt would be necessary from Eurostar staff.

“In my communications, I needed to keep a clear focus on the opportunities we were seizing, what we were doing, and why it was important. At times, this would involve not just communicating the vision but also cajoling the teams—giving them conviction in what they were doing. In my role, I needed to not only to talk the part but be there leading—I personally attended many of the meetings and briefings. This was undoubtedly one of the high points of my career.”

Case 5.8 : Eurostar: Taking Our People with Us

High  Speed  1 was  the  UK’s  first high-speed  railway  line,  linking London to the European network. It was also the first new British rail- way in 100 years and the UK’s largest-ever single construction project. The program had 80 work-streams at its peak, but the real complexity came from the delicate balances of political, corporate, and environment interests; moving services across London; building and moving to a new depot; and, not least, a non-negotiable, very public, end date.

Taking Our People with Us

HSpeed1Up to the launch of High Speed 1, Eurostar services started from London Waterloo, but this was always only a temporary site. The long-term aim was the implementation of a new international station at St. Pancras which would connect services from all parts of the UK, across London and into mainland Europe. In the meantime, staff had become accustomed to working at Waterloo and the passenger service was established and well publicized. Now Eurostar had the problem of selling the new vision to stakeholders who were familiar and comfortable with the current operating practices.

High Speed 1 had three stakeholder-intensive work streams. The ‘move’ work stream was all about the core deliverables—setting up the new passenger services. The naming of the other two work streams,

‘Taking our people with us’ and ’Taking our passengers with us,’ reflects the vision, right from the beginning, that this was not just about a technical implementation but a change in the practices of the major affected stakeholders—staff and passengers at the stations and on the platforms.

‘Taking our passengers with us’ focused on the risk from passengers, many from overseas, not being aware of the move and turning up at the wrong station. Passengers who previously had easy access to Waterloo and a direct train journey would now have to cross London (possibly even changing trains). The hurdle was set high—Eurostar did not want to lose a single customer.

‘Taking our staff with us’ was all about the retention of motivated, involved, and committed staff. Eurostar needed every member of staff to understand and commit to the changes necessary, acting as the on-the-platform ambassadors interfacing with the customers from day one. As the Chief Executive commented:

“They were all important but in my mind ‘Taking our people with us’ was what made the difference between a well-executed program and the major successful program ‘High Speed 1’ became. We knew there was a risk we may lose some of our staff who didn’t want to move. We needed our staff to be positive and on-the-ground champions of the new service.”

It was estimated that Eurostar was at risk of losing 100 staff as a result of the change in work location. As it turned out, only four members of staff were lost—a stunning result of good change and stake- holder management.

Communicate, Communicate, Communicate

This was a genuinely complex change environment, and every communication mechanism was  considered,  and  many  utilized.  The basic communications strategy could be summed up as persistency and consistency—there can never be too much, but it must not be repetitive—the aim was to make the communications fun, engaging different types of audience with different media. Different approaches were used, systematically building up communication traffic to ensure peaks coincided with critical program events.

A communication plan was defined, and a very early activity was a series of one-day workshops. 96 percent of the staff attended these, which ran over a period of two and a half months. The content and format of these were debated and the key messages identified: “We knew what impact we wanted to leave our audience with.”

On the morning of a workshop, detailed briefings were given by project managers and the groups looked at the risks and the upsides of the changes that were to be brought about by the program. “We didn’t pretend that everything was perfect. We knew there were dangers— we might well lose passengers from the South West.” All of the risks were shared and nothing censored. This did mean that sometimes the sessions were quite heated, in particular, where union members were concerned about changes in working arrangements.

In the afternoon, a director would join the group to give his or her views and answer questions. For the first few sessions, the Chief Executive took this role and found it invaluable to get a first-hand feel for the kinds of issues that his staff saw and what concerns they had. The workshop finished with a visit to St. Pancras station, still under construction, but already an impressive and inspiring reminder of what change the program would result in.

Communication was innovative, certainly, for the time the program was being run. Weekly newsletters went out to staff, and in the latter stages of the program, the program director managed to keep up a daily blog!

A hearts and minds process

‘Communication to inspire action’ is a hearts and mind process. It’s about finding ways to take our stakeholders with us. In the Eurostar case examined here, the champion happened to be the most senior manager in the organization, but this is not always the case. This is not about directional leadership based upon positional power, but charismatic leadership driven by factors such as trust and empathy with the stakeholders’ concerns.

In ‘communication to inspire’, the biggest question remains: Who is best positioned to communicate what and to which stakeholder groups?

This is the seventh in a series of blogs published on purposeful communication in projects.

Last blog: Communication as persuasion

These are based on the book:

Stakeholder-led project management: Changing the way we manage projects, Louise M Worsley, Business Expert Press, 2016



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