Go gets to grips with communications

first_imgGo gets to grips with communicationsOn 1 Sep 2001 in Personnel Today As controversy rages over government plans to implement the EU directive oninformation and consultation, Dominic Paul, director of people services andbusiness development at Go, the low cost airline, explains to Sara Bean how thecompany’s proactive communications strategy has benefited the organisationA recent announcement by the EU suggests that the decision to consult is beingtaken out of employers’ hands. Many UK business leaders were clearly irked bythe Government’s agreement to the “EU domestic works councildirective”. This will require employers with more than 150 staff to informand consult staff on all crucial decisions within the next three years, whilecompanies with more than 100 staff have five years and those with a workforceof more than 50 now have seven years. Like it or not, better communication in one form or another is on theagenda. So what can UK firms do to ensure they have an effective policy inplace? And how exactly do you construct such a policy in the first place? The communications strategy at Go, the low cost airline, is an excellentexample of a proactive approach to employee communication and a useful model toother organisations that may currently be considering how to revise theirconsultation policies. The directors and senior managers of Go kept staff informed of a recentmanagement buyout by personally ringing each member of staff. And, according toDominic Paul, director of people development, that was the culmination of theorganisation’s ongoing approach to employee communications. He explains, “The idea is to make sure that everyone feels involved.It’s a bit like when there’s a delay on an aircraft, as long as the pilotadvises you why there is a delay and how long you’re likely to wait, you feelinformed. That’s how it works with Go employees, they know what’s going onbecause we keep them informed.” British Airways set up Go in 1998 with the idea of providing a low costairline with a high level of customer service. Starting with just one aircraft,Go expanded quickly, and by the end of last year reported profits of £4m andrevenues of £159.7m, up 59 per cent from 2000. When British Airways decided toconcentrate on premium rate travellers it decided to sell off the low costairline. After six months of uncertainty, Go’s management team agreed a managementbuyout, aided by 3i, the European venture capitalist. Before news of the agreementcould break in the media, the management team went to great efforts to ensurethat staff were informed of the deal. Says Paul, “When the sale was agreed, we stopped all the phones forfive minutes and told our people immediately. As we’ve such a disparateworkforce, we then needed to tell other staff, many of who were in the air,about the management buyout. We then spent four hours calling everyonepersonally to tell him or her what was going on. Those we couldn’t get hold of,we left a message explaining what was going on.” Although each call only took around five minutes, the efforts made by the 19senior managers and directors to call all 750 staff meant that all Goemployees, wherever they were, knew that the deal was going through, what it wouldmean to them, and how a letter was being sent out to them to explain the dealin more detail. This kind of hands on approach typifies the firm’s emphasis onmaintaining a positive communications programme. And unlike many other,primarily office-based UK businesses, Go has some interesting challenges tomeet to ensure that every member of staff is kept informed. One of the biggest communications challenges at Go is the fact that much ofits staff work unsociable hours. Aside from office-based employees, includingthose in accounts, administration, engineering, marketing and sales, there areboth ground crew who work unsociable hours and aircraft crew, who for much ofthe time are in the air. The company uses a number of ways to keep staff in theloop. It operates a “cascade” system of communication where managers arekept informed of business developments and in turn pass this information on toindividual teams. There are also regular forums where general managementdecisions are explained, an overview is given of the state of the business andparticipants are given the opportunity to ask questions. When employees walk into reception, they have the opportunity to postquestions on a whiteboard and receive an answer within the week. Thisinnovation is of particular use to crew, as they’re not generally around toattend staff forums. However, says Paul, “The crew all come to the main office forbriefings. A lot of the other airlines brief staff at the airport, which candistance them somewhat from the rest of the company. We do it here, not awayfrom the rest of the business.” Go also uses the latest technology to keep staff up to date with companynews. “Go TV” is broadcast every day on television monitors and isused to supply all sorts of useful information, from the latest share resultsto more light-hearted news, such as the results of a recent “BigBrother” competition. The company intranet is another rich source of communication. Relativelyeasy to set up, an intranet affords an invaluable way of providing regularlyupdated information. By using the intranet, the management can easily post thelatest sales figures, the situation regarding the management buyout and generalstaff gossip, including employees’ birthdays. A day away from the workplace is another less formal way of communicatingcompany values. The company held a “Go” day a couple of years ago tocommunicate the vision and purposes of the company to staff. It recently held a”Let’s Go again” day to update staff and brief them on the firm’sfive-year vision. This culminated in the directors taking 670 staff out todinner. Says Paul, “We do like to do things informally. It fits into the styleof what we do. We have a relaxed approach, and this comes through in the stateof mind of our staff, whether young or more mature.” The chief executive of Go, Barbara Cassani, also makes great efforts to keepin touch with Go employees by recording a weekly message to staff every Friday.This can be accessed via an internal number for office-based staff, with aspecial external number for crew. And, says Paul, “She’s very direct andhonest with staff on what’s been happening.” Currently, the biggest challenge for Paul and the rest of the managementteam is to explain the employee share offer. As part of the purchase agreement,19 of Go’s senior management have invested their own money in the company, andall of Go’s 750 employees are being offered share options. The firm has organised a series of presentations explaining the terms of theshare options and what they will mean for employees. In practice this meansPaul has given 30 presentations in 10 days, which, where crew and pilots areconcerned, includes evenings and Saturdays. Paul agrees that this strategy is hard work but one which definitely paysoff. “It’s something I feel strongly about, because it’s important thatpeople understand how they can make the share options work for them.” Paul also believes that one of the greatest benefits of the company’sproactive communications strategy is in recruitment and retention. The resultsof a yearly survey of employees show that 93 per cent understand what Go istrying to achieve, 81 per cent think Go is a great place to work, andsignificantly, 83 per cent feel they contribute to the company’s development. As a result, the firm has a lot of internal promotion and people are oftenreluctant to leave. Says Paul, “We are a ‘people business’ and ouremployees are mainly on the front line of that, so it’s important we reflectthat in how we deal internally. It really is a simple model. We care about ourcustomers and in order to provide a good service we make sure we’ve got a happyand well-motivated workforce. It’s clear where the company is going andeveryone will pull together. There is a real energy in the business.” Communication tipsDominic Paul has “five tips forgood communication”: – Listen carefully to your people. Only by understanding themwill you know how to communicate to them– Keep communication simple. No one likes lengthy communications– Keep communication relevant. Always think about what peopleare likely to be interested in – Always be as honest as possible -it pays dividends in thelong run and leads to trust– Always remember that good communication takes effort. Planwhat you are going to say, what the message is and what it means for people. Previous Article Next Article Comments are closed. Related posts:No related photos.last_img