Building culture on technology

By Rich Thompson, VP, Global Internal Communication & Culture, CWT

Rich Thompson, VP, Global Internal Communication & Culture, CWT

Digital transformation projects are hard. Making them stick requires deep cultural shifts and persistence at every level of the organisation. A few years ago, following the appointment of a new President and CEO in 2016, CWT’s leadership undertook the digital transformation of our business, set on delivering an increasingly consumer-grade digitally-focused experience to our customers. At the same time, the company realized that the external promise of digital transformation would also have to happen internally, to the benefit of our employees. The tools and technology we provide them needed to become more digital and consumer-grade. The faster we could transform our culture and transform the way we work together, the faster our company would become a leading Business-to-Business-for-Employees (B2B4E) travel management platform.

With a highly dispersed global workforce of 16,000+ people spread across nearly 50 countries, strengthening the human bonds that tie us together was vital. CWT has a diverse multi-location and multi-generational workforce – over half of whom work remotely or are travel counselors operating in contact centers. Delivering a solution to fit into existing work patterns easily (while encouraging new ones) and meet the needs of early, intermediary, and late digital adopters – eliminating the “digital divide” in our workforce - was the goal.

From the outset, our ambition wasn’t to deploy  technology. It was to create an online employee community for communication, collaboration, and conversation. While our ambition was lofty, our approach was modest. We selected a cloud-based enterprise social network platform to replace a handful of locally hosted intranets and Yammer groups. Today the global‘Buzz’ community sits at the heart of the organisation’s shared culture, a living example of our Business-to-Business-for-Employees mantra applied to our  people.

Along the way, we have stayed true to our guiding principles and learned some valuable lessons. For example, we have put our focus on the experience for employees and made it about people and their relationships, as opposed to processes and technology. In an era of the “bright shiny object” syndrome, we have intentionally kept our platform simple from a technology perspective, resisting the urge to add new bells and whistles. When we do introduce upgrades, they are firmly people-oriented, designed to improve online community involvement. We learned early on in the community’s development, and from other technology deployments, that listening to what users  want, and under-promising and over- delivering, builds precious goodwill.

"The CWT culture can be summed up as empowering, performance-driven, innovative, and customer-focused"

We manage the community in a way that increases the collective value for all members — working with members on what needs improving. Listening. Engaging. It’s their community, after all. It’s not been plain sailing throughout, and we’ve hit bumps along the way.  Early on, we had complaints about Buzz contributing to the information overload that many employees feel in their daily jobs. Some criticized the community  for contributing to the deluge. We could have had a heavy-handed response, imposing new processes or increasing central controls on content creation. Instead, we took it as an opportunity to empower users with new skills so that they could take control of the information flow.

Over the span of two months last year, during the first pilot phase, roughly 10% of employees attended Zero to Hero interactive webinars designed to teach users how to gain greater control of information flow in a highly engaging online session. It enabled them to apply the learnings in real-time to how they used the community’s features, so they could immediately see the benefits of becoming more proactive users. The positive response was overwhelming, and the webinars are being rolled out to the rest of the community in 2020. Moreover, many of the first waves of attendees have become community champions, there to help their colleagues.

Employees feel like they own Buzz – it's their content and their community.  Not spoon-feeding teams, something that heads office has imposed on them, is most likely why the level of active online community engagement at CWT today sits at over 60% on any given day of the working week. And when we say active, we mean consuming content, engaging in online discussions, collaborating in project teams, publishing content. The community is as vibrant as our workforce is diverse.

You might be asking, what’s the value of the community for the business? What we have seen is that employees intrinsically understand that a strong community helps them work better together. The vast majority of the community is work-related. There are some social activities, but they never interfere with work.

The community has enabled project teams to come together across time zones. We have a project office that advises operational teams on how best to use the platform’s features and the community to reach the business outcomes they’re trying to achieve. Today the community helps these teams perform more efficiently and cost-effectively. Global processes are becoming more efficient. For example, we saw a 60% year-on-year drop on help desk tickets during the most recent annual review cycle. The cycle is now part of life in the community, and employees know where to go to find the resources and help they need.

Employees consistently share their ideas and expertise throughout the organization, using blogs and discussions. The community also helps teams, subject matter experts, and projects increase their visibility across CWT by creating their  official areas where they can post updates and resources. Employees can customize the blend of information they receive, and it’s available via their browser or smartphone app. There is a real sense of inclusion and ownership, so remote workers don’t feel too remote. During the company’s latest Culture Week celebration, online and offline activities were blended to the benefit of both, and a brand-new home worker network was launched. In the latest employee engagement survey, home workers are just as engaged as office-based staff.

The CWT culture can be summed up as empowering, performance-driven, innovative, and customer-focused. For that culture to flourish, it needs a place where people can gather and shape it every day in the way they work and live together. Technology is the enabler, but the community is where the culture comes to life.

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