Building business growth through governance

How getting to grips with governance helped the communications function at Volvo Construction Equipment improve its strategic influence

Image: VOLVO @ BAUMA 2016 - Press Information - EC950E crawler excavator

Several major acquisitions and corporate reorganisations had left the global communications function at Volvo Construction Equipment overly detached and unaligned. This resulted in a suboptimal strategic influence, with lack of visibility, transparency and collaboration. Counterintuitively, the solution lay not in reorganising the department’s structure, but rather getting to grips with its governance. The  result? In the same period the company has gone from industry laggard to industry leader in terms of profit margin.

As professional communicators we know that the term ‘communications’ is a catch-all for a number of specialisms within the overall marketing mix of an organisation: branding, general marketing, internal communications, external communications, public affairs, and so on. None have the monopoly on issuing forth, and all attempt to meet their business objectives by cascading their messages to different audiences in different ways. This is complicated enough in a simple business, but magnify it into a global enterprise, add in regions, markets, subsidiaries and large acquisitions and it’s easy to lose sight of what is being communicated, to whom, by whom, why and at what cost.

This is the situation that Volvo Construction Equipment (Volvo CE) found itself in 2015. Not quite a modern-day equivalent of a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma, but it was clear that the process of communication within the company was in need of an overhaul. As a support function, the communications function at Volvo CE had been above the fray of changes happening elsewhere in the organisation. But it was clear that if the corporate communications function was to play a part in the general transformation of the company, reform was needed.

The tool chosen to lead the shift to forming a high performing department was not a radical restructuring, but rather the introduction of a simple governance approach. By enabling, encouraging and insisting on greater clarity and collaboration, the new governance aimed to encourage cross functional cooperation, better visibility of the numbers that matter and greater accountability, thereby delivering results that were beneficial to the overall health of the company.

Quiet revolutionAlthough responsible for writing intranet articles encouraging greater collaboration between functions, it was clear that the communications department itself was as wedded to a silo way of working as the rest of the organisation. Across the company, there were multiple communication plans, with different functional priorities and very little alignment. Branding, marketing, corporate communications and public affairs all had their own plans and actions, but little

Bill Law

Bill Law has been senior vice president, corporate communications at Volvo Construction Equipment since September 2015. Prior to his current role Bill held a position outside the Volvo Group, where he was director of corporate communications at global fashion retailer C&A. Bill is based at the company’s global headquarters in Gothenburg, Sweden. He first joined Volvo in 1998, where he held a number of senior communications positions in Europe, Asia and the Americas. Bill also sits on the board of the Volvo Ocean Race, the Volvo Museum in Gothenburg, Sweden and the Munktell Museum in Eskilstuna, Sweden.