Connecting the dots

Decentralising the flow of information enables strategic messages to reach a worldwide workforce 

 

 

Over 50,000 employees active on about 10,000 construction or development projects in Europe, the US and Latin America.

While many projects are located in London, New York, Prague and other metropolitan areas, there are others close to the North Pole in Scandinavia or hours from civilization in Patagonia and the Amazonas. Strong local companies, with hands-on cultures and a great number of blue collar employees with limited access to computers. A financially solid group with outspoken market leadership ambition, on a journey towards one integrated company. This is all Skanska. These are the base facts to relate to for internal communications at Skanska group level.

The five zeros

Internal communications in our business units is not a headache. While the construction industry may not be renowned for marketing communications, the communication departments have solid expertise in internal communications and crisis management. The challenge is rather how to make what is traditionally a strong decentralised fleet of Skanska’s size steer in one common direction towards joint overall goals yet keeping the local business focus and culture – and how internal communications can support this. In the past few years, there has been a move towards greater integration, symbolised by our shared values (what we call the Five Zeros) our shared code of conduct, one common brand, common risk management processes and group-wide human resources initiatives such as management development programmes. “Connecting the Dots” was the expression our former CEO used when referring to the value of sharing knowledge and know-how across Skanska. It is all about people networking and learning more about the company. Today, our strategy clearly states that we should leverage on the strengths of being one unified global group. However, while everyone understands that experiences from a bridge, a road or a building in one region can be useful in another region, it is a challenge to act upon it in daily life when everyone is busy focusing on his or her given task.

 

Meet, then repeat

One effective way to open up the eyes and minds of managers to the opportunities of the greater Skanska is the yearly management meeting when about 550 top managers from around the world gather for three to four days. This one per cent of the company carries the message back to their colleagues when they return to their local units or markets. Many business units hold their respective management meetings right after the global meeting, and naturally all presentations and films from the global meeting are easily available on the intranet. At the global management meeting we sum up the previous year and point out the direction for the future. We address issues that are crucial for the company; strategies, new ventures or matters that we want to, or need to, discuss. This was evident in the fall of 2008, when the meeting coincided with the crash of Lehman Brothers. All of a sudden, the basic prerequisites changed. The senior executive team spent the night rescheduling parts of the agenda, which had been prepared for months, to allow for group discussions on how to protect the company in times of financial crisis. Skanska managed the crisis better than expected; one cannot help but wondering if the fact that all of our top managers faced the situation together, as a team, contributed to our ability to succeed.

 

Cultural carrier

The management meeting holds a strong position. It is Skanska’s single largest communications and human resources investment, and the highlight of the annual calendar. It is not even questioned in times of financial turmoil, even if budgets are tighter. In addition to conveying group messages, it “connects the dots” in a very hands-on way; there are plenty of opportunities to meet spontaneously and breaks are generously long on purpose to stimulate crossover encounters. The meeting is also repeatedly rated as a key creator of pride of belonging to the global company.

Further, the management meeting is an important cultural carrier. We strive to confirm that we are personal, local and hands-on at the same time as we are a global, financially strong group with market leadership ambitions. These two aspects need to be balanced in everything we do, and they are also reflected in our Brand Attributes Big Heart and Knowledge. The balancing act implies that the event needs to be highly professional, but not too staged or rehearsed. Skanska people are extremely sensitive to anything which “does not feel like Skanska”, – for example external moderators or settings that are too advanced. “We don’t want to feel that we are part of a TV show,” someone said when the event was perceived as becoming too high profile. Remember that the construction industry is hands-on business.

 

One big happy family

So, we must convey a close and transparent feeling in a huge meeting. People on stage, and the senior executive team especially, are encouraged to be personal, which is not always easy… We spend much time training to be relaxed on stage. Our CFO started his number crunching session by speaking about his family. It may sound a bit too much, but the way it was done it was natural – and a good story, too! What we are aiming for is actually to create a ‘big family feeling’ in one of the world’s top construction companies. External consultants and speakers specifically comment on this.

In all meetings of this size, a classic discussion is how to allow for multiple perspectives and interaction. We have tried many different approaches; last year we built up and decorated a full kitchen on stage – the kitchen table was the basis for presentations and more relaxed discussions, rather than giving speeches. Apart from a relaxed tone, it also allowed for many more persons on stage.

As for interaction with the audience, voting devices have been very successful – even simple arrangements with four alternatives to choose from keep people alert, and some of the highlights of the conferences have been when the audience provides its views on business critical queries. The audience is also welcomed to ask any question at all to the senior executive team live at the meeting. For us, the next step is to explore how to make the event even more interactive, and to increase the interaction with the rest of the organisation.

The latter will now be so much easier thanks to another milestone in our internal communications; a group-wide intranet which is launched across Skanska as we are speaking. We are moving from more than 20 regional intranets to one shared global intranet. Also here, the objective is – besides supporting the local business – to enable our people to ‘connect the dots’, share knowledge and cooperate. For example, the new intranet includes SharePoint solutions for setting up local and global work groups and advanced search functions. A knowledge map visualises where experts in strategic topics are located, which builds on a person-to-person approach to knowledge management, rather than piling documents in data bases.

Other development areas for our internal communications are to make managers see themselves as internal communications channels and to support them in this role. For an engineer, this is not always a given! This work is done in close cooperation with human resources. Being a good communicator will be included as an important characteristic in the so called great boss profile, i.e. the description of what signifies a good Skanska manager. All Skanska managers are evaluated each year by their employees according to a common set of questions. The results form a great boss index for each manager. The more great bosses we will have, the better the company. 

Karin Lepasoon

Karin Lepasoon is currently executive vice president at Skanska and responsible in the senior executive team for communications, investor relations and knowledge management. Skanska is a leading international project development and construction company, headquartered in Stockholm, Sweden. Before joining Skanska, Lepasoon was vice president corporate communications at global healthcare and medical technology company Gambro. Prior to Gambro, she was marketing director at Intermec Technologies, a leading company in barcode identification systems.