LNER is a train company that spans the eastern spine of the country, from London to Inverness, stopping at major cities such as Leeds, York, Newcastle and Edinburgh along the way. More than 3,000 colleagues work for the business in locations ranging from stations to engineering depots to contact centres and fast-moving trains.
And therein lay the challenge for LNER. In May 2018, the Secretary of State for Transport unexpectedly announced that the Virgin Trains East Coast franchise was being terminated. Six weeks later, on 24 June 2018 after being taken into public ownership, London North Eastern Railway (LNER) was formed.
The two person internal communications function, based in London’s King’s Cross, had just six weeks to inform and educate colleagues about the implications of the change for them personally, while supporting a TUPE transfer consultation process.
With minimal budget and limited access to external agencies, the internal comms team had to develop a new LNER brand, purpose and set of values for the new business - involving colleagues in its development - overseeing its launch at the company’s first ever two day management conference in February. The duo also had to design, communicate and embed a new business plan so that colleagues understood the challenges and their role in delivering results.
The team’s ‘to do’ list for the first seven months after May’s shock announcement was extensive as the company moved from a commercial operation to public ownership - while dealing with three different directors. They staged an awards ceremony in October 2018, which recognised colleagues, and one month later said farewell to 400 engineers who TUPE transferred to Hitachi, while communicating trade union pay negotiation updates.
Between December and January, working with an agency, the internal comms team conducted a communications audit, delivered an annual employee survey in March 2019 and supported the introduction and roll out of a new IT platform and mobile devices system across 22 railway stations and offices. They are also working on developing more internal channels, including a magazine and intranet. And then there was the business-as-usual work: sending a weekly enewsletter to more than 3,000 colleagues and running quarterly face-to-face meetings for LNER’s 50 senior managers.
Against, this backdrop the internal communicators managed the campaign around the arrival of a new fleet of Azuma trains, involving the creation of booklets with details on how they work, organising visits to factories to see them being built and sharing behind-the-scene peeks via video, distributing brand-related collateral along the route and supporting colleagues on rehearsal trains.
Rather than being daunted by the task, the team say they ‘saw it as a rare opportunity to lead the communications for a company going from private to public sector, creating a set of values and brand purpose from scratch. ‘We’re a close-knit team that works beyond the typical Monday- Friday office hours,’ they say.
Their efforts were certainly recognised by their colleagues. The most recent staff engagement survey revealed a 14 percentage point rise to 62 per cent in response to the statement: LNER does an excellent job of keeping me informed on company matters - the biggest category rise. While 74 per cent of colleagues, up ten percentage points, said they support LNER values.
The judges were impressed that the team had managed ‘a significant change agenda in a short space of time’ and ‘clearly worked well as a cohesive unit to cope with demands’.