Stacey MacNeil likes a challenge. She didn't flinch when, after immediately accepting the role as vice president of global employee communications at Hewlett Packard, she was given just three days to write a plan to motivate a 330,000 workforce, employed across more than 170 countries. 'I had a white sheet of paper,' she recalls.
MacNeil joined on 12 August 2012. Her first task was to create an internal strategy around the first anniversary of Meg Whitman's appointment as chief executive just six weeks later. Whitman's arrival had followed a torrid time in Hewlett Packard's 74 year history, including three chief executives in less than two years and plummeting profits and she had just unveiled extensive job cuts.
The workforce was demotivated, disengaged and disenfranchised. All communications from Hewlett Packard were targeted at an external audience, such as customers, shareholders and analysts. Employees were either the last on the list or completely neglected. It was a state of affairs that Whitman did not want to continue.
'I had three goals,' says MacNeil. 'I had to make sure that employees heard the news first from a centralised portal; to put that news into context so that they understood it; and finally I had to motivate them, to make sure that they understood Hewlett Packard's strategy, their role and what they could do to help the turnaround.
'Meg ran for Governor of California. She understands the value of communications and how you need to simplify messages to get people to understand them.' But she also understood the power of advocacy, and how 330,000 employees with an in-depth understanding of the issues facing Hewlett Packard would be keen to share that knowledge with friends and associates.
Whitman was determined that her anniversary should be forward looking, rather than retrospective. It sparked an idea in MacNeil. She challenged employees to create a ten second video on the subject I believe HP has a great future because... It was the first time that employees had been engaged in this way, and she was nervous about whether they would embrace the opportunity. It was also a risk: the management team were unsure what employees thought about the future. At the time, internal surveys had revealed that roughly40 per cent of employees were excited about the future. Today, that number has risen to 70 per cent.
'We sent an email to all employees. We didn't want anything too smooth; we encouraged them to film it themselves on their phone or to get a colleague or family member to catch them,' she says.
As the closing date loomed, just a handful of entries had arrived. But by deadline, there were closer to 300. MacNeil selected 15 that were cut together into a video, with an introduction from Whitman. 'It was the first time we were connecting with our employees in that style,' she explains. Whitman was letting the people do the talking. And they were getting the opportunity to meet her and ask their questions directly.
THE EXISTING INFR ASTRUCTURE
'We had an existing intranet but it had no interactivity, there was no ability to play video,' says MacNeil. But that was the internal platform that she had to use, and, with just 24 hours to spare before the anniversary, there was no opportunity to update it.
MacNeil claims she was never daunted by her Herculean challenge. 'Bill [Hewlett] and Dave [Packard] had created an iconic brand with a fantastic heritage. Hewlett Packard is the largest PC maker in the world, with a number one or two position in every market,' she explains. 'But we had become the laughing stock of the industry. We had to restore our former glory.'
Once Whitman's anniversary passed, MacNeil turned her attention to the opportunities to engage employees in an upcoming Securities Analyst Meeting on 3 October. 'Ten days before the meeting, I knew that they were going to guide down analysts' expectations. The market was expecting earnings per share of $4, but the guidance was going to be in the region of $3.60 which would have a negative impact on shares and prove another blow to morale,' says MacNeil.
Her solution was to create an employee-friendly Securities Analyst Meeting, where the numbers would be explained in simple language and all corporate jargon removed. But she would also create a de facto newsroom, releasing the information in real-time with full explanations of what the numbers actually meant and why they impacted the share price.
Many staff are also shareholders. They had seen shares slump from a peak of more than $52 just two years earlier, to hover close to their 2005 levels. There had already been an exodus of top talent, disheartened with the financial performance and share option incentive plans that seemed unachievable, which the senior management was keen to stop.
'It was all about How do we educate employees?,' explains MacNeil. 'I approached the vice president of investor relations [Rob Binns], and said I'd like you to explain the Securities Analyst Meeting to me, a sort of Explanation 101.' MacNeil interviewed Binns on video, asking him to spell out in detail what happened at such a meeting, including who attended, the difference between buy side and sell side analysts and a comprehensive explanation of financial terms. (Other Explanation 101s on all aspects of Hewlett Packard's business have since been uploaded onto the site.) Staff were invited via the intranet to sign up and register to watch a live web stream.
'I got Cathie Lesjak, our chief financial officer, to create a message for all, that explained that a live web stream of the meeting was available. We also created a schedule for employees. For example, we highlighted the times when Meg would be speaking about strategy, or when somebody would be talking about innovation or plans for the future.'
As financial information was unveiled at the meeting, MacNeil and her team were able to simultaneously issue explanations on the intranet or direct employees to video interviews with investor relations staff on YouTube. 'They were getting the information at the same time as the analysts,' she explains. But the key difference was that, for the first time ever, the information was being put into context for Hewlett Packard's employees.
THE INFORMATION KEPT FLOWING
When the meeting ended at 4pm, MacNeil's team issued a series of explanations about the events of the day, why Hewlett Packard's stock price was falling and why Whitman believed in the company's future strategy and was excited about its five year turnaround plan. 'I had already filmed three or four videos with the senior management on the expected reactions,' she explains. 'But we took a new approach.' Far from slick productions, the videos were created rather like kneejerk reaction pieces. 'We wanted our employees to understand everything,' adds MacNeil.
Such a detailed programme for the Shareholder Analysts Meeting set the bar high going forward for MacNeil and her team. 'Meg is a strong leader,' she explains. 'She is not going to hide anything. She wants us to be transparent and to tell the truth - we are telling staff what is happening, why it is happening and what we need to do about it. We created a template for future events.'
MacNeil's next task was to create an employee engagement programme around Hewlett Packard's Discover conference, a three day event attended by more than 5,000 people, at which the company showcases its latest technology to businesses and governments. It was to take place in Frankfurt in December.
'Discover is about innovation, strategy, products, solutions, services and I thought What about employees? Wouldn't it be great to send some of them to Discover?,' she explains. She created a competition, that drew on Hewlett Packard's brand message What matters to you, matters to us, asking employees to write 250 words on the subject We make it matter because... The winners would attend the Discover conference in Frankfurt as ambassadors for their colleagues.
Unbelievably, more than 56,000 employees - almost one in six of the workforce - entered. 'My team and I read every single one. It took us three days; we sent 30 to human resources to make the final decision,' adds MacNeil. Ten ambassadors were selected. 'But I wanted them to have a job to do when they got there, so I thought We'll make them reporters,' she says. 'If they went to a Cloud presentation, for example, they had to create a report for their colleagues.'
The ambassador reports were also published on the company's website, leading to one being picked up by Yahoo! It was the sort of media coverage that Hewlett Packard would have been unable to plan.
But MacNeil also created a guide to the Discover event for the majority of employees who were unable to attend. 'We wanted them to see what our customers would be seeing,' she adds. A package of videos, fast fact sheets and infographics were uploaded onto the company intranet, which she was already redesigning and recreating.
Relaunched as HP News Now, MacNeil has recreated the intranet as a central location where employees hear news about Hewlett Packard first, with context and perspective. 'If there's a negative news story out there, why not publish it on our intranet?' asks MacNeil. 'We can't reveal all the turnaround plan, but we can provide an understanding of the story. We can tell employees what they need to know to put it into context. We can talk about it with them, address their concerns.'
Working with Hewlett Packard's IT experts, MacNeil has also created an intranet that employees can access from smart phones, home computers or other devices. They can also adapt the intranet to their own personal requirements, with the ability to integrate news feeds from media outlets, calendars and other data. All information is in English. 'We looked at translations but our colleagues in China, for example, said they would prefer English,' says MacNeil. 'But we have had requests from our hearing impaired colleagues, who find it difficult to understand the videos, for a translation.' Her team are working on the request.
MARKETING THE MESSAGE
But asking employees to take time out of their day to watch a live stream of an analysts' presentation or even a speech by Whitman is not without its challenges. MacNeil has created a 'video release' template. Just as if they were promoting a major blockbuster, her team release trailers and previews and advertise the upcoming event through the intranet and email. If you want people to take 60 or 90 minutes out of their day to watch something, they need to know why.
Similarly, Hewlett Packard needed its employee releases to grab attention; they were competing with more than 20 million internal emails every week. Those with responsibility for the intranet were sent on headline writing courses. The team now effectively work as journalists, seeking out stories from within the company and their titles have changed to reflect this. The intranet team, who all report to MacNeil, now have titles like 'managing editor', 'reporter' and 'employee reporters'.
Four months after her arrival, MacNeil's team had organised and run five different campaigns - including one on quarterly earnings and another on the launch of Windows 8 - which effectively followed a similar strategy: provide all the information possible, with background details and context, to keep employees up-to-date.
But, perhaps more importantly, the intranet that MacNeil worked to make the central news hub for employees, had received more than 1.85 million visits, and over 1.53 million return visits. On average, they spent almost six minutes on the intranet and, in general, checked in every two days. Since her arrival, employee engagement across Hewlett Packard has risen five percentage points to 70 per cent, and there has been a 13 percentage point increase in the number of employees who agree Senior leaders offer a clear sense of direction. Other companies should fight for that white piece of paper.