Go gets to grips with communications

As controversy rages over government plans to implement the EU directive on
information and consultation, Dominic Paul, director of people services and
business development at Go, the low cost airline, explains to Sara Bean how the
company’s proactive communications strategy has benefited the organisation

A recent announcement by the EU suggests that the decision to consult is being
taken out of employers’ hands. Many UK business leaders were clearly irked by
the Government’s agreement to the "EU domestic works council
directive". This will require employers with more than 150 staff to inform
and consult staff on all crucial decisions within the next three years, while
companies with more than 100 staff have five years and those with a workforce
of more than 50 now have seven years.

Like it or not, better communication in one form or another is on the
agenda. So what can UK firms do to ensure they have an effective policy in
place? And how exactly do you construct such a policy in the first place?

The communications strategy at Go, the low cost airline, is an excellent
example of a proactive approach to employee communication and a useful model to
other organisations that may currently be considering how to revise their
consultation policies.

The directors and senior managers of Go kept staff informed of a recent
management buyout by personally ringing each member of staff. And, according to
Dominic Paul, director of people development, that was the culmination of the
organisation’s ongoing approach to employee communications.

He explains, "The idea is to make sure that everyone feels involved.
It’s a bit like when there’s a delay on an aircraft, as long as the pilot
advises you why there is a delay and how long you’re likely to wait, you feel
informed. That’s how it works with Go employees, they know what’s going on
because we keep them informed."

British Airways set up Go in 1998 with the idea of providing a low cost
airline with a high level of customer service. Starting with just one aircraft,
Go expanded quickly, and by the end of last year reported profits of £4m and
revenues of £159.7m, up 59 per cent from 2000. When British Airways decided to
concentrate on premium rate travellers it decided to sell off the low cost

After six months of uncertainty, Go’s management team agreed a management
buyout, aided by 3i, the European venture capitalist. Before news of the agreement
could break in the media, the management team went to great efforts to ensure
that staff were informed of the deal.

Says Paul, "When the sale was agreed, we stopped all the phones for
five minutes and told our people immediately. As we’ve such a disparate
workforce, we then needed to tell other staff, many of who were in the air,
about the management buyout. We then spent four hours calling everyone
personally to tell him or her what was going on. Those we couldn’t get hold of,
we left a message explaining what was going on."

Although each call only took around five minutes, the efforts made by the 19
senior managers and directors to call all 750 staff meant that all Go
employees, wherever they were, knew that the deal was going through, what it would
mean to them, and how a letter was being sent out to them to explain the deal
in more detail. This kind of hands on approach typifies the firm’s emphasis on
maintaining a positive communications programme. And unlike many other,
primarily office-based UK businesses, Go has some interesting challenges to
meet to ensure that every member of staff is kept informed.

One of the biggest communications challenges at Go is the fact that much of
its staff work unsociable hours. Aside from office-based employees, including
those in accounts, administration, engineering, marketing and sales, there are
both ground crew who work unsociable hours and aircraft crew, who for much of
the time are in the air. The company uses a number of ways to keep staff in the

It operates a "cascade" system of communication where managers are
kept informed of business developments and in turn pass this information on to
individual teams. There are also regular forums where general management
decisions are explained, an overview is given of the state of the business and
participants are given the opportunity to ask questions.

When employees walk into reception, they have the opportunity to post
questions on a whiteboard and receive an answer within the week. This
innovation is of particular use to crew, as they’re not generally around to
attend staff forums.

However, says Paul, "The crew all come to the main office for
briefings. A lot of the other airlines brief staff at the airport, which can
distance them somewhat from the rest of the company. We do it here, not away
from the rest of the business."

Go also uses the latest technology to keep staff up to date with company
news. "Go TV" is broadcast every day on television monitors and is
used to supply all sorts of useful information, from the latest share results
to more light-hearted news, such as the results of a recent "Big
Brother" competition.

The company intranet is another rich source of communication. Relatively
easy to set up, an intranet affords an invaluable way of providing regularly
updated information. By using the intranet, the management can easily post the
latest sales figures, the situation regarding the management buyout and general
staff gossip, including employees’ birthdays.

A day away from the workplace is another less formal way of communicating
company values. The company held a "Go" day a couple of years ago to
communicate the vision and purposes of the company to staff. It recently held a
"Let’s Go again" day to update staff and brief them on the firm’s
five-year vision. This culminated in the directors taking 670 staff out to

Says Paul, "We do like to do things informally. It fits into the style
of what we do. We have a relaxed approach, and this comes through in the state
of mind of our staff, whether young or more mature."

The chief executive of Go, Barbara Cassani, also makes great efforts to keep
in touch with Go employees by recording a weekly message to staff every Friday.
This can be accessed via an internal number for office-based staff, with a
special external number for crew. And, says Paul, "She’s very direct and
honest with staff on what’s been happening."

Currently, the biggest challenge for Paul and the rest of the management
team is to explain the employee share offer. As part of the purchase agreement,
19 of Go’s senior management have invested their own money in the company, and
all of Go’s 750 employees are being offered share options.

The firm has organised a series of presentations explaining the terms of the
share options and what they will mean for employees. In practice this means
Paul has given 30 presentations in 10 days, which, where crew and pilots are
concerned, includes evenings and Saturdays.

Paul agrees that this strategy is hard work but one which definitely pays
off. "It’s something I feel strongly about, because it’s important that
people understand how they can make the share options work for them."

Paul also believes that one of the greatest benefits of the company’s
proactive communications strategy is in recruitment and retention. The results
of a yearly survey of employees show that 93 per cent understand what Go is
trying to achieve, 81 per cent think Go is a great place to work, and
significantly, 83 per cent feel they contribute to the company’s development.

As a result, the firm has a lot of internal promotion and people are often
reluctant to leave. Says Paul, "We are a ‘people business’ and our
employees are mainly on the front line of that, so it’s important we reflect
that in how we deal internally. It really is a simple model. We care about our
customers and in order to provide a good service we make sure we’ve got a happy
and well-motivated workforce. It’s clear where the company is going and
everyone will pull together. There is a real energy in the business."

Communication tips

Dominic Paul has "five tips for
good communication":

– Listen carefully to your people. Only by understanding them
will you know how to communicate to them

– Keep communication simple. No one likes lengthy communications

– Keep communication relevant. Always think about what people
are likely to be interested in

– Always be as honest as possible -it pays dividends in the
long run and leads to trust

– Always remember that good communication takes effort. Plan
what you are going to say, what the message is and what it means for people.

Comments are closed.