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Rolls-Royce: making an impact in uncertain times

By Lotte Jones, Creative Projects



The Drum Network article

This content is produced by The Drum Network, a paid-for membership club for CEOs and their agencies who want to share their expertise and grow their business.

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April 23, 2020 | 11 min read

With a rich history that dates to 1884, Rolls-Royce is a household name that is synonymous with both luxury and practicality. For most of us, images of the iconic British car might come to mind – but you might now know that the automotive part of the business was sold off in 1980 and today, Rolls-Royce Holdings is one of the world’s leading industrial technology companies, focused on pioneering the power that matters to meet the world’s vital power needs.

Rolls Royce

The company has been responsible for some of the world’s biggest advancements in technology and engineering; in 1918 they designed the aero engine that powered the first direct transatlantic flight and today, they are championing electric flight and sustainable power. And in response to the Covid-19 crisis, Rolls-Royce is finding ways to help the frontline fight against the virus, from rising to the ventilator challenge in the UK, as part of a consortium of companies, to the donation of PPE equipment to frontline healthcare workers and 3D printing of new masks.

The company’s brand and inventions are underpinned by a global workforce which boasts 50,000 employees across 50 countries worldwide.

Dawn Hollingworth is the global employer brand lead at Rolls-Royce, a job which demands insight, empathy and creativity… not to mention a deep understanding of branding, communications and the nuances of different markets around the world.

Over the course of a 30-minute call, we discussed the impact that COVID-19 will have on Rolls-Royce’s employer brand, why now is the right time to look inwards and focus on your people and how to ensure the mental health and wellbeing of a global workforce during such times of crises.

Anya: What’s been your proudest ‘Rolls-Royce moment’ over the past two weeks?

Dawn: I'm proud of how the organisation has adapted quickly to provide support in the fight against Covid-19. We’ve not made lots of external announcements, but it’s now public knowledge that we’re part of the consortium in the UK rallying to produce ventilators and we’ve been donating personal protective equipment to hospitals. We also donated a power generator engine to a new hospital in Wuhan. Every day, I hear about acts of generosity that uplift me.

We support the efforts of individuals to make a difference too. One of our engineers in Germany adapted a design for a facemask that can be produced using 3D printing. Now teams of people in different geographies are producing masks for local hospitals.

What’s made me proud is the spirit of generosity, the way in which people are innovating to contribute and make a difference, and knowing that I'm part of an organisation that genuinely does care. It's nice to see that manifest in tangible contributions.

Anya: Talk us through your company comms during this time.

Dawn: Rolls-Royce is very thoughtful about its communication, both externally and internally.

Our director of external communication and brand, Rick Wray, took a sensitive and pragmatic approach to the crisis. Initially, we dialled things down for two weeks and regrouped. As the outbreak evolved and spread rapidly, some of the things that we had previously scheduled to talk about aren’t relevant anymore and the things we now want to talk about relate to the crisis, such as recognising the work of health care communities, medical professionals and organisations that are part of the solution. So, like many companies, there is an incredible sense of community and collaboration.

From an internal perspective, the internal comms team, led by Sally Sharpe, has blown me away in terms of their structured, consistent communication and their speed of response. Our Covid-19 microsite, which provides guidance for our different markets and geographies around the world, is updated sometimes up to 20 times a day. I know the chap who’s responsible for the site and its content! I doff my cap to that team.

The other thing I’ve experienced over the last week-and-a-half, is that all of us in the company who have a role in brand and communications have pulled together even more tightly as one team. We’re very much a united community, aligning around how we communicate to market and internal audiences.

Some of us are wearing hats that we wouldn’t usually wear. This morning for example I wrote a story for an external website which might usually have been done by an agency or by a different party, but I was happy to do so – what matters is that we all pull together.

Anya: What measures are you putting in place to ensure that the Rolls-Royce workforce feels part of a community whilst WFH?

Dawn: What I’ve witnessed is that there is a blend of strategic measures (which one could argue are top-down) but also many organic responses throughout the business that people are sharing. In terms of top-down measures, the business has been focusing on several things: how do we support leaders and managers to be the best versions of themselves and support their teams during a crisis? Training, tips and insights have gone out. Similarly, a lot of the internal engagement has been to encourage people to stay connected.

There have also been really great addresses from leadership via video – these have been powerful in terms of helping people realise that we are in it together.

We also launched an additional internal Yammer community, designed to uplift and support each other whilst staying connected. I’ve really enjoyed partnering with internal comms on this initiative! It provides an umbrella for the organic content that's bubbled up on Yammer from different teams – home-working tips, home-schooling tips and even home-fitness tips. We’re using inspiring posts and nudges to invite people to share so everyone in the company can benefit as much as possible and we all feel part of one community.

Anya: How do you think this period will impact your employer brand?

A lot of that remains to be seen in how we continue to communicate our response to the crisis.

The business has prioritised our internal audiences because they are the ones who will feel the impact of our approach and decisions. So, we’ve been less vocal externally over the last two to three weeks and very consciously so.

I think all businesses will be judged by how they respond to the crisis and not every business gets to be a hero during this time. For us, I think it's about showing our humanity. We’re demonstrating a very human approach and I am hopeful that this will reflect the goodwill and brand equity that we have as an employer, because Rolls-Royce does genuinely care about its people and about our communities.

Our whole people strategy is underpinned by our care promise, which is about fostering an environment where people can genuinely be themselves and be their best. Every day I see people finding creative ways in the new normal to make that a reality.

So, I'm hopeful that with our humanity and some humbleness we will be able to maintain our reputation as things unfold. There are so many uncertainties that it's hard to predict outcomes, but I have faith in our leadership. They’ve shown great strength and empathy and have been making the necessary tough decisions to look after our people and the business.

Anya: Are you putting any measures in place to help employees with mental health and wellbeing during this time? If so, do you have any top tips?

Dawn: We’re very fortunate to have a Chief Medical Officer, Dr David Roomes who’s been involved since China was first impacted and we’ve also got a clinical psychologist, Stephanie Fitzgerald, who focuses on mental thriving. We’re very lucky in this way, as this has always been a focus for the organisation.

Wellbeing is one of the tenants of our EVP, so we have been able to step up and scale the guidance that we offer. We’re focusing on four key areas; physical health, mental health, maintaining a sense of community and supporting managers to do the right thing and foster that sense of wellness.

There's a whole section on our new Covid-19 microsite which focuses on maintaining wellness whilst working at home and reinforcing the messages around making sure you switch off at the end of the day, looking after your nutrition, hydration and not over-indulging in the news and choosing reputable sources of information.

Anya: What have been the biggest challenges to overcome during this period?

Dawn: The biggest challenge to overcome personally was finding new ways to plug into all of the different internal communities contributing to the employer brand agenda whilst working remotely and using a network that was straining to accommodate a surge of new users (we’ve since expanded the network, thanks to the sterling efforts of our IT team!) All our comms teams have had to re-evaluate, reprioritise, adapt and move quickly. The upside is that I’m now more deeply embedded in the business than I was before the crisis and in a more regular cadence of communication with corporate comms, internal comms, the brand community and of course, talent acquisition.

The biggest challenge was getting to that point and now that I am, it feels much better and we are responding as one united front. Stabilising the new ways of working was a challenge and it was an essential one for me to overcome, in order to feel like I can do my job.

Anya: What tips would you give smaller companies for how to sustain ‘employer branding’ on a budget?

Dawn: We’re also operating on a tight budget, so it’s not just smaller companies who are having to do more with less. I can empathise with this challenge!

I imagine most employer branding professionals (or those with that in their remit) are going to have to do more themselves over the coming months. Currently, it’s about having a relevant voice – being human and real is more important than achieving perfect content. Don’t allow perfection to be the enemy of something that’s meaningful and worthwhile.

Don’t be afraid of using different skills or mediums, and leverage skills within your team. You know we’ve got to trade skills to a degree to help each other, so be creative and be inventive.

Use your people. Ask for permission to share their stories and get your employees to be your advocates.

Anya: What have you learned from this experience that you’re going to carry forward?

Dawn: Definitely more video calls. I really do feel much more connected to people when I can see them – you can read facial expressions and emotions, so I’m going to be doing more of that

Also, making more of an effort to stay more deeply connected with colleagues overseas. In a strange way, the world feels even smaller than it did, and I want to maintain that feeling of connectedness.

Anya: Do you have any advice for other businesses or Employer Brand Leads out there?

Dawn: I think what's helping me is remembering that this will pass, there will be another side that we reach. In the meantime, remaining adaptable is absolutely key. I seem to be re-evaluating my priorities almost daily.

Keep faith that we will get through this and see it as an opportunity to be creative with the solutions that you come up with. Think of that as your silver lining.

Lotte Jones, Wiser


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