Case Studies

When you have 345,000 colleagues spread across 100 countries, it’s important that your communication efforts are simple, consistent and engaging. Through The Communication Standards program, Leisa Stewart-Sharpe and the Global Internal Communications team have raised the bar for IC across one of the world’s most recognized hotel brands. Read this and learn how to set standards for Internal Communication across the organization.


The role of internal communication is to enable employees to perform at their best and gain a sense of pride in their work. This is our view at InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG) and it’s important to get this right when you have a huge employee base like ours – spread across 20 offices and 4,500 hotels in 100 countries. Engagement is a key outcome for IC and engaged colleagues deliver excellent guest experiences, drive satisfaction and attract an increasing number of regular guests who become loyal to the brand.

With this in mind, it was clear that the Internal Communications team, of which there are seven including myself, had an important role in helping IHG achieve its engagement goals. Therefore, in October 2011 we began creating the “Communications Standards” program to:

  1. Address how the business should work with Internal Communication, so that employees knew who we were and why communication matters.
  2. Embed internal communication at the heart of organizational processes such as the IHG Way of Project Delivery – a new project management system and training scheme across the company; and Hotel Ready – a process for corporate teams to ensure their message lands in hotels at the right time and in the right way.
  3. Provide colleagues with simple communications tools and templates for a consistent tone of voice and look and feel.

The efforts on this program focused specifically on the 3,000 corporate colleagues responsible for communicating projects to each other and our hotels, as well as a further 4,500 General Managers who effectively act as Heads of Communications at each hotel.


First steps

The IHG Executive Committee understand that great communication drives engagement by helping employees perform at their best, feel proud to come to work each day and get involved in what’s happening around the business – positively affecting the bottom line. For this reason the IHG Executive Committee sponsored the Communications Standards project.

Top Tips

  • Work out who your key stakeholders are early and get them engaged.
  • Do a full audit of your current position.
  • Allow time for your standards to be embedded - big businesses don't change habits overnight.
  • Remember this is an ongoing piece of work, If you consider it job done after launch, you'll be back to Square One in no time.
  • Provide people with tools that will help them. this is much easier to sell than a new set of "rules" that people are required to follow.

Following their support, we commissioned a message
and channel audit to find out what communication was being produced and what was missing or needed updating. We found that the organization was using different communication templates, speaking in
different “voices” and ultimately there was no definitive IHG “house style”, as many design projects were outsourced to different agencies at a significant cost to our teams. This was all diluting our identity and 
confusing colleagues.

A major key to the program’s success was partnering
with the Change Management team. They were in the process of embedding the IHG Way of Project Delivery that focused on a “4D” approach to project
management – Discover, Design, Develop and Deliver projects. At IHG the actual communication was often
the “desk clearing” moment at the end of a project. It meant that Internal Communications was engaged late, with no budget allocation or ability to influence the project’s development. We wanted to be involved right at the start, in the “Discover” phase.

The working group we created ultimately included the Change Management office; Employer Brand team in HR for visual style and tone of voice alignment; Global Technology for functionality; and our regional and functional Communications partners to shape the content and ensure buy-in in their respective regions or functions. 


The Communications Standards program

The Art of Effective Internal Communications

The program we designed aimed to set the standard for simple, engaging and consistent communication. There were several elements that we introduced to employees and a key resource in tying them all together was a hardback guide called The Art of Effective Internal Communications. It covered the what, why, who and how of IC; key audience profiling; and provided a handful of simple tools for in-team communication. These tools included guides for creating a Message House, a Lift Speech and profiling a new joiner. [See the example pages, below.]

We launched an Internal Communication briefing form that walked corporate colleagues through the briefing process and requested that they use the Message House and Lift Speech guides in their projects before coming to Internal Communications for help, as it ensured that they had given some thought to what they needed to say and to whom beforehand.

We also ran a series of workshops with 200-plus key stakeholders from around the company on how to work with Internal Communications, while also teaching them key communication skills. The workshops were based on a fake project scenario that had a humorous, engaging approach –  IHG replacing all of its lifts and stairs with fireman poles – for which delegates had to devise a Message House, Lift Speech and communication plan. Rollout of the workshops will continue throughout 2013 at departmental meetings and conferences.

We understood that it’s never a case of one-size-fits-all, and so we developed nine “personas” representative of key audiences that we communicate to at IHG. These “day in the life” personas helped to put people at the heart of our communication and provided examples of how these colleagues like to be communicated to. These included the Chief Operating Officer, HR Manager, Breakfast Host and Executive Host, and all personas were detailed in The Art of Effective Internal Communications guide [see above].

Other resources

We produced an eLearning program to help outline what makes good communication, and our regional and functional Communications partners took part in an intensive one-day masterclass. They have since shared their knowledge by holding their own workshops in Frankfurt and Dubai, with further events to follow in Atlanta, London and Singapore.

Building on the idea that our internal communication look should complement our employer brand, we’ve provided guidance on IHG-approved icons, photography, font, patterns and so on. We’ve created “smart” but simple IC templates too, that are easily downloaded, for creating engaging PowerPoints, reports, newsletters, Excel charts and posters – reducing costly outsourcing to agencies.

We designed a simple and engaging silent animated movie “The perils of bad communications” to sell the value of great IC. Furthermore, we created a photo library of engaged employees to use in all aspects of IHG communication.


The Communications Hub

Hosting all of the above resources is the Communications Hub (see image, right) a website available to all 6,000 corporate and Central Reservation Office colleagues as well as hotel colleagues with access to our global intranet – Merlin. 

To deliver this global project successfully we needed our 30 functional and regional Communications colleagues – spread across over 10 offices globally – to champion the change as ambassadors for the standards, and the creation of the Communications Hub played a key part in this.

We ran a pilot with key project managers, HR and Communications colleagues around the business to test all elements of the program six months ahead of launch. These colleagues were instrumental in the content development of the Communications Hub as they tested the tools and suggested improvements.

We trained our Communications colleagues on our tone of voice and smart templates so that they could host their own sessions. These “Train the Trainer” sessions not only ensured that they had a great understanding of the tools but also empowered them to train others.

In addition, we designed the Communications Hub for Communicators – a separate portal with the same content as the Communications Hub, plus extra tools. As well as templates for creating posters, reports and newsletters, there was a toolkit with the Personas, videos and a script so that the regions can host their own workshop on the Communications Standards.

During work on the Communications Hub, we had to consider our people who work on different technology systems with different levels of IT literacy. So we set up a dedicated IT support plan across all of our regions and provided a simple guide on how to download and use the smart templates. There was also the issue of ongoing/existing creative projects to deal with, so – with good stakeholder management – we identified and engaged colleagues who regularly worked on and commissioned creative design projects, allowing them a short grace period for existing work. We now often provide input in a consultative role to ensure work across the business is in line with our standards.

To demonstrate the professionalism of our work on the Communications Hub, we developed a catchy launch campaign that would run across a variety of channels from intranet advertising banners, intranet news stories, computer login screen pop-ups, plasma screens in head offices and posters [see images, below].

We featured the Communications Standards in over 15 town hall meetings around the world – reaching over 3,000 corporate colleagues, and we communicated the Standards directly to 300 line managers.


The results

We launched in October 2012. From a total corporate and hotel population of around 7,500, the Communications Hub has got off to a fantastic start with over 6,000 colleagues visiting in the first two months. We had a detailed stakeholder engagement plan, reflective of our very complicated matrix organization. A key learning for us though was the need to invest as much time “managing up” as we did managing down and across. Key results of the campaign include:

  • We’re being consulted earlier in projects, allowing us to plan our activity more effectively and deliver clearer strategic communications to support our priorities.
  • We’ve built a regular dialogue with new parts of the business that we hadn’t previously engaged with.
  • Our templates are being used by everyone from the Executive Committee to internal project teams.
  • The workshop was strongly endorsed, receiving 4.5 out of 5 stars from attendees.
  • We received positive feedback [see box, right] – people love the simplicity of the tools and templates, in particular the smart PowerPoint installers. 

Internal communication surveys in Europe and the Americas are now underway and will provide a definitive measure of the success of the program. We also have goals in place for future work:

  • A regular maintenance plan so that colleagues can rely on our templates and content being consistently updated.
  • Further communication workshops in the regions and functions.
  • We’re working with Global HR to attend the corporate orientation sessions in our offices so colleagues learn about internal communications within their first month at IHG.
  • Embedding our Communications Standards in IHG’s new brand standards manuals that go to hotels, so General Managers always know what’s required of them as the hotel’s Head of Communications.


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In November 2015, Melcrum was acquired by CEB’s Communications Leadership Council. Since then, has continued to operate independently while we have integrated our teams and services. This process is almost complete and from August 1, 2016, Melcrum will become fully integrated into CEB Communications.

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Suggested Reading

Kickstart the new year with our best of 2015

As we slowly (and heavily) emerge from a joyous holiday season filled with deliciousness, it is a good time to take a minute to reflect on the accomplishments and challenges that left a mark on the old year. 

2015 was characterized by continuous change for most organizations. Internal and external transformation coupled with an overall uncertain business climate have solidified Internal Communication’s place as an indispensable strategic partner to leaders worldwide. As teams are gearing up for a strong start to 2016, we have put together a list of Melcrum’s best resources from 2015 with the goal of reminding communicators of some key insights and helping them jumpstart their thinking about the new year.

  • Internal Communication's Case for Collective Engagement is Melcrum's newest special report that serves as a distillation of the takeaways from our latest research study on collective engagement. The report is based on the premise that at a time of elevated uncertainty, the importance of ensuring strong network performance far outweighs the benefits of simply engaging the individual. We suggest that communicators can successfully guide their organizations through change by empowering employees to engage with each other in order to tap the full resurces of the enterprise.
  • The new ‘ABCs’ of Internal Communication is a series of blog posts by guest contributor Jeff Zwier, senior manager at Baker & McKenzie. According to Jeff, nowadays communicators operate in a global environment where they need to be versed in areas from change management and negotiation to social psychology and political influence, while at the same time hone and engage talent over multiple platforms. The series provides tips on how IC professionals could multitask and be achievers, business people, and connectors within their organizations, depending on the context they’re operating in and the versatile needs of the business.  
  • Capitalizing on the value of silence: How HSBC helped leaders listen with purpose is a summary of the key points from our most popular case study in 2015. Faced with the problem of lots of top-to-bottom directed content but not enough context for leaders to effectively identify and address pain points throughout the bank, IC at HSBC decided to encourage leaders to do more listening and less talking. As part of a program called Exchange, leaders hosted listening sessions where they could first-hand substantiate employee engagement data with authentic employee voice.
  • Using games to engage employees at ISS is another piece by a friend of Melcrum’s: Kenth Kærhøg, Head of Group Communications at ISS A/S. To engage employees with strategy, IC at ISS sought to reach them on a level deeper than just communicating facts and data, by betting on what Kenth calls “the human factor.” IC used gamification to develop a variety of activities, across different platforms that had employees interact with each other in different strategic scenarios. This made learing more personal and fun, and ultimately ISS was able to promote behaviors that align more closely with its innovation priorities.
  • Communication Labeling System: How to provide expectations and relevance to your communications is a set of guidelines that Melcrum recommends for communicators who would like to increase employees’ understanding of new communication programs and channels. We suggest different forms of best-practice labeling and tagging of messages that IC can use to transform employees from mere receivers of information into active participants who are better engaged with the organization and its goals. The article highlights a popular Melcrum case study from Lend Lease, which used message tags to clarify leaders’ responsibility in communicating messages from the company’s CEO.

We hope you find these refreshers useful as you get together with your teams to start planning for the year ahead. If you have any questions or thoughts you’d like to share with us and your peers, please feel to contact us directly or post in the comments section below. Happy new year!  

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