Foxtel Interview – A Winning Transformation

Foxtel has become a case study of transformation.  In an increasingly competitive market, Foxtel has had to contend with the introduction of cheaper streaming services such as Netflix, constant digital change, and the need to keep up with its customers’ evolving needs. Eighteen months on and Foxtel’s change program is a glowing success story.

Externally the organisation has achieved the highest growth in its customer base in many years, reduced the number of customers leaving, and increased customer advocacy. Internally, employee engagement scores have risen significantly year on year, and staff feel better equipped in their roles. Much of this success can be credited to the intensive change and communications strategy that was rolled out to their 5,300 (direct and indirect) employees over a 12 month period.

This year, the People and Culture team were nominated for the Australian HR Awards, HR strategy of the year, and won the award for best change management plan for their “The Next Episode” work in cascading the strategy.

Word on the street is that there is a sense of pride and excitement within Foxtel, and recent successes only serve to reinforce transformational change is much more likely to be successful if people understand why and how what they are doing connects to a higher purpose or goal.

We get the low-down from Foxtel’s Head of Change Management, Nicole Van Barneveld and Megan Thomas, Internal Communications and Events Director.

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1. What was the transformational change Foxtel embarked on?

Megan: Foxtel launched into the pay TV market 20 years ago, and our mission was to shake up the established Free to Air TV industry and bring a much broader range of viewing choice to Australians. Since then we have continued to innovate and provide more ways for customers to access Foxtel when and where they want, and our programming choice has grown from 20 to over 200 channels of the best content from Australia and around the world.

However, in an ever changing digital economy and increasingly competitive environment, we knew we needed to continue to evolve to meet our customers’ changing needs. So in 2014 we embarked on 5 major change programs to be delivered in a 12 month period to drive growth, increase customer advocacy and start to transform the media landscape.

We introduced new pricing and packaging, halving our entry price for new customers and giving existing customers bonus content at no cost. We launched Presto, our combined TV and Movies online streaming service (which is a direct competitor to Netflix). We introduced Foxtel Broadband and home phone services, becoming a telecommunications provider so customers can bundle their TV entertainment with their broadband and home phone. We launched iQ3, our revolutionary new set top box that integrates broadcast and internet (IP) to deliver content seamlessly and makes shows much easier to find. And underpinning all of this, we made a significant increase in our investment in programming, including doubling the amount that Foxtel invests in local content.

2. Those are some pretty big changes. How did you go about setting a Change Strategy for it and what did that Strategy look like?

Nicole: Foxtel didn’t set off at the start to deliver such dramatic and huge change all at the same time, however it soon became apparent that we needed to design a change strategy to bring together these disparate programs of work. Our strategy provided a simple framework for articulating large volumes of complex information, gave staff the right information at the right time, provided an authentic and tangible “what’s in it for me?” and embodied our ingenious and entertaining brand personality.

Megan: We recruited for a new position, Head of Change Management, sitting within our Program Office, then Nicole and I, along with our teams, were tasked to come up with a change strategy to unite staff and provide a compelling vision for this massive group of changes.

Nicole: The first step in creating our change strategy was to setup a change team with representatives from across the business – we also worked closely with our Brand team. The goal of the change strategy was to ensure that our 5300 people knew where Foxtel was going and why, that our leaders were equipped to articulate the changes for their teams, and our people understood how their role connected to our broader business objectives.

We created “The Next Episode”, an overarching narrative that tied together the different programs of work. Each of the separate programs also had their own more tactical change strategy covering the business readiness activities, but “The Next Episode”, was really the glue that brought everything together and helped staff prepare for the change.

3. With a change program as major as you were planning how did you go about engaging the business?

Megan: After the Executive endorsed the program and before launching it to staff, we introduced our 130 senior leaders to the concept at their quarterly leadership forum.  We talked to them about the role of leaders in change and why it’s important to articulate a clear vision of the future. Then we showed them a teaser reel for “The Next Episode”, which would help them tell the change story with their teams. After that we spent two weeks meeting with another 120 key stakeholders across the business to help ensure buy in and understanding before the staff launch. We supported them with tools and ideas to make it their own, which we knew would be key to its success. It couldn’t just be something the People & Culture team was driving.

We launched “The Next Episode” to staff at our CEO roadshows. This was immediately followed by a series of new engagement and internal communication activities, learning tools, and visual displays in the office environment. It included powerful signals of a new era of trust and empowerment – opening up internet access to our call centre staff, opening up lines of communication with our outsource and offshore partners, and revealing confidential information to staff before the market.

Our People & Culture Business Partners also played an important role in helping to engage the broader leadership across the business, and ensure the strategy addressed what they needed to lead their teams through the change.

4. The implementation has been hugely successful. Tell our readers more about how you made that happen.

Megan: We focused heavily on staff engagement, and didn’t just rely on traditional change management tactics like training and BAU internal communications channels. For example: we introduced staff trials for the new products, and gave every staff member the chance to take one of the new set- top boxes home for Christmas. Our staff trials were so popular that we were 200% oversubscribed for the broadband trial. We made staff the star of the show through competitions that encouraged story-telling and we encouraged open feedback through product Yammer groups. We encouraged staff to explain the changes and what it meant for them.

Creating an internal brand for our program helped  “The Next Episode”  take  on a life of its own – because we focused on what the change meant at an individual level, team level and organisation-wide level, people could really relate to why we were doing this crazy amount of change and why it all had to happen right now.

Our strategy was anchored and aligned to our brand and our culture – we’re a storytelling business after all. That meant our CEO could easily use the language and visual identity in staff communications during that period, and have it reinforced throughout  the rest of Foxtel.

From an implementation point of view, the whole People & Culture team was involved in “The Next Episode”, developing and delivering thousands of hours of training, recruiting and onboarding 700 new employees, planning and delivering targeted communications to our various internal audiences, and developing the people systems, policies and processes to support it.

Nicole: Because this was such a rapidly shifting huge program of work, we had to also be agile to cope with changing deadlines and scope. One of the scariest things we did was map out our tactical activities by audience, date and activity across a huge wall. We did this a number of times to ensure that delivery of the strategy was always on target.

Successful implementation of the change meant we had prepared, engaged and aligned staff ready and excited for the launch and beyond; who understood WHY Foxtel was changing right now, understand their part and any impacts on their role. We used our annual staff engagement survey to take a pulse check across the organisation and then we measured against the same question set for everything we did for “The Next Episode”, so we had real time feedback on our strategy and we could adjust on the fly – this was really important as we had constantly changing project deadlines and scope.

Our strategy focused on establishing a sense of urgency – why were we doing all this change and why right now. We talked about the consequences of not changing. We had a clear and single sponsor, our CEO and we had ensured our Executive team and senior leaders had enough of the right information to lead their teams.

5. What surprised you during the whole implementation phase and what was most challenging?

Nicole:  Right at the start, after we’d established the change strategy, we needed budget to execute the change or we couldn’t have gotten very far! For a little while, we were challenged on our approach and why we were creating an internal staff “marketing” campaign. What surprised me was that once we got up and running, our biggest detractors became some of our biggest supporters and absolutely backed us, and in fact, also gave us budget to execute!

What also surprised me was how much Foxtel staff love to show off. One of our guiding principles was to make staff the “star of the show” and we had the most amazing and creative responses from staff to some pretty crazy competitions! Foxtel staff LOVE experiences, and we tapped into this, plus the extrovert nature of the company to really have fun during a very stressful change.

Megan: What surprised, but also delighted me was how quickly everybody was talking about “The Next Episode” and knew what it meant. From our CEO to our technicians driving vans, a story we created was being played right back to us. This was reflected in our change readiness measures right after the launch, for example staff responses to “I understand what’s changing for Foxtel over the next 12 months” increased from 68% to 98%, and “I understand what these changes mean to me/my team” increased from 54% to 91%.

6. From a business perspective this has been a great success, from a personal perspective what has it meant for you? 

Nicole: When I started at Foxtel, it was in a brand new role and I was pretty much thrown in the deep end at a crazy, insane time. In my first week, I had stakeholders asking me what Change Management was!  Personally having the success of delivering “The Next Episode” legitimised Change Management as a discipline at Foxtel and gave me a strong foundation to build on for future projects.

Megan: Our results validate that an investment in staff engagement does work and does have a commercial ROI. This helps build trust and support for other crazy big ideas I may have in the future!  Ideas, trying new things, taking risks that pay off – those are the things that keep me intrinsically motivated. From a team perspective I am really proud of the work we achieved together.

If you would like to view details of our Foxtel event, click here