Brisbane-based Ausenco had grown rapidly since listing on the Australian Securities Exchange (ASX) in 2006. Ausenco provides world-leading engineering, project management and operations solutions to the global resources and energy sectors.
This growth, coupled with a global skills shortage, brought about Ausenco’s decision to launch an employee share program, to engage employees and encourage a long-term commitment to the group.
Rowland, with Ausenco’s in-house team, developed and implemented an internal communication strategy to launch the inaugural Employee Share Acquisition Plan (the Share Plan) to Ausenco’s 2,700-strong workforce operating in 26 offices in 13 countries.
An employee satisfaction survey revealed the Share Plan offer had been an outstanding success, with 33% of eligible employees using their own funds to purchase company shares. The success of the communication strategy in meeting its objectives was also demonstrated by anecdotal and statistical evidence, which indicated a high level of employee engagement.
The decision to launch the Share Plan was driven by Ausenco’s desire to engage employees across the group, reinforce the benefits of being an employee (rather than a contractor), and attract new employees.
The Share Plan also marked the first major internal communication exercise across the group since the acquisition of three North America-based companies in early 2008. It was therefore seen as an excellent opportunity to embrace staff from these businesses and to reinforce Ausenco’s core value, ‘Our people are our strength’.
Ausenco’s operational objectives in launching the Share Plan were to:
- Enable staff to share in the growth and prosperity of Ausenco
- Provide an incentive to staff to continue their employment with Ausenco
- Position Ausenco as an employer-of-choice within the industry.
These objectives reflected the skills shortages in the resources sector at the time, the exceptional performance of Ausenco shares, and the prospects for ongoing growth. In response to these business objectives, the communication strategy aimed to leverage the Share Plan to enhance the group’s employee engagement efforts.
Research commenced with a thorough analysis of successful employee share plans conducted within other organisations. Further research activities included:
- Discussions around messaging, potential issues and opportunities with communication advisors in each of Ausenco’s business units, to ensure the strategy was culturally relevant and appropriate across the group
- Detailed stakeholder analysis to determine the most appropriate methods of delivery to a disparate internal audience and to inform the translations process. It was established that English, Portuguese and Spanish were the most widely-spoken languages across the group
- Consideration of the most appropriate channels to reach employees based on client sites or in non-traditional office environments. To meet their needs, printed and electronic materials and mobile, in-person briefings were factored in to the campaign
- Identification and development of a variety of communication materials and methods to meet the needs of various geographic locations and time zones. To account for this, all information was available in downloaded form, providing all employees with equal and timely access to materials.
Given the diversity of employees, the team also established that it was necessary to explain Ausenco’s listed status and the ASX. Research into the type and extent of independent financial and tax advice employees would require to make an informed decision on the Share Plan also dictated the timing of the launch. To maximise the likely success of the campaign, it was decided the Share Plan should be launched at least two weeks prior to the offer period opening.
At the time of the Share Plan campaign, Ausenco and its wholly-owned businesses Ascentis, Ausenco Minerals, Pipeline Systems Incorporated, Sandwell and Vector, consisted of 2,700 personnel working in 26 offices across 13 countries.
The following stakeholders groups were identified because of their influence over, or interest in, the Share Plan campaign:
While not part of the internal communication campaign, messages and draft statements about the Share Plan were also developed for external stakeholders, including the media.
A series of establishment activities were undertaken to inform development of the communication strategy. Using the recommendations garnered through research (as outlined above) the scope, positioning and timing of the Share Plan campaign was agreed.
An issues and opportunities management framework was also developed to support development of the broader communication strategy, which entailed:
- Undertaking an issues / risk analysis in liaison with the commercial and risk area and legal advisors
- Determining potential reputational risks (e.g. market fluctuations, contractors wanting to participate, existing shareholders questioning dilution issue)
- Documenting actions to minimise and / or mitigate risks and issues and establishing reporting channels.
The following strategic approaches guided development of the communication strategy and methodology:
- Position the Share Plan as a clear demonstration of Ausenco’s values and the importance placed on employees
- Ensure clear guidelines for who was and was not eligible for the Share Plan
- Communicate from a group level, tailoring communications to suit specific business units, countries and employee-type
- Utilise the launch of the Share Plan as an opportunity to establish group-wide communication channels and tools
- Review the process to establish key learnings for future group-wide rollouts of employee programs.
A three-phased methodology was developed, outlining tactics to be undertaken through each of the preparation, education, and offer period phases. As a basis for all future communication, the strategy recommended the development of:
- A defined list of eligible employees so communication could be targeted to these individuals
- Key messages, supporting facts and Q&As – recognising different social and cultural needs in various Ausenco locations (e.g. differing levels of understanding of the share market and varying salaries)
- A unique Share Plan logo and distinctive branding (in line with Ausenco’s corporate style guide)
- A concise set of Share Plan Rules (with Ausenco’s finance team)
- Processes for ‘stress testing’ materials, messages and processes with key internal stakeholders
- Feedback channels and structures to allow information to be updated and added throughout the campaign.
During the planning phase, a full suite of communication materials was prepared, comprising:
- An e-mail to all eligible employees from the CEO introducing the Share Plan
- Staged, multi-media messages and further email updates from the CEO for each phase of the offer
- A brochure that would be available electronically and in print
- A discrete Share Plan microsite
- An information presentation and Q&A session.
Please see Appendix A for examples of the above materials
Materials were translated and employee information sessions were arranged. All materials were ‘stress tested’ prior to rollout. Senior management and HR teams were briefed and ‘trained’ prior to the launch.
Processes were developed for each Ausenco business to manage deductions from participants’ salary payments. Communication tools were developed to inform participants about the method of deductions, and training sessions conducted with payroll to ensure a uniform approach.
The communication team also engaged with Computershare, the registry appointed to administer the Share Plan. The team worked closely with Computershare to ensure consistency in messaging and branding, co-ordinate timing of information dissemination, and tailor Q&As.
Education and offer period phases
At commencement of the education phase, the CEO launch e-mail was disseminated to all eligible employees. Simultaneously, materials communicating the Share Plan went ‘live’ online, and the communication strategy implemented in full. Other key implementation activities during this phase included:
- A ‘roadshow’ of formal in-person briefing sessions run by senior Ausenco personnel – 34 sessions, in 18 locations, in six countries; plus informal sessions on client sites over a two and a half week period
- Online meetings – 17 meetings covering more than 17 locations and client sites across more than 10 countries within the same two and a half week period
- E-mail announcements sent only to eligible employees with links to multi-media messages on the microsite
- Activation and periodic updates of the microsite at key milestones (e.g. launch of the offer, opening and closing of the offer period, share acquisition date)
- Queries monitored and answered throughout for emerging trends / issues; Q&As updated accordingly.
The employee satisfaction survey was issued and results collated early in 2009 after shares had been allocated. For a breakdown of survey results, please see ‘Evaluation’.
The inaugural Share Plan offer was an outstanding success, with 33% of eligible employees using their own funds to purchase company shares. Anecdotal and statistical evidence indicated a high level of engagement with employees.
Feedback from the CEO, executive team and informal feedback from employees throughout the group was complimentary of how the Share Plan had been communicated throughout the period. All communication activity was delivered on time and budget, and all issues effectively mitigated.
The employee satisfaction survey issued at completion of the first Share Plan offer revealed that the vast majority of employees felt the materials available to them were easy to access, easy to understand and helped them learn about, and weigh-up the merits of, the Share Plan. The survey also showed that communication around the Share Plan and the offer itself had a positive impact on employees’ perception of Ausenco as an employer.
In total, 76.5% of survey respondents sought and reviewed information via the website and 39.8% received further information by the ‘firstname.lastname@example.org’ e-mail established to manage employee questions. In addition, 69.5% of respondents attended or participated in one of the employee presentations, whether in person or via an online meeting arrangement.
A further survey (the Interbrand / Ausenco Employee Survey of 1,172 staff) undertaken in early 2009 revealed that 64% felt a strong sense of commitment to the Ausenco group (up from 0% in early 2008). The Share Plan contributed to this outstanding result.
The employee satisfaction survey revealed the extent to which the communication strategy met its objectives. Importantly, 84% of employees surveyed said they would consider participating in future Share Plans.