Ready, set , change!

Primary author Klavs Valskov

Contributors Andrew Ross

How the world’s largest container shipping line turned around in less than 5 years.

Even before the financial crisis in 2008 brought world trade to its knees, the world’s largest container carrier, Maersk Line, was in dire straits with only marginal profits, complex back-end structure, a high cost base, outdated IT systems and an inward focus tending to be arrogant towards customers.

The company has been through a massive turn-around since then and has improved its shareholder returns massively. Today Maersk Line is perceived as one of the thought leaders of its industry, with record high employee engagement and customer satisfaction (Net Promoter Score) on a par with leading car manufacturers such as BMW.

Cut, cut, cut… sounds familiar?
Some of the main challenges Maersk Line had to overcome through its high-profile change programme, named streamLINE, were to simplify organisational layers and structures, standardise processes and, essentially, cut costs everywhere. It began with redundancies for 8,000 of the 33,000-strong workforce – unprecedented in the company’s 100-year history where nobody – nobody! – ever had been fired before. If you got a job at Maersk Line, you were secured a lifetime career.

Not only were engagement repercussions high, but results from a global employee survey showed a lack of understanding in the programme. The challenge was to act quickly and consistently, and make the change immediately relevant for everyone in the organisation.

Workshops, co-creating websites, information packs, videos, articles, town halls by senior leaders and teams travelling the world to explain streamLINE’s purpose, implications and benefits was orchestrated by the Internal Communication (IC) team.

In 2009, one year later, 82 percent of employees reported a better understanding of the streamLINE programme. This massive effort pulled by the Maersk Line IC team made us earn our stripes through hard work from point zero until today, just 4 years later, where we have a seat at the executive table and are early involved in all major business decisions. Furthermore, the IC team was in 2011 expanded to also include all branding, digital and external comms. Today the 25-strong communications team is responsible for the entire comms landscape.

How did we get here?
Well, I guess there is no simple recipe and it always sounds easy and structured when you outline something that went well. Fact of the matter is that it was chaotic, hectic and confusing, but I learned a few things that is worth to consider for other comms practitioners:

i. Be brave. Take chances and believe in yourself. Comms people usually see the right issues that need to be dealt with, so be loud and bring constructive solutions to the table.

ii. Trust your capabilities. The skill set of a good comms practitioner is unique in all organizations and through our simple set of asking the right questions and building plans that take outset in audiences, people quickly learn that we are actually quite handy.

iii. Speak with data and track efforts. Business managers love charts, numbers and hard facts. Illustrate your comms efforts with simple and compelling infograhics. It is important that you document how your working on improving channels’ efficiency and that you know what issues are hot among employees.

iv. Creative content is king. No matter how good your plans are, business managers still expect you to make their newsletter pretty. Never forget that your products (articles, videos, PPTs, etc.) have to look better than the rest. This ground work of producing stuff is the base of your deliveries – so don’t forget to do them well.

Maersk Line’s, Director of Global Communication, Klavs Valskov, will be speaking at the 11th Annual CIPR Internal Communications Conference 7 November at the KIA Oval, London.

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