Q&A with Ben Matthews, Head of Strategic Communications, eBay

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Ben Matthews, leads the strategic communications across Europe for eBay. Looking after the long term planning and measurement across pan- European internal and external communications.
During his time at eBay he has implemented and executed ideas from other disciplines and applied them to new areas, such as using marketing stakeholder maps and audience segmentation and applying them to eBay’s employee audiences.
Matthew has delivered global culture changes programmes to drive business success and handled internal communications for numerous complex business change programmes. Ben also sits as a private sector representative on the UK Government’s Cabinet Office Communications and Evaluation Council, playing his part to help Government better measure and evaluate its impact.

QIs it still good to talk? Do you think that with so much internal corporate communication being facilitated online that direct contact with colleagues has suffered, i.e. formal or informal meetings where people can exchange facts and details?

I think the opposite is true. Smart businesses have realised the importance of face-to-face and group contact. From leadership communications, to business collaboration, to manager-led communications – there is direct contact taking place now more than ever. Social business channels are complementary and in addition to these. When Facebook arrived, people didn’t stop meeting their friends, it just gave them a new way to easily stay in contact between meets. The same is true for social business tools.

QWhat are your feelings on the use of video as a means of internal communication? You used to hold weekly European Team Briefings by web conferencing – how effective were they in building team spirit, and has this been a strategy that you have applied to other areas of your business?

Webcasting meetings are hugely valuable for companies with employee audiences spread across countries. You have to be careful with this type of channel, however, as it can become completely one-way and stifle interaction. That’s why we have developed an app at eBay that allows our employees to interact with the speakers in real time from any location – asking questions, answering polls, showing whether they like or don’t like something, etc. It makes it a far more engaging experience, which in turn helps to build a ‘one team’ spirit.

QHave you been able to measure which areas of your internal communication strategy have had the most positive effect on engagement? Were the results what you expected?

We tend to measure at two levels within eBay. At a high level we carry out a global employee survey every year to track progress against an employee engagement metric. This metric is so core to our beliefs and behaviours that it forms a part of our global business scorecard and sits alongside other key metrics like earnings per share and revenue. We also measure all activity through the lens of our communications goals for that month, measuring outputs, out-takes and outcomes of our activity.

QAt eBay you’ve been segmenting your messaging and communications to best understand your workforce and increase engagement. What ways have you been doing this and what have been the positive outcomes?

We’ve taken data that we had available and used it to build an audience map of our people across all of our European sites. We combined this with more qualitative research from focus groups to produce an in-depth view of our colleagues by country to help us inform how we communicate. As an example, in the UK we found we had fewer millennials and as a result, people preferred more direct communication. So we introduced an informal short weekly stand-up once a week for people to interact on any subject they want and combined this with things like blackboards in the corridors highlighting agendas, key dates and any important information.

QDo you think that marketing and PR related communications to engage the stakeholder is significantly more advanced than internal practices? Is enough being done in this space to combine the two?

Well, I believe plagiarism is the sincerest form of flattery! Innovation in how we understand audiences, how we communicate with people and how we build loyalty and engagement are not all going to come from within. Marketing and PR have spent a lot of money and many years researching this stuff, and I think it would be foolish to say that we couldn’t learn from other related disciplines. I think the teams who are working with and learning from great work in other areas are the ones who will be most successful.

QWhat are your predictions for the future of employee engagement over the next 5 years?

Employee engagement tends to lag external trends by 2-3 years. We’ve seen this with social media becoming a mainstream channel externally, followed by the growth and development of internal social business tools. I think we’ll see a reflection of the blurring of lines taking place externally in how people consume and seek information, with a shift from employee teams having a multi-channel approach, to more of an omni-channel model – where employees can get whatever they want, whenever they want, how they want.

What’s next?

You can hear about these topics and many more at our next HR Vision conference.

HR Vision is the elite, boutique style event, where HR leaders gather to discuss core business strategy.

Visit www.hrvisionevent.com to discover the next upcoming conference date and venue most suitable to you.

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