How to explain your business to employees

This corporate communicator turned to the intranet to help clearly explain a business unit within an oil and gas company to all employees.

I’ve published posts on internal communications, including one on building a successful intranet.

This article is about developing an intranet site to explain what a business division does to employees outside that division.

I handled internal communications for a supply and trading group in a downstream business for an oil and gas company.

What is supply and trading and what does it do? In short, it gets product to all businesses and markets within both upstream and downstream businesses, as well as being its own mini-trading group, as in trading stock. (They have their own trading floor.)

Did that make sense to you?

No? Even after working in this group, it still reads foreign to me. What do you think that meant to employees in other business divisions? Not much.

One of my primary tasks was to explain this business unit to an entire oil and gas company. This was tough because this global company was huge. Not only regarding the number of employees, but there were a lot of egos to avoid ruffling.

How it was done

There have been numerous times that talking about sports has helped me form business relationships. This time, I couldn’t rely on football to cement any relationships. There were too many moving parts. I had to pound the hallways and glue the phone to my ear.

By now, we had social media, videos, and lots of other vehicles that could be used internally. The key was to not get distracted but focus on the goal: Explain the supply and trading business so that everyone understood what it was and what it did. Keep it simple.

To do that, I decided to revamp the supply and trading section of the existing company intranet.

I met with the VPs and managers of each business unit to truly understand their functions within the business unit and the company. In addition, I spoke to employees across the globe to understand their roles.

I worked with my team to create an animated, interactive home page, complete with pop-ups over each business unit that quickly and simply explained how it worked within the company. I was armed with detailed information about each unit within the supply and trading group and asked questions if I was unsure if a piece of the business was being represented correctly.

It was tested extensively before it went live. I walked through each function’s page(s) with the corresponding business leaders and subject matter experts and had them interact with the entire business site to ensure it flowed well, was user-friendly, and easy to understand. Business employees who had never seen or been associated with any part of the project looked at it cold to see if it made sense and was correct. It was also sent to a test group of non-supply and trading employees to see how they reacted.

Taking all feedback in context, the necessary tweaks were made and the site went live. The entire process took about three months. The result was an interactive business homepage with a “map” showing how the supply and trading business division played an integral part in all aspects of the company. Every supply and trading business unit had an icon representing it. When a user hovered over an icon, a brief description would pop up. For more detail, the user just double-clicked the icon. In addition, the other business divisions were represented on the map so that users could see how supply and trading interacted with each of them. This made it easy to see how supply and trading interacted with the entire company.

The new site was successful because we took the time to understand what the business was, what it did, how it interacted with the rest of the company, how employees perceived it, and identified how to simply showcase the business in a way anyone could comprehend.

If that hadn’t happened, we wouldn’t have been able to succeed.

Susan Cellura is the owner of EMC, a PR and internal communications firm that specializes in the Oil & Gas and Chemical industries.

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