Sharing a common language is vital for scheme success

Over the past decade retail chain Asda has realised that the successful uptake of share plans is closely influenced by communications

Effectively communicating employee share plans, and other benefits, is critical if you want them to be a success. Employee share plans are well established among most companies in the UK, and at Asda we have been offering a share plan for more than 25 years. During this period the fundamentals around all colleague share ownership have not changed to a great extent, colleagues are awarded share options at a set price and after a set period receive shares in their company. What has had to change dramatically, especially over the last ten years is the way share plans are communicated to colleagues and the different ways they can join the plans.

Ten years ago we realisd that we had become complacent, expecting our sharesave plan to sell itself through word of mouth from colleagues who had joined in previous years and sending them information about the plan which, looking back, was not written or presented in plain English.

This method of communication can only sustain for a limited length of time. Our wake up call came when we introduced a new all-employee share plan and held listening groups with colleagues in our stores and depots. What that first listening group told me, in no uncertain terms, has stayed with me ever since. The material we were sending them was too complicated and too many of them were put off even attempting to read or understand it, and they were right.

This prompted us to totally rethink the way we communicated our share plans. Even though it hurt at the time we encouraged colleagues to tell us what we were doing wrong and also where we were doing the right things. The fact that we were not communicating in plain English became evident but with the ‘bit between our teeth’ we wanted to go a step further, we wanted to communicate to our colleagues in ‘plain Asda’.

To do this we set up our Asda Clear as a Bell panel, which comprised of twelve Asda colleagues from stores, depots and head office who are all involved in the drafting of all the communication to colleagues. They have input on everything from the wording to the design of the document.

‘Exercising options’ became simply ‘buying shares’, and ‘granted’ became ‘given’; not rocket science but we needed them to tell us. The Clear as a Bell panel is now an important part of the way we communicate. Only when the panel has signed off the documentation do we add our Clear as a Bell logo to the material. To keep the ideas coming in fresh, we think it is worthwhile changing the panel every two years.

We still hold colleague listening groups and as a result we have started to translate documents into six different languages, use actual Asda colleagues on all material and record documentation on to CDs to enable long distance drivers to listen while on the road.

The way colleagues communicate with us is also key and keeping up with new technology is becoming increasingly challenging. Gone are the days when we just relied on paper applications to join our plans. We have been accepting online applications for six years now, adding touch tone applications and this year we were one of the first companies to offer employees the chance to join by SMS text messaging.

Best practice would be to listen to employees. Sometimes the employer thinks that it knows what employees want to hear but if you listen to them you will soon realise that they know what they want to hear.

Mike Hazelgrave is reward manager at Asda


Best practice tips

  • Listen to your colleagues.

  • Give your plan an identity.

  • Make sure you communicate clearly.

  • Don’t be afraid to try new ideas.

  • Keep ahead of technology.

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