Monday, August 24, 2020

Reporting is fun with Virgin Media

I have long been an admirer of Virgin Media's approach to responsible business, sustainability practice and reporting. It's smacks of personality, completely fits the brand presence and uses plain language and a range of creative mechanisms to get the message through, equally targeting the internal employee population and the customers who use Virgin Media's services, as well as others who are interested, including me, a reporting geek. (I'll disclose that I have worked with Liberty Global, Virgin Media's parent company, on Liberty Global's global reports over many years, but I have not worked directly with Virgin Media.)

This year, Virgin Media's Sustainability Performance Report for 2019 is a wrap-up of five years of consistent implementation of the strategy the company set for itself in 2015, based on a concept of five goals in five years. 

Today, in 2020, Virgin Media has achieved four of the five goals, and made important progress on the fifth. Let's have a quick look at some of the milestones on this journey.


I took the opportunity to pose a few short questions to Katie Buchanan, Virgin Media's Head of Sustainability and the mastermind of the five year strategy and implementation. 

ME: Remind me how you developed your 2015-2020 strategy. You describe it as focusing “on where we should and can have the most impact”. 
KATIE:  Before we developed our 2015-2020 strategy and our 5-in-5 goals, we had relationships with 31 charities and 25 sustainability targets. It meant our work wasn’t focused and we weren’t able to make a significant impact – both inside our business or with the communities we operate in. That’s why I took the decision to simplify to achieve a more significant social impact. I knew that if we achieved these big goals we would transform our business and people’s lives. And by having a more targeted approach, it gave us the head-room to focus on creating lasting impact, and I’m really proud to say we’ve done that.
ME: How did you determine what “the most impact” is? How was this strategy developed?
KATIE: When setting our 5-in-5 goals, I went through a lengthy process to determine the right areas of focus. This involved listening to our customers, people and experts to identify what was most material to our business. The idea of exploring digital as an enabler became our vision (‘digital that makes good things happen’) and ‘independence’ emerged as the top theme to address. We then identified disabled people as the audience who could benefit from this combined focus. Importantly, we also looked at how we could have the greatest impact with our brand, connectivity and UK-wide footprint: our strategy had to have our core capabilities at its heart and be authentic to our brand. 

ME: What has been the impact for the disabled communities you have supported?
KATIE: Five years on, with our Transforming Lives goal, I’m proud that we are on track with our charity partner, Scope, to support 1 million disabled people with the skills and confidence to get into and stay in work by the end of 2020. We’ve also taken steps to become a better employer of disabled people, such as offering dedicated training for our line-managers so they can better support disabled colleagues and, via our #WorkWithMe programme, we’re supporting businesses across the UK to become better employers of disabled people too - creating an online community where peers can learn disability employment best practice from each other. This goal has helped us achieve positive social change for disabled people across the UK – whether they're looking for employment or are employed via Virgin Media or other brands.

ME: Well done on nailing four out of your five 2020 goals. Which of these gives you the greatest satisfaction and why? 
KATIE: There has been a lot of work over the past five years that I’m really proud of. One of the biggest highlights has been how we’ve taken Virgin Media’s sustainability programmes mainstream, from donating our shirt-sponsorship of Southampton FC to Scope for two Premier League matches, to seeing our Chief Operating Officer, Jeff Dodds, take to the stage at One Young World conference. I am also proud of how we’ve engaged and supported our people. For example, we have created a unique product scorecard which is a practical guide for enabling teams across our business on how to make each of our products more sustainable than the last. For our example, our Hub 4 router is 39% more power efficient than our previous hub when in use (when adjusted for functionality), and it uses 36% less plastic. In addition, our ‘squad selector’ tool – which we created in 2018 - helped our employees to understand how they can get involved in sustainability in their everyday roles. We’re a small but mighty team whose work is having an impact across our business – from our Board to our engineers. 

ME: The one goal you did not fully achieve was being more inclusive, focusing on gender and disability. What’s the learning from this as you move forward into the next phase? 
KATIE:  Although we didn’t quite achieve our ‘inclusion’ goal, we actually had a greater impact on driving positive change in this area thanks to our work with Scope, which took us in a more focused direction. Our #WorkWithMe programme – launched two years after we set our inclusion goal – has helped transform the lives of disabled people, and improved the way Virgin Media and other big businesses employ and support disabled people. Ironically, it’s the one goal we didn’t achieve that has perhaps given me the greatest satisfaction. Under this goal we’ve driven lasting positive change both inside and outside of our business despite not quite hitting the mark. In terms of moving forward, here is the learning I’ll carry forward: 
# Partnerships power change: We’ve made huge progress on transforming our business for disabled employees and customers. While there is more to do, a lot of this success is down to our partnership with Scope. I think we have achieved this by leveraging their skills, so I think our future inclusion strategy will include partners who can help guide us and hold us to account as deep subject matter experts 
# Long term focus: We need teams that have difference and togetherness, this is not only the right thing to do but it helps us to drive business growth. But it takes time. Setting goals that give you the ability and time to get underneath an issue is important. Significant change does not happen overnight especially when a culture change is required. 
# Make it part of your everyday: The way we talk about sustainability or inclusion matters. We’ve worked hard to make it something everyone can understand and get behind (i.e. no jargon). It’s not something that the People team or Sustainability team is responsible for – enabling your people to know how to get involved and take part is important. The same goes for finding opportunities to talk about our work – we took disability to the Premier League through our Shirt Swap donation activation. Going forward we will continue to find ways to make these thorny issues part of the everyday. 

ME: You deliberately deliver a report that is fun, creative, uses everyday language... one that can appeal to your employees and consumer base, as well as other stakeholders. In developing your 2020 strategy, did you also have a reporting strategy? If so, what were the objectives for that and how did you do?
KATIE: We have consistently evolved our reporting – we’ve gone from disclosure, to engagement and now enablement. We want to make sustainability accessible for everyone – our people, customers or other industry professionals. That’s why we introduced the world’s first 360° corporate sustainability experience, had a football-themed report, and have used funny cat GIFS. Our reports not only focus on the "what" we’ve done’ but also the "how we’ve done it" as we want to show that sustainability storytelling can be engaging, insightful and fun. 

ME: And digital is a big part of your reporting strategy, right?
KATIE: Yes, absolutely! Over the past decade, we have embraced digital storytelling so the reporting of our performance is accessible. It’s my vision that we use our reporting as an opportunity to engage with all of our people in order to bring them along with us, as of course, everyone has a role to play in ensuring we operate as a responsible business. In addition, we want the report to engage AND enable our industry colleagues so they can take our learning and make a positive difference in their organisations, too. With this 2019 report, we’ve incorporated our team’s reflection on our performance as we want to share our learning with other industry colleagues. We’re encouraging other sustainability professionals to learn from our tips and slip-ups so they can apply them in the delivery of their own sustainability strategy, or consider them as part of their own strategy setting exercise. Also, we make a real effort to ensure our reports are clear and understandable as sustainability should open to everyone. We don’t want our report to passively live on a webpage – we want to use it as a tool to connect with our audiences, and drive environmental and social impact in the same way our core strategic programmes do. Ultimately, nobody wants to read an 80-page document, and we as sustainability professionals have a role to play in engaging and enabling our key stakeholders – whether they are employees or customers. People are increasingly becoming in tune to sustainability issues – from protecting the environment to how you treat your employees. Therefore, we aim to enable people to engage, understand, learn and act from our reporting.

ME: Can you explain your choice not to follow a widely-used reporting standard such as GRI? 
KATIE: We follow the principles of GRI reporting – for example transparency and a clear governance framework is incredibly important for underpinning our strategy. Our parent company Liberty Global takes responsibility for standards such as GRI, DJSI and CDP etc. We work very closely with them – for example they lead the data collection and assurance approach with KPMG. Our efforts (and budget) at Virgin Media go towards engaging and bringing to life our story for our people and our customers. I have a small (but mighty) team and know that this combination is powerful – we have the best of both worlds! 

ME: And the question everyone is asking right now, the COVID-19 differential. How do you think the COVID19 experience will influence your sustainability strategy going forward?  
KATIE: As a company we’ve been working really hard during the pandemic to provide the best connectivity – whether that’s to support NHS workers on the front line or to help our customers stay connected to the people they love – which is more vital now than ever. We’re in the process of setting our next five year sustainability strategy and connectivity is at the heart of it. We are looking at how we can use our connectivity to connect communities across the UK. The past few months have been horrific for many, yet, we’ve seen communities come together and people looking out for one another – something that we’ve not experienced for decades. So we’re assessing how we can harness that as we know that life will be different once the pandemic ends and communities will need businesses to play a role in supporting them. We want to be in that space and it’s a really interesting time for my team and I as we develop our plans. Stay tuned! And when it came to reporting, there was never a question in our mind about delaying reporting this year. It’s business as usual, perhaps more so than ever for Virgin Media, as we work really hard to keep communities connected. Working virtually hasn’t changed our ability to wrap-up our five year strategy in a way that our people can particularly be proud of. But we have made some adjustments, for example, our videos and GIFs have been filmed at home – rather than out and about – in order to keep people safe. 
ME: Finally, your top three tips for people writing sustainability reports? 
# The ‘how’ as well as the ‘what’: As mentioned earlier, we have embraced digital storytelling for a more than a decade. From hand-held video cam recordings (before smart phones were around), to the world’s first 360° corporate sustainability experience, a tool to show our people their role in helping us to operate a responsible business, to sharing funny GIFS - we want to make our reporting is accessible and enjoyable for everyone. Therefore, it’s equally important to think about the ‘how’ when highlighting your performance, as well as ‘what’ you have done. 
# Sustainability for all: Reporting your performance should be engaging, insightful and fun. Ultimately, nobody will read an 80 page PDF – so really focus on the design, language and length of the report. Reports should be aimed at your customers, employees, and as a tool for your peers to take learning. As sustainability professionals, we are all striving to create an impact with our work and we should be proactive and proud to learn from each other – which ultimately will have a positive effect on where we work and the communities we serve. 
#  Think about your audience: Establish the principles which are unique or fundamental to your brand (I call them your consistency compass). Ensure your communications are authentic and engaging. Understand who your key stakeholders are and how they want to consume information.


These are amazing insights from Katie and both strong performance and commitment to transparency with the delivery of the five in five strategy. As you will have read, Katie stresses that reporting should be engaging, insightful and fun. And, I fully agree. Sustainability information should be accessible, in language that people can relate to and it has value in teaching others in the industry about what can be done. I always talk about reporting as an empowering experience, and I think Katie demonstrates how this can work optimally. 

And there's another insight here that's so important. As a part of a global organization which takes care of the more formal disclosure elements of transparency (reporting to GRI Standards, CDP submissions, engaging with sustainability indices such as DJSI and rankers and raters), the local business can focus on making it happen in its own unique way in its own unique context. This is a wonderful example of how a global organization can be super-relevant and less constrained by formal frameworks and language at the local level while managing resources efficiently across the enterprise. This is a model that any global business can apply, and some do so very well. I have always loved, for example, Heineken's Message in a Bottle, and Intel Israel has for years published a local report with a similar approach of local relevance backed up by the formal disclosures of the global parent company (disclosure: Intel Israel is a client). 

At local level, reporting is not just about transparency, it's far more about empowerment, impact, and, as Katie says, enablement. Reporting is not just a report. The Virgin Media journey is proof. 

elaine cohen, CSR consultant, Sustainability Reporter, HR Professional, Ice Cream Addict. Owner/Manager of Beyond Business Ltdan inspired Sustainability Strategy and Reporting firm having supported 100+ client reports to date; author of three books and several chapters on Sustainability Reporting and the Human Resources connection to CSR; frequent chair and speaker at sustainability events and judge in several sustainability awards programs each year. Contact me via Twitter , LinkedIn or via Beyond Business

Related Posts with Thumbnails