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How to Build a Culture of Transparency With Delphi Technologies

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Meet Charlotte Riss, global IC manager at Delphi Technologies. We’ll discuss how they engage employees and helped their CEO communicate authentically.

Today, we’re proud to have our guest, Charlotte Riss, global internal communications manager at Delphi Technologies. We’ll discuss how Delphi’s D-Line (their SocialChorus-powered workforce communications platform) reaches and engages employees with tailored content, improves and promotes culture and values, and helped its CEO communicate authentically and easily with workers. We also review  what Delphi Technologies teams are looking forward to in 2020.

“I want people to actively make the choice and look at content that they’re interested in, and not just look at the ones that they really don’t care about… The other thing that D-line has done for our organization that was so important, especially throughout the first year, the first couple of months, was it gave us a platform where it wasn’t just corporate or leadership team pushing out information to the employees, but it was also employees who could submit content themselves.”

-Charlotte Riss

We feature communications leaders every second and fourth Tuesday of the month. Don’t miss an episode of Culture, Comms, & Cocktails. Subscribe now wherever you listen to podcasts (Apple, Google Play, Stitcher, etc.)

Culture, Comms, & Cocktails Episode #16 Transcript

Chuck Gose: Please grab a seat here at the Culture, Comms, & Cocktails lounge and let’s get started. Now it’s been especially great having you on here because we’ve now been working together for about two years, and in that time both you and Delphi Technologies have gone through some pretty amazing changes.

Charlotte Riss: Yeah, I honestly, I can’t believe that it’s been two years. It feels like 10 years and 10 minutes at the same time. The last couple of years as I know you know quite well, because you’ve been kind of part of this journey, it’s been crazy. It has been a lot of change. A lot has happened. Yeah, but it’s definitely always been exciting.

Chuck Gose: So what does it mean to be the global internal comms manager at Delphi Technologies, and give people a sense of your career, but also what some of your current responsibilities there now?

Charlotte Riss: Sure. First, it definitely means [a] fast pace, fast changing, crazy. So, I’ll come back to that in a minute, but in general, right now I’m in charge of internal communications across all of our sites globally at Delphi Technologies. I’ve been doing this job since the end of 2017, so right around the time where the company was founded. Before that, I’ve actually been with Delphi for awhile. I first started to do my very first internship when I was in university at Delphi within the communications team, and I apparently loved it so much that I just came coming back whenever I timed doing my university degree and then straight out of college I got hired back in Luxembourg, started as internal communications specialist, just trying to figure out what area within our communications team I actually really wanted to kind of focus on as my first real career step or job.

I did that for a couple of months and then pretty quickly decided that internal communications was really what I was passionate about and what I really wanted to learn and get into. So I became the internal communications person for the powertrain division at the time, which was a great job to start out because that role didn’t exist before. I had small shoes to fill since it was non-existent, and it was a really great role to start out, to start experimenting, learn a lot, just do a lot of research of what are things that you can do in internal communications. The role kind of grew at the same speed that I grew. So we used to be part of Delphi Automotive and then became an independent company at the end of 2017 and that was the powertrain division in our aftermarket division together. Once that spin off was announced, I got the opportunity to actually become the lead for internal communications  in that new company, which was great.

It kind of put me in a whole new position because suddenly I was used to having the corporate communications team that obviously did a lot of the guidelines, the key messages. Being one of the divisions in the company, we have to of course make sure that we stick to that, that our story is coherent with the corporate story, but then just make sure that our divisional leadership team is happy with it too and they can bring their touch in.

Chuck Gose: When we started working together, going back on that timeline you talked about, it was right at the time when Delphi Technologies and Aptiv spun off into two companies.

Charlotte Riss: Yeah, exactly.

Chuck Gose: Going through that, what were some of those challenges with culture at that time where one day people were working for one company, but then the next day that one company doesn’t exist anymore, and now there’s two companies and you work for one of those. What was that like at the time? What were some of those challenges?

Charlotte Riss: The biggest challenge in general, and both new companies were probably facing that at the same time, was confusion. So if we go back to internal comms, before the spinoff we used to have a very old, very outdated SharePoint-based intranet site that was crappy and people didn’t necessarily go there regularly to look at it, but you could direct them to it. If there’s interesting news, we send emails, they would go and look at it. So we used to have that when we were Delphi automotive and then as the spinoff came around, as we got closer to the actual D day, that intranet went away because we needed to be able to obviously communicate to parts of the organization, because now all of a sudden you have the people that were going to be Aptiv employees in a week from now, and you have the people that were going to be Delphi Technologies employees, and no one was really sure what they were doing.

Even we as communicators had, I mean we probably knew more at that point then a lot of the general employee base, but even for us it was just such a big chaos that we were working through, and I think that that was really big for employees too. It was a lot of uncertainty. I mean, literally the basics, people weren’t sure if their badges were going to work anymore on the day that we’re going to be Delphi Technologies. The two leadership teams for the two new companies were obviously founded, people were hired and they started to define what are the key values or the core values that are going to sit within active, what are the ones that are going to sit within Delphi Technologies. How do we actually want to be running this place, and starting with simple things like dress code or things like that.

All of the sudden you had, while we were still one company, you still had two leadership teams that were starting to pull into two different directions, and it sounds very extreme. I think we saw with Aptiv were still on pretty much the same wave in a lot of ways, but you could feel the differences and I think that was very challenging for our employees, especially in sites that actually were shared. So on the D day they knew half of the employee base was going to be one company, the other half the other company and it was really hard for us to try to get the employees to see through the chaos and give them a bit of structure around it. Mainly also because it was just very hard to communicate with them. Distribution lists didn’t really exist until a week before the D day. So even if we wanted to send all-employee emails, we could either send them to the whole company knowing that the larger population wouldn’t care because it’s not the company that they’re going to be working for in a week. Or we could do our best guess and send it to the people that we knew were going to be at Delphi Technologies, knowing that there are people going to be left out.

So I think the uncertainty part and just living through that transition of still being one company but already being two companies in mind, I think that was the hardest bit.

Chuck Gose: Yeah, I was fortunate enough to be there on day one and got to see some of that enthusiasm and excitement, but also just that uncertainty all wrapped up into one for those employees. It was great to be there and great to see that excitement and enthusiasm, but it wasn’t something that  was going to be perfect all of a sudden. 

Charlotte Riss: Exactly.

Chuck Gose: And there’s legacy involved, so you’ve got to handle, manage that legacy at the same time as building something new for those people.

Charlotte Riss: Yeah.

Chuck Gose: Now during this time, a big change for you was moving to London, which is the Delphi Technologies global headquarters office is there in London.

Charlotte Riss: Yeah.

Chuck Gose: What has that meant for your career now being there at HQ, being the global internal comms manager, and now probably having a little better reach and access to the leaders.

Charlotte Riss: Yeah, it’s been great for me, for my personal professional development. So we spun off at the end of 2017, and then I decided to move over here in late spring 2018. So there was a good four or five months where the headquarters had already been moved to London, the leadership team already sat here in London and then I was still in Luxembourg where I used to be based before.

I was always used to at least have the leadership of the division sitting right there with me. Then all of a sudden it was everyone was here in London and it was me on the outside. I was always the one that had to dial in, things like that, which made my life and a little bit difficult sometimes because especially, you know that I’m sure when you work in internal communications, you kind of need to be close to the action. You just need to know what’s going on so that you can place it together, put the puzzle pieces together and see the big picture. Because if you don’t understand the big picture, how are you supposed to communicate that in a simple way to your employee base? So that got very difficult for me being so remote.

Then there were also things that were hard that are just day to day basic tasks. So if you need to get approvals from your CFO, well you can send him 5,000 emails and follow up with his assistant and nothing’s moving. Whereas just print out the piece of paper, go to his office, he looks at it for two seconds and says, “Oh sure, good to go.” So it’s just there were things that were just, that had become so complicated.

Chuck Gose: Charlotte, when you were in there talking about printing out a piece of paper and putting it in front of your CFO and they sign it in two seconds. I think you just presented a dream scenario for most internal communicators. So you might be, if you have any job postings, you might be getting a lot of people submitting because it does sound like a dream scenario, but while it hasn’t quite been the two years since the spin happened, have you seen this Delphi Technologies culture start to develop into it’s own? What have you seen that is carried over from the previous company and how have you seen something new begin to sprout with Delphi?

Charlotte Riss: Yeah, so that’s actually something that has been really, really exciting to see. Obviously when we spun off, yes we had a new name, but ultimately you don’t, I mean people don’t change overnight. So when we started out as a new company, our entire company culture was exactly the same as the day before, because how would it not be? So we started out with all of the heritage with doing exactly what we used to be doing from a culture perspective. The only thing that changed on that very first day is that our CEO at the time, in one of the town hall meetings that he’s done over at the headquarters at that point in Troy in the US, that was live streamed to all our employees, that was the first time that he revered what our core values were going to be for Delphi Technologies going forward, and they were transparency, inclusion, excellence, and respect.

So what we could see is the first couple of months, yeah, the values were out there at one point, probably after like month two or three of us really trying to push them. People got familiar with them in terms of, if you asked someone “What are our core values?” they probably could recite them, maybe not quite all four of them, but they would get most of them right, or they’d get the idea of it. But it was ultimately words on a piece of paper. They were out there, people were sitting at their desk evaluating, are they really living our values on a day-to-day basis. It probably took, I would say probably the whole of the first year of being Delphi Technologies for the values to really sink in with employees, and to get to a point where you could actually hear employees talk about the values with each other or they would say, “Well, I’ve been in this meeting and what person X, Y, Z has said, really, I don’t think that that’s what transparency is all about,” or “Is that really how we treat people respectfully?’

So it was so very skeptical. I don’t think that at that point people were looking at themselves saying, “Am I living the tier values?” But at least they were assessing other people by them. So we could tell that more people actually relate them to how we work here. Then I think it was a massive turnaround when our new CEO came in at the beginning of this year and he actually, he came in with his personal set of his own values, or his own beliefs that he presented to employees in the town hall meeting that he held. And the majority of our locations throughout the first couple of months of him being in the company and his own personal values and beliefs actually matched up almost perfectly with our four core values that had been created obviously a year prior to him joining, but the one that he really reinforced was transparency, and that’s been something that was a massive change in your organization.

It was a massive change for us as communicators to all of a sudden have a CEO who actively goes out there and wants to say and where we were always used to having to push our leadership to go out there and talk to employees, and do the internal communications bit, where all of a sudden we were in a position where we had to pull him back and had to narrate a bit more, make sure that he doesn’t say things he really shouldn’t be saying because we are a public company. So there are rules and regulations that we obviously need to adhere to.

But the employees of course realized that he was really living that transparency aspect of it. And funnily enough, it helped employees to really grasp that more and to start living by it more, but it also helped to just take all four of the core values more into consideration, not just the one transparency that now all of a sudden became the focus for the CEO. So I think that was a major part of changing our culture. And I also think that it probably made it a little bit easier that we, I mean it was shamed, so of course it was high, but when a new CEO came in and he reinforced that the values that were selected for the organization when it was founded were the ones that he supported, that was a big step.

Then when employees could see someone new coming in and really living them and actively showing and demonstrating that he is, that was a massive boost for the values being lived. But I think it’s also helped to pull the whole organization together a little bit, because that was a milestone that was different from the spinoff. It was something completely new, but it was something that was only Delphi Technologies. It wasn’t a legacy, it wasn’t a history. It was our first milestone, if that makes sense.

Chuck Gose: It does. And if you have a set of values that employees don’t feel that the leaders are living, then certainly that sends the message that they’re not really that important. But if you do have a leader that prescribes to those and subscribes to those, that’s going to make a big difference with overall adoption, but I think even more important, just general understanding of how these values play out in our day to day lives.

Charlotte Riss: Yeah.

Chuck Gose: Now, back in 2017 when I said we started working together, this is when we built D-line, which is your internal comms platform, which was a way as connecting. To connect all the employees inside the company, and here very soon you’re going to be reaching 10,000 employees on the platform, which is very exciting.

Charlotte Riss: Yeah.

Chuck Gose: What has this meant to the company? Going back to day one of having this one platform that’s available for all employees, you talked about how a bit outdated the previous technology was. What does this mean now to have this new platform that no matter where an employee is, they now have access, connect to the business, see leadership, see values play out. What has this meant?

Charlotte Riss: To start out with, even with the intranet that we used to have at Delphi, we were never able to actually reach all of our employees. We were always just able to literally reach employees that sit on a desk that have a laptop. We could never reach any deskless employees. The intranet we had wasn’t mobile-enabled and we certainly couldn’t reach any of our manufacturing staff that people are actually on the manufacturing lines. We could just never reach them, period. There was no way for us to do that other than site-specific printing out paper versions of the newsletters, doing site specific meetings, but there was no clever way of reaching them, so that has just been amazing that through D-line, we are actually able to give access to information to employees no matter where they’re based, no matter what job or role they’re in, no matter what level they are.

Yes, the information they get might be tailored and it might be slightly different, but we can reach all of them and all of them if they want to, can go to the platform and get the information that they need. It’s also, I think dramatically changed the way we do internal communications at Delphi Technologies because we don’t, I mean you kind of rely more on employees actually wanting to go to the platform and finding out more information on a certain topic that they’re interested in to read, or to watch the CEO video, or to read more about the CSR campaigns, or anything like that. And it helped us to you step by step, back off from sending 5,000 emails a week to our employees and becoming a lot more targeted. Not every employee needs to see every piece of communication that we put out there. Yes, there is things like see your messages or legal trainings or anything like that where, yeah, employees have to see it and of course those will always get an email. That’s just how it is. Things like that where you have to make sure people don’t just see it, but they actually have it in their inbox. They can action on it. Fine.

But then everything else, not everyone needs to see everything. I want people to actively actually make that choice and look at the pieces of content that they’re interested in, and then just not have a look at the ones that they just really don’t care about. And that works really well for us. I think the other thing that D-line has done for your organization that was so important, especially throughout the first year, the first couple of months, was it gave us a platform where it wasn’t just corporate or leadership team or whoever actually pushing out information to the employees, but it was also employees who could submit content themselves.

So as an example for that, on our very first day of being Delphi Technologies, we actually ended up asking employees to submit pictures or videos of the celebrations that we were having on every site, and we were blown away by how many people actually submitted pictures, how excited people were. And it really, still to this day when I scroll all the way back in our feet and I look at the posts from our day one, I still get goosebumps and it’s just a very like, that feeling it’s just, it’s full of energy. It was an amazing day, but the platform really helped us to bring it together to feel like a global company. That we’re all one, that we’re all celebrating the same thing. And that was something I think that was just very, very necessary for us in the very beginning.

Chuck Gose: It was really cool. I remember that, day one and some of those photos coming in. And I will be the first to admit you had employees submitting photos from parts of the world that I had never heard of before.

Charlotte Riss: I remember on that day when, because obviously me being in Europe, our teams in Asia had already started to celebrate our first day as Delphi Technologies. So when I woke up, I mean we really, we did some soft launches before, but we properly launched the app for that very first day. So we had no idea if people were going to be submitting pictures, how many, what kind of dimension that was going to be. And when I woke up that morning, I literally, I looked at the feed and my phone was blowing up with emails from submission notifications that people had submitted pictures and I just, I couldn’t believe it. It was amazing.

Chuck Gose: Now we talked about you getting close to 10,000 employees on there. What are all the different mechanisms you’ve deployed? Not to just bring attention to D-line, because obviously you have to get, people have to be aware that this platform is out there and is available to them. But I’m more curious also, what about the continent itself? What have you seen that you know is a really great trigger that gets people excited, gets them engaged? What have you seen that’s really worked, that great content inside Delphi Technologies?

Charlotte Riss: In general, I think all across the pieces of content that we’ve posted over the years, any type of human interest story, people-focused posts, they always, always got a lot of attention from employees. They really like those things. We’ve driven a lot of employees to the platform by running different contests on D-line, especially in the first year that we’ve done it. And then people, the only way that people could participate was by actually being on the platform. So that helped a lot. I also think in general, our content strategy, I think we went, we probably went a bit hardcore in the beginning because we obviously didn’t have an intranet, D-line was the only platform we had besides email, or newsletters. And we, from day one onwards we decided that the content that we create is going to live on D-line and that’s the only place that employees can go and get it. Unless it’s something that really we need to make sure everyone has had in their hands. And then we send an email.

Yeah. So that’s how we’ve driven a lot of people on it. But the pieces of content that we really see a lot of engagement with, employee stories, people’s stories, CSR stories, and then anything that our CEO has put out there has just gotten a lot of attention. I know I stated earlier that he started in January this year. He did kind of like a world tour visiting the majority of our sites and doing town hall meetings there and in every location where he stopped we asked people to submit pictures after the town hall meeting. And those were I think some of the most interacted with pieces of content that we’ve had in the platform.

And they’re literally just a picture and a caption. There’s not a lot to it, but people were just so excited to see where he was at, what he was doing, when he was going to go and come to their specific site. That was really, really great. And then he, I’ve attached from earlier that transparency is something that he really wanted to bring to life at Delphi Technologies. So he started out in the very beginning of doing biweekly CEO updates on D-line. So every two weeks he would draft a post explaining to employees where he has been in those two weeks, what his main learnings were, what the challenges are that he sees, and that has just really driven engagement. Yeah, I think that those are the main, any type of people’s stories and then anything that comes from the leadership team, specifically from the CEO, but where employees feel like it’s genuine, it really comes from them.

And it’s a funny story: with our old CEO, a lot of his communication was a lot more drafted. So we would draft versions for him. He would of course amend, make changes and everything like that, but ultimately it, the very first draft came from us. Whereas with our new CEO now, he basically writes his own posts to employees. We usually review, we check if what he says is okay to be said and all of that but they’re his words. It’s his communication.

In the first couple of months after he joined, I’ve had multiple people whenever I’ve had them on the phone or if I saw them in the hallway come up to me and be like, “Well, you don’t really write those letters, do you? He writes them himself, right? It’s exactly how he speaks.” And I was like, “Yeah, they come from him. They’re all his words. We quick edit, but they’re all his.” And that made it so much better for employees because they actually believe it. It’s real. It’s not someone else drafting it. It’s genuine.

Chuck Gose: Well, and I think you bring up a really great point about sometimes people define transparency in very weird ways. They think transparency is we have to reveal our secrets. A lot of times transparency is just being open and honest and sharing.

Charlotte Riss: Yeah.

Chuck Gose: So the fact that he was active in there and sharing where he was going around the world and visiting these sites and writing his own content, that means a lot to employees when they know that it does sound like it comes from him. It’s hard to write in somebody else’s tone and voice, so they have learned enough about him already in his early goings as CEO to start to pick up on that. So it’s going to continue to be that way. You guys won’t be able to write his content because people will call it out.

Charlotte Riss: They will notice right away. Yeah.

Chuck Gose: As we look at the success you’ve had with D-line here, not quite two years old, but almost there, we’re a few months away, I was on the birthday track here, when you look at 2020, Charlotte, what are some of the things that you want to keep pushing or what are some of the things that you want to see happen inside D-line as it continues to grow around the world for Delphi Technology?

Charlotte Riss: What we focused on a lot throughout last year and then the first half of this year has been that people aspect. Last year was more around bringing the teams together, instilling that spirit that we actually are one company, one global company with a new identity and kind of helping our organizational culture develop. So it was very people focused, and then the first half of this year with the new CEO, it’s very much focused around that. So I think for the rest of this year and next year, we actually do want to focus a lot more on the product side of our business. We want to use the platform more to actually celebrate business wins and just link it back to the business a lot more. And that doesn’t really mean that we want to step away from the people stories. I just think that we need to find that healthy mix and that good balance.

Chuck Gose: You’ve done a great job of sharing about the culture there at Delphi Technologies, the communication activities, the success you’ve had, and hopefully for your birthday you had on your birthday list was, I want to be a guest on a podcast because we just scratched that off now as a birthday present.

Charlotte Riss: Absolutely.

Chuck Gose: Well, let’s close out with, we’ve talked about the culture, we talked about the comms, now let’s get to the cocktail part. So whether it was your birthday cocktail or whatever it might be, Charlotte, what is your favorite cocktail?

Charlotte Riss: Well, actually I do think that was probably the only thing that I really thought about before we actually sat down for this podcast. It’s not an easy question for me because I like to experiment with cocktails and I hardly ever actually go for the same one twice. I always like to discover new things, so it’s hard to say what my favorite is. I would say if I’m not up for any new discoveries, I’d probably go with a Moscow mule or a Caipirinha. Yeah, that’s probably the standard I’d go to. But usually I always like to experiment.

Chuck Gose: Well, Charlotte, it’s been great to work with you the past couple of years. We continue to work together on D-line. Thank you for taking the time to be on Culture, Comms, & Cocktails. I know that communicators learn best from each other and I know that people have learned and have been inspired by the stories you’ve shared today.

Charlotte Riss: Thank you so much for having me, Chuck. I actually always, I really do, I’m not just saying that because I’m one of your guests now, but I really do love to listen to the podcast and just listen of what other communicators are doing and get inspiration from that. So I think it’s a great thing that you’re doing.

Chuck Gose: If you enjoyed what you heard from this episode and want to check out others, find Culture, Comms, & Cocktails on Apple Podcast, Google Play, Spotify, or wherever you like to listen. And when you do, hit that subscribe button so you don’t miss any future episodes. This has been Culture, Comms & Cocktails, internal comms served straight up. Thanks for listening.

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Chuck Gose

Chuck Gose

I am a self-proclaimed Skyline Chili connoisseur and Duran Duran fan with nearly 20 years of experience in marketing, corporate communications, and internal communications. My passion and enthusiasm for the communications profession began early in my career at General Motors and Rolls-Royce, Since then, I have focused on weaving internal communications and technology in creative ways. I'm also the co-creator of The Periodic Table of Internal Communications and The Very Hungry Communicator. But most importantly, I got to fly in a blimp once.

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