Engaging employees in sustainability or energy efficiency often falls to the Energy Manager, Sustainability Officer or someone else who is not used to leading on internal communication.

Our PIMMS approach provides a firm foundation for planning a campaign or initiating a longer-term change process: and sometimes our support can be delivered in just one day.

This simple acronym PIMMS introduces key elements that usually need to be addressed.

P - Phases

There is a tendency to instigate change processes or campaigns as if telling people what needs to be done is sufficient to ensure it will happen - like a simple shift from A to B or black to white. In practice, reaching the end goal usually involves an engaging and participative journey through shades of grey. It can be helpful to consider this journey in terms of phases.

It may be most appropriate to plan anything from two to several phases. Even an apparently simple framework can enable a more discerning and successful approach. For example we have sometimes developed three phases:

Launch - initiating, attention-grabbing, inviting, exploring, awareness-raising, actively engaging, breaking boundaries, seeking opportunities, building alliances;
Integration – sharing learning, defining expectations, agreeing norms, establishing standards, setting shared goals, putting understanding into practice;
Consolidation - exception-reporting, enforcing rules, ensuring compliance.

In a small organisation such phases might be completed within a few weeks; for a large corporation the journey is likely to require months or even years.

I - Influence

So often employees are expected to change their behaviour and in doing so to deliver, say, a 10% energy saving - even though no assessment has been made of the potential scale of effect they might really have in practice.

Influence mapping is a practical and structured way of assessing and quantifying the extent to which relevant players really have the potential to bring about a change. 

A simple walk around site inspection can often reveal occupiers and building systems working in opposition – even simple things like lights coming on when people get up and leave a workstation; people bringing their own fan heater into an office not realising that the nearby thermostat then leads to the centralised air conditioning switching off. Each time we have set out to create an influence map the findings have been surprising and sometimes shocking.

Quantifying the actual influence that building users can have through their interactions with the various building systems can provide a realistic basis for change and be useful in making a ‘business case’. The approach isn’t limited to energy: it can also be useful when considering water use and waste.

M - Messages

What is the over-arching communication aim? What do you want people to think? To feel - which is critical but often not considered? To do? What kind of style, tone, language, visuals will help achieve these aims?

Sometimes an oblique approach works best. Tired terms like ‘green’ can get in the way. If there are phases to be considered it is likely that the messaging in, say, an exploratory launch phase will be completely different to the messaging in a final “this is how we do things here” consolidation phase. There may also be significant variants for different audience segments (see below).

M - Media

It can be important to give careful consideration to all available media rather than simply assuming that normal practice will work best or putting all of the effort into, say, social media because it is the current thing to do.

Consider reach, what works and why, and the limitations of each. Increasingly, front line staff are overloaded by digital media while employees without workplace online access are overlooked.

Consider novel media – would a sculpture or 3D installation be a better way of drawing people’s attention to a new initiative rather than the same old same old on the corporate intranet?

Sometimes media, messages and segmentation need to be considered together – you might reach social media users via the intranet, Yammer or twitter but need printed posters or interactive events for another of your audience groups. Media choices are also likely to change with phases. Freshness and reach are likely to be key factors in initial phases while feedback, updates and reporting are likely to be essential in later phases.

S - Segmentation

Do you have multiple audiences? Sometimes campaigns are doomed to failure because employees are treated as if they are a single homogenous group. Are there significant differences in values, in allegiance, in interests or priorities that mean that messages and media are best selected to suit different 'segments'?

In one project at a university we decided on a simple segmentation and approached four groups or segments - students, academics, administration and the executive board – each in quite distinct and separate ways within one whole and coherent change strategy. In another organisation it quickly became clear that the level of influence and focus of interests varied significantly between occupants of different buildings. In another, internal competition appealed to many staff but equally it was off-putting to others: so while including a competitive element had the potential to bring benefits, the participation of staff needed to be optional.

It helps to consider each of the above five elements together in a joined-up way. It also helps to keep plans alive and be prepared to make changes if there are opportunities to enhance oucomes or if unexpected events have an impact. It is rare for a communication plan to not need adjusting as events unfold; but always better to have a plan than no plan at all!

Our PIMMS support provides structure, detail and a firm foundation for planning and implementing a campaign or initiating a longer-term change process: and sometimes the planning process can be completed in just one day.