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How Workvivo Transformed Employee Communications for Bupa’s Global Workforce of 83,000 People

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How Workvivo Transformed Employee Communications for Bupa’s Global Workforce of 83,000 People

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We recently sat down with Owen O’Neill, Global Head of Digital People Solutions at Bupa, and he spoke passionately about the positive impact Workvivo has had on their employee communications.

Speaking at the Engage Digital Workplace Conference, and interviewed by Workvivo’s Chief Operating Officer, Gavin Wrenn, Owen gave us an insight into the transformational change Bupa has undergone since implementing Workvivo, the number one rated employee app globally.

“Our 83,000 people for the first time in 75 years have a voice.”- Owen O’Neill (Bupa)

Owen raved about how Workvivo enabled Bupa employees to feel a sense of togetherness by embracing open communications.

“It is a dramatic change in how we connect with each other, with the brand, and with our values.”

One of the standout comments from Bupa’s Global Head of Digital People Solutions related to the transformation of Bupa’s employee communications.

“The effect that has on an organization is transformational. When you give those people the right voice and the right context and the right experience, you can hear the impact in (their) voice.”

Imagine, a company of 83,000 people being transformed by one single platform. This is a fantastic watch for anyone looking to transform employee communications and engagement in their own organizations.


Full Transcript

Gavin Wrenn (00:01):
Thank you. Thanks, Joe. Delighted to be here. I’m Gavin from Workvivo. Delighted to be joined by Owen from BUPA.
Owen O’Neill (00:08):
Morning, everyone.

Gavin Wrenn (00:10):
What we might do is we’re just going to play a really quick video, just to give some context on Workvivo, the BUPA partnership, and then we’ll get the conversation started. So, Simon. (singing). Owen, thanks for being here.

Owen O’Neill (02:02):
No problem. Pleasure to be.

Gavin Wrenn (02:03):
Good stuff. You and your team have recently completed a digital transformation program at BUPA. We’ve worked together extensively over the last 12 months, albeit virtually, so it’s great to-

Owen O’Neill (02:16):
But physically have a lot more gray hairs after it, I can tell you.

Gavin Wrenn (02:18):
Yeah. It’s great to be here in person though, and great to meet you in person. I guess, we’d love to hear a little bit about the journey that you and your team have been on.

Owen O’Neill (02:28):

Gavin Wrenn (02:30):
Ask you to share some insights around the goals for that transformation, the impact it’s had. We might start by asking you to give a little bit of background about BUPA and your role at BUPA.

Owen O’Neill (02:40):
Sure. And I think some of you got some introduction on BUPA earlier, so I’ll keep it brief. We’re a global healthcare company with a mission to help people live longer, healthier, happier lives, and to make a better planet. We’re 75 years old, older than the NHS. The world has changed so much recently, of course, we know in the last two years, but as an old organization facing into the future, we also recognize significant change is needed in how we deliver for our customers and to become a digital-first healthcare organization. That required significant cultural change and technology is a component of that.

Owen O’Neill (03:20):
And one of the greatest strengths we have as an organization is the diversity of our businesses. A clinician in a hospital in Chile, a nurse in a care home in the UK, someone selling health insurance in the City of London, a dentist in Australia. So, great challenges across all of those. But when we looked to become a healthcare-first organization, we needed to make some significant changes into our culture and how we operate.

Gavin Wrenn (03:48):
Great. Great. And Owen, what were the drivers for change? I mean, you’re Head of the Global People Solutions team, you obviously had a vision. What were the key drivers or triggers for that change?

Owen O’Neill (04:02):
Yeah. As an older organization, sometimes we compare ourselves as an elephant. We’re big, we’re strong, but we’re a little bit slow to move. We had a new CEO come in two years ago, new exec team, new passion, new vision, digital-first. If I ask the CEO, and he’s sitting here now, he will tell me I should have to click my phone twice to speak to a doctor, click my phone three times to sign up and become a customer. And coming from this old, big organization, to get that elephant moving required significant change, because we do know when an elephant does move, it is powerful and it is hard to stop.

Owen O’Neill (04:41):
So, facing into those with the new leadership, we saw some prerequisites to enable that change. The first is, we needed to change our culture. We needed an agile-first culture driven by internal communications. We call that the lightning conductor of change. Second of all, we’re a business constructed of market and business units, with very much walls between them, to be completely honest, in the past, but how do we break down those walls and unleash the power of our global workforce?

Owen O’Neill (05:12):
And I think, finally, how do we build more connection with our values and our brands of our people, being such an organization? And to make that real, this is challenging, someone who works in a care home anywhere in the UK, looking after people in the last days of their lives, they’re not paid a huge amount of money. How do you give that person some pride in your organization and in connection to our values? That is not an easy task.

Gavin Wrenn (05:41):
I mean, that’s huge in terms of change management. I guess, from a technology perspective, as a technology leader, what are the things you look for, or you did look for, I guess, in terms of trying to select the right technology, what was important to you on that side of it?

Owen O’Neill (05:59):
I’ve been working in people technology 17 years, plenty of implementations. And if I’m to be honest, so many of those implementations are more of the same and the same again. With a new CEO and a new [inaudible 00:06:12] mandate, it was time to take a risk, from our perspective. And there was a few things that were important in terms of how we connect our people.

Owen O’Neill (06:18):
First of all, the last thing that we needed is another communications channel. It is the last thing we needed. What we did need is a common platform for people to work from every day and to embed communications and values into that platform. So, rather than talk about these standalone applications, and we heard similar earlier, we don’t need another news channel in terms of a newsletter and formal, structured communications. We wanted something, a launchpad, a launchpad for my work every day, that has communications built into it, connected to our values. And we wanted our employees themselves to manage those communications and to have a voice as opposed to being formally controlled, as it would’ve been in the past, from an internal comms perspective.

Owen O’Neill (07:02):
Another important point for me, Gavin, was if there’s one thing I’ve learned with dealing with all the big vendors, the technology is only as ever good as the team and the culture that sits behind that vendor. They’re all so good at selling, some of them are fantastic, but how committed are they to your success? And you learn a lot about that during the sales cycle as well. What’s their culture? What are their values? And you need to find a team who are as committed to your success, not just for sales, but deployment and afterward, than we’ve traditionally had in the past with some of our bigger vendors.

Owen O’Neill (07:38):
And we did take a leap in this scenario, Gavin. It’s not very traditional for BUPA to take a risk. And we did, we started with a smaller, less known organization in this context, and that was Workvivo.

Gavin Wrenn (07:50):
Yeah. And I think, just on that point, the partnership’s worked, it’s worked great. It’s worked really, really well. I definitely would commend BUPA. We work with lots of global organizations, but commend BUPA on the philosophy that BUPA has towards communication, be it open and transparent leadership, very open, inclusive communication. Yeah. Just, I think, just a great culture at BUPA.

Owen O’Neill (08:18):
It wasn’t always like that. And it was at the beginning when we said, “We’re actually going to give everyone in the company a voice, and you can say whatever you want, but you have to stand over those words.” And for a traditional, conservative brand, there was a lot of very uncomfortable people with that position. And that was someone from the Workvivo said at that time, “You will be surprised when you see that your own people start to regulate the conversations, rather than us trying to control them from a corporate center.” And they really have.

Owen O’Neill (08:49):
And we’ve had uncomfortable conversations on there, when we talk about diversity and inclusion and people put in challenging questions. But the important thing is, we’re open to those and we’re linking those conversations to our values. So, now values are no longer something just on a wall, they’re something that I see every day in my communications, because it’s embedded in the flow of work and that’s been quite transformational for us.

Gavin Wrenn (09:11):
Great. Great. Maybe just, you’re at the end of that journey, I guess, in terms of the whole implementation and rollout, could you share some of the key ingredients of success or critical success factors?

Owen O’Neill (09:24):
We are at the end, in many ways, we’re at the beginning and we’re tired, or likely. It’s been a difficult journey, because been a fragmented organization in many ways, across multiple markets and units, breaking down those walls from a technical perspective and a cultural perspective is not easy.

Owen O’Neill (09:39):
But a couple of key ones for me, it’s a textbook answer to say, exec sponsorship is important. And someone puts their name in a slide and they come to a meeting, they don’t know anything about the project for six months, but they’re there. The difference with this one is getting an exec sponsorship because they needed this project to be success for their strategy and their vision. And then you see a very different type of leadership, buy-in, and exec stakeholder management, when there’s something in it for them. So, selecting solutions and initiatives that are directly aligned to real leaders’ vision and strategy, you get a different type of sponsorship.

Gavin Wrenn (10:14):

Owen O’Neill (10:15):
That’s been a key one for me. In that journey, if I have to pick out a challenge is, one of the biggest challenges, it’s not a technical one. I think of our frontline workers. Do they really care about communications? And I give the person in the care home. Initially, not so much. Do they care about connecting with someone in a care home in Australia? Quite honestly, they’ll tell you, no.

Owen O’Neill (10:41):
So, our approach to that has been, because Workvivo was our launchpad for our daily work, there are things that these people care about. They care about getting their payslip. They care about another application we have called Wagestream, to allow them to get paid earlier, to help them with their bills. Their access is through Workvivo. And I’m a cook in a care home. I’m going to get my payslip. The only reason I go to Workvivo is to get my payslip, and I see a picture of a cook from another care home of what he’s cooked this week, all of a sudden I’m going, “Hold on a second, I can do something better than that.” And all of a sudden, these natural communities are emerging of cooks in care homes, sharing pictures, sharing menus, and building community, and then building connection with our brand and our values.

Owen O’Neill (11:22):
So, that’s been a challenge. It’s ongoing, but you need to give those frontline workers something different and thinking of, at a very granular level, at what is the needs of all those different fragmented landscapes? And incorporating that into the design and the comms, of course, that go around the program.

Gavin Wrenn (11:40):
Got it. Got it. Yeah. And that’s great that you can amplify your values. And I think that’s where you talk about the clinical staff on the front line and you want to try and create that sense of belonging and that emotional connection.

Owen O’Neill (11:52):

Gavin Wrenn (11:52):
So, that’s-

Owen O’Neill (11:55):
On the emotional part and values, as I said, we had seven values before this program, they’re on a wall, quite honestly, I really should know them. And I can’t tell you what they were. We now have three. Everyone knows what they are. The way we have designed our platform is that every single post you put up gets tied to a value. We’ve had 10,000 posts in seven months. Value now are part of everyday conversation digitally.

Owen O’Neill (12:19):
And as we are coming back into the office, we’re now certain to have conversations in a room where our values are actually being mentioned. So, rather than something on the wall, we’re now starting to ingrain them and they’re becoming part of our culture. And I did say, you mentioned the word passion. I’m just going to read a post from a nurse in Mexico. She posted on Valentine’s Day. It’s a picture of a child and he’s dancing. She’s covered in PPE equipment. And there’s a letter from him. “Perhaps this is not the best angle of a photo.” And this is translated for us. So, it’s also about being inclusive that everyone could read it. “Perhaps not the best angle. I’m in the corner. As I wrote these words, my hands were shaking. This moment will be in my heart forever. After a series of failures, trying to save the lives of patients infected with COVID, this is the expression of a family and its child dancing after two months in hospital, and two weeks in intensive care.”

Owen O’Neill (13:12):
I get emotional reading it. And it’s a picture of that child and the nurse in Mexico. We didn’t even know we had a hospital in Mexico. All of our people seeing this. And for the first time in my life, I have technology making me emotional. Normally, it makes me angry and I want to hit out at it.

Owen O’Neill (13:28):
And the effect that has on an organization is transformational. When you give those people the right voice and the right context and the right experience, and you can hear the impact it has, in my voice, and our people and the effects that it’s had.

Gavin Wrenn (13:42):
Yeah. It’s an incredibly powerful story, Owen, incredibly powerful. Remarkable. And it’s great that people can share … From working with BUPA and working with you and the team, I get the sense, and I know that BUPA is a very people-centric organization. And I love that you can share those values and share those moments, I guess, with everybody.

Owen O’Neill (14:02):

Gavin Wrenn (14:05):
Great stuff. Just in terms of the impact that you’ve seen, I guess it’s still early days in terms of impact, but-

Owen O’Neill (14:14):
Early days in [inaudible 00:14:16]. A few things that jump to mind. So, we heard from Sarah, I think earlier, who manages engagement at BUPA, we have our next engagement survey in May. I am nervous and excited to see the impact this has, but we do know communications and connectivity with brand and values are key drivers of engagement. And when we talk in the context of the great resignation and everything that’s happening in the outside world, this is very important moment for us. And we do hope to see a positive impact.

Owen O’Neill (14:43):
Another one, our 83,000 people, for the first time in 75 years, everyone has a voice. Communications is not something that comes top down. It’s every angle you can imagine now. And that’s been quite powerful for us, because it’s the type of organization that we see ourselves in the future. It is a dramatic change in how we connect with each other, how we connect with the brand, and how we connect with our values.

Gavin Wrenn (15:06):
Great. And just one thing you mentioned earlier, leadership buy-in and leadership engagement. I think to realize the full benefit of a platform like Workvivo or a digital workplace, that leadership engagement is crucial, because leaders act as a catalyst for others to become engaged. If a leader on a platform like this is authentic, if they’re being themselves, it just tends to drive engagement. I think that’s something that Inaki, your CEO, Nigel, your chief people officer, you’ve had that from the start it feels.

Owen O’Neill (15:39):

Gavin Wrenn (15:41):
And it’s great to see that leadership engagement.

Owen O’Neill (15:44):
I’ve had so many initiatives that hasn’t been that case, Gavin, the right solution at the right time. And I guess, that’s a responsibility for all of us, is coming forward with those new ideas and working in this space with people tech, also thinking beyond the big brands and the traditional approaches as well. There’s a lot of innovation out there and it comes with a lot of value. It comes with risks too, let’s be clear, but it’s worth opening your eyes a little bit wider in terms of that angle.

Gavin Wrenn (16:09):
Great. Thank you, Owen. Just in terms of time, I can see Joe moving around. I think-

Speaker 3 (16:13):
We’re fine. It’s out of step. You’re okay.

Gavin Wrenn (16:16):
Okay. Still okay for a couple more minutes. Look, thank you for sharing those insights, Owen. What I might do is, I might just open it up to the floor, to see if there’s any questions for Owen and the journey that the guys at BUPA have been on. Yeah. We’ve got one here in the front.

Owen O’Neill (16:28):

Speaker 4 (16:30):
Hi. So, as with a lot of business things, the beginning is the hardest and actually getting that shift in becoming more open. How did you encourage people to do that initially? Was it incentivized?

Owen O’Neill (16:45):
A complete variety of ways, is the quick answer. Depending on the workforce and where they’re based. The key is, as I said earlier, is not implementing another communication channel. Workvivo, in this scenario, and it could be another platform, is the center of my work every day. So, when I open my internet, Workvivo opens. The launchpad for the applications I need, Workday or some learning platform, et cetera, are all through Workvivo. So, making sure that it’s in the flow of my work, as opposed to a separate platform, I think is key.

Owen O’Neill (17:15):
More challenging for our frontline staff, posters on the walls, QR codes, and they take different types of motivations, but putting things in the flow of work is important as opposed to a standalone application, I think would be the quick answer.

Gavin Wrenn (17:30):
Great. And I think we’ve got time for one more. Somebody else had their hand up down the back. Yeah, sir. You might have to shout it out.

Speaker 5 (17:37):
You started off by saying that you had to change the culture, which I think is a very strong and emotive admission. I’ve spent quite a bit of time working with BUPA. I’ve done side-by-sides with people in contact centers. And I would think if you said that to me in my role at BUPA, I’d say, “What, change the culture? I think we’ve got a great culture.” So, I understand what you said and your explanations really made sense, but you must have had a challenge to really get people thinking and wanting to change a culture that many would say, “Hey, I think we’re pretty good.”

Owen O’Neill (18:10):
Yeah. And really interesting point, because we also think we’re really good. One of the challenges is an external one. There is companies moving in this space who are better, they’re smaller. And if we don’t wake that elephant, that elephant is going to stay asleep and be downtrodden. So, a real challenge, and there is no one technical solution is going to fix that. A project will also not fix that.

Owen O’Neill (18:33):
And I foresee that journey, it’s going to be years in the making. The most important part of it, of changing that culture actually, to be honest, has not been a platform and the project, it’s leaders. And leaders who come with a very different perspective of what that future is, as opposed to, we have another project. We have a CEO with a new vision for the company, as opposed to a CEO who is coming in, “How do we improve what we already have?” It’s about changing what we have. Not a straightforward answer, I appreciate, but that amounts to the size of the challenge facing into.

Gavin Wrenn (19:09):
That’s great. I think we’re good on questions.

Speaker 3 (19:11):
Yep. Good. Good.

Gavin Wrenn (19:12):
Yep. Owen, thank you for your insights. Enjoy the conversations.

Owen O’Neill (19:14):
Thank you, Gavin. Thanks.

Gavin Wrenn (19:14):
Thanks, guys.

About the Experts

Owen O'Neill

Global Head of Digital People Solutions at Bupa
With over 16 years experience, Owen specialises in delivering digital HR transformations to optimise the employee lifecycle and experience, whilst driving strategic business change. He is currently the Global Head of Digital People Solutions at Bupa, a healthcare organisation with over 80,000 employees. As a member of our global People Executive team, Owen is the business owner for Bupa's key strategic HR platforms and digital transformation roadmap. Previously he was the EMEA Workday Implementation Manager at Johnson & Johnson. In this role, Owen led the deployment of Workday and a new HR service delivery model, to support over 40,000 employees. Owen has significant HR Consulting experience from his time at Deloitte where he specialised in the design and delivery of global HR transformations for some of their largest global clients, such as Pfizer and Philips.

Gavin Wrenn

Chief Operating Officer at Workvivo
Gavin is COO at Workvivo - an employee communications platform, that brings workplace culture to life. He is passionate about customer success, building company and team culture, operational excellence, and all things SaaS.

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