Wawa is a chain of 900+ grocery stores with 30,000+ people based on the east coast of the US. They have a strong organisational culture and “servant leadership” mentality, with in-store associates at the centre of their corporate decision making. In this case study, Colleen Labik, senior supervisor of internal communications and engagement, shares their story of how they launched their new Fresh Intranet earlier this year.
Wawa is 30,000+ people based on the east coast of the US with over 900 stores providing your everyday stop for freshly prepared foods, beverages, coffee, fuel services and surcharge-free ATMs.
Headquartered in Philadelphia, Wawa has been around since the 1960s. They are a heritage, popular brand on the east coast and culturally important to the locals, competing with a wide range of organisations from Starbucks to 7/11. They have a strong organisational culture and “servant leadership” mentality, with in-store associates at the centre of their corporate decision making.
Colleen Labik, Sr. Supervisor of Internal Communications and Engagement, represents internal comms, engagement and recognition in the People team, reporting to the Chief People Officer, Margaret Dinneny.
Establishing the business case
Back in 2019, Colleen Labik took on responsibility for internal communications and, working with a third-party agency, conducted research across Wawa to look at their numerous communications tools. As part of a wider set of decisions around their people initiatives, she undertook to consolidate and refresh their internal comms platforms. There were some easy fixes, but the intranet was a more complex problem. “It wasn’t working how we intended it to,” she said. “The information needed was out there, but our associates weren’t finding it. I realized that we needed to rebuild it.”
The old intranet was SharePoint 2010 based and considered legacy by associates. It was organised by departments and the company structure had outgrown the intranet structure. It was a decaying archive of stuff where no one could find what they wanted easily. It was the classic case of an intranet being the place where content goes to die…
At the same time, IT announced that it was moving everything to O365 in the Cloud. This was the perfect opportunity to make the change. The ideal moment to create a modern intranet that Wawa associates would love.
Good groundwork pays dividends
Culturally, with the huge value placed on Wawa’a associates, Colleen and her colleagues involved leadership and staff from all across the business at the very start in a series of focus groups used to help shape the project.
One of the most significant aspects was the content audit: “It was a huge job!” exclaims Colleen. She enlisted an army of business champions to help with the mammoth task, and they were incentivised to do the tidying up and decision making around some 20,000 pieces of content.
Colleen explains, “Getting this group of champions on board and directly involved in the change from early on has been a real plus. They were tasked with deciding what content needed updating and migrating, or what should be deleted. This gave them a sense of ownership and it got the job done. They are rewarded with ‘sneak peeks’ of new features and are a big part of promoting the use of the new intranet day today. We realized just how important this group was, so much so that we have built them into the governance structure.”
The new site – called MyWawa – was due to launch in April, but due to Covid they decided to postpone the launch in order to prioritise the safety measures necessary for their associates This allowed more time for focus groups, piloting and loads of communications about what was coming.
All this meant that when they did decide to launch in July, their people were ready for it. Colleen again: “I chose not to roll out formal training on the new intranet. One of the reasons we chose Fresh as our intranet product was that I didn’t think people would need any training – it is so intuitive to work with. We produced a series of top tip videos in readiness, built excitement through a well-orchestrated comms campaign, and made sure that it was part of our leadership conversation in the run-up of our virtual launch event. Day to day our business champions have proved to be incredibly helpful in these early months, helping to get colleagues engaged with it.”
I asked Colleen what, if anything, had been challenging about building engagement with the new intranet. “One of our company values is ‘embrace change’, and although we had prepared people well in advance it is always tough to encounter change and build new habits. Our old intranet was so outdated; it had no personalization nor customization and the search was dreadful, yet even though the search on MyWawa is superb, it’s taking some people a bit of time to get comfortable using the search bar and trusting its results! Undoing some bad habits has actually been harder than I had anticipated, but we are helping it along by including change as a conversation topic within groups on the new intranet.”
It’s three months in and Colleen is pleased with adoption levels so far. She tells us, “Overall we’re pleased with adoption thus far, but what we really want to understand more now is what associates aren’t finding, how to help them find it, and get to the point where we’ve thought of it before they do. Our goal is to make associates’ lives easier by finding everything they need to do their jobs in one place. It’s up to us on the content side to think about how to do this moving forward.”
Colleen’s team are responsible overall for the intranet although content responsibility is shared with their Store Operations team who curate important operations-related messaging and info they need in order to do their job to store associates.
“In terms of targeting content, we are targeting on geography right now, not yet at the role level although that is part of the roadmap. Everyone has a reason to go to MyWawa every week for something and we are using email to signpost people to new, relevant content.
“Interestingly – perhaps not surprisingly in our culture – it is our recognition site that is driving most usage at the moment.”
Using a social platform is not entirely new at Wawa, as they do have an employee app. But being able to curate conversations on the intranet is new. For something like DE&I, of course, a huge priority in the US, the new site has given them somewhere where people can have a conversation about this issue and people feel like they’re contributing. Tackling topics that matter and giving everyone a voice helps adoption.
Colleen admits to being “…blown away by the level of insight and the powerful things we can measure,” but for the time being, the analytics they are using are fairly basic with a focus on things like traffic timing, unique views and trending documents. For in-store associates there are only certain times of day when they can access emails and this correlates with the MyWawa traffic data, reinforcing the fact that the emails are currently relied upon for signposting.
“At our recent Steering Committee meeting, we were reviewing the feedback we have gathered so far. It has shown that our associates were most interested in learning more about site navigation and examples of where their frequently-used content ‘lives’ in the new site. The Search function and Favoriting Tools were also common requests. All associates have told us that their preference to learn more about the new site is in Virtual Demos. Videos, Job-Aids, and Emails were ranked behind that.”
Colleen summarises: “What I love most about MyWawa is that I can see it is a helpful resource for associates. Everything starts at MyWawa and you can stay here. It is the gateway to everything that our colleagues need each day to get their work done and stay up to date. For many of our associates it is already their go-to resource and that’s exactly what we want to see. I don’t know how we would connect without this platform. Already it is overtaking email as the primary source of information sharing. Emails have to be important to read otherwise they will be ignored.”