Keeping employees engaged during times of change or crisis can be difficult at the best of times, so spare a thought for internal communications professionals in the financial services and banking sectors have faced an exceptional challenge trying to keep staff motivated through the recent economic problems.
So just how are they reaching out to a troubled workforce?
For Christine Crofts, Global Head of Internal Communications at Aviva Investors, a strategic review, followed by a restructure and then the departure of the CEO had resulted in a “spiraling employee engagement problem” within the business.
She explains: “We found that senior leaders and first-line managers were the most disengaged, as they felt they weren’t trusted and wanted a greater sense of leadership.”
To tackle this, and the overall unsettled feeling, Christine took a problem-solving approach, looking at driving different behaviours and outcomes focusing on leaders and line managers to build trust, generate a more open culture, and to make it easier for colleagues to support each other.
She said: “I worked with the business and kept asking ‘why?’ like a child. I found that by breaking ideas down and asking intelligent questions, I got to the bottom of what was causing the problem.”
To start, Christine changed the tone of some of the company’s video and online communications from big, slick, glossy investor interviews to something “rougher around the edges” that got the message across in less than two minutes.
She launched a new channel specifically to engage senior leaders in major business decisions, called Inside Track.
She says: “It’s essentially a branded e-newsletter that is sent out in advance of any major events or announcements and seeks their opinions and involvement. It’s been well received, with senior leaders saying they feel more trusted.”
Christine has also developed a first-line manager toolkit, called The Loop. Available in print or electronically, The Loop is split into two sections – ’keeping you informed’ plus a discussion piece.
“The difference between this and a normal cascade is that it closes the feedback loop,” Christine says.
“Rather than information simply cascading down the line, it now goes down, then back up with a response being published so that employees feel their feedback and ideas are being listened to.”
Finally, to support employees in building their own support networks, Christine ensured the use of Yammer was central to the strategy.
She says: “I had to demonstrate the strategic value that social media adds to the business by setting very clear objectives for the channel and measuring progress. Now we have 85 per cent of staff using it – with our CEO being the second biggest user.”
Another organisation that has steered clear of glossy, corporate communications is Vanquis Bank, which prefers to take a “simple, authentic approach”, according to Head of Communications Caroline Stanton.
“Our challenge is almost unique in the current climate as we’ve actually grown during the recession, so employee engagement focuses on sharing our progress through personal contact and charismatic leadership.”
Now ten years old and operating out of four locations in two countries, Vanquis is keen to keep its small company feel. Central to this is their monthly Business Update where employees benefit from a shared experience.
“Our MD, Michael Lenora, is a great ambassador and a powerful symbol of what the company stands for. We’re fortunate in that he’s always willing to get on a train or flight to one of our locations and speak to colleagues directly.
“This personal touch was further demonstrated when we were asked to showcase Vanquis at the Group Board, Caroline explains: “We produced our own film, all about us, told in our own words by our own people.
“It had a real handmade, authentic feel about it which was extremely effective.”
This format is being used as a template for other initiatives and Caroline says the use of video to engage a diverse workforce will increase.
At Vanquis, employee communications, HR, marketing and corporate affairs work together to ensure consistency of brand and message. Caroline says: “Disconnect ruins credibility so we try and weave the same thread through all of our communications.”
She adds: “We’re looking at innovative ways to keep everyone in the business feeling as though they’re one team and our small budget makes us very creative,” Caroline comments.
“Change is inevitable and exciting but our challenge is to maintain our internal brand, whatever our size. Everything from our ‘Perfect Welcome’ initiative to Agent Buzz sessions are designed to make the experience of working at Vanquis a special one.”
Hari Miller, Head of Internal Communications for Verde at Lloyds Banking Group, is well-versed in dealing with the challenges a big change communication programme can bring and believes that empathy is key.
“This year we will launch a new high-street bank using the TSB brand,” she explains. “This will bring additional competition to the retail banking market and whilst it is a technical and detailed change it’s predominantly a people change.
“When we launch we’ll be a business with 8,000 colleagues – managing branches, operations, telephony, and all the other core functions needed to run a bank. Many of these colleagues are coming with us from Lloyds Banking Group, like me, but we’re also bringing in expertise from across the market.”
This presents Hari and her team with a number of different challenges.
“We’re bringing people into our journey from very different positions in terms of their knowledge and expectations. Our approach for new joiners is a mix which includes an induction day – each attended by one of our Verde Executive team – newsletters, regular messages from our Verde CEO, Paul Pester, and a variety of audio visual pieces to help illustrate our story.
“And for those coming across from Lloyds Banking Group we’re focused on creating clarity around their key concerns, like terms and conditions in the new business.
“It’s been a tough few years in the industry and we have a responsibility to maintain stability for our people – ensuring they’re clear what steps we’re taking to build a successful and supportive business for them and for our customers.”
Hari continues: “Assuming we’re successful in completing the proposed sale of Verde to the Co-operative Group, the new bank will operate as a cooperative, which means our successes will be shared with our customers and the culture we create internally will need to reflect that new way of thinking.”
The continued media spotlight on the banking sector has also had an effect on colleagues’ confidence.
Hari explains: “We know that rebuilding trust with our colleagues is vitally important – part of that is being able to stand our ground with our detractors and evidence how we continue to protect and support our customers’ interests.”
Despite all this, engagement scores show Lloyds TSB employees continue to maintain their passion for doing the right thing for their customers – and despite the uncertainty, employees moving to the new bank are feeling excited and motivated by the vision. So how did they achieve this?
Hari says: “We’re blessed with an executive team who understand the need to participate actively in the business and listen to what colleagues have to say.
“Empathy is key. We have well-articulated goals and are considerate to the impact the changes we make can have on our people, which has created an ‘all in it together’ ethos within the business.
“At all levels within the Lloyds Banking Group and in the newly forming TSB bank we’re committed to helping Britain prosper.”