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Being under the regulatory spotlight highlighted major shortcomings in visibility and accountability for financial services. As the industry strives to better communicate customer needs, business values to staff, and encourage a more open and honest approach from leadership, having a strong and united internal communications strategy has never been more crucial.
It was this that brought together 22 internal communications professionals within the industry to London in a forum titled, ‘The changing role of internal communications within Finance.’ The group was bursting with internal comms expertise, in an array of guises and from a mix of financial services organisations, some of whom have been in their role for 3 weeks, while others are approaching 15 years. The one thing in common is that they are all looking to share their experiences and glean knowledge from their peers, to improve their communications through the use of social tools.
Leadership portrayal in times of uncertainty
The first of the topic areas was steered by the loss of employee trust that is quite prevalent in the financial industry, and which now poses a key challenge for internal communications. It is in these times of uncertainty most of all, that the leadership team need to be visible and transparent.
The first consideration from the room was around the idea that communications and marketing is deemed a nice to have during tough times. It’s very hard to quantify with a clear ROI, so you need to demonstrate that without good communications, there isn’t a business. The way to do that? Stats, but not before setting the objectives to establish what success looks like.
In regards to getting the leadership team out there, these were the practices amongst the group:
1) CEO blogs. This is a channel most people were doing, or at least were planning on doing. Some did it everyday, others once a month. Whilst there weren’t many tales of CEOs blogging themselves, a few strategic bullets from them seemed to be enough to form the content of ghost written blogs. Encourage your champions to push these out and get people to interact.
2) Engage with the level below CEO. Open, honest and not always well written blogs resonate much more with employees over polished content. Working with the senior team, feeding them content that they then write themselves will make them appear more human. Encourage content that’s important to them, e.g. CSR, diversity, even a current book they’re reading. They will then start to create their own style, which employees are more likely to buy into.
3) Video messages. Comms doesn’t always have to be delivered in written form. One delegate shared how they film a one-minute video message from the CEO twice a month to deliver key messages. This sees a spike on the amount of views and it’s easy to do – just filmed on a GoPro.
4) Enterprise Social Networks (ESNs). Whilst ESNs can be used to highlight the delivery of leadership comms, they will often get diluted amongst general activity. As a rule, senior team members within Finance are nervous of social tools. Having one platform means social elements can be introduced at their pace, so they’re not put off from the start. Plus, it removes the need to have multiple platforms for multiple tasks, such as social, document management etc.
5) Getting the CEO out there. Giving employees the option to listen and speak to the CEO and a member of the senior team on a regular basis has proved to be a much better way to build engagement and get questions answered. This can be achieved face-to-face or even on a hotline. Taking questions in advance too will remove any barriers from those who are less confidence to ask questions.
6) The comms matrix. Using a suite of channels, offline and online, will help address the fact that different people interact differently. To create a dialogue, it’s important to ask employees about the company culture or a topic they want to hear more about in a survey or poll.
Streamlining communications in a regulatory environment
It will not be new news to internal communications specialists that social tools can be met with resistance. Within financial services, surrounded by regulatory bodies and compliance teams, it can be even more of a challenge for timely and relevant internal communications to be delivered.
7) Sign off from compliance. As internal communications is audited as part of FCA regulations, it’s essential to work closely with compliance teams to create rules, such as the level of customer information that can be revealed or image rights etc. It also helps to have discussions upfront with other departments around permissions, if anything, to avoid keeping too much hidden away.
8) Share policy updates. As with all financial services departments, everything needs to be documented. Share new regulations, terms and internal policies with employees, setting mandatory reads on your intranet to be sure they’ve been read.
9) Be aware that social is fast. Fear of breaching regulations can set down too many rules. Some delegates struggle with a massive checklist to consider before posting on social media, making posts almost anti-social. Others advocated the four-eye principle; if you wrote it, you can’t publish it, and setting the boundaries of technical and customer content.
10) Assume all content is searchable. As a general rule, if you assume all content can be found and read by everyone, you can normally mitigate the risks. This is particularly prevalent since the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled that employers can view personal messages if they are on a work device.
Building engagement in tough times
When asked how many people had engagement at the top of their agenda for 2016, almost 100% of hands appeared in the end. So how were delegates combatting this?
11) Defining the values. The senior team should live the values, and lead by example, so that employees can gain an understanding of what they mean and what’s expected of them. Creating an owner of the values and leadership development will help to embed the culture and behaviours across all personas within the company.
12) Reward and recognition. Developing a rewards program aligned to the values will make them even more ‘liveable.’ Delegates shared an array of programs in place already, from employees making the nominations and votes, to the company choosing an employee of the month. It was considered whether such things really improved engagement, especially as some employees who felt like they were less likely to receive nominations, feel disgruntled. The answer to that: Work out loud in order to get recognition. It was felt unanimously that it’s the little rewards that go a long way to engage people – employees would much rather have a note of thanks than a branded badminton racket.
13) Ask your employees. Delving into the value that internal communications teams get from an annual employee opinion survey is a hot topic in the community. People were implementing changes to the process, such as conducting quarterly surveys, capturing engagement scores and reputational surveys. However, there still seems to be an issue around doing something with the results, and this seems to be linked with a lack of ownership.
14) Engaging Millennials. While the subject of Millennials appeared at the end of the discussion, it was only revealed to be a significant issue to a handful of people. This seemed to have something to do with employee demographics, and prioritising other areas that need addressing first.
15) Adoption of technology. The general consensus was that new starters will rapidly adopt technology as they’re new starters, not because they are a younger generation. People don’t adapt to change and experts don’t necessarily want a new way of working, unless they are shown in a way that’s relatable to them. You need to get to know them in order to influence them.
There were some great discussions as each of the 22 delegates openly shared their challenges and successes. From this forum, a Community has been formed, which is what it’s all about. We look forward to the next one – next stop New York!