The Gatehouse Blog

“Because of COVID-19, the profile of IC is higher than it has been for many years”

When you have a 65,000-strong workforce to steer through a crisis the magnitude of which has never been felt before, making sure your people feel informed and supported is no mean feat.

That was the challenge that COVID-19 presented to Lloyds Banking Group back in March this year – and the internal communication team was primed and ready to step up and do what they do best: help colleagues understand what the business they work for hoped to achieve, and the role they had to play in it.

As Head of Internal Communications Jody Lewis explains, the organisation was very clear on its strategy from the outset:

“The company approach was very much centred around ‘this is a situation that’s affecting people’. So, we looked at it from a point of view of ‘how do we help our customers and make sure that our people have the support and access they need’.

“My team’s focus, of course, was on our colleagues and helping them understand what the company was doing to help them. They are people as well, after all.

“Firstly, it was about helping colleagues understand the process side of things – it was a huge transition, so we spent a lot of time just making sure people knew there was clear guidance; secondly, it was about sharing the great stuff that people were doing, because the news was full of horrible headlines. We had some amazing examples of people doing brilliant things in their communities such as delivering food and medicine or calling elderly customers we knew were on their own to have a chat. An awful situation brought out the best in people and it was nice to be sharing those stories widely.”

But with such huge numbers to reach with their messaging, how does the team ensure that colleagues have access to the information they need, when they need it?

“We’ve made really good use of our existing channels; but we also have a mobile app called Move, which we started to promote very early on in the pandemic. We knew that the people who may not be able to get into work at short notice would still need to access the information they needed, so we pushed the app and started to see a surge in users. At the start of March, we had 13,000 of our colleagues using it; come June, that number had doubled – 26,000 people had it on their work phone or their personal device,” says Jody.

“We used Move to share the same content we were sharing on our intranet. So, no matter where you were, as a Lloyds employee you could access the information you needed – even things like ‘are there any changes that affect me going into work tomorrow?’ And because people can comment on everything we communicate and publish on these channels, it’s a great way of gauging the mood.

“Plus, people seem to have really appreciated the sense of community that Move has helped build – that and the honest, straightforward approach we’ve taken with our content on the platform. Certainly, when we’ve surveyed our colleagues, people have shared how much they’ve not only valued the way in which we’ve communicated with them, but also the tone and the humanity of it.”

With so many changing messages, updates, and news stories to communicate on a daily basis, this has certainly been a time for internal communication professionals to shine. So, has Jody seen the value of his team’s role within the business skyrocket as they’ve navigated the pandemic?

“We’ve always been valued to an extent – we’re a massive part of the organisation; but the importance placed on internal communication since March has definitely gone up. We’ve had to step up and step in – clearly this has been a situation we’ve all had to respond to, and we’ve risen to the challenge. I’m incredibly proud of what my team has done,” he tells us.

“But we have to learn from an experience like this. If we go back to the way things were, it’ll be a wasted opportunity. It’s on us as internal comms professionals to make sure that doesn’t happen; to be brave and continue to respond to what’s happening around us. We don’t want to go back – we want to look forward and look at how we continue to improve and adapt.”

And on the subject of adapting, many IC strategies have had to completely change as a result of COVID-19 – a situation that has been no different for the team at Lloyds Banking Group.

“We’ve had to work around the pandemic. The plan we had at the start of the year – have we ended up doing that? No,” shares Jody, candidly.

“I wouldn’t say the strategy itself has had to change – our strategy is to help colleagues understand the business they work for, where we’re trying to get to, and the role they can play in it. Where we’re trying to get to might have changed; but the essence of what we do hasn’t.

“It doesn’t matter if you’re doing internal communications or communicating with an audience outside your business, the principles still apply. You’re communicating with people. So, the challenge is always how do you tell a story which they want to hear, while making it easy for them to understand?

“The big thing for me is that – no matter who you are or where you are – you can read and understand our communications. That’s the thing, we don’t suddenly become different people the moment we log on and start working.”

It really does feel like great communications are essential right now – especially within the workplace. For Jody, this is something that absolutely has to be capitalised upon.

“Because of COVID-19, the profile of internal communication, I believe, is higher than it has been for many years – and I mean consistently, across sectors, across different organisations. So, let’s take advantage of that opportunity. Let’s show what we can do. Let’s represent our audiences. Let’s move internal comms on to where it needs to get to – and let’s drop the ‘internal’ bit of it,” he enthuses.

“Communications, generally, has changed hugely – and it will continue to change. So how do we make sure we stay at the forefront while helping the people we represent understand where the business that employs them is trying to get to? If we can do that and make people feel part of it, feel enthused about it, feel like there’s something more, and that it’s actually fun to work there – to me, that’s internal communication; that’s what we’ve got to say.

“Let’s keep pushing that and stay close to our audiences, to represent them and deliver things that will make people say, ‘that is superb’. You know, that’s leading in communications. Full stop. Not just inside our business.”

And looking into the wider internal communication community to share experiences and knowledge is something that Jody sees as key to building on the great work that’s been done by so many since March.

“As we’ve moved through the pandemic, I’ve found myself looking outside the business more – and it seems that, no matter where you are, internal communications has similar challenges and opportunities. I really want to see more of an internal communication community,” he explains, hopefully.

“I think, collectively, internal communication as a specialism can grow together. We can all learn from what we’ve been through during COVID-19, and really become something that attracts people from all backgrounds. I want to be part of that – I can see how internal communication can make a huge difference.”

Biography: Jody Lewis

Jody Lewis is is Head of Internal Communications for Lloyds Banking Group. He and his team develop and deliver strategic internal communications for more than 65,000 colleagues. This covers everything from major corporate announcements, internal news, leadership engagement, strategy, events and intranet, through to creative design and photography.