The Gatehouse Blog

Changing the way we talk about change

Communicating a transition is tough. Grant McDonald, Vice President of communications for the Finance and Risk functions at Barclays, talks about how his team executed huge change communications in a big way.

Barclays has recently emerged from perhaps the biggest structural change in its 329-year history. Following the financial crash in 2008, the largest UK banks have separated their personal banking services, such as current and savings accounts, from other parts of the business, like complex investment banking. This legal requirement, known as ring-fencing, was introduced to make sure that in the event of another financial crisis, one part of a bank cannot impact the others.

That’s why Barclays is now split into three legal entities: Barclays UK (BUK) where the high street branches sit, Barclays International (BI) which houses the investment bank and Barclays Execution Services (BX) where functions like HR and Compliance are found. For colleagues, ring-fencing was something new to get to grips with and had to be explained clearly to avoid confusion.

When it comes to internal communication, taking the function I’m responsible for, colleagues in Finance have had to get to grips with a whole new way of thinking about where they fit in to the bank’s new structure. Before ring-fencing, colleagues in Finance had thought of themselves as ‘One Finance’. Then, as a result of ring-fencing, they found themselves separated into BI Finance and BUK Finance. Let’s just say things had the potential to become confusing. But, as colleagues got to grips with their new reporting lines, it was decided that it was also the perfect opportunity for Finance to restructure itself, not only by the new legal entities, but by the key processes within the function itself.

“When it comes to internal communication, taking the function I’m responsible for, colleagues in Finance have had to get to grips with a whole new way of thinking about where they fit in to the bank’s new structure.”

Approaching a major change

To restructure the function by process, the Finance management team created Finance Transaction Cycles (FTCs) – cycles that focus on the specific tasks colleagues did in their role on a day-to-day basis. For colleagues who’d worked for Barclays for years and only ever thought of themselves as ‘One Finance’, they were now having to get their head around the fact that they might have a different reporting line, and that they’d operate within a new FTC.

Again, things had the potential to get confusing quite quickly – and as the communications team, we needed a way to cut through the noise. As a first step we interviewed around 100 colleagues from across Finance. We were careful to find a mix of colleagues from different grades and lengths of service, who we felt would be upfront with us. We wanted to get an honest idea of how they felt about the change.

Although the results from the interviews weren’t earth-shattering, they did give us solid evidence to help shape our communication approach. Colleagues told us they were experiencing change fatigue, and they wanted to hear more from their managers. We heard what channels of communication they wanted news about the changes to come through, how they felt about the change and what new behaviours they believed they should adopt. In the end, this exercise was hugely helpful because it gave us a 20-page verbatim document that we then broke into different categories: morale, communication channels, culture and strategy, and presented that back to the Finance management team. This document stayed alive for the entire project and was a great tool to support our future recommended approach.

“We were careful to find a mix of colleagues from different grades and lengths of service, who we felt would be upfront with us. We wanted to get an honest idea of how they felt about the change.”

Making a statement

In terms of a campaign, we knew that FTCs were being created and different colleagues had different awareness levels of them at certain points in the year. But we also knew that by the end of 2018 everyone in Finance, no matter what grade, location, or length of service, should have the same minimum level of understanding of what was going to happen in 2019.

The first communication happened in February 2018 – an all-colleague message from the Group Finance Director that outlined the future of Finance and that colleagues should expect to hear more towards the end of the year. Between February and October, we only circulated small updates to a few select employee groups. I’ve always believed that there’s no point in over communicating if you’re not ready to share the full picture and address colleague concerns.

During times of change, people really want to know the things that will affect them personally – “How does this affect the role I do?” and “Am I going to move location?” But, actually, this project didn’t involve either. It was essentially a change in how Finance colleagues would report, but to explain that change was pretty complex.

“Between February and October, we only circulated small updated to a few select employee groups. I’ve always believed that there’s no point in over communicating if your not ready to share the full picture and address colleague concerns.”

To launch things properly, we decided to wait and use a global town hall in December to catch everyone’s attention before moving into 2019. We invited everyone in Finance plus colleagues who were directly linked – either in person or by webcast. We wanted to use this event to let the management team talk about the historic changes within the industry, how Barclays Finance had reacted to that, and how FTCs were going to help kick-start our transformation strategy to make Finance work better for the function, our customers and the bank.

The town hall bridged the gap between management, who were completely on-board with the change back in February 2018, with colleagues who were only really hearing about it for the first time in December. Someone once described these moments as management sitting at the front of a long train that’s come out of a tunnel, with colleagues sitting at the back who are still in the dark. That’s an analogy I always remember whenever I think about change comms.

“Someone once described these moments as management sitting at the front of a long train that’s come out of a tunnel, with colleagues sitting at the back who are still in the dark. That’s an analogy I always remember whenever I think about change comms.”

We put an awful lot of thought into the content of the town hall and because it was very focused, I’m pleased to say that the instant feedback was that it had been the best that people had ever been to. By the time colleagues had got back to their desks, there was a toolkit waiting in their inboxes, including a strategic narrative explaining how our Finance Transformation strategy fits into the story of where banking is going in the future. In addition, line managers had a second pack in their inboxes to help them have proper conversations with their teams about what they’d just heard at the town hall. We wanted everyone to feel confident talking about what was happening – in a consistent way.

Learning from success

In terms of the change communications, the majority are complete and we’re now working with HR to communicate the behaviours that colleagues will need to display for the Finance Transformation strategy to be a success.

Our focus has also shifted to colleagues sharing their stories of how FTCs are helping them in their day-to-day jobs. We want to move from leadership messages to influencer marketing, offering colleagues a platform where they can share their positive experiences of adopting the change with others. We’re now planning an exhibition that will travel to each of our key sites and feature colleague stories. The aim for that is to give colleagues an opportunity to discuss the strategy in more detail with local, senior leaders.

The job of communicating change doesn’t end when people understand the first communication. You want to go the extra mile to make sure they feel good about it and can tell their own stories.

 

Biography: Grant McDonald

Grant has been at Barclays since 2015. He recently took over employee communications and media relations in the Private Bank, and before that for the Finance and Risk functions where he was the senior communications partner to the Group Finance Director and Chief Risk Officer. Prior to Barclays, Grant was Head of Corporate Communications for Coutts. He also spent five years at RBS, working in both media relations and internal communications. he holds a Masters in Internal Communications Management form Kingston University.