The Gatehouse Blog

How a transformed Standard Chartered recalibrated its internal communication


Sarah-Jane Wakefield, Head of Group Internal Communications at Standard Chartered, talks about the benefits of conducting a full internal communication audit and its impact on enabling her team to support the Bank’s new strategy and organisational change.

Why did you commission an internal communication audit?

Over the last two years, the organisation has been going through a lot of change. We have had a change in leadership, with a new Chief Executive and a new Management Team, and recently launched our new business strategy. It was a priority for us to ensure that our internal communications supported the new strategy for the Bank and our ongoing organisational change.

As a large, complex global organisation, we also wanted to ensure that we were aligned in our internal communications across the whole Bank, that we were not overloading staff with multiple and dispersed forms of communications and that our messaging was landing as we hoped.

Having recently joined Standard Chartered, I wanted to get a real sense of the effectiveness of our current communications, our messaging and its delivery and the role of our leaders in communications. As a result of all the change, it felt like the right time to take a step back, and identify where we needed to and could make improvements and look at how we might do things differently. We also wanted to create a benchmark, so we could use it to measure progress over time.

We appointed Gatehouse to undertake the research, which covered three distinct phases: a series of qualitative interviews with members of the Management Team, an online quantitative survey, and a series of face-to-face focus groups in some of our core regions around the globe – ensuring that we best represented Standard Chartered’s diverse audience.

What did you find most valuable?

We have been positioning ourselves, across the wider internal communications function, as a strategic advisory team rather than strictly tactical and undertaking this audit has supported that drive. How often do you get the opportunity to talk to the entire Management Team individually about their thoughts on internal communications, what they see as their role in communications, what they expect of us and where we can add real value for them going forward. We were able to make recommendations on how we should change our internal communications, supported by real evidence and detailed insights. This enabled us to show how we can be the ‘eyes and ears’ of the organisation, providing valuable insights into how our staff think and feel.

“I wanted to get a real sense of the effectiveness of our current communications, our messaging and its delivery and the role of our leaders in communications.”

The audit was also really reassuring. Most of the things that came out of the audit were not a surprise. The things that we thought were challenges and difficulties, or that needed improving, were the right things. You could ask “well what’s the point of doing the audit then?”. But it gave us the evidence to make the changes we needed to, and confirmed that we had a good sounding of the organisation and knew what needed to be tackled. It is important to have independent ‘sanity’ checks.

One of the really interesting things that struck me was that we needed to ensure that our communications ‘matched the reality’. Often in organisations, one of the biggest complaints is that communication is not done in a timely manner; here we identified the opposite problem. In the organisation, a top priority is to drive efficiencies and improve our processes and this had also been a top communication priority. The audit showed that people had got the message, understood it, knew it was important and that changes need to be made, but they themselves weren’t seeing any change – for them the communications did not match the reality on the ground.

They wanted to hear about the reality ‘now’ – tangible things they could see and feel. We are now taking this principle and applying it to our change communications. Instead of telling staff when we have new initiatives, what we are going to do or when we are implementing changes, we are waiting until we have real stories, evidence and examples of the change. We are communicating the reality that staff can relate to, see, and feel. This has been a key takeaway for us.

It is not always easy to implement, as stakeholders often want ‘launch’ / big bang communications for new initiatives, but this change is already making our communications much more meaningful.

What changes have you introduced as a result of the audit?

We are making a range of changes, but we are also using the audit to focus on the approaches, methods and campaigns that were highlighted by staff as successful and really impactful like our recent Conduct, #customersatourheart and #whyIworkhere campaigns.

“We are communicating the reality that staff can relate to, see, and feel. This has been a key takeaway for us.”

Some of the changes we have made are small, simple and quick things we can do to improve communications for our staff straight away. These include keeping our messages short, concise and less corporate, remembering that for the majority of our staff, English is not their first language, giving people headline information, and including subtitles in all our videos to aid viewing… things that are basic best practice.

As always, we can’t do everything at once, and so we have prioritised the changes we need to make, with an initial focus on streamlining our communication channels and activities, addressing the barriers to using our new social collaboration platform and introducing improved measurement and evaluation.

We focused on our internal communication architecture – both in terms of streamlining channels and activities and how we communicate across regions, businesses and functions. We are a complex matrix organisation with multiple levels of communications, and we want to ensure we can reduce the noise for staff, and provide clarity on what content will be communicated by which mechanisms. We’re now in the process of re-launching some of our communications channels to be more effective and switching off others.

Over the last two years, we have been introducing a new social collaboration platform – the Bridge. The Bridge is the cornerstone of our channel architecture, but the audit found that whilst some people loved it there were real barriers for others to using it. As a result, the Bridge was not being used to its full potential. We have increased our investment heavily in training, education, awareness, sharing success stories and we have launched a new homepage to help people understand what they can do and find it easier to navigate. We’ve still got a long way to go, but the research has given us a clear direction and the changes we are making are already being positively received.

We’ve focused on our measurement and evaluation strategy for internal communication, including implementing quarterly dashboards for the Management Team, which link all our internal communication activities to a strategic objective and show the outcomes.

“We’ve focused on our measurement and evaluation strategy for internal communication, including implementing quarterly dashboards for the Management Team…”

What are you planning to do next?

Some of the changes we want to make are harder and will take longer to implement. We know we need to do more to support our senior leaders and our line managers to be better communicators. We need to get both groups to a point where they will be driving and leading communications in a more personal and open way with the eventual aim that they will need minimal central support. To do this, we need to understand more what skill development they need, and what further support we can provide. We’ve started work on this, but it is a big project and we want to take our time and make sure we get it right.

What would you say to a practitioner contemplating doing an audit?

I would say, “Do it!” I can’t recommend it highly enough. It’s given us benchmarks we will be able to look at in a year’s time to measure how we’ve improved. It demonstrates how we are prepared to evolve as a function and ensure we can support the organisation as it changes. It also shows how we add real value as a function.

My piece of advice would be to not underestimate the resource and time involved, if you want to do it properly and get the most from it. For me, the focus groups were hugely valuable as they gave me the opportunity to hear first hand what people had to say and to better understand our markets and our staff. The result is absolutely worth the effort and energy.

Finally, I would say that you’ve got to be prepared to take actions in response to the findings. I know that sounds like an obvious thing, but it’s not enough to just get the evidence; it’s only valuable if you are prepared to do something with it!

“…it’s not enough to just get the evidence; it’s only valuable if you are prepared to do something with it!”

BIOGRAPHY – Sarah-Jane Wakefield

Sarah-Jane started her career as a journalist before changing path and amassing 17 years experience working in PR across all communications disciplines in fast-moving, high profile organisations including the Bank of England, HM Treasury, Audit Commission, Human Tissue Authority and the Healthcare Commission. She joined Standard Chartered in 2014 leading the CEO’s communications before starting her current role as Head of Group Internal Communications in 2015. She is a CIPR accredited practitioner, a Certified Member of the Institute of Internal Communications, has obtained the CIPR PR diploma and has an International MBA in Communications and Leadership.