Christina Choudhury, Director of Employee Communications at Barclaycard gives us some top tips and best practice advice on stakeholder engagement.
First, tell us a little bit about you and your role at Barclaycard.
I joined Barclaycard nearly 4 years ago as Head of Leadership Communications to drive Barclaycard’s overall colleague engagement strategy and represent Barclaycard on the Barclays-wide Employee Engagement Leadership Team. In May this year, I was appointed Director of Employee Communications and, as of last month, I also manage the Channels and Content Team. In my role, I lead a team of great communications professionals and strive for our function to be trusted strategic advisors to the Barclaycard International CEO and other members of the Barclaycard International ExFo – while delivering creative and compelling communications campaigns which celebrate our brand. Due to my diverse role which touches many colleagues globally at all levels, over the years I have built up a bit of a Pandora’s box of stakeholder stories and best practice examples.
At the round table event you asked everyone around the table to summarise what they are like as a stakeholder. How would you describe yourself?
I thrive in a fast paced and energising environment and find it difficult when things are going slow or aren’t progressing, especially when it is out of my control. I’ve learnt to be very tenacious and adaptable to last minute changes on projects, taking my team on the journey and avoiding heightened stress levels. One of the hardest stakeholder challenges is when there are too many stakeholders or ‘cooks’ involved in a project or decision but their roles aren’t clearly defined. This can cause unnecessary layers of bureaucracy – knowing who is responsible for what is so important as a start point.
How do you get internal communication and events teams to work better together?
Related to the above, getting the virtual team together at the inception of any project to clarify roles and responsibilities and brainstorm a set of objectives and outcomes is essential. I have experienced projects where the Internal Communications and the Events teams have had two totally different focuses for the project with no alignment. This starts things off on a difficult footing and can mean that events teams are brought in late to provide ‘just logistics’ but they are experts in their field with strategic insight on what works and what doesn’t so my advice would be to get all key owners involved from the beginning so they can add their inputs during the planning process.
How do you get your stakeholders on the same page before each project or event?
At Barclaycard we find discovery sessions incredibly useful as they provide the opportunity to get all involved stakeholders together right from the start. This is when the objectives and key deliverables will be agreed so that everyone is clear on why we are doing the project, what it will look like and how it links to our wider strategic objectives. I always find starting with the problem statement helps and then building an agenda or actions around this to ensure the content is meaningful. It’s also useful to add desired outcomes for each section of your event agenda to ensure you’re staying true to your overall objectives. If the slot doesn’t link back to your overall objective, then you should go back to the drawing board and make sure it does.
One of the biggest challenges identified at the round table session was when senior stakeholders thinking communication is happening successfully when it isn’t. What advice would you give in this situation?
As the famous quote from George Bernard Shaw says, “The problem with communication is the illusion it has been accomplished” so for me it’s all about evidence, measuring and statistics to clearly demonstrate the reality within the business. Employee opinion surveys are a great way to understand the current satisfaction and trouble spots colleagues are experiencing. Pulse Surveys create numbers around the activities you’re driving and useful benchmarks for future focus. Numbers also provide solid proof points to put in front of stakeholders to demonstrate where communication isn’t working and the opportunity for you to better align your communications strategy against those findings.
What would be your top tip for successfully communicating with senior stakeholders?
The important thing to remember is that senior people are really busy and are often dealing with multiple things at one time so are not always in the right place to dissect information or read long emails. My key piece of advice would be to make information as accessible as possible and present it to senior leaders in a digestible way, for example quick visuals and short bullet points. When you send information by email, don’t pester for a response every few hours – but instead clearly outline your ask and your deadline – and stick to that. Try to avoid blue sky open questions, as experts we’re expected to provide some solution options in a draft …even if the approach is changed later it’s a good place to start.