We asked Jim Connor, Director of Communications, Commercial Banking, Group Corporate Affairs, Lloyds Banking Group, about his greatest challenges, what he’s most proud of and what advice he’d offer an IC newbie
How long have you been in your role and what does it involve?
I started officially in September 2015, although I worked as a consultant in the nine months before that. I’m the senior Group Corporate Affairs representative for the B2B side of the bank which drives about a third of all Group revenues and is the key growth area for the Group. My core accountabilities are for internal communication and media relations, although I also advise on Public Affairs and Responsibility issues.
Can you provide a potted history of your career?
I joined Lloyds Banking Group in January 2015 as the Interim Group Internal Communications Director. I also led a review of the Group Corporate Affairs operating model, ensuring the function is well-placed to support the successful delivery of the Group’s strategy.
I have worked in marketing and communications for more than 20 years across the education, leisure, telecoms, energy, transport, retail and now, financial sectors.
Before joining Lloyds, I was Group Internal Communications Director for Tesco. I played a key role during the horse meat scandal, and led communications for the sale of the Fresh & Easy business in the US, and for a joint venture with China Enterprise Resources, the largest retailer in China. I was accountable for internal communications and engagement worldwide – 500,000 colleagues in 12 markets globally.
Before Tesco I had a 12-month consultancy contract with Transport for London, successfully engaging 40,000 colleagues to play their part in the London 2012 Games and supporting negotiations with the transport unions, in particular RMT.
Prior to that I was Group Internal Communications Director at Centrica, part of the Corporate Affairs team that won the CorpComms Magazine 2011 award for the UK’s best in-house communications team.
What are the biggest comms challenges you’re facing at the moment?
1) Embedding the new Group Corporate Affairs model that I designed. It’s an ambitious integrated (internal + external) model and very different to the large centralised teams that went before. Also, because it’s an innovative model in a conservative sector, I really had to set out a cast iron business case and undergo a lot of close scrutiny. Sharpens your game!
2) An issue all communicators share is the post-EU referendum landscape – there is a lot of uncertainty about it. Lloyds Banking Group is well placed to continue supporting customers and helping Britain to prosper globally in any context. Getting this message out to colleagues and customers in a reassuring way is key.
3) Continuing the transformation of communications for Commercial Banking. Credibility for comms in Commercial Banking was non-existent before my new team got up and running last September. Ten months on we have a clear, innovative strategy, very credible senior stakeholder relationships and we’ve transformed the perception of the value we add. It has been tough, and it will continue to be hard work, but the returns are already flowing through. We’re now seen as critical to the success of the Commercial Banking growth strategy.
‘It is no longer just ‘internal comms’ but ‘comms’, part of an integrated continuum rather than a standalone discipline.’
What do you think is the next big thing in internal comms?
That it is no longer just ‘internal comms’ but ‘comms’, part of an integrated continuum rather than a standalone discipline. This requires broader skillsets and more effective stakeholder management. It also requires IC professionals to look at themselves more as reputation managers than engagement managers. That means looking outwards, not inwards – always keep the end customer front and centre of decision-making, consistently challenge yourself on how you are helping to grow the business and set up clear metrics that demonstrate it.
What keeps you awake at night – and has that changed over the years?
When I started my career, what kept me awake at night was very late working as I built my career and credentials! It was not uncommon to be up at 3am sweating over some comms programme or other. What all comms directors I know have in common is that they’ve put in their 10,000 hours.
Another issue early in my career was a deep lack of confidence in my abilities. I didn’t know how to navigate corporate environments; I was naïve to the politics/agendas, and I wasn’t resilient in dealing with difficult people or complex situations. One of my redeeming features is that I have always forced myself to keep developing and learning, even where I am way out of my comfort zone. This has helped me to keep progressing over the years. You can’t operate at director level without mastering all of these things.
What keeps me awake now (although I’m a very good sleeper – another redeeming feature!) is the level of uncertainty in the world. It’s almost impossible to predict the future – more so than at any time in the past. This can be unsettling but also hugely energising – I’m getting much, much better at horizon scanning and being an effective decision-maker in wholesale ambiguity!
What are you most proud of in your career?
I have had many proud moments and certainly more ups than downs. Perhaps one of the proudest was in my time at TfL where, at the start of 2012, colleague engagement was at an all-time low and all sorts of strike ballots were being announced by the unions for the Olympic and Paralympic Games. I mobilised colleagues through a sustained and highly creative engagement campaign, took engagement to an all-time high within six months, transformed how the leadership engaged with colleagues, dispelled the ‘us vs. them’ culture, helped with union negotiations, and ran training sessions with all types of colleagues and Games Makers to ensure great customer service. The success of transport at the Games, and the level of customer service – highest ever satisfaction ratings – along with zero Union disruption speaks for itself. I got my own Olympic gold medal for my contribution!
‘Get yourself a mentor – it’s reassuring to speak with people who have been where you are and you can shortcut a lot of the classic pitfalls.’
What advice would you give to people new to internal comms?
Master the core skills – world class written and verbal communication. That’s the non-negotiable – it’s our bread and butter. Get yourself a mentor – it’s reassuring to speak with people who have been where you are and you can shortcut a lot of the classic pitfalls.
Be a straight arrow – the world we’re in rewards people who work openly with others. Don’t have hidden agendas, even if others do.
Work hard – you’re going nowhere without putting in your 10,000 hours. Be open to broadening your skillset and be flexible to change – internal comms won’t exist in its current format in a few years’ time; be ready for that. Learn to operate effectively and comfortably in ambiguity – the world will get more, not less, uncertain. Take creative risks – innovation is a key driver for all companies and leads to the big gains.
By Debbie Forrester, Editor, Sequel