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29 min watch with captions and full transcript

It was 2011, and HSBC was facing a challenging time. They were having to deal with regulatory issues they knew were going to go public, a new management team, and a new management structure. They responded with a comprehensive and rebellious approach to communicating with their workforce, putting in place a communication strategy and programs that has had a profound on the company and its global workforce.

In this interview, Pierre shares his tips for:


Learn from Pierre's rebel insights, like:

  • Always start with the audience you’re trying to reach, and don't insult their intelligence.
  • Bring the human into your communications, people are always more interested in the human perspective and connection.
  • You need to continually experiment, evolve and adapt, and you’ve got to be willing to fail if you’re going to succeed.
  • Measure the outcome not the input. Understanding how you’ve made things better doesn't mean how many people have clicked on your communications.
Our favorite quotes:

Communication is a dialogue not a monologue - half of communications should be about listening.

All good stories are people stories.

Pierre's interview:

DEBRA COREY: Hi there, I'm Debra Corey and I'm the co-author of a book titled, Build It: A Rebel Playbook for World Class Employee Engagement. I'm here today with Pierre Goad from HSBC. So, welcome.

PIERRE GOAD: Thank you.

DEBRA COREY: Thank you very much for taking time out of your very busy day to come and talk to us.

PIERRE GOAD: Happy to do so. This is one of my favorite topics.

DEBRA COREY: Great, and actually, HSBC and Pierre contribute two plays to the book. I couldn't decide between the two of them so we decided to be nice, we put one in the book and one's going on the website because there's so many great videos that we wanted to provide links to. So today we're going to talk about those plays, but before we do, do you want to explain a little bit about what you and your team do at HSBC?

PIERRE GOAD: Sure. So, I'm Global Head of Communications at HSBC, a very large international bank, 230,000 odd employees, and the communications function that I run is one of 10 global functions at HSBC. So from 2011, we went to a more global model, so I'm accountable for all communications everywhere, internally and externally. We're involved in media relations, content production, employee insight, employee engagement, and a few other things besides.

DEBRA COREY: The whole gamut from soup to nuts?


DEBRA COREY: Definitely. Do you have any advice? As an HR person I've been very lucky in some organizations, we've had communications people to work with. Any advice on what's the best way that we can partner with our comm's business partners?

PIERRE GOAD: That's a really good question. So I've had the slightly odd experience, I doubled-hatted as Head of HR at HSBC for 18 months while still running comms. So I have some direct experience of working with colleagues in HR as head of that function, but also as working with them as head of communications. My best advice to HR people would be to work with comms people with enthusiasm and an open mind. My observation would be this; HR as a function, and I think this cuts across all companies, it's not specific to a one company or one sector, has become a prisoner of received wisdom created by some of the big consultancies who we're all familiar with, the big four and some of the specialized consultancies.

I think, in some cases, communications functions also went down that path. But in most cases, current corporates, large companies, have retained a communications brain in house. And I think in the case of HR, often times there's a high dependency on what consultants say. I think it's far more fruitful, and actually far more interesting as a job, to do more thinking on your own, work with the comms people that you know, find the ones who are interested in people issues, and you'll find most comms people are, and try and come up with interesting ideas, solutions, projects that will be specific to the organization you work for, rather than photocopying somebody else's plan that was just sold to you for $100,000.

DEBRA COREY: Well it's perfect because that's exactly what our book is about, it's about being rebellious and doing things your own way, because you are right. I think that's part of the challenge as to why we've not had the high engagement in organizations, you know, the situation that were in right now. So I think that makes complete, complete sense.

PIERRE GOAD: I think the way we think about things at HSBC, what we've tried to establish as a first principle, start with the audience.


PIERRE GOAD: Always start with the audience. When we start to think about the audience you're trying to reach, remember they're an awful lot smarter than you probably give them credit for. To operate as a human being in this day and age, you have to have really, really good filtering skills, because we are all bombarded with information day in day out, thousands of pieces of information. So it's really important that both senior managers, function managers, and anybody trying to reach employees, understands that it's a transaction. You are asking for people's time. Their time is valuable.

They're not going to read your email, attend your town hall, look at your website, just because they work for you. They're going to do it because it's worth their time. And be really careful because companies know this when it comes to selling products; if you cheat people, you ask for 30 seconds, or you ask for half an hour, and they walked away going, "Well I didn't get any value from that." The next time you asked them for their time, they're not going to give it to you.

So always start with the audience and treat them with the utmost respect. And recognize that they're actually really, really smart. And trying to get through them is sometimes not so easy, sometimes not so hard, but trying to through to them is what you're trying to achieve. And you need to think about how you do that and not assume that the audience is there waiting to be fed with the fire hose of information that you've created.

DEBRA COREY: Yeah I've learned that over the years. In the past I used to think, whatever I send out there, everyone's going to read, but now it's trying to create value and relevance to individual employees, and it definitely makes. Actually that's what my first book was on. I wish I'd known you when I wrote my first book on communications. So my third book, if I write what on comms, we can partner on it and do it together. There you go. Great. Well that's really helpful communication's advice, which is a good segue into the great things that you did at HSBC. So as I said, there were two plays that we talked about. Can you maybe just sort of set the scene and tells a little bit about what was going on at HSBC that you decided to be rebellious and do things a bit differently?

PIERRE GOAD: So, a new management team took over in 2011, and we're going through another management transition in the beginning of 2018, so it's been a seven year period.

DEBRA COREY: Which in banking is a long time?

PIERRE GOAD: Which is a long time. So when the new management team started in 2011, and I came back to HSBC having gone to work in Zurich for a while, we knew that there was stuff coming down the road that was going to be challenging. So we had regulatory issues that we knew were going to be public, we knew we were going to be fined, we knew that we were going to be criticized, and we knew that for our employees, this was going to be quite a blow to their own self image, not just the image of HSBC, but their own self image as employees of HSBC. So we knew that we had that challenge coming straight at us.

Then we had a second challenge. The new management team, in 2011, had made the decision to move to a more global structure, so we declared, and that was the easy part, there are four global businesses and 10 global functions at HSBC, and all of them will now be managed globally.

DEBRA COREY: So they were very decentralized before-

PIERRE GOAD: we had a very federal model previously, so every company has a matrix. In the past, HSBC's matrix was weighted towards country heads. They had a lot of room to maneuver, they had a lot of ability to create products, create their own processes, run their own IT, and other systems. That had become an efficient, and also was not keeping up with what our customers wanted. We're an international bank, most of our customers want cross-border something. You don't come and bank at HSBC necessarily if you're just going to be using us in a single country. Our secret sauce is we're international. So we haven't, in a sense, kept up with some of our customers. They were asking, "Why is the experience different in Hong Kong and in the UK?"

And it was not completely different, but was a little bit different. That is a very, very big structural change. And it's not just about changing reporting lines and moving different bits and pieces around, it's about mindset. Convincing somebody in Malaysia that they actually have quite a bit to do with somebody working in Mexico, and somebody working in Manchester. So those were our twin challenges. And what we decided was to start thinking about HSBC a little bit differently, and this was the CEO who came up with this analogy. He decided he was the mayor of small town, 230,000 odd people. Everybody who lives in that town has an individual something, but they also have a connection with everybody else in that town because it's my town. It's where I live.

So we decided to start treating HSBC as a single community despite the fact that we're spread across 60 odd countries, multiple product segments, different kinds of customers. We made a bet that the people at HSBC, no matter where they were, had quite a lot in common with each other. And that previously the received wisdom had been, where I work in my country is where my loyalties lie. Yes the logo might be the same, but actually I'm not really that interested, or that connected to the rest of HSBC.

DEBRA COREY: This is a big statement about global mindset, global approach.

PIERRE GOAD: Yeah, and it was, I mean, was driven by, the management team is experienced, many of us had worked abroad, so we'd worked in other countries. So our gut instinct was, well actually people do feel a deep attachment to HSBC. It's had a very long history, and they probably do feel that their part of a community, we've just never let them express that.


PIERRE GOAD: And so that's what we set out to do, and one of the ways we set out to do it was with something called HSBC Now, which was a series of ... Now is a series of videos that come out at any point during the week. When we started it was a weekly video program like a TV news magazine, and we decided, from the start, it was going to be about employees and not necessarily about banking. What we wanted to, it's sort of the old maxim, show don't tell. We wanted to show the person sitting in Manchester watching a video about somebody in Mexico, that actually they really did have a lot in common. They were doing quite similar jobs, working in quite similar offices, dealing with quite similar customers. And you know what? It worked.

DEBRA COREY: Was it difficult getting people to do these videos at first?

PIERRE GOAD: It was difficult at the start to build a pipeline of ideas. Now, I mean it's not easy, it's never easy to find the great stories that you want to tell, but we definitely have a very full pipeline. People are very happy and excited to be featured on HSBC Now because everybody likes their 30 seconds of fame. But they also like to tell their stories. It's a very natural human desire to want to tell your story as individual, or as a group. So we get lots and lots of ideas, and we filter them and try and choose the very best. It's true when we started, roughly six years ago, we had to go out hunting for the stories. But it took off pretty quickly.

And we made, I think, a couple of key decisions along the way. We decided that most of the time, the videos that we did on HSBC Now would not feature senior managers, so it really is about employees, it's not it's not senior manager videos. We do some of those for specific purpose, but it wasn't part of the Now concept. And we also decided that the program would be fronted by employees, so we were working with a couple of video agencies and their advice was, well you should hire this very well known experienced BBC broadcaster to front the program. And we said well, "But they don't work at HSBC." So it's going to be clear to everybody that we've brought somebody in from outside trying tell our story. Let's see if we can find some employees who'd like to have a big of a go at fronting a program.

DEBRA COREY: It probably sounded interesting and exciting to them.

PIERRE GOAD: It worked out tremendously well, because not only did we get a great group of volunteers, but through a little bit of sort of video editing magic, it appeared that the show was being hosted from a different location every time we did it, because we'd film the links with whoever was doing the hosting, wherever they were. Now we've moved on, and in the age of YouTube, and so on, we send out individual stories. But the underlying principle has been the same, these are employees doing whatever it is they do. It could be about a charity they're involved at, it could be about a very personal story, and it could be about banking, but often it isn't. And sort of our tagline that we us to explain this to people, internally and external now, is HSBC Now as ordinary people doing extraordinary things.

DEBRA COREY: I love it.

PIERRE GOAD: That simple.

DEBRA COREY: Do you have any favorite stories? I know it's probably hard over six years. Anything that's made a big difference?

PIERRE GOAD: It's really hard to ... it is really hard to pick some out, so we won an awful lot of awards for individual stories, in sort of different communications competitions. Some of our big hits, there was a gentleman who had leukemia who managed to find a donor-

DEBRA COREY: Through the Now video?

PIERRE GOAD: ... HSBC Now because people all around the world went in for the matching test. We had a great story about lesbian couple in Taiwan, which is still quite a conservative society, who got married, and HSBC's local CEO gave away the bride. That one, it's still winning awards. Jennifer's wedding, you can find it on YouTube. Probably one of my favorite though is, it was an extended video that we did, and it's an old idea, but old ideas are sometimes still very good ideas, it's a day in the life of HSBC. And we had employees film themselves on their phones, phones are now so good that the video was very usable, all around the world, different times of day depending on what they thought was interesting, we had them send in that video. We have an app that people can download, so they can contribute video, and we put it together as one edit. And I think that was probably my all-time favorite, because it starts with somebody waking up in Asia at 4 AM-

DEBRA COREY: And how much did ... yes.

PIERRE GOAD: ... because they've got a really long commute. It takes you all the way through people commuting into work, and what they're doing at the office, and I just thought that was a really lovely way of explaining just how diverse HSBC is, and how wide our reach is.

DEBRA COREY: And this is the play that we've actually put on the website. And the reason is, is so that people can watch these videos because they really are lovely. The one that you just talked about I watched. If I got back to your original reason for doing it about connection, I mean it must break down barriers. You know, you get on the phone call with someone, you think oh, and you say to them, "I just saw your video." And you're a bit more human after watching them.

PIERRE GOAD: It does. I mean, we do an awful lot of employee research, employee insights. We sort of have moved some sentiment integrators into the right direction. Very difficult to demonstrate causality, but based on the research we've done, based on my own observations, just based on the popularity of some of these videos, I have to think that this has helped to create a sense of community. And that sense of community definitely comes through in some of the measures that we track. You know, the classic things you'd look at, belief in the strategy, belief in senior management, recommend us as a place to work, recommend products and services, all of the sorts of questions people have been asking for years and years, we asked those and a bunch more. And that sense of community is a really important underpinning to create positive sentiment and engagement.

DEBRA COREY: Especially in such a big global organization.

PIERRE GOAD: Yeah, correct.

DEBRA COREY: To connect people. And I think it's something, you know, people don't have to necessarily go out and do Now videos, but there's lots of different ways that organizations can create that connection and bring that a human face when you're working globally, or even just within one office.

PIERRE GOAD: Yup. You know I suppose I had somewhat traditional background moving into communications after a career in journalism, but I happen to work for two very good organizations, Canadian broadcasting Corp. And then the Wall Street Journal. Two very different organizations, but what I learned there, which is still true to this day, is all good stories are people stories. And that's the way I was trained as a radio reporter, and then as a print reporter, so even the Wall Street Journal, back in the day, it's change little since, but very serious business newspaper, we were all trained, there had to be a real person in the second paragraph of every story or nobody would read it.

DEBRA COREY: That's a great way of thinking. I know in HR we try to do more storytelling, and just that simple tip, I think, whether you do a story or whether you do any other type of communications, bring the human into it.

PIERRE GOAD: If you think about what you talk about with your friends, and what you talk about with your family, and what you talk about with your colleagues at work, it's usually about people.


PIERRE GOAD: People are interested in people. They're not interested in buildings, institutions, pieces of paper, policy statements. They might look at that stuff, absorb it if they have to, it's part of their job, but what really gets people excited, what really gets people interested, and what they'll remember is a great story about people.

DEBRA COREY: Somebody, and link it to that. I was wondering why you such great voice, you were on the radio before.




DEBRA COREY: That makes sense then. Okay. Do you miss it?

PIERRE GOAD: I do, but I don't miss getting up at four AM. I was on a morning public affairs program-

DEBRA COREY: Oh my goodness.

PIERRE GOAD: ... throughout it all, on air at six. It was brutal.


PIERRE GOAD: But a lot of fun.

DEBRA COREY: Now you just fly all over the world with HSBC. Yes. Great. Well we've got a little bit more on Now on the website. Maybe we can transition into your other program, the Exchange Program.

PIERRE GOAD: The Exchange Program was, again, developed to address a need, so when we started to look at and think about the regulatory issues that we knew were coming at us in 2011, although some of them were not yet public, we recognized that there probably was a cultural issue at HSBC. Partly a reflection of the previous federal structure, but some of the things that had happened, and you know we've been very honest with people, we've said sorry, we said yes we did this, and we committed to fixing it, and we've all been working really hard for the last seven years to do that. But when we looked some of the things that we'd done, the errors were people not flagging them. The errors where people not sending a message up the line because they didn't know how to do that; A, or B, they thought they weren't supposed to, or be punished in some way.

So we started to talk about that as a speak up culture. A lot, a lot, most of HSBC's cultural features, and I've worked there a long time, I think they are very good, but there probably was an issue when I think back to my earlier days with speaking up. It wasn't encouraged, it was quite a traditional company in some ways, hierarchical.

DEBRA COREY: Common in many companies.

PIERRE GOAD: Common in many large companies, and if you were lower down in the organization, you really didn't feel it was your place to speak up if you spotted something that looked a bit odd. We could've avoided some of the problems that we got ourselves into if people had spoken up. So to change that culture, we decided to do something that was, it was quite interesting as experiment, and it was rebellious and quite radical. We created HSBC Exchange-

DEBRA COREY: Which is also called-

PIERRE GOAD: ... which is also called, Shut Up and Listen. HSBS Now is also called Boss Free TV, so we prefer to like our taglines. HSBC Exchange was the Shut Up and Listen Project. So if people are afraid of speaking up, how you signal to them that you absolutely have permission to speak up? Well you create a meeting that's hosted by manager where the manager is not allowed to talk. There is no agenda and it's the employees who own the meeting.

DEBRA COREY: That is very rebellious.

PIERRE GOAD: They can talk about whatever they want. And for the first few months they talked about the toilets, they talked about the cafeterias-

DEBRA COREY: All the important things in life.

PIERRE GOAD: ... they talked about photocopiers not working, they talked about the stuff that had been winding them up that was sort of day-to-day. As we've moved on, they started to talk with other issues, business issues, all kinds of things, and it's become embedded at HSBC. I'm going to Exchange. When's my next Exchange? We gather the feedback, but really the purpose of it is just to create a very strong cultural signal that speaking up is, not only allowed, it's encouraged. And what we've been able to track through our research, is that people do feel that were very genuine in encouraging speak of culture. There still is a fear factor. We're working on it. It's really hard to get people past the point where they think they're going to be punished in some way for speaking out of turn, or speaking up, but the numbers are moving in the right direction.

Exchange continues to involve people to do different types of Exchanges now. People have done cross Exchanges, just people from different areas getting together to talk. In the US they did the big Exchange one day where they had 20 simultaneous Exchanges in a big room, 20 tables.

DEBRA COREY: Sort of like pack-a-thons.

PIERRE GOAD: Kind of like pack-a-thons. And so we'll continue to experiment. It will continue to evolve. At some point we'll probably stop talking about it because it just becomes part of the work at HSBC.

DEBRA COREY: What I like about it, is there's some companies I worked at before where you've got these great idea programs, and you pay people to do great ideas, which is fine in some situations, but you've brought it into, you use the word culture, you've brought it into the culture, and you've made it a part of, as you say, day-to-day where it's encouraged and get rewarded just by doing it. You don't necessarily have to get a financial reward for it.

PIERRE GOAD: No you don't. The really interesting thing from a sort of management point of view is, because of all the research we do, I can prove with numbers, and we're a banks so we love numbers, I can prove with numbers the people who go to Exchange meetings are better people. So across a whole range of different questions, they answer more positively.


PIERRE GOAD: And again it's not causality, it's correlation, but they're not self-selecting because you get invited to an Exchange meeting, you don't invite yourself. So it's not just the most positive people that are going to Exchange meetings. I mean there could be some element of that, but we're really confident because we've got the data to back it up, that if people to Exchange meetings, they're more positive about their team, they're more positive about the bank, they're more positive about the strategy, they're more positive about senior management, and they're more positive about just about everything by a factor of anywhere between 10 and 15 percentage points.

DEBRA COREY: Wow. I'm not surprised because if you think about employee engagement, it's about having a voice and feeling like you're making a difference. And by attending these meetings and having a voice it sounds like that's exactly what's happening.

PIERRE GOAD: It is, and I think the other thing, which people forget, is communications is dialogue, not monologue. So if you're expecting to just talk to people all day long, and that's communicatively wrong because at least half of communication should be listing, so exchange is part of a listening program in a way as well.

DEBRA COREY: Was it hard getting your managers on board, because it must be really difficult the first couple of meetings just sitting there and listening and not wanting to present ideas.

PIERRE GOAD: It was. Sort of the very ... so when we have, we did a sort of pilot in a couple of regions, and there's one famous story where at the first Exchange meeting nobody spoke for 20 minutes because nobody knew how.

DEBRA COREY: Aw, bless.

PIERRE GOAD: Without an agenda, without some direction.

DEBRA COREY: Right. They want structure.

PIERRE GOAD: They wanted structure. We got past that. People who are new to the organization and come to their first Exchange meeting, you can sort of see them looking around going, "I'm not sure how this works." But people pick up on it. And as we've been able to demonstrate with sort of hard evidence through the research we do, but also just anecdotally managers know that Exchange meetings are really popular with people, that they get some good ideas. And then, even if they don't get good ideas, just having a conversation with your team, or with your skip reports, or whatever it might be, can be really valuable because you get a chance to listen to them. They get a chance to express their views and opinions. They get a chance to talk to each other. And typically most people leave an Exchange meeting going, "That was a pretty useful way to spend an hour."

DEBRA COREY: I would even think that it has an impact on the relationship with the manager, because your manager is actively listening to you. And if they do that in the meeting, it encourages you to talk to them at other points in time.

PIERRE GOAD: Correct, absolutely yup.

DEBRA COREY: Great. Well it's good that you've got data to support it also. So you've given us two really great ideas, which as you say them, they think, you know I hear them and I think, gosh everybody should be doing something like that. It sounds like a no-brainer, but a lot of companies aren't brave enough to do that. So it's good to hear that you've seen positive results of, you know, doing things a bit differently and rebelliously.

PIERRE GOAD: Yeah, no. I think we're very pleased with both HSBC Now and HSBC Exchange. You've got to be willing to fail as well.


PIERRE GOAD: So a couple things we tried didn't work, but I think if you're open, if you're thoughtful, it's worth having a go because you might just discover that something you've thought of, or something that you've adopted from somewhere else could work really well to solve whatever particular problem you're having in the organization you're working for. But I think customization is key. Adapting to your particular circumstances is key. I really don't think there's one-size-fits-all programs that you can just buy in that will work.

DEBRA COREY: Right. And you addressed a specific need of the business.


DEBRA COREY: So it's what's going on in your business, and what would work. So do you have any final tips to people? If people have listened and they thought, wow I want to do one or both of these, is there anything that you would suggest from having done this for the last six or seven years?

PIERRE GOAD: Well I'll come back to what I said at the top, start with the audience. Who are you trying to reach? Why are you trying to reach them? What you want them to remember? Are you trying to change their behaviors, are you trying to change their minds, or are trying to convince them to do something differently? Start with the audience, respect the audience, and you'll usually come up with a pretty good answer. Don't treat the audience as the afterthought. Start there and then solve backwards to figure out what it is you should be doing.

DEBRA COREY: I think that's really good advice.

PIERRE GOAD: Achieve the desired effect. And the other thing we talk about a lot is, communications and other functions, for that matter, in large companies, large organizations, tend to focus a lot on measuring output. I don't do that. I sort of put a stop to it. I still have lots of people in my team who are absolutely determined to measure output. How many views, how many this, how many emails got opened? I want to measure outcomes and that's the principle we use. So we spotted a problem, decided that we could help make that problem better. Then we want to measure whether we've helped make that problem better.

We don't measure how many videos we've done, we don't measure how many Exchange meetings we've had, we look at whether the sentiment readings that we've got, the anecdotal evidence, the feel, nothing wrong with gut instinct. If it feels like, it's the outcome is what you are after then you've done well. If you're just measuring output, you'll never know whether you actually achieved what you were trying to achieve.

DEBRA COREY: Right. Just because someones open an email, or clicks on something, doesn't mean that they're engaging with it so-


DEBRA COREY: It's even just the buzz in the office. How do people talk about those programs and other programs? I think it's really meaningful.

PIERRE GOAD: Exactly right.

DEBRA COREY: Well I could talk to you for hours. Maybe we'll do another video another time, but this is been really helpful. And the whole idea of the video is just really tried to encourage people through the innovative things that you're doing, especially the fact that a big global company could do this. So we talk about how rebels come in different sizes and shapes, and you've definitely shown that, you know, big powerful banks can still be rebels and make a difference. Thank you very much. I really appreciate it.

PIERRE GOAD: Thank you.

DEBRA COREY: If you want to go on the website and see some of these videos, you can do that. Its rebelplaybook.com, or by all means grab yourself a copy of the book, and read a little bit more about that the play that Pierre was helpful enough to contribute to. And go out there and be your own rebel. Thank you very much.

PIERRE GOAD: Thank you.

DEBRA COREY: Thank you.