Lynda Farmer – St. James’s Place
In the latest IC Leader Q&A, we speak to St. James’s Place Divisional Director of Corporate & Internal Communications, Lynda Farmer, to find out about internal communications in her world.
Tell us a bit about St. James’s Place (SJP) as a business…
We are a wealth management firm with around £90bn of Funds under Management – client investments in other words. The business was started 26 years ago, and is now a FTSE100 company – the second youngest to enter the index and among the fastest growing. There are more than 600,000 clients who have chosen to invest through our Partnership; this is what we call our network of self-employed advisers who provide face to face advice on often complex financial situations and, increasingly, on wealth passing across generations.
We have in the region of 12,000 in our community; this includes around 2,000 direct employees in Head Office and field management roles supporting advisers and their back office teams. My team also covers communication for this wider community of 10,000 people in our Partnership.
How long have you been in your role and what was your career development into the role?
I started out as a consultant to SJP about seven years ago but this was more of a watching brief. In January 2016 I was invited to start to build the first corporate communication function. I became a permanent employee in January 2018 having proven the case.
In terms of career development, I’ve worked in some fantastic places setting up communication for organisations such as London Underground in the 90’s, Mars Incorporated and Motorola in Chicago. Through to consulting assignments as diverse as Anglo American (assigned to a Platinum mine in South Africa), the NHS IT programme – that was tough, and a fruit farm in Norfolk to name a few. All in all I’ve been at this for over 30 years and decided to specialise in internal communication after my first job when I found the external comms world wasn’t for me.
What’s the internal comms team structure at St. James’s Place?
We’re building this but right now it has an operationally oriented team that looks after day to day communication across the organisation and the Partnership. I then have a major projects team, largely contractors currently, supporting the bigger – mainly – change projects and introducing communication as a business tool, with a clear focus on outcomes and not outputs. I’ve embedded some experts into key areas such as Regulatory where I see the need for in-depth support alongside an opportunity to coach better communication practices and approaches while doing the work. Sneaky perhaps but we always hold our internal ‘clients’ safe especially when proposing new and perhaps brave things to do.
What channels do you deliver including face to face?
Our channels are in development. On the day to day side, we use a part of the intranet which is currently more a document management system, and we issue a weekly operational bulletin to the Partnership, supported by ‘one-off specials’ for big topics that need airtime. We support the larger conference style meetings that happen regionally with the Partnership to help deliver a joined-up message, I also run a monthly briefing call with all managers on key issues that is timed to be listened to in team meetings. As people see our creativity and approach to communication, we are getting involved in designing forums for various segments of our audience and providing materials. We are also taking a campaign approach on some important topics and providing toolkit style communication. We are experimenting with Yammer, and we have a proof of concept for a new corporate intranet.
What do you prioritise in your role?
I’m very much out and about in the business. My role is to understand the business and its requirements of communication and to bring that back to help us work closely with the subject matter experts in head office. I’m also very focused on our Air Traffic Control process. There is a lot going on and by showing the project owners what they are competing with for airtime, we can help influence the volume of communication and its likelihood of landing successfully.
How are internal communications positioned in St. James’s Place – what does the business look to you and your team for?
We have to work hard for our wins and we are helping the business understand what we can do. We are moving away from being the post box of others’ content, to being advisers and designers of solutions and I see every piece of work as an opportunity to coach, influence, build awareness of communication and engagement. I have team members on the steering groups of major projects and we walk towards areas that we believe need our skills. We have good support at Executive Board Level (I report into an Exec Board member), and a sub-group of the Executive is dedicated to communications.
What have been the main challenges for your team this year and what’s in store for the rest of 2018?
I did a significant amount of recruitment in the first half and created the operational team, as that is our highest profile work. This team will need to establish our drumbeat communication and the biggest challenge is to develop a corporate communication intranet and move off email! Then the rest of 2018 is about embedding ourselves into the big projects and continuing to build the awareness and desire of our colleagues to let us help them be more successful. One thing I’ve learned over the years is that I’ve had to be good at giving successes away and to get my satisfaction from seeing others’ shine!