HSBC uses NOW to WOW

How do you connect a workforce of 260,000 people which spans 80 countries and speaks seven different languages? It is not a question for would-be engineers but rather the challenge that was faced by global banking group HSBC back in 2011.

The introduction of a new business strategy, along with the continued turmoil in the financial sector, meant that trust was at all-time low amongst both HSBC customers and employees. Internal surveys revealed that just one in every two employees trusted decisions made by top management at HSBC.

To rebuild this trust, the banking group realised it needed to create a global sense of community, where it could highlight the shared experiences of HSBC colleagues. Its solution was to create HSBC NOW.

NOW is a video platform created to tell stories about the extraordinary work that employees are doing all over the world – stories of sacrifice, friendship, generosity and triumph over adversity as well as the bank’s day-to-day business. The internal communications programme was launched in order to unite HSBC’s employees with pride, purpose and personal responsibility.

‘NOW reflects the culture of HSBC,’ explains managing editor Jenny Varley. ‘We promote a ‘speak up’ culture, taking a jargon-free, honest approach which focuses on the characters behind each story.’

Videos on the NOW channel range from stories of a Chinese employee preparing food for the New Year, to a candy seller in HSBC’s Mexican offices, to the relief provided by HSBC Philippines staff in the wake of Typhoon Haiyan. Videos are translated, with subtitles provided in seven languages.

NOW, which started as a fortnightly programme broadcast on HSBC’s internal network, gained an average of 33,000 views per episode in its first 12 months. Today, episodes reach an average of 42,000 views with some gaining more than 100,000 viewers.

‘We’ve had an incredible response,’ says Varley. ‘We found that people wanted to watch in their own time, to share it with colleagues and even show it to friends and family.’

Such was the demand for HSBC’s employee videos that, last November, NOW expanded from its internal network and launched on YouTube. The programming schedule is now weekly, with between two and three videos posted every Friday on NOW’s YouTube channel. The move was designed to provide a more flexible viewing experience for colleagues, and to enable them to share content externally with their friends and family.

The NOW team takes a journalistic approach to identifying stories. ‘What sets NOW apart is that we listen for the right story,’ explains Varley. ‘Spreading stories often ignites other stories. We tell stories on a human level that everyone can associate with. It’s about providing highly relatable content in a transparent way, to reflect HSBC’s purpose and values.

‘We wanted to break the traditional hierarchical structure of our organisation and encourage people to have a voice. NOW is not dictated. It’s their [the employees’] programme – they are the ‘stars of the show’.’

An example of such a star is Wendy Trehiou, a wealth manager at HSBC Jersey, who successfully competed ‘the Everest of long distance swimming’ – swimming the Channel from England to France and back again – in 39 hours to support cancer charities.

The video following Trehiou’s journey simply focuses on her achievement; the fact that she is an HSBC employee is only mentioned at the beginning. Wendy’s Story is one of NOW’s most popular videos, with more than 1,500 views on YouTube.

But Varley concedes there are numerous challenges in creating HSBC NOW, particularly in producing content that is relatable to a workforce comprising multiple languages and cultures. Do HSBC employees dispersed across the world really have anything in common? ‘That’s the challenge – an office worker in Argentina might not think they have anything in common with an employee in China, even if they’re in the same job role. NOW allows people to recognise the commonality across borders, to realise they’re part of a global community, even though they’re from different cultural backgrounds.’

Since the launch of the NOW YouTube channel, 40 videos have been uploaded, gaining a total 27,000 views across 88 countries. Videos are divided into categories such as ‘Inspiring’, ‘Business’, and ‘Adventure’, as well as being categorised by region. A dedicated Twitter handle, @HSBC_NOW, was launched on the same day to publicise the YouTube channel, and has been mentioned in 230 tweets since launch. NOW videos are also published to HSBC’s LinkedIn page, and this programme content has already received more than 7,000 clicks.

The platform may have been successful in terms of viewing figures but, insists Varley, NOW is about more than that. ‘We’ve hit the target we set ourselves, to reach 50 per cent of our workforce through NOW. That figure might not seem much, but getting that many employees to watch something that’s not mandatory, for an organisation of our size, is unheard of,’ she explains.

‘The viewing figures don’t indicate the impact of NOW. Measurement isn’t just through numbers, but is in how it’s changing the culture of HSBC. We want NOW to have an emotional impact, to give HSBC employees a sense of pride, and to start a conversation.’

And it would seem that NOW has also fulfilled these targets. A recent survey of 200 colleagues revealed that three out of four employees take a positive view of HSBC NOW, acknowledging its ability to give colleagues a stronger understanding of business priorities and to help them feel pride in the bank.

Another survey of 1,800 colleagues revealed that HSBC NOW has increased engagement scores by 15 per cent for those who watched the programme, while a quarterly survey of 39,000 colleagues found that those who have watched HSBC NOW were more likely to feel good about the HSBC brand.

The expansion of NOW onto YouTube, Twitter and LinkedIn has also had an external impact on the HSBC brand. ‘People have been able to take a look at our business and see what it’s like to work for HSBC,’ explains Varley. ‘Messages sent from recruiters on LinkedIn have reached an all-time high. There was one video published on the development of the Renminbi in China, which had professionals from other banks, and even one employee from the Bank of China, commenting that it was the best content on the currency they’d seen.’

Comments online also show the ‘emotional impact’ the channel has had. @HSBC_NOW Brilliant video from Antonio today. Made me very proud to work for him. #happyemployee, one colleague commented on Twitter, while videos on LinkedIn attracted comments such as Wow HSBC. My dream is to be HSBC staff. Comments on internal channels show the same positive sentiment: Awesome video! HSBC is a great company to work for anywhere in the World! Thank you for sharing, I look forward to the next segment! The way it relates to me, we are all just people in another place, at the same time.

For the next stage in its development, Varley and the team behind HSBC NOW are looking to extend its reach to the 80,000 employees without regular online access at work. There are also plans to promote the videos on social media in countries such as China where YouTube and Twitter are blocked. NOW aims to meet the demands for increased frequency of programming and viewing flexibility, while maintaining the impact, variety and high quality of its content.

So how do you connect a large, disparate workforce like HSBC’s? Just find a human story, grab a camera, and get sharing.