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We talk to Terri Wade, group and UK head of internal communication at RSA Insurance, in the latest in our IoIC People series.

How did you get into internal communication?

I was in an internal marketing role at RBS, responsible for promoting the staff bank to employees. I liked being able to connect to people I knew rather than faceless customers. The next natural step was to get closer still and a role came up in RBS’ Corporate Bank. And there started my IC career!

You worked in marketing prior to your first internal comms manager role. Was there anything about IC that surprised you at that stage? What were the most important things you learned early on?

No surprises really, internal communications is very much ‘hearts and minds’ so generally as long as it felt right it probably was right. At the time, I approached IC in the same way as I did marketing – looking at the audience and determining the right channel and message to communicate and that stood me in good stead.

Tell us about your current role.

I’m the group and UK head of internal communications at RSA Insurance.

I’m responsible for communicating the business strategy to our senior leaders across the world, providing them with the tools and advice to engage their people at a time when we are significantly refocusing our business.

RSA has gone through some huge change in the past 18 months including the sale of our Emerging Markets businesses in Asia and Latin America. I’ve been responsible for making sure that our people have had a smooth transition to their new working families. It’s been fascinating working with so many cultures, I’ve learned an incredible amount.

I have a dual hat so my focus is now on helping our leaders communicate the Group’s Action Plan across our three core markets in the UK & Ireland, Scandinavia and Canada as well as helping our leaders communicate what will be a fantastic UK transformation programme.

What do you see as a particularly important trend in internal communication?

Without any hesitation it’s digital and social. At RSA we’ve significantly invested in Sharepoint, Yammer and Lync. Our people are wanting to see news and hear from people in the same way as they do in their personal lives. Gen Y are looking for role models for certain kinds of behaviour or looking for expertise that might not be in the hands of their line manager. They’re looking to have conversations outside of the team to generate ideas and they don’t always want to read the news we ‘tell’ them to and of course people are sharing much more. Internal communication teams need to adapt to that; it means less control, much more trust in our people and an understanding that the ‘traditional’ methods of communicating are not really going to cut it in the future.

You’ve worked in a number of large financial service organisations. Do they share common characteristics in terms of IC priorities and challenges?

Pretty much! A number of large FS companies are facing huge external pressures, everything from the regulators to the media and the fact that their customers are demanding more, especially since the crisis. It’s pretty hard for an employee to come in and feel engaged and happy to work if their company is constantly being ‘bashed’. Add that to the continual request to become more efficient which is often perceived as meaning job cuts or doing much more with less. But underneath the red top headlines there is usually some pretty terrific stuff going on and that’s the leverage.

You hold the Kingston University Post Graduate Diploma, Internal Communication – what impact has this had on your work?

I did the Diploma quite early on in my IC career and found it invaluable. We’d have a week learning about different theoretical aspects of IC and then the next two months immersing ourselves in a work-based project where that theory played a part. My last assignment was on the role of the internal communications business partner – believe it or not at that point (just under 10 years ago) that wasn’t really a role per se, not in the same way as you had HRBPs.

The profession has got a lot bigger and that’s a great thing but I’m a firm believer in a ‘practitioner status’ to give credibility a) to the individual b) around the executive table and c) to the profession as a whole.

Is there anything you would particularly like to learn how to do?

Sing! I’m a dreadful singer (albeit love karaoke) and it would be incredible to belt out a tune or two!

Who has inspired you the most?

Too difficult to say one. I’m surrounded by really inspiring friends who have done amazing things with their careers and their lives, people who have taken chances and never regretted it. Even my folks just upped sticks and headed off to retire in Turkey ten years ago when everyone else went to Spain and France! Inspiration comes in many different guises and there are ‘famous’ people who I admire just as much as those who are close to me.

What would be your ideal way to spend a Sunday?

Out and about in London town with my friends. I love my city and the whole vibrancy of it. Time Out and Twitter are my bibles so after a bit of brunch and a gossip about the week we’d then head out to whatever is on and takes our fancy!

If you could run two careers simultaneously, what would be your other career?

I’d own a wine shop importing amazing wines from around the world as well as stocking the fantastic English wines we have now. The thought of spending all my holidays visiting lovely vineyards is wonderful!
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