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“Culture is the foundation for ideas, innovation, collaboration, productivity and drive.”

Welcome to #UCVoices, a speed read series that shines a light on our vibrant network of clients and collaborators and the amazing things they are doing in our industry.

Pia Ellis, Director at HSBC

Meet Pia Ellis, senior ops pro at HSBC and the next guest in our #UCVoices series. Pia’s career began in communications and has seen her lead teams at some of the world’s biggest brands. A vocal advocate for flexible working for all, Pia has a talent for shaping commercially-focused strategies that drive the right employee experience.

We spoke to Pia about building a strong company culture, the importance of creativity and the future of work in a post-lockdown world.

Building on your experience of working in complex, global businesses, what have you learnt about creating one united company culture?

Culture is critical to a company’s success because it’s the foundation for ideas, innovation, collaboration, productivity, and drive.

Most businesses I’ve worked in have had a baseline culture to build on, but where I haven’t identified one united culture, I’ve tried to create that set of principles that can be put into action on a local basis. I believe that culture can’t rely on a top down approach, it’s not always possible for large-scale organisations to shape a consistent culture for everyone.

What you can do, however, is start with your peers, your team and your direct reports. I work best when I feel connected on a personal level with my colleagues around me, by building trust and respect with each other.


How do you think employee experience drives the right client experience?

I think employees are always our biggest marketing asset, even more so with the wider use of social media. A happy and engaged workforce will shine through in their interactions with clients, with friends – who could be potential clients themselves – and with each other. If you’re making it a happy environment, it’s a far more attractive place to work as well.


What role do you think creativity plays in powering growth in a highly regulated environment?

Regulation is not static because risks are not static, so banks really need to be creative to manage those risks. It’s also critical for regulators, who need to have constant engagement with the banking sector so they can effectively manage that risk in an environment that’s ever-changing.

COVID-19 is a great example of this. Financial institutions have had to adapt processes at speed, for instance for documents which previously needed a wet signature. That’s no longer possible when everyone is working remotely, so we’ve had to find new ways to get around these challenges.


As well as being a senior leader in HSBC, you’re also co-chair of FLEX, the company’s flexible working network. What myths do you think COVID-19 will have debunked for those who have challenged flexible working in the past?

COVID-19 has stress-tested working from home, particularly for anyone who previously thought their work or managing a team couldn’t be done away from the office. It’s been almost a worst-case scenario and we’ve proved that it still works.

Now is the perfect opportunity to do things differently; build trust within our teams, use technology as an enabler, attract and support a more diverse talent pool, and benefit from the uptick in productivity, efficiency and wellbeing.

We don’t need to rush back to the way things were, instead we can create a new normal that allows us to fit work around our lives, and at the same time supports a lower carbon economy – with travelling and office running costs majorly reduced.


And what excites you about the future of flexible working?

The evolving role of the ‘office’ is exciting, I see it becoming more a space for collaboration, with the rest of work being completed remotely and at a time that works best for the employee and the task.

It’s also a dream of mine to work remotely from Sri Lanka (where my father’s family are based). I think as flexible working becomes more the norm, employees can spend longer periods abroad, using some of their holiday and the rest of the time working remotely. As long as it doesn’t impact their work (and the tax implications are managed) I can see this becoming a popular option.


And finally, when do you feel at your most creative?

I’m most creative when I’m only presented with a problem, rather than a flurry of half-baked solutions. A problem is like a blank sheet of paper, and I enjoy finding a solution that not only fixes the problem, but links to other solutions and an overarching strategy. Having a full understanding of a business allows you to see solutions that will support multiple problems, and that’s the part of my role that I enjoy the most.