Standard Chartered's journey to future-ready workforce – lessons for HR leaders

5 minute read

Standard Chartered’s innovative approach to workforce management and development sets a benchmark for other organisations aiming to navigate the future of work, says Siân Harrington

Sian Harrington


When thinking about how to get ready for the future of work, the two areas that most align with performance and productivity are reskilling and flexible working, says Rebekah Heaven, head of future of work & advocacy strategy at Standard Chartered. 

As one of the world's oldest trade merchant banks, Standard Chartered, founded in 1853, now has over 84,000 employees across 53 markets, connecting people, ideas, capital and technology globally. The bank prides itself on driving commerce and prosperity through its diverse workforce, comprising over 129 nationalities.

In approaching a future of work strategy the bank had four clear objectives: harness technology and data, reduce recruitment costs, compete fiercely for talent, and boost productivity.

Speaking last month at Business Culture Connected, Heaven outlined how the banking giant successfully navigated talent management complexities, leveraged technology and fostered a learning culture to stay ahead. Here are the key lessons from Standard Chartered that can provide a blueprint for preparing your workforce for the future.

Reskilling and technology integration

One of the fundamental pillars of Standard Chartered’s strategy is reskilling, aimed at equipping employees with the necessary skills to thrive in a technologically advanced environment. Recognising the inevitable impact of technology on various roles, the bank categorises jobs into "sunset roles" and "sunrise roles". 

“We recognised that there were some roles that were just going to get replaced by technology and we called those roles sunset roles. We then identified that we needed to build future skills for roles that were going to start coming through and we called those sunrise roles,” explains Heaven.

Since 2019 Standard Chartered has been on a mission to foster a growth mindset and ignite a passion for learning among its employees. The launch of the Discover learning platform marked a significant milestone in this journey. Initially, around 18,000 employees used the platform annually but by 2024 over 20,000 employees are engaging with Discover every month. This substantial increase in engagement indicates a robust learning culture taking root within the organisation. “Our average learning hours went from 2.8 in 2019 to 4.7 in 2022,” Heaven notes, highlighting the positive impact of these initiatives.

Moreover, the bank established academies to facilitate the transition from sunset to sunrise roles. These academies offer targeted learning opportunities, enabling employees to acquire new skills required for emerging roles. “We’re talking about tellers that may have been replaced because we’re going more towards digital banking, who were retrained to be cyber security analysts and have now successfully moved into those roles,” explains Heaven. 

This strategic reskilling not only ensures job security for employees but also generates significant cost savings for the organisation. As Heaven reveals: “The cost save of moving somebody from a role that we know is going to be redundant fairly soon because of skills and moving them into a new skill set that you can do yourself internally is around $49,000 per role. It’s a huge saving for an organisation.”

AI in workforce planning - Talent Marketplace

The implementation of Talent Marketplace represents another significant milestone in Standard Chartered’s journey. This platform uses artificial intelligence algorithms to match employees with project-based opportunities and gigs tailored to their career history, skills, experiences and interests. Talent Marketplace facilitates a dynamic and personalised approach to career development, fostering a culture of continuous learning and adaptability.

Employees can indicate their interest in developing specific skills and the platform’s algorithms suggest relevant opportunities. This system supports a shift from traditional job-based roles to skill-based assignments, promoting non-linear and multi-directional career paths. Heaven remarks: “We’re starting to see a definite shift from the traditional job-based roles and instead applying individual skills to bits of work that need them.”

The Talent Marketplace has proven to be a win-win solution for both employees and people leaders. On one hand, it allows employees to explore diverse career opportunities within the organisation, aligning with their personal growth aspirations. On the other hand, it enables people leaders to find the right talent for specific projects efficiently. Heaven points out: “The platform has two sides: one side for people leaders to advertise gigs or full-time opportunities that they’re looking for somebody to apply for and then the other side for colleagues to look at opportunities suggested to them by the system’s algorithms.”

The shift from traditional job-based roles to skill-based work allocations marks a significant transformation. Employees are now encouraged to pursue unique career paths, leveraging their skills in diverse ways rather than following a linear progression. This approach is particularly appealing to younger employees, who prioritise learning and skill development over conventional career advancement. “Younger generational workers actually find learning and continual learning much more important to them than normal pay or progression type opportunities,” observes Heaven.

Pioneering flexible working

Standard Chartered's flexible working model is another exemplary practice. The bank does not mandate office attendance, allowing 52,000 colleagues across 44 markets to work under agreed flexible arrangements. This approach is rooted in the bank’s values, which emphasise doing the right thing, never settling and working better together. These values provide a strong foundation for teamwork and leadership, essential for effective flexible working.

A critical component of this strategy is the bank’s coaching ethos. By democratising access to coaching, Standard Chartered ensures that all employees, not just senior managers, receive guidance and support. The bank’s internal cohort of over 500 trained coaches offers free sessions, fostering a culture of trust, accountability and psychological safety.

During the pandemic, Standard Chartered leveraged its existing flexible working practices to transition smoothly to remote work. Post-pandemic the bank conducted surveys across various markets to understand the impact of flexible working and to tailor its strategies accordingly. This data-driven approach enabled the bank to develop guiding principles and empower leaders to facilitate effective flexible working arrangements.

The positive impact of flexible working at Standard Chartered is evident in the increased satisfaction with work-life balance, rising from 63% in 2018 to 72% in 2023. The bank continues to innovate, exploring flexible work options even for roles traditionally not suited to hybrid work, such as retail and call centre staff. By experimenting with compressed hours and flexible schedules, Standard Chartered aims to extend the benefits of flexible working to all employees.

This progressive approach to flexible working not only enhances employee satisfaction but also strengthens the bank’s employee value proposition. Unlike many banks that mandate office returns, Standard Chartered remains committed to high-end flexible working, recognising it as a crucial differentiator in attracting and retaining talent.

Standard Chartered’s innovative approach to workforce management and development sets a benchmark for other organisations aiming to navigate the future of work. By investing in reskilling, embracing AI and fostering a culture of continuous learning, the bank has not only created a resilient and adaptable workforce ready to face future challenges but also positioned itself as a leader in the evolving digital landscape. And it’s not stopping there. As Heaven says: “We’re really excited about the opportunity that flexible working gives us and how we can use it to help us prepare for the other aspects of the future of work.”

Published 10 July 2024
Enjoyed this story?
Sign up for our newsletter here.