Leadership and COVID-19
Avoid HR Hell and Thrive after Covid?
Treat your staff like your best ever client
How the heck can we build genuinely great working environments after all this? Build retention and strong workplaces, when the purse is light and the future uncertain? Show your staff you genuinely value them? Prove that you know we can’t simply “return to normal” and that they need something new from you?
If you like what I say, I might have a great offer for your organisation - read on.
I’ve been a strategic communications pro since 1994. Won 0% VAT on incontinence pads, fast-tracked benefits for Motor Neurone Disease, got new NHS tech to fight the fatal C-difficile. Helped the Royal Shakespeare Company, Bristol Old Vic, old "Colston Hall", the Arts Council, DfT and Heathrow all engage with communities in times of challenge. But in the last few years, it’s got super-sexy: I’ve been advising, coaching and training in internal communications. And it’s humongously satisfying. Why?
Every organisation has one major asset - the people it hires. Oh, sure there’s tech, AI, plant, of course. But if you’ve ever managed even just one person, you know this truth: if those people don’t feel considered and valued, your organisation won’t just stop thriving, or start to teeter. It will begin to rot.
“Leaders must either invest a reasonable amount of time attending to fears and feelings,
or squander an unreasonable amount of time trying to manage ineffective and unproductive behavior”
- Brené Brown, Dare To Lead
When staff get disappointed in leaders, resources flow to the wrong places. Internal disappointment is very, very destructive. And expensive to put right. On the other hand, hope and enthusiasm fulfilled builds organisations. But when it’s wasted, hope sours. It harms morale, retention, reputation and the bottom line. Causes sleepless nights, makes atmospheres toxic, and generates mistakes, pointing fingers, name-calling and lost tempers. What a list. It’s HR hell.
Any organisation where the staff feel heard and respected functions well. Great places to work don’t happen by accident but need deliberate care. You might call it authenticity, integrity or wholeness. Common sense, humanity or even, good business.
And 25 years on the comms job have taught me that the outside reputation or brand is always a mirror of what’s happening inside. No happy, well-functioning company I’ve ever come across has external relations problems. The efficient and effective thing is to act with integrity. Even when it means facing the music, or doing “the uncomfortable” if it means great outcomes for the best asset you’ll ever have.
After the year we’ve had, this is the time to step up. Give people what they want, what they need, and how they want it:
the information they need to do their jobs well,
commitment and enthusiasm to grow their work-life experience and community,
fulfil and then exceed their hopes, just like you would with your most important client.
OK - they're great principles. But, how?
Recently, I helped on-board a digital internal comms system, similar to Slack and Teams. It wasn’t at all bad. But it didn’t quite meet the need. It couldn’t be branded, it couldn’t integrate with existing HR/comms systems, it couldn’t be tweaked to reflect different user profiles.
Then I got a call from Peter Heuvelman at Staffbase. Like the perfect tech solution mind-reader he said they had a mobile-based app for staff, that organisations could brand, which integrated with all kinds of systems, with amazing user profile flexibility and - the cherry on the cake for me - data analysis to die for.
I am a die-hard cynic. So they let me grill several of their customers (I know!). Amongst others, I met Matt Knibbs, Head of People & Culture at family-run Millennium Support. They support over 200 adults with learning disabilities, some of whom have complex neurological needs and additional vulnerabilities.
It’s a no-brainer that their staff are at the heart of their success. The organisation’s vision is to create fulfilling lives. Improving communication - to build a sense of belonging - is vital to their whole purpose. I grilled Matt about this app - honestly, was it really going to transform how the organisation functions, how staff got information and shared it - even change how they related to their employer? What he showed me blew me away. I told him I wanted to write this article, and just look at the frankness of what he sent, for you to read:
“We employ ~400 people and, compared to the sector, perform well against standard metrics like labour turnover, absence, length of service and even diversity across our teams at all levels. But data and numbers are all well and we can tell ourselves we are better than we are, but the insight and story the data tells is more important – and our story was not as we would have liked.
“After all, many talk about job satisfaction but we want all people we employ to feel fulfilled and have the passion and energy to wake up day after day to make a difference. In our case, there were still underlying issues surrounding connectivity, communication, trust and accountability.
“We had recently created our own people forum, the Millennium Voice Network (listen to John Farnham’s The Voice if you want to get an idea on what the Terms of Reference are for this group of inspiring, motivated and committed Millies!), and also received results from our bi-annual engagement survey. We put it to the Voice to help us. The number one solution, amongst others, was to create an app, or similar, that would bridge divides, create connections, empower the disempowered and support with consistent communication.
“From our first interactions, the app’s team’s focus was on our world and how the product could solve real life issues. Although some are focused on KPIs, they recognised that we were focused on the human outcomes; the sense of feeling that our teams would get. The decision was not difficult and when comparing with other potential solutions e.g. email addresses for all etc. the costs were not dissimilar.
“It took about 6 months to build what we really wanted and the support we got was again attuned to our organisational context. We launched in November and our stats are strong but more importantly, the feedback from our teams has made it worthwhile:
“We have been able to demonstrate transparency and create connections across the whole organisation. It can be a challenging task for a leader to disseminate all the information, at the right time to the right audience in the right way. The app allows more flexibility and, as well as functioning as an ‘intranet’, pushes the responsibility on to every person we employ to be curious.
“My favourite is the “Millie Groups”; people create social groups and then join them. The resulting interaction and social learning is amazing – from Spanish language and culture to Yoga, LGBTQIA+ and Menopause. We recognise that by empowering and giving our teams the space and confidence on the app, magic happens!
“We are still in our infancy with the app, but it’s been a catalyst for our evolving culture and a platform for us to go bigger and better in our vision to fulfil lives."
Wow. "A catalyst". "Magic". I've been chatting with Mike and others for a few months, checking this thing out. It really does the job.
It doesn’t take a genius to see that staff retention is the name of the game this year - especially in jobs where people are desk-free, out and about and engaging with the outside world.
* Rehiring and retraining are vastly expensive and wasteful
* Building a workplace community, cohesion, commitment and genuine staff engagement is going to reap huge dividends
* Places that do that will be the places people want to work - and stay.
From what I have said, and Matt’s wholehearted and eager testimony, you won’t be surprised when I say I decided to partner with the team behind this app. I am genuinely passionate about it. Because I’m genuinely passionate about organisations working brilliantly with the most important stakeholders they ever have - their staff.
So here's the offer I mentioned at the top.
If you think this might work for you (you have more than 500 staff, who're largely out and about “in the field” and you want better communication to improve integration and cohesion) I’m offering free consultancy workshops on your internal comms challenges. Just email me at email@example.com.
My workshop time with you is not a pitch: it’s pure consultancy. A chance for you to explore your internal comms with a well-seasoned expert. If the app’s right for you, the workshop can start you on that road. And if it’s not right for you, no worries: you’ve had free consultancy from me that will hugely help your thinking and decide the best approach for you (check out my LinkedIn profile to see what people think about working with me - it's good!). So what have you got to lose? And what have you got to gain?
Stop the rot, boost retention. Treat your staff like your best ever client and surpass their expectations. Here I am - get in touch:
The long and the short of it? #LeadershipComms #HR #InternalComms #Insight #Covid19 #Tech #Retention #Trust #Communications #StaffMagic #DareToLead
Stakeholder Engagement in C19
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