It’s all about the people…

Published: 17 June 2019

Last week I attended a Culture Summit with the new Institute of Management who hosted the event in collaboration with University of Bolton.  The event was completely free to attend and it was being held in the North – I had to double-check the Eventbrite link to make sure I wasn’t misreading. Those of you who are based north of Watford will understand that events, particularly free ones, are few and far between outside of London so this was a real coup (thanks to the lovely Gemma McCall for giving me the heads-up on this!).

I went along with slight trepidation as I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. It wasn’t with my usual ‘networking’ crowd and I’d only just arrived back from Marrakesh that morning so my mind was still in the souks as I was driving along the M61. After mis-reading the directions for the car park I arrived 10 minutes after the summit started and I entered the room with paper balls flying round the room. I wasn’t quite sure what was going on but soon realised that they were kicking-off the conference with a laughter expert.  I unfortunately missed the majority of the talk but it seemed to have broken the ice and there were lots of smiles around the room.

The first presentation of the day was with Avril Morton, former Change Communications Lead at BBC Scotland. Avril shared her insights and learnings on the Making It Happen project which was Greg Dyke’s major initiative programme to help unlock creativity and ideas within the BBC. Avril explained how tapping into staff pride really helped support the change programme. This is something I wholeheartedly agree with. Getting staff involved in change right from the beginning and working with them to implement change goes down much better than just telling them what’s happening.  There are obvious caveats to this and often Internal Comms peeps are brought into change programmes late so it can be challenging as we’re often on the back foot ourselves and are generally catching up. However, there are always various ways you can involve staff in some of the decision making and allow them to feel empowered – something that can often be overlooked in haste.

Following Avril was Alyson Fadil. Aly is the Chief People Officer for N Brown but has held senior roles at Misguided, Sofology and Selfridges over the years. I’ve ‘followed’ Aly for a while on Social Media so I was excited to hear her talk on all things culture. It was fascinating to hear the work she has done over the years at these retail giants, particularly around the people strategy and aligning it to the commercial aims of the business.  Aly started her presentation with the shocking fact that almost 85% of the UK employees don’t feel engaged with their organisation – I knew this number was high but didn’t realise it was in the mid-80s.  Aly quite rightly pointed out that people make organisations and it’s important to take these people on the journey with you.

Aly went on to speak about her time at Sofology and ‘tearing up the rule book’ there by moving away from a commission led business and moving more into a more reward led business, therefore encouraging a different way of working. She also mentioned how important it is to ask staff what customers want as these are the guys who face into the customers everyday – the best feedback can often come from the people you least expect, in Sofology’s case their delivery drivers gave some invaluable lessons learnt.

As a conclusion to her fabulous presentation Aly went on to say that it is vital for staff to feel empowered and when they have the right tools to do this, it can help drive performance – but what about those leaders who refuse to take part, I hear you ask? Well according to Aly, that’s when they may need to look at their options and think whether or not the organisation is the right fit for them – I couldn’t agree more!

After lunch Glenn Grayson, Internal Communications and Engagement Partner at Misguided took to the stage to give his insights on some of the fantastic tactics that have worked really well at Misguided. Glenn’s energy and enthusiasm was catching, he definitely lifted the lunchtime slump by entertaining us with the wonderful ideas he’s implemented at Misguided based on feedback he’s received from the colleagues who work there. Such as:

  • Wheel of fortune
  • Ice cream Fridays
  • Gemma Collins Bingo
  • Pet dress up competition
  • Baby boxes for expectant mothers/fathers

Of course, the average age at Misguided is approximately 27 and some of the ideas are probably a bit ‘out there’ for some more corporate organisations. However, Glenn explained that it’s important to see what works for you and your organisation and in order to do that you need to get out and speak to staff – it’s impossible to create ideas from behind on your desk on your own. Once you’ve spoken to colleagues, make sure you implement the ideas where possible and if you can’t do it explain why, don’t leave people hanging.

After Glenn, Imogen Osborne, co-author of The People Business presented her thoughts on what drives happiness in the workplace. I’ve read Imogen’s book and I highly recommend it as it shares stories of how leaders drive engagement through Internal Communications.  Imogen shared some very interesting facts on what drives happiness and when questioned what is the most important factor than enables you to be happy at work? 40% of the people who answered said feeling valued and supported.

This seemed to be the common theme in all these presentations – people feeling valued, empowered and supported is the driver to success. Without these then it’s likely you’ll have disengaged low performing workforce. Imogen ended her presentation with top five tips that we can embrace to help drive engagement and happiness in a workplace:

  • Embrace variety – be open, outgoing an honest
  • Network, be interested in people
  • Hone your listening skills (ninja listening)
  • Adopt a continuous improvement mindset
  • Know/understand your audience and stakeholders and their pressures

Unfortunately I couldn’t stay for the question and answer panel at the end as I was going to a Bryan Adams’ gig that evening (which was brilliant by the way!) but overall the day was absolutely fantastic. It was great to meet different people who I wouldn’t have normally crossed paths with and it was wonderful to hear from such inspirational speakers. Well done to Carol Brown and her team at IOM for putting on such a wonderful summit – I look forward to future events!

*Photos courtesy of IOM Twitter Feed

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