-Dale Bornstein, CEO, M Booth
-Cat Colella-Graham, managing partner, founder, Cheer Partners
-Sehra Eusufzai, VP, brand strategy and comms, Dataminr
-Carrie Goldstein, MD, team lead, employee comms, Cheer Partners
-Olivia Graham, associate director, Cheer Partners
-Bill Hughes, CCO, Pitney Bowes
-Aedhmar Hynes, recent chair of the Board of Trustees, Page
-Kathryn Metcalfe, EVP of corporate affairs, Bristol-Myers Squibb
-Andy Pray, founder, Praytell
-Ben Trounson, CCO, global markets, Tata Consultancy Services
-Jude Williamson, SVP, HR, Michael J. Fox Foundation
Tata Consultancy Services' Ben Trounson emphasizes the importance of understanding – and respecting – the fact employees have lives outside of work (photo by Eduardo Amorim)
“It has to be a boardroom priority.” Workplace culture is the “it” referred to by Cat Colella-Graham, managing partner and founder of Cheer Partners, a 2019 PRWeek Best Places to Work honoree.
When organizations strive to proactively shape workplace culture through a fusion of employee engagement, communications and HR, she adds, “an incredible employee experience is born, one that drives business results.”
Roundtable participants, representing comms functions from a variety of sectors and agencies, agreed that any great workplace starts with a clear corporate purpose. “That’s where you begin,” noted Colella-Graham. “Build your employee experience around that.”
Equally important – and foundational – to fostering a great workplace, advises Ben Trounson, CCO, global markets, Tata Consultancy Services, is “respecting people and their passions, and understanding they have a life outside of work.”
Everyone wants to create the best workplace for their teams, but it’s extremely hard to focus on it as the demands and expectations of PR pros, whether at an agency or in-house, continue to increase. Fortunately, our assembled leaders possess a wealth of hard-earned wisdom on how they make it happen. And in the spirit of teamwork, they shared much of it.
Great workplaces start with a clear corporate purpose, says Cheer Partners' Cat Colella-Graham (photo by Eduardo Amorim)
1. THE RIGHT QUESTIONS GIVE YOU THE BEST ANSWERS
Dale Bornstein, CEO, M Booth believes the best marriages between an employer and a candidate occur when value sets align. And she credits her approach to staffing to counsel she heard from a Harvard Business School professor who advised, “Hire for attitude, teach for skill.”
And with all the people she’s interviewed over the years, she identifies the following question as particularly effective in understanding a candidate’s value set: “I always ask, ‘Who do you respect the most?’ And I am always so inspired by the answers I get. You really figure out what makes that person tick by that simple question.”
Andy Pray, founder of Brooklyn-headquartered agency Praytell, harkens back to his days of being the interviewee. He always appreciated being asked, “Are there any red flags I can address right now? I’d rather have that addressed in person than have it be a discussion later on I can’t control.”
2. YOU MUST LISTEN TO LEARN
Employees have many great ideas on how to improve the work environment, which is why Carrie Goldstein, MD, team lead, employee comms at Cheer Partners, laments the fact that “employee engagement is usually the least resourced portion of communications.”
To combat that, she believes companies need to treat employees as they would board members or customers, whose suggestions are always sought and considered.
And both Pray and Bornstein suggest that even horrible ideas can be beneficial. “Let your people fail forward sometimes,” says Bornstein. “Make it part of the creative process. That is a fun and empowering way to innovate.”
“The best workplaces listen to employees and learn from them,” adds Sehra Eusufzai, VP, brand strategy and comms at Dataminr. “That sounds obvious, but chances are your employees are the earliest indicator of potential problems and have the seeds of solutions to help your company grow and reach its goals.”
3. ONCE YOU LISTEN AND LEARN – ACT
Gathering information is great, but meaningless if you do nothing with it.
“You have to follow through,” stresses Olivia Graham, associate director at Cheer Partners. “You must create a plan that’s tangible and see it through to achieve those goals.”
Another benefit to hearing staffers out is that, when you encourage employees to speak their minds about issues that concern them, you can often prevent them going to channels such as Glassdoor to voice their displeasure.
Another often overlooked aspect to employee engagement is the way a company treats former staffers. This has a definite impact on your current workforce, especially in today’s hyper-connected world.
“People are connected once they leave your organization whether you like it or not,” notes Kathryn Metcalfe, EVP of corporate affairs, Bristol-Myers Squibb. “Smart companies put energy into keeping people who have left informed. Former employees are a great source of feedback. And you never know when someone will be a boomerang.”
Pitney Bowes CCO Bill Hughes remains a big supporter of face-to-face conversations between executives and staff, particularly during times of transformation (photo by Eduardo Amorim)
4. BE TRANSPARENT, AUTHENTIC AND AVAILABLE
Employees want transparency. They expect information in real time. And channels such as Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, even WhatsApp help in that regard. However, Bill Hughes, CCO of Pitney Bowes, emphasizes the great value of traditional tactics.
“Through various employee surveys,” he reports, “we clearly see that the more our leaders and executives are out talking to employees through actual face-to-face conversations, the better our results have been,” particularly during periods of transformation.
Of course, for multinational companies, one size doesn’t fit all when it comes to motivating the workforce. Cultures differ widely. Cultural values will dictate how a company needs to show appreciation for its employees.
Aedhmar Hynes, chair of the Board of Trustees at Page and former CEO at Text100, gave this insightful example from her agency days:
“In India,” she recalls, “we discovered that a most powerful way to recognize an employee was to write a letter to that employees’ parents and note how proud you were of the work that staffer did. There is such a sense of community pride in that region,” so that act resonated. “in England or the U.S., I could never have done that.”
5. TRAINING DAY, EVERY DAY
Training. All employees crave it. All employers know how vital it is. But how do you implement effective programs when day-to-day responsibilities barely leave time for anything else? The assembled leaders were ready with counsel.
Trounson believes that a quarter-hour well spent can go a long way.
Tata Consultancy Services instituted FRESCO, 15-minute mini-training sessions that employees can access “anytime, anywhere, anyplace.” Moreover, every comms and marketing staffer is entitled to attend two development courses or events each year.
“You must make sure every employee feels they’re continuing to grow and evolve,” he explains.
Beyond more formal programs, there was a broad consensus around the table that so much training happens “naturally” and day to day, oftentimes in scenarios where an employee doesn’t even realize it.
“Just listening to somebody more senior than you having a conversation with a difficult client and hearing how they handle it, you can't teach somebody that in a classroom training program,” notes Hynes. “We underestimate how powerful those opportunities are.”
To ensure training and development are continual, Metcalfe says managers should not shy away from “courageous conversations” with staffers. Employees will make mistakes. Such in-the-moment dialogues, she explains, are the best time to have in-depth talks and offer immediate real-time feedback.
Open lines of communication with ex-employees, great sources of feedback, helps the current workplace culture, advises Bristol-Myers Squibb's Kathryn Metcalfe (photo by Eduardo Amorim)