Friday 20 September 2019

Gina London: 'What companies can learn from Princess Diana's legacy'

The communicator: Gina London
The communicator: Gina London

Gina London

I turn to meet her and pause, taken aback. She is startling in her elegance. Her statuesque height. Her stylish clothes. Her warm and welcoming smile. I'm reminded of someone I briefly met over 20 years ago. And the connection makes so much sense.

In June 1997, as a brand-new employee of a Washington DC news station, I was part of a crew sent to cover the visit of British royal Princess Diana to the Red Cross headquarters to raise awareness about land mines. Behind the scenes, as we pulled cable to connect to the mult box for the press pool, Diana entered the room. Wearing a lavender skirt suit, she kindly greeted each of us. She was radiant.

So, too, is Tessy Ojo, whom I met last week in London where I had the privilege of providing the keynote speech at a professional women's awards event at Wembley Stadium. Tessy fittingly reflects the woman behind the name of the organisation where she is CEO: The Diana Award.

The British government established the organisation two years after Diana's death to recognise young people who exemplify her legacy of community service. The Diana Award has expanded to become an independent charity committed to mentoring disadvantaged youth.

Before the awards event, I happily stood surrounded by Tessy and members of her team as I barraged them with interested questions.

"Do you have a waiting list for kids to be served?" "Yes." "Do you have enough corporate mentor partners?" "No." "What percentage of your job is frustrating compared to rewarding?" "Oh," they all said. "That's a tough one." While they've dedicated many years to helping kids and there's plenty of satisfaction that comes with that, there are also moments of frustration. When a youth can't stay the course. When corporate partners are difficult to find. When there are not enough resources to serve those who so deserve help. While they were not discussing internal organisation issues as a source of frustration, as they shared their honest observations of their work, it still reminded me of how each of us struggle. No matter where you work or in what role, a job can be a rollercoaster of ups and downs.

A recent Deloitte report found nearly 80pc of executives rated the employee experience as "very important" or "important." However, just 22pc believe their companies are excellent at providing a competitive employee experience.

Now, and with an optimistic eye to the New Year, let's explore how to help make the employee experience rewarding, not frustrating.

1 Switch from customer-centric, to employee-centric

I've worked with several organisations as they roll out their latest "customer engagement campaign." Employees listen while HR or Communications departments explain the X-number of Pillars of Why-This-Campaign-Is-Better-Than-Last-Year's-Campaign. And I've watched plenty of employees' eyes glaze over.

Yet, my experience, and the research that backs it up, shows that when employees are happier, everybody is happier.

That's why it's critical to have an upbeat and positive employee experience.

The workplace is more than free food or access to a gym. It's the combination of every interaction between co-workers, customers and management. It's management and the board. It's the board and the shareholders.

2 Provide structured professional development

Does your company offer a professional development track? Is it managed top-down by your HR team or can you provide input on the types of programmes you would like to see Is there a fixed amount of money you can allocate toward any certified course you choose? Or is there a menu of training programmes listed by management that you choose from?

I'm not taking sides on what works. It probably is a mixture.

But seeking out regular feedback from the employees who will take part is common sense.

Also, if you're a manager, don't wait until an annual review or quarterly report to check on an employee's professional development. Create ways to keep touching base.

3 Develop purposeful and transparent communications

This underpins everything else, doesn't it? If your senior leadership team isn't actively aware how to express themselves, or coordinate stakeholders, or analyse influencers within their teams or lead through inspiring communications campaigns, you should get them some help.

People need to feel valued and given ample opportunity to share ideas and innovations and ask questions about policies and plans. Make having "Purposeful Communications" a structured part of your employee experience and company culture.

4 Create values all can live

Speaking of culture, a friend of mine is taking an exclusive graduate leadership course at a prestigious university. In her 40s, she is one of the youngest people in her class. Most of her classmates are CEOs and not one listed "culture" or "values" as a driving force for a successful business. Yet, this is one of the defining notions the instructor was trying to get across.

Reflect on this. What words define your company? Is it "productivity" and "competition"? or "kindness" and "compassion."

Take a tip from The Diana Award. Go for the latter.

  • With corporate clients on five continents, Gina London is a premier communications strategy, structure and delivery expert. She is also a media analyst, author, speaker and former CNN anchor. @TheGinaLondon

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