How to invest in your people

Her voice rang out across the room loud and clear. She perfectly modulated her tone, was authentic and proud. In a five-minute, perfectly presented introduction, she set the tone for the entire event.

She spoke about her employer investing in her, spotting and nurturing her talent and she proudly announced to the expectant crowd that she was a business leader.

Whose was the voice and what was she talking about? I’ll hand you over to guest writer Caroline King, @CKingatHelena, a Head of Communications and Engagement…

VJT121114langtree-023That voice was Steph’s, a painter and decorator in our Propertycare team (pictured). In case you’re wondering, ‘we’ are North West Housing Association, Helena Partnerships.

Steph spends most of her time up ladders battling the elements. This week she swapped her paintbrush and overalls and instead stood in front of a microphone and expectant crowd wearing a jaunty business leaders t-shirt.

Most people innovative strategy

We recently won a national Investors in People (IiP) award for having the most people innovative strategy in the country and were approached by the IiP North team to host a best practice event to share our story.

(If you’ve never come across IiP before, I recommend checking out the framework and understanding how it works, it’s a great tool to analyse organisations – Rachel).

In true Helena style we shunned the norm and devised a format that was engaging and memorable. Just a handful of PowerPoint slides crept into the agenda and our stories were instead shared via a series of fun activities.

VJT121114langtree-003Think Question Time meets Mecca Bingo and Monopoly versus the St Helens version of the Great British Bake Off!

It’s fair to say that most organisations don’t use Lightning McQueen, a T Rex or a mixing bowl to tell their tale but hey, we have a reputation for creativity to live up to!

Real people and real stories

One of the key messages of the day was about putting staff voice where it belongs, handing over power and using real people and stories to make our messages shine as brightly as possible.

Steph was joined by an amazing crew of business leaders from right across Helena. They shared their own experiences, told the good and the bad and demonstrated how they use their passion and energy to solve real business problems and keep on learning from each other at all times.

quote1One of the questions I was asked at the event was how we get staff to willingly engage.

At Helena we have been working on our culture and climate from day one. I know this better than anyone as an employee who joined Helena when we were just six weeks old.

In the early days, buying a kettle and toaster for a team based in a dusty office and going out to have a chat with them was real progress.

It’s fair to say that we are way more sophisticated these days and use a whole range of leadership and communications techniques to get people engaging and sharing.

We have found that handing over control is the trick to unlocking the most creative ideas and in case you are thinking this all sounds idealistic and fluffy, I’m happy to share some of the real business problems that our teams collectively solved:

  • They cut our number of empty homes from 289 to 135 by attracting a new market to our homes
  • They gathered a database of 400 ‘new’ customers eagerly waiting for the next available property
  • They developed an initiative called Every Contact Counts and brought an extra £136,000 into the business in just a few months.

Getting involved

VJT121114langtree-090And this is just the start. It’s true that many of the usual suspects got involved straight away but we captured the imagination of the entire team of 200 plus by allowing them to identify the burning platform and think like business leaders to tackle the challenges that the business faced head on.

This has resulted in a whole raft of staff who usually sit back putting themselves forward willingly, trying new things and bringing their invaluable experience to the mixing bowl.

The magic ingredient is making sure that the staff voice is where it belongs. That’s with staff in case you are wondering!

By this I mean they set the tone and climate and your Communications, HR teams and managers simply provide a framework and offer the support that might be needed to drive and keep the conversation going.

Using the Investors in People framework

Iip frameworkWe have used the IiP framework (pictured) to drive some key business principles and then we ‘Helenalised’ the experience to make it authentic and to make it stick. We want our accreditation to mean something, not just be another piece of silverware on show.

At Helena we talk about giving people a voice and platform to shine and we are proud to share the approach we developed about transforming our business from the inside out.

It’s not perfect, but what we have achieved is a happy state where staff drive their own culture and conversations, both fierce and supportive, go on throughout the day.

It’s fair to say that there is a glow about the place, whether that be across our estates, within our offices and even shining in our vans and that can only mean one thing – great business outcomes and engaged and happy staff.

Post author: Caroline King.

Thank you for sharing your story Caroline, I particularly enjoyed discovering how you personalised the framework and liked your description of “handing over the power” – incredibly refreshing!

I trained to be an IiP assessor back in 2007 when working in-house, and have found it a methodical way to critically assess and analyse companies and identify pain points.

If you want to contact Caroline, you can email her: Plus you can find online on Twitter @CKingatHelena, see the company website or discover what customers think via the Helena blog.

Further reading
Want to read more articles by fellow comms pros? Every day from 1-25 December I’m going to be running my series of Advent blogs, taking a look back at some of the stories I’ve featured from the comms community this year. If you can’t wait until then, check out the archive.

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Looking for a job?
Don’t forget to see my jobs page for the latest comms vacancies at all levels, from internships to Directors of Internal Comms.


First published on All Things IC blog on 17 November 2014.

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