E21 – How Do We Return to Work? With Becky Neale – Expert Interview

 
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E21 – How Do We Return to Work? Interview With HR Expert and Owner of Stonechat HR Consulting, Becky Neale

Becky Neale is a proven, commercially focused HR leader leading large-scale HR teams for the likes of RWE nPower, Labrokes, and Accolade Wines. Operates as part of senior leadership teams, devises and sets HR strategies aligned to the wider organisational goals, designing culture and values-based programs to support the development and evolution of operating models, associated change management and employee engagement. A hands-on operator who empowers teams and communicates in a natural, down to earth style with the ability to remove complexity in fast-paced commercial organisations. Today, we discuss how we return to work.

You Can Read the Transcript of Our Interview Below:

Nathan Simmonds:
Welcome to Sticky Interviews. I’m Nathan Simmonds, Senior Leadership Coach and Trainer for MBM, Making Business Matter, the home of sticky learning. We are the provider of leadership development and soft skills training to the grocery and manufacturer industry. The idea of these interviews is to share great ideas, great concepts and great ways these skills are being used to help you be the best version of you in the work that you do. Welcome to the show.

Nathan Simmonds:
Welcome to today’s interview. I have the pleaser of interviewing Becky Neale today. HR Director, expert. I’ve got a phenomenal bio on here which is worth reading just in itself, and then we’re going to get into some serious questions about high performance teams. About the return to work which is so very poignant for right now as we’re recording this video, stores opening and people going back to business. But also, other businesses returning their people from home as well. And also looking at employee engagement off the back of that which is why I wanted to have this conversation with Becky and the direction that I’ll get to know you went previously just expose so many challenges that are going to come up in the future.

Nathan Simmonds:
So, with a proven commercial focus, HR leader, leading large scale HR teams for the likes of RWE, Empower, Ladbrokes and [inaudible 00:01:28]. Operates as part of a Senior Leadership team, devises and sets HR strategies aligned to wide organizational goals. Big stuff. Designing culture, values based programs. Support the development and evolution of operating models, associated change mangement employee engagement. These are all big things, especially for HR Directors working in a global space.

Nathan Simmonds:
But even though it’s big, global, it’s also hands on. She’s a hands on [inaudible 00:01:54] who empowers her team, communicate in a natural down to earth style. And the best bit about the conversations that I’ve had with Becky before now is that she takes that complexity and makes it easy for people to understand, especially in fast paced environments. This is why I wanted to share some of this. As I said, it’s high performance team, employee engagement. And the elephant in the room, the return to work, which I think even in normal circumstances was an elephant in the room in itself, let alone now as it’s environment that we work in and the ecosystem we’re working in changes.

Nathan Simmonds:
So Becky, welcome to Sticky Interviews. Thanks for being here, thanks for sharing your team. First question from me which is probably the most important question, why do you do what you do?

Becky Neale:
Hi, thank you for having me. I guess I just really enjoy working with large teams, leadership teams setting strategy and direction. Really then just drilling down from that in terms of making them operational plans, working with employees, wider groups from the management, the leadership team and where appropriate if you have a union, union in that organization. It’s the variety, it’s the complexity, and it’s really driving them through and seeing results and taking employees on the journey that just really floats by boat, ticks my boxes if you like.

Nathan Simmonds:
I love the fact that you said in that, taking these large ideas, drilling down, linking people to unions, employee safety, psychological safety. [inaudible 00:03:35], when we use all those different elements and actually make them work together. So actually I think that’s the first time you’ve used some of those words in a conversation with me so it’s actually refreshing to hear you say them.

Becky Neale:
You can’t do it on your own, you have to involve all of those groups. It’s the key to success in making these change projects work.

Nathan Simmonds:
And it’s exactly that. Because if you try and swing too much to one bias, it creates the bias. So if you have a large organization that has their viewpoint and their way of working, that’s not going to fit to everybody in your business. And you have to have the cross sections and the different dynamics so you make sure that actually, you’re giving the fairest and most reasonable approach to all the people in your care as an HR lead.

Becky Neale:
Yeah, and ultimately if you don’t take your people on the journey with you, whatever change you’re trying to make, whatever business goal objective you’re trying to achieve, you won’t do it. You will come across resistance, you will have people taking different roads and tangents. They all need to be aligned, all need to be adding value and all going in the same direction. You can only do that by involving them, engaging them, communicating and setting the right culture.

Nathan Simmonds:
There was that push pull scenario with the stubborn donkey. You’re trying to get the donkey to move forward, you’re trying to pull it and it’s pulling backwards. Actually you might get somewhere very slowly if you’re lucky, but it’s going to be a painful, drawn out process.

Becky Neale:
Yeah, and I guess that’s why really in changes you need to focus on your early adopters rather than your [inaudible 00:05:09] and those that don’t want to join in. Because you can’t gear everything to the lowest common denominator in any change that you make, but you do have to factor and consider those in.

Nathan Simmonds:
So when you’re setting up that plan, or when you’re setting up that change that you’re going through, do you formulate a structure of what your early adopters are and then how you then incorporate your laggers, and how you cross the chasm to bring the next group of people in at the same… later on in that journey.

Becky Neale:
Yeah, I think you have to come up with a change management plan. You have to look at all the groups. How are they going to be impacted? How are they going to feel personally about these changes? And work through the different groups the different scenarios and complexities and questions and resistance factors they are all going to bring. You almost need to create the personas for each group. So Dave the bus driver and these are his concerns. Sarah the administrator, these are concerns. Jeff the cleaner, these are his concerns etc, and build out each of the characters, what they stand for, the issues that that grouping will potentially throw at you and the resistance. What they can actually bring to enable and to help. You’ve got to look at it from lots of different angles to be able to build the plans to take it forward.

Becky Neale:
You just do it in isolation of management team want to implement X, Y and Z and we’re going at it, straight down the tracks then it won’t land as well.

Nathan Simmonds:
And I haven’t heard it put that way, because that’s the same as doing a client avatar, doing a customer avatar.

Becky Neale:
Yeah, it is.

Nathan Simmonds:
So when you have your own business and you create your own business, okay, this is my demographic. They are of this age, of this gender. This is what’s important to them. Okay, how do we make sure we get the message to that person in the language that they understand. Brilliantly as you put across here is well actually, what are they going to bring to the equation or to the situation that’s going to help to move the project forward? What are their strengths? What are they going to enjoy demonstrating that’s going to make it work even better, regardless of what the leadership team says they want or what they think is the best thing. How do we get everybody involved in that?

Becky Neale:
Yeah, and if you take your early adopters particularly, they can show others. It’s not just that management said this was a great idea, actually it is. Look what’s happened in my team, look what’s happened here as a result of it. It’s working, it’s doing the right thing. Yes, these are the teething problems we’ve found, but we’ve listened to people, we’ve asked for opinions and now we’re focusing on this. It’s almost like jump on the train, come with us. It’s actually not that bad. Have a look at what we’re achieving, see what we’re doing. Come and be part of it.

Becky Neale:
And that’s what you hope and you rely on really with your early adopters and people who are really engaged with the changes that you’re trying to make.

Nathan Simmonds:
And you build a momentum in that. [crosstalk 00:07:46] mentioned just [Jeff Burch 00:07:47] before we got into this conversation, we’ve just done the first of our sticky lunches with Jeff. The quote that stands out for me that he shared was, “The change inflicted is a change resisted.”

Becky Neale:
Absolutely.

Nathan Simmonds:
Getting those people on board, just creating that snowball effect just so it chugs a little bit further and then goes a bit further and then more people. And you build up that pressure, the positive pressure to enable the thing to happen as a way it happens.

Becky Neale:
Yeah. This isn’t just for your large scale change project. This is for any change that you want to make. The more you involve employees, the more you engage with them, the more you listen to them, their ideas, you ask for their feedback. They will help you do this. They will want it to succeed. If you don’t do this stuff then you are going to meet with a lot of resistance, a lot of inertia and general negativity to it. Negativity spreads, but so does positivity. Positivity can really make a massive difference as we go on this journey. And you are relying on your early adopters, your positive people who through change can see what you’re trying to achieve to help along.

Nathan Simmonds:
The idea is scalable and transferrable. So whether it’s you’re a team leader managing six people and you want to change the way you approach your sales target or whatever it is. Or you’re leading a full blown HR cultural shift. It’s doing that research. Who are my clients, my internal clients? What are their concerns? What are their strengths? Let’s plan this through a little bit. Then let’s start including those people. Let’s start bringing them in to actually demonstrate actually how I thought about them, what I believe their strengths are. And then also getting their input and their feedback, because then it becomes their idea and they’ll want to take it forward. Huge.

Becky Neale:
Yup. You have to spend a certain amount of time in the planning phase to get this right. A lot of changes don’t involve employees, don’t allow for this getting feedback, coming up with ideas and wanting to take them forward because they try to drive them through too quick. And that’s going to be a key watch out now in a space where COVID happened to us. We can take some control back now to a degree and start planning these things before Boris says we can all go back to work. And clearly he’s not going to say we can all just go back to work just like that. So we have the time, we have some head space to think about this and to start involving people. Different employee groups represent different issues, will represent different impact levels, and start now involving them on your thinking. True consultation, true engagement.

Nathan Simmonds:
There’s a couple of points there. One is COVID was something that happened to us. There’s some information other than maybe you said some of this was partially created by the way that, what we’ve done to the world. So it could be-

Becky Neale:
Absolutely.

Nathan Simmonds:
The other part of the problem [inaudible 00:10:46], I think it’s an Abraham Lincoln quote. “If you give me five hours to chop down a tree, I will spend the first four hours sharpening the ax.” As you’re saying now, we’re looking at the return to work, we’re preparing… we’ve got time to have a proper consultation. Whether it’s by phone call, whether it’s by Zoom, but prepare to start moving into this space, and actually what’s going to work for people in the future.

Becky Neale:
Yup.

Nathan Simmonds:
For me it’s looking at that elephant that often gets talked about and not talked about the return to work. Right now then with what’s happening, what are the key things that HR teams need to think about when returning things back to work?

Becky Neale:
I think they need to be focused on the prioritization of what actually needs to happen. So before this, HR teams would have been hopefully working to a HR strategy to deliver that underpins the business strategy. But amongst all of that would have been a lot of non value added activity. Now is the time not just HR but any part of the business to start stripping away the non added value activities and start really prioritizing what they need to do and what they need to deliver.

Becky Neale:
Some of the things I think that HR needs to start thinking about, needs to start planning on is how do you bring employees back to work, whatever that looks like. So if we take the latest thoughts are being circulated around returning to work will be that probably most people will be asked to work from home if they have been able to work from home and continue doing that. Production and manufacturing facilities are starting to be asked to look at how they would stagger shift patterns, how they could put social distancing in place.

Becky Neale:
A lot of this is really quite complicated, because if you’re running a production line, how do you get that in place? How do you ensure that social distancing happens? There’s some real engagement activities. Where I taught before about working with your employees, you can’t have your HR function and your management team alone sat there virtually agreeing what this is going to look like. You need your guys who run your warehouse, who run the production lines, who work on the production lines as an example as part of those teams telling you what in reality is practical, what could be done. Not just the theory of what it looks like to everybody else. True engagement, true communication and involvement in the planning for people to go back to work I think is what HR needs to lead.

Becky Neale:
Okay, so in terms of needing to look at operating models, whether it be to make redundancies and reduce cost bases. Or whether it be that actually now you need different skill sets to take the business forward. So as an example, a business that was purely focused on sales, winning new business, going out, making relationships, trying to generate new business and expand into further products for example might now need a pure skill set in terms of managing and keeping those accounts and helping other businesses in terms… how they can best work together to do that rather than purely focus on sales driven activities.

Becky Neale:
So if you follow that example through, you might need to look at what you’re design looks like, what key roles there are and then having those conversations with people in terms of this is what our world looks like, these are the things that we now need delivering. Are you going to help us do this? Do you have the skills? Can we help you develop your skill set to do so? But equally then you need to look at their performance management, potentially their… how you incentivize or reward them, because that may well be very different to how you did previously. Because if you’re typically in sales, it’s around sales growth, it’s around the amount of orders you get through your order book. Minimum order quantities etc, building new customers. Whereas now, it may be very different.

Becky Neale:
So there’s a number of things that HR will need to look at. A lot of things would have happened while businesses have been working from. Normal HR cycles wouldn’t necessarily would have been happening, so a lot of people… we ticked a new tax year for example, so a lot of people’s bonus schemes, salary reviews are usually hinged around those times. So what are you going to do around that? What comms have you made so far? You might have a number of people on furlough, you might not. Your whole metrics might be wrong, the way that you look at your performance management might be wrong. It might be still right and it might be still valid but you’ll need to communicate, you’ll need to engage with people in terms of what that looks like going forward.

Becky Neale:
I think some of what happens in terms of returning to work will all depend on what the government does in relation to the Coronavirus job retention scheme. Because currently the scheme doesn’t allow for any flexibility. So you either work or you don’t work. You’re either furloughed or you’re not. So to be furloughed, you actually can’t do any work. You can do some training, but you cannot physically work. No answering emails, nothing in relation to work. That doesn’t as it stands help employers transition flexibly back to work along the lines of the thinking of the government.

Becky Neale:
If the government potentially wants to change that scheme, it could look at whether it allows reduced hours for example in an element. Furloughed percentage wise from a cost that you can recover etc. At the minute it’s very inflexible, but it was very quickly designed to reduce mass scale redundancies. Now we’re looking at return to work, they need to review that because potentially you’re just delaying mass redundancies if you don’t look at the level of flexibility that comes with that scheme. But equally you’ll need to look at how you monitor it, the criteria you put in place. Because the minute you introduce some flexibility to schemes like that to enable businesses is the minute you will actually open it up to abuse as well.

Nathan Simmonds:
Yeah.

Becky Neale:
Rightly or wrongly, there have probably been a number of organizations who have used that scheme who potentially don’t need to use this scheme. But that’s a conversation for another day.

Becky Neale:
But I think ultimately, the thing that they need to be looking at from a HR point of view in conjunction with the business is there will be an element of safe and healthy as well, albeit you should draft the health and safety specialists in for that. Because some businesses have just been closed. The working from home happened almost overnight. People locked the doors, they walked out. What state was your business left in? What nasty, lurky things are hanging around in your offices? Your cleaners wouldn’t have been in for a long time. You need to get in and you need to have a look at it. You also need to have a look at how your office facilities could potentially accommodate people coming back to work. Who do you need back? When do you need them back? What does that look like?

Becky Neale:
If I take for example a HR office that I recently worked in, there were eight desks, one exit and all the desks were stacked next to each other. Well that just doesn’t work from a social distancing point of view. You’ll be lucky if you get two people in that office maximum. So what do you do with the rest of the HR team?

Becky Neale:
I think some of the key stuff is around what’s your operating model look like? How are you engaging people through the journey? Are you going to be making redundancies? Are you going to be changing what people’s jobs looks like? Do you then need to look at their performance management? What metrics are you using to measure success? How are you going to be rewarding that? Because your business might not be in a position to reward it. But there are different ways other than just financially in terms of rewarding that, but you do need to [inaudible 00:18:18] people’s contractual rights because you can’t just ignore them because the world has suddenly changed. Employment law doesn’t work that way.

Becky Neale:
But one of the key things, and it comes back to what we’ve talked about in terms of employee engagement is you’ve got to engage them. What people did when we were told all work from home and all of this happened and what they do now and next will really underpin what their employee value proposition looks like, what their employee brand looks like, what the perception internally and externally of your organization looks like. And that’s really, really important. You only have to look at the bad press that Wetherspoons for example have had throughout this. And there are a number of other companies I could list. I don’t particularly wish to pick on Wetherspoons but Tim Martin was all over the news in terms of the way he handled this. For the way he brings people back to work he could redeem himself to a degree, depends how forgiving people are.

Becky Neale:
But how you treat your employees throughout this whole process and particularly now in terms of bringing them back to work, the operating model looks different. Whether you need to make redundancies, change roles etc is really, really quite key.

Nathan Simmonds:
I think the vital thing is how you say people come back to work. And I know from my experiences of certain organizations that have said, no home working isn’t an option.

Becky Neale:
Yeah.

Nathan Simmonds:
And all of a sudden lands this situation, and actually home working is a very viable option. So what was the reason for the dialogue previously? Was it for your own benefits or for the employees’ benefits? The other side of that is then returning people back to work. I’m making a prediction here that there will be a percentage of companies that will attempt to bring people back to the old model.

Becky Neale:
Yup.

Nathan Simmonds:
They will switch off home working as an option and you have to come back and sit at your desk for X number of hours per week and do it. And the engagement of those individuals will go through the floor. And over the course of time, they will lose that talent, they will lose those people. Whether through mental health or whether through people actually transitioning into other organizations that actually do facilitate that space. So I think there’s a balancing act to be had there.

Becky Neale:
I totally I agree, and I think the whole flexible working one is going to be an interesting debate because I think it’s going to be more around flexibility and having agile workforces than just the work from home debate. If you take my situation and it won’t be unique, my husband and I are both working and we’ve got two young kids. Working from home is not what working from home would normally have looked like for us outside of the pandemic. But a three year old and a 22 month old, they don’t understand the concept of Zoom calls and trying to do emails and trying to do work. They are running around like lunatics and breaking up fights every five minutes. It’s quite difficult, it’s quite stressful. It means your working day has to adjust. You need flexibility in that.

Becky Neale:
Normally they’d be at nursery and I wouldn’t have to worry about any of that. I would drop them off, I would pick them up later. And actually my day and what I can commit to an organization is actually longer because I don’t have the travel time then from nursery drop off to work etc. I don’t have those type of pressures, you actually get more out of me then.

Becky Neale:
So I think it is going to be more around flexibility and agile working than it is necessarily everyone wants to work from home. I don’t think everybody has enjoyed the experience from working from home whether they’ve got the distractions I’ve got or not.

Nathan Simmonds:
Agree.

Becky Neale:
There is something to be said about working with your team at least on a regular-ish basis. There’s only so much Zoom and teams and Skype or whatever people are using, there is an element of fatigue around that. But I do think there’s a balance to be struck and there’s pros and cons on both sides. But employers have had output delivered, they’ve had the commitment from their employees. People have been delivering results, albeit people might need an element of flexibility around some of this stuff. So it isn’t necessarily with you at 5:00 but it’s with you that day.

Nathan Simmonds:
Yeah.

Becky Neale:
But I think everybody’s had to do some level of flex around that. I do think there will be a whole flexible working agenda, but I don’t think it’s necessarily going to be this massive influx of everybody wants to work from home. But I do think people will now appreciate that things can be done from home and that there can be flexibility. There should be less rigidity and less resistance.

Becky Neale:
And people should start to be measured a lot more on outputs rather than physical presence.

Nathan Simmonds:
You’re reading my mind. I think we touched on this before. Another one of those predictions I’m thinking is going to be a problem or potentially a problem or challenge for people is we go to this measuring people by the number of hours they spend at a desk when actually they’ve probably been getting some of their job done without the distractions in three days rather than five days because they haven’t got the trivialities of bureaucracy or politics or whatever that’s happening. They can just get on with their job. Now are businesses going to be focusing on results output rather than hours at a desk?

Becky Neale:
I hope so but time will tell on how that one. How you measure people, how you reward people, they are all linked in terms of that as well.

Nathan Simmonds:
And I think it then ties back to what you were saying of… and there will be two roots for this. They will be saying well you can get your job done in three days, what can you do with the other two days? So there will be the people that try and put extra pressure onto these people rather than celebrating, they are doing what they were paid for at whatever speed they want to do. Then the other part will be will organizations try and put too many responsibilities into an individual. So rather than having one bubble of skills and focuses then there will be three or four different hats. And actually that hat switching then becomes too complex and then pushes people to their limits in a different way.

Becky Neale:
Yeah. That ultimately will result in burnout and you’ll end up being jack of all trades, master of none as well. Which master are you serving the most, because it won’t just be one at that point.

Nathan Simmonds:
There’s some interesting things for businesses, for HR, for all those elements to really bear in mind that actually how do I increase and improve or maintain the engagement for those that want to have the flexibility to be at home, those that want to have the flexibility to be at work as well. And making sure that the right focuses for the outcome whether it’s results focused, whatever or outputs focused, how they are then going to incorporate that into the business model, the new operating procedure or ways of working for the future. That’s going to be interesting and complex.

Becky Neale:
Yeah, and I think there’s some work you can do with leaders and managers in terms of up-skilling on how to manage properly remote teams, remote work and agile working, and equally with teams. There’s a lot of work that can be done around… if you just take the insights personality profiling tool for example, understanding on a team what everybody’s strengths and weaknesses are, really making sure that your team then understand them, play to each other’s strengths. Compensate for other people’s weaknesses by using somebody else’s skill set that is stronger. Develop people in those areas.

Becky Neale:
Once you worked all of this stuff out, managing remotely, managing agile becomes a lot easier. You will have to change your management style, the way you behave to be able to cope and to manage work this way. You can’t suddenly have a flexible approach to working if you have an inflexible approach to management.

Nathan Simmonds:
Absolutely. It’s that rigidity, it’s that holding on that holds you back. If you think it’s going to be one wave always, you’re going the wrong way.

Becky Neale:
Yeah.

Nathan Simmonds:
We’ve got to have that flexibility. It may have served us up until this point but it’s no longer going to serve us. Let it go because it’s just going to become an anchor that’s going to be holding you back from sailing in the direction you need to go. You talked about insights. At MBM, we used the HBDI, so the Hermannn Brain Instrument.

Becky Neale:
Yup.

Nathan Simmonds:
They are similar sorts of things. They give you ways of working, ways of thinking. Okay, what’s this person’s approach? Okay, let’s re-tap into that. And again, as we talked about earlier, what are their strengths? Let’s help them bring those strengths to the forefront so actually when we’ve got a change, when we’ve got a project or something that is happening inside the business we can make the best use of that so that person feels like they are adding value constantly rather than feeling restricted or held back. Really important.

Becky Neale:
Yeah and it doesn’t really matter what tool you use. That one I talked about was quite a simple one and one for people to grasp. But if you link it back to what I was saying before I terms of involving the right people at the right points in time to make your planning and to implement it. If you had a really good tool and you really understood your teams and how they work together you could very easily draw different people into different projects based on their skill sets and the areas that they work in. You could make your life so much easier. There’s a lot of work to be done around this going forward. Some of the organizations had started this and it was underpinning things like their management development programs, their leadership programs, some of their team working activities. Sometimes that’s deemed as nice to have activities depending on the level of budget you’ve got, the time you’ve got etc. It needs to move more to the forefront.

Becky Neale:
Maybe not immediately because there will be some other priorities. Some organizations will literally be making ends meet at the end of each month and be able to take their organizations forward to that might be the next phase or the phase after that for them. But there will be other organizations who are actually okay and putting people to work from home was a step that they had to do, but actually the business is still functioning. Some businesses are actually doing better. It’s not all doom and gloom. Admittedly, there is probably a little bit more doom and gloom then there is positivity right now around it. When you look at the number of organizations for example using the furlough scheme, that must shout out an incredible message that organizations need some help right now.

Nathan Simmonds:
I think it’s one line. I don’t think there are variations of a theme. I think there are businesses at various points down that continuum of where they’ve got this kind of challenge and there’ll be a number of businesses there, but they want to get to the next tier in that challenge. So they want to get to a point where actually they’ve stopped worrying about the day to day and they’re worrying about next week. They’ve got this element and so on and so on.

Becky Neale:
Yeah.

Nathan Simmonds:
And different businesses will be on that train journey at different points.

Becky Neale:
Yes.

Nathan Simmonds:
But the business either wants to get on the train, get to the next station, get to the next station. So I think it’s one whole conversation, it’s just different parts of it you have at different times with these people.

Becky Neale:
Yeah, and where you talked about that planning getting to different stations, that plan should be up on a wall somewhere. It should be regularly communicated, they should be checking in against it making sure employees know actually we’ve hit gate one. We’re at station two. To get to station two we need to do the following. It’s rallying behind each time and it’s shouting out your achievements, it’s celebrating your successes whether they’re big or small, and really taking people on that journey. But they have to see what the journey looks like.

Nathan Simmonds:
It’s frequently talked about, it’s transparent. It’s agile because there’s going to be nuances that happen on a daily basis.

Becky Neale:
Yeah, absolutely.

Nathan Simmonds:
As we go through these new experiences. And making sure the right people are involved. And as you were talking about with the insights and as I said we used HBDIs, actually what’s the right point for these people to be jumping into this journey? How do I get Bob involved at this point? And how I get Jack involved and this point and so on and so forth. Because that’s when they are going to show their best strengths. And letting them know when they’re going to be included or when they need to really step forward with it and demonstrate those leadership skills and that situational leadership they’ve got.

Nathan Simmonds:
The thinking that existed six months ago, it’s the same thinking it’s just how you reapply that into the current situation that needs the most amount of focus right now. That’s huge.

Becky Neale:
Yeah. With any change there comes an element of unlearning, relearning and moving forward. But nobody is asking anybody to beget the old world.

Nathan Simmonds:
No.

Becky Neale:
You still need to take some parts of that old world with you into the new world and the new ways of working, and whatever it actually looks like going forward. But I think what is pretty clear is the old world doesn’t exist in that format, in that state anymore. Take with it what you need to take with it, but also you need to be agile, you need to be flexible, and you need to have some kind of plan in place for what it’s going to look like going forward.

Becky Neale:
And some of it is for organizations to shake themselves, some of it will be determined around some of the government measures and things that it says that we have to do for a period of time and maybe forever. Who knows? But you’ve got to start having a look at it and thinking what it means for your business, what it could mean for your business, what you could do.

Nathan Simmonds:
Right now. And then also as you were saying I was thinking, there needs to be those… we’re at this gate, we’re at this station. And then having a meeting around that. Okay, what did we learn from the last part of the train journey? What do we need to implement or shift or change, transfer scale for the next part to make sure we get to gate number two. And taking the time to reflect on that as a team, with your people so they are included and using their strengths. They can see where they’re going because of that transparency and that frequency of conversation. Huge.

Becky Neale:
Yeah, it’s managing it like you would manage a proper project using proper change management and project management techniques. Most organizations will probably be in a little element of panic. Panic brings quickly doing things, brings reactions moving forward. Just slow down, pause. Have a think, pull out a proper plan. Somebody manage it properly as a project. Manage it properly as a change and then you can get this done.

Nathan Simmonds:
Agreed. I’d say it’s slow down, pause, breathe, re-oxygenate your brain rather than going to fearful thinking which causes fearful reactions. And then apply the logic. Do your reflection, get your data, and then make the next move based on that as well. With what feels right for your people so there’s that engagement and you’re looking after them. And also as a business element so it’s done with reference, reflection so you get the outcome you want to get to.

Becky Neale:
Yeah, and I think that’s why there are some pressures being called on the government now to start giving some idea of what their thoughts look like. And there was obviously some information circulating business had until yesterday to respond against some of the ideas that were being developed. They are doing that because of the feedback that you can’t just switch it back on and what does switching it back on look like? So it comes back to there is time. Don’t knee jerk reaction. Think, plan, involve people and then start to look at doing.

Nathan Simmonds:
My brain went in a slightly different direction is we’ve done this once, it means that this lever’s been pulled previously. It can be done again if we end up with COVID-20, whatever that looks like. I’m just upping the number on this. What are we learning from this, and how do we implement that moving forward and make sure actually when this happens next time we do it better because it’s a process that needs to happen if we want to keep people safe in our businesses, in our families, in our communities and stuff.

Becky Neale:
This is guess was the ultimate test of people’s disaster recovery plans or lack of disaster recovery plan. So there is a lot of work to be done in terms of updating that, reviewing it, taking a lot of lessons and then building out what that would look like should anything happen. And hopefully it won’t on this type of scale again. But there are a lot of lessons to be learned, both positive and some that we could do with not repeating and building on.

Nathan Simmonds:
And we can incorporate that now. As long as we’re going through it and we have that reflective sense in our brain that although we’re going through it and we’re in it, having that logic and that future focus as well, how do I make sure we’re incorporating this into the plan as we’re going along. Or that we have those review points again to make sure that we’re building it in. Thinking-

Becky Neale:
Yeah and I think… sorry. Some of the things that people probably when I talked about prioritization before needed to move up their priorities as a result of COVID-19 where things that they put on the back burner. They put plasters over some of their technology. They put plasters on some of their management programs for example, some budgets went on hold etc. It wasn’t quite the priority for whatever reason. You need to have a little look at some of those because they are going to enable you to go forward. If you can afford it, do the investment. Whether you do it in… [inaudible 00:35:27] the investment through or whether you have some money available to do it. Or whether again it’s in one of your stations on your roadmap. But some of those priorities need to wake up because the plasters came off when everybody was sent to work from home.

Nathan Simmonds:
Or maybe they were poor quality plasters at the time. It might have been we thought we could get away with it at the time. The pressure testing meant the plaster came off and we ended up with all sorts of analogies about cuts, burns, infections.

Becky Neale:
Yup.

Nathan Simmonds:
We’ve had the pressure test and we’ve had it at a global level. It’s not just one organization, it’s every organization. In yourself, in your family, in your business. Every element. And it’s just… there’s a few people I’ve seen on LinkedIn that are saying if you’re not learning something while you’re at home doing this, you’re wasting your time. For business people, we are learning things every single day about how we think, how we approach things, how we make it more secure, because there is no such thing as complete security. How we mitigate certain challenges so that actually when the next crisis comes downstream, we’ve got some more levers and more buttons to push to help us overcome that faster and keep us moving forward in the best possible way.

Becky Neale:
Yeah, and I think everybody has learned something. Some people and some businesses are in survival. They are literally plowing every hour they’ve got into saving their business. They don’t have time to do the online learning. LinkedIn is flooded with offers of free training right now. Webinar for this, webinar for that. And it’s great and there will be people who can use it. There’ll be people who desperately want to watch the replay and are building a great big list of replays to watch.

Becky Neale:
We have to be kind to everybody as we go through this process. We have to not judge people. Did you do learning? Did you do this? What did you do? Some people are just surviving whether it’s just in their personal circumstances trying to juggle everything. Whether it be financially, whether they are desperately throwing everything in to save their business and their jobs. Everybody is learning something, it’s just how we define some of this is really quite important.

Nathan Simmonds:
I think on the other side of that is making sure that we’re aware that we’re learning something. For me, whether you’re watching the free webinar, we’re doing them. We’re doing the free content every single day and we’re out there doing that. But if you’re out there fighting to make sure that your business survives this and you’re able to move forward in two months, three months, four months or whatever, is making sure you’re taking time to reconcile the actions you’ve taken during that day. Is this helping me? Is this moving me forward? And developing that thinking as you’re going real time. Not necessarily watching the free webinar because that may not be your focus at a point in time, because that’s not going to help you maintain your business.

Nathan Simmonds:
But okay, what did I do today that’s helping me to move forward? What am I doing today that means that I can make sure that these guys are still employed when we come out of this? How am I connecting with my suppliers and my smaller clients? All those different things. Okay, how do I make sure that I build this relationship for now and in the future, because the world is going to be very different in three months time.

Nathan Simmonds:
As long as you’re asking yourself those open, coaching questions that keeps developing your thinking. That you know full well when you come back tomorrow, you can make a one degree improvement in what you’re doing and what you’ve done so that you are continuing to make that growth. Because that 1% will compound and that… even if your business doesn’t make it out the other end, you will have this huge raft of knowledge and understanding that you can apply into the next business, the next organization, the next team that you’re leading. Whatever if it is. Because you’ve come through this and you have taken the time to learn that, rather than giving yourself a hard time for being in a crisis situation, for being in a fearful environment. It’s important we do this.

Nathan Simmonds:
Thinking about that and leading on from that, what are the most important considerations for the return to work when we are bringing people back into organizations?

Becky Neale:
I think it depends what happens so to speak in terms of your organization during this time. If you had to furlough the vast majority if not all of your staff, then your considerations are somewhat different. Do I have a viable business? Can I afford to bring back all my employees? Do I have to do mass scale redundancies? What does my operating model look like? What does my business look like?

Becky Neale:
If you’re in a different situation in terms of you were able to operate, you’re doing okay, you just have all your workforce working from home then that’s different in terms of key priorities there will be around taking employees on the journey with you. Working with them to build out what this plan looks like. Clarity on what the new future is, how that’s going to work, what you expect from your employees. For others there’ll be a combination. Because if you had a production facility for example, if you’re a logistics operator, and there’ll be loads of other people who have just not been able to work but can start to drip feed that back on. Can start to turn parts of it back on.

Becky Neale:
And that will be around retaining people, skill sets that you’re going to need. That will be managing what your organization design needs to look like. So the next three months, six months, 12 months. And it may mean you have to do some reduced hours. You might have to make some redundancies. So it’s working out what your cost base can be, what your operating model looks like off the back of it.

Becky Neale:
I think no matter what state you’re in and where your plan is and how you’re going to get forward, some of the key considerations has to be how are you going to thank recognize, reward your employees for all the effort and discretionary effort they put in to keep your business going. Whether they did just take furlough, whether they’ve done extra learning development. That’s not really in question. But if they were furloughed for example, they did that. They took on board the need for you to do that to them. They willingly in most cases would have signed up to that on the hope that they will have a job back at the end of it. That’s a different group of people you need to look at. Thanking them, working with them whether they all come back or not.

Becky Neale:
And I think leadership really will be key. How do we manage teams when we come back? We’ve talked about agile working, we’ve talked about flexibility. We’ve talked about, you might have to play to different people’s skill sets. You might have different skill sets that you require going forward. I think there’ll need to be more clarity in general in terms of what are we asking people to do, because we probably haven’t re-focused a lot of people whilst they’ve been working from home, or for those that still have to go into the office for example. They are probably still doing the same tasks that they were doing before that, but what do they need to do going forward.

Becky Neale:
I think there’s quite a lot that we need to be looking at. Really reducing non value add activities, really making sure that people are really, really clear on what they need to do. What are operating models look like, what are plans are. And just involve, communicate, engage with them. Otherwise, you’re not really going to have a very successful return to work story whatever your return to work actually looks like.

Nathan Simmonds:
No. And I think like you say, it’s having the conversations now so you’re cutting out the non essential already. You’re already looking as a leader or in a business of what are the core strengths and key strengths of these individuals. What does that plan look like? Not having all the pieces perfectly in place, but having that dialogue with them so that you can start having that conversation.

Nathan Simmonds:
I think some of those businesses, and I think there’s a few out there already know that some of those people won’t be coming back from furlough.

Becky Neale:
Yeah.

Nathan Simmonds:
And it’s about having the honest conversation. It may not be the most comfortable conversation. It is the most decent conversation to have as long as you… you can say whatever you want to say to someone as long as it’s done with absolute love and respect for that individual.

Becky Neale:
Absolutely.

Nathan Simmonds:
And it’s getting that conversation in early so people aren’t sitting there on a whim or a hope. Because it will be the people that are sitting there on that that thought maybe they might have their job to come back to at the end of all of this. And all of a sudden they are surprised by the fact that they are not coming back to their job. That’s going to be the ones that it’s going to be the most painful for.

Becky Neale:
And I think-

Nathan Simmonds:
Just having that conversation now.

Becky Neale:
And people should, and hopefully they are talking to their furloughed employees however they are choosing to do that when they’re off. It’s no different if somebody was off on maternity leave, someone was off on long term sick. You still need to be talking to your employees. They are still your employees whatever situation that they are currently in. They need to know what’s going on with the business, they need to have some kind of answers. Is it likely that I’ll be coming back? If I’m coming back will I full-time? Will I be part-time? What’s going to happen? Will I have a job? What does that look like?

Becky Neale:
You’ve got to start having honest and open conversations with people. Because if you are really thinking that a lot of these people aren’t coming back or a certain percentage aren’t, then you should have already started your consultation around this. This true consultation starts when you start thinking about what your operating model will look like and if you’re going to change it.

Nathan Simmonds:
So there’s an absolute necessity for businesses. Okay, there’s the day to… whatever the day to day looks like right now. Making sure you’ve got clients. Big, small, whatever. Your suppliers still exist so you’re building these relationships. Making sure these two elements of your relationship. And also that third element is actually have I looked at what a month, two months, six months from now looks like as staffing and doing that costing. Making sure your commercial teams are looking at this, your HR teams are looking at this as well, and start to have those parts of the conversation.

Nathan Simmonds:
In truth, the question that I ask people in a lot of our coaching training is who here like surprises. And the truth is, no one likes surprises. Because the answer is always it depends what it is. Well if it depends what it is, it’s not a surprise is it? We don’t enjoy it so we don’t want this stuff sneaking up on us. And as leaders, it might be that the thought that’s at the back of the head, the one we least want to deal with. But the truth is, and I think it was Brian Tracy that said it. You have to eat the frog first. You have to go and do the uncomfortable things first and crack on, because that’s the most important thing that’s going to happen for these people. Not for you. It’s because they are in your gift, they are in your charge.

Nathan Simmonds:
And if you’re treating them… you’re ignoring that fact, one of the key facts about their life. You’re creating a real pain point for that individual that’s in your gift and that’s not okay.

Becky Neale:
No. The other part of that as well is that some of your furloughed employees will be coming back to work. And there have been employees who had to pick up some of their tasks because some of the stuff needed to be done but it couldn’t justify the person staying to do it. So X number have stayed on and are working be it in the office, in the factory, however they’re doing it or at home. There is an element rightly or wrongly of resentment from some of those people, particularly if they had been furloughed and what their earnings would have looked like. And then their colleagues are at home doing whatever they’re doing. There’s a lot of people doing up their houses and their gardens, there’s a lot of people obviously looking after their kids or doing whatever else they’re doing while these people are still having to do the childcare, their day job plus somebody else’s additional activities etc.

Becky Neale:
Some people have had to take a pay cut in salary, some people haven’t. Some people are working less days and some people are obviously working more. You have to merge these back together as well, and you have to get over the resistance, the resentfulness between some of these groups. And obviously you will also have some people on furlough who didn’t want to be furloughed, haven’t enjoyed the experience of being furloughed, would much rather have been back at work. You might have an element of resentment there as well to work with. Why was it me and not you? I could have done your job. You’re doing mine.

Nathan Simmonds:
I think that’s going to be an interesting thing of people coming back together. That stretching of relationship and pulling apart for whether we wanted it to or not. And then bringing those people back together and making sure that’s done in the best possible way. We know from a health and safety point of view okay, maybe it’s going to be some people are coming back to offices, they are doing it on rotation so they are maintaining that two to five meters. There will be other people as we come back together, everybody coming back together.

Nathan Simmonds:
In the nicest possible way I think the first time that office actually does come back together with everybody in the room, we probably won’t get anything done for two days because everyone is going to be catching up with each other and having a cup of tea. Sharing a coffee or whatever just to get back to seeing people, and actually have hugs.

Becky Neale:
Yes.

Nathan Simmonds:
Appropriate office physical interaction because actually we’ve missed it so much. Zoom is tiring, it’s mentally fatiguing. I want to just shake someone’s hand. I want to hug my parents and all that sort of stuff.

Becky Neale:
I get it. People have been honing their baking skills. Need to bring them into the office.

Nathan Simmonds:
That’s a whole different conversation.

Becky Neale:
It is true. People have missed other people. They have missed face to face team working interactions. Whether you were the greatest fan of working in an office and your colleagues or not before, you’ve missed them. You have missed that camaraderie, you have missed the odd falling out. You have missed the who is making the teas next? That type of thing. You have missed this stuff. I know I’ve missed interacting with people. Be them in the office, be them in general.

Becky Neale:
I almost love it when you bump into and I use the term quite loosely because clearly you’ve got to still be two meters. You bump into people that you know on your daily walk, and just talking to somebody else is amazing.

Nathan Simmonds:
Yes.

Becky Neale:
Because otherwise I’ve just got my husband and my two kids. You can do the FaceTime, you can go the Zoom and stuff, but physical face to face talking to somebody is just so different. You can have a proper good [inaudible 00:49:41].

Nathan Simmonds:
And I also-

Becky Neale:
And it’s good for people’s mental health if nothing else.

Nathan Simmonds:
Yes. I think it’s a continuum. The other side of that is I also want to go and just have a cup of coffee somewhere. I want someone else to go and make me a cappuccino and maybe sit on my own.

Becky Neale:
My husband can’t wait for good coffee.

Nathan Simmonds:
But in the hubbub of being around people so you have that community environment. And then doing it as a family, seeing all of that stuff. So there’s going to be a combination in the workspace of there probably will be 24 to 48 hours where people are literally just coming back together and there’s going to be… lots of coffee conversations, lots of baked good coming in. People just rebuilding that.

Nathan Simmonds:
But then as a leadership and a HR team, it’s facilitating that space so that actually what else grows out of that. What ideas, what collaborations, what forward thinking develops. And just making use of it and optimizing that situation. Conscious of time. Crikey, it’s almost an hour.

Becky Neale:
Sure.

Nathan Simmonds:
We have been… I love it. I love these conversations especially when we get to these sorts of spaces. Big questions from me then, you love HR cultural change, big change. And this is huge. This is one of the biggest changes I think businesses are going through right now that have been ever seen in one space. How do you make behavioral change stick?

Becky Neale:
You have to take your employees with you. You need to be creating your vision very, very clearly communicating what that is. Talking to people about why we have to do this, what the benefits are. Where we’re expected to go in this timeframe, that timeframe etc. Coming back to our trains and stations analogy earlier. How are they going to be measured, what do their goals look like, what are the performance metrics, what are all the KPIs. How then are we aligning reward and recognition frameworks. How are we aligning behaviors and values and what we expect from people. What does good look like going forwards?

Becky Neale:
How are we going to recognize then the good behaviors? So we talked before about the early adopters and the benefits that they can bring and they can showcase and they can talk people through actually, it’s not so bad on the other side. These are the things we’ve learned, this is what we’re doing. But equally then how do you address people who are not coming on this journey, their poor behaviors. What do you do around that? A lot of how you make change stick is just communicate, communicate. Reinforce these communications. Ask for feedback, engage with employees.

Becky Neale:
We talked before about people have different preferences and skill sets, but they also have different learning styles and all of these things are aligned. So you have to make sure when you’re communicating, when you’re putting new training in for example, new learnings in that you are catering for different learning styles and you’re making sure that everything you do, different people in different preferences and different learning styles etc, they are all taking away the same messages, they are all understanding things the same way so you don’t get, “Well my view of this was…”, “Actually mine is this so we’re going in this direction.” You’ve got people pulling in different directions.

Becky Neale:
We’ve talked quite a bit about late adopters and people who are really taking it, really going forward as well. But you can’t develop a plan to the lowest common denominator. And I think in general, particularly in HR, we’re quite bad at doing that. We do develop a lot of plans with the worst case scenario rather than looking towards what the best case should be and taking people on that journey. But equally you do need to have a look at your different personas and your different avatars and who is going to play what part.

Becky Neale:
But some of the other things that will make this stick is you have to acknowledge the mistakes. What we’ve learned from things, what we’re going to do to take things forward. That only comes back from asking people, listening to people and giving feedback as we go through these journeys. I think you just have to reinforce visually through briefings what your vision is, why are we going there? What are we going to do? What’s it in for you, what’s in it for me, what’s in it for the bigger picture.

Nathan Simmonds:
The analogy with the train station which is one I use a lot, but as you were talking about the learning styles, it’s almost like for me, okay, there’s now, there’s where we want to go. This is the train journey. These are the things that are going to derail us, these are the dead ends. These are the… I can’t think of what the right name are.

Becky Neale:
Yeah.

Nathan Simmonds:
But you’re thinking about right, how do we make sure that we’re using this, these learning styles in the best possible way to make sure the journey continues on where we’ll not be derailed or taken off track. And preparing for that so you can mitigate the challenges all the way along that. So actually, you can see those things coming downstream, down the track. And then you can move forward and get the best possible outcome. That’s huge.

Becky Neale:
It is huge. The benefits are huge of getting this right as well. But equally you get this wrong, you’re in a whole heap of trouble and you may not have a business to take forward.

Nathan Simmonds:
Because your business will fall down from the inside out.

Becky Neale:
Yeah.

Nathan Simmonds:
I would love to be a fly on the wall in one of your sessions, Becky. So look, last question. Where can people find you?

Becky Neale:
I’m currently hiding out in Portishead. You can email me. My email is becky@shrc.uk. On my website which is www.shrc.uk. Or you can give me a call. 0773347801. I am based out in Portishead which is near Bristol, but most of the world can be done virtually so any HR service doesn’t just have to be from this locality. Any change management project that you want, give me a shout and we can talk through some of these things.

Nathan Simmonds:
Phenomenal. Talking to Becky now previously about the thinking and what goes into her changes from her experiences have been eye opening for me. The processes and some of those elements that need to be incorporated coming out the back of now and any crisis situation. Dig inn. Have a conversation, go and speak to Becky about this so you can get that deeper understanding, so you can land these changes far quicker and far more eloquently. Because it’s going to be the language that we use with ourselves, the way that we lead our people and get them included is going to be imperative for us to success as individuals, entrepreneurs and people leading large scale businesses. Becky, thank you very much for today. So very appreciated. Thanks very much for everyone that-

Becky Neale:
Thank you very much.

Nathan Simmonds:
Thank you and I look forward to speaking to you next time on Sticky Interviews. Bye.


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