Hattie leads the Research & Insights team at Wiser, consulting and developing propositions and talent strategies for a range of clients including Kraft Heinz and Nike. Previously, Hattie focused on marketing and consumer branding at WPP agency Superunion; she shifted to employer branding when she met Wiser’s founders whose vision – “Change the way people think about work” – resonated with her belief that connecting people to your business purpose starts with understanding what motivates and drives your people.
Hattie discusses a range of fascinating subjects including talent, communication, challenges facing both employers and employees, and how to effectively connect with people.
Let’s start off talking about employer branding and employee engagement. Why are these so important, and what can organizations do to improve these areas?
When I first started out in my career, consumer branding was what everyone was talking about. Employer branding was seen as a bit of an afterthought, but this has shifted a lot over the last few years.
I have an interest in the psychology of communication and when I met the guys who set up Wiser it was just a really really good fit. A lot of leaders are driven towards business goals or business strategy. But when you mention employer branding to them it seems something “nice”, something fluffy, or just about perks and benefits. It’s not actually seen as a lynchpin or a key pillar for how they can achieve their business goals.
I think if you don’t take employer branding seriously then you’re not really taking people strategy seriously, you’re not even taking business strategy seriously because, when you break it down, you need an entire group of people with different experiences and different motivations to dedicate that energy and focus to your business idea and goals. In my view, employer branding is the thing that connects people to those business goals. It’s something that gets people moving in the same direction in an effective way.
For businesses to improve, they need C-suite engagement around employer branding, and this is something we don’t see enough of. Businesses also need to get a lot better at communicating with their people. This period has probably exposed a lot of businesses who are terrible at internal comms. Everyone wakes up one day and key decisions have been made. In order to get people engaged you do need to have two-way conversations with them, you need to get feedback.
A lot has changed over the past couple of months in terms of how people work. Given your “change the way people think about work” mantra, has this recent forced change actually got people to think about work in a healthier way?
This period has been a catalyst for our mission. We have been saying that people need to change the way they think about work but also the way businesses need to think about talent.
If you look at people’s relationship with work, often people go about their work almost on autopilot. But when you are forced into a situation, like now, where you have to come back home, and you work against the backdrop of things that are really precious to you in life like your family and friends, you have to look at it again, stop, and actually ask: “Is this as important as I thought?”
This shifts people into thinking, “Is this right for me?” and “Is this where I want to dedicate my time?”
With our mission to change the way people think about work, in our research team we’re also trying to find out what people think and what drives them – for some people work is a means to an end. For others it’s where they find things like self-belief; it’s really interesting and important research.
I think this situation has got people thinking: “How does my work contribute to my life?”, rather than “How do I contribute to my work?”.
You’re pretty passionate about your belief that connecting people to your business purpose starts with understanding what motivates and drives your people. How do you get that understanding of what drives someone?
I think the main thing is: ask them. It sounds so simple, but it isn’t done nearly enough.
Interviews, polls, surveys, workshops and individual conversations are my team’s day-to-day specialities. You have to give people that platform to express themselves and contribute.
In terms of our own business, it’s really about setting up a structure where you are actually with people, spending time with them, and thinking about the interactions you have as a team.
I’m really inspired by Meet in Place and the way they structure interactions. I think it’s fascinating because I’ve done a lot of meetings in their spaces and we often take our team to Meet in Place. There’s something about removing yourselves from your everyday context. Putting yourselves into an environment that is specific to the outcomes of what you want to achieve from an interaction or meeting.
And that’s crucial when it comes to connecting with people; thinking about the space, the timing, and the ideal environment.
You and your team research, consult and develop propositions and talent strategies for a range of clients, including some of the world’s biggest names. Can you take us through your process, in terms of coming together as a team and creating your magic?
There are a few things that we do when we start to work with a client. We run “internal assumptions” sessions so we get together as a group, whether that’s in person or virtually. And we will run a session where we run through everything that we assume about that business, including what talent most probably think about them.
We run through absolutely everything so that we can then go to the client and say, “This is what we know and what we think we know; now let’s fill the gaps in our knowledge”.
We then set up a series of research interviews. Meeting in person is really powerful because you pick up a lot about what’s not said. It could be body language, or hesitation. All the little things that are left unsaid help fill in the gaps that give you a full picture of what someone is trying to tell you.
We pair this with quantitative research, pulling together anecdotal data and survey data and then we look for what we call “nuggets of gold”. What we develop in terms of strategy for attracting talent can sometimes be inspired by a single conversation – the golden conversation where the person has talked about their experiences in such an inspiring way that makes you think, “That’s what people want to work alongside, that’s what will get people up in the morning.”
The goal is to present a story that others can identify with; if you think about it, every human interaction is a form of storytelling. Sure, some are more intriguing than others, but that’s a really important concept, and that’s what we try and do as a team – tell a story in a deeper and more insightful way.
Finally, what advice would you give to both employees and organisations when it comes to making work more meaningful?
Advice for employees that I would give – and that’s the advice I give to my team – is to think about the work that you are doing; does it fire you up, does it challenge you, does it stretch you. For things to be meaningful you need to be learning, and to be learning you need to surround yourself with people and with tasks or jobs that stimulate and challenge you, where you identify with the purpose of what you’re working towards.
My advice to organisations is on the flip side of that. Look at how you can create those environments for your people. Put them into spaces, into teams or groups and into meetings where people push each other to learn.
If you can easily articulate your purpose to people, it should be obvious as to why they should want to be involved. Give people ownership and the opportunity to contribute – that’s the key.
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