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OneSPARKS Podcast Episode 5 - Transcript

Agile leadership in modern businesses

Dave Harris [00:00:05] Hello, and a very warm welcome to the OneSPARKS podcast. This is a show about the subject of the new agile working world. In today's episode, we are looking at the changes our people have encountered over the past year or so and how senior leaders are supporting new ways of working. We will be discussing what these changes are and how we've adopted them and adapted to them. My name is Dave Harris and with me to explain the ins and outs of the virtual and hybrid working world, I have two expert guests. Parysa Hosseini-Sech is director of People and Culture at OneCom. She's been in the telecommunications industry for over 9 years and is a CPD qualified senior, H.R. Professional. She helps influence strategies and engage teams to improve performance at OneCom. Billie Hartless is Chief Human Resource Officer at Mitel, a global market leader in business communications where she's been since November 2019. Bille brings more than 20 years of HR and executive experience to Mitel. She's based in Texas and Billie leads Mitel's HR and workplace solutions functions globally. Welcome Parysa and Billie to the podcast. I think we better start with the obvious question. How would you define agile working? Billie, can I address that one to you first?  


Billie Hartless [00:01:22] Yes, and I'm pleased to be here Dave, thanks so much for inviting me for this podcast. It's a very timely and a great subject that I could talk for days on about agility because, you know, it was really a required skill set during the last 18 months and covid that companies had to, you know, immediately overnight figure out how they were going to work in this new environment. And that requires agility. And we've been implementing agile ways of working almost on a daily basis because as you learn new information, especially in this pandemic, which none of us could have foreseen or knew how to work through, we've had to rightsize our plans. We've had to adjust the way that we work with each other. And that's, in my mind, the definition of agility. Being able to pivot on a dime.  


Dave Harris [00:02:10] Parysa is that a definition you recognise as well as that is similar in your experience?  


Parysa Hosseini-Sceh [00:02:15] Yes, I think Billie summarised that perfectly. It's so important, I think, in the way that the world is developing and the way that technology is developing. If you're not able to be agile as an organisation, you're just going to get left behind. And I think this past year has certainly tested us more than we could have expected. But I think being able to respond to the challenges just proves the effectiveness in the way that so many businesses have been working. And it's really tested a lot of professionals ability to turn things around so quickly to keep up.  


Dave Harris [00:02:53] So, Billie, obviously there have been a lot of changes, as you've both said, a lot of challenges. What would you say have been the biggest changes that Mitel have encountered over the last year or so?  


Billie Hartless [00:03:04] You know, we were, I would say, a traditional company, even though we are our sweet spot, is making, you know, collaboration technology in the world so people can connect more seamlessly through virtual and audio capabilities. We still had several offices around the world where people were showing up to work every day and a very kind of traditional Monday through Friday, 8-5 sort of set up literally overnight. We had to turn that on its head. We had to go virtual. We had to be able to enter the homes of all of our employees, and they had to manage through their blended lifestyles almost immediately, either homeschooling their children or spouses who were at home trying to struggle for the bandwidth, sharing the bandwidth. And like literally overnight we had to get in a virtual environment and connect across the world. You know, we'll never I don't think we'll ever go back to the Monday through Friday, 8-5. I think that that is now something in the past that the companies really won't have any more in the future because our employees will demand, frankly, the hybrid approach. They like the flexibility, but we also want to have that social aspect, the communal feeling of physical space as well. So I think we'll have a very blended environment in the future.  


Dave Harris [00:04:30] And Parysa, tell me about the one-call approach would have been the biggest change is that you've encountered there?  


Parysa Hosseini-Sceh [00:04:37] I suppose very similar in terms of overnight having to switch to quite a traditional office-based working environment for all of our offices across the UK and overnight having to mobilise our people to be able to work effectively in a virtual remote environment. And I think then coming with that, it was adapting everything that we do to make it work virtually, so, supporting our leaders and managers to run their teams virtually, stay high performing and adapting all of the training that we offer to our people because we had a well run, sort of a comprehensive training programme that we could offer to our people, but it was often done in a traditional classroom environment. So switching it and moving it across onto Microsoft teams, we had to do that very quickly so we didn't fall behind with the programme that we were running through the year. But actually, the benefits that we've seen from doing that have been so much greater because you see a better mix of people being able to collaborate and network and spend time together, more so than they ever were before. And I think similar to what Billie was just saying, that keeping that social connexion with your people is just as important and has to stay just as much of a focus as how you perform and get work done. And I think that's been one of the really great positives that we've seen come out of this past year, is something that people have spoken about a lot, is that they've developed much better relationships with each other because we've quite literally invited people into our homes with all the video calls. And, you know, you meet people's family members and their pets and when they've got washing in the background or whatever it might be. And I think, and I hope that it can only shape a better way of working moving forward.  


Dave Harris [00:06:28] Yeah, it's very interesting. What you're both saying is that whilst there have undoubtedly been challenges, there's also been some real, some real upsides to this and some really positive things. So Billie I wonder whether I could ask you now about leadership and about leaders in particular and whether they've had to adapt the sort of leadership style if you like, their leadership approach, particularly if they're leading virtual and hybrid teams as, as part of their daily workflow.  


Billie Hartless [00:06:57] Yeah, Dave, I think its leadership has been absolutely critical during this time. And all our leaders have been challenged to show up every day in a virtual environment for their people. And I think the number one ingredient that leaders have had to lean on is their empathy, their ability to personally relate to what their employees are going through to show compassion and flexibility and the human side of leadership actually, getting in touch with their people and actually caring in a very authentic way about how their people are doing. I mean, no no time in my history have I seen the need for leaders to actually have so much compassion for their fellow human beings who happened to report to them in a work setting so that it's been very personal and leadership is always personal, frankly, but even more so, I think we've had to touch that the personal side and show that compassion and the authenticity for really caring. Because during this time we've seen employees struggle with stress. We've seen people reach their limit. We've seen people have having to take a step back and taking some time off because their coping skills. And so that's the other thing that we want our leaders to focus on is building their own resilience. So recognising when they are reaching their limits for stress, they have to care for themselves as well. They have to make sure that they're taking the time out to renew their energy and rejuvenate and, and build up their resilience because of their people really need them in this environment. And I think Parysa would echo those sentiments are the same thing that OneCom has experienced as a as a key partner for Mitel.  


Parysa Hosseini-Sceh [00:08:44] Yeah, absolutely. I think resilience has been really critical this past year. And I think the common phrase, if don't help someone else until you've put your own air mask on. The analogy from when you're on an aeroplane, it's so important that leaders are able to support their teams. But if they're not also looking after themselves and sort of keeping an eye on their own stress levels and their mental health and their levels of resilience, they're not able to then give that same level of care and attention to their people. And it's been something that I think has been such a hot topic for a number of years, you know, looking at workplace stress and burnout. But I think I haven't heard the phrase burnout used so much as I have this past year. And I think it's been a real challenge because people have been in their homes. Not everybody has the luxury of a separate office workspace. And some people have been in home environments that haven't been ideal to be staying in 24/7. So that coupled with almost this Always-On feeling where people felt there was nothing else to do, so they may as well carry on working. It's been then really a key challenge for our leaders to be able to identify those signs of burnout early enough on, to do something with it before it gets to a breaking point.  


Dave Harris [00:10:07] Yeah, it's really interesting what you've both said there about resilience and indeed empathy, because, as you say, everybody has different circumstances. As you say, some people don't have anywhere to work or the wifi is not very good or they got the kids running around the background. So, as you say, empathy, resilience, obviously very critical there. And I wanted to talk a little bit about the employees, because obviously it's not just the leaders that make a successful organisation, it's the employees as well. And I just wondered what you think Billie are the most important skills that employees who are working in virtual and hybrid teams have to adopt. What are the really key aspects of being successful at this from a worker's point of view?  


Billie Hartless [00:10:49] Yeah, I think Parysa touched on this in her, her last response around boundaries that we've had to, like, encourage our employees to create boundary conditions to operate because, as she said, people would continue working way into the evening. What else were they going to do on the weekends? So, you know, we've done several surveys during this covid cloud that we've lived under and our employee production productivity has actually increased in several teams because, you know, there's not a lot of other distractions in their life. But that also leads to severe stress and burnout and other things Parysa mentioned that, you know, from a well-being perspective is, is high on our agenda to make sure that our employees are taking care of themselves. And so we've done a lot of work around time management. How do you effectively manage your time making sure that you're not just loading up your calendar with video call after video call after video call, but that you're also scheduling some audio calls, taking some walks while you're on some calls, blocking out time to do actual work, keeping kind of boundaries like you start work at whatever time you start work and kind of keeping that routine to where you have those boundaries set in place because it's so easy to, like, look up and say, oh, my goodness, it's like 8 o'clock at night, why am I still on the computer here?  


Dave Harris [00:12:19] Parysa, that's really important isn't it because this business of boundaries can so easily disappear with it, with the sort of home working aspect of hybrid working?  


Parysa Hosseini-Sceh [00:12:28] Yeah, absolutely. I think a lot of people found that they were almost working longer for fear of not being perceived to be working hard enough because a lot of people are used to being in the office and they then sort of associate being seen almost like a culture of presenteeism. So if I can see you, you, therefore, are working hard. So then working remotely, people were almost having a fear of needing to always be seen to be at their computer and very responsive when people were contacting them to show that they were still working hard. And I think that was also naturally a concern where there was so much in the news about layoffs and redundancies and with furlough schemes. So there was a lot of added stresses from a number of different areas that meant that people weren't perhaps setting the right boundaries in how they were working. and I think it's really important to re-educate people, to understand that having or putting in time for different activities throughout the day, even if that is non-work related, it's still just as affected to then help them be productive when they do come back to focus on different pieces of work that they're working on. And I think also it's just so important that people are able to communicate when they're not doing well or when they are struggling, because it's very easy when you are with people in an office, you can read people's body language, you can sense changes in behaviour or tone. And it's very hard to do that virtually. And I think that's also really important when people are working virtually as having the different methods of communication and the right regularity of that communication so that our people and employees are able to share when things are going well, but also when things aren't going well.  


Dave Harris [00:14:24] I'm glad you mentioned communication there because I was I wanted to come on to that because I think communication style and communication method is clearly going to be more important in these scenarios, in these hybrid scenarios than, than perhaps it's ever been before. I mean, communication is always obviously important. But er, I wonder, Billie, do you think leaders and employees for that matter, have had to adapt their communication style or should adapt their communication style to suit this new way of working?  


Billie Hartless [00:14:54] Definitely, Dave. I think in this virtual environment and the importance of communication is highlighted as critical and the frequency needs to be upped, so what I mean by that is early on there were companies that were recording, myself I read some external reports that were reflecting how many times has your leader reached out to you in the last six months? And there was like a ridiculous amount of people saying, my leader hasn't reached out at all. And so we have maybe made it a point and a priority in our company, like we want you to reach out to your people, you need to be checking in with them on a frequent basis, checking on their status, not micromanaging them, but, but showing that you're, you're there for them as a resource in this virtual environment. So it requires, you know, even more, I would say diligence and commitment, because in structure, frankly, because you don't have the ad hoc meet me in the hall, a bump in the hall sort of opportunities anymore. So you had to create these virtual meeting in the halls or bumping into each other in the cafeteria opportunities. And, you know, we've had to coach our leaders that it's OK to ask how people are doing. Now, you can open the door to that question. You can ask, how are you doing? I'm here for you if you need anything. And it's up to the employer whether they want to walk through that door, because some people, frankly, in this environment have said, you know, that's it's not your business, what's happening in my life. And you have to respect that as well. So in a diverse environment, especially in this virtual environment, creating the opportunity for inclusiveness means that you accept wherever people are on that, that on that spectrum, if they want total privacy or if they want t, you know, we've had leaders become real coaches for their people because they've got everything going on in their, their employees lives. So, you know, communication is important. But, you know, you got to inject some fun to Dave.  


Dave Harris [00:17:00] Parysa, I think that Billie made a really important point there about some people are more likely to want to open up and than others and all that sort of thing in any way. You know, perhaps in the traditional environment, that sort of thing didn't happen so much. So are we talking about a sort of cultural shift in a way here that's necessary to keep us healthy, to keep our minds healthy in these environments?  


Parysa Hosseini-Sceh [00:17:20] Yeah, I would say that there's an element of that. So, like Billie said, sort of coaching leaders and managers to have those conversations and open up the door for someone to speak up if they need it. But I think having multiple options or multiple routes where people can access that support, so, if it's not with that manager or maybe a member of that team, then perhaps you can signpost them to other places, whether it's within the business or if you've got external support like employee assistance programme or other services like that, or if you've got mental health first aiders, then at least there's a couple of different routes. And otherwise, even just encouraging that person to speak to someone outside of work. So if they've said, you know, I'd rather not share this with you, just encouraging them to reach out to somebody else, because I think, again, that's then sort of making sure that any of us as leaders have sort of done all that we can possibly to support that person. But as Billie said towards the end as well, fun is equally as important. And I think it's something that should be encouraged. And if it's not really, do try and drive it, because, again, when you are with people in an office space, you have the jokes that you might have. And when you bump into people, you talk about what you've been doing outside of work or a funny situation that you had to deal with. And it can feel very isolating, working remotely. So not just through the pandemic, which was extremely isolating for a lot of people, but even going beyond that and looking forward and being able to have a bit of fun and enjoy our time when we're working is so important to keep people engaged.  


Dave Harris [00:19:07] I think we've obviously established beyond doubt the communication is has primacy in these situations and hybrid teams, virtual teams. So I'm wondering about the tools for this because obviously technology has come to our rescue and the pandemic and all that sort of thing in the form of the Internet and Zoom and teams and all that sort of stuff. But do you think you can have too many communication tools? You know, should an organisation take time to make sure it's using the right tools? I mean Billie, what do you think about that?  


Billie Hartless [00:19:37] Yeah, I think it's really important to understand what are the most effective ways to communicate within a team, because you can get bombarded with multiple messages coming from different media sources and you might not get the salient points that you really should walk away from. So prioritising the key messages and how you communicate within a team. One thing that works very well for us, because with our MiCollab tool here at Mitel, we've got this microblogging or the chat functionality that we can set up sub-teams and have communication streams, very targeted audiences for very targeted reasons. And I think that that has worked brilliantly. It's you know, it's this microblogging world we're living in now. And I think that has really helped us share information in a very concise, quick way and then using other media for, but based on the message, so video calls or audio calls or just even good old fashioned email. Yeah, but I think there is different purposes for different if the message is short, succinct, you know, the chatting functionality works great. If you've got to have a brainstorm session. We have found a video call actually worked quite well for, for brainstorming sessions as well.  


Dave Harris [00:20:54] Parysa, have you ever come across a situation where you where people have abandoned a particular tool because it wasn't suitable or other tools were better?  


Parysa Hosseini-Sceh [00:21:03] Definitely. I think it's it's important to understand what's working for you and when it stops working for you, because it might be that a particular tool is perfect for a point in time. But then as things evolve, your priorities change or the medium that you're using doesn't quite work anymore. So I think being able to stop using a tool and try something new at the point where it stops working is a great thing to be able to do. And if that's an option, and otherwise, if that isn't an option, then it's understanding why something isn't working and seeing how you can use it differently, perhaps. I think it's just it's, it's important to understand what's right for, for that group of people and then figure out if it isn't right, why it's not right, so that you can then try and move on to something that's going to work better. And I know a lot of people had mixed views about video calls, but they definitely do have a place. Like Billie said, if you're doing collaboration and brainstorming and maybe more creative conversations or the more informal conversations, it's nice to have video because it gives you that human interaction more so than you can have better than when you're just on an audio call. So it's a better alternative to being in person.  


Dave Harris [00:22:18] I wonder before we finish if I could get you both to sort of try and summarise a little bit of what you and your organisations have gone through in the past year or so, because obviously you've had support your businesses and the teams as they've adapted. So what are your reflections on what they what you and they have gone through in the last year? Billie, could I start with you?  


Billie Hartless [00:22:41] Certainly. You know, we've kind of gone with this show up with your whole self mindset that we are inviting our employees and our colleagues to show up as their whole self and whoever that is, whatever that is, whatever mix that is, embracing and accepting that we are a diverse world and we have a diverse workforce and that we want to encourage breakthrough thinking and breakthrough thinking really comes from diverse perspectives. So creating this kind of environment where we have a challenger's mindset, where people are challenging the status quo, how can we do things better? There's really come to life, frankly, over the over the last year and a half for a lot of different reasons, right. We've had this covid situation. We've had enormous social unrest and all of the things that have influenced the way we, we operate and how we want our employees to show up every day. And I think I would be remiss if I didn't mention our own our HR colleagues, I know Parysa and her team and our teams around the world who it fell squarely in our lap when covid hit. It fell squarely in our lap when social unrest and our employees were demanding for employers to take a stand. And so this has been an enormous, just enormously stressful period for HR colleagues, but also a an enormously great growth opportunity. We have grown so much as, as a function that we're not afraid to have those conversations anymore where, you know, there was an artificial barriers where we really couldn't have open show up as your host of dialogue, which is totally gone now. So and that's here to stay, Dave, that's not going away. And its just a big shout-out to our HR colleagues.  


Dave Harris [00:24:32] Do you agree with that? I mean, you're obviously an HR professional as well. You were on the front line, weren't you?  


Parysa Hosseini-Sceh [00:24:37] Yeah, I suppose in our own way. We absolutely were. And I think it's so important to recognise and I think celebrate the great work that professionals have done over this past year/18 months because there was a lot of pressure to be experts on a lot of new topics overnight. And I think a lot of people that work within H.R. and people teams, they do it because they really care about creating a great experience for people. And then when that is so greatly challenged, that can probably take out a lot of the sort of the intrinsic motivation that those people feel and enjoy from their work. So, you know, remembering that you can't predict how things are going to happen, how they're going to unfold and how you might respond when you're dealing with so much change and uncertainty. But I suppose taking that step back and trying to remember that you can focus on the things that you can control and that you can influence, can really help in those situations. And I think it's certainly been a tough time for the people teams, but it's also been a fantastic experience. As Billie said, you know, we will come out of this completely changed and in lots of ways for the better.  


Dave Harris [00:26:00] Well, thank you both very much for your insight. It's been absolutely fascinating. And it's clear from listening to both of you that the agile world has had many benefits, thanks to professionals like you guiding us through them. And whilst there obviously have been downsides, clearly there have been a lot of benefits as well. You've been listening to the One Sparks podcast brought to you by OneCom. I'm Dave Harris and I've been talking to Parysa Hosseini-Sech, director of People and Culture at OneCom, and Billie Hartless, chief human resource officer at Mitel. I hope you've enjoyed their expert insight into the new Agile Working World, please see our show notes, where you'll find a link to our website at www.onecom.co.uk/podcast or you can find out about everything mentioned in today's episode. If you've enjoyed the podcast, then please subscribe and share with your friends and colleagues. In the meantime, stay safe and thanks for listening.