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Episode 11: The Role of the Communicator is Changing, Again

In this episode, host Chris Thornton welcomes Katie Sibley, the Director of Communications and Employee Experience at HPE, to reflect on the acceleration of change in 2020 and how communications within organizations have changed forever. They discuss what leaders at HPE have done to shift their attention to areas of wellness, culture, and Inclusion & Diversity, given the unique set of challenges from the past year. Looking ahead to 2021, Katie emphasizes the importance of agility and innovation for leaders as they continue to reimagine the future of work and what it means for employee engagement.


This transcript was automatically generated with artificial intelligence. It’s in the queue to go through a review with human eyes!

00;00;11;08 – 00;00;34;21

Hello and welcome to Change@Work, a podcast about the ever evolving world of work and the human behaviors that drive it. I’m Chris Thorton, principal here at Daggerwing Group. We’re consultants who take a slightly different approach to change and how we work with our clients. We’ll explore some of the things we’ve learned, what to do, what not to do, who we are as a team and as individuals.

00;00;34;28 – 00;00;57;22

Joining us today is Katie Sibley, director of Employee Experience and Communication at HP. Katie, welcome. Thank you for having me, Chris. I’m a fan of your podcast, so we’re happy to be here. we’re so glad to have you back. So, Katie, you are a Daggerwing. Ole ole alumnus. Alumni. I’m not sure which is the alarm. Alarm.

00;00;57;25 – 00;01;20;29

Let’s go with Daggerwing alarm. I am, yes. My years at Daggerwing have long shaped me, and I still work with the team. And it’s great to be in touch and talk today. Katie, how long have you been in Enroll at HP? So it’s been about a year and a half now, but feels like ten years considering the year that we’ve had this year.

00;01;21;00 – 00;01;42;15

Yeah, it’s been a really intense year where we’re going to talk about that in just a couple of minutes. But but first, since you’re a fan of the podcast, you know, you have to prove that you’re human. Now, I personally know that you are human, but we got to follow the rules. We got to follow format. So. So during this year, have you picked up any new hobbies as you spent more time at home?

00;01;42;18 – 00;02;04;29

Chris I picked up several hobbies, all of which I think are extremely geeky and I would have never said I would pick up these hobbies. I would say the biggest one that I picked up is coloring. So of course I had the kids at home. Yeah, so the kids at home, it turned out I’m a very bad teacher, but I was pretty good at art because I would just color with them.

00;02;05;01 – 00;02;32;12

And I like to say that it was good for their fine motor skills. Absolutely. Then I just started doing it, so they put the kids to bed and get out the color books and like, sit there in color. And I have become an intense color. Now, I’ve known some intense coloring folks. They really start collecting pens and pencils and like they’re always on the hunt for the best new pencil or coloring device.

00;02;32;13 – 00;02;53;16

Are you in that same boat? 100%. And the children cannot touch my coloring thing if I if they’re out of order or they aren’t perfectly sharpened. I know. And in fact, I wonder if I have it nearby. I did this beautiful what I think is beautiful color sheet. And I came I kind of been collecting them because I think I’m going to put them in a book or something.

00;02;53;16 – 00;03;11;15

I don’t know. I just can’t throw them away. And I came and started looking at them the other day and someone, probably a small child, had come and put prices on each of them, like right in the middle. And when I asked about it, someone was like, Well, I thought we could just sell them. And I, but you put the price on it.

00;03;11;17 – 00;03;29;09

But just so you know, they’re $99.99 if you’re interested in it. That’s a bargain. That’s a bargain. All right. Love that. Thank you for that. Any other hobbies? I’ve been doing a lot of baking, and I know your. Do you like to bake, right? I do. I do, Yes. I’m not on your level. come on. Come on.

00;03;29;10 – 00;03;51;04

What are you baking? Lots of cakes. Yeah, lots of cakes, Because. And then they like, we can’t. We’re only a family of four, so we make these giant cakes. And then, like, after day three, I’m like, my God, I shouldn’t have made a cake. Why am I. Why can’t I make cookies or cupcakes? My my learned. But my mixer, my KitchenAid mixer has gotten an exercise this year for sure.

00;03;51;07 – 00;04;16;05

Last question. Is there any product that you can’t live without? I don’t know if this is a product per say, but coffee. I cannot live without coffee. It’s it’s essential in my life and my coffee Drinking has also gone up exponentially this year with his mine. So has mine. It’s like just to get through every day, I need a little bit more.

00;04;16;08 – 00;04;42;18

Katie, I knew you were human going into this. Thank you for. For answering all this. They pass. You’ve totally passed. Okay, It’s good. We’ve talked a lot about the fact that change is happening so much more quickly. Are those changes, those transformations that we wanted to get done maybe over a year or even three years? We’ve started to see clients do them in three months even.

00;04;42;21 – 00;05;06;29

That’s just one example of the of what we’ve started to see in 2020. What does that look like from your point of view? What have you seen happen during 2020 at HP? Yeah, it’s funny, Chris, because how long have we said that change is accelerating and it’s never going to be faster than it is today? And we’re on this journey together.

00;05;07;02 – 00;05;27;26

And it did. It sped up, I think what we thought was impossible. And so to your point, I think it’s a lot of the trends that we had already seen in a lot of the transformation acceleration that we had already seen just accelerated even more this year when we thought that wasn’t possible. I think it covers how we communicate.

00;05;27;26 – 00;05;54;26

So certainly when you think of the channels in the way that we reached people, that that changed this year, but also what we were focusing on and that had to change on a dime really quickly this year. And what are the important things that our team members and our employees need right now? Because we were on a certain path and then it was like, wait, okay, let’s turn now we need to focus here and support our team members in really different and challenging time.

00;05;54;29 – 00;06;38;00

Are there any specific areas that you’ve seen within HP that that you can talk about? Where have you begun focusing perhaps with new intensity? Does anything come to mind about where new special attention has been placed? Yes, So a couple of areas. I’d say. The first is wellness. We have always had a really strong focus on wellness. In fact, last year we launched a program called For Real Life, and we talked about work that fits your life and rolled out several new benefits and wellness programs and resources and campaigns all around this for real life, sure.

00;06;38;02 – 00;06;55;22

But when the pandemic hit and we had team members in Wuhan, so we started working on this in January of last year, and it was like, this is just going to be odd. And then it was like, it’s just going to be Europe. And then here we are. It was the entire company that we were focused on.

00;06;55;25 – 00;07;16;29

We knew that we had to put a new spend, a new focus on wellness, given there were new circumstances people were dealing with physically. You know, we think about people not being able to get out and exercise in the same way, but also from a behavioral health and wellness perspective and how to support people going through unique challenges.

00;07;16;29 – 00;07;42;14

And what we quickly felt really strongly about was that this was not one size fits all because everyone was dealing at different times with different situations. And so for work that fits really real life was different for different people. Some people all of a sudden we’re living in isolation. Some people were all of a sudden parenting, teaching and working from home.

00;07;42;17 – 00;08;33;21

Some people were, you know, had aging parents that were either living with them or in a home or across the street, and they didn’t know how to deal with the circumstances. So we started to roll out programing and resources specific to certain circumstances that we saw our employees dealing with. You know what? I’m struck by that for real life approach and thematic and campaign takes on a whole new weight when when life gets very, very real across the board for for every single employee kid you talked about for real life and the importance of that, was there anything beyond the programmatic that you think was special about what HP did, what you all did to

00;08;33;21 – 00;08;56;27

make sure that you were really meeting people where they were? And what advice would you have for for other companies who are trying to think about what else they can do? Well, the first thing we did was listen. We started to do surveys and asking people, how are you feeling? We really asked mentally, how do how are you on a scale of 1 to 10?

00;08;56;29 – 00;09;36;12

And we kept doing that and are still doing that to make sure that we were supporting people and gauging the overall health and wellness. I would say the other thing that we did was bring people together in, in the community groups that I started to describe. Yeah, because a lot of this was just realizing that you’re not the only one going through those circumstances and having conversations that were very vulnerable and open and at work, which isn’t, you know, typical in corporate America, but having an opening up a dialog around wellness and behavioral health has long been kind of stigmatized.

00;09;36;15 – 00;09;56;22

And we took away the stigma, I think, by just saying, hey, I’m I’m case number one and let me explain what we’re going through. We we brought in medical experts and did webcasts on on how to deal with certain circumstances for those groups. But we also leaned on our own people. And they’re not medical experts, but they’re human.

00;09;56;24 – 00;10;17;26

And they had great advice, great stories. And the number one thing that we heard coming out of that was it was just good to feel like I was in a conversation and hearing from someone that was a friend that was going through this with me. One of the other aspects of our approach to wellness was leaning on our managers, Our people leaders.

00;10;17;28 – 00;10;44;28

Yeah. And we we can’t reach from a corporate level 60,000 people, but people are people, leaders and managers absolutely can. So we encouraged we didn’t mandate but strongly encourage that our people leaders have one on ones with their report not to ask about how work’s going. How’s that latest project? Where are you tracking? But just to say, how are you?

00;10;45;00 – 00;11;16;25

And we gave them some tools and resources and and training to do that. But it was a wellness check. And what can I do to support you? How are you doing? How is your family? And that was really critical, I think, and started to build a muscle and people leaders that we had necessarily developed before and just setting the expectation of you need to check in on the whole self versus just how they’re progressing from a growth in their job perspective or how that latest project is going.

00;11;16;28 – 00;11;37;00

It’s that’s incredible. I love that. Katie. Katie, one of the things I know about you is that you’re passionate about the role of leaders and in leading and also modeling what good looks like. Can you talk about what that looked like at HP? The only thing I would add is the modeling of behavior. What are your podcasts was about?

00;11;37;00 – 00;12;06;16

Executive alignment, right? And the importance of leaders really setting the example. And I think that’s important even from a wellness perspective. And some leaders might say that’s the soft stuff. But wellness is critical to the business of our team isn’t operating and not feeling supported. The business results are going to show from that. So we actually had our leaders talking about what they were dealing with personally, how they were exercising at home.

00;12;06;19 – 00;12;36;21

What are the things that they’re doing to adapt And having the leaders sort of start that conversation, I think, allowed people to open up in a new way. I’m somewhat shocked at how people wanted something different from employers this year, and I would never say I need my employer to support my conversation about my isolation wellness. I don’t think they don’t like that, but I would never ask my it my employer wouldn’t be my number one place to go to for support mechanisms this year.

00;12;36;26 – 00;13;00;17

It was. It was. And I think we saw that from a lot of our team members, is people are listening to this. We’re in 2021 and you’re looking ahead to 2021 from from where you stand right now. How do you think communication functions are going to have to operate differently based upon everything we’ve learned this year? Well, just like it’s always been, I think we have to continue to be really agile.

00;13;00;19 – 00;13;24;06

We don’t know necessarily what’s going to happen this year. We don’t know if we’ll be able to meet in person or how long will be in the circumstances. And it’s going to be different for different parts of the world. So I think the number one thing is that we have to continue to be really flexible, agile and willing to take some risks and doing things that we haven’t done before.

00;13;24;08 – 00;13;45;06

Luckily, 2020 set us up for that and practicing for that, but we have to be more creative than we’ve ever been and meeting people where they are and and being relevant to what they need at the time that they need it. When you think about what your priority areas are, where you’re going to focus your energy, are there a couple that stand out for you?

00;13;45;09 – 00;14;28;17

I think the biggest one is the future of work, which I know is a very large bucket and somewhat generic, but the future of work is changing forever and it’s daunting and also an amazing opportunity to reimagine employee engagement culture and and really what we can do as communicators. So we’ve said that our workforce will forever be more dispersed and that the majority of our team work outside of our sites and we’re reimagining our sites to be culture, collaboration and innovation centers where people go to have meetings or have different type of engagement events.

00;14;28;23 – 00;14;51;07

But focus work is largely done outside of the office. For the majority of team members. So what does that mean about how we reach people, how we still keep our culture alive and and keep people connected in that in that new way? So that is certainly one of our top priorities in this year, is just really hitting pause and then reset on what this means.

00;14;51;07 – 00;15;13;14

I think a lot of companies we had to close down so quickly that we took what we were doing inside the office and tried to make it work at home and across the world wherever people ended up. And that’s not going to be sustainable in the long term. So this is really needs to redefine the behaviors and how we work.

00;15;13;16 – 00;15;34;11

And I think we’ve just set the example as communications teams and how we operate within help the organization move in that direction as well. Katie, you talked about culture and the importance of culture. Do you think it needs to change? Do you see it changing at all or do you have what you need? Well, I think culture is ever evolving.

00;15;34;14 – 00;16;05;17

And but for us at HP, our our purpose, our key beliefs are shared behaviors will remain the same. But I think there has to be a focus on how that looks differently in a dispersed workforce. So one of the big focuses for next year and it’s always a focus of we’re a technology company or really any company is innovation and what that looks like when we’re not always together and specifically risk taking.

00;16;05;17 – 00;16;38;14

We talk a lot about failing fast learning and improving and embracing courage over comfort. And that can be harder for people, especially if they’re not used to being outside of an office or. Right, not right next to their people leader, where they can kind of get an immediate sense of how they’re doing. So we’re going to be talking a lot culturally around how we need to encourage each other to push for better to innovate, to still embrace that belief of being okay with taking some risk.

00;16;38;14 – 00;23;45;12

Because risk is what leads to innovation. Let’s shift gears to talk about inclusion and diversity. How did your focus evolve in that area in 2020 and what are you planning on doing in 2021 to keep that momentum going?

More in the Series

Chris Thornton is a Senior Principal and member of the global leadership team at Daggerwing Group. In his role, Chris serves as a source of strategic counsel for Senior Executives with client firms, advising them on how to help clients achieve Executive alignment, transform their cultures and equip and enable people managers to lead and embed change. An expert in the people side of change with both client-side and consulting experience, Chris has worked with leading companies including Nestlé, Pfizer, and GE Aviation to do change right and make it stick. He is also an active speaker on business transformation, a driver of innovation in Daggerwing’s breadth of change consulting services, and the host of Daggerwing Group’s podcast, Change@Work. Chris and his wife were featured in the New York Times for their love of pie.