CharlieHR CEO Ben Branson-Gateley has modelled internal comms on successful global leaders to keep staff informed.
As an HR software business going into its fifth year, CharlieHR started 2020 feeling confident. And, with Ben as the new CEO, the team had lots of exciting plans.
Ben admits he dismissed the impact coronavirus might have before lockdown but he soon realised the company’s priorities needed to change.
CharlieHR quickly put an emphasis on sharing financial information so there were no surprises. Ben is now starting to think about what a post-coronavirus world means for his role.
More communication is better than less
“People often think that as a leader you need to have all the answers in a time of crisis. The truth is that you don’t,” said Ben. “If you look at the leaders that have done well on the international stage, they are much better at being honest. They say when they don’t know what the future looks like.”
Ben chose to model that by communicating regularly, being honest when he didn’t have the answers and being as vulnerable as possible in the right moments.
Luckily, many communication processes were already in place. That included daily video calls, Friday wrap-up meetings and a weekly company-wide email sharing highlights and key numbers.
Be honest with your team
Being honest about the company’s finances was at the forefront of Ben’s mind.
“In any economic downturn people worry about money and about how it’s going to affect them, so we’re very transparent with all of our numbers. We share these on a weekly basis and our staff have full access to all our revenue metrics.”
Staff were also given forecast information showing at what point they would need to cut salaries or furlough people, so they understood what actions they could take.
“The phrase I kept saying was ‘no surprises’ – that was really important to us,” said Ben.
He believes that one of the company’s biggest successes was avoiding salary cuts and not furloughing staff during lockdown. He’s also proud that they continued to hire and onboard new staff to the 30-person team during the crisis.
How to create the right post-coronavirus work culture
The challenge for the business is to create the right working culture for a post-coronavirus world – and Ben is thinking about his own leadership style as part of this process.
“I’ve spent ten years getting good at being a leader who comes into an office every day, works with people face to face and engages with them. I’m not sure that’s the right skillset for me to have if I want to be a great leader over the next ten years.”
While this is still a work in progress, he is thinking about how he can achieve the same energy and results without seeing staff face-to-face regularly. This includes motivating existing employees and onboarding new staff.
“You need to be really conscious of video conference overload. Documented ways of working are important because that’s how people consume information and teach themselves. And, in a remote setting, we need to create opportunities for new staff to form relationships with other people across the organisation.”
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