For the second edition of People@Work: Interviews, we welcome Kate Parker. Kate Parker currently holds the hybrid role of Marketing and HR lead at Forster Communications, a social change PR agency located in London, England.
With almost ten years of experience in multiple roles, all relating to designing sustainable and ethical business practices alongside developing well-being programs for employees and organizations, Alicia was excited to speak with Kate about how her wide area of expertise has lead Forster Communications to be named Britain’s Healthiest Workplace for two years running.
Q1: Tell us about the hybridity of your role at Forster Communications - how do you manage the values of the company concerning the product, in combination with its employees?
A: Being a responsible business includes being responsible for your employees.
“...[t]here’s a huge amount of data which gets collected by HR teams… [which can be used] to feed data back into business strategic conversations and help with understanding what different issues there might be.”
Forster has been around for nearly twenty-two years, and we only work on projects that accelerate social or environmental change, says Kate. My responsibility, as part of the operations team, is to ensure we act responsibly as a business, which entails things such as managing the well-being program for our employees.
Her mixed role means that Kate spends about half of her time on marketing and discovering ways to promote the PR projects that Forster Communications has recently created, the different aspects of some of the client’s work; for example, organizations working on issues around diversity and inclusion or employee engagement, such as DP World and Cycle To Work Day. In relation to its clients, Forster needs to represent this goal of social impact within itself.
Forster takes part in research carried out by Vitality (a health insurance provider), in connection with RAND Europe, gathering data on employees concerning things such as physical health (i.e. smoking, drinking, exercise, sleeping) and job satisfaction (i.e. workplace stress, leadership). We take part in the survey and our employees fill it out in terms of their own health and are given a ‘Vitality Age’ score, explains Kate, and you get the most interesting data! Not simply in terms of health, but also regarding motivation to change, and much more.
Kate’s use of data and surveys to learn about her employees and the inner workings of the organization move us right into the next question...
Q2: What sort of trends are you seeing when it comes to organizational development?
A: One word - tech.
“I think it’s a myth that it’s just the Millennials that are embracing technology and new ways of working.”
Starting out, Kate says that there’s a lot of fear around technology and it replacing entire roles, but ‘I think it’s actually going to only be replacing parts of people’s roles’. Companies should be looking into ways of training and encouraging people to embrace technology, and understanding how it can replace certain elements. The big changes that we’ll see, will be around flexible working, which will hopefully have some positive effect on the cost of business in terms of office space, according to Kate. Having a company wide policy is easier to implement with the help of tech for people management and allows for individuals to focus on what’s important - their work, she states.
But what about the new workforce and the older workers? How and where does tech come into play here? ‘I think it’s a myth that it’s just the Millennials that are embracing technology and new ways of working’, says Kate. She continues that in the “older” workforce, there are individuals that want to continue working and contributing, and they recognize this shift to more automation and are therefore picking up the necessary skills. This provides an opportunity for businesses to make adaptations that accommodate both generations, as this means the legacy and skills of the older workers can be passed on to the new hires, and vice-versa; the new hires can provide insight on how a system works. From a business perspective, says Kate, this quite an advantage - this exchange of exploration. Employees can “train” each other.
Q3: What type of development plans are used at Forster Communications?
A: Self-learning and building mentor relationships.
“There’s potential for meaningful conversations, and also to have a greater impact on individuals - on the employees - by using that feedback and learning from it and being able to do something with it.”
‘There is the danger that all the different tech systems and platforms or apps or whatever...kind of overcomplicate things, begins Kate, if you want to be gathering useful feedback regularly for example, use a system to record the outcome’. But the conversations need to happen in real life. So I think they have to go together, you can’t replace one with the other. It’s all about understanding how each employee works and what each individual prefers. Some people prefer to send an email, while others prefer to sit down, pick up the phone and talk with you, she says, there’s different working styles, so there’s no one thing that’s going to sync for everyone.
At Forster, Kate and her team have six monthly regular personal development reviews with monthly catch-ups to check in on progress made. Over the last year, they’ve changed the process to reduce a lot of the centralized administrative tasks on Kate’s side of things and made it much simpler. The structure of these conversations have changed over time as well, now entailing questions that are more linked to the values of the company. Questions like: “How is your role here connected to our strategy?”, “How are you bringing our values to life?”, “What sort of things do you want to focus on?”, and so on. Kate recognized to need to create a development plan that had much more emphasis on the individual, as well as the line manager, who is required to be thinking, seeking out and planning the development of his/her team members.
And this where self-learning comes into play again, continues Kate, this structure of development planning is all about ‘building and seeking mentoring relationships...having an individual skill and sharing that skill’. If someone wants to be trained a bit more in a specific area there can be one-on-one training set up or they take matters into their own hands find an online tutorial, or something of the sort. ‘And this change brought about higher scores on our last survey concerning leadership and development, says Kate, I think people are definitely embracing it!’
Kate’s Top 3 Recommendations
1. Talk to your employees. Find out what is important to them or what they feel that they need - whether it’s your benefits package, well-being or development program - and use that as a starting point to shaping the way your organization operates, or how to make a change.
2. Use technology to be more inclusive. For example, during recruitment use a system that pulls from a wide reach of candidates.
3. Attend a Disrupt HR event.