6 minutes

Time to talk talent and purpose #3

by Kate Brown and Julie Perkins

Time to talk talent and purpose #3: Motivation meets team spirit

 Time to Talk Talent and Purpose: Motivation meets team spirit with Kate Brown, Specsavers

Inspiration from Kate Brown, Group People Director at Specsavers Optical Group.

Guernsey-based Kate Brown is a people person. Having worked almost exclusively in HR since graduating from Lancaster University in 1995, she has worked for the likes of corporate giants like RSA and Bupa and is now Group People Director at Specsavers Optical Group. It’s safe to say that she knows a fair bit about how people tick and how they can be motivated as part of a team – vital skills in the post-pandemic workplace. 

“Covid has heightened people’s awareness of other people’s lives,” says Kate. “We’re having a peek into others’ homes, seeing their pets… and it has changed our relationships in a positive way. And while it’s no substitution for personal interaction face to face, it’s given us a different lens on life that has been really useful.”

“Specsavers has a huge family orientation based on longevity of relationship and there has definitely been a fear that if we don’t all come back to the office we are going to lose that connection. As human beings we are wired to connect, it’s as strong as a need for food or water.”

Bringing people back together after a life-changing event like the pandemic can be a challenge and whilst we have embraced the technology to work remotely there is no substitute to reconnecting face to face. Some of course are anxious about returning while others have already found ways to connect as perhaps their own circumstances made working from home really tough.  As a leader Kate is acutely aware that her workforce is made up of individuals who all need and should be treated in an individual way. 

We need to encourage leaders to make it personal. During the build up to returning to work I was asked regularly about guidelines and rules for hybrid working, for example how many days a week should we say people should be in the office. But in this new world, it just won’t work like that. Individual situations and the diverse types of roles you find in a vast company makes that kind of organisation far more complex. It will be different for everyone and so we have to learn and accept that things will return differently. We are also mindful that for store colleagues they have been continuing to work in our high streets throughout this pandemic, which is inspiring and humbling, but also a reminder of why we all need to make sure we continue to be available to support stores so they can continue to care for our customers.

It’s important to have an authentic conversation about the situation to allow everyone to be the best that they can be.”

So, with that in mind how does she go about re-motivating and reuniting people across the Specsavers world? 

Share the love

“One effective way is simply to say thank you.” 

Kate discovered more than ever how much that acknowledgement can mean, especially for those partners  and teams who have been working on the front line during the pandemic.

“Connecting their work to the difference they are making to customer lives is remembered and treasured deeper than any financial incentive,” she explains. “A simple but heartfelt thank you reinforces your values and will drive a positive motivation for the future company you want to become.”

We all know how we feel when we’re appreciated and it’s worth remembering that recognition can be an all-important superpower for any company, whether it’s an SME or a corporate giant. And this superpower is most effective when it comes from and is sustained by those who are the company leaders and in the case of Specsavers the CEO, John Perkins, led the way.

“Of course some might prefer a cheque but the things I’ve kept through my career are handwritten notes. And some people might wonder how directors, such as John, have time to thank people but it’s so humbling to hear the stories and experiences they’ve had or the treatment they’ve been able to provide to key workers. That connectivity to our purpose is stronger than it’s ever been and our challenge now is how do we keep that alive?

A new initiative has recently been implemented to do just that. We have a campaign in the UK called the Summer of Love where we are encouraging anyone in a support office role to visit the stores and say thank you for what our partners and their teams have done for our customers during these challenging times and to also ask how they can help.”

Getting to know you, together

“We’ve just revamped our induction process so that every person who joins Specsavers will spend time in store,” Kate explains. “They spend real time understanding what optics means, what domiciliary means, what audiology means, what our products look like, and understanding the importance of the supply chain. Every person goes through the same journey and we run listening groups at the end of the induction to hear about their experiences and what extra support people might need.”

While Kate has clearly identified the fact that the act of joining a company must feel inclusive and welcoming, she has also recognised that keeping your colleagues happy and healthy also requires input. 

“The other area of our people plan is reviewing our employee value proposition. We have invested a lot in terms of wellbeing over the past 18 months and we’re focusing hard on making sure that we have the tools and support. I did a webinar reflecting on my own personal challenges because it’s really important to show vulnerability so you can allow other people the opportunity to say ‘I’m not OK, I’m struggling’ and then be able to put them in touch with the support they need. We have more to do, but I’m so reassured that we are moving in the right direction.”

This positivity will also extend to how the company approaches adding value to its future talent pool. 

“It’s important to keep the core of who we are with such a loyal long serving team across the Specsavers world, yet evolving to keep pace with a new transient workforce. It begins with being seen as the vibrant and innovative company we are and telling people this, as we’ve never really shouted about it before. The message of being a great place to work is important both inside and outside the organisation. We need to be seen as a company of opportunity, a company of courage – giving a sign that we are in a good position to move forward and it’s a time for opportunity and for all involved in Specsavers.”

“We are going to think differently about the relationships we have with talent,” Kate continues. “And that means looking after the core organisation and living by our values and behaviours, but also recognising that some talent will come and go. We need to create an exciting and vibrant place to work, even if people say ‘I’m only going to come for 18 months but work on something really exciting’. Let it be the best experience they’ve ever had and let’s stop worrying that they’re not going to stay 30 years. Let’s think instead of the diversity that it will bring us. In any case I suspect many may enjoy it so much they will decide to stay for far longer than they first considered.”

From one people person to another

So, when it comes down to it being a people person is driven by one crucial skill, as Kate explains.

“I think the most underrated skill we have as leaders is listening. There’s an acuteness to just being there for someone else, with no judgment, no interpretation, no assumptions. The greatest gift you can give someone is attention but only if you are truly present. As leaders I think we often feel we need to jump in or provide the answer, however by sitting alongside someone for even just a few minutes you may unearth an important story or experience that may challenge our future approach or direction. By creating a safe environment for colleagues to share their truths we stand a much better chance of being able to personalise every colleague’s experience, whether they’re there for two weeks or ten years. With a team of 200 people that can be hard but that’s the expectation and that’s what we have to do, it’s the simple things that really matter and will make the biggest difference to how someone feels. One of my all time favourite quotes is by Maya Angelou – I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

For more wyse words, explore the other parts of our Time to Talk trilogy. Here we speak to Hanny van der Weedt, Learning & Development Business Partner at the Heineken Company, where she shared her thoughts on how to repurpose planning for smarter results, and here you can read and watch the interview with Edyta Ozbek, founder of NEU Professionals, where we have a great discussion on the connection between talent and purpose.