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Cadence Willis is a highly effective and engaging leader with experience in private and public sectors across multiple geographies. She started her career with a PR background working in consumer PR for big consumer PR brands in Australia and later on, ended up moving into corporate affairs sector, working in mining and infrastructure. Soon after, Cadence moved to the UK to work for Vodafone in their technology division. Currently, she serves as Collinson's Global Head of Employee Engagement and Corporate Responsibility. She has the great privilege of working with their people and partners to make the change they want to see in the world.
How has the Employee Engagement space evolved over the years?
The most significant change that I've seen, particularly in the last five years, has been the role of digital. For a very long time, organizations relied heavily on email and the top-down cascading of information. And then they wondered why things didn't land so well, or people didn't understand by the time you got through, depending on how many layers there are in the organization, and things fell flat.
But currently, social media's role has begun quite intently connecting organizations, multiple geographies, and bringing people together. And as a communicator, your skills have had to change and adapt as well. So I now have digital experts in my team that were doing roles that didn't exist five years ago. The roles such as channel managers and internal social teams weren't around at the start of my career. So that's been the biggest change that I've noticed, and it changed for the good because it's better rather than just one team dictating all the communication all the time. Anyone could be a communicator and can create their content and that has changed the landscape for the better.
"Leaders at all levels need to embrace change and that will help give their team courage and motivate them to keep striving"
What are the major pain points you've been witnessing in the market lately?
Implementing change has been one of the biggest challenges always and in recent years; the pace of change has been great. Earlier, you used to have roles based on your craft, and you stayed in that and did that for most of your career. But typically, with engagement, you've had to adapt and change with technology and the market. And that pace of change can sometimes be quite hard for some organizations and people, and that's been a pain point.
I believe leadership has a huge role to play here because leaders who have been a bit braver and more open to trying new things earlier have benefited, and COVID has put light on that. As far as organizations that have invested in digital communication technologies before COVID, they could quickly adapt; for instance, have their workforce working from home and connecting. And those who haven't been able to have had to scramble, and it has happened quickly.
Thus, we need to be brave and move with the times to be trailblazers. If you've got leadership and a board that believes in an open communication and invest in that early on, then you create a culture where people want to be part of the organization. So there is a need for leadership buy-in and support and a team that's willing to move with you and invest in their skills.
Which are some of the technological trends that are influencing this space today?
Open source collaborations of cloud technology such as Office 365, Google hangout, Workplace from Facebook, and so on; there are various technologies out there. But that has been the turning point in how we engage and communicate with our people.
Nowadays, everyone can share a story, video, or comment on something important to them. You can break down geographical barriers instantly, and decisions are getting quicker. We can shed light on areas of the business that aren't performing well and get others' buy-in and support to help. Whereas historically, you would have had to send out an email, have a quick meeting, and maybe two or three of those meetings for different time zones. Some people might not have been able to attend or catch up afterward, and it was hard to share information. Now you're able to film and stream, and in real-time, give people access to the information they need to do their jobs, and it's making a massive difference. Organizations, as a result, can make quicker and more informed decisions. And our people feel like they're able to have a greater say and feel more connected to the organization and their colleagues, particularly in global organizations where time zones can make that challenging.
What are some of the best practices business should adopt today to restructure ahead of competitors?
In my opinion, one has to be brave and willing to give things a go and not always expect everything to be perfect. It's that test and learn mentality in the technology world, i.e., is being agile that you have to adopt and then as you iterate, change, and adapt based on feedback. One cannot have a one or two year plan that they stick to as it doesn't work that way. The business and technologies, as well as people's expectations are changing. So you need to have a good framework in place and then be willing to operate within that and try new things and engage. Enabling your team to tell their own stories, and letting go of control is one of the hardest things. The biggest lesson I've learned in my career is that you have to give people space to be involved and to do things in a way that works for them.
We've got a multi-generational workforce, and everyone works differently; they have different skills, strengths, and weaknesses. And if you, as the head of engagement, cannot create an environment or a culture that inspires those people to use those unique skills, then you're not going to be successful. So my view is to have a framework, flexibility, and a team and an organization that allows trying new things and not always expect that you're going to get it right. Above all, where we're now in a time when organizations are struggling financially as a result of the pandemic, I think now's the time where more than ever, organizations are relying on engagement professionals to bring their teams together, keep them inspired to connect. And you only do that by making them bringing people into the fold.
What would be the single piece of advice that you could impart to your colleagues to excel in this space?
I would say that there is no right or wrong way to work in employee engagement or communications. I've worked with people who've got HR, communications, learning, and development backgrounds. If you're passionate about what you do and about bringing people together and creating experiences that are unique, nurturing cultures within organizations and seeing the impact that it has then in that case, that's all you need. You need that passion and that willingness to drive.
And if you haven't got experience in the field within an organization, join employee networks, get in contact with the central team and see if there's an opportunity to get involved with the projects they're running. It goes on to the days when you had to hold a communication or a HR degree to be good in engagement. But in my view, it's about having a passion and willingness to try new things and get involved, and the rest takes care of itself. So my opinion is if people are passionate and interested in that space, then start getting involved, and then from that, further study and formal work experience can come. But the first step is getting involved.