THOUGHT LEADERSHIP – Russell Bedford International: Employee Engagement
Employee engagement and wellbeing – looking after our greatest asset
Our greatest asset will always be our people. When the pandemic hit, the first question we asked ourselves was, ‘How do we keep the show on the road?’ Stephen Hamlet, CEO, Russell Bedford International comments
We looked to technology to support our communications and processes; as a network of professional services providers, we came to rely on this and, for the most part, we coped. In fact, we did better than cope – the way in which we all came together to create a new form of business-as-usual was an enormous success.
How did we, as people, cope?
It doesn’t take a pandemic to place the wellbeing of our people at the forefront of our thinking, but it does add even more focus. As I’ve said on many occasions, ‘If we don’t look after our people, how can we expect our people to look after their clients?’
Operating in a pandemic was a challenge for everyone. Nobody in business had experienced anything like it before so there was no prior knowledge to draw on. To begin with, our response was mainly reactive – putting out fires wherever they broke out; but gradually we all adapted to the uncertainty that accompanied a new working environment and new ways of working. What became described ubiquitously as the new normal.
Resilience is an adjective used often to describe the admirable way in which people coped through the pandemic. While outwardly this is true, inwardly many found it hard to come to terms with this enforced change. As a result, we became more willing to show empathy, display vulnerability, and address the mental health of our friends and colleagues, as well as ourselves.
Meeting the recruitment and retention challenge
In my fifteen years of working with international accounting groups, in the process travelling all across the globe, the one challenge that I see wherever I go is that of finding, recruiting, training, and keeping hold of talented people. And it’s just got harder. The pandemic experience has changed people’s perspectives and what they see as important. They may specify flexible working. Their salary demands may have become inflated. Above all, they want to feel part of a culture that values and genuinely looks after its people.
Looking after our people’s health and wellbeing
I’ve been lucky enough to have been CEO of Russell Bedford International for five very successful years. Looking back, I’m proud of what we and our firms have done for our people. We embraced health and wellbeing and have developed and offered initiatives to more than 8,000 people across our firms. These initiatives are invaluable. Yet not all our 8,000 people have chosen to access and experience these initiatives. While we see some good attendance at our monthly webinars, it’s still just a fraction of the whole.
Why is this? It’s because our people dedicate themselves to their jobs. It’s because they dedicate every hour of their working weeks to their clients. It’s because they want to ensure their hours are chargeable. Therefore, we must educate our people to help themselves. Of course we want them to be physically healthy, but just as much (maybe even more so) we want them to be mentally healthy.
Our health-and-wellbeing training programme
During the pandemic, I came across an airplane analogy on several occasions, that of putting on your own oxygen mask before helping others. I would extend this sentiment to your businesses: look after your people first and then your clients. Without people who are physically and mentally healthy you will find it much harder to support your clients, especially those needing advisory services and empathy during challenging times.
This is why we put our health-and-wellbeing programme in place. I asked Michael Quigley of Kataholos, our health-and-wellbeing training partner, to explain our programme and the motivation behind it.
Michael Quigley, Kataholos and Stephen Hamlet, Russell Bedford
Stephen Hamlet: What do you see our people getting from our programme?
Michael Quigley: I hope that people in Russell Bedford International encounter an enjoyable, engaging, and fun learning experience; one that offers a chance to connect with others and share ideas and best practice. If they leave with an affirmation and encouragement of who they are as people, in what is currently a challenging business context, we’ve succeeded.
SH: What have you delivered so far?
MQ: We’ve delivered 16 bespoke training sessions covering, among other things, mental health, motivation, communication, relationships, emotional intelligence, and leadership, to hundreds of members across all continents. In addition we have given 8,000 people access to the Kataholos learning platform, offering three e-learning courses covering stress management, holistic health – body, mind, spiritual, emotional, and digital health, and exceptional communication skills.
SH: What audience have you targeted so far?
MQ: While our online sessions have been open to all, until now, our face-to-face sessions have targeted younger managers and partners. Our next round of these sessions will target partners approaching retirement.
SH: Is there any feedback you’d like to share?
MQ: Yes! Here’s just a couple of comments:
‘We received a practical, uplifting, and memorable experience that will serve us well. Every one of us was impressed and grateful.’ Tony Carey, Cooney Carey, Ireland.
‘Michael responds to burning questions with clarity. There are always good take-aways from attending his workshops. Keep it up!’ Reena Nagda Shah, Russell Bedford Alexander & Associates, Kenya.
While it is impossible to accommodate all the various time zones for our interactive sessions, I was pleased to see our Latin American colleagues attending in the early hours and our friends in India and the Pacific staying up late. To increase access, we uploaded recordings of all sessions, together with Spanish translations for our members in Latin America. This means people can dip in and out at their own convenience.
Aside from time-zone complications, we saw that our members in Western Europe and North America sometimes found it hard to attend in real time because client commitments made it difficult for them to break off. This was sometimes our experience of Asia too. This meant our sessions often saw a heavy Latin American attendance, demonstrating that region’s togetherness and the value it places on developing people.
I know the desire to work relentlessly and tirelessly for clients is entrenched in our business culture, but we must do more to promote health and wellbeing as a value we all embrace.