In Donald A. Schön’s book “The Reflective Practitioner: How Professionals Think In Action,” he defined three types of knowledge. One of them is reflection on and during action, meaning the knowledge we acquire while we act.
The COVID-19 crisis has highlighted a need to make quick decisions against a largely uncertain backdrop. According to Schön’s theory, we have been learning and gaining insights into a new way of doing things while making those decisions, which will undoubtedly impact the relationships between companies and their professionals.
At LLYC, we would like to harness that learning and shared knowledge to try to shed some light on a complex context. We have spoken with communications and human resources experts from companies such as Bankia, Coca-Cola, Cosentino, Ecoembes, Enagás, EY, IBerdrola, Ikea, Indra, Naturgy and Novartis to understand their perspectives and gather best practices. This article contains the results of those conservations, with the goal of further delving into the post-COVID reality and the challenges companies will need to tackle in their relationships with talent.
Eight new scenarios in talent-company relations
- The rise of a new form of leadership
- The transfer of control over messages
- Digital: A transformation that has become a cultural shift
- People and their emotions at the heart of decision-making
- Going back to basics to respond to uncertainty
- From latent to patent pride in belonging
- Internal communications for building trust
- The birth of a new values system
THE RISE OF A NEW FORM OF LEADERSHIP
On May 3, the New York Times published a very revealing article about a new way of leading with an even more revealing title: “Leaders Are Crying on the Job. Maybe That’s a Good Thing.” Among other things, it includes a reference to the video Marriott CEO Arne Sorenson shared with his team. For many, it was a lesson in leadership based on honesty, clarity and transparency.
The article’s conclusions are very similar to those reached by experts. “We are not in the midst of a conventional crisis, which is why we’ve seen leaders acting differently, “says Luisa Alli, Head of Communications for IKEA Iberica. “And that has highlighted the need for a new form of leadership, a form of leadership that comes from a profound understanding of the situation others are in. This requires building a climate that encourages rather than penalizes the verbalization of weakness. Many employees have felt guilty about working from home while their colleagues work in-store or at depots, or for not getting as much work done as they would have liked. In a climate of trust, empathy and solidarity, where family issues, for example, have become normal, there is room for understanding rather than blame.”
In turn, Teresa Gallastegui, Head of Talent and Organization for Ecoembes, is convinced this crisis will be a real trial by fire for leaders. “Genuine leaders emerge in situations of crisis,” she states. “Communication, collaboration, transparency and innovation are essential levers organizations need to have right now. I would also include two other things that are gaining importance and will become critical: Managing uncertainty and learning ‘in flight.’ We live in an increasingly changing, complex and uncertain environment, and we need people who are capable of looking toward the future with optimism and generating opportunities around change.”
“We are not in the midst of a conventional crisis, which is why we’ve seen leaders acting differently. And that has highlighted the need for a new form of leadership, a form of leadership that comes from a profound understanding of the situation that others are in” – Luisa Alli, Head of Communication at IKEA Ibérica
Delfina Perez, Head of Development and Talent Recruitment for Bankia, adds, “I believe we are heading towards a form of leadership that is increasingly inclusive and aimed at fostering growth and responsibility in teams. A form of leadership based on individual responsibility, trust and delegation. A form of leadership that is aware of how important cohesive and diverse teams are.”
Communication is another attribute of this new form of leadership. Esther Castaño, Head of Global Internal Communications for Iberdrola, insists that “a leader who does not communicate is not a leader, even more so under these circumstances. Leaders must convey messages of calm and mitigate uncertainty while using a very human approach, very informally.” Inmaculada Vela, Head of Internal Communications at EY Spain, adds the qualities of honesty and transparency as well. “It’s about telling things exactly how they are while conveying a sense of responsibility, approachability and humility,” she shares. “Our professionals have to know that they are our priority, that we are a team, one big family, and that we’re all rowing in the same direction to overcome adversity together.”
“A leader who does not communicate is not a leader, and that is even more the case in these circumstances. Leaders must convey messages of calm, mitigate uncertainty, using a very human approach, very informally” – Esther Castaño, Head of Global Internal Communications at Iberdrola
New leaders are setting paternalism aside to adopt more approachable, accessible and transparent methods, which brings us to an extremely interesting concept that could be considered contrary to that of a leader: Vulnerability. “If you ask me what will happen, I’ll tell you that I don’t know,” says Jordi Garcia Tabernero, Head of Communications and Institutional Relations for Naturgy. “That sentence might be surprising coming out of a leader’s mouth, but isn’t it more courageous to recognize our own limitations? In a crisis situation such as this one, it’s about providing information on everything we’re doing, as well as saying we’re making every effort to find solutions and get ahead of the problems… And when we’re asked about something we don’t have an answer for, just saying so.” This executive believes the key lies in “acknowledging the uncertainty and providing certainty wherever possible, because silence generates anxiety, restlessness and rumors. Communication with employees is essential. The company should be one of their most reliable sources of information.”
“It’s about telling things exactly how they are while conveying a sense of responsibility, approachability and humility; our professionals have to know that they are our priority, that we are a team, one big family, ” – Inmaculada Vela, Head of Internal Communications at EY Spain
THE TRANSFER OF CONTROL OVER MESSAGES
If approachability is a growing trend, it might seem obvious to think that the role played by middle management will become increasingly important. These people are great allies for communication, as they are the ones who provide a link between the company and its talent, becoming the first point of reference within an organization.
At Cosentino, Maria Luisa Garcia, Head of Internal Communications, and Santiago Alfonso, Head of Communications and Marketing, are convinced that middle management positions are being empowered. “Whether teleworking is here to stay or the workforce will be back on the factory floor, a manger’s role is essential in conveying trust,” the two executives say. “They are the facilitators and the ones who ensure messages filter throughout the organization. Although all our professionals have access to corporate messages via the company’s app and information notice boards, factory managers are responsible for mobilization. They make sure the messages have filtered down and, if necessary, reinforce them.”
Luisa Alli from IKEA adds that this also involves being aware of and even encouraging a loss of control over these messages. “Communications success depends on 300 professionals directly,” she states. “These middle management positions are the network that conveys encouragement and builds trust. There are countless rules and regulations for not crossing the line, being correct and obedient, but the time has come for managers to take control of the team and not be afraid of taking risks. Although it might look like a big risk, what we have to gain is much more powerful. Things are happening at the bottom of the pyramid, and we should harness spontaneous leaderships to support communication.”
“Whether teleworking is here to stay or the workforce will be back on the factory floor, a manger’s role is essential in conveying trust” – Cosentino, María Luisa García, Head of Internal Communication, and Santiago Alfonso, Head of Communication and Marketing
Digital: a transformation that HAS become a cultural shift
We have been talking about digital transformation for years, trying to implement it with action plans, pilot schemes, expert help and company processes. However, the transformation never truly took hold at many organizations. In fact, an overwhelming study by Harvard Business Review states that 91 percent of organizations fail in this type of process.
However, during the COVID-19 crisis, companies have evolved quickly along the digitalization path to maintain the pace and quality of their work. “We’ve taken a giant leap forward in digital transformation, “says Teresa Gallastegui from Ecoembes. “We have gone digital all of a sudden. When all this is over, we will be more digital, agile and efficient. You might say that we are evolving toward approachability.” There is only one question that follows: What was stopping us from completely transforming ourselves into a digital company before the crisis? “We had the tools but not the culture. Any reticence about using those tools has evaporated now, and, although we are supporting our talent with trainings, this ‘forced digitalization’ is becoming a driving force for our digital culture,” she adds.
Also regarding digitalization, Juan Jose Berganza, Head of Communications and Brand for Indra, says that the new work model also requires a greater level of training and effective time and schedule management. “Team management is undoubtedly different now, requiring a more structured model,” he says.
Teleworking is clearly important in this new digital culture, says Jordi Garcia Tabernero from Naturgy. “COVID-19 has led to a paradigm shift in how we work and interact with others, something that is here to stay,” he shares. “Before this crisis, teleworking was seen as a lesser category of working. Neither organizations nor people had thought that it could be combined with on-site working for genuinely effective results. Nonetheless, it has been shown that office work can indeed be efficiently and productively continued from home.”
“We’ve taken a giant leap forward in digital transformation. We have gone digital all of a sudden. When all this is over, we will be more digital, agile and efficient. You might say that we are evolving towards approachability” – Teresa Gallastegui at Ecoembes
People and their emotions at the heart of decision-making
“Having an in-depth understanding of what is happening to our professionals is essential,” explains Maria Luisa Benlloch, Head of Internal Communications for Novartis. “For that, you must first listen to and identify their problems and build according to what people need to hear. The key lies in making sure the message conveyed by the company meets the needs of its talent.”
Sara Blazquez, Head of Communications and Media Relations for Coca-Cola Iberia, agrees. “You must build closer personal relations to understand the reality for the people in your team, and thus connect with the each one’s interests,” she says. “Any issue we identify in the teams, whether on a professional or personal level, is communicated to our executive committee to ensure its decisions can be based on our professionals’ individual circumstances.”
Along the same lines, Jordi Garcia Tabernero from Naturgy explains how the company applies its ‘employee first’ approach, showing us how it is more than just pretty words. “Whenever a committee meets, whether it is an ad hoc committee for operational crisis monitoring or the senior management committee, or the board of directors, at all of them, the first point on the agenda is a question: How are our employees today, and what more can we do for them?” he says.
Victoria Cortes, Head of Internal Communications for Enagás, believes that “the goal has always been to provide information transparently and convey security. However, we have also taken great care to highlight our professionals’ work, effort and commitment in all corporate communications, both internal and external.”
“The goal has always been to provide information transparently and convey security. However, we have also taken great care to highlight our professionals’ work, effort and commitment ” – Victoria Cortés, Head of Internal Communication at Enagás
Back to basics to responding to uncertainty
“We have seen that the values of Coca-Cola, with a 134-year history, still apply to overcoming this difficult situation,” says Sara Blazquez. “We have shown that we are a resilient, empathetic, universal and democratic company. A capacity to adapt forms part of our DNA, and we have seen that yet again.”
The uncertainty has forced us to look at our purposes as companies, lean on our values and recognize our deeper cultures. “It is essential to have done your homework when an unexpected crisis hits,” says Esther Castaño from Iberdrola. “That way, you can forget about what you have already internalized or learned and can focus on other problems. Communications, for example, was already part of our organization’s DNA. Not communicating was never an option before, much less so now. As a result, we have not needed to create new channels, but only strengthen what we had already been doing naturally.”
Teresa Gallastegui from Ecoembes says something similar. “This situation has highlighted and shone a spotlight on things that we worked on before,” she shares. “If you haven’t already worked hard on commitment with your talent, you run a very high risk of having your professionals disconnect. In our case, the Ecoembes’ team’s response to this crisis has been exceptional.”
For companies, the COVID-19 crisis has been a moment to demonstrate whether what they said so often in the past is actually true, and professionals are more aware of this than ever.
“The values of Coca-Cola, with a 134-year history, still apply to overcoming this difficult situation. A capacity to adapt forms part of our DNA ” – Sara Blázquez, Coca-Cola Iberia
From latent to patent pride in belonging
Employees have reconnected with their companies during the search for answers and security. In the case of Novartis, Maria Luisa Benlloch says they received hundreds of thank-you messages. “This doesn’t happen every day or at every company,” she says. “It’s only when you see that your company can deal with the circumstances and, above all, look after its employees.” In turn, Sara Blazquez knew Coca-Cola Iberia was a company with a strong sense of belonging, “but that has been made clearer during this period through comments and messages across all channels. People have gone from feeling it to needing to express it, to share it.”
In the same regard, Victoria Cortes from Enagás has not only noticed a significant increase in talent engagement with corporate communications, but also that “this crisis will only enhance their pride in belonging, because the key role we are playing as an organization has been demonstrated. Something similar will also happen at all those companies with professionals who are committed to others and who are, themselves, committed to the future of society and value creation.”
Delfina Perez from Bankia is clear that “the relationship with our talent has been enriched and profoundly and suddenly transformed. Everything we’ve seen, and are still seeing, has precisely been used to strengthen the relationship with our talent and their commitment, because the importance of absolutely everyone who works in the Bankia team has been made crystal clear. The organization has shown itself to be a cohesive, committed and responsible team.”
Jordi Garcia Tabernero from Naturgy adds, “Our response as a company, not only because of the internal measures we have taken to protect our employees but also because of the commitment we have shown to society, has produced a spectacular boost to the pride in belonging our professionals express. They have been more receptive, supporting many of the actions we set in motion, and they have been more proactive, continuing to promote solidarity initiatives and offering their work to society. Moreover, they did all this with their brand held high, becoming one of its best ambassadors. We have all, company and talent, been pulling in the same direction.”
Luisa Alli from IKEA points to a possible reason. “In these complicated times, professionals can tell what you’re like,” she states. “During this time, at the moment of TRUTH in capital letters, this is when you either strengthen that commitment or, perhaps, lose it forever.”
“The relationship with our talent has been enriched and profoundly and suddenly transformed. Everything we’ve seen, and are still seeing, has precisely been used to strengthen the relationship with our talent ” – Delfina Pérez at Bankia
Internal communication for building trust
“If this crisis has revealed anything, it’s the importance of having a committed workforce, a workforce that works hard and gives its best every day, a workforce where everyone is pulling in the same direction and understanding how to adapt to the circumstances,” says Victoria Cortés at Enagás. “That can only be achieved by creating environments of trust through constant, simple and direct communication with employees. That’s what internal communications should be. That’s why I’m convinced communicators will be essential to any company while conveying the challenges we are going to face and for achieving objectives.”
All the experts agree that the role of communications (and more specifically, the role of communications with talent) has gained considerable importance during this tough period—importance that will no doubt remain in the future. “It was essential to communicate in real time, empathetically, transparently and innovatively,” says Inmaculada Vela from EY. “We’ve strengthened our connections with our internal audiences, and our messages are being heard louder. However, this result is undoubtedly also due to coherence. The messages conveyed were fully aligned with our culture and attitudes, the DNA that makes us unique and that can be found in every single one of our professionals.”
Maria Luisa Benlloch from Novartis says something very similar. “You need support through difficult times,” she adds. “This is achieved by being less corporate and more human, as well as communicating constantly. The frequency should be increased, but companies also need to construct more friendly and empathetic messages.”
“You need support through difficult times” – María Luisa Benlloch at Novartis
On this point, Delfina Perez from Bankia highlights the potential words have to create realities. “We have the choice to work on positive communications that highlight successes and celebrate good results while not forgetting to leave room for dealing with any doubts or fears that might arise in our teams, helping them grow as professionals,” she says.
In turn, Maria Luisa Garcia and Santiago Alfonso from Cosentino say the transformation will be accompanied by target-based working methods as a result of employee dispersal. This means trust will play an essential role at companies in their employee relations. “Nowadays, internal communications have been strengthened, and it’s being appreciated again,” they say. “We are convinced it will be a strategic ally for all parts of the company.”
Internal communications will need new channels for talent relations. “Lack of a physical presence will clearly have an impact on the communication model,” states Juan Jose Berganza from Indra. “We need to rethink the tools we use. It’s not about forcing a new channel into existence, but rather intelligently harnessing those that our professionals already use naturally.”
The birth of a new values system
People’s priorities have been deeply impacted by this crisis. “The meaning of life, both personally and professionally, has been questioned,” reveals Delfina Perez from Bankia. “This reflection on our lives will have an impact on our values system, and employees, people, society and companies cannot ignore this change.”
“The professionals expect leadership from their company. We are no doubt witnessing a rise in ‘employee activism’ tied to sustainability, social issues and good governance” – Jordi García Tabernero at Naturgy
Jordi Garcia Tabernero agrees that the things we value from companies and what we look for from them has changed. More than ever, we are demanding they be solidarity-focused, responsible with regard to the environment and capable of dealing with today’s circumstances. Some, such as Naturgy, have seen a strong boost to their reputations during this crisis when compared to the pre-crisis period. “Employees are our main asset,” the executive states. “This crisis has shown us that we need to empower them so they can also offer their visions of the company. What is clear is that they expect leadership from their company, and for the company to act not only to protect its own interests, but also those of society as a whole. We are no doubt witnessing a rise in ‘employee activism’ tied to sustainability, social issues and good governance.”
“Will this also change our employer branding?” wonders Juan Jose Berganza from Indra. “It’s too soon to know, but we’ll probably see how values that were previously further toward the backs of our minds, such as security, become more prominent when choosing somewhere to work in the future.”
A future full of reflection and analysis is opening up before us. It might seem too soon to take stock given that we will need a broader perspective to analyze some of these changes. However, there is no doubt whatsoever that the crisis will lead to new challenges in company-talent relations. Only if we tackle and resolve them now will we be able to successfully work on the new normal because, if professionals have been essential during the crisis, they will be even more so during the recovery.
“We’ll see how other values such as security, become more prominent when choosing somewhere to work in the future” – Juan José Berganza from Indra.
This paper was written in collaboration with Delfina Pérez, Head of Development and Talent Recruitment of Bankia, Sara Blazquez, Head of Communication and Media Relations of Coca-Cola Iberia; Santiago Alfonso, Head of Communication and Marketing and María Luisa García, Head of Internal Communication of Cosentino; Teresa Gallastegui, Head of Talent and Organization of Ecoembes; Victoria Cortés, Head of Internal Communication of Enagás; Inmaculada Vela, Head of Internal Communications of EY; Esther Castaño, Head of Global Internal Communications of Iberdrola ; Luisa Alli, Head of Communication of IKEA; Juan José Berganza, Head of Communication and Brand of INDRA; Jordi García Tabernero, Head of Communication and Institutional Relations of Naturgy; María Luisa Benlloch, Head of Internal Communication of Novartis; Rocio Tornero, a Talent Engagement Consultant at LLYC, also contributed to this paper.