HR Leaders: Engagement and employee value propositions

Louise Hope, chief people experience officer at GrowthOps on the organisation’s employee engagement strategy

GrowthOps blends marketing, technology and people-oriented disciplines to help large organisations acquire and retain new customers, develop and launch transformative products and scale their operations. Chief people experience officer Lousie Hope sat down with HRDTV to discuss how the company has embraced a remote-first philosophy and what is included in its employee engagement strategy.

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Kylie Speer [00:00:09] Hello and Welcome to HRD TV. I'm Kylie Speer. And we're thrilled that you can join us for the latest episode of our inspirational HR leaders series. Joining me today is Louise Hope, Chief People Experience Officer at GrowthOps, by blending marketing technology and people oriented disciplines, GrowthOps endeavors to assist large organizations in acquiring and retaining customers, developing and launching transformative products and scaling their operations. Welcome to your ways, and thank you so much for being here today.

Louise Hope [00:00:43] Thank you so much for having me here today, Kylie. Well, firstly,

Kylie Speer [00:00:47] Can you tell us a little bit more about GrowthOps, where the organization is based, how many employees you haven't, what the typical working environment is like.

Louise Hope [00:00:57] We're headquartered in Melbourne, and we've got 450 staff across Australia and New Zealand, Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong, and the Philippines. And those staff are all working across six different brands. So we've got Agent from Penso, which is based in in Melbourne, primarily. And they have a lot of clients in Dubai as well, Khemistry, which is based in Brisbane. And that's a behavior change agency and Forward is our PR agency. They're based here in Sydney, we've got GrowthOps in Asia, that works across Malaysia, Hong Kong, Singapore, and the Philippines. And we have ICL, the Institute of Executive Coaching and Leadership, which is based here in Sydney. And also we have the GrowthOps brand. So we've got team members all over Australia, servicing the GrowthOps brand as well. So in terms of the environment, we've really embraced a remote first philosophy. So home is each of our employees kind of first workplace. And then we've got really cool and creative or Well, I think they call creative offices in each of the major cities. So we've got Melbourne clearly not as cool as Sydney. And then we've got Brisbane, Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, Hong Kong, and Manila. And what we say is that actually, you know, home is your first office, but you're more than welcome to visit any of the offices and be a part of any of the offices that you want to be a part of. And we also invite our clients to come into those offices as well. And I think from a talent perspective, you know, that remote first philosophy has been a real game changer for us, we've really attracted and retain some of the best talent in APAC, because we've got high trust environment that really allows people to choose how and where they work their best.

Kylie Speer [00:02:41] A robust and engaged employee base is the pinnacle for so many HR practitioners, what can you tell us about your employee engagement strategy at GrowthOps,

Louise Hope [00:02:51] I think the key to our strategy has been basically listening. So GrowthOps itself was a was a roll up of a number of companies in 2018. And so there's been a lot of work from 2018 to last year, really in bringing the teams together and kind of, you know, setting up that startup mentality. So they're the people first and the HR stuff. We were doing quite tactically up until about a year and a half ago. And really, the key to the strategy has been listening to people around what it is that they want from their people experience. So we've built in a number of mechanisms to ensure that we're really listening to the team. We do an annual survey, probably like most organizations, but it serves as a diagnostic where we're doing things well and where we need to improve. We don't just settle for the results, though, once they come, we actually then go into workshops with each of the different teams and agencies to really understand what are we doing well, so we want to unpack what is it that you're seeing in wellbeing, for example, that you really like that's working really well for you. And from that, from that conversation, we can make sure we continue to do that. We can make sure we prioritize it. And then we also really unpack what other improvement areas and we prioritize. So over the last couple of years, we've really prioritize cross unit collaboration, and communication and also leadership. So we really unpack the results with the team to really understand what is it about leadership that's not working for you at the moment? What is it about communication that's not working for you at the moment? And what would you specifically like to see to improve your experience? And from that, I think, you know, what we've really done is built trust with people that that they can provide that feedback and that and that will listen to them. So, you know, we have implemented a performance review process that we call the PGP process, and that's a quarterly conversation with people. And I think one of the things that's been really beautiful this year is that people have felt really able and opens come to us and say, Actually quarterly is a bit too much could we go to every four months because we feel as though we can have a much Meteor conversation, and a much more quality conversation that's not impacting on workloads. So rather than just being a survey to see how engaged people are it what it's done is opened up a real kind of, you know, feedback loop, where people feel really like they own some of the initiatives that are happening within the organization, and that they can provide feedback as to where things are going and how things could be improved. We also engage the team in professional development through our NGO Academy. And that's really designed to ensure that team can continue to develop skills that they need right now, but also to focus on skills for their future career. And then, and then I think, you know, the other part of our strategy is really to make sure we're embedding conscious culture practices, because as a remote first organization, we don't have necessarily those moments in the office where you kind of turning around to one another having a cup of coffee asking how do I do this? Or can you point me to that particular Slack channel? So really, you know, we have to create those moments of conscious culture? And this could start me off, because I think I actually just slightly tangent. What are the things that we did back in the day, I think all organizations did it, where you had people in the office, you know, culture is one of those things that we just assume is happening because people are together. And it's a little bit of a lazy approach. So, you know, I think the conscious culture thing is really, really important. But it's particularly important for us. So consciously making time to bring teams and people together across the group, for social occasions for learning occasions, and really to build strong relationships and share information. So they've been, I guess, the real kind of core things that we've done to ensure that we've got a really clear engagement strategy with people across the group. I also am fantastic,

Kylie Speer [00:06:59] Louise, what makes for a compelling EVP?

Louise Hope [00:07:03] I think that you know, even p has to speak to what your team really wants and needs were essentially a marketing organization. And I think one of the things that are one of the traps that people fall into is, is creating something that's really a great marketing tagline. And then people get into the organization and realize it's what's happening inside the current is not what it says on the can. So it's really an EVP has to speak to what your team really is experiencing what they really want, what they really value from the organization. But also there has to be that aspirational element as well of what do we really want to achieve as an organization, we developed our EVP in consultation with staff that was one of the very first things that I did last year when I started in the organization, was to really survey people to understand what the EDP was, and then again, to go into workshops to really understand and unpack. And, you know, when people said that what brought them to growth UPS was professional development, what professional development where they see, and what professional development did they want to see. So for us at that moment, in time, it was aspirational, because it wasn't a whole heap of, I suppose, really consistent and regular professional development, it was happening on the job and in pockets. But it wasn't necessarily something that we could point to across the group. You know, I think the EVP really has to talk to what the staff really want was brought them here, and then you have to be able to deliver on it. What our staff really wanted and valued most was career growth, professional development, flexibility. And also they wanted us to really support their well being, you know, our industry, and being in technology and marketing is well known for working really, really long hours, and not necessarily being the best remote wellbeing perspective. So that was something that was really important to stop. And a lot of our employee then initiatives kind of, you know, spanned off that that's been really important for us to do to ensure that we are delivering on that EVP really regularly. I think personally, I love EVPs that consider the team as humans first. You know, COVID has been a real leveler. And I think we've got to see our teams in their lives and their roles outside of work. And I think, you know, I'm one of those people who's been able to more effectively balance health, balance, kids balance COVID Puppies, whilst also, you know, continuing to deliver to deliver great work and continuing to be really productive. So, you know, I love an EVP that really considers people as a whole human being not just a resource or a skill set that can be applied to an organization, I'm not sure you know, certainly for creative organization, is that we can ever really go back to viewing the team as simply employees and I think that you know, the businesses that take the time to find out what their teams won will ultimately be the winners in terms of attracting and retaining talent.

Kylie Speer [00:10:01] Can you talk us through a specific engagement program that you've rolled out at GrowthOps? 

Louise Hope [00:10:06] I think the survey and the workshops in and of themselves are a really great, you know, engagement initiative. Because, again, like I said, it helps people to really build trust, it helps people to feel as though they've got some ownership in, in where the business is going. You know, we've also launched a number of really great initiatives that have been shaped by the feedback and the ideas that have come out of those workshops. And the NGO Academy was actually one of those initiatives. So we already had a great idea that had been suggested probably about two years ago by the ACL team to put together a go Academy, but it hadn't been done. But based on the that initial survey that we did, and based on the feedback, actually, what we were able to do was to put together what the Go Academy looked like and put together a program that we then launched in July of last year. And I think, you know, aside from the obvious purpose for as of providing consistent and regular professional development that talk to why people came to growth ups and what they really wanted from growth apps, we also had in mind that we wanted it to help us achieve connection across the group, we wanted it to help D silo the regions. So what was happening was Australia and Asia, we're operating quite separately. And actually, you know, when you view it at that kind of macro level, there was quite a lot of skill in Asia that we could apply across Australia and across our clients in Australia, and equally, a lot of skill in Australia that we could apply within the Asia market and with our Asia clients. So we really wanted to make sure we were we were building those connections and building that connective tissue to enable people to be able to work together better, knowing that, you know, in, particularly in creative industries, but I don't think it's just us that it's easier to work with someone if you know them, or if you've met them before. So we really wanted to create those pathways. We also wanted to make sure we had a vehicle, I guess, to really leverage and promote our internal talent by asking them to lead master classes across the group, and share ways of working and ideas. So what we've put together isn't an annual schedule, we add workshops, and we add master classes throughout the year. So it's not just necessarily a set and forget, the main focus of that schedule is leadership, communication, we have holistic well being programs. So we cover, you know, physical ergonomics and well being. But we also cover financial wellbeing for people as well. You know, noting that we've got quite a young demographic, because, you know, the marketing and technology industry is, is actually you know, quite a lot of really young people in the industry. And so we really want to be able to help people to develop those skills that are going to take them through life as well, but also roles specific training. So we schedule that at the start of the year. In addition to that part of the Go Academy, we have a mentoring pilot program that that we've run through the academy, we launched that this year with our first small pilot cohort. And that, again, has been really, really good in bringing people together from across the regions, and also across the brands and allowing that skill sharing to happen. Again, through the NGO Academy, we're just about to run our very first talent development program pilot, which is a program that we're actually all staff will go through at some point where it's bringing together a raft of development programs that are really designed to support people through every stage of their career. So I think that's probably been the biggest initiative that we've rolled out. And it's, you know, I can't stress enough how much it's been shaped by the conversations that we've been having with staff and what they want to see and what would be helpful for them in their career. And obviously, you know, as a HR practitioner, I've been around for probably longer than I would care to mention, you know, you know, strategically that these are really important things. And these are things that you need to do. But I think it's so important to involve the team in what that looks like and how that's going to benefit. 

Kylie Speer [00:14:05] Louise, how do you go about achieving C suite or board level buy in? And do you have any advice for other HR practitioners in this regard?

Louise Hope [00:14:15] That's a good question as well, you know, clearly I've been really lucky in my career and in regard to this, to be honest, particularly in GrowthOps, you know, both the CEO and the board 100% cognizant of the fact that our greatest asset, figuratively and literally, you know, walks in and out of the office doors from time to time, I won't say every day because we're remote first, but they're really cognizant that people are our greatest asset. So they're really supportive of initiatives that improve the employee experience or that that are designed to help us retain talent and develop talent. I think it probably helps that, you know, our people strategy was developed in a super tight talent market. So I joined in January of last year. I know We say we were going through the great resignation, there was there was turnover, all through Australia and all through Asia, which kind of followed, the business value of people experience has actually been abundantly clear to them. But I think it would have been abundantly clear to them anyway, because as I said, they're very people focused people. That said, they really do their job very well. And they rigorously review and question every proposal that's put forward. So you know, and that's been my experience with every board that I have worked with. So I think my best advice is, you know, support your proposal with really clear objectives, make sure that whatever proposal you're putting forward is super clear and succinct, because you know, quite often your board members have got several board roles, or they've got other executive roles. And so they're quite time poor. So be as clear as you can be as really clear as you can in terms of what it's designed to do, and what it will deliver to the organization, particularly if you can quantify that in a in a financial sense. So you know, what we're talking about through the NGO Academy, there is some financial investment, but then the rest of the investment is really about leveraging peers, leveraging the experts that we've got within the business to share their scale across the group. So I think for them understanding that was really, really important. I think, you know, be prepared to accept and be welcoming of feedback and input from the board, you need that buy in, so you know, if they want to tweak it, and if it doesn't materially alter what it is that you're trying to achieve, then let them you know, just as much as we let staff shape, what some of our initiatives look like, let the board shape what some of those initiatives look like, so that they feel as though they really own it, and that they've really bought into it. I think from past experience, what I would say is, think that something that you're proposing is going to be contentious. So if you're asking for, you know, a stack of investment, where investment is tight, then speak to your fellow executives, individually, before you present to ensure that a you've got all of the major concerns covered. But equally, you know that you've got support before you go into that session. I think it gives you a really good gauge on where people are at where different individuals are at. And so you can be really prepared. If you've had those conversations upfront. I think that's probably one of my biggest career learnings. And then finally, I think I would say don't be afraid to push back and stand up for what you believe is the right thing for the business to do. My first experience as an executive where a board member pushed back on me, I was like, What do I do? I'm English. So I'm too polite to argue like, that's not polite, what do I do, but I think what I've learned is quite often people are looking for you to actually really stand up and argue for what it is that you think is the right thing to do. And so you know, don't be afraid to do that, obviously, do it with respect. But don't be afraid to push back if you think that you are proposing something that's actually going to benefit people and the business. 

Kylie Speer [00:18:07] That's super helpful advice, Louise, thank you, as all of these programs have unfolded, what have been the key learnings or challenges along the way?

Louise Hope [00:18:17] I think there's lots of learnings. That's one of the things that I like to do with all of these initiatives, it just makes sense that you're reviewing them as you go along. I think with the NGO Academy, you know, one of the biggest learnings has been that people have really loved learning last year, we invested a reasonable amount of money, we invested quite a bit in terms of external workshops to really kick off the program. But also then we had the master classes interspersed through that looking at the feedback from team members in terms of what was most applicable what they enjoyed the most and what they found the most helpful. It was hands down internal peer sessions that were that were masterclasses around particular topics. So that's a really that's been a really good insight. I think, for us in terms of what we focus on the most this year moving forward. I think, you know, another big thing that we learned this year, was slight cultural differences, because what we do want to do is to is to encourage that group connection, and that regional connection, most of our workshops are virtual. And so you know, we can be really inclusive. What we found almost straightaway is that most of our team in Asia have the cameras off. They don't want to be disruptive to a presenter. They don't want to put their hand up. They don't want to ask questions. And it's not that they don't want to ask questions. I think there's that there's a little bit of shyness, but there's also a cultural respect to not interrupt a session. And so I think initially, what we found was that that was kind of perceived as a lack of engagement in the workshop. And so we implemented tools like mentee to really encourage engagement all the way through so you know, we might have a slide that's got the mentee in it, which is what do you think of this particular concept or, you know, what's been your experience with clients around this particular thing. And so people are then typing into the mentee, and it's popping up on the board. And they're seeing, Oh, this is what my colleague thinks. And I can add to what my colleague over there has said. So that's been, I think, a really useful tool to really, you know, make sure people feel engaged in the workshop. And to overcome those slight cultural differences between Australia and Asia, time to attend has probably been the biggest challenge, actually, for people. And that's been really about workload, busy periods. But when you dig into it, when you start to talk to people, it's actually that my professional development feels like a luxury when I'm busy, it feels like I'm taking the company's time to do something that's important to me, when I've got a client over here. And so what we're really trying to do at the moment is to promote a culture. That is, professional development is really important to us as a business, it's as important to us as you know, the client work that you're doing. And so we're trying to strike that balance to make sure that people have got the time to do that the work and that, obviously, we're still delivering to our clients. But that PD is something that they know and understand, they're going to be measured on or there's an expectation that they do that amount. So it gives them the freedom then to say, Okay, I'm very busy. And this professional development is for me, but actually, my boss expects me to do it, and the organization expects me to do it as well. So that's been a learning now, that was something I hadn't actually anticipated. Or, in fact, I had anticipated that people would be busy. But I hadn't anticipated that the thought process behind it would be my needs come last. So that's been that's been a really interesting learning. Another, I think, really interesting learning, for me has been just the requirement in terms of the ongoing communication and promotion of the programs to keep it top of mind, you know, I came from my background is learning and development and organization development and learning. And so, you know, I should know that that's really important. But I'd kind of, I think I'd kind of let that one slip a little bit that, you know, we've got the Go Academy, here's the schedule, we talk about it in meetings, but I hadn't anticipated how much we would need to remind people that these things are happening, we've got a great internal comms person, actually, which is a luxury I've never had access to before. And she does a really brilliant job in putting together little, you know, little gifts or little videos to promote the training, and we get great attendance based on her work. And then I think the final kind of learning is really about, you know, how do you lead inclusive learning and development in virtual workshops, when you still got some people who want to congregate on campus, when you still got, you know, a couple of people who maybe managers want to bring teams together to do a workshop that is in one place, there's still that there's still that I think need from some managers to want to bring people together physically. And that's, that's, you know, completely understand that tendency. But as we've got more and more dispersed teams, it's almost impossible to get everybody in the same room. If I think one of our teams, that's a lot of people are in Sydney, they've also got a lot of people in Melbourne, and they've also got a lot of people in Manila. And so, you know, really hard to get everybody in the same room. So I guess, you know, trying to remind managers that actually the purpose of these workshops is your ultimately wants to connect people and we need to connect people across regions. So rather than having, you know, a cool group of people sat in a room with a very small camera that's pointed to them where people who are online can barely see the and can't hear and can't necessarily see the cues that are happening in the room, then let's be inclusive, and let's just deliver everything to everyone virtually as much as possible. So I think they've been kind of, you know, the biggest learnings that we've had this year that again, really then start to shape what our FY 24 schedule looks like,

Kylie Speer [00:24:18] Louise, what does success ultimately look like? And how is it being measured?

Louise Hope [00:24:23] So then for the Go Academy, you know, it ultimately looks like we do what you would expect the attendee surveys just to figure out whether people thought that the workshop was useful. Did they build any skills and have they applied any skills post the workshop? But obviously, we've got bigger reasons for bringing the Go Academy together. So our survey is really critical in looking at that as well. So we look at, you know, how do people feel about cross collaboration and what we've noticed so from our original survey in April last year, across a number of call surveys, our most recent survey By We've noticed a huge increase in you know, that sense that communication is flowing a lot more between the businesses, we've noticed a big increase in whether people would recommend other businesses within the group to their clients tracking internal promotions. So, you know, how are people applying that professional development that they're getting? And how are they using it then to get into their next role? So they're probably the biggest metrics that we've got at the moment, I guess, you know, ultimately, what it looks like, is an organization that can work seamlessly together that we can say, here's a pitch from, I don't know, Redkite. And we can, you know, pick people from all across the group, and all across the different brands to work together collaboratively on a on a pitch that actually is a wrap around and provides a wraparound holistic, integrated service to the client.

Kylie Speer [00:25:53] And finally, Louise, what has been the number one game changer for you from a career perspective? And what best advice would you share with emerging HR practitioners hoping to forge a successful career in the industry?

Louise Hope [00:26:06] I love this question. I have had two brilliant leaders who organization development leaders, HR leaders, who gave me the opportunity to run with and lead on key strategic projects, literally things I'd never done before. So you know, they were like giving me a newborn baby to kind of shake mold. Both of those leaders actually were very, very clear that, you know, if this, if this fails, that's on them as the leader for not supporting and coaching me, but you know, if, if I was to win, then the win would be my. And what that meant was, I wasn't I wasn't scared to try things. I think it also added an element of, you know, I have to win for this person, they put all of this trust in me. So I have to make this a success. And so I think it adds just a you know, it's a it's a positive pressure, I think, rather than a, it's a carrot rather than a sticker surprises, is what I'm saying. And that's a philosophy that I now use with my team, I think, you know, one of the things I would say is, is, you know, I know that there's a lot of talk around, if your leader gives you more responsibility, you should get paid for it. I've heard that, that being said quite a lot, you're gonna get paid for that responsibility, then you take the failure as well. And so is that really an opportunity for you to learn? Are you going to go into it and go as far as you possibly can and test as much as you can and try as much as you can? Probably would have gone with what was safe, as opposed to what was what was innovative and what was really right for the organization. So I think that would be the thing I would I would really encourage new emerging HR practitioners to think I bet if you give it an opportunity, actually, you know, grab it with both hands because it's an opportunity to test try and stretch yourself.

Kylie Speer [00:28:02] Amazing work. Thank you so much. Once again for your time today. Louise, it was lovely speaking with you.

Louise Hope [00:28:09] Thank you so much, Kylie, I loved your questions, and it was so nice to spend some time with you. 

Kylie Speer [00:28:10] And thank you, of course, to our viewers for watching the latest episode of HRD TV. We look forward to seeing you again soon.