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We Talk With Our Clients

Burcin Ressamoglu

CEO of Sodexo Employee & Consumer Engagement

Talks with: Lorri Lowe, Partner, Friisberg & Partners UK

 

Employee Engagement is now more important than ever. What changes have you seen over the past year and what are your expectations for the future?

The change to remote working has for many companies meant a dynamic acceleration and a rapid embedding of digital ways of working. Without physical interaction and positive reinforcement of an office culture, it is too easy for people to feel isolated and undervalued – this is the challenge for many employers. There is a tendency for some people to work too hard, to burn out – perhaps to over compensate for not being visible on a daily basis and maybe some, who have been hiding behind others, are suddenly exposed.

Employers want different and instant ways of connecting with and rewarding their remote teams to keep productivity and engagement high and not lose the value of a shared work ethic. Increasingly digitised ways of working are undoubtedly the future and similarly access to ways of incentivising teams will be through readily accessible and easily usable digital platforms.

I believe leaders need to find ways to show they care in order to maintain productivity, focus and engagement of their team. Digital Benefit platforms are increasingly important and we have seen more employers turn to these to better take care of employees to ensure their wellbeing.

Leadership teams are focusing less on the long-term strategy of the company, perhaps less overtly on the financials, instead spending more time connecting with their people to ensure they know and understand what is expected of them. If someone feels isolated, knowing what steps can quickly be taken to re-focus them is vital.

 

What would you encourage CEOs and Boards to do to maximise engagement from remote workers?

This is undoubtedly the biggest challenge – not just in terms of maintaining employee engagement, but also their overall efficiency. I believe that at this time the leadership team must be more visible and accessible than ever.

It is important to celebrate and encourage a better work/life balance. In the past leaders were understandably focused on the best ways of transacting the company strategy, but now it is more about having the right mindset and the right tools to effectively manage their teams remotely. Being mindful of your people’s needs, not expecting everyone to always be available 24/7, ensuring the team has regular breaks, communicating a shared understanding of the KPIs and ensuring everyone feels supported – in summary, looking after your employees’ wellbeing has never been so important.

As leaders we must take care of ourselves too. It is all too easy to be so concerned about the team that it is easy to forget about yourself. Being a role model to promote wellbeing for the Board and leadership team is essential.

Transparency of feelings and open communication are also vital. At Sodexo, we meet formally and informally, virtually of course, to check in and discuss where we are, how we are feeling about home, about the office, and what might we need. This means any action can be taken promptly and everyone feels they have a voice and are heard. Informal communication is very important – e.g. quizzes, late afternoon drinks in smaller teams promote easier conversations, so if there is a problem we can immediately help.

 

As a CEO, how have you changed how you run your business over the past 6-9 months?

Socially and economically the world has changed. Previously we worked collaboratively in our office and I knew working remotely would not replace the daily physical interactions. Of course, the general principles stay the same in terms of how employees bring potential to the business, how they can best contribute and how we can all engender trust. But I took the time to do lots of research on remote working and I reviewed our communication strategy straight away adjusting my daily focus from addressing the long term goals to being more agile and nimble – we had to evolve and quickly. We introduced a temporary program , we identified targets over 6 months rather than a year, and with shorter term objectives we can be more agile, reactive and proactive in response to change from the impacts of COVID19.

 

What changes have you seen in consumer behaviours and their relationship with brands and business?

One million business consumers interact and use our products daily, so we genuinely understand consumer behaviours. It was vital that our platform was totally digital and incredibly user friendly. Consumers now demand short lead times – not 3 days anymore, but immediate. They also want more for their money and want to shop with trusted brands. Demands for our discount platform (engagement of consumers is positive where there are good discounts) is high – people are more focused on their earnings and household budgets.

 

What advice would you give to other CEOs now that would never have crossed your mind a year ago?

Never underestimate what you and your team can achieve. In 120 hours we moved from being office based to 100% remote working. We embraced the technical, adjusted the infrastructure, aligned our collective mindset, and ensured all our processes were in line. I might never have thought that possible – after years of discussions, in just two months we were 100% digital – this as a result of external pressures to adapt to unforeseen change. We achieved this together and now we know we can achieve anything. It is important to share ambition and to look for the potential in people – the real potential. Taking the time to reflect on what you have achieved is paramount and, of course, never underestimating anyone.

 

Leadership is a combination of example and inspiration. Has recent experience changed your views on what makes a good manager and if so, what do you need from your senior leadership team now?

Being a positive leader means caring for your team, engaging with them openly, finding different ways of communicating and listening to what they need.  This can mean you have to stretch yourself to demonstrate effective leadership skills – and that isn’t always easy. It is vital that those on the leadership team adapt quickly to new technologies and lead on this efficiently to best communicate with teams in the right way. Building and maintaining trust is essential. Finally, never underestimate the importance of a ‘thank you’ – and meaning it. Many people are understandably concerned about their observable performance; they are worried about their perceived contribution to the success of the business. Employee recognition has never been so vital and recognition platforms drive positive culture and best practice.

Friisberg & Partners International is proud to be a preferred supplier of executive search to Sodexo in the UK.

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