Media and advocacy

Shared purpose

11 May 2020, 
Sarah McCann-Bartlett

In my first address to employees as the new CEO of AHRI, I said something to the effect of "I thrive in a crisis". Sadly, a mere five weeks later that assertion was put to the test in a way I could never have predicted or wished for. Some of my team have wryly reminded me of that early comment, but the fact they feel able to tease me about it is something I take as a positive sign. It says within months of my starting our communication is open and warm.

We all know that effective communication is key to good leadership and management, but it’s even more crucial when there is panic in the air. The current crisis is all about employees – keeping them safe, ensuring they stay connected to their colleagues and the organisation, and supporting them where needed.

Employees need to clearly hear where they’re going and how they’re going to get there. They need to know you’re confident in the organisation, yourself and in them. And, especially in times like now, you also need to communicate empathy and understanding. Employees need to hear from you, the real you. AHRI’s model of excellence places special emphasis on the HR roles of stakeholder mentor and coach, as well as culture and change leader.

It’s on HR to help guide leaders through this moment. I couldn’t be doing everything I am without Rosemary Guyatt, our general manager, people and culture: with her help, I have been making sure I communicate as much as possible to our employees, using the technology available to me. This included daily CEO posts on Teams at the height of the crisis (now twice a week) and a weekly all-staff video conference.

I try to talk about the good and the bad. My approach has been to be as transparent as possible. I’ve found that talking honestly and being decisive has an amazing power to reassure people. I’m also finding out more about everyone at AHRI. By asking them about the simple things – like what they did that morning – we are creating a sense of community, which leads to a sense of belonging. This sense of belonging, when combined with clearly-articulated direction from leadership, leads to a shared sense of purpose.

Talking to AHRI members all around Australia, I have heard of similar approaches. They are stepping up and helping guide their organisations and CEOs through some of the toughest decisions they will ever make. When I see just how much is being accomplished in the face of our combined struggle, within this organisation and in the organisations of so many AHRI members, I feel blessed, despite the challenges that the current crisis brings.

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