In this podcast Meg speaks with Angela Lewis, Head of People Transformation at Companies House. They discuss how our culture enables our brilliant people to flourish and drives high performance. This is the first podcast in a six part series, each one discussing our strategic goals.
MH: Hello and welcome to another episode of “Meet the team” by Companies House. Today, I am joined by Angela Lewis, our Head of People Transformation. She's someone who has an extensive career in HR and has been at Companies House alone for nearly nine years. She is a ray of sunshine and I am so looking forward to speaking to her today. So, without another second to wait, welcome Angie.
AL: Aww, I love the fact that Meg you called me a ray of sunshine. That might be my nicest thing all day.
MH: Oh well, it's true. You okay?
AL: Yes. I'm very good. Thank you. You are the perfect end to a long day.
MH: Yes. Well, it is hard to find a tiny little gap in your calendar. So, it was the only gap in weeks, I think.
AL: Well, I was definitely pleased to give it to you. That's for sure.
MH: Thank you. So, I'm going to just kick off with my first question and it is to address our recent amazing achievement, which has been awarded to us from Investors in People, which is the Platinum Status. Can you tell me a little bit about the journey to getting there and what's next?
AL: Okay, happy to do that and can I say I'm still you know a month on from finding out that we were awarded the Platinum. Still smiling about it because so few organisations are awarded this sort of level of assessment. So, it does really matter. And you know three years ago Meg, we were awarded the gold level which is amazing as well. But, we set ourselves a goal back then and I remember talking to Louise, our Chief Exec and saying, you know, wouldn't it be amazing for us to show in three years that we're a platinum organisation and she said, “Oh, I love the fact you aim high Angie.” and I said, “Well, actually this is about ambition, but it's also about, if we really do aim high, the only thing that we can have is a much better experience. But also, imagine what that would be like for our colleagues”. So, we've worked really hard over these three years to sort of focus on the things that we were given in terms of feedback from the gold assessment. Particularly around leadership and making sure that our colleagues could understand the sort of role and purpose of Companies House and to really focus on how can they bring their whole self to work and how can we allow people to truly flourish which has been brilliant because it links directly with our Companies House strategy. And this isn't sort of a surprise that our focus on the strategic goal of creating a culture where colleagues can come to work and flourish and drive high-performance. So, there's been this link for the last three years and to get that validated by an external organisation to say “you're on the right track. You've made huge progress”, and for us it's a continuum because it's not about sitting back now and saying, oh, well, we've cracked it. It's about maintaining those levels, learning from the sort of advice and recommendations they put in, celebrating where we've done really well and holding on to it. And you know, it's really exciting because it genuinely is an organisational wide achievement. And that was one of the main sort of comments from IIP, was that everyone they spoke to was with us in terms of understanding what we wanted to achieve but also felt part of this sort of very exciting transformation journey we are on, but also part of our culture change journey.
MH: Yeah, I think what you said then about, it runs through everyone. It's not like a top-level thing. Those values are really throughout and I've definitely experienced that and I think it goes to show that everyone still feels it. We've been working at home now since March as have a lot of people and to still feel that you know feeling of being part of something at home, it goes to show how special it really is.
AL: Yeah, I definitely agree, and I think you know, we've been in this unique situation. We've obviously had you know; our offices have been open, and we have been providing services in our you know offices as well with smaller teams and the large percentage of our workforce has been at home. But managing, you know, remote workers and those in the office has been challenging at times but actually all the work we've done before COVID hit us around networks and community and being able to be your true self have just reaped so many benefits and dividends over the last six or seven months that people I would say, ironically genuinely feel more connected now than they did before the pandemic, which quite frankly just goes to show that if you'll invest that effort in giving your employees a voice, building these networks under the umbrella of sort of culture change and diversity and inclusion. Actually, when it truly matters, you will see the rewards. And like you, you know, there's not a week goes by when I don't think, wow look at what people are doing here to drive change, to improve the experience for the customer, to support their colleagues, and to keep talking to us to make sure that we are making good decisions. You know, it is pretty, and I think I wrote about it somewhere to say it's magical and I know that sounds a bit naff to some people. But you know, I worked in HR for sort of 30 years. And I have never been in a situation where I've felt this sort of level of magic in terms of a movement and it is a movement. It's not just one or two people. You know, you're talking about a movement of people passionate about change and about delivering great services for their customers. I mean, it's amazing.
MH: Yeah. Enchanting is another word.
AL: I like that. Yeah, enchanted.
MH: Another thing I was going to say, it's like people say there's nothing that could have prepared you for this year. But actually, as far as being prepared goes I think Companies House had it as prepared as you could be for something like the pandemic.
AL: Yeah interesting, isn't it? Because gosh we would never want this. Of course, we wouldn't and I'm sure lots of other organisations feel the same. That you know in a sense you've had to respond. But it's these challenges, these horrendous challenges, that come left field or be at this is a much longer one that really show how resilient you are as an organisation but also demonstrate to me that if you invest in your people and you provide this infrastructure, and you really you live and breathe a sense of compassion and connection. Whatever hits you, you will come out of it stronger.
AL: Now that's not too for one minute to disregard the personal circumstances of individual, which have all been very different. But what we've tried to do, is to say from a work perspective, we're going to try and really help sort of mitigate stress for you, we're going to try and support you so that you can carry on supporting your customers. Because actually we're all dealing with a lot of tough stuff personally as well while this is going on. So, you know our commitment to the sort of well-being and mental health and physical health has been even more important. But probably bigger than that to me has been the social connection. Making sure nobody's left behind, making sure nobody feels isolated, checking in with people to make sure they're all right, and you know as a compassionate employer, as Companies House is, we genuinely believe that that's our responsibility. And that matters to people.
MH: It really does. Yeah. And that leads me on, you touched on our culture. But can you tell me from the start basically about our culture story.
AL: Okay, so, you know, we've always had a great culture in this organisation. But you know particularly three years ago when we were looking at transformation and where we saw ourselves as an organisation, we brought that to life by engaging with the whole
workforce in workshops to say what makes what do we want to cherish? What do we want to hold onto that makes us special? But what do we perhaps need to change? And we realised we had sort of three key behaviours we wanted to focus on, and they were adaptability, boldness and curiosity. That perhaps they weren’t as prevalent as they could have been.
Okay, we did have the compassion and we had that sense of community, but we wanted to build on it. So, we've done a huge amount over the last three years around the adaptable, bold, and curious behaviours. And so, they have become our sort of link to things like our ideas hub where we encourage people to come forward with new concepts and things that are stopping them from doing their, you know, their work effectively. We've got our boldness, which is about actually challenging the way we do things and challenging the status quo. And just challenging because actually this isn't personal. This is about the best outcome for our customers and that's really helped. And then the curiosity, which is really been about you know, all of us looking outwards, being aware of what's going on, how that relates to our organisation, questioning and you know, all of these things have been gradual. But you're starting to see that change, and this is about building on that and also saying under the umbrella of the community, that's why our networks are so important. Which is we wanted people to have this passion for the organisation. And so, we've got probably I think it's nearly 30 networks in the organisation now which cover all aspects of diversity and inclusion, but also cover areas such as our Coaching Network, our Environmental Network, our Community Social Responsibility Network. They are a collective group of people who care passionately, and they've come together to say, and this is the boldness, we want to be part of this change journey and we want to be the difference. And that has been, as I said, magnificent to see but it's evolving on a daily basis. And what you are then seeing in terms of boldness is, it's not led from the top. This is coming from all parts of the business to say, right, how can we improve this? What can we do differently? How can we make change for the better? Which if I'd spoken to maybe a year or two ago Meg, I would have probably said if we can get that, it would be amazing. I didn't think we'd accelerate it to the sort of level; we have which is partly been driven by COVID.
MH: Yeah, it's funny isn't it? How sometimes something so negative can actually bring out positivity.
AL: Yeah. And I think when we're all working and we're going to be working in these ways and dealing with what's going on in society and you know the worries about the pandemic etc. for so long. It's trying to find those moments in, what you can control. So, we talk a lot in terms of what can you control in the work you do. We can make sure you have meaningful work, we can make sure you feel safe and trusted and supported at work. We can make sure you understand how you're making a difference; you know. Because research shows if you feel like you're making a difference, that can really help. So, if we can alleviate any of the pressure and stress associated with work, that has got to be helpful in terms of how people are able to manage the other aspects of their lives.
MH: Yeah. Amazing really. So, my next question, a huge part of the culture at Companies House is within our networks. Can you tell me about their strength and their power?
AL: Well, I mentioned how many we've got but you know for me particularly its exec sponsor. So, I'm exec sponsor for the Ability Network which supports and celebrates those of us in the organisation living with long-term health conditions, of which I'm one of those. Our cancer Advocates group, again. My own personal experience of cancer has made me want to be part of that group. Our mental health advocates and first aiders. They are again a key one. But there are so many others and I think you know the point I want to get across is that we’re not one thing. And I think I talked about this when we had a culture meeting, you know, I don't just identify as a woman, or a mother, or someone with a disability. I'm a mixture of all of those things and the fact that in this organisation, you can connect and reach out, and be supported, and work with colleagues who have a shared understanding and a passion for something is the bit that truly I think makes it magical from my perspective. And whether I'm an ally for one of our other groups, whatever it is, this sense of community and family, but also not just a talking in shop about making real change. That's probably the strength. And you know in the last two weeks alone, we've seen you know, our Working Families Network take off. Our FACE Network, you know, our Faith, Allies, Culture, and Ethnicity group. You know, all of these groups are being coming forward because people are recognising that they would like to see change, but also to give this further sense of connection. And they all come under the umbrella of culture and culture change and engagement and that's probably what makes it so powerful. It's not just what we have to have these diversity groups. It's much much bigger than that.
MH: Yeah. It's not a box ticking thing by any means. I've been part of the Women's Network since I started Companies House and I sit in the meetings and it's not just for women it, you know, the men come along to those meetings at the allyship part of it. I think it's something that I'd never experienced in a workplace before. Like there might be like groups of people but it would be just them and it wasn't open and fluid to everyone for everyone to see. So, it's really unique in that way.
AL: That's good to hear. That's good to hear.
MH: So, my last question for you is thinking about during this year, what have you learned about yourself? In both a professional and a personal capacity, if anything.
AL: Oh, I learn something every week Meg. Honestly because when we talk about the curiosity, it's about being curious about yourself, being clear, you know constantly learning, evaluating.
So, if I take professional first, so I've learned that however much you plan, you can't be ready for everything and you have to be able to adapt and respond. I've realised that I thrive and get my energy from personal connections. So, I have struggled with having to work remotely. I know it's absolutely the right thing to do from a safety perspective, but I have struggled with it because I genuinely loved going into work every single day and I would interact with maybe 40 or 50 people and I just love that energy it gave me. So, I've had to find other ways to get that energy. And I think as well as professionally as well for me, I've learned that I've had to be more creative and definitely develop more digital skills in terms of how I connect and also, as someone very visual, how you learn using the tools remotely, the digital tools. I'm really challenging myself to think about how I can do that in different ways.
Personally again, I suppose the same. It's back to that needing sort of personal connections. You know my own personal anxiety. I have got family members who were shielding for a long period during the lockdown. So, you know worrying about them. But also, you know, I was somebody who like lots of spontaneity and in my personal life often travelled a lot. And so, I've had to spend the last six to nine months at home. But actually, I've realised that you can still get lots and lots of joy out of being in your home. So, I talk about jolts of joy. So, my garden. If you could see now with my desk, I've got flowers on it and candles. I've got everything going to sort of create this positive space for myself. And I think that's what I've learned. That actually you have to adapt, which comes back to the adaptable, to your circumstances. And it’s back to that mindset. Reminding myself that this is the right thing to be doing because this is about safety and this is about others and it's about making sure that we keep each other safe but also, we're still able to deliver. So, it's been a fascinating sort of six to eight months. And I think this is the point about all of us probably learning every day and keep thinking. Okay, we can't control everything but there's a few things we control in terms of our mindset, how we want to approach things, and again, probably I've earned you've got to reach out when you think I'm having a tough day today, I could really do with some social contact, face-to-face, but I'm not going to get it. So, how am I going to deal with that? So, they would be my sort of learning things. What about you?
MH: I think listening to you then, would you say that you're quite extroverted?
AL: Oh, yeah, definitely.
MH: Yeah. Well, I'm the on the other side, which I think shocks people sometimes about me, but I've actually really enjoyed my own time and my own space. Like, don't get me wrong there have been times when I've wanted to see other people and my partner's worked throughout. So, I have spent a lot of time alone and it is just the two of us. But yeah, I actually realise I really enjoy my own company. I knew it. But I definitely know it now.
AL: That’s fabulous because I mean I love my own company, but I like it at the end of the day and interestingly there was five of us at home. So, my husband was shielding. My daughter was out working from home with schooling and my two university student children were home too. So, five of us in the house was a nightmare. That was the first thing. It really was. But I was always someone who like to keep home and work very separate. I loved going to work. I used to talk about it being my respite. Because I just loved it. And you know, if you've got complicated home life etc, and everything else that's going on. I loved having that separation. So again, I've struggled with that sense of how do you separate the both.
I've also found, and I'll be interested but I've tended to revert back to seeming to do all the cooking and all these other sort of very domesticated jobs that I never did before. So, I'm trying to push back on this one. I don't know how it's happened.
MH: Yeah, some things can't stay. Can they?
AL: No. No. So, I'm pushing back on that. But I'm trying things like getting out and walking around outside to try and turn it into a different sort of work and home, you know, I'm trying to learn and I'm learning from others.
I'm reading lots of material about techniques to try. Because this is here for the long term. So, you've got to adapt, and I want to adapt but I also don't want to lose who I am. And I think you know, one of the other strategies I've used is to do things like I'm doing with you now, but also to connect with other HR professionals in other organisations to learn from them because that gives me energy. So, it's finding where you get your energy from. Because if you're dealing with things like COVID as I have, since the beginning, it can be very miserable and quite draining. So, you have to think how else can I get my energy and keep myself motivated so I can also motivate others.
MH: Yeah. Well, I think your inspirational. I think you know, like you said earlier you've been doing the job that you do for 30 years. It would be so easy for you to sit back and say I know it all, I'm done. I don't need to learn, but you're just on a continuum journey of learning new things and that is why you are where you are.
AL: Oh, thank you Meg, and that's why I love working with people like you.
MH: So that concludes my questions for today. Thank you so much for your time. It's been an absolute pleasure.
AL: And with you. Take care of yourself.
MH: Thanks, Ang.