BBC Worldwide’s people director shares her advice for strengthening relationships in times of change

In an era of rising complexity and a near-permanent state of flux, strong relationships and a deep sense of trust between leaders and employees is a business imperative. At this week’s HR Directors’ Business Summit in Birmingham, Kirstin Furber, people director at BBC Worldwide - who is responsible for the BBC’s commercial arm employing 2,000 staff globally - shared her advice for building organisational trust. 

Be real
“As HR professionals, I think it’s really important to show our vulnerability. We’re leaders too, and it’s hard. Go for a cup of coffee, with your leaders, and ask their advice about how you should cope with change. You’ll become closer to them and build strong, trusting relationships. Sometimes, as a profession, we stand behind jargon and are not ourselves. We need to be open and trust ourselves.” 

Listen - to everybody
“Listen to your employees, to your leaders - to anyone who engenders trust. Listening enables you to get great information, so you can make the best decisions. Employees feel really valued when they’re consulted - it’s very simple, but sometimes it can be forgotten in a time of speed and pressure. Around 18 months ago, we asked all our employees globally what we could do better to dial up our culture in this time of immense change for the media industry. It was a big success, and one of the biggest achievements was greater employee ownership of outcomes.
“Encourage your leaders to listen too - and to recognise what they’re not really listening to. Sometimes when there is silence, there are things to investigate.”

Communicate everything
“People are always asking, how often should you communicate to employees to build trust? How much information should you give them? I firmly believe, in this world of social media - which is so transparent and open - just tell all your employees the why. People want to understand why decisions are being made, and then they’ll be able to continue their views in context. Gone are the days when we used to spin things: it’s time to be open and honest. We have a ‘top 100’ team who we speak to every month. We are very open with them about everything, even commercially sensitive information. We trust them to ensure this information doesn’t get out.” 

Keep it simple
“The world is so full of complexity, and unfortunately we as HR people can sometimes complicate things even more. A couple of years ago, we asked what employees thought of the appraisal form that we had designed so carefully. They told us: ‘It’s seven page - it’s too long.’ 
“We cut that down to three questions over two pages, and the feedback has been amazing. They love it because it’s simple, and it helps them have the right conversations that drive performance.” 

Prove your work
“There’s a lot of data and information out there, but sometimes it’s difficult to home in on the proof that your initiatives are working. HR can easily show itself that it’s identified an issue in a time of change, and put in place a solution - but it’s important that we show the organisation as well. 
“I’m not talking about lots and lots of metrics, but that one number for each initiative that goes out regularly and demonstrates your progress. So, for example, if you’re working on a talent development programme, each quarter you should share the percentage of vacancies filled by internal candidates. This gives them the proof - and the trust - that your ideas are working.”