People Matters: Will Hussey and Jonathan Peach

For the next instalment of our People Matters series, I spoke to Will Hussey and Jonathan Peach.

Will and Jonathan are both trainers at the Art of Brilliance, a professional training and coaching series that delivers keynotes and workshops to help people cultivate their communication and leadership skills.

How is health and wellbeing linked to engagement and performance? Do you have any real-life examples of how focusing on the former boosts the latter?

Will: You can’t separate the two. Health, wellbeing, engagement and performance are all heavily interlinked. That’s why we are in this job in the first place – not to personally develop people, but so they can personally remember themselves. We guide people to return to their best selves when they have lost confidence.

That involves developing soft skills, but also new approaches for their conduct and behaviour. By letting our workshop members express themselves truthfully, they can have a positive ripple effect on the rest of their organisation.

Jonathan: I think people focus on the wrong aspect first – engagement, rather than health and wellbeing. I think that engagement is measured without thinking of what really leads to it. If you look after people and let them be their authentic selves, that’s how to truly keep them engaged.

Authenticity isn’t easily quantifiable; engagement isn’t a simple measurement tool where we can show partner organisations a return on investment. It involves people’s thoughts, opinions, and conduct.

Following on from engagement, what do you think employees really need to thrive?

Jonathan: Honestly, I think thriving involves an understanding of the self. At the end of our sessions, we often ask members “when did you last feel like that?”. Usually, they can’t remember.

We know, intuitively, that someone feeling better after our course will make them more productive and feel more competent in their role. That’s how we know we’ve done our job correctly.

Part of understanding your own value is understanding your vulnerability, your strength, and your trust of others. That builds a sense of psychological safety and ability, where you’ll be in the place to do some incredible work. Working on yourself is an ongoing project.

Will: To thrive, people need a good quality of work. Work that they can engage with and feel challenged by. And I think there’s a lot of elements to that, like feeling appreciated by peers. The first thing needed is that motivation from within, from understanding your own worth.

Success isn’t a dirty word, it’s a motivation for people in their daily lives. The need to constantly develop, grow, evolve, and learn new skills are vital for that success.

Do you think that an increased focus of nurturing these soft skills is a result of the pandemic?

Will: This could be a result of a remote and isolating period like the pandemic, but the narrative of personal care and self-development is more common now. I think it’s hugely important, but it also runs the risk of a superficial understanding of an investment.

Organisations could use these narratives to talk about investing in the health and welfare of their workforce but can’t always deliver on it. It’s a multi-tiered approach because awareness is only the first step. Don’t make wellbeing a tick box without programmes of delivery that are ongoing.

Jonathan: Even for our organisation, getting people like me and Will in for one two-hour session isn’t enough, it’s only a start. These changes aren’t an action list; a constantly developing commitment is required.

How have internal communications had to evolve in a world of hybrid working, or where a large part of your workforce is remote?

Will: I think this is a huge challenge. Addressing multiple working and communication models can become a complex issue for companies, which can make internal communications even more fragmented.

Jonathan: Many people require a connection to thrive and feel noticed by others. Bringing people together lets people develop healthy habits and to prosper. Otherwise, it’s a very lonely existence.

Budget cuts shouldn’t reduce, for example, face to face meetings. Human contact needs to be prioritised, it’s central to wellbeing and can’t be ignored. Diversify your mediums beyond just online newsletters – you could send out podcasts for co-workers who are audio learners. Really take to heart that one size does not fit all. 

That includes making communications more inclusive. For example, we provide slides in advance to our visits to help those who have visual sight issues. Ensuring that everyone’s approach to communication is recognised is vital to the smooth flow of an organisation.

Do you think the barrier between a “work” self and “home” self is now being broken down?

Jonathan: I’d hope so. For too long people have told me “I’m very different at work”. But that means you’re lying. If you must play a role, a “work personality”, you’ll get burnt out. People should be able to feel genuine in the workplace, as their best, and only, self.

People have obviously earned their titles like “manager”, but seeing the person rather than their role is how to prioritise employees. Get the right people involved in the right things without stressing over titles, because then who knows what’s possible?

Nothing should be considered above or below your paygrade – your title and your pay don’t exclude you or make you exempt from valuable work. Blurring those lines is how you develop a strong workplace culture. 

Will: I do think there’s nuance within that separation too. Being authentic to yourself and upkeeping the professional integrity of your organisation needs a healthy balance.

I agree with Jonathan about titles and think that many organisations would on a surface level, too. However, in practice, I think we’re moving more towards a lanyard culture – where the first title you’re given is assigned great value internally. But that assignment can put people into boxes that they have to work out of, rather than letting people be creative and forward thinking.

Jonathan: Make meetings shorter, let people breathe and take breaks. Back-to-back remote video calls won’t help anyone take care of themselves. True flexibility requires pacing and patience towards people, rather than stretching them to the full extent of their abilities.

What is the role of communications in making sure people make the most of the benefits and services that their employer offers?

Jonathan: What are you communicating? I think that’s the first question. Workers need to be informed on what’s happening within organisations, even if it’s negative, and there’s nothing that can be done about news.

That’s how to stop the rumour mill – spiral stories can easily develop if, for example, the heads of the organisation meet without informing their staff. Tell your staff that people are meeting and why, rather than keeping your staff out of the loop.

Will: Communication can easily become a throwaway term if honesty isn’t prioritised. Accept your responsibility when it comes to the messages you’re delivering.

People can feel suspicious about initiatives that are designed to help them. That’s why we keep our communication with teams minimal before visiting their premises and working with them. It helps keep our relationship fresh, and keep people motivated when it comes to working with us.

How do you encourage an authentic inclusive workforce? 

Will: Authenticity means helping people change within themselves, rather than an organisation pushing for people to change. The best you can do is change yourself, so you can influence others to do better. Let people be themselves, so they can develop themselves.

Jonathan: Allow for diversity of thought and embrace it. Let people feel safe to give their genuine opinion and encourage that wherever you can.

How do you ensure active listening and a productive employee-employer feedback loop?

Jonathan: Again, ensure that your team know you are listening, and that you’re being honest with them. That’s the best way to let employees feel heard, feel valued, and produce good quality work.

Will: I think you must be careful when it comes to listening to feedback. We’re human, and if we’re busy, we fall into habituation and may just go through the motions. Be a disrupter, be prepared to change something, even if it seems like it’s working like it always has.

Jonathan: I agree, if it’s not broke, break it. Describe the future you want, before re-situating yourself into the present.

Will: Our world is so fast paced. According to Moore’s Law, that the number of transistors you can fit into a microchip is doubling yearly. Apply that to ourselves, young people today are expected to live through 200 lifetimes worth of change. So what you’re doing now may very soon be outdated. So keep yourself evolving and working at your best.

People Matters blogs

Read the previous blogs in our People Matters series:

Justin Johnson

Jasmine Hudson

Grace Lewis

Jaime Lloyd-Jones

Mary Appleton

Sophie Wade

Smadar Cohen-Chen

Ashleigh Cresswell and Andy Grant

Matt Chapman and Kelly Dolphin

Sabrina Stubbs