In a business that is not 100% office-based, workplace leaders must come up with creative yet effective ways of communicating with employees as well as engaging them and letting them know that they are cared for.
In this interview, Jodie Coe the Director of People and Change at Northern Powergrid, sits down with Luke James, Co-host of The Interview. She shares her insights on engaging diverse audiences on EDI topics, her top tips for creating a culture of learning and growth, and how the company combines EDI with commercial goals.
I am the Director of People and Change at Northern Powergrid. We are a distribution network for the North East of England, Yorkshire, and the Lincolnshire area. We run an electricity network across that area.
I studied electrical engineering at university, and that has always been at the core of what I have wanted to do. From there, I had some grad jobs in telecommunications and then joined a larger infrastructure company called Balfour Beattie after that, doing more operational management and technical roles. As I progressed, I got more involved in Change Management which naturally led me to a more people-led career. I retrained in HR and entered a mid-level HR position which grew into a Director role. I’d had enough of big corporate, so left and joined the Centre for Process Innovation which is much smaller and not-for-profit but is driven by societal impact. After a few years, I came to Northern Powergrid, which is the sector I started at.
This company is hugely focused on net zero and has a five-year plan for how to achieve it. They have a strong social purpose, too, which is what brought me here.
We have a lot of transformation coming up over the next five years, technology and process-wise, but if you want to make change happen, you must bring the people along with you, or it doesn't work. So it's about creating the right culture and environment to enable that change to stick and for us to achieve our business goals. My directorate has a lot of parts to it, like HR, L&D, communications, property, change, and a performance team. Added together, it's about making changes with our people as well as in our business.
We have to be quite creative with engaging different audiences because of how diverse their jobs are. Fundamentally it comes down to whether we can answer the question of what’s in it for them — that’s a good place to start. It's also about promoting an understanding of why we are doing what we are doing. The second part is the channel — how do we communicate? We can’t ask our field-based staff to jump on a teams call, so we have to find other ways of having them engage. It's so important not to flood with too much messaging because it becomes less effective, so we make sure we prioritise. We also ensure that communication goes both ways between us and our employees.
We are at the beginning of our EDI joinery, which is deliberate because we wanted to take the time to understand what we wanted to do and how we could do it. So the starting point for us was about being representative of the communities we serve. We do a lot about self-identification, a lot in recruitment around targeting underrepresented groups, and a lot in opening up the dialogue within the organisation in terms of bias and bystander training. We take this very seriously at the senior level and speak about it from a management perspective every quarter.
We do a lot about self-identification, a lot in recruitment around targeting underrepresented groups, and a lot in opening up the dialogue within the organisation in terms of bias and bystander training.
Increasing employee voice is one of the key things we are going to be focusing on over the next year. We are heavily unionised, so we already have great communication channels, providing us with insight into what we should be doing.
There are three main ways. One is the line manager cascade which is creating packages for supervisors and line managers to distribute and engage directly. The second is doing it in bite-sized pieces, sending it right to their mobile phones. We also have leadership engagement visits, which we track, they are heavily around safety, but we also talk about mental health and EDI, and we get a lot of feedback too. There is a big piece on social mobility and getting harder to reach young people, promoting our apprenticeship schemes to more people, using the tools we have to help that. The key part for us is ensuring that whatever we do benefits the local community.
We find that relatively easy because culturally safety comes first for us every time. Using our strong safety culture, we can speak more broadly about psychological safety, especially with mental health. The same remains with corporate goals; we know if we have fit and well people working for us, then the bottom line will benefit.
Don’t be afraid to challenge because that’s where the opportunity to learn comes from. Failing fast and early is a great chance to learn and grow, and that, to me, is the most important thing.