When we are looking to navigate an ever-evolving and unpredictable business environment, it is crucial that there is a particular focus on the importance of empathy, adaptability, and transparent communication.
Luke James sat down with Lydia Ings, the HR Director at Colliers International, to discuss her personal journey and the broader themes that have shaped the contemporary landscape of HR, leadership, and the real estate sector.
Colliers is a real estate advisory services company, so we offer multi-disciplinary services to clients on all things property and real estate. We have about 1200 employees in the UK with offices in London, Bristol, Manchester, Birmingham, Leeds, Glasgow and Edinburgh, so we provide services across the UK.
I have pretty much always worked in real estate. I graduated in Business and French, and my first job was in training. I delivered training in report writing to various clients, and it was very specialist. I learned a lot there, and it was really helpful for my career. That was where I started in the HR world. I then worked in a Local Authority as a training officer, but it wasn’t really for me, so I moved into real estate at King Sturge, sorting out graduate training. I knew nothing about property, so I jumped into the deep and loved it. I stayed there when they merged with JLL in 2011, and worked at JLL until 2018. I stayed because property is a people business, and it’s all about relationships, and I liked the people who worked there. My job widened to broader training and then into more generalist work during the financial crisis.
We talk a lot about the VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity) world and how to deal with it. The reality is that this is now here to stay — uncertainty is certain because it will always be here. The pandemic was an extreme version, and looking back, I think it's about recognising that people deal with things differently. For example, when we had to furlough people, we decided to tell our teams over a call rather than writing to them so we could explain it to them and let them know that we were there for them.
The other thing that’s important is that you don’t need to have all the answers, but you do need to be able to reassure people that you’re there for them and you’ve got this. Honesty is very important, as is giving people time to adjust to change. It’s also acknowledging we aren’t going to know all of the answers, and the answers might change tomorrow, but that’s okay.
What we’ve learned is that D&I needs to be supported by actions. For example, the first year I was here, people wanted to order Pride lanyards for the whole company, and there was that temptation to wash everything in rainbows when, in reality, our policy wasn't there yet — but that would have been disingenuous. So, along with the lanyards, we also made real changes to support that.
It’s also important to acknowledge that D&I is not something you do once, it has to be a constant process. We started with training courses that were standalone, but now we try to embed inclusivity into our in-house training - it’s in the DNA now.
Number one is recognising that you’re never going to get everyone. We don’t have a dedicated D&I person, which has positives and negatives. The positive is that the people doing it are passionate about it and choose to do it because they believe it. It’s what we call Balance in Business, and it’s about finding balance in every aspect of the company, with diversity included everywhere. It’s not hierarchical either, which means we have a cross-section of people across the business. This means we have channels into every corner of the business, and it means it doesn't feel like a second HR, it feels like the culture of the business, which everyone is responsible for.
We try and adopt a culture where it’s self-driven. When people recognise their own strengths and weaknesses and seek help where it’s needed, they are automatically so much more engaged when they are training to get better at that.
We’ve also done a lot of work to help people think about their career development in a different way. Often, when we achieve something at work, we immediately look to see what the next thing we can achieve is. We want people to be aware that careers zigzag - it’s not a ladder. Moving around gives you great experiences, and that should come as a priority before getting a promotion. It puts the focus on development, rather than progressing.
When something needs to be resolved, always pick up the phone. Don’t be tempted to resort to email - speaking on the phone is a far more useful and effective way to do it.