What a fantastic experience that was! For those who were able to join the Progressing the People conversation at Jabulani yesterday, we were treated not only to amazing food in a wonderful space. It was also a demonstration of one of the key themes of the day – we were made to feel completely welcome.

The session began with the typical re-arranging of furniture as we assembled in the sunny courtyard, fortunately with plenty of cold water to address the conditions. As tables and benches were moved, our host, Liliane’s smiling face greeted everyone as they entered, sometimes nervously, a venue in the city they had not visited before. How simple a thing is a smile – and how effective for making people feel welcome.

The original “theme” of the day was to be neurodiversity, and whilst it was part of the discussion, to have focussed on it solely, given our location, would have seemed odd. Hence the pivot.

Thanks to Shaun Hoppins from SD Solution for taking the baton and getting us started. He acknowledged the challenge of attracting people to his business, as well as the need to work with community groups to generate engagement and fulfil social value goals. He outlined the value of including this and shared there is still more to learn.

It led us to discuss what can be done to/in our workplaces to make them more welcoming. Amy Fox from the Fox Project, a Cornwall-based business specialising in supporting businesses with welfare-led company development, shared thoughts about shifting the balance more towards equity between employer and potential employee. She shared some suggestions about how to reset the balance including, meeting candidates as they arrive, sharing questions and process details in advance and offering guidance on what they can expect. In other words, what can be done to make someone feel welcome. You would do this for a client, so why not a potential colleague?

Amy went on to talk about the leaving process, something that is often considered a negative experience. By recognising that employees do not cease to exist when they leave, it should encourage a business to consider the experience a person has when they move on. A positive experience could encourage someone to return, or at least to speak well of the business.

Finally, Amy highlighted the essential quality of asking and listening. She described the story of a boss who thought they were demonstrating gratitude by leaving presents for staff. When she asked the staff if they felt valued, they said no and commented that I just have stuff I didn’t ask for on my desk. All they wanted was 5 minutes to speak to them.

Harriet Kelly from Kier spoke of her experience from seemingly endless video calls and that the time to check in with people on a human level has been eroded. She suggested ensuring time to check in on how people are could make meetings more productive and working conditions better. She went to describe speaking with young people who were potential employees would benefit from more positive messaging from schools about futures in her sector. A change in language from “this is all you can do”, to “this is what you could do one day”, backed up by an example of a business leader sharing their story of humble beginnings to positions of responsibility.

Contributions came from all corners of the room, and it was encouraging to hear. These are spaces to talk, to share, to listen, and to learn.

Key to this work is that we provide some practical action points for businesses to implement in their workplaces. And one of those is asking the questions, “is what I am doing really working?” and “what can I do to make things better?”. By challenging ourselves, we stand to make improvements, and little

by little, run more effective businesses with more valued people. Here are some more practical actions to think about putting in place:

· Make time for people

· Review your interview process to consider the experience a candidate is having

· Ask yourself, is the onboarding process consistent with the recruitment process

· Ask, does my process best reflect our culture and values

· Take to others about their experiences and share your own

· Smile!!!

· Ask for help in getting started or moving forward

We were blessed to have not only fabulous hosts, but also many enthusiastic, supportive, and dedicated people who are keen to get involved and help change the experience over time. Please get in touch with Ed or Andy from Real Ideas to help make change happen for you.