Nurturing a strong company culture during COVID-19
What exactly is company culture?
Why is it so important , especially now?
How can we nurture a strong company culture?
1. Flexibility, trust and care
2. Creative thought and connection
3. A focus on wellbeing
- Create a ‘culture team’; responsible for planning virtual events so there’s always something to look forward to (especially during the winter months). This can help shape company culture, rather than people feeling they have to adapt to it.
- Don't neglect training; now could be the perfect time to encourage upskilling and capability-building and to offer training on managing mental health at work, such as via Mind.
- Remind people of the support mechanisms available to them, such as HR, mental health first aiders and employee assistance programmes.
- Celebrate successes and great work with virtual reward and recognition; asking colleagues to vote for each other also gives a much needed boost and could improve employee engagement
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Not your actual French capital, to be clear, but the (rather colourfully) historic street of Paris Garden on the South Bank, where we’ve recently relocated from our former home in Vauxhall. You'll find us on the 4th floor at 1-2 Paris Garden, London SE1 8ND. Why the move? Like most organisations who just needed the absence of all other alternatives in order to fully embrace flexible working, we’ve been working from home since the early part of the pandemic. And having taken to it like the proverbial ducks to water – they also benefit immeasurably from not doing battle with South West Trains – we decided to make flexibility a permanent feature, enabling people to work as they work best, be that in the office, at home, or in most cases, a bit of both. As a result, we joined the long list of companies who No Longer Need All That Office Space, but as a people business, we don't underestimate the value of in-person, face to face communication. Sometimes there’s simply no substitute, so we were determined to make sure it's a conveniently-located option for you, too. Enter Paris Garden, a street which owes its name to over-optimism in the planning department, and where you’ll now find our shiny new modestly-sized office at number one! Paris Garden: noted bearpit, spy den, and popular 16th century dogging spot. Where to find us Paris Garden - not to be confused with a Paris garden (unlikely) or Paris Hilton, the luxury hotel and minor celebrity - is just a short walk from Southwark station on the Jubilee line, Waterloo, or Blackfriars if you exit on the South Bank. Although if you know how to do that, there's nothing we can teach you here, and you may be in line for some kind of certificate. Behold the map: Other transport options include the 381 bus along Stamford Street, the 40 and 63 on Blackfriars Road, and in the surrounding area you’ll be delighted to find neighbourhood essentials like the Oxo Tower, a saxophone shop, the Tate Modern, and those flats they built too close to the Tate Modern so everyone peers into their living rooms. Meanwhile fans of overbearing architecture will enjoy a clear view of the One Blackfriars tower, currently rivalling the City’s ‘Walkie Talkie’ for London’s least favourite skyscraper, albeit yet to set fire to anyone’s car. L-R: Paris Garden today, One Blackfriars fails at hide-and-seek again, and the Oxo Tower, surprisingly resilient stock cube construction. How to get in touch By the magic of technology you can reach us on the same telephone numbers wherever we're working, which you'll find in our consultant directory here. Alternatively, send us an email, call us on 020 7820 7300, check out our latest jobs to see if your dream role is there (or to find out who specialises in your field), and hopefully we’ll have an opportunity to welcome you to our new home soon! Team HH More from the Harris Hill Blog Good news: your CV's in demand! Jobs in the charity sector are bouncing back in a very big way this autumn, so recruiters and charities alike are jostling for a glimpse of your CV. Read more ► Back to the blog homepage ►
Let’s face it, there's been rather a shortage of non-alarming news lately, so it’s a real joy to bring you something that won’t make you want to hide under the duvet and cry. Specifically, that jobs in the charity sector are bouncing back in a very big way, so recruiters and charities alike are jostling for a glimpse of your CV. In fact, after climbing consistently all year, the number of fantastic charity opportunities here at Harris Hill is now within touching distance – if that’s allowed - of where it was before the pandemic. Which is a pretty big number. (Exhibit A: check out our jobs pages). However, the number of people seeking those opportunities is yet to rebound to anything like the same extent, which means that if you’ve got charity experience, you’re very much in demand! But aren't the big candidate shortages elsewhere? Shortages in other sectors might be making the headlines, but as charities seek to recover the millions lost to the pandemic, recruitment is high on the agenda, while application numbers are unusually low. Not just at Harris Hill, but our charity clients are coming to us with the very same issue across the board. So while you might imagine there's little point looking right now, we’re here to say you could well be a highly sought-after candidate, even if you don’t have an HGV licence or dream of being underpaid for your strawberry-picking skills. Although we can’t imagine either would hurt. But to cut to the point, it's this: if you’re a charity professional in just about any area at the moment, you’re already in considerable demand. OK, so what's available? We’ve got permanent and contract opportunities across all specialist areas, and demand for temporary staff is even higher, with an abundance of assignments in all kinds of roles right now. If you're looking for new opportunities of any kind, please do get in touch to discuss how we can help you move forward, and if you’ve temped for us in the past, please drop us a line with your latest CV and availability for work. ►► A side note here: why do we ask you to update us, if you're already on our system and nothing's changed? Let's discuss this in a blue box. Why update us if you've already registered? That's a great question. If you’ve registered with us, or any other recruiter, you might (understandably) see no need to keep us posted unless there's any significant change. But here’s why it’s well worth doing, especially for temps. In an ideal world, we’d have weeks to advertise temp positions and scour the kingdom and/or database for every suitable candidate in advance. In this world however, it's more likely we're looking to fill a role we’ve known about for five minutes, starting yesterday. *pause while you break out tiny violin* Contacting every potential candidate would take days, but we need to know who’s free as soon as possible, so it's logical to start with those we already know about. Naturally they tend to be the people we’ve spoken with or heard from most recently: the more time has passed, the more likely things have changed. That's why it’s always worth a quick call or email to keep us up to speed, particularly for temps, but also for permanent roles if you’re open to a move and we haven’t spoken for a while. So, whether it's for a temporary, permanent or contract role, if you’re currently looking, in two minds or just waiting for the right moment, we’d love to hear from you: it’s a much better time than you might think. Not only are there plenty of great jobs available, but with fewer people competing for them, your prospects may be better than expected too. And with recruiters and charities clamouring for CVs like over-excitable fans at an autograph signing, it’s the perfect time to send us yours or register here on the site. Which – in a line we didn’t expect to write today, much less finish a blog with – we recommend doing very soon, before the knicker-throwing starts. Thanks! Team HH Back to the Harris Hill Blog homepage ►
High employee engagement and a workforce full of happy, motivated people is often viewed as a top business strategy, with tangible benefits for both the organisation and the individual. But what happens when engagement morphs into something far less positive — burnout? To coincide with Mental Health Awareness Week, Freelance Writer and HR Specialist Nicola Greenbrook has been exploring the reasons why working at home during the Covid-19 pandemic could be making us engaged-exhausted. What is employee engagement - and why is it good? If people at work have good quality roles and are managed well, it’s likely that they will be happy, healthy and fulfilled. The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) explains that employee engagement ‘relates to the level of an employee's commitment and connection to an organisation’ and provides examples of recognised engaged behaviours, such as being optimistic, solution-orientated and going above and beyond. The CIPD recommends a narrower, more specific view from the Utrecht University group of occupational psychologists. This defines work engagement as a state of mind in which, rather than being burnt out, employees show vigour, dedication and absorption. From a business perspective, high levels of engagement can lead to better productivity, improved products or services and innovation. Evidence by voluntary movement Engage for Success shows that there are positive relationships between aspects of employee engagement and other business metrics, such as customer satisfaction and retention. It can also be seen as a way to gain competitive advantage. So far, so good… What is burnout - and why is it bad? Yet, there can be too much of a good thing. Whilst the benefits of high employee engagement have been established, we are perhaps less familiar with what happens when it becomes something much less positive — burnout. So why does a once highly productive, enthusiastic and engaged employee become stressed, irritated and unproductive? Let’s first take a look at what burnout is. The World Health Organisation classifies burnout as ‘…a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed’. The definition goes on to say that burnout (in a workplace context) is characterised by three dimensions: feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion; increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one's job; and a sense of ineffectiveness and lack of accomplishment. When engaged becomes exhausted So, what causes this transition from engaged to exhausted? Can we really have these simultaneous experiences? You can become too engaged which can, unwittingly, contribute towards feeling stressed. The three opposing behaviours of burnout — vigour, dedication and absorption — can become something more damaging. Over a year since we first went into lockdown and with the majority of us still working predominantly from home, some of us are working too much — and we don’t know how to stop. Employees have faced increased workloads, uncertainty and general pressures due to the outbreak of the Covid-19 virus and so in some cases they are showing a bit too much vigour. In the article ‘Why Your Passion for Work Could Ruin Your Career', the Harvard Business Review refers to Robert J. Vallerand’s Dualistic Model of Passion, The model suggests that people can have a passion for their work which can be both harmonious (they retain a sense of control and keep work in harmony with the other facets of their life) and obsessive (they find it tricky not to work, even if it conflicts with their home life). The differences between harmonious and obsessive passion can have implications for burnout. Dedication can be unhealthy, too. In the aftermath of full lockdown, with homeschooling and other caring responsibilities there to disrupt our regular schedules, some people may feel they need to prove to their employer just how hard they are working, especially if this is coupled with a fear about redundancies in the current climate. They willingly take on more projects despite being overloaded and juggling other commitments. This level of engagement can lead to an unhealthy approach to work — where they attempt to be ‘everything to everyone’ in their lives. It’s a slippery slope; maybe they feel they haven’t done enough today, so they do just a little bit more. Or they log in again in the evening to ‘keep up’. Finally, highly engaged people often show too much absorption. When working from home, it can be difficult to stop boundaries from becoming blurred, or being obliterated altogether, and to unplug. It’s easy to fall prey to the ‘one more email’ phenomenon in the absence of a commute, or to sacrifice a lunchtime walk for the satisfaction of ticking one more thing off of the list. What was once an enjoyable absorption in work; that pleasant sensation of being fully engrossed without distraction, can creep into an inability to tear yourself away — even if it is after hours and you haven’t thought about what to eat for dinner. As a result, we become what’s known as engaged-exhausted. What is this doing to our health? According to The CIPD. (2021) Health and wellbeing at work survey 2021. London: Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, Covid-19 is among the most common causes of stress at work in the top three causes; with 31% of respondents stating stress caused by new work-related demands or challenges due to homeworking as a result of Covid-19. The survey reports that (70%) of respondents have observed some form of ‘leavism’ (the use of allocated time off, such as annual leave for sickness or to catch up on work), such as working outside of contracted hours or using holiday entitlement to work over the past 12 months. For many who have taken on caring or parenting responsibilities during the ongoing pandemic, work and caring needs go to the top of the list — and looking after own needs? These get pushed down to the bottom of the list. According to the CIPD, employees can become disillusioned, unproductive and, potentially, seek employment elsewhere. Signs of burnout include headaches and migraines, fatigue and lack of energy and anxiety, sadness and depression. How to preserve high-engagement and prevent burn out It is important for individuals to recognise the signs of burnout — and the responsibility of employers to help their teams stay on the positive side of employee engagement. Employers should keep an eye on their high performers and recognise that while engagement is a good thing, it needs to be managed too. Driving positive behaviours is a good start; such as taking breaks and making time for physical activity, rather than being sat behind a desk all day. It is especially important to provide sufficient resources for staff and line managers who remain at home or work a hybrid pattern as Covid-19 restrictions ease. This could include regular catch ups, providing feedback and setting clear expectations to avoid any confusion or overcompensation. Monitor the levels of demands you place on your teams and rebalance workloads, especially those with multiple responsibilities or who may be particularly feeling the impact of a year’s lockdown. Avoid late-night emails or encouraging a sense of ‘always on’. Individuals should try to assess their level of risk when it comes to burnout and ask themselves a few questions. Is your identity with work so strong that your work-life balance is hazy? Are you taking on too much? Here are other ways to keep yourself from the darker side of high engagement: Book a mini-break (at home). As obvious as it may sound, book in annual leave and a day off at home to relax and step off the wheel for a bit. Create work-life boundaries. Set yourself strict start and finish times most days, with breaks built in that you won’t budge on. Consider setting an alarm to signify the end of the working day — and resist the urge to snooze. Move! The theme of 2021’s Mental Health Awareness Week is nature and the environment; there are lots of top tips about how to find, connect with and get out and about in nature. Leaving your desk for even 20 minutes can make a difference. Speak up - Recognise the symptoms of burnout and speak to your manager, employee assistance programme or GP if you start to experience them. Mind provides some useful tips on how to talk to your employer about your mental health. High employee engagement is great, but can come with unpleasant side effects if employers — and individuals — don’t take important preventative measures. It can be all too easy for engagement to creep into burnout, with damaging effects on our physical and mental health. Whether taking a bit of time out, talking to your manager about making small but impactful changes to the working day or vowing to send your last email at 5.30pm — proactively managing burnout risks can ensure you stay productive, happy and, most importantly, healthy. Contact Nicola, check out her website, or follow her on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram. More from Nicola Greenbrook Nurturing a strong company culture during COVID-19 ► How to work well from home ► Podcast your way to workplace wellbeing ► More from the Harris Hill blog 12 tips for video interview success ► How to write a great supporting statement ► Recruiting your next CEO: asking the right questions ►
If you're looking for interview tips, you've come to the right place. With decades of experience in guiding our candidates through interviews successfully, and helping them secure their dream job, we've compiled The Ultimate Interview Guide. By combining our collective experience, we've crafted the one guide you'll need to get ahead and stand out amongst the other candidates rallying for the role you're after. The Ultimate Interview Guide looks at every type of interview, each and every interview stage, what to expect, what questions to ask and more. Download the guide by clicking below today! The Ultimate Interview Guide.pdf Size: 74.5 MB 12 tips for video interview success These days there's a good chance your next interview will be conducted via the magic of Zoom*, introducing a whole new world of things to worry about beforehand. Fortunately executive recruitment expert Jenny Hills is here with practical tips to get the best from the process. Read more >> *other videoconferencing solutions are, of course, terrifyingly available.
It's fair to say that 2020 has been a year like no other. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has forced organisations to make urgent and substantial changes to how they operate, sometimes overnight. The majority of the workforce are based from home and productivity, motivation and wellbeing have taken a hit. So how can charities support their biggest asset — their people — during the pandemic and nurture a company culture that’s stronger than ever? Freelance Writer Nicola Greenbrook finds out. Nurturing a strong company culture during COVID-19 The coronavirus pandemic is having a devastating impact on many charities and volunteers. In November 2020, the NCVO’s monthly COVID-19 voluntary sector impact barometer reported that 39% of the organisations reported their financial position had deteriorated in the last month. The pandemic has also altered people’s working lives dramatically. For the VCSE sector it can feel particularly challenging due to the nature of work people are involved in. Being away from face-to-face services and juggling remote work and childcare with an increased demand for services can also lead to anxiety, stress and fatigue. Company culture has always been important — but now, it's critical. What exactly is company culture? Quite honestly, it’s multifaceted and there are several definitions. Can you describe your company culture in a few words? It can be difficult to characterise, but many people remember exactly how good or bad culture feels. The CIPD explains that, 'the way an organisation operates drives its employer brand, helping to attract and retain talented people who want to be part of a great place to work, and who will in turn thrive in the business’. Company culture is the backdrop for everything. It embodies the way people behave and think at work, their mindsets and even their emotions. For a charity, it could be the key practices that reflect its mission and values, directly linked to a broader social purpose — and not just the perks, free fruit or fun stuff. Cultivating a strong company culture can also mean encouraging a strong work ethic and healthy behaviours and attitudes. Why is it so important , especially now? Glassdoor believes that 2020 has heralded ‘a culture-first decade for employers’ that puts employees at the forefront of the modern corporation. Having a strong workplace culture has been verifiably linked to better financial performance, increased talent attraction and improved service-user satisfaction. In times of adversity like the current pandemic, and when foundations are unstable, it can shine the spotlight on bad practices such as poor communication, a lack of empathy and poor leadership. This can lead to low productivity, a disengaged workforce and high turnover; creating extra work — and costs — for charities. One in five (21%) Brits quit their jobs due toxic workplace culture and no matter how big or small the charity, if your company culture is brittle it will dictate how your people behave and perform — regardless of the economic climate. How can we nurture a strong company culture? A difficult year may be drawing to a close, but it could still be months before working life returns to the way it was, if at all. So, what lessons can we learn from the pandemic about company culture, and what can we take with us into next year? 1. Flexibility, trust and care The work-home divide is blurred right now; so it’s crucial that charities support their people to work flexibly and balance their other commitments, and continue to show and build trust. In a survey for the CIPD conducted by YouGov in April 2020, 3 in 10 surveyed found it hard to fulfil commitments outside of work due to time spent on their job. This increases to 4 in 10 for those also juggling increased caring responsibilities. Line managers should work to understand individual needs and, crucially, keep the emphasis on work outcomes, rather than hours put in. While managers should empower people to work a pattern that suits their individual circumstances for now, they should keep an eye on overall working hours or if emails are being sent late at night. Check in, and gently challenge when necessary, if the signs of burn out are starting to show. Now, more than ever, is the time for companies to show empathetic leadership, despite very challenging circumstances. Many people have contracted the virus, lost their loved ones, or have children at home from school isolating. Some may be missing their office and colleagues or even to be ‘grieving' for life before COVID-19. Managers should be encouraged to have open and honest check-ins with their teams during the pandemic (‘how are you, really?’), without being intrusive. Thirtyone:eight, a Christian charity based in Kent, was awarded first place in the Best Charities to Work for 2020 inaugural list by Third Sector. Its joint-CEO, Steve Ball, stated that key to its success has been "creating a culture of care and compassion for all", likening the charity to an extended family who "genuinely care for each other and look after each other”. 2. Creative thought and connection A survey by Resilience First showed that more than half of remote workers are now suffering from working from home fatigue. With the novelty of Zoom meetings wearing thin, the risk of some employees fading into the background in larger charities and the absence of face to face contact leading to feelings of isolation, communication is vital to keep a strong company culture intact. In a huge time of uncertainty around the future of organisations and roles, it can help people to cope. Consider creative ways to maintain a connection with your staff and volunteers and involve them in potential decisions, making them feel they’re being ‘seen’. Take it beyond company updates; like employee-written guides on surviving homeworking, book clubs, and internal channels for people to share what they're listening to/watching. Rather than a distraction, these can provide a way to connect and engage, maintain a sense of community and encourage creativity. Good quality communication could reduce anxiety or uncertainty and tackle loneliness. 3. A focus on wellbeing In a recent ONS survey it was found that around a third of men and women were concerned about the impact of COVID-19 on their work. However, health — both mental and physical — and wellbeing must also be a key focus during the pandemic. As well as practical steps, like reminding staff to take breaks and use annual leave, charities should encourage line managers to include wellbeing as a core part of any 1:1s or work-based conversations. This could help to spot early signs of low motivation, or fatigue before it becomes an issue. In Mind's Mental Health at Work Commitment Guide for Employers During Coronavirus, the charity offers practical examples of what employers can do to support their teams and effectively respond to the current pandemic, including the promotion of an open culture around mental health. Here are some other ways to support staff and strengthen company culture during the ongoing pandemic: Create a ‘culture team’; responsible for planning virtual events so there’s always something to look forward to (especially during the winter months). This can help shape company culture, rather than people feeling they have to adapt to it. Don't neglect training; now could be the perfect time to encourage upskilling and capability-building and to offer training on managing mental health at work, such as via Mind. Remind people of the support mechanisms available to them, such as HR, mental health first aiders and employee assistance programmes. Celebrate successes and great work with virtual reward and recognition; asking colleagues to vote for each other also gives a much needed boost and could improve employee engagement Coronavirus will have a long-lasting impact on our working lives and nurturing a strong company culture will be critical to ensure your people remain well, engaged and productive — and on board. Steering teams through uncertain territory can be hard work; but creating an environment where staff feel valued, where you refine and stay true to your core values and where people feel their wellbeing is looked after, will enable charities to not only survive, but to thrive. To come back even stronger than ever. More from Nicola Greenbrook How to work well from home ► Podcast your way to workplace wellbeing ► How to be assertive at work ► More from the Harris Hill blog 12 tips for video interview success► 20 FOR 20► Should you be working for a large or small charity? ►
With Covid-19 raging on, many charities have seen the demand for their services increase while funding, due to cancelled events and financial uncertainty, has decreased. MDS UK, a charity supporting patients of Myelodysplastic Syndromes (MDS) - a rare blood cancer - is participating in the 20:20 campaign to replace some lost income, but urgently needs more participants! What is MDS? MDS is a group of malignant blood disorders in which the bone marrow fails to produce healthy blood cells. All types of blood cells can be affected, causing a range of symptoms: Red cells (erythrocytes) – which carry oxygen to organs and tissues in the body. Anaemia occurs due to a lack of red cells (also referred to as low haemoglobin), which may lead to fatigue and shortness of breath even on light exertion. White cells – which collectively fight against infection. Recurrent and persistent infections are a common symptom of MDS due to low white cell counts. Platelets (thrombocytes) – which prevent us from bruising and bleeding. A low platelet count can cause bruising, rashes and nose or gum bleeds. In some patients, MDS can progress to Acute Myeloid Leukaemia (AML). In AML, abnormal cells grow very rapidly, building up in the bone marrow and blood. While some patients live with their MDS diagnosis others will unfortunately pass away. A stem cell transplant is the only cure, but this carries inherent risks and can only be performed on younger, fitter patients. What does MDS UK provide? MDS UK aims to raise awareness of MDS, offers support and information to patients and families, and campaigns to increase the quality of life and make treatments available to those affected by the disease. The charity provides patients with access to a list of UK consultants specialising in MDS at specialist centres, a helpline for support and advice and national patient information meetings with specialist speakers. Patients can meet each other through MDS UK’s regional support group meetings (where they meet informally and hear from local consultants and nurses) and an online forum to share their experiences with others. MDS UK also recently funded its first research project aiming to improve treatment options for patients. Further research like this is essential due to the lack of MDS awareness among the public and medical profession and the lack of treatment options. Case Study MDS UK’s Chairman and MDS patient, Ted Peel, was diagnosed in 2015 following extreme fatigue, coughing up and passing of blood and several uncomfortable bone marrow biopsies. “Following an unsuccessful period of medication to remedy low a white blood cell count, I was hospitalised three times with sepsis where my temperature plummeted to 32C”, says Ted. “I was soon told that I needed a transplant.” Ted’s transplant treatment scheduled for this spring was sadly postponed as it was deemed too unsafe to be admitted to the hospital which was making provisions for Covid-19 patients. He was delighted and relieved when told at a more recent consultation that he would be admitted promptly for the treatment as Covid-19 cases in London have decreased. “It’s great to be given another chance at life”, says Ted. “I want to thank MDS UK for their continued support. They’ve been amazing, giving me advice and a helping hand when I’ve needed it most. However, our small charity needs more support.” 20:20 Campaign Due to Covid-19, MDS UK is facing financial hardship as the events it relies heavily on for income have been postponed or cancelled and demand for services has increased. Therefore, they were delighted when contacted about the 20:20 campaign which was set up to replace some of the funds lost by rare cancer charities. Participants will simply complete one challenge a day for 20 consecutive days between September 20th and November 20th and encourage friends and family to support them via the campaign JustGiving page. The challenges DO NOT have to be fitness / exercise based and can be as imaginative as the participants please, e.g. “bake 20 cupcakes” or “20 minutes of knitting.” There is no minimum financial target and the campaign may receive celebrity endorsement and media coverage! All funds raised by MDS UK’s participants will go directly to the charity. Appeal MDS UK urgently needs more participants to help it continue providing life-changing support for MDS patients like Ted and their loved ones, ensuring that, as the campaign strapline reads: “Cancer doesn’t stop for Covid!” If you would like to participate or for more information, contact Jan Edwards (MDS UK’s Fundraising Officer)and visit the event page. For more information about MDS and MDS UK visit their website. You can read Ted’s full story here. Thank you! For a copy of the event poster click here. Blog post written by Jan Edwards (MDS UK's Fundraising Officer). More from the Harris Hill blog 12 tips for video interview success Interviewing via video is the new normal for now, and if it's also new to you, here are some practical tips on the process from our executive recruitment experts, courtesy of director Jenny Hills. Read more ► How to work well from home Millions of us are doing it, but is working from home really working for you? Nicola Greenbrook has the lowdown on the lockdown and advice to help you turn the new arrangements to your advantage. Read more ►
Welcome back to Charity Careers, in which freelance writer Nicola Greenbrook invites key influencers in the charity sector to share their career story and how they navigate the professional world. We discover what they've learned along the way, what motivates them to get up in the morning and what their dream breakfast might look like when they do... In these extraordinary times, Nicola was delighted to chat (virtually, of course) to Susana Lopez, Head of Leadership Giving for Cancer Research UK about her impressive career to date and balancing parenthood with the personal reasons that drive her work for CRUK. She also learned how the charity is responding to COVID-19 and why breakfast in Spain, the complete works of Austen and Tiger King are a few of Susana's favourite things… Hi Susana - we know the name of course, but how would you sum up CRUK's mission and cause? In the 1970s, just 1 in 4 people in the UK survived cancer. Today, thanks to research, that figure has doubled. At Cancer Research UK (CRUK), our ambition is to continue to accelerate this progress so that 3 in 4 people survive cancer by 2034. As the largest independent funder of cancer research in the world, we define global research priorities. Untethered to government funding, we can react rapidly and have the agility to support courageous, risk-taking science. Since our beginnings in 1902, our work has helped uncover the causes of cancer, leading to some of the earliest studies into risk factors, including the link between smoking and cancer. We also laid the foundations for the UK’s national cancer screening programmes and today’s radiotherapy and surgery techniques, and we have contributed to developing eight of the world’s top 10 cancer drugs. Today, we support more than 4,000 nurses, researchers and doctors across a network of exceptional cancer research centres and partner with more than 80 organisations all over the world. We cover every aspect of cancer research and every step of the cancer journey, from our patient information programmes to prevention, diagnosis and treatment. What are you responsible for in your role? My role is really varied! I head up Leadership Giving which sits within the wider Philanthropy and Campaigns team. We work with amazing supporters who want to make a difference by investing in truly cutting-edge research and support. This includes the Catalyst Club, dedicated philanthropists working with us over the long term to have an impact on key areas of CRUK's work; early diagnosis, developing the next generation of science leaders, and the new City of London centre. What drew you to CRUK and when did you join? I’ve had two stints here; from 2006 to 2015 I was a trust fundraising manager and then a senior manager in CRUK's first capital campaign team, Create the Change, raising £100m for the development of the Francis Crick Institute in Kings Cross. I came back to the organisation in November 2019 as Head of Leadership Giving. The simple answer as to why is that cancer has had a profound impact on my life and my family; we lost my mum to ovarian cancer eight years ago; the treatments that kept her well for nearly four years post diagnosis were in part developed by CRUK. All four of my grandparents died of cancer, and too many other family members. I'm an Arts graduate, so was never going to go into science and find new and better treatments myself, but I can put my shoulder to the wheel in the fundraising efforts and secure the investment needed for cancer research. We're hearing much more about medical research in these unprecedented times of course, albeit for a different reason. How has the current pandemic impacted CRUK and your role in particular? Michelle Mitchell, our CEO, has been very open on the impact of COVID-19 on CRUK; unprecedented times indeed. We’ve had to close our shops, and postpone huge events like Race for Life and the gala events which really drive our fundraising programme, and are predicting a 25% drop in income this year, potentially more. The organisation has renegotiated leases on shops, made full use of the government's Job Retention Scheme by furloughing a large number of staff, and made every saving possible in order to protect the investment we make in the front-line science. Even so, we've had to make some tough decisions about the science we can fund, and have had to plan for cuts to that spend. Within my role, we work closely with senior volunteers, ambassadors who are willing to open up their networks and introduce potential supporters to our work, often through a range of events. Obviously we can’t plan those events currently, so we have had to almost throw out the old plans and start afresh. This could be terrifying, but has actually felt very liberating - we have permission to think outside of the box, and to really get insight from our supporters as to what they feel will work, and trial some new ways of working. How did you start your career and what have been the key roles? My first role was as a trust fundraising executive at YMCA England. I'd returned to my home town (after a post-uni year in Spain) to find everyone had scattered, mostly to London! So when a friend contacted me to say there was an entry level role at YMCA England where she was working, I applied. Although I knew nothing about fundraising (amazing to think now that there once was a time when these roles were available to someone with no fundraising experience), I quickly realised that it was a perfect role; lots of talking to colleagues in service delivery about what they were planning and what the impact would be, creative and impactful writing, talking to potential supporters and asking for advice and selling in the work and the difference it would make to homeless and disadvantaged young people. I've since worked in a range of organisations at a range of levels and I don’t know if there are roles I would pick out as being particularly key. Maybe my senior manager role at CRUK the first time around (!) as it really exposed me to working with amazing senior leadership and senior volunteers and to work with really significant supporters to secure multi million pound gifts towards a capital appeal, and to see how a campaign really works. What I would say is that there have been people who have been key to my career; from my first manager at YMCA England, Christine Douglas, who taught me how to structure a trust proposal and how to write for impact, through to Jennifer Cormack at CRUK who showed me how to lead a team collaboratively. Debbie Gilbert at St Giles Trust showed me how to show up as a leader (and never to take no for an answer!), Catherine Miles at Anthony Nolan showed me how to manage upwards and protect your team, and Russell Delew at CRUK gave me the opportunity to work on what was at the time CRUK's biggest capital campaign and secure some of the biggest gifts of my career… Was a charity career always your goal? It really wasn’t; I didn’t know what fundraising was when I applied for my first job in the sector. From childhood I wanted to be a journalist, but fell out of love with the idea on graduation (although three of my family are journalists on TV and in print now, so I feel I'm living the dream vicariously through them!) and I was at a loss what to do with the skills an English Literature degree and a naturally nosey nature had fitted me for. Luckily it turns out being inquisitive, talkative, with a good memory and a way with words is a perfect basis for a career in trust and major gift fundraising. How do you keep your skills fresh and ensure continuous learning along the way? I'm a huge fan of continuous learning - we can all learn something new. I've been working as a fundraiser for 25 years (ARGH) and still enthusiastically sign up for the Institute of Fundraising Convention each year alongside interesting looking briefing events, and especially the Showcase of Fundraising Innovation and Inspiration’s (SOFII) annual I Wish I'd Thought of That event. I also think it's imperative to learn from your peers and keep your ear to the ground with what's happening across the sector to ensure you don’t end up in your own little organisational bubble/echo chamber. To that end, I set up a networking group and invited people I met across the sector to come along; we meet four or five times a year and share news, ask questions, ask for support and advice and make connections. It's fascinating to see how other organisations deal with the challenges we all face - we're meeting in May, and I can't wait to hear how everyone is dealing with COVID-19! What would you advise graduates seeking to join the sector, or more experienced people considering a leap into leadership? When I'm interviewing, I always look for behaviours over a skill set, so my only advice to graduates would be show flexibility, how you've taken on new responsibilities or roles, and your willingness to learn. Skills can be taught. For people moving into leadership - choose the organisation carefully! I’m being half-facetious, but the serious point is to look at how the organisation supports its managers and leaders, what's expected of them, and what training there is internally - for example on managing a team, conducting 121s and annual reviews. These skills are key to managing and too many organisations think they’re innate. They aren't, as anyone who has suffered with a badly trained manager will tell you. Aside from that, be open, honest and transparent - turn up as yourself, and as authentic as you can be. When times get hard, it's tough to maintain a facade! And finally, approach someone you admire and ask them if they'd be willing to act as a mentor. I've listed some of the people who have been key to my career, but I've learned so much from so many people across the sector which has been invaluable. What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given? Christina Grant (who contributed to your article on how to be assertive at work) had a profound impact on me when she worked at CRUK as a trainer. I use some element of her Raising The Bar training and coaching every single day in my work life; the key one is 'Human beings like threes'. Every single meeting opener, presentation, 121, PDR, whatever, I frame around three key points, because it works! What’s the most challenging part of the job? I’ve had lots of challenging jobs, and roles that I’ve left because I couldn’t see how I could make a useful contribution. I can honestly say that I don’t feel that way in my current role; the only challenge, as cheesy as it sounds, is sometimes reining a really ambitious team in! And the best bit? Where to start? The pride in knowing the work we do has a direct impact on cancer, and today, on COVID-19 as CRUK pivots to working on vaccines and treatments for the pandemic, and releases clinicians and nurses back into the NHS to work on the front lines of coronavirus. Working and being in awe of world leading medical researchers who are answering the toughest questions of cancer. Working with world leading fundraisers from whom I can learn so much. And knowing that my mum would be so happy that I've come back to CRUK, an organisation that she supported. What have been your career's biggest ups and downs to date? Up: working with a family who were keen to support an area of work, and who, after a couple of false starts, agreed to an initial gift of £1.1m, and then a further gift of £5m towards a campaign. I secured that gift just before going on maternity leave, so there was a nice completeness to it! Down: working up a huge proposal, full agreement from the finance team and CEO, all ready to go just before Christmas, for a January board meeting date. My ‘spidey sense’ was tingling, though, so I thought I'd make one last check with the project lead. After a couple of days they came back with 'Oh, we've decided not to do that anymore'. It was, I'm afraid to say, the final nail in the coffin for my time at that organisation! Who do you look up to in the sector or more widely? One of my oldest and dearest friends is a sister in A&E in our home town; I’m always in awe of her, but especially at the moment. My sister is a primary school teacher. and after four weeks of trying to teach a six year old, I'm in awe of her, and in fact all teachers. Across the sector, I look up to those people who walk the walk not just spout the theory - I'm loathe to name names as I know I'll leave someone out, but the people who have closed the big gifts, grown income streams, got senior leadership buy-in for major gift fundraising and in doing so created transformational growth. Let's finish with some quick lifestyle questions: are you up with the lark or a night owl? Left to my own devices, I would go to bed at 8.30pm and sleep til 9.00am. I love sleep. Juggling a small child and a full-on job, the lie-ins are less frequent although I am blessed with an early bird husband, so I definitely get more than my fair share! What gets you out of bed in the morning, rain or shine? Usually the six year old asking questions about dinosaurs, trains or planes ... more seriously: deadlines and wanting to get on and make a difference. Urgh, that sounds awful. But true! And what's your dream (and actual) breakfast once you're up? Dream breakfast - lockdown over and travelling again - would be some mixture of fresh eggs, bread and fruit overlooking the sea somewhere hot and beautiful. If it could be the motherland of Spain, so much the better. Actual breakfast more likely to be overnight oats with yoghurt whilst logging on … Does a typical day exist? Not really, but it would usually involve checking in with the team, checking in with senior managers, or looking over proposals and reports for donors to feed in my thoughts: after 25 years of doing the job, it's really key to me to share what I was taught and what I've learned the hard way! Also planning, taking part in some thinking about upcoming projects or launches, and best of all, meetings and calls with supporters and senior volunteers to talk about the work of CRUK, and to solicit their support in a variety of ways. What are you reading, watching or listening to at the moment? I'm an English Literature graduate who, in another life, would have been at my most content lost in an English department somewhere writing an interminable thesis on Austen. I have weird reading tastes - early 19th century fiction and contemporary US fiction. My favourite authors are Jane Austen, Curtis Sittenfeld, Tom Woolfe and Jonathan Frantzen. I could happily just read them for the rest of my life. Oh, and Mhairi McFarlane for cracking modern UK writing. I have absolutely gutter tastes in TV though; Tiger King was a recent highlight and aside from that, rubbish reality TV, especially the Real Housewives franchise, or what my husband calls 'your programmes about ladies shouting at each other’. I’m relatively new to podcasts, and just didn't get them at all until I came across Gossipmongers and I’m now a convert. Best. Podcast. Ever. And finally, how do you wind down in your spare time? If I have any, I like to switch my brain off with things that are detailed but mindless like knitting. I make many, many scarves, as that's about the limit of my skills. I dream of being able to make something more complicated. A huge thank you to Susana, we very much appreciate you taking the time to share your story, career insights and invaluable advice with our readers - we wish you and CRUK all the very best in the challenging weeks ahead, and of course for the future! Nicola Greenbrook - HR Specialist and Freelance Writer Contact Nicola, check out her website or follow her on Twitter, or for more on Cancer Research UK and why they need you more than ever, please visit their website. More Charity Careers #1: Sara Rees, Head of Fundraising, Rays of Sunshine ► #2: Hannah Sanders, Consumer Brand Partnerships, Save the Children ► #3: Andy Harris, Director of Income Generation, Shelter ► #4: James Harris, Associate Director of Communications, Marketing and Membership, Rethink Mental Illness ► #5: Chris Oak, Associate Director HR & Facilities, SPANA ► More from the Harris Hill blog 12 tips for video interview success Interviewing via video is the new normal for now, and if it's also new to you, here are some practical tips on the process from our executive recruitment experts, courtesy of director Jenny Hills. Read more ► How to work well from home Millions of us are doing it, but is working from home really working for you? Nicola Greenbrook has the lowdown on the lockdown and advice to help you turn the new arrangements to your advantage. Read more ►
Interviewing via video is the new normal for now, and if it's also new to you, here are some practical tips on the process from our executive recruitment experts, courtesy of director Jenny Hills. Getting the basics right: make sure what's behind you isn't distracting How to get the best from video interviews By now you'll probably know the basics from the video meetings that have come to dominate all of our working and social lives: make sure your camera and microphone are working ahead of the call, check your pyjama bottoms aren’t in view below your smart top, and that what’s behind you isn’t distracting. But over the past few weeks, we’ve picked up a few additional practical pointers that can help you ace that all-important video interview: Try a test run If you’re not familiar with the videocall platform you’ll be using, ask your friendly consultant for a quick technical test-run. We want you to nail this meeting, and if a test-run will help that, we’re only too happy to do it. If you’ve applied directly, ask a friend to do a test-run with you well ahead of the interview. Lights, camera, wardrobe Wear what you would normally wear (at least on top) to an interview. However, keep in mind the quality of your camera and the lighting. You don’t need a camera any fancier than the one that came with the laptop/smartphone, but if you know the image quality isn’t great, try and sit in a well-lit room, and consider the colours you are wearing. A white shirt in front of a white wall in bright sunlight might mean you blend into the wallpaper too much. On the other hand, wearing dark colours in room with less-than-great lighting risks you appearing as a grainy blur to the panel. In all cases, don’t silhouette yourself in front of the light source! Steady your nerves (and devices) If you're using a smartphone or tablet, find a way to prop it up and keep it steady for the interview, rather than holding it in your hand: a shaky picture can detract from what you're saying and create the impression of nervousness, even if you're confident, calm and collected. Stay informed Keep the relevant details (job description, person specification etc) and your application to hand, either printed out or in another window of your screen. If you’re switching between screens to look at something (most videocall platforms allow you to do this without leaving the call), remember the panel can still see and hear you. Be prompt Keep to your start time! Normally, arriving 10 minutes ahead of an interview is good practice, but if you log into the Zoom meeting early, you may interrupt the panel’s pre-interview discussion, or they may simply not be there and they’re taking advantage of a quick break to run to the bathroom. We’ve been advising our candidates to log in a minute before the actual interview. This gives you time to make sure the audio and video is working before it cuts into precious interview time, but also allows the panel to take their breaks, talk amongst themselves and be ready. Remember you're on camera! When on videocalls, some people understandably forget about eye contact and look around the room whilst talking (as many of us do when we’re thinking). Don’t stare down the lens (creepy), but try to keep your eyes on the screen. It doesn’t really matter where on the screen, but the person who asked the question is a good bet, especially if you find looking at yourself distracting. Express yourself There’s no need to be a mime artist, but if you use body language (nodding, smiling, leaning in, etc) you might want to exaggerate it a little bit more than you would in person so it shows up on camera. This helps engagement between you all as people. Someone sitting motionless and expressionless is hard to relate to, and the panel want to get a sense of you as a person and as a potential colleague. The show must go on For relatively minor audio and video disruption (screen freezes, distorted audio), we advise ignoring it unless it has impaired your understanding of what the panel are saying/asking. We’ve found that this keeps interruptions to a minimum, and on the flipside, we’ve seen conversations lose momentum when every bit of digital static is commented on. Be expressive, but not a mime artist. Also recommended in all other situations. Don't panic This way of working is strange for all of us, so don’t be phased if something goes pear-shaped. Can’t hear? Explain and wait for it to resolve (leave and re-join if necessary). Six-year-old has to show you the spaceship now? Cat decides it needs to sleep on the laptop? Smile, ask the panel for a quick pause to deal with it, and get back to it. We’re all human, and if the panel doesn’t understand that, do you want to work for them? Stay focused That said, despite the interruptions and informalities of working from home, the conversational style in videocalls is by necessity pretty formal (even for an interview). If two people speak at the same time, both are completely unintelligible so everyone has to take turns to speak. You are also missing out on almost all the non-verbal clues that we don’t realise we rely on so much. A particular risk is talking to fill the silence and missing clues you’d normally spot that the panel are disengaging from your answer, so stick to focused, relevant answers (the STAR technique is a good general guide). If you’ve said something interesting and they want more detail, they’ll ask. Make sure you leave a pause between someone asking a question and you talking to ensure they’re done, and that panel members are given opportunities to ask follow ups. Be flexible If your internet connection is bad enough to disrupt the conversation, apologise, fix it if at all possible, but if not, ask if you may switch your camera off and go audio only, or even dial in to the call instead. This should be a last resort because it’s the only way you can hear and respond to the panel. On the other hand, if one or more panel members go audio only for the same reasons, don’t get phased and keep your eyes on the screen. Just because you can’t see them, it doesn’t mean they can’t see you. BYO refreshments Finally, much as they’d like to, the panel can’t offer you the glass of water/tea/coffee, so make sure you have one to hand for when you need it. A separate celebratory beverage for when you leave the videocall having given the best interview of your life is optional. To wrap up, there are practical differences between the usual in-person interview and a video interview, but the intent behind them is the same: for you, is this a job you want? For the panel, are you the person they want for the job? Being able to adapt to these differences may not guarantee you the job, but feeling more confident and relaxed about the process will give yourself and the panel the best chance of making the right decision. Jenny Hills Chief Executive & Director Recruitment Practice, Harris Hill Search executive opportunities ► More from the Harris Hill blog How to work well from home Millions of us are doing it, but how well is working from home working for you? Guest blogger (and frequent home-worker) Nicola Greenbrook has advice to help you keep things running smoothly. Read more ► Should you be working for a large or small charity? The biggest charities may have the biggest opportunities, but you'll typically take on more responsibilities somewhere smaller - so which is better for your career? Faye Marshall and our fundraising specialists weigh up the options. Read more ► How to be assertive at work Altruistic behaviour is fundamental to the charity sector, but saying yes to every request can leave you seriously overwhelmed. Nicola Greenbrook explores how you can learn to stand your ground and be more productive as a result. Read more ►