AB Thinks  →  28th June 2022

Let empathy lead the way with your frontline colleagues

In the final episode of season 7 of The Internal Comms Podcast, Remote but not unreachable, host Katie Macaulay unpacks the power of the frontline worker with Lily Goodman D’Amato, Delivery Trainer at US-based digital pharmacy Medly.

Lily began her comms career at Paris Baguette, a Korean café chain with a huge 3,000 locations worldwide. There she headed up a team as Senior Content and Communications Manager, connecting with a diverse range of on-the-ground employees – some of the most hard to reach.

Before entering the world of comms, Lily spent a decade working as a frontline employee herself, in the restaurant industry. She did this while pursuing a passion of musical theatre performance – and lauds this experience as truly formative for her comms career.

In this captivating conversation, we grow to understand how Lily’s unique perspective on frontline comms, alongside the training of line managers to delivery drivers, has allowed her to build comms plans that can reach and engage even the most distant – and frankly unbothered – colleagues within a business.

Here are a few key moments from the discussion.

#1 Spend time on the ground floor
Lily credits her success in engaging hard-to-reach audiences to her time spent in their position. Understandably, not everyone can give up a huge amount of time to spend in a server or delivery driver role – you’ve likely not got a decade spare to reach Lily’s level of experience either! But getting to know your frontline staff and spending a day on the ground floor with them is invaluable.

As Lily puts it, if you can remember what it’s like to be on the ground floor of a company, you will better connect with the people you’re trying to communicate with, because you understand their language. You understand what keeps them motivated, you understand what makes them frustrated, and you understand their day-to-day. And that helps in two ways. Firstly, it helps with communicating, and secondly, it helps you understand what you can ask of them alongside their workload and their day-to-day.

#2 Always lead with empathy
Truly connecting with your workforce at any level and any stage throughout their career means communicating and leading with empathy. “If you can put yourself in somebody else’s shoes, you will get somewhere with them,” explains Lily. And that goes beyond spending a day or two out in the field with colleagues, truly engaging with them to ask how they are, or how they reached a decision you don’t personally agree with, can give you true insight into other perspectives – you may learn a thing or two.

Never assume you know anybody’s lived experience, either at work or in their personal lives. Always lead with empathy at the forefront of your mind and you’ll connect much easier.

#3 Don’t neglect the power of humour
In Lily’s current role, she designs and delivers training to remote teams, including frontline workers in pharmacies, delivery drivers and line managers. Something Katie and Lily agree wholeheartedly on is the importance of line managers to any business – it’s essential to prioritise their engagement along with entry-level colleagues.

When approaching the design of new training materials, Lily is clear: “If it’s boring, it may not connect.” She combats this by including mixed media in her comms, such as a video, or something to listen to and click on. She uses colour to make the training materials pop the way a magazine would, and she likes to use a lot of humour.

“Why is Neil deGrasse Tyson so famous?” Lily quipped. “He is a physicist; that should be very boring.” Lily goes on to explain that it’s because he’s so funny. He brings humour into learning in a way that makes those deep questions fun. “So don’t be so dry, don’t feel like even if the material should be serious, find a way to get them to laugh, because it brings down their guard, it helps them connect. We connect through humour and fun and light.”

#4 Make the first day matter
Induction programmes can often be a wasted opportunity to really engage new hires with culture and values from the get-go. As somebody who has facilitated orientations in every company they’ve worked for, Lily knows just how powerful the first day is for any new hire.

“My approach is ‘This is a sales pitch for why you’ve made the right decision joining our company’,” she explained. “If you can capture them on day one and get them really excited and get them buying into the mission and your company’s values and your company’s vision, and then paint a real picture of what life at the company is like, that will make a huge impact.”

Don’t forget that it’s a two-way decision for that person joining your business, and you must act early to keep them engaged and get them to stay. If that means being brutally honest about ways of working, or areas of the company that are maybe a little stretched for now, then it’s key to be up-front.

#5 Inspiration can come from anywhere
Staying true to her tried and tested humour-led approach, Lily suggested that watching an episode of the US version of The Office can help you determine what works and what doesn’t. And while this was a tongue-in-cheek answer, and Lily also made some great suggestions for how we can communicate more effectively, comms is everywhere, and inspiration can be found in the most unlikely places.

As Michael Scott once said: