AB Thinks  →  6th April 2020

Good Vibes – Marc Barone on Authentic Leadership

AB Thinks

In Season 3 Episode 4 of The Internal Comms Podcast, Katie spoke with Marc Barone, chief executive for continental Europe at global engineering design firm AECOM.

Totally committed to two-way, authentic internal communication, Marc is often on the frontline, listening, asking questions and checking what he calls ‘the vibe’ of his organisation.

The discussion covers a wide range of subjects, from Marc’s approach to leadership and what he looks for in an IC manager, to how to cut through the noise in his organisation, and ways in which the coronavirus is impacting his business.

Here we share a few of Marc’s headline thoughts on communicating with a diverse workforce – in his case, 57,000 employees spread across more than 120 countries. Listen to the podcast to hear more of his views.

#1 Contextualise your organisation’s purpose for all employees
“We are one of the largest engineering professional design firms in the world. With that sort of scale, one of the challenges I face every day is ‘What does something mean to the everyday employee? How can they feel that they’re making a difference?’ They might not be involved in the biggest projects, but they may be involved in a very small project that has an impact in their community. Part of what I think my role is, in terms of communications, is going out and visiting people, seeing what they’re doing, and helping them put what they do in the context of the bolder vision and purpose for AECOM. If people take pride in what they’re doing, then they will bring their heart and soul to the project. If I can create an environment where people leave their working day feeling more energised than when they started, then I think I’m doing my job right.”

#2 Choosing and using the right channels
“The channels with which you get your messages across are very complex. We have four generations in our work environment. One generation wants to use Instagram, while Twitter works for some, LinkedIn works for others, and the good old-fashioned Town Hall works for the remainder. Blending all of that is what you have to do. I could probably post five times as many things as I post, but I do a summary so we’re not inundating people with things. By keeping those messages broad, you can share more information, as opposed to having a Twitter feed that says, ‘this hour I’ve done this and then the next hour that’. It’s not easy, and I have struggled with it. As time progresses, you just think, ‘what do I want people to know?’ A lot of people ask me pretty regularly, ‘what do you do and what are you up to?’ and I can just say, ‘have a look at LinkedIn and you’ll get a good feel for what’s going on’. The way that our business is spread out, I have to be out there and sharing this stuff, which allows people to see that I am in various offices, because it’s difficult to get around to all the offices on a weekly basis.”

#3 Practise authentic leadership
“When you walk through an office and people want to talk to you about certain things, it shows that they’re engaged and that you’ve created an environment where going up to the boss isn’t a big deal. Every now and then, people will mention something random that I’ve put on Twitter, for example, ‘that recipe on quince jam, can you give me that?’ or ‘we’ve a couple of geese, Thelma and Louise, that we’ve just put onto the pond. They seem to be settling in nicely.’ Things like that. I hate using the term ‘authentic leadership’, but that does make you authentic and people see you as a real person. I tend to not post ‘AECOM is presenting at this conference’ sort of messages, because we have enough people doing that. I try to get people to think ‘how can we boost engagement and get across that sort of family feeling?’ If you can create a sense of family and community, then the delivery for our clients improves.”

#4 Imaginative thinking increases engagement
“We’re trying to mix things up to get people to engage with our communications in different ways. An email we sent to everyone in our Continental Europe business recently asked: ‘Are you in a caring relationship?’, with the options of ‘Yes’, ‘No’ or ‘It’s complicated’. When you clicked through on any of those answers, you got a video of our COO Tom Pitts talking about our client promise and the relationship that we need to build with our clients. It was one of our most popular click-throughs and we were able to get that message across and achieve a lot more views than would typically happen on that sort of comms. I think we hit a 70% view rate, when our typical comms is sub-50%. We had people complain that we were being intrusive, but those complaints meant that people were engaging with it. You’re not doing anything offensive; you’re just trying to get people to engage with these messages – because, with the quantity of messages that are out there, yours can get lost, and you need to find a way to get the important ones through. What we’re finding is the ones that are a bit more fun and a little bit cheeky are the ones that get the biggest responses.”

#5 Don’t be afraid to try something different
“Sometimes something touches a nerve and it works really well. Then there are other times when you think ‘oh, that looks great’, and then discover about six people looked at it in the business. So, one of the characteristics I want for our internal comms team is for them to be resilient. When something doesn’t work, I want them to bounce back and think, ‘alright, what are we going to do next time to make it work?’”