Just over 12 months ago, we (Jennifer West and Graham Miller, founders of Humans Being At Work) worked with a large public sector organisation which, for some time, had been operating under a cloud of workplace bullying allegations. We facilitated 14 focus groups where we listened to staff views and recommended a way forward for the organisation. The organisation had recently had a change of CEO, and what struck us most profoundly was the impact of this new CEO had on staff morale in only a matter of weeks. Despite a prevailing negative view of the organisation’s past amongst those we spoke with, there was an amazing level of hope for the future – seemingly because of this new CEO.

When we explored what was behind this unexpected optimism, we discovered it was the new CEO’s humility, ‘realness’ and his sense of humanity. One of the first things he did after taking the reins was to reinstate YouTube access for staff – this had been removed by the previous CEO. He also started a weekly email to all staff, and a number of comments were: “I really look forward to getting the Friday email”. When we looked at why these weekly emails were so popular, we saw that they included ‘work stuff’ delivered with some humour and humanity – they included photos of the CEO’s dog (disrespectfully) lying on the Board papers, and photos of the CEO’s family – yes, he was a person!

He also set up a special email account for staff to email him directly with queries or questions – and staff did. One focus group participant told a story of how she had sent this new CEO (who she had never met or seen) an email; later that day, she was sitting at her desk and “this guy came up and asked me if I could spare some time to talk – turns out it was the CEO! I couldn’t believe it!”. What people in that organisation were experiencing was a human being, treating other human beings like human beings. That’s all. There was nothing hi-tech going on here. There was no latest management fad being implemented. It was just genuine people-focused behaviour. A simple human touch generated such positivity. Amazing!

This experience was one of a number which spawned the ideas behind Humans Being At Work. It demonstrates the impact that leaders have. If you think back across your life at work and the people you have worked for, what did ‘the good ones’ do well?