Protecting Culture & People – Our Return to the Workspace
Published October, 2021
By Fiona Hutton
Everyone’s talking about return to offices, including how to reflect new models and adjust to varying employee desires, the economy opening and changing business and consumer landscapes. As a mid-sized public affairs firm, we have a unique perspective, unique client base and unique workforce.
With a mandatory vaccination policy in-place, our offices are now back open and we have implemented a new hybrid work model that seems to be working well. It took time, investment, and a willingness to listen to bring people along the journey and understand what was best for our team, but also our clients and work products.
Our process was spread over several months and included:
Analysis of industry trends and invaluable conversations with peer CEOs
Roundtable employee team meetings
Consultation with legal and HR
Careful adherence to local and state safety guidelines
For us, we learned that returning to the office environment was important for several key reasons:
Team building and creative collaboration
Allowing for better mentoring, teaching and onboarding new employees
Ensuring we have a space (physically and mentally) to be creative and strategic – without the (let’s be honest) distractions of home
Preventing us from becoming stale and isolated
Providing better work/life balance (the pandemic clearly blurred the lines of work and homelife)
Offering important human interaction – we’re a company and industry built on human interaction. Lockdown is just not in our DNA
Renewing our sense of energy, curiosity and creativity (and hope for the future!) We are looking forward to growing, learning and leaning in as a united team
Booking a solid base of important work
Sharing an excitement to see our clients, friends and colleagues in-person again
Ultimately, we settled on an updated flexible model, offering two days of work from home and three days in the office. Some functions (such as bookkeeping) are permanently at home and visiting the office once a week or so. Recognizing that this is unique to each office culture and that each team member approaches their individual needs differently, our team is clearly happy to be together again. They missed the camaraderie. I see young staffers stretching and growing faster with the direct and quick interaction with senior leaders – all supported by a level of trust and flexibility for their personal time and balance.
It’s a work in progress. We’re constantly assessing, but I’m pleased with where we are today and how we’ve held firm as a team through the past 18+ months with grit and grace.
Onward to 2022!
President’s Corner Protecting Culture & People – Our Return to the Workspaceandrev@veryperceptiv.com2021-10-08T16:55:25-07:00
Welcome to the inaugural President’s Corner. As you all know too well, the COVID landscape is profoundly impacting how we interact as business professionals. The very foundation of business is being interrupted — personal networks that foster trusted relationships with industry partners and ultimately help build sustainable businesses are missing that intangible factor born from interpersonal connections. Basic foundational approaches to running a healthy PR agency are being rethought as California shifts back into a more restrictive shelter in place order.
Our employees here at FHA are textbook extroverts and thrive on personal connections. We’ve enjoyed building meaningful relationships across a statewide network of political and communications professionals working in some of the most high-profile and complex issue areas. We thrive off the camaraderie, collaboration and find genuine pleasure in meeting new people with similar values and missions.
But, with today’s new world, FHA is increasingly focused on expanding our digital footprint and virtual outreach for the near future – at least until we can safely attend all those in-person opportunities we love so much, including the classic Monday morning Southwest flight to our State Capitol. I’m hopeful doing so will help us continue to forge relationships and expand our network.
In the editions that follow, we’ll plan to share observations on industry trends in public affairs and my personal passion for leadership and teaching team management skills, highlight recent communications and advocacy work and issue expertise, recognize team accomplishments and showcase some fun elements that pull the layers back a little on FHA and help illustrate who we really are. Because at the end of the day, this business really is all about personal relationships.
But that kind of bullying is just one obstacle that prevents women from realizing their full potential. Just as insidious and omnipresent – and deserving of our collective attention – is the internal lack of confidence that I see among young professional women every single day.
Girls are taught at an early age they can do anything. Kindergarteners are told they can become an astronaut or doctor. In high school, they’re taught self-empowerment on social media. In college, they live in a rarefied bubble of gender equality.
They graduate and step into entry-level positions and are thrilled with newfound independence. Then they hit what I think of as the “middle years” in the workplace.
Young professional women often hit a wall in their early 30s, and don’t get appropriate support – a missing link that can make or break a career. I’ve spent nearly two decades running a public relations and political consulting agency in California’s highly competitive market, managing some amazing women. I’ve learned that a support system, often so present in the early years, is paramount for young professional women ready to jump to the next level.
Culturally, men have it reinforced every day that it’s natural to be ambitious, and appropriate to seek recognition. But that reinforcement too often drops off for women just as they hit a make-or-break point in their professional development and career trajectory.
Here in the “ideologically advanced” Golden State, I have a handful of female colleagues who own or are CEOs of agencies, and who understand both dynamic politics and communications and the scary bottom line of a P&L. I actively seek out their guidance. I also have spent countless hours mentoring young women.
I want the capable women around me to succeed in ways they always wanted or perhaps hadn’t even envisioned. They are incredibly smart and work so very hard. But, they often need encouragement to lead, negotiate, decide and challenge with confidence – skill sets sometimes outside their comfort zone but necessary in order to take that crucial step into positions of senior leadership.
How to speak confidently in a meeting and drive decisions forward. How to present publicly. How to negotiate a financial deal or a pay raise. How to lead a team.
How to proactively advance your ideas and celebrate your successes. How to give frank feedback or criticism. These skills may seem simple, but poor execution can have devastating consequences as competition increases for senior level positions and higher pay.
Sheryl Sandberg arguably set the dialogue moving. But all of us should be thinking about how we can help promote and groom talented, well-qualified women. Leadership isn’t an inherited trait. We have to identify talent and propel it forward. It has to be cultivated and nurtured.
I had some early mentors – male and female – who provided invaluable feedback during my career, both in how I conducted myself as a young career woman and in how I learned to physically run my business. They are now a treasured “kitchen cabinet,” and I seek their guidance every day.
What I learned from them was that it’s not enough to just “do.” You have to “drive.” You have to take ownership of your path. I challenge the talented young women I know to do that. And, concurrently, I challenge all of you in leadership positions to think about the young women working in your organizations.
Seek talent. Talk frankly. Provide these young professionals a platform to rise and flourish.
The conversation about leadership can’t stop in high school and college or reside just in professional publications. And the role of confidence and its development shouldn’t be sidelined as we grapple with the other cultural factors underlying the shortage of women in positions of power.
Workplace atrocities like Weinstein’s aside, it’s in this day-to-day struggle for inner empowerment that the rubber meets the road in the real world. Sexual harassment in Hollywood is far from the whole story, grateful though we are that it is finally making some meaningful headlines.
FIONA HUTTON IS PRESIDENT OF FIONA HUTTON & ASSOCIATES PUBLIC AFFAIRS, AND SERVES ON THE BOARD OF DIRECTORS OF THE LOS ANGELES AREA CHAMBER OF COMMERCE AND OPEN CALIFORNIA. SHE IS AN AVID SUPPORTER OF #WINLIKEAGIRL.
If you’re seeing this, than you know that at Fiona Hutton & Associates (FHA) we like to challenge the status quo, do big things and keep climbing. This year, we’ve done many big things — and we’re more excited than ever about what’s in store for 2018 and beyond. As expert communicators, we know it’s our job to share the news and celebrate our success with those who make it possible: all of you.
Today, we launched a new FHA website. It’s bold, dynamic and showcases the expertise and services that set our team apart from the pack. Our new web presence is a mirror of our philosophy to get into the trenches with our clients on high-profile challenges and controversial issues, bringing fresh ideas and the best strategies, so we can win. Whether we’re taking on ballot measures, legislative efforts, advocacy campaigns or public awareness programs, we’re bringing our A game.
We’re partnering with clients and stakeholders to provide integrated communication strategies and solutions on a range of politically-charged issues that are defining California’s future. Two recent campaigns that stand out as shining examples of our approach: RunawayRX, a legislative coalition effort that led to the landmark passage of SB17 to rein in spiraling prescription drug prices, and WaterNext, a targeted education and outreach campaign designed to support Governor Brown’s CA WaterFix or “twin tunnels” project. These efforts demonstrate how we lean in with elevated thinking, breakthrough creative and the ability to mobilize movers and shakers to shape policy and drive positive change for Californians.
I’m incredibly proud of the work we’re doing and how we’re showing up for our clients each and every day. Our new website, growing team of superstars and swank new office space are a reflection of the trust that has been built with all of you over nearly 20 years. For that, I am most grateful. The future is bright, friends, and I can’t wait to see what’s next.
Mistrust and uncertainty are palpable around the country. Depending on where you sit, the news is fake or the facts are fake or—maybe a little bit of both. The need for trusted leaders is greater than ever as the public and policymakers wade through complex issues, trying to distinguish fact from fiction.
Whatever your industry, now is the time to own your expertise.
Expertise STILL Equals Opportunity
As trust of traditional leadership and long-standing institutions dwindles, there is an opportunity for experts—from engineers to C-suite executives—to become known, respected voices. Leaders in their fields can fill a void while raising awareness, strengthening credibility and building their brand.
I’ve worked with clients across dozens of industries, campaigns and causes. The issues aren’t always sexy, but there’s no better time than now—in this crisis of trust—to own your expertise and set the pace for your industry. The nation needs a broad spectrum of people who know what they’re talking about to come to the table with a strong voice to inform the conversation. The trust vacuum won’t stay empty for long, and we can’t assume it will be filled by responsible, credible leaders.
Facts STILL matter
The New Yorker published an article recently about how facts—categorically true facts—do not change minds. As it turns out, pesky facts have nothing on long-held beliefs (researchers have actually known this for some time). Studies show that people tend to dig in their heels a little bit deeper when presented with information that irrefutably disproves their point.
For the record, we at FHA strongly believe facts do matter. While they may not trigger a sea change of tightly held beliefs, their role in establishing credibility and shaping thoughtful policy shouldn’t be underestimated. The expectation of truth and accuracy creates the opportunities for leadership and conversation we’re seeing in this moment. Trust is held at a premium and, when millions of Twitter users have you under a microscope, you have to get it right.
Thought Leadership STILL Demands Credibility
In the public affairs world, where the messiest parts of policy, politics, business and media intermingle, owning your message and establishing credibility with your audiences is crucial. Thought leadership—serving as the go-to source in your field, informing public dialogue and contributing to solutions—is a great strategy for organizations, companies and causes trying make an impact and meet broader objectives. It’s also an integral part of reputation management. To be effective, you can’t just pop up when they disagree with an editorial or worse, when under attack. Establishing credibility during or after a crisis is, after all, often a bit like trying to fix the roof after it caves in.
Thought leadership isn’t a one hit wonder. It takes vision, endurance and some gumption, but the dividends are rich.
The rallying cry for truth and transparency is loud and clear as can be—now is the time to step up, speak up and set the pace in your industry.
For any entrepreneur, there are natural pivot points in your business trajectory and career, and I’m hitting another big one as I pen this inaugural blog. To tell people where you’re going, however, you need to tell them where you began. So, here it goes.
My first pivot was deciding to launch my own business.
It all started in a home office. Just me, a computer, some funky green linen business cards and a cell phone. While the infrastructure was limited, I had an entrepreneurial spirit, competitive drive and passion for my craft. The words “no” or “I can’t” weren’t in my vocabulary.
I loved politics and communications and had a great statewide network, leveraging years of experience working in government, campaigns, a public relations agency and in-house corporate communications. So, off I went in my spirited, albeit, naive self.
I hustled hard and picked up a few small projects, which led to my first hire.
She was a young woman who worked in a hall coat closet that I converted into an “office” with a tiny desk. True story.
Clients and projects quickly multiplied and we outgrew our home office/closet. I had to decide whether to stay a two-person shop or set up an actual office.
It sounds like an easy decision but it was actually complicated and fraught with anxiety. This was a big decision for a woman in the rough and tumble world of politics, trying to balance work and a young family. I exhausted our savings account to make the leap and scraped together what I needed to set up my office, bring on more staff and service our growing client base. It was scary and exhilarating.
It seems so obvious now, 15 years later, that I made the right decision. I am so proud of what my team and I have built, the work we do on behalf of our clients and the reputation we have earned throughout the state.
So what do you do after you finish climbing the mountain? You find a taller one.
The entrepreneurial spirit that drove me to start an agency just wouldn’t stay dormant.
I spent the last year soul searching on where to take FHA next. Lots of sleepless nights and many bottles of wine later the decision was made. It was time to expand further.
FHA is getting bigger and better. I learned in order to grow, however, we have to evolve. How the public, decision-makers, news media and stakeholders consume information and access content has dramatically changed. We must keep pace in order for our clients to succeed. The environment in which they operate has flipped on its axis.
It was the hardest shift for me personally and professionally, but I had a great kitchen cabinet of advisors and friends. Akin to so many entrepreneurs and small business owners, I had to shift from being the doer to the leader. My job now is to carefully consider the rapidly-changing media landscape, make bold investments, retain and recruit the best talent, re-assess our services and offerings, create and demand a world-class culture of excellence, and ultimately determine how to provide a unique value proposition to our clients.
In 2016, we made significant front-end investments to support the vision…luring senior level talent from global PR agencies who come with great insights and experience, building out an exciting new office space for our team that we’ll unveil in April, growing our creative/design services and expanding into digital offerings.
We’ll continue our core mission…developing effective messaging for our clients facing challenging situations. Now we’ll be sharing that message through dynamic content that will be distributed across more channels. You’ll see integrated communications, including owned channels, social, earned and paid media all under the FHA roof.
It’s hard work. I won’t sugarcoat that fact. But I feel more energized and excited than ever. We’ll be doing some really cool stuff in the communications field, winning for and alongside our clients, and we’ll be eager to share our stories in the coming weeks and months.