adopting a 'people-first' ethos

I recently had the great pleasure of chatting with Georgegina Poulos, Global Director People at T2 as part of the Leadership Interview Series. We had previously spoken about the Unilever/T2 experience through the pandemic, and I was impressed by the commitment of T2 to a “people-first” ethos and adaptable leadership.

The company has gone through a huge amount of change, and I wanted to share some of Georgi’s ideas and strategies as part of our Leadership Series.

J – Can you share with us your strategies that you have employed throughout the 2020-21 period?

G - I think the most significant decision we made, and very early when the pandemic hit, was to adopt a people-first philosophy for all the decisions we have made. This essentially meant that we considered the wellbeing of our team members first and business second. We chose to extend a three-month full pay allocation to all team members and in fact in some countries and states where the lockdowns were longer, we extended this period again. The leadership showed true commitment by offering to reduce their own salaries before team members.  

J - That’s a brave decision and must have had some significant financial consequences.

G - Yes, we knew we would take a big hit on the bottom line, and we chose not to take any subsidies from the government. Luckily, we had invested heavily in digital platforms, so we were well placed to move to an online platform. We increased the digital team to ensure we were meeting the needs of our customer base and that we had a sustainable model for our team members.

J - How was your retention throughout the period?

G - We lost quite a few people who had concerns about retail as a profession, but other teams grew and developed skills and we had no issues bringing in new team members so overall it was consistent.

J - what do you think your key learnings are for you personally from this period?

G - The biggest learning was that you had to over communicate, and that communication had to be increasingly more transparent and open to build on trust.  If anything, we over communicated, we used Yammer, Teams, email updates, team briefings session globally, comms updates, webinars and had briefing sessions from the senior leadership team regularly.

J - How are you going to apply your learnings from the period moving forward?

G - There are several initiatives we have put in place:

  • We have focused our attention on building change capability across the company at all levels. We have introduced the PCI approach and will continue to build that capability over the next few years.
    We have also adopted a new communication model and all our team are trained around effective, transparent communication techniques.
  • We also have a stronger focus on wellbeing and have implemented wellbeing programs that are meaningful to our team members. We have implemented ‘no meeting periods’ to reduce screen fatigue and give people time to plan, catch up or be innovative.
  • There are five wellbeing activities that we focused on this year:
  1. RUOK Day
  2. World Sleep Day (week full of activities)
  3. World Suicide Awareness Day
  4. World Mental Health Week and 
  5. World Kindness Day
  • We have fully adopted the hybrid model of working and have set boundaries around how you work at home to create a clear delineation between home and work.
  • We have expanded our social connectivity by introducing more social occasions to connect with your colleagues and promoted colleague-led initiatives such as Harmony Day cooking class or LGBTQI plus activities.
  • We have built our leadership capability about how to lead in this new model and will continue to work on that.

The mood of the organisation is good, although there is a lot more to do. With our engagement rate sitting at 79%, it demonstrates that our team members are feeling safe and confident in our approach.

About Georgegina Poulos:

Georgegina Poulos is a senior executive with a strong human resources focus and extensive experience in both the international and domestic arenas across a variety of industries. Georgegina’s expertise is in organisational development, training and development, leadership, culture building, change management and diversity and inclusion. Her key strength is that she combines excellent organisational and communication skills with a strategic business approach to human resources. As an organisational disruptor she has a proven track record in assisting organisations achieve sustainable business growth and a positive operating culture within complex multi-site environments. Georgegina holds a Masters in Applied Sciences (Organisational Dynamics) and a Post Graduate in Human Resources and Industrial Relations. Georgegina is also an active member of the community with a strong fundraising focus for several non-for-profit organisations. She was the past of Chair of the Board, Hellenic Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (HACCI).


about the author

Jeannette Lang - General Manager VIC/TAS/SA

Jeannette has over 20 years experience as a senior HR leader. With a strong network (nationally and internationally) of HR practitioners she is focussed on the placement of senior and executive HR professionals.

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