60 seconds with Larraine Solomon

September 8, 2019

I recently caught up with Larraine Solomon, Global Vice President of Internal Communications, Employee Engagement and Change at Monster Worldwide. Larraine and I discussed her career in communications to date, the main challenges she faces, the qualities she looks for in employees when building her team and her predictions for the communicatins sector in the next 5-10 years.

What made you get into internal communications and employee engagement?

Early in my career, I was a commercial business leader and sales manager with a healthy cynicism for what I perceived as ‘soft’, people-related issues.  But data is always convincing, and results from Employee Engagement Surveys always made me sit up and think!

For many years, organisations like Gallup have been looking at trends in this space and the needle has not moved a great deal.  Broadly speaking, in Europe and North America around a third of workers are ‘engaged’ – people who are involved in, enthusiastic about and committed to their work and workplace.  Around 20% are actively ‘disengaged’ – people who have miserable work experiences.  The vast majority of people are in the ‘not engaged’ category. They may be generally satisfied but are not cognitively and emotionally connected to their work and workplace; they will usually show up to work and do the minimum required but will quickly leave their company for a slightly better offer.

Despite the exponential growth in technology, most organisations still rely on their employees to succeed.  If we could improve the way people feel about coming to work every day and create a shift in engagement levels, can you imagine how much of an impact this could have on business results, as well as the lives of workers and their families?

With the experience of improving the employee experience in many organisations in my career, I have seen the impact that my work has had on many thousands of people.  Every day is a ‘wow’ moment for me!

What are the main challenges facing you in your role?

I am privileged to be part of the Executive Leadership Team at a global organisation.  At a macro level, the global economy, increasing competition with new entrants to the market, as well as our ability to develop and implement market-leading customer solutions are key challenges for our business.

Putting my Employee Engagement hat on – I prefer to think about the term ‘challenge’ as an ‘opportunity’.  Like many organisations, Monster is undertaking significant change and my job is to help involve people on that journey so that we all feel that we are part of the solution rather than part of the problem.  I believe the expression “people don’t like change” is a fallacy – people make big changes in their private lives all the time.   I enjoy helping organisations to create a climate where people feel invested in and excited by change.  It’s a big opportunity.

How do you effectively use channels in employee engagement?

I don’t think you can ‘do’ employee engagement to people through internal communications channels.  They are simply a helpful tool.  Instead, it’s about creating a climate in which people want to do their best work every day.  In my experience, there are a few key ingredients to enable this:

When hiring into your team, what do you look out for?

I believe that a sense of ‘restless curiosity’ is a key skill for a successful communicator along with strong commercial acumen.  I expect my team to be able to really get under the skin of the business, be able to give sound advice, and have good knowledge of what is going on everywhere – both within an organisation and externally.

Alongside this, having a team that is passionate, positive and able to get on with stakeholders everywhere is very important to me.  And of course, a great sense of humour is vital in a comms role!

What changes do you think we will see in the industry in the next 5-10 years?

The obvious answer is advances in technology.  I have been listening to a webinar today about the increasing use of chatbots that know who you are and what you need before you even ask for it.  Artificial Intelligence, the growth of the digital workplace, the prevalence of video-based communication and machine learning will undoubtedly continue to change the shape of our industry.

But I think the real shift will be more fundamental than that.  Success will be a mixture of high tech and high touch.

Over the last few years, levels of trust in governments and organisations have diminished.  Politicians have been at the centre of scandals, traditionally powerful figures such as CEOs have been discredited and the growth of social media has begun to shift levels of trust from a top-down orientation to a horizontal one in favour of peers or experts.  In many respects, the traditional world order we have experienced in our lifetime has never felt so broken.

Yet people long to be able to trust and feel that they can do meaningful work that is appreciated every day.  I believe that senior leaders and managers have an opportunity to create that environment, and good communication professionals will play an even greater role in elevating the capability of leaders.  Great leaders increasingly need to be able to motivate, engage, inspire, tell stories, listen to people and more.  We are uniquely positioned to help them to communicate better, create relevance and a line of sight to what is important.  Given the scale of transformations happening in every organisation, the size of the prize is very high.