On 5th December 2016, Relate Greater Manchester South (GMS) voted to unanimously to leave the Relate Federation and set up as a whole new organisation.

This momentous occasion was the result of two years of hard work, led by Michelle Hill, to resolve difficulties within the organisation, understanding their strategic vision and establishing their new values and principles. As an organisation, they had diversified away from Relate – working to support individuals with all the different relationships in their life, and offering a range of support, therapies and programs of work to create safe, happy and healthy relationships.

On 1st April 2017, TLC: Talk, Listen, Change was launched. The launch involved creation of a whole new brand, ensuring that staff and volunteers are truly engaged with the new organisation, as well as transformation of their building.

In this 20-minute video from the 2017 Happy Workplaces CEO Conference, Michelle talks about leading the charity through a period of growth and transformation, highlighting what she did to bring her staff team on the journey with her and what the impact has been on both the people they work with and their bottom line.

Click here to download Michelle’s PowerPoint slides, or click here to jump to the full transcript of Michelle’s talk.

What you’ll hear in this video:

  • Making our people feel good – How TLC made sure that staff and volunteers were really engaged in the organisation (3:38)
  • Being transparent and giving staff a voice – Working with staff to ensure the organisation is truly inclusive and representative with LGBTQ staff groups and staff forums (4:30)
  • Building relationships within the organisation – TLC’s staff team-building committee organise events using staff donations, including staff fundraising challenges and picnics (6:50)
  • Freedom within clear guidelines – Using pre-approval with Paige, TLC’s Marketing Officer and Brand Guardian to develop a new website and advertising campaigns, and to transform the building to a comfortable, modern environment (9:00)
  • Recruit for attitude and train for skill – Creating a recruitment process that reflects TLC’s new values and finds people who shares those values (15:00)

Resources and related content:

Full Transcript

I’m going to discuss ‘can you be a Happy social leader?’, and ‘can you use the Happy principles in a charity?’

First I’ll start by talking a little bit about who we are.

We’re TLC: Talk, Listen, Change – not Tender Loving Care, although we do offer a lot of tender loving care as well. We’re a new charity that started on 1st April [2017]. We’ve been operating in Greater Manchester since 1981 as Relate, so part of the National Relate Federation, which most people have heard of, but most people think it’s a white, middle-class, marriage guidance and marriage counselling organisation.

I was brought in by Relate in Greater Manchester three and a half years ago, because our Greater Manchester charity was struggling. We’d run out of cash, we had six years of deficit budgets, and I was brought in with the remit of ‘you do something differently or we close, and you’ve probably got about twelve months to turn it around’.

At that point we did a piece of work thinking about who we actually are and what are we here for, and realised that what we’re here for is relationships, because that’s what we believe in. It might be in a marriage, as Relate work, it might be working in relationships through counselling, but actually for us it’s about relationships.

We had two years of fixing some problems and difficulties in the organisation, so I had a year of every time I turned over a stone, I saw something that had gone wrong and I had to fix it.

That got us through until 2016, by which point we’d understood our strategic vision and where we were going.

We’ve come up with the basis that we’re a relationships charity, and what we want for each individual is to be surrounded by safe, happy and healthy relationships. For us, relationships are every touch-point in a person’s life. That might be the relationship with yourself, it might be the relationship with your partner or ex-partner, with your family, with your friends, with your school or your employer, or with your local community.

From that concept, the idea of TLC was born. At that point it was clear that we’d diversified away from Relate. Our strategies were different. For us it was around all those different relationship touch-points, and a whole range of support, therapies, and programs of work which help create safe, happy and healthy relationships.

D-Day for us was 5th December last year, 2016, when we voted as an organisation – every member of staff, every trustee, every volunteer, around 150 people. We voted unanimously that we would leave the Relate federation and set up as the new organisation of TLC, and we launched as TLC on 1st April.

I suppose the question is, are we a happy organisation? This is a photo of Anna, our Head of Domestic Abuse Services, at the end of our official launch on 11th April. On that day, realistically, everybody was happy, because we’d had a huge journey to get through to launch, we’d had to leave lots of stuff behind, we’d had to get lots of new ways of doing things, and there was a huge sense of euphoria when we got there on 11th April.

Day to day, are we happy? We’re trying our best.

I’ve picked out some of the key things that we’ve done, particularly in the last six months but really in the journey over from Relate to TLC, to show you how we do it. Everybody who’s read the Happy Manifesto will see we’re taking some of the keys lines from this, because it’s where we’ve picked up all of these tips.

Our first thing is making our people feel good.

We, as a relationships charity, really believe that the relationships we have with our staff, our volunteers, and our trustees, are absolutely key. We have about 70 paid staff and 60 volunteers, which has grown massively in three years. Three years ago there was one full-time member of staff, now we’ve got 41 full-time equivalent members of staff, which is actually 29 full-time people, and a number of people working part-time.

What we’ve done over the past few years, is a number of different ways of making sure that staff and volunteers are really engaged in our organisation. Our focus is on being the best possible employer that we can be, recognising that as a charity we often won’t do that through salaries. We’re not a bad payer of salaries in the charity sector, but we’re never going to match the big boys in the private sector. We’re going to have to create our employment offer in different ways.

One of the things we’ve done is work through some of our staff who are maybe unrepresented in the staff team or don’t have a voice in the same way, so we have a LGBTQ staff group for all of our lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer staff (that’s the name that they’ve come up with for their group) which is ten members of staff across our organisation. It’s a closed group, I’m not part of the group or allowed to know who is in it because not everybody in the group is openly out in the organisation.

That group of staff are doing a really critical piece of work at the moment, where they’re reviewing every organisational policy, every communication that we put out, everything that we stand for, and testing are we really an organisation that’s based on relationships. They have full transparency of everything. They have sight of every board meeting, every set of board papers, every policy. We have an agreement with them that anything that they don’t think we’re doing well enough, they come to me, they raise it, it gets dealt with. I have contact with one person from that group, who’s open and happy to be out in the workplace. What we’re trying to do with that is test that the organisation for people we’re meant to be serving matches with the organisation that we actually are internally.

We also have a staff forum, which is a group of staff lead by one of our team. I am allowed to go but by invite only, so I don’t have to be there, and that’s staff across the whole organisation coming together and talking about what’s going well, what shall we keep doing, what shall we stop doing and what shall we do differently. It’s not mandatory, people can attend if they want to. We change the location, we change the date, the time. Sometimes they have minutes, sometimes they don’t. Sometimes I get an invite, sometimes I don’t.

Some of that flexibility I find really difficult to sit with, but actually it works really well. Certainly through the transformation and the change process, the staff forum was the vehicle for keeping people engaged, for people to say whether they understood the communication and where we were going, or if they needed something different.

I know people have said staff happiness isn’t about going to the pub and having staff socials. We wouldn’t say that it is, but we would say that for part of our journey that’s been really important. Staff team-building activities have been really key. As a relationships charity, two years ago we didn’t have good relationships across our staff teams, and as we’ve grown and diversified, we’d happened to fall into organisational silos. Our staff social activities are about bringing people together.

This is a photo of our staff picnic, and the signs at the top say, ‘we love TLC because…’, and Vicky who’s our mediator says, ‘we love TLC because it feels like a family’.

Ultimately one of our values is to have relationships that are safe, happy and healthy, so it’s absolutely essential that we model that day in day out with our staff team. My two children are pictured here in the egg and spoon race. We talk about bringing your whole self to work, being authentic and being who you are; we don’t want you to come in and put your work clothes on and have to be a certain person, we want you to be the real you, and we want the real you to work with the people that we work with.

All of our staff activities are self-organised by our staff team-building committee. They organise all of it and we fund it through staff donations, we don’t use any of our core costs to run it. We’ve had some incredibly competitive events, and the latest thing that the staff team are doing is they’ve separated into four different teams to run a staff fundraising challenge. They’ve all got a target of bringing in £5,000, which is the target they came up with. Four different teams bringing £5,000 of unrestricted income into the organisation by the end of March, so that we can spend it on more services that help more people, and there’s a really healthy degree of competition at the moment between the teams. Part of that for us has been about creativity and people really being able to think with their whole self and bring it into the organisation.

One of our other key elements over the last couple of years has been freedom within clear guidelines. We very much use pre-approval.

This photo is of Paige, our Marketing Officer. Paige is 23 and is our second youngest member of staff. She was pretty gutted when we recruited a business administrator who’s 21, because she liked the title of being the youngest! Paige is our Brand Guardian. We launched at the beginning of April with a completely new brand. We’re building a brand from scratch so we’re trying to get TLC out there so that people recognise us and know who we are. It’s Paige’s responsibility to build the brand.

We did some work at the beginning about working out what those guidelines were and what being Brand Guardian meant, and then we’ve said, ‘off you go, it’s up to you, you’re our marketing expert’. Paige reports directly in to me so can use me for support as and when she needs to, but, ‘off you go’.

Some of the differences that we’ve seen in how we’ve build a brand are just amazing. Our new website launched about six weeks ago. The first day I saw the website was the day after it launched. The first few weeks Paige was asking me, ‘what do you think about this colour, what do you think about this font’, but I reminded her to go back to what we said about pre-approval. She knew the outcome we were aiming to get for. You almost saw her come to life, because actually she’s really creative, she thinks really quickly, she wants to test new things, and actually the website is amazing. The difference that we’ve seen in traffic through to the website in the last month is unbelievable.

Equally, Paige has got responsibility at the moment for running our first ever advertising campaign. When we had the Relate name, we never needed to advertise because people know Relate. It’s on every agony aunt column that you read, it’s on day-time TV all of the time. Nobody knows the name TLC, so we’re just about to launch our first advertising campaign, which is also the first time as a board we’ve ever committed any money to advertising. It’s taken me probably the last 12 months to convince the board that money on advertising is money well spent, and we can demonstrate a return on investment. To do that we’ve just taken on our first form of social investment, so we’ve had our first ever repayable piece of finance since 1981, so this is a big, strategic decision for us and also it’s a high-risk decision for our board.

Paige is running the advertising campaign on the same basis as the website. She’s got the guidelines, she knows what return on investment we’re looking for. We tested it out on the website, we know she can deliver, and off she can go.

Again, the process is happening that I only see the copy when it’s been approved, so she’s able to ask me questions as she goes through as many times as she wants, if she wants me to look at stuff she can do. It’s not about letting her go without any support, but it is about giving her that complete freedom to be creative and do what she can do to the best of her ability.

Our first advert goes live on 1st December, it’s now been approved by the magazine it’s going in, and it’s happened to go in to a magazine which is local to where I live, so the first time I see it will be when it comes through my door at home.

I’ll be honest, there’s a little bit of me that’s absolutely terrified about that because that means that my neighbours, the parents at my kids’ school will see it, but actually the difference that you’ve seen in six months as we’ve taken this approach to Paige has been amazing.

What’s happening is that it’s spreading out. We also have a building transformation team. If you have ever been to Relate, all Relate buildings across the country look the same, and look very traditional, voluntary sector. You walk into a building with pretty bad chairs, a few of them may have a few stains on them, they’re not always that comfy. It’s not a particularly comfortable environment, and what we’ve been saying over the last few months is our building doesn’t match our new brand. It doesn’t match who we are, it doesn’t match our identity.

We put it out there for the team to say, what we want is a new building but we haven’t actually got very much money, so we can’t afford a new building. We’ve got complete transparency about our finances so everybody knows we haven’t got very much money. We can probably cobble together £1,000. We’ve got a building in Manchester, we’ve got a building in Stockport, see what you can do. We did the same thing, sat down with a group of five staff members and a volunteer who put their hands up and said, ‘I’m quite creative, I could think about how I could do that’. We gave them £500 – 1,000 for two different centres. We work with 3,800 people a year, so it’s quite a lot of footfall coming through the organisation.

The first stage of the building transformation is next Friday. The whole building’s being repainted, a huge amount of furniture has been ordered and we’ve got different designs on all of the walls. This is something that I didn’t quite think was doable for £500, and I only found out yesterday that it’s not doable for £500! They’ve managed to contact a rail organisation who have agreed to come and put a team of 20 engineers into our building next Friday to do it all for free. It’s actually going to cost us about £100 because B&Q have agreed to sell us the paints at a very reduced rate, so all we’re actually doing is providing the paint and the rail charity are doing the rest.

I am continually blown away by when we give people the complete freedom, and they’ve got the vision, they’ve got the values, they know where we’re going, the results that we’re getting for the staff team are absolutely amazing, but more importantly for us, for the people that we’re working with.

The final bit, which is with honesty what we’re trying to do but we’re not quite there yet, is recruit for attitude and train for skill.

When we started to think about this, the first thing that we realised is we didn’t really know what our values were. Until the end of March we had Relate values. They’re very good values, but we’d not actually done a piece of work understanding what our TLC values were.

Our first stage was to work with every single member of staff and volunteer to create our values charter, which is a really lovely hexagonal document. Basically it boils down to three things: to be vibrant, to be transparent, and to be rewarding. Every bullet point on the charter came from a post-it note that members of staff and volunteers came up with, so it’s a values charter that’s been built from the bottom up.

One of the things that I’m really clear about at the moment is that we haven’t completely got every member of staff who shares our values. We’ve got some members of staff who’ve joined us in the last few years who’ve absolutely got with us on the journey, and we’ve got members of staff who started with Relate 25 years ago, and although they may have voted to become part of TLC, actually really did quite like the old way of doing things. Building on the values charter, we’ve created a ‘My Contribution’ document. We’ll still have some line management one-to-ones, but My Contribution, which will be linked to how people progress in terms of pay across the organisation, is all about how do you contribute to living out your values day in day out, what can you demonstrate that you do, and again that’s been delivered and built with the staff.

Last week we tested our first set of recruitment, recruiting purely on values, and we tested it with our Chair of Trustees – this is the most senior position in our organisation, the chair of our board. We had a bit of a balance with the board because some of the board members still wanted very formal questions, so we did do that as well, but the final decision came down to how the Chair of Trustees engaged over coffee. We went for a coffee outside of the office, or a diet Coke as a I don’t drink coffee! There we had that interaction about values. We knew they were an experienced Chair, we’d seen their CV, they did fine at interview, but what we wanted to know is do they actually live these values and demonstrate them? How do we connect, and if I say things that aren’t in line with the values, did they call me out on it? I think the call is going out today to appoint our new Chair of Trustees based on values.

I don’t think we’re quite there yet in terms of convincing the organisation it’s the way to go, and we’re not there yet in convincing the staff team, but we’re definitely on that journey.

It says in my bio that I’m a current Clore Social Leader. The Clore Fellowship is a leadership programme for social leaders in the charity sector, and one of the key elements of Clore is about being authentic and bringing who you are into the workplace. It starts with know yourself, be yourself and look after yourself, and it’s also been a really interesting process about being comfortable with the word ‘leader’ rather than the word ‘manager’, so actually we’re a leader of people rather than just doing control management.

We’ve just finished running a 21-day leadership game of Bingo which is something that was developed through our Clore Fellowship, and that was open to every member of staff across the organisation – it’s not about your position, but about your attitude and whether you want to be a social leader. We had a team of 14 people from very different levels – people who work part-time, people who work full-time, people with ‘manager’ in their title, people who are our front-line staff and our administrators. We carried out together 21 different leadership activities, a third of which were all about bringing your true self to work. We had a Slack channel, and again one of the things I was amazed and very humbled by was how honest people were about why they came to work, why they like working for us and what their values are. I don’t think this is one that we’re there yet with, we’ve got more to do.

To finish, I would say, does being a Happy social leader matter? I think it’s easy to say in a private sector you see increased profit, you see growth, but does it matter in the charity sector? And absolutely, it does.

We won some awards last week which is fantastic, it helps to say we’re an award-winning charity, which we now are. We’ve grown massively, so we’ve tripled our growth in the last three years, which means tripled our turnover but it also means tripled the number of people that we work with. We’ve seen increased outcomes for the people that we work with.

The main thing, I think, is that being a Happy social leader or a Happy organisation has lead to a staff team who are more engaged, which has lead to better outcomes for people.

I ummed and ahhed about whether to put this at the start or the end, because this is actually why we do it. This is a real quote from somebody we worked with last week.

“I just wanted to tell you how grateful I am for all the professional help you have afforded me over the course of the last 12 months. Your support and advice has meant so much to me. I want you to know that throughout my life, I will always remember this moment. I came to you in a bit of a mess and whilst it has taken twelve months work, I am proud of the progress I have made. I am proud to be me again! I know that I still have a long way to go but you have given me hope and I cannot tell you how much that means to me. I am upset to have been ‘cut loose’ but I know that the timing is right and I feel ready to stand up on my own two feet. You have given me the confidence to be the person I wish to be and to communicate better with others. We, as a couple, have hope because of you.”

That was an email that I got last week about one of our members of staff, who works with us six hours a week – this isn’t her main job, she’s a GP in her day to day life.

The reason that we embrace Happy is because of that email, and that’s the reason I would urge all charities, social enterprises, people working to make people’s lives better, to think about being a Happy social leader.

Happy's next event

Happy's next event is Creating Happy Workplaces in Charities and Social Enterprises, a joint event with ella Forums and Happy. With speakers from Christian Aid, the social housing sector and Happy, you will learn how organisations both large and small have implemented ideas around autonomy and trust, how to help your staff work to their strengths, and how to create workplaces with a no blame culture. The conference is aimed at leaders of charities and social enterprises, with tickets available for just £95 per person.

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