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Leadership Lessons with...Louisa Fyans, Director of Communications at the Football Association

This month we interviewed Louisa Fyans, Director of Communications at the Football Association. Louisa shared her thoughts on the importance of employee wellbeing in the workplace and the key qualities needed to pursue a successful career in communications in 2022.

Louisa Fyans

After two years of leading organisations remotely, what have you learned about virtual leadership?

On our last day in the office before we went into lockdown, I called everyone into a meeting and asked, ‘how do you want to do this?’ We agreed to have daily meetings which ended up expanding to twice a day – the reason being that we’re an incredibly busy office of 20 people and the FA is constantly being asked a lot of questions from the media. It also offered a chance to check in and focus on the day and interact with the rest of the team. Everyone attended those calls and we’re still having them now both remotely and when we’re in the office. It helped the team to feel really connected and as a team we had the opportunity to talk far more than we usually do. It was important to have a lightness of touch – these calls weren’t just business but also an opportunity to have a laugh.

As a result, we’re now much better informed about everything that other people are doing, and it became a really useful mechanism for us to coordinate. It has been an invaluable learning in terms of leadership.

How is remote/hybrid working affecting your company culture and what can leaders do to sustain a culture for remote teams?

The FA are very strong on company culture, and we do a culture survey twice a year. During covid I took over internal comms and, with HR, we made much more effort to ensure that the CEO was speaking to staff every week. We’d also have a general staff newsletter which helped people to know what the FA was doing and really feel part of the organisation.

There’s now work to be done in committing to what a hybrid culture looks like as people start to come back to the office. We have realised that being in the office is hugely important - with face-to-face human interaction you often pick up on the nuances that are difficult to spot on a virtual call. Being in a room with people also sparks far greater creativity.

Employee demands are changing beyond salary and benefits. What changes are you seeing and how can leaders meet these evolving employee demands? 

There has been a lot of movement within the last couple of months as people reassess their lives post covid and what they want to do for work. While salary is always important, people are now more conscious of their work/life balance and are looking for greater flexibility.

With an increasing focus on workplace mental health, how have you seen the industry supporting the well-being of its employees?

We take the whole issue of mental health very seriously at the FA. A lot of these people are in an elite performance environment and good mental health is critical to performing well in that environment. We have a mental health and wellbeing manager who sits across the whole organisation and is constantly looking at where the stress points are. We also have a mental health and wellbeing intranet page which offers counselling and advice, and we also have lots of courses available. Covid has been very hard for a lot of people, as is the cost-of-living crisis, and it’s important that managers regularly check in with their teams.

Post ‘the great resignation era’ – what challenges do you think leaders face in 2022?

Post covid we have seen quite a lot of movement across the organisation as people re-evaluate their work-life balance. We’re a not-for-profit organisation, and so salary wise there are perhaps some more lucrative options elsewhere in more commercial organisations.

What do you think are the key qualities needed from leaders in 2022?

I’d say resilience, especially because over the last three years we haven’t been able to know what’s going to happen. It’s key to make sure that your processes are right because you can’t necessarily control the outcome anymore.

Empathy is also very important – take people with you, don’t just tell them what you want them to do. There’s an immense pressure in society to get things done really quickly, but I think with that there’s a great danger of not being able to deliver as effectively as you might.

What skill sets do you think employers within the comms industry will be looking for now and in the coming years?

I wouldn’t go into comms if you want a 9 to 5 job as the nature of the work means that it can be 24/7. Not being too rigid on what you expect on a day-to-day basis is also key – being flexible, agile, and creative is really important as is the ability to talk to people and be intuitive and perceptive.

I think speaking to people – specifically journalists – and getting to know them is so important rather than just sending transactional emails.

What are your company’s objectives for Diversity and Inclusion in 2022 and what do you think leaders can do to drive diversity and inclusion within the workplace?

The FA has worked really hard to improve the diversity of its workforce and also in football generally. We introduced the new Football Diversity Code to ensure that football boards became more representative of the players on the pitch.   This has been supported well by the football community.  I think you have to be quite brutal with yourselves as an organisation and ask why you're not getting the diversity of applicants you would expect.  Then take the steps needed to change this.

There is increasing expectation on companies and CEOs to lead on sustainability practices in line with 2030 Global Goals. What ESG strategies can leaders adopt for sustainable development and purpose?

We’re soon to launch our sustainability strategy which will include a massive commitment across the whole organisation to make change.

Posted on 03.08.2022

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