The attention and scrutiny the Royal Family receives has been eye-opening for me as an American newly-arrived in London. The latest shake-up in “The Firm” sees the departure of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle alongside an unprecedented situation: two statements from Her Majesty The Queen in one week — but it didn’t have to be this way. This might have all been avoided with the application of a few communication truths that consultants know to be paramount to unlocking business performance.
The good news is, there are lessons to be learned from Megxit — and businesses would be wise to pay heed to them.
Prince Harry is one of the most popular royals, and the addition of Meghan Markle to the family was expected to increase the relevance, accessibility, and star power of the Royal Family as it works to transform its image. But ‘harsh’ working conditions – in this case, intense scrutiny, rules, and flagrant bullying by the media – can burn out even the best and brightest over time. Almost 600,000 people in the UK experienced workplace stress in 2018[i]. That’s a serious number.
Added to that stress is unpleasant job duties – many have noted that Prince Harry seemed visibly bored during the more ceremonial parts of the job. We all have aspects of our job that we like less than others, but those who are considered ‘top talent’ are always looking for their next growth opportunity or challenge. If they don’t find it, they leave. So, how are you identifying your top talent? What programs do you have in place to encourage learning and development? What internal mobility options are available? For example, the line of succession limited Harry’s career mobility. If people can’t move up… they’ll move out.
Prince Harry has made admirable and laudable strides in elevating the conversation around mental health. From disclosing his own struggles – thus helping to normalize this health condition – to supporting and spearheading various mental health initiatives, his impact is undeniable.
We need to recognize the effect the uncertain world we live in can have on mental health. Sometimes the causes of stress aren’t what we think, and mental health extends far beyond the usual suspects of anxiety, stress and depression. What about confidence? Or resilience? Or loneliness? By expanding the definition of what it means to be well, and investing in resources to assist your employees, you set more people up to thrive. After all, in the words of the Duchess herself: “It's not enough to just survive something, right? That's not the point of life. You've got to thrive. You've got to feel happy.”
Harry has expressed — in one form or another over the years — his discontent with being royal. While he’s committed to serving and has expressed his desire to do so, it’s undeniable that the rules, pressures and lack of privacy surrounding his life, would weigh heavily on anybody. He’s made that known… but he was never properly heard.
With your people, it’s not enough to check in once a year with a few token questions on an employee engagement survey. By then, it’s often too late. One downside to traditional surveys is that it’s a look-back — one that can introduce inaccuracies with how we remember experiences. In-the-moment sentiment tracking is often a more accurate predictor of how employees are feeling – right now.
There is an old (well, I suppose new) adage that advises people to write every email as if it will be forwarded to the whole company and published externally. Terrific advice. But it’s also crucial to pause and think about the impact what you’re about to say will have — as well as who is saying it.
When Meghan and Harry released their bombshell announcement to step back as senior royals, the communication professional side of me thought: “Wow, that was carefully worded… but still rife with so much emotion. Time to get the popcorn out.”
The ripple effect of a statement like they released can be minimised through a technique called a pre-mortem, in which you hypothesise all the reasons why your strategy or message could fail. That insight guides more productive decisions.
Their ripple effect could have been minimised if their statement had appeared to be a joint effort with The Queen — and not a rogue posting of a disgruntled couple. Who the messenger is, greatly impacts who we listen to… and who we don’t[ii].
I’ve been thinking a lot about the question: “Why do we peddle purpose?” A conclusion my colleague and I reached is that in a place where the world is ostensibly our oyster and expectations for success are high, we’re desperate for any handrail we can find to guide the path. But what about having too many handrails — such as in the case of Harry and Meghan? Is it really purpose if it’s handed down to you?
His first statement after the news of the arrangement was released, expressed his desire to serve, but also for a peaceful life. It showed me that it’s not enough to solely buy in to a company’s purpose – not many companies could have a stronger purpose than that of an established institution like the monarchy. It’s not enough. Employees also must find their individual purpose. How, as a company, are you helping to unlock that? Is individual purpose embedded in onboarding? Is it encouraged via participation in a company’s sustainability efforts? Some companies now even offer paid volunteer time off.
Meghan and Harry have a new path forward, and I wish them well. As communicators, the lessons from this whole situation were striking. Don’t lose your version of Harry – keep top talent engaged and aim to provide worlds of work where people can do, feel and be their best. If you’re thinking about how to get the insights needed to inform stellar communication and engagement strategies, drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
[ii] Martin, Steven & Marks, Joseph. (2020). Messengers: Who we listen to, who we don’t, and why. Random House: New York.