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The way we relate to others is what keeps us alive. Our humanity, when stripped to its most basic form, shows us that our sense of community, of belonging, is what allowed us to evolve into the society we are part of today. As a species, communication is the greatest resource we carry forward as it is constantly changing, adjusting, making room for the new worlds we create. Words are – arguably – the most powerful thing ever invented, and the way we put them to use is both our gift and our responsibility.

In the business world, corporate communication is fundamental for a company’s success. Internal communication has a crucial role in changing the culture inside of an organisation so that it can reflect the future we desire: one that is inclusive and allowing of mindsets that foster innovation. For today’s Alumni Profile, I had the pleasure of speaking with Alison Van Hees, who is a Communications & Business Engagement Specialist at IAG. In her own words, she says she is “passionate about creating engaging communications, content and training to facilitate transitions and change in my organisation”

Alison believes compassion is a great starting point when listening to people, and so we talked about that, and many other things.

Alison Van Hees

RG – It’s such a pleasure to have you here today. Can we start by letting our readers who you are?
AVH – Hi, I’m Alison. I’m an Aussie that has grown up in the Hunter Valley and has lived in Sydney for the last fifteen or so years, with a year in Sweden. I love good design and am interested in finding ways to bring positive change to the world around me. I also love photography, reading – and audiobooks – and spending time with my family, cats and cooking. Yes, I’m a dedicated introvert! (smiles)

RG – Nothing wrong with loving animals and cooking! Alison, what do you do for work?
AVH – My background is in digital media, training, and communications. I’m interested in ways to improve the processes and systems around me and help get everyone on the same page and moving in the right direction. I’m currently working as Communications and Business Engagement specialist at IAG, or Insurance Australia Group. I ensure that people across the company understand how they can harness new technologies and tools to improve how they work and collaborate.

“Innovation is important in every field of work because there are always ways to learn from our experiences and make improvements along the way.”

RG – Considering that getting people to work well together is a big part of your job, in your opinion, why is innovation important in your field of work?
AVH – Innovation is important in every field of work because there are always ways to learn from our experiences and make improvements along the way. Change is a constant in any company, so it’s important to communicate effectively, helping people understand what the change is, why we are doing it, how it affects them, and what they need to do. Innovation is how we make the world a better place, one step at a time. (smiles)

RG – When was the first time you heard about Design Thinking?
AVH – I am not one hundred per cent sure; I’ve studied design over the years so it could have been during one of my courses, or at a UX meet up. It’s something that’s come up again and again over the years and is such an important way of thinking. It’s a more than ‘form follows function’, but rather ‘function follows compassion’.

RG – Earlier this year, you participated in Echos’ Design Thinking Experience course. How do you think the knowledge you brought back to your work can positively impact your industry?
AVH – The most important thing is to talk with people, understand what their pain points are and listen to what would make life better for them. I think in any large company, people can feel overwhelmed with change happening on every side, so by using Design Thinking, I can focus on simplifying the key messages and communicating with clarity and compassion, ensuring that everyone feels supported along the way.

“Don’t discount any idea while you’re in the ideas phase. No idea is too small or too silly, let them all come out.”

RG – Were there any other “big learnings” that you took from Echos’ Design Thinking course?
AVH – Don’t discount any idea while you’re in the ideas phase. No idea is too small or too silly, let them all come out. You never know where innovation and ideas can lead. I can judge my own ideas too harshly at times, so it was fantastic to let them all flow out and then choose the best ones afterwards; no judgements.

Alison Van Hees

RG – What about on a personal note? Did you learn anything new about yourself after diving deeper into Design Thinking?
AVH – That talking to random people on the street can be fascinating, and it’s not hard at all once they give permission for you to ask questions. When people realise you’re interested in their opinions and are empathising with them, they want to share a lot with you.

RG – Nothing beats human connection, right? I was curious to know if you are currently working on a project and applying the Design Thinking methodologies?
AVH – Yes, in my workplace, we are aware there are a lot of technological changes and upgrades going on across multiple office locations, and people can feel overwhelmed, frustrated and confused. By using Design Thinking and listening with compassion, I am working to identify the pain-points to create a solution for staff across Australia and New Zealand which will include providing staff with clear points of contact for training, communications and to get help when they need it. I’m relatively new to the company, so it’s still a work in progress. My department is very interested in Design Thinking and human-centred design, so it is very supportive of us continuing to learn and apply the methodologies.

“Be quiet when accepting feedback. Feedback is a gift; you can choose to unwrap it and treasure it, or if you can throw it in the bin afterwards.”

RG – What pearls of wisdom would you share with someone who is starting their innovation journey through Design Thinking?
AVH – Be open to all the experiences, and let all the ideas come out. Don’t judge anything while you explore options because you never know what will lead to the very best ideas. Make time for everyone and have empathy; everyone has a story and things to share. And most of all, be quiet when accepting feedback. Feedback is a gift; you can choose to unwrap it and treasure it, or if you can throw it in the bin afterwards. As long as you are really listening while receiving feedback rather than jumping to your own defence, you will get the most out of it.

RG – I love what you said about feedback being a gift; it shifts the perspective from unsolicited advice to welcomed wisdom. Is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers?
AVH – The design thinking course was incredibly engaging and inspiring. It has made me a lot more confident with failing fast and failing often and getting feedback on if things are working or making sense to others before I spend too much time polishing and perfecting things myself. (smiles)

RG – Alison, it was such a pleasure to speak with you. I normally end my interviews by asking people to share a quote that inspires them. Do you have one that inspires you?
AVH – “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye” – Antoine de Saint-Exupery

RG – Thank you so much, Alison.
AVH – Thank you.

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Rani Ghazzaoui Luke

Rani is a writer and actor based in Sydney, Australia. She is Echos Head of Content & Communications, and the Editor in Chief of The Echos Newsletter.

Before joining Echos, she worked in full-service advertising agencies as a copywriter, moved onto writing for Broadcast Media, and landed on Digital Media, working first as a Digital Producer and later as a Digital Account Manager. Most recently, she was Lead Client Solutions Manager for GumGum Inc, an ad tech company specialised in Artificial Intelligence.

Rani is a highly curious individual that believes creativity and innovation are the most important tools to propel any person or business forward.

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