HR professionals can learn a lot from the charms of pop starlet Taylor Swift.

Why Taylor Swift and not any of the other prodigious music stars out there? Essentially, it’s because Swift excels at the kind of self promotion that appears altruistic in its approach. She knows how to engage with her fans on a personal level, secures their buy-in and loyalty and gains column inches in the process – all of which appears positive.

Swift communicates with her fans on a consistent, reliable and open basis – she is always ‘switched on’ because she knows that her fans are too. The latest of her well-publicised exploits involved her writing a cheque for a fan to wipe out said fan’s student debt. She also went viral with a Christmas video when she used various social media platforms to find out about her fans; their interests and their issues, before shopping for a personalised gift box full of their favourite things and sending it to them with a handwritten note – she even delivered some in person. Of course, their reactions were also filmed! A very well executed promotional campaign that somehow made Swift appear nothing short of virtuous.

Now, I know the majority of CEOs and MDs won’t feel at first glance that they have an awful lot in common with Swift, but they could definitely learn a thing or two from her about how to engage with people in order to create and maintain an engaged audience and a positive public image.

So what exactly can they learn from Swift?

1) Make it personal: Making people in your organisation aware that they are valued and recognised is hugely beneficial. It garners improved staff morale and raises productivity. It also leads to reduced staff absence, higher staff retention rates and therefore lower recruitment and training costs. It can be as simple as acknowledging a person in the corridor with eye contact and a smile and using their first name in your greeting. Engage with your staff regularly and share something of yourself with them – be visible and be human. It’s hard to relate to a name plate on a closed door.

2) Get your staff to buy into your journey: Swift is taking her fans along for the ride and is a master of engagement. She seems approachable rather than some unobtainable icon on a pedestal. This means people relate to her, which buys her fan loyalty and because she is inclusive and shares her life they stick with her.

Heads of business need to get their staff to buy into the journey their company is making – make them feel like they are part of the journey and engender a desire in them to make it to the end as an important part of a winning team. This is all about promoting open communication on an on-going basis across all levels of staffing. Leadership comes from the top – if you are clear about where you are heading and why, and can get your staff on board, you’re half way there already.

3) Listen to your staff: There is more to them than what is listed on paper under the title CV. Effective engagement is a two way street. Swift knows she has to listen as well as tell. Use discussion forums, suggestion boxes, staff representatives, working groups or employee surveys to establish what your staff think and feel about their jobs and the business. You could be sitting on a gold mine of an idea but unless you stick a shovel into the ground and start digging, you’ll never know.

4) Be consistent: Do what you say you’ll do and stick to your message: There is no point in doing any of the above if you aren’t prepared to put your money where your mouth is. This cannot be undertaken as a flash in the pan type of exercise. If you let people down, you’ll lose their loyalty and will have to work twice as hard to re-establish a relationship with them. Swift does this brilliantly – her fans feel they know her and that she is invested in them and she consistently meets their expectations, even on occasion surpassing them.

5) Work hard to engender an honest working environment where initiative is encouraged and rewarded and blame isn’t bandied around like a big stick: Good results can be achieved by doing things differently so be open to new initiatives. Swift has certainly carved a niche for herself in the pop world by doing things differently. Although there have to be rules and guidelines, allow your staff to be inventive and encourage an environment where mistakes are seen as the stepping stones to success rather than as a shortcut to unemployment. Fear stifles creativity.

6) Share your success: In the same way that Swift wrote a cheque to help a fan in need, when your business does well, make sure you acknowledge the role your team has played in its success. You could consider an away day, shopping vouchers, a small gift, a party… Whatever it is, it doesn’t have to be a grand gesture; it just has to be genuine. Once again, this garners staff loyalty and improves working relationships. It also incentivises people to continue doing the best job they can.

For further information about The Survey Initiative, visit

Title image courtesy of Eva Rinaldi via Wikimedia Commons





Gary Cattermole, Biography - Gary's initial grounding was in the areas of sales and marketing, in the mid nineties he joined Longman Software Publishing to head up the business development of SURVEYkits (the worlds first employee opinion survey toolkit). After spearheading its growth over an 18 month period, Gary joined EMPLOYeSURVEYS, the original developers of SURVEYkits, helping to establish EMPLOYeSURVEYS as a leading provider of employee surveys.
Following its successful growth, in 2006 employesurvey was bought by a leading consultancy group.

He has managed numerous employee research projects for a variety of organisations. He is a partner at The Survey Initiative (and enjoys sports, in particular table tennis and football).