More often than not when reading articles on how to engage with, maintain and build a successful business culture with staff it’s written by people who have been so removed from A) Organisational working (as they’re now freelance speakers/consultants) and B) Who haven’t worked on the front-line for the best part of a decade (or two) because when they went solo they were probably at directorate level (at least). That in mind, here’s a heads up from a guy with sod all experience on how to make the most of your organisation.
Just Like the Movies
The other night I was flicking through channels and momentarily stopped to watch Armageddon. A move with a far better sound track than story-line/acting. Near the beginning (the prelude to meeting Bruce Willis and his motley crew), worried scientists, military folks and that guy who was married to Angelina Jolie (not him, the other one), were discussing how to stop an asteroid that was going to smash the Earth into little pieces. After raising the option of sending nuclear missiles to deal with the aforementioned threat, one of the scientists ruined the idea. Highlighting that if one placed a firecracker in their hand you’d burn it. However, if you held it tight in your hand, “your wife’s gonna be opening your ketchup bottles the rest of your life”. In order to prevent world destruction some folks were going to need to get up close and personal with a really large hunk of space rock.
Whilst hopefully not as explosive a process, when looking to embed cultural change it’s probably worth taking on board the Armageddon analogy. The culture of an organisation is an evolving beast. No big bang or fundamental reset will embed a shared focus and drive amongst staff. It is through hard won trust that an organisation can shift from one way of working to another. Just because you’ve watched a TEDx talk and went weak at the knees doesn’t mean the rest of your staff will follow. Yes, the overall steer needs to come from a strong leadership team with a long term strategic vision. But that needs to tie into the ‘ground floor’ reality of the staff who will be sharing and, ultimately, implementing that vision.
Treat your Staff as People, Invest in them and Reap the Rewards
Staff are more productive when they are well paid/proportionately paid for what they do. It also helps if they are undertaking jobs they find both rewarding and fulfilling. The Richard Branson quote of focusing on your staff and the rest will follow is typically used here. However there is another, more unlikely, source which highlights the value of investing in your staff.
In 2015 Walmart, one of the stingiest business out there, announced it would pay its workers more and revamped its in-house training. But just as crucially it provided more opportunities for career advancement. The end result? Whilst initial investment might have hit the bottom line of the company the overall signs are positive. The change in approach has seen more dedicated, productive staff joining the ranks (something known as the Efficiency Wage). Staff are happier, so are shoppers, stores are cleaner and in many instances are improving in performance. In short, don’t be a dick to your staff and your organisation will probably perform better as a result. Mike Ashley, are you listening, chap?
Look Outside the Traditional Approaches to Working
Be adaptable, learn through failure and don’t be afraid to test new ideas. Getting change in the Housing sector is like trying to turn around an oil tanker, in a typhoon, when the rudder is broken. We are quick to take on new projects but slow to adapt, change and get rid of processes. Even if they are flawed and not efficient. It feels that after so much advancement in technology, reducing so much of the day to day chores in our life we feel the necessity to fill it up with needless bureaucracy. It needs to stop, sharpish. Best put together a working group to ensure it happens, eh?
On the subject of learning through failure if you don’t already check out Paul Taylor’s piece on it. Or for a crash course in how not to do it, simply look at the England National Football Team.
Whilst the likes of Google and Facebook have long been noted for their different approaches to working. Let’s face it, computer geeks can be pretty highly strung and bribing them with easily accessible food and a ball-pit is a decent pay off. Particularly when you’re talking about two of the biggest and most successful tech companies going. For those of us operating in more mundane occupations/organisations, not to mention smaller budgets, challenging the orthodoxy on working hours is just as important as free grub.
In Sweden shorter working hours are again gaining traction. Though more recent pilots have been less conclusive than perhaps hoped, less sick leave and lower levels of stress have been reported. Longer term there’s the potential to not only improve the morale and work-life balance of staff but also productivity. Such moves may be impractical for many in the social housing sector, but more flexible and/or remote working may be just as beneficial. Just make sure staff don’t take the piss on flexi-time.
*A large part of Walmart’s working practices still suck to the point that neither me nor the ladyfriend shop at Asda, their UK arm, on principle.