Ready? The Big Pivot

The pandemic has changed many things about the ways we travel, live, work and engage with one another. In the workplace whole modes of functioning have switched – some clients have reported phone calls have all but vanished as video calls replace not only face-to-face meetings, but also what would previously have been introductory phone calls. People, and businesses, have realised that they do not have to be in an office five days a week but instead can do many aspects of their role remotely.

But one of the biggest changes we have seen across 2020/21 amongst our clients is the understanding of the vital importance of the role of their workplace culture – and the understanding that it can be shaped. Now, as the world ‘unlocks’, many of our clients are beginning to consider which cultural changes they want to retain and build upon, and those they wish to ditch. In essence, they are asking themselves: “What do we want our culture to look like? Who do we want to be?”

Psychologists define Organisational Culture as “The collective of behaviours exhibited by the people within an organisation”. Traditionally speaking, workplace culture is something that evolves slowly, over a long period of time, and broadly speaking does not change very much or very fast.  However, like many things which evolve slowly, sometimes a drastic shock to the system causes a more dramatic, seismic shift. The pandemic has been such a catalyst.  Driven by necessity, the past twelve months, has seen all our Clients change the way they work – all at a speed most transformation leaders can only dream of. They have embraced digital tools and, in many cases, made great leaps forward on the path toward full digital transformation.

The use of digital tools has given a lot of employees the misleading impression that a physical presence in the office is no longer necessary. Whilst it is true that many professional jobs can be done remotely via technology, equally many business leaders recognise the importance of being face-to-face for the interpersonal, cultural aspect. When you are with someone in person you can build a relationship and read their body-language, creating rapport and trust that can rarely be built over a videocall. Equally, many businesses are recognising that certain spontaneous moments of collaboration that occur naturally in the office environment are harder to replicate working remotely.

So whilst it is a mistake to embrace presenteeism – for staff to think that ‘showing up’ is somehow beneficial and equally a mistake for leaders to think that presence equals control, there are benefits to retaining a physical space where collaboration and interaction can still happen.

Many of our clients are approaching this using a hybrid model of working from home and an office, to enable their people to retain the benefits they have experienced whilst working from home, while also maintaining and developing a strong culture.  This has seen leaders having to adapt their approach – replacing the implicit messages that would have travelled around an office to ensuring that messages which are explicit and communicated remotely. This has great benefits in terms of being more inclusive for individuals who might have missed an implied message – a cultural reference, or an ‘in-joke’ – but can be challenging for leaders used to leading in person. The most successful leaders in this time have allowed themselves to ‘over communicate’ – and encouraged their people to do the same.

Many clients have come to the realisation that trust is essential – and asked us to help them to build trust, giving their people the space to take ownership of their jobs, and allowing them to complete their work in the way that they think is best. Micro management within an office has long been shown to be counterproductive and remotely it may not even be possible, so now is the time – and for many the opportunity – to make a shift to a culture of empowerment.

Other clients are approaching us because they are thinking of committing to a fully remote workforce – and some of their reasons are compelling. There have been few leaders who have not looked at the rent bill on their balance sheets over the last year and wondered if that central location or full-capacity workspace was really worth it. But whilst remote working may seem cheap, it can come with some hidden costs to your culture. For those who live alone, lockdown has meant social isolation, cutting off a vital source of socialising with others. Some junior employees are missing out on the informal ‘training’ they would experiencing, working physically alongside more experienced colleagues. Research also suggests that people who work alone and on their own tend to become less productive over time, despite working longer hours than they did in the office. None of these challenges are insurmountable – but they need to be addressed head on.

This means that whatever your approach to working and work locations post-Pandemic, it’s important to consider the cultural impact on your business first. If you want a culture which prioritises employee wellbeing and mental health, how will you accommodate those who have felt isolated and cut off during the pandemic? If you prize training and development and growing your people, how will you ensure that junior colleagues do not miss out on informal training? There are plenty of things that a leader can do to mitigate challenges and grow targeted elements of their culture – but it’s vital that they are introduced deliberately and openly, to achieve maximum investment from the workforce.

When many of our clients approach us, they often don’t even realise that the challenge they are talking about is a cultural one. For them culture is something organic, which evolves (which it is!) but which makes it impossible to manipulate or dictate. But that’s simply not true – great Leadership is about building and developing cultures. Get it right, and everything else will flow from that point. Get it wrong, and you’ll be fighting your way upstream against the current. A programme of Leadership development then is not just a way of assessing whether your leaders are ‘match fit’ for the new normal, but also a way of asking: “what culture are we building here?” and “Who do we want to be?”

Using these tools, we are supporting clients in building upon the new-found trust, empowerment, and collaboration for the benefit of their business and people.  Using a combination of success profiling, leadership assessment, and people development, we can help Clients identify and build upon the positive elements of their culture highlighted during lockdown, identify rising stars, and help raise the calibre of their people via tailored development programmes. This approach allows clients to ensure both their business and people are fit for the new future, and in a position to take advantage of post-pandemic opportunities. It can also provide strong succession plans creating a culture of opportunity helping retain and attract talent.

If you would like to confidentially discuss how Norman Broadbent Group could help you overcome your business or people challenges, please contact Nick Behan on +44 (0) 0207 484 0106 or via nick.behan@normanbroadbent.com