In business, our relationships with each other are everything, and this is something that has been brought into stark focus by the pandemic. How organisations treated their employees during the early days of lockdown and how they continued to support them in navigating the ongoing strains of a highly unpredictable working environment has led many workers to review their priorities.
Unsurprisingly, we are now hearing a lot about ‘the great resignation’, as many employees seek new pastures, with requirements reframed to include more flexible working arrangements and more time for life outside of work. Those businesses keen to insist that workers return to the office 9-5 are likely to find themselves in trouble.
Put people first
Even without a pandemic context, creating an organisation worth working for should always be a priority for leaders. People are everything to an organisation, and success begins with treating them well. This means creating an organisational culture where employees can thrive by being their most authentic selves and accountable based on results achieved and not hours accumulated.
At the heart of a great place to work is the ability to be ‘human centred’, or, more specifically, always to put people first. There is no such thing as showing too much empathy; when employees feel seen, supported, and psychologically safe at work, they go the extra mile. All organisations strive for discretionary effort, and empathy opens the door to that.
Allow people the freedom to fail
Offering empathy doesn’t mean being soft; it means reassuring people that the organisation supports them – through both success and failure. Affording employees the freedom to fail can be a scary prospect, especially for entrepreneurs, but failure should never be perceived as something negative. Failure is essential to facilitating and breeding creativity. Remember that it’s ok to fail as long as people fail fast and use the learning to improve.
Communicate, collaborate, evaluate
To be a great place to work, every employee needs to be included in what the business is doing. Leaders must communicate regularly, clearly, and collaboratively, ensuring everyone’s views are invited, heard and played back into the business. This way, everyone understands that their investment in the business counts. Encouraging people to think about ‘what’s next?’ – both individually and for the organisation – further drives a spirit of innovation.
Leaders are key to facilitating such a culture, and it starts with breaking down rigid, traditional hierarchies in favour of a collaborative model. It involves bringing together diverse groups to tackle challenges within a loose framework whilst giving them the authority to react at the moment, allowing business agility and entrepreneurial risk-taking to come to the fore.
Build purpose into your business
COP26 provided a stark reminder about how important it is that organisations consider their sustainability credentials as an integral part of any future strategy.
This is vital not just for the planet but also for the future of the business. Customers and employees are placing increasing levels of scrutiny on organisations and making decisions about where to place their spending power or invest their talent based on the company’s ethics and sustainability credentials.
Organisations need to ensure that they are not just paying lip service to this but are actively striving to be better and do better. Keeping employees and customers up to date with these efforts is also vital to maintaining engagement and loyalty.
Create a learning culture
With the rise of automation and the future of work looking increasingly reliant on soft skills rather than rigid job descriptions, it has never been more important that businesses commit to investing in their people’s learning and development.
This is a dynamic and rapidly changing area for organisations, accelerated by covid. When the pandemic hit, for some companies, training and development all but ground to a halt, whilst others quickly pivoted to online offerings.
In a company worth working for, every employee feels the company values them as an individual and what they have to offer. This includes supporting them in their development needs. This area, therefore, must always remain a key strategic priority.
To get the most from any development process, it is vital that the training involves learning in the flow of work. This means people learn by doing, not by absorbing information in a situation that is separate from their normal work, processes, and responsibilities. By aligning the learning to work in real terms, organisations and employees can create real change, which will help realise both collective and personal goals.
Furthermore, if individuals are put at the heart of the learning process and their needs are really listened to, this will serve to foster a stimulating and fulfilling environment where human potential is liberated.
Using Covid as a catalyst for good
Covid-19 has changed the working world beyond recognition, with many changes that can only be for the better. Flexible working is now allowed in industries that never before thought it possible. Reasonable adjustments are now being made that open the door to increased diversity and inclusion in the workplace. Organisations now have a better appreciation for the pushes and pull we are all facing in our lives beyond our operational roles.
Businesses must seize this opportunity to reimagine their organisations for good. And the most significant step leaders can take towards creating a company worth working for is to commit to unlocking human potential – in employees, in customers, in the community and beyond.
About David Williams: David co-founded Impact in 1980 to explore adventure and experiential learning in people development. Now with over 200 colleagues working in the UK, Europe, America and Asia Pacific, Impact has a solid reputation for enabling clients to build leadership capacity and navigate complex change. To stay grounded, Dave rears rare breed cattle and sheep.