At the recent Digital Leaders Week conference, I was privileged to share a platform with Ben Towers and Eva Applebaum for our discussion around diversity and mental wellbeing within the workplace. The discussion itself was very rich and rewarding, but today I wanted to share some of my reflections as I was preparing for that discussion.
There has been, I believe, is a tendency to attribute all manner of things to Covid and its associated effect on society, particular lockdown and working from home. In my mind, Covid has been more like a torch that has shone a light on many practices and issues, which were already hidden in plain sight.
Providing an enriching working environment
As a business leader, it has been this reflection in particular that has caused me to think much harder around the additional steps we need to take to provide an enriching environment for everyone who is interested in being part of our organisations.
Now, this applies as much to our long-serving employees, as it does to new candidates looking for positions. Indeed, I do wonder whether in organisations generally it is the cohort of longer-serving employees who become the forgotten legion, perhaps taken for granted and deemed to be satisfied with the company because they have been there for so long.
So, how does this “thinking much harder” manifest itself in real terms? For me, there have been a few key reflection points:
- Consistency – consistency is important but that does not mean that one size fits all. Consistency in this context is about the application of principles, rather than the mechanical elements of organisational procedures.
- Principles – and if you are going to apply consistency to principles, then you better have some principles established in the first place! At Triad, we have developed some working principles that are akin to the Agile Manifesto. They cover aspects such as a common experience irrespective of location, an assumption of trust in all of our working relationships, and an emphasis on everyone aligning around the goals of the business. We know we can’t carve these all into tablets of stone because a key lesson of the last year is that things change. Again, things have always changed but – to my earlier point – Covid and its consequences have provided proof-positive of the need for a flexible organisation that can respond to seismic shifts with agility and resilience.
- Relationships – it is important to invest time in relationships with teams and individuals for the sole purpose of checking in, taking a pulse reading, gauging the mood, and listening to what people are thinking, sensing what they are feeling. Leaders need to “walk that mile in your employee’s shoes” to really understand what life in the organisation is like. Many leaders, like myself, will have developed habits like “walking the floor” when we were located in the same physical space – we need to reinvent these approaches for life in a more distributed world.
- Communication – linked to the idea of checking in, for many of us a global pandemic also put a greater focus on the mental health of your team, and and an awareness that it can deteriorate rapidly. So, while walking the floor might need to more into a digital format, we’ve also learnt that the questions we ask around wellbeing, and how well we listen, need constant development.
Extending around your supply chain and customers
In some ways, addressing the needs of the workforce is the easy bit because, arguably, we have more control over those dynamics. However, we also need to consider our supply chains and how we interact with clients and, indeed, suppliers.
We have probably only scratched the surface of this so far. As organisations dare to gaze towards a less restricted working environment, the risk emerges of our supply chains moving out of sync’. It was easy when lockdown applied to most organisations within your supply chain.
However, as some organisations adopt a bolder approach whilst others remain reticent, there is the potential for the supply chain gears to crunch somewhat.
It is important to have conversations with your clients about why your organisation adopts the posture it does, and many leaders will have to wrestle with the consequences of a situation where client preferences don’t align to supplier positions. We all know the adage that “the client is always right”, and this is a wise sentiment to adopt. Nonetheless, smart conversations will be needed to balance that triangle of company goals, client needs and workforce confidence.
Updating the leadership manual
I think the leadership playbook is going to witness a number of new editions over the next 12-18 months. Solutions that satisfy the triangle of needs will doubtless underpin the work of the most successful organisations.
Finally, returning to the Agile methodology we follow at Triad, it’s important to remember the principle ‘try something new but if you’re going to fail, fail fast’. We’re growing rapidly at Triad and our staff seem extremely happy, but the reality now is constant change as we return to the office and client sites while working on many projects that were created by Covid. There will be mistakes along the way and that’s ok, but fail fast and then more, onto to success.
Adrian Leer, Managing Director, Triad Group Plc