… It’s the way that you do it!
Most people would accept that you can’t change the culture of a business overnight.
I’m currently working with a business that wants to move to their culture towards people feeling empowered to make decisions for themselves about where, when and how to work. They could have written a policy, sent it out on an email and cascaded it through their managers and teams.
Instead, they recognised that true behavioural change doesn’t happen like that. They took options to their exec team and allowed them to choose the signals they wanted to send out. Next, we ran workshops for the senior team to talk about the concept and gather support.
There is no pre-prepared policy and accompanying rules to send out, the senior team is shaping the guidelines, but it’s been made very clear that HR doesn’t have the answers to their questions. You can’t send out rules on how to treat people like adults, that would be missing the point completely.
The discussions from every session are being gathered into tips to share the gems that have come out of the conversations. These are far more powerful than anything that could have been prepared in advance.
My favourite nugget is “flexible working isn’t a reward for good performers and it isn’t a punishment to be removed from people who aren’t performing”. Ways of working and managing performance are two separate topics that shouldn’t get mixed up.
We’re then running sessions for all line managers to give them a safe space to talk about their concerns and tackle scenarios that they might be faced with. This will help them to respond better at the moment when their teams come to them with questions and suggestions.
The final stage is holding employee briefings to let them know that they are empowered to start working differently and to challenge current ways of working.
Maybe but by starting a conversation and investing time into showing a different way of working where everyone shapes the changes as we go along, this will be different.
There will be bumps along the way as some people will take time to feel brave and test the boundaries. Habits are hard to change as we all find it easy to work in the way we’ve been used to for years. What’s interesting as we have these discussions is how deeply ingrained our own ways of working are and how we all justify our own reality as fact.
A lot of people feel that flexible working means allowing people to work from home one day a week. In reality, this has just created a new standard way of working and it isn’t true flexibility. Flexibility is messy, you can’t predict what people will want and none of us can predict what happens in our personal lives. It changes from day to day and over the course of our working lives.
Working in a business that accepts you for your messy home life, the challenges that brings and accepts that you are working to live (not living to work) is really important.
I’ve been through challenges in my home life and having the freedom of choice to make a decision to do something the next day without needing to wait for 9am to ask for permission made a massive difference to me (the details of that are for a whole new post!).
For me, this is when real change happens as companies realise that only by handing over the power to people at all levels in the hierarchy, will something lasting will take hold.
So yes, we should sweat the small stuff and we do need to roll out changes in a way that respects and role models what we’re trying to change.
Will it be easy? No.
Can it be achieved next week? No.
More importantly, though, taking a step forward and being prepared to fail as we try things out will signal a far important change that is desperately needed in a lot of workplaces.