In business, our relationships with each other are everything, which has been brought into stark focus by the Covid-19 pandemic. How people were treated by their employers in those early days of lockdown, coupled with how businesses have responded to supporting staff as they continue to navigate the ongoing stresses and strains of a highly volatile working environment, has led many workers to review their priorities.
So, it’s unsurprising that we are now hearing much talk (and evidence) of ‘the great resignation’, as many employees seek out pastures new, with requirements reframed by a desire to work more flexibly and make more time for life away from work. Therefore, employers keen to insist that workers return to the office on a strict Monday-Friday 9 am-5 pm basis are likely to find themselves in trouble quickly.
Putting people first is essential
Covid aside, creating a company worth working for should always be a priority for any entrepreneurial business leader. People are everything to a business, and success begins by treating your people well. This means creating an organisational culture where people can thrive by being their authentic selves, where accountability is based on results achieved and not hours accumulated.
At the heart of creating a great place to work is being ‘human centred’, or, more specifically, putting people first. That means there can be no such thing as showing too much empathy. When workers feel seen, supported and free to show up within an environment of psychological safety, they go the extra mile. All organisations strive for the elusive discretionary effort, and empathy opens the door to that.
Give people the freedom to fail
Offering empathy doesn’t mean being soft; it means reassuring people that the organisation supports them, including when people make mistakes along the way. Allowing people the freedom to fail can be a scary prospect, especially for entrepreneurs. However, failure should never be seen as a negative. In fact, it is quite the opposite, as it is an essential component to facilitate and breed creativity. Remember that it’s ok to fail as long as people fail fast and use the learning to improve.
Communicate, collaborate and evaluate
To be a great place to work, everyone needs to be bought into what the business is doing. Leaders must communicate regularly, clearly and collaboratively, ensuring everyone’s views are welcomed, heard and played back into the business. This way, everyone is clear that their investment in the business counts. They should be encouraged to think about ‘what’s next?’ – both individually and for the organisation. In doing so, it drives a spirit of innovation.
Leaders are key to acting as the facilitators of this culture by breaking down rigid, traditional hierarchies in favour of a collaborative model. This involves bringing together disparate groups to tackle business challenges within a set of loose boundaries, but ultimately giving them the authority to react in the moment, allowing business agility and entrepreneurial risk-taking to come to the fore.
Build your business with a sense of purpose
COP26 gave a stark reminder of how important it is that businesses consider their sustainability credentials as part of any future strategy.
This is not just important for the planet but also for the bottom line. Both customers and employees place increasing levels of scrutiny on employers and make decisions based on the company’s ethics and sustainability credentials when it comes to choosing where to place their spending power or invest their talent.
Businesses need to ensure they are not just paying lip service to this but are actively striving to be better and do better. Keeping employees and customers abreast of this is 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 critical for businesses to commit to investing in their people’s learning and development.
This a dynamic and rapidly changing area for businesses that Covid has accelerated. In some cases, companies all but ground to a halt when it came to training and development, whilst others quickly pivoted to online offerings.
In order to build a company worth working for, it is essential that employees feel the company values them as individuals and what they have to offer. That extends to looking after their development needs. Therefore, this area must always remain a key strategic priority.
To get the most from this process, it is vital that the training involves learning in the flow of work. This means learning by doing, not absorbing information in a situation that is independent of the work that the company is undertaking. By aligning the learning to the work in real terms, businesses and employees can create real change to help realise business and personal goals.
Furthermore, if individuals are put at the heart of this learning process and their needs are really listened to, this will encourage a stimulating and fulfilling environment where human potential is liberated.
Using Covid as a catalyst for good
Covid has changed the working world beyond recognition in many ways, with many companies implementing changes at lightning speed that can only be for the better. Flexible working allowed in industries that never thought it possible. Reasonable adjustments are being made that will now open the door to increased diversity and inclusion in the workplace. A better appreciation for the pushes and pulls we are all facing in our lives beyond our operational role.
Businesses must seize the opportunity to reimagine their organisations for good from these changes. The most significant step leaders can take towards creating a company worth working for is to commit to unlocking human potential – from employees to customers to 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.
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