Organisational culture in a Changing World
It’s fair to say that we are living in a time of unprecedented change. Since the start of the pandemic, across the globe, our day-to-day lives have been upended, impacting the way we live and work. Technology has stepped in to replace the physical office, enabling collaboration in novel ways. These changes have also driven seismic shifts in workplace cultures and employee expectations.
A report by Accenture, published in 2020, revealed that the ethical, sustainable and moral values of organisations have become more important to people than before the pandemic.
As we head into a new ‘normal’, what are the implications for organisations as leaders navigate the choppy waters into a post-pandemic world?
To address this question and more, we invited our special guest, Amrit Nijjar, Inclusion and Belonging Manager for Tarmac. Amrit is also an experienced Engagement and Communications professional, with the unique vantage point of being able to look at Diversity and inclusion through the lens of cultural change.
First of all, can you tell us a bit about yourself and your role?
Of course. Thanks for inviting me. I am the Inclusion and Belonging Manager for Tarmac – a UK sustainable building materials and construction solutions business. My role focuses on creating an inclusive culture at Tarmac where everyone feels safe and able to truly be themselves.
In addition, I have 15 years’ experience working in Internal Communications. I routinely draw on this background in my current role, to engage our people in our inclusion and diversity journey and ambitions.
Over the past couple of years we have faced a lot of disruption. In addition to a global pandemic, we’ve had racial unrest sparked by the killing of George Floyd in the U.S, Brexit in the U.K, anti-mask and vaccination campaigns across Europe and a contentious U.S election. How do you think these events have impacted the workplace?
I’ll start by saying that people of colour have always been subjected to the systematic racism that eventually led to the murder of George Floyd in America. Here in the UK, we’ve had a recent stabbing of a 14-year-old boy, Dea-John Reid, which was not widely reported.
There is a bias in reporting, which means some events are covered by the media, while others are not. But with the use of social media, and influencers understanding their impact, we have started to hear more about injustices previously not widely communicated. And that’s a good thing because we all have the opportunity to speak up about anything we feel strongly about.
We should not underestimate how much these external events affect people emotionally, especially people of colour. Whenever a tragic event involving children occurs, parents across the country are thinking of their own children. Same with people of colour.
These thoughts and feelings don’t leave us as we step into our places of work or open our laptops. So, it’s really important to have safe spaces where people can download and have an open conversation. Leaders showing empathy, being transparent and clear about their values is also very important.
We’re starting to see a definite trend that people want to work with and consume from sustainability conscious, socially and ethically responsible organisations. Ticking a boxing is no longer enough. People want to see real action and intention to make a positive difference.
Research has revealed that millennials want to work for organisations that align with their own values. This group – who grew up in the on-demand era – are now dominating the UK workforce, with Gen Z hot on their heels. What advice should Internal Communicators be giving to Leaders to help organisations prepare for these newer and more vocal groups in the workplace?
It’s not just millennials. I think the pandemic has forced us all to pause and reflect on what is really important. People are definitely more confident to speak up about what is important to them.
Organisations will need to be ready to support and embrace this shift by ensuring they have the right structures in place to facilitate and channel discussions in a positive and meaningful way. They need to have the right forums and processes in place to be able to capture regular feedback and demonstrate active listening. This could be through engagement or pulse surveys, focus groups or Employee Resource Group (ERG) forums/reps.
Trust is an important element when it comes to asking for feedback. People are more likely to speak up if they believe they are truly being heard and considered.
By facilitating focus groups and supporting discussions, organisations have the opportunity to encourage authentic, constructive conversations rather than purely a talking shop. This could result in the generation of ideas to solve issues.
In October 2020, the CEO of Cryptocurrency business, Coinbase, imposed a new corporate policy of ‘political neutrality’ in the office. Do you think it’s possible for organisations to be apolitical, and to what extent are such directives a stripping away of employee voice?
No, I don’t think it is possible for organisations to be apolitical and yes it does very much strip away employee voice. By not allowing people to be vocal about what is important to them, you are forcing them into a box and asking them to conform.
This goes against the principle of creating a culture where people are comfortable and confident to bring their whole selves to work. I appreciate that some leaders may worry about heated political debates creating distractions, but I would suggest working with ERGs to understand any topical issues and having clear guidelines about respectful interactions.
Facebook and Google have both had to enact policies to deal with inflammatory postings on their respective internal message boards. Do you think the current trend of organisations taking a stance on societal issues could lead to toxic work cultures?
Personally, I think that wherever you have diversity of thought you will have conflict – whether it be positive and constructive, or negative. I think setting up ground rules about respecting one another’s voice is important, whether or not you agree with their thinking or choices. Ultimately everyone should be aligned with good company values. I would also use ERGs to help with understanding sentiment on the ‘shop floor’ and testing any corporate messages that might be sensitive, to ensure they land well.
And finally, what role can Internal Communications play in supporting employee voice while keeping teams united and focused on their mission?
I think there are a number of actions Internal Communicators can take. One very important area is supporting Line Managers and ensuring they have the tools to navigate what is essentially a much more complicated landscape now. They need to understand what is happening, how it is impacting people and how they can support their teams while building their own resilience.
Helpful tactical things like Conversation starters and discussion topics can help them navigate uncomfortable conversations and show empathy.
Having a resource area where employees can find helpful support around mental health and wellbeing or topical issues impacting the workplace would also be a great help.
We’d like to thank Amrit for her illuminating contribution, surfacing some of the key areas organisations need to be mindful of when it comes to successfully managing changing workplace cultures. A clear takeaway is that the role of Internal Communicators has become more important than ever, in supporting leaders and managers in running their teams and operations in this post-pandemic world.
At Fourtold we collaborate with our clients to build tailored, inside-out engaging programmes, based on insight that drives behaviour change and transforms business culture. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org to find out more.
by Nike Lapite