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CHANGING CORPORATE CULTURE – FRONTIERS – theHRDIRECTOR ISSUE 229 – NOVEMBER 2023 | ARTICLE OF THE WEEK

With traditional leadership stretched beyond its known limits, it’s not just about navigating a new normal, it’s about comprehending a new paradigm and a radical new sense of work and business operations. Leaders are pioneers, progressing toward a new dawn that is human-centric, empathetic and deeply rooted in emotional intelligence. This is a new frontier of opportunity and challenge. In a boundaryless and hybrid world, traditional roles and hierarchies are almost abandoned and leaders have to direct with clear vision, as opposed to the proverbial dangling carrot.

With traditional leadership stretched beyond its known limits, it’s not just about navigating a new normal, it’s about comprehending a new paradigm and a radical new sense of work and business operations. Leaders are pioneers, progressing toward a new dawn that is human-centric, empathetic and deeply rooted in emotional intelligence. This is a new frontier of opportunity and challenge. In a boundaryless and hybrid world, traditional roles and hierarchies are almost abandoned and leaders have to direct with clear vision, as opposed to the proverbial dangling carrot.

The workplace is now a melting pot, bringing unique perspectives and experiences. This diversity offers unparalleled opportunities for collaboration and innovation, but also necessitates a new leadership style and a workforce that mirrors the diversity of society and brings a wealth of ideas and creativity. However, this diversity can also lead to misunderstandings, so leaders must prioritise creating an inclusive and respectful work environment. The increasing prevalence of short-term contracts and freelancing, especially among younger workers, challenges traditional norms around job security and commitment. This requires organisations to be more flexible and adaptable in their employment structures. We must also counter AI and automation too, as they are no longer futuristic concepts, but active members of our work teams. This technological shift necessitates a re-evaluation of roles and responsibilities, requiring leaders to adapt their strategies to integrate these new ‘team members’.

Most organisations are still engaged in a tug-of-war, trying to find mutual ground on which employees will agree to, but a number are voting with their feet and some are ‘quietly quitting’, which has deep and long lasting implications workforce planning. Indeed, the disrupted environment is reflected in a recent survey called Connection Crisis* , which paints a concerning picture, that sees; 69 percent of employees are dissatisfied with opportunities for connection in the workplace, 52 percent crave more connection and a staggering 38 percent don’t trust their co-workers. This isn’t just an HR issue, it’s a business-critical issue. A disconnected workforce is an unproductive workforce and, in a world that’s increasingly complex and competitive, organisations can’t afford the luxury of disengagement. In addition, it is clear that employees are now placing engagement and culture (41 percent) at the forefront, eclipsing traditional motivators like pay and benefits (28 percent) and even wellbeing (16 percent). This isn’t just a statistic, it’s a clarion call for a radical rethinking of leadership styles. Gone are the days when a hefty paycheck could buy loyalty and commitment, today’s employees are seeking something far more valuable – a sense of belonging, a voice that’s heard and a culture that values them as individuals, not just as cogs in a machine. As the old adage goes, “people don’t leave jobs they leave managers” which I agree with to a certain extent, but I think this downplays the impact of organisational culture even if your boss is ten-out-of-ten. Notably, Gallup’s report on improving employee engagement in the workplace reveals that managers and leaders account for 70 percent of the variance in team engagement. Clearly, employees are not just asking for, but clearly expecting more from organisations and leaders. The recent insight from Deloitte reimagines leadership perfectly. There is a need for leaders to be visionary, lead with a growth mindset not just for numbers or operations but for people. They need to recognise that in order to be successful, the journey forward must be made with partnership and collaboration in mind and that leading with humanness, curiosity and authenticity is key.

When it comes to impactful leadership now, the key intelligence required is the empathy Quotient. The 2023 Trust Barometer**, now in its 23rd year, reveals that the public’s trust hinges on four pillars: Purpose-Driven, Honesty, Vision and Fairness. It is the responsibility of leaders to build a culture that embodies these values. Trust isn’t just a ‘nice-to-have’, it’s the bedrock of productivity and ultimately, profitability. Leaders must be more than just competent; they must also be relatable and human. They must be willing to show vulnerability, to listen actively and to respond with compassion. This is not just about being ‘nice’; it’s about building a culture where people feel safe, valued and empowered to do their best work. So, what intervention can help leaders move from ‘what’ to ‘why’, ‘me’ to ‘we’ and ‘them’ to ‘us’? Reverse mentoring isn’t just a trendy buzzword, it’s a powerful tool for change. When senior leaders are mentored by individuals from underrepresented backgrounds, by means of gender, age, ethnicity, disability to name a few, it’s a win-win. The leaders gain fresh perspectives and the mentors feel valued and empowered. This isn’t just about ticking a box for diversity, equity and inclusion, it’s about driving meaningful change from the ground up.

Reverse mentoring has been shown to build levels of trust on a one-on-one basis, focusing on the most poignant issues that need to be addressed and building a sense of belonging. It’s not just about senior leaders learning from their younger or less-represented counterparts; it’s also about these mentors gaining a deeper understanding of the complexities and responsibilities that come with leadership. This mutual exchange of knowledge and perspectives enriches both parties, contributing to a more inclusive and dynamic organisational culture. Organisations that have successfully implemented reverse mentoring programmes have reported an increase in motivation and retention of both the mentor and mentee. When introduced as part of a comprehensive DEI strategy, this intervention sits neatly with senior leaders to invest in and lead by example. It demonstrates the commitment required to drive real change. It fosters a culture of continuous learning, breaks down hierarchical barriers and promotes a more egalitarian work environment. It also helps to bridge the generational and cultural gaps that can often divide a workforce, making it a particularly valuable tool in today’s diverse and multi-generational work environments. Uncomfortable conversations and tough home truths are part and parcel of this process. Yet by being on the edge of our comfort zone and leaning into our growth mindset – both essential to driving change – we see growth. It’s all about confronting biases, challenging preconceptions and breaking down barriers that have long existed both personally and within the organisation.

There are five key elements of successful reverse mentoring programmes. Curiosity: Seeking a deeper understanding of the unknown to be able to challenge existing norms, leading to groundbreaking solutions. Courage: Essential for stepping out of comfort zones, enabling individuals to engage in honest, sometimes difficult, conversations. It allows us to challenge traditional hierarchies and contributes to both personal and collective growth. Openness to change: In a world that’s constantly evolving, being open to new ideas and perspectives is non-negotiable. Individuals can adapt quickly, making them more effective in complex and everchanging boundaryless environments. Self-awareness: Meaningful self-reflection goes beyond mere introspection, it involves a deep understanding of one’s strengths, weaknesses and biases. Desire to be a change agent: This is a prerequisite of being part of a reverse mentoring programme. It is more than just a willingness to adapt – individuals are challenged to drive meaningful transformations within their organisations. This isn’t the time for leaders mired in yesterday’s strategies, clinging to obsolete metrics and outdated tactics. The call of this era is for visionaries willing to delve deep, to truly comprehend the unique dreams and drive of each team member. Indeed, above all else, the essence of impactful leadership now hinges on three core tenets: authentic humanity, insatiable curiosity and unyielding authenticity.

REFERENCES
* BetterUp
** Endelman

Patrice Gordon is the author of Reverse mentoring:
Removing barriers and building belonging in the workplace
Published by Little, Brown Book Group

WWW.AMAZON.CO.UK/REVERSE-MENTORINGREMOVING-BELONGING-WORKPLACE/DP/0306829614

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