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ISSUE 214 – Synopsis – AUGUST
Culture of inclusion and belonging
The new era of work has many advantages and opportunities for equality and inclusion, but manifest is a heightened challenge to identify creeping biases and exclusive behaviours that can rapidly lead to marginalisation and inequality. Developing a culture for inclusion and belonging is inexorably tied to sustainable employee experience and an authentic employer identity, which place inclusion and belonging at the cultural heart, across the entire employee experience and lifecycle. It must be embraced as an ongoing and unbroken strategy – rather than a cursory, vain and hopeful HR ambition – and it needs to be ubiquitous, multifaceted, thorough, practical and encompass unique group and individual needs and expectations, emotionally, mentally, physically and spiritually. Employee experience and employer identity cannot be viewed as separate entities if organisations want to maintain a competitive edge in tough talent market conditions. But it will require a different mindset to that of the past, which held that achieving a workforce composed of varying characteristics was a pipe dream and that tokenism and box ticking at least showed willing. Employers must be unflinching in identifying individuals with biases, root out any boundaries and obstacles that cause inequality and provide equal access to opportunities and resources. Most people want to contribute fully to an organisation’s success, but when opportunity is out of reach and recognition and reward is not equitable, the outcome is inevitable and the potential “win-win” is wastefully lost. Through inclusion and belonging comes loyalty, self-responsibility and innovation, with people empowered, confident and willing to knowledge share. Indeed, an open culture of knowledge exchange and valuing the differences between people – as opposed to protectionism and bias – is integral to fostering inclusion, building motivation and encouraging heightened contribution and performance, in an increasingly physically disparate and remote workforce.
Collaborative and matrixed organisations
Many businesses had been moving towards being collaborative and matrixed organisations, partly as an enforced strategy to address diversity, inclusion and equality challenges, but mainly to be contemporary and in-step with changing mindsets, expectations and motivations. Conventional workplaces, policies and procedures were calibrated to support the flatter workforce – reducing departmentalised mentalities and siloed thinking – but were set in the traditional workplace setting, pre-pandemic. Then came the maelstrom which shook conventional working frameworks to the ground and raised fundamental and elemental questions about the concept of collaborative and matrixed working in the remote and hybrid environment. Above all, the complex challenge is, what does teamwork look like in this new and alien landscape and what needs to be put in place to support the matrixed idyll? It’s worth remembering that in lockdowns, for most, work life had a singular dynamic, a commonality, which created a sort of Blitz spirit, but that cannot inform the long-term vision. Arguably, there is a danger of over-think, which is the primary cause of what makes hybrid working such a difficult conversation. However, it needs to be addressed, for the basics are unchanged – a business needs to operate efficiently, make a profit and grow – and this can only be assured if workforce planning, performance management, productivity and a culture of guiding values reflect the irreversible direction of travel that is the matrixed organisation.
The rise of internal mobility
That the more conventional route is to identify and recruit external candidates for a role rather than internally, is a baffling paradox. It suggests that, despite all of the information accrued and processed to profile employees within an organisation, that there is not the qualitative data to inform on people with the potential to take on a more senior role or, more pertinently now, to move sideways into different career paths. It is a sad inditement of lost opportunity and inertia, which inevitably leads to heightened attrition of the talented and ambitious personnel that no business can afford to lose. Worse still, this is set against the toughest recruitment markets which employers have ever had to contend with. So, what is the cause of this counterproductive mindset and practice? Clearly, many organisations that are reporting tough recruitment markets are in a parlous state, because neither can they rely upon sustainable internal talent pipelines, placing them at a perilous disadvantage. This is because external markets are, by their very nature, dynamically unpredictable and uncontrollable and so without the capacity to surface internal candidates for a vacant role and compare internal and external candidates, pipelines run dry and succession planning is all but impossible. The bald facts are, in the midst of ongoing instability and unpredictability and with attrition spiking, internal mobility is essential to retention, to meet the changing ambitions of employees, achieve the aspirations of talent, reduce the expense and damage of recruitment inertia and the excruciating cost of time-to-hire delays in these volatile times, where candidates hold the ace card.
The balance of flexibility, autonomy and authority
Of all the elements that make up the novel workplace phenomenon resulting from the pandemic, the clichés “flexibility” and “hybrid working” have come to typify the vision of the new normal and inform almost solely upon a whole raft of new wave thinking, about the integration and blend of work and life in relation to how businesses operate. But behind the media-friendly headline terms are many different interpretations of flexibility and, as to what hybrid really means, the jury is out. Flexibility refers to softening the rigid frame of the traditional nine-to-five and is ubiquitous across industries and sectors, with businesses able/willing to provide flex to varying degrees. So perhaps the focus is on the wrong issue and what people are really looking for is, autonomy – the capacity and jurisdiction to be the primary decision-maker – of where and when they work and what to prioritise. Crucially, whereas flexible working is a relaxed version of the traditional worktime tradition, autonomy presents some significant challenges in the employer/employee contract, both physical and psychological. Questions will inevitably be asked; “How much can we trust and how much autonomy is secure and practical”? The paradox is, flexible, hybrid working can only be sustainable with a level of employee/contractor autonomy that could never have been contemplated pre-pandemic, but are now rigorously challenging convention, culture and mindset.
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