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Good leadership is such an important trait. Especially at the moment. In the wake of a pandemic, a migration to remote work and social unrest, we are looking to our leaders to steer us in the right direction, especially in our jobs. But how can managers and senior executives ensure that their policies and goals lead to a workplace that is consistently improving in terms of inclusion and cohesion for every employee?
We recently interviewed Simon Haigh to gain some insight on this. An author, CEO and growth strategist who focuses on helping leaders achieve their full potential, Simon has also just co-founded a new venture called Inclusion in Leadership.
1.) Inclusion is a big talking point at the moment – trying to get beyond the lip service and smokescreen to real, measurable action. Does this start with leaders?
Yes. A leader represents the organization – they are the face of the brand. They inspire and motivate the entire organization to new challenges and opportunities. The leader sets the tone. Leadership is key to maintaining and developing an organization’s culture. Leaders should understand that even the strongest teams need to feel appreciated. A company’s inspiration and drive must filter down from its leader to its people who operate at the coalface. Despite all the ups and downs of company life, if the employees share the corporate passion, they are much more likely to work together for the common good. As with any successful business, employees drive the organization through the vision and culture set by the boss.
Inclusion calls for the leader to walk the talk. If a leader claims to embrace DEI efforts, they must go beyond their network or circle of influence to do a lot of listening, understanding and reaching out. By doing this, a leader is capable of ensuring that recruitment, career development and professional growth is part of the organization’s mission and business strategy. A good corporate culture needs a strong leader, who in turn, needs good followers and an entrenched environment where positive cultural influences can develop.
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2.) How does working remotely impact an organization’s ability to foster environments that allow employees to feel safe and seen?
There are a number of challenges wrought by remote working.
- Not everybody has access to the same type of support, both digital (connectivity) or physical, like in-home child care.
- Remote work removes the opportunity for staff to bump into each other, hindering access and visibility across the organization. This can impact knowledge management retention and mentoring for younger employees
- It’s harder to keep an eye on how your staff is doing. We only see them via Zoom so it’s difficult to read their body language and true demeanour.
To counteract some of these impacts, companies need to proactively develop nurturing virtual teamwork environments. Create online safe spaces for communication and show particular sensitivity to employees operating in field or remote locations. Schedule regular meetings and, if anything, over-communicate.
3.) One of the key aspects that your new venture, Inclusion in Leadership, focuses on is ethical, trust-based communication. How can leaders, at all levels, build trust with their teams?
The most successful companies in the world are those which make their entire team feel like they are a critical and integral part of the company’s success. This requires creating a culture of accomplishment and sharing in the ups and occasional, inevitable downs. Corporate culture is cemented when the whole company feels like it has a purpose.
Building trust takes time and a lot of effort. It requires patience, where leaders focus on listening and not speaking. Leaders must accommodate others by learning about their thoughts, ideas and inspirations, even if they disagree. Transparency is also important. Listening is the first step, but further communication is required. For example, what did the leader learn? What actions were taken to implement this?
All levels of a company must be balanced in the corporate culture. How? Through a conscious and ongoing blend of the values held dearest to the company. With all the right elements held in place:
- Ingenuity is given the space to flourish and overcome adversity.
- Employees tend to want to be virtuous rather than negative.
- A spirit of quality and achievement will tend to permeate.
4.) Empathy and good leadership seem to go hand-in hand. Is the fear that this new focus on empathy will disappear when “normality” returns well founded? Or has the pandemic helped entrench it more?
There is a fear that empathy will go to the wayside when the world goes back to some sort of normal. Leaders will get back on their old ways of managing/leading, since those ways illustrate power. Therefore, it is imperative that leaders are held accountable for all the empathetic things they have embraced during the pandemic. They need to figure out how to improve, scale and sustain all of them. However, this cannot be achieved alone. They need outside counsel to help with these efforts.
The seeds of a corporate culture are sown from day one. And a crucial part of a successful organizational culture? Motivated and engaged employees. Every organization is only as good as its staff. To really excel, a company needs people who share the corporate vision with supporting commitment. Trust is a big aspect in building a culturally astute business.
5.) On The Shortlist you mentioned that inclusivity in the workplace is both feel-good and a real driver of growth for an organization. Could you expand on this? Especially thinking in terms of brand value and productivity?
In turbulent times, strong brands become a safe haven for capital. Companies with high brand value to enterprise value outperform the market. As Jeff Bezos says: ‘A brand for a company is like a reputation for a person. You earn reputation by trying to do hard things well.’ From a corporate perspective, brand perceptions affect:
From a cost structure, we stop the churn bleeding. No longer do you bring in people and they leave in 2 years. It requires additional training and more non-productive time. So, having a truly effective Diversity & Inclusion system within companies is not only a nice to have, it is economically and financially essential.
6.) Finally, what is the biggest roadblock you face when trying to impress on businesses and individuals of the seriousness of this issue?
Leadership models now are often moulded on how business was conducted in the 80s, 90s and 2000s. A lot of lip services and no real sustainable and scalable action. Therefore, it is imperative we demonstrate to the executives the social and monetary profit and value that a DEI effort can generate for their organization. Especially in terms of profitability, productivity and increased brand value.
Check out Simon’s recent appearance on The Shortlist: