One of the benefits of an economic downturn (yes, benefits), is that organisations have little choice other than to do things better or do better things. They have to make the most of their existing assets as they don’t have the luxury of replacing them.
It may be a tired cliché that people are an organisations’ greatest asset. But I, for one, happen to believe it, qualified by the assertion that it very much depends on how the leaders treat them. Viewing people appreciatively as a pool of talent is very different to seeing the back office as a cost base or the support team as “burden”.
With this in mind, it’s encouraging to see some of the people-focused debates finally starting to emerge in the business press. Last week came the revelation that the workplace has become the least enjoyable place to be for the majority of people. This week the revelations included the belated dropping of the proverbial penny about RBS, namely the report that the financial crisis was as much a cultural as it was a regulatory issue; a point we made three years ago or more, having deep knowledge of the sector and the company. Perhaps more surprisingly, these debates included the recognition in the CIPD publication People Management (for which I write a regular column), that people are more effective when they feel free to be themselves, namely that they are many times more innovative in the pub, for example, than at work.
In 2005, a BY2W survey of 1500 employee in ceo roles (pivotal internal communicators), rated the following characteristics of leaders as most valued:
Conversely, they saw the following as most hindering engagement:
- cascaded messaging
The overwhelming majority of those surveyed stated that they believed they were more effective when they could be themselves at work. Clearly the above-mentioned characteristics have a major influence over the internal culture and extent to which they feel able to be themselves and be effective in turn. The degree to which they were prepared and equipped to suggest new and better ways of working (or be innovative) falls into this definition of effectiveness.
In his visionary book Future Minds, futurist Richard Watson corroborates the data supporting the notion that people are overwhelmingly more effective at generating ideas when they aren’t in the workplace by publishing the results of his own survey of leading thinkers and everymen alike.
But what can leaders do to create a more authentic internal culture in which talent will thrive not just survive?
First and foremost, leaders clearly need to recognise the cause and effect relationship between performance and a definitive description of the culture of their organisation as well as the way they communicate the essence of their organisation within and beyond the pool of talent. They then need to take responsibility for shaping that culture through the values and behaviours of their line managers.
However you look at it, there’s an overwhelmingly compelling business case for authenticity in the workplace if you’re the sort of leader who has the courage and the vision to look beyond the next quarter’s results. Authenticity is a major driver of innovation and can be turbo-charged by the example set by the right sort of role models drawn from the pool of existing talent, the organisation’s greatest asset.
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