When you type the word culture into Pixabay, one of the largest images site, it returns a range of pictures showcasing well known sites and scenes from countries all over world and weirdly quite a good range of pictures showing garlic. I am still trying to figure out that one! What this showed through the use of images is that culture is not something that is easily defined and differs greatly from one country to the next. The images also highlighted that it is not something one can necessarily touch but experience.
Miriam-Webster.com defines Culture as “the customary beliefs, social forms, and material traits of a racial, religious, or social group; also : the characteristic features of everyday existence (such as diversions or a way of life) shared by people in a place or time.” From an organisation‘s point of view Culture is defined by the same source as “the set of shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that characterizes an institution or organization.” The use of the word “shared” when used in this context had me thinking about how culture is formed at organisation level. At a social group, religious or racial level culture is easily understood and perpetuated.
As a Black Caribbean woman of African descent, I grew up feeling, breathing and living my culture which manifests and displays in many tangible and intangible ways. I was taught our way of life at my grandfather’s knees. The values of respecting your elders; putting God first in all things; cooking, laughing and dancing together as family and friends; being ambitious for yourself and others; being open and honest in your dealings with self and others; working hard, always having a clean home and the list goes on and on. My culture is so much an ingrained part of me that it is like breathing. I didn’t truly understand this until I left the Caribbean and moved to the UK. Talk about a culture shock!
At an organisation level Culture takes on a different context in my view. Different racial, religious and social groups have chosen to come together to work at a common goal. They bring with them all their different cultures and we have what I like to call a culture cocktail. The inherent problem with this is, with so many mixers involved, how then does an organisation maintain and define what it wants its culture to be and how does it ensure this is what all these different groups are perpetuating when they are with them?
I think in very simplistic terms it is very akin to how you parent a child. You set the ground rules ( not many, keep it simple and relevant). You reward compliance; you call out non-compliance and ensure there are consequences to behaviour which breaches the ground rules. You also leave enough space for the creative spirit to manifest itself and bring new things in that enhance what is already there.
When it is time you also provide the opportunities for your child to spread their wings and take flight to forge their own journeys and create their own subcultures. Similarly within any organisation for the culture to remain a thriving microcosm, some will need to leave and others will need to arrive and bring their experiences to bear.
Working from home to quote the queen Beyoncé “can be a sweet dream or a beautiful nightmare”. For some reason I now want to grab the imaginary mic and sing the full song. Tempting but I am not sure you would survive my rendition. This question has been on my mind all week due to “the Beast from the East” storm that rolled into the UK last week. I was snowed in at home for over 4 days and what is usually a dream became a beautiful nightmare!
Now don’t get me wrong I was glad that unlike other employment I have had throughout the years, my employer is very flexible and encourages working from home, so I didn’t need to take holiday or unpaid leave as I was able to and fully equipped to work from home. To understand my predicament you need to understand that given the choice, I would never choose to work from home unless I had personal appointments which meant I needed to be closer to home than work or I was having work done at home which required me to be present.
I applaud and encourage employers who offer this flexibility but for me personally I like going into an office and interacting with others. I like walking into a train station and getting my morning coffee. I like putting my headphones on and tuning out everyone on the train while browsing emails and the news. I like walking out to get lunch and debating what I should eat that day. I love being stopped by colleagues in the corridors and having impromptu conversations. But what I also love, is being able to sign off for the day, whatever time that is and putting on my coat and catching that train home. Work is done for the day unless there is emergency and that ability to stop and go home is essential to me, in enabling me to manage and have a good work life balance.
Working from home while great when it is convenient for you, I found this week was almost unbearable as there were no other options. I literally wanted to climb my walls! maybe it was the endless white of the snow outside or the cold or the feeling I had of being trapped inside! to be fair I wasn’t literally trapped I could have chosen to go for walks outside in the snow, but why? I mean its wet and cold! I grew up in a tropical country, unless I have no other choice and I always have a choice, I do not choose to be cold or wet! What this brought home to me is that employers should offer a variety of options for employees to choose from in their flexible working offer.
One size definitely does not fit all, consider asking your employees to be involved in suggesting what is on offer. Do not put limits rigidly on what is considered suitable or desirable. Be open to different ways of working and understand that what one employee will consider o good option for them will not fit someone else.
What this week also drove home to me, is how we engage with employees whose normal location is home. Are they in danger of becoming the forgotten workforce?
Some of the most influential Chief Executives and thinkers all advocate reading and laud the value that this has on their ability to be effective people. Even before I read the personal notes from these people, I was convinced that reading on a wide range of subjects in a consistent way gave an individual an advantage that others lacked. While I am nowhere near the level of some these highly successful and motivational individuals, I like to think that in my own small way, I am also able to influence and coach others based on my reading list.
I cannot speak for others but I know that if I was not able to read I would one day wither away and die. Death will happen eventually but without books it would come sooner than it should. For me 80% of everything I know and have learned has been through books. Even though I am often pretty pragmatic in my approach, I am enabled to be so because some way along the course of my life, I have read a book on the subject I am delivering or teaching. In 2018 my reading is list is pretty ambitious as it was in 2017 but I exceeded my expectations and can foresee that this year will be no exception. So without further ado what is on my reading list so far in 2018?
- The Total Money Makeover: Classic edition: A Proven plan for Financial Fitness by Dave Ramsey
- Dave Ramsey’s Complete Guide to Money by Dave Ramsey
- The Power of Habit:Why We Do What We Do and How to Change by Charles Duhigg
- Learn Dutch: Word Power 101 by Innovate Language
- Trust: Mastering the Four Essential Trusts by Iyanla Vanzant
- What I know for Sure by Oprah Winfrey
- Year of Yes by Shonda Rhimes
- Well that Escalated Quickly by Francesca Ramsey
- The Happiness Advantage by Shawn Achor
- Living Forward by Michael Hyatt and Daniel Harkavy
- Strengths Based Leadership by Tom Rath
Mixed in with these will be a suite of non-fiction books that will take me into the world of fantasy and magic, of love and tragedy, or music and food and exotic destinations. Life if nothing without balance.
What is on your reading list? comment below, I am always looking for good thought-provoking books to add to my bookshelf.
Do you have a book club at work? if you do, is this something that you think adds to employee engagement?
Feedback has become the new/newest buzz word to replace rigid performance appraisal sessions with employees but for many employees the word feedback is a “cuss word”. Why is this? the word itself simply means giving someone information in real-time about their performance, whether good, bad or indifferent. Yet many employees hate when they receive an email titled feedback, or they are asked to participate in 360 degree feedback sessions on their managers, peers or subordinates. Body language also changes dramatically when you open a conversation by saying “I thought I would give you some feedback”. Immediately postures become defensive, a coldness enters the meeting, arms are folded, chairs are moved back further away as if to put distance between what is coming and the individual.
Fear becomes a living thing in the meeting room and in extreme cases individuals have shut down or even started to cry as they started to work through all the possible negative things that they may done or caused to happen in the last couple of days or weeks. Sometimes the fear is so potent that they have stopped listening immediately you mention the word feedback and are so busy working out in their mind what they have done wrong that they fail to actually hear what is being said.
It could be that such reactions are due to individuals having experienced a lot of negative feedback in the past which has coloured their perceptions. Or it could be that genuinely we are a culture in the UK that thrives so much on innuendo and being savvy to navigating politics in the workplace; using words to say one thing while meaning another that we have not adequately trained our people from a young age to see feedback as a positive thing regardless of whether is telling us how to improve or how to be even better.
I grew up in a culture where people spoke their minds, nothing was hidden, so it felt useless to fear the unknown because truly was anything ever unknown? I grew up in a village where everyone regardless of whether they were related to me or not took great accountability for parenting me. If my dress was creased, I would be told this several times while walking to school and given advice on how to achieve the perfectly ironed dress. The more forward in the village may even take me into their home and show me how to iron a dress properly.
No subject was off-limits, from personal hygiene, to school work, to spiritual wellbeing, morals etc you name it and someone without prompting would be on hand to offer you advice on how to be better or avoid a pitfall whether you wished to have the advice or not. This was the ultimate feedback culture in which I grew and which has shaped me.
So I had some thoughts about how we can change the fear that people feel when they either need to give or receive feedback:
- put yourself in the person’s shoes and do onto others as you would have them do to you. If you are coming from a place of wanting to help someone to improve or to keep doing something that they are doing well, because this is what you would wish for yourself, you are able to approach the conversation in a very different light.
- think about the damage or the limits you are placing on that person by not speaking up. Why would you not offer praise where praise is due? equally if your colleague had a stumble, surely you would not want them to stumble again or worse fall? think about the reason why you give information.
- my personal favourite it when you think about giving or receiving feedback and the fear creeps in, ask it firmly “what is the worse that can happen?” in reality often we let our fear makes things into a lot worse than they really are. Open up yourself and listen, you may be surprised at the results.
So have you provided or received feedback recently? share your views here, I would be happy to hear how you approach it!
Remember FEAR can also mean Face Everything and Rise!
So someone asked me last week why companies are not paying compensation to women for the gender pay gap in line with equal pay regulations. Well I hate to be the one to tell you this, but having a gender pay gap does not equate to equal pay issues in most organisations. “Equal pay deals with the pay differences between men and women who carry out the same jobs, similar jobs or work of equal value. It is unlawful to pay people unequally because they are a man or a woman. The gender pay gap on the other hand shows the difference in the average pay between all men and women in a workforce. If a workforce has a particularly high gender pay gap, this can indicate there may a number of issues to deal with, and the individual calculations may help to identify what those issues are.”
As you can see the way in which the gender pay gap is calculated does not take account of work of equal value, similar jobs or even the same job. Its purely formulaic in how its calculated. This does not mean that we cannot glean valuable information from what it shows and use the data to drive change where issues of unfairness or bias are detected. There are many ways in which organisations can work to address their gender pay gap. Things that have gained traction in the last couple of years are:
- Championing blind recruitment campaigns to eradicate or reduce any unconscious or conscious gender biases at the attraction stage of the recruitment campaigns
- Organisations are also offering commitments to recruit more women to senior roles in the organisation or in some cases setting targets to achieve 50/50 split in terms of representation across all layers of the organisation
- Apprenticeship levies are also be utilised to offer more training and opportunities to under represented groups in organisations
- Management training and leadership development programmes are also being developed and aimed and equipping more women for senior roles in organisations
- Flexible working practices are also gaining in momentum and many organisations are looking at ways that they can attract and retain more women into the workforce following periods of maternity leave.
- Championing gender equality and neutrality in HR policies and procedures and ensure where there are practices no matter how ingrained that perpetuate gender bias that these are addressed and stamped out.
If you also do not have a gender equality policy, consider putting one in place and champion this at the most senior level in the organisation.
Did you know that the highly debated Trade Union Bill has become law?
The Bill received Royal Assent on the 4th May 2016 and became law as the Trade Union Act. For public sector employers especially health, education, transport, border security and fire sectors this will be welcome news as the changes have a direct impact on future ballot for strike action and greater clarity on how balloting takes place. In summary the key changes taking effect from 4th May 2016 are:
- Industrial action will only go ahead where there has been a ballot turnout of at least 50% and more importantly for certain public sector services like health, education, transport, border security and fire sectors a further mandate that 40% of eligible members must vote in support of strike action for it to take place.
- setting a 6 month time limit (which can be increased to 9 months if the union and employer agree) for industrial action so that mandates are always recent.
- requiring a clearer description of the trade dispute and the planned industrial action on the ballot paper, so that all union members are clear what they are voting for
- creating a transparent process for trade union subscriptions that allows new members to make an active choice of paying into political funds
- giving more powers to the Certification Officer to ensure new and existing rules are always followed by unions
- reducing the burden on taxpayers by ensuring that payroll deductions for trade union subscriptions are only administered where the cost is not funded by the public and ensuring transparency and greater accountability relating to the use of public money for facility time More information about the Trade Union Act can be found at https://www.gov.uk/government/news/trade-union-act-becomes-law