How easy it is to find that you do not belong.

April 6th, 2021

Let me count (some) of the ways:

You are the only woman in the team

You are the only person over 50 in the team

You are the only person of colour in the team

You are the only LGBTQI+ person in the team

You are the only disabled person in the team

You are the youngest person in the team

You are the only northerner in the team

You are the only English person in the team

You are the shortest person in the team

You are the only introvert on the team

You are the only married person in the team

You’re the only person without a “significant other” on the team

You are the only working mum in the team

You are the only person with diagnosed mental illness on the team

You are the only person with a hot flush in the team

You are the only religiously devout person on the team

You are the only non-drinker in the team

You are the only person who didn’t go to university in the team

You are the only person who doesn’t ski

You are the only public school boy on the team

You are the only person on the team that doesn’t follow cricket/football/Love Island/rugby

You are the only person on the team without Netflix

You are the only person on the team without kids at home

You don’t have a puppy

You don’t speak digital acronyms

All you know about AI is from Bladerunner

Your idea of team bonding doesn’t involve the pub

You are offended by banter

You are bereft of a way of connecting without banter

You hate it when you are challenged in public

You cannot cope with politics

You are obsessed with FOMO

If you don’t get a compliment you assume you’re out of favour

You are lonely at the top

You are crushed at the bottom and feel like you do all the work and get none of the credit

You didn’t grow up with the same kids TV shows as the rest of the team

You are disappointed to know that you have to pretend to be different than your real self in order to fit in

You come from a working class background and the team is middle class

You are hiding your real feelings in case they make people like you less

And so it goes on….

Feeling like you don’t fit in can be for a myriad of reasons.  They are not equivalent by any means.  As one interviewee told me for our book Belonging: “I now know that if my profile (as a straight white middle class man) changes by one increment, my (professional) journey becomes harder.  If I change it by two or three or four, it becomes impossible.”

However, if you have ever felt that you don’t belong, then you can do something wonderful.  You can empathise and imagine what others might be feeling.  And if you do this then you can help them to feel like they belong with positive affirmations and standing up for them when you sense that they are being left out.

In our book Belonging, the key to transforming and maintaining diversity, inclusion and equality at work (and just shortlisted for the 2021 Business Book Awards UK), we explain exactly how to lead from every seat.

You can be a champion of Belonging and drive real change in your place of work so that no-one feels like an unwanted outlier.

So that everyone feels like they belong.

 

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Can we re-imagine the workplace to make it smaller ?

March 16th, 2021

It’s a small world after all.

2020 (amongst many other things) was also the year when the world shrank.  We could and did collaborate with colleagues from China, New York, Canada and Columbia at no cost of time, travel or to the air pollution of the planet.

In 2021, as business begins to return to normal, will the world get bigger again?  Will a meeting with the global CMO of a client based in Chicago require a long haul flight?

Business travel is of course one of the oldest professions.  The three wise men were probably carrying gold, frankincense and myrrh on the back of their premium economy camel.   The very first chain of branded hospitality was created over 1000 years ago by the Cistercian monasteries to offer traders and merchants safe haven.

This changed in 2020.  And whilst the latent and pent up desire to travel on holiday is clear amongst the public in 2021, the views of experts about the return to business travel are more mixed.

The Economist points out Bill Gates thinks that “over 50% of business travel will go away”.  Credit Suisse are banking on only a downturn of 10 to 20%.  In truth it may take only one customer or client to make the point that the competition is pressing the flesh for business people to be jumping back on planes.

Is this how we want to re-imagine the workplace?  Apart from the impact on carbon emissions and on the bottom line of businesses (especially in some sectors where travel means business class and a very good hotel) there are two other factors to consider.

The first factor is gender bias.  Our research, for both The Glass Wall, success strategies for women at work and businesses that mean business and for Belonging, the key to transforming and maintaining diversity, inclusion and equality at work, indicates that there may be a significant gender bias in business travel, especially for mums.  More fathers seem prepared to leave their family for longish periods than mothers, especially when kids are young.  More top men execs have full time partners who do not have work outside the home than top women execs which can make childcare easier.  There are plenty of exceptions to this, but lots of evidence that men predominate in globe trotting business roles.  Would this still be the case if travel remained an exception rather than the rule in these roles?  What difference would this make to the proportion of women at the top of top global businesses?

The second factor is that talent is not bounded by geography.  What if you could move your top talent anywhere in the world so that the best people worked together on the kind of projects that they excelled at and in teams that brought out the absolute best in each other?  During 2020 this was easy.  You could do a meeting in Shanghai followed by New York and Tel-Aviv.  When working in a teams with people outside your current country of residence means that families have to relocate, when one person gets a great job and their partner is compelled to follow them, when kids lose their school friends this has a cost beyond the financial implications and carbon emissions.

In February Spotify announced that their employees could choose how they want to work: in an office, remotely or at a co-working space that the business will pay a subscription for.  Employees must commit for a year at a time and get their managers approval.  Their head of diversity, inclusion and belonging, Travis Robinson, has said “the move will promote work-life balance, employee happiness and inclusion… it’s going to help the company attract talent regardless of location”.

Imagine if the pool of talent for your next major hire wasn’t just the people who live in your town but talent from anywhere in the world.

There’s a new world of work to reimagine. How big or small the world becomes is to be decided.  We should balance a return to norms with the possibilities of change.

 

 

 

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What does leadership mean to you?

March 2nd, 2021

As we enter week whatever it is of lockdown, even with a roadmap in sight and yet with the winter wind still chilling us to the bone and the sunny spells alternating with rain drizzling outside our windows, it is more crucial than ever to look after each other.  We are personally being tested in all kinds of ways emotionally and mentally.  Relationships are under strain because we have never spent 24 hours a day with each other for such a prolonged period before.  People living on their own, who might normally prefer this, are vulnerable now that they are on their own all day and all of the night.  Checking in on mental welfare and ensuring that we really talk about our feelings and our vulnerabilities is crucial.

Of course this doesn’t just mean asking your team how they are.  Although this is more needed now than ever.  You need to actively manage their workload too.  It means for instance never setting a deadline without ensuring that the person it is set for has the time, within their working day, and given their other commitments, to deliver the task and to deliver it well.

In adland there is too much emphasis on managing upwards and in normal times that might be ok.  At the moment it definitely is not enough.

A good enough leader today needs to go further.  In fact, it might be possible to help your team cope with the stress of modern life by giving them reassurance about work.  Bayer general manager Oya Canbas has said: “I don’t want anyone to be anxious at work.  Can work create a sense of satisfaction that even helps people to deal with such difficult times?”

This type of management might well not come instinctively and may not be your own experience.  There is, however, a type of working practice where this is embedded.

This is working in an Agile way.

There are several ways in which Agile transforms work.  With references to scrums, sprints and burndown the language of Agile and its ceremonies can seem very foreign.  The entire rhythm of the week’s meetings is different, meetings have different names and purposes.  Progress is continuous and done well Agile cannot fail to improve effectiveness, efficiency and positivity.

Agile also changes the very idea of a leader.  An Agile leader is a servant leader.

What does this mean?  It means that as the boss, you do not act like the boss.  You are there to serve the team who work for you, not the other way round.

Servant leadership is the practice of leading through service to the team – so in other words you’re the leader, you’re the boss, but your immediate customers are actually your team members.  As a servant leader you’re there to serve them as well as you can and help them get what they need so that they can do the best job that they possibly can.

Agile leadership means not just reassuring your team emotionally, it means actively ensuring that their working day is no longer or more stressful than it should be.

In these difficult times to lead is to serve.

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The unexpected impact of football without crowds

February 16th, 2021

The inability to fill stadia with fans has had a terrible economic impact on clubs of all sizes.  However the lack of fans may have had another effect too.  This season there is less of a divide between how the top teams are doing at, well, the top, and how the rest of the pack is faring.

Lowly placed Burnley ended Liverpool’s 68-match unbeaten home run and bottom-placed Sheffield United beat title-challenging Manchester United at Old Trafford.

These performances together with transformations like John Stones’ metamorphosis from an erratic, often-criticised performer to being arguably the best English centre-back in the league raise the question: Is the lack of a jeering opposition crowd boosting some players’ performance?

We do know, from a famous behavioural economics experiment, that the absence of a crowd means referees make better decisions.  Tobias Moskowitz and Jon Wertheim in their book Scorecasting, look at common behavioural biases that effect the outcome of sports games.

The authors prove statistically that referees make different decisions depending on the crowd.

“We’ve found is that officials are biased, confirming years of fans’ conspiracy theories.  But they’re biased not against louts screaming unprintable epithets at them.  They’re biased for them, and the bigger the crowd, the worse the bias.  In fact, officials’ bias is the most significant contributor to home field advantage.”

In the current lockdown are we seeing the effect of the missing crowds on how teams play?

What if top clubs pay big bucks to top flight players mainly because they are better at dealing with the stress of a hostile crowd or the pressure of expectations from the home crowd and not because they are actually more skilful?

It is obviously very intimidating to face a top team’s loyal fans if you are on the opposing team. Or the jeers of a misstep from your home crowd. A bit like a talented team member in the office who has to face constant banter or micro-aggressions for being different.

If you eliminate this unnecessary pressure you allow talent and skill to rise.  You enable everyone to contribute.

This is why when the workplace has a culture of belonging for everyone, not just a single cultural fit, you get better decisions, better work and better talent.

When I was interviewing people for our new book one top creative told me that for much of her career she has felt embattled: “Usually a battle against white masculine privilege.  When can I breathe out?”.

Another top ad exec told me that when they joined the industry they felt that they had gone back in time to a culture more prevalent in the last century.

We can change our sector.  We can make the workplace kinder and by doing so we will make it better.  Of course, this takes active effort, as we explain in our book Belonging, the key to transforming and maintaining diversity, inclusion and equality at work.  Active effort to antidote micro-aggressions with micro-affirmations.  And active efforts from everyone in leadership to eliminate banter and unfairness.  The new All In industry census launched by the Ad Association is crucial to building a better more inclusive workplace.

This kind of environment does not toughen people up.  It reduces the ability for people to grow their skills and talent.

Let’s take a learning from the current culture experiment on the football field and allow creativity to rise.

 

 

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What do successful digital transformation and business culture projects have in common? Extreme ownership

February 2nd, 2021

Extreme ownership by everyone is essential for success in terms of both Digital Transformation and a true culture of Belonging.

There are two items to prioritise for most businesses in 2021.  The pandemic has given added importance to both.

  • Digital transformation, in light of the fact that excellent delivery of goods and services via digital is obviously a game changer for every business in lockdown.
  • Belonging, because having a better and kinder culture in every workplace, while always important for the well-being of employees, is even more crucial when we are working remotely (and will continue to be as we reinvent the office for blended working).

They might seem very different issues, but there is one significant differentiator to the success or failure of them both across business.  This is that everyone needs to take ownership, not just specialist teams.

Let’s start with Digital Transformation.  Ashley Friedlein, founder and president of Econsultancy, comments that business must “Double-down on Digital Transformation.  He goes on “Digital transformation is a mega trend that I’ve covered previously.. whilst far from new, the Coronavirus pandemic has given the need for digital transformation a new urgency, that for many businesses, is existential.”

Ashely and I have the shared experience of being part of the Government Digital Advisory Board when GDS (Government Digital Service who created and run gov.uk) was run by Mike Bracken and many of the team who now work at Public Digital helping government around the world with digital transformation.  His book “Digital Transformation at scale: why the strategy is delivery” written with Tom Loosemore, Ben Terrett and Andrew Greenway, is endorsed by Malcolm Turnbull who points out that dealing with government online “should be as easy as ordering from Amazon”.  That’s not a bad benchmark for every digital interaction that we have at work.  Is every digital interaction by you, your employees and your clients and customers that easy, user friendly and instinctive?

One of the key issues described in the book in achieving this is the problem of leaders who don’t think that this is their job and are unconcerned with the impact of technology on everything that they do.  “They set a cultural expectation that tech is no more than a question of plumbing… that can be ignored while the ‘grown-ups’ deal with the real strategic issues.”   Of course, the impact of tech on everything is the real strategic issue.   Businesses need a great CDO to lead.  But silo-ing the impact of tech on everything to that CDO only and their department can be severely limiting.  Instead every leader in the organisation needs responsibility and vision for digital transformation.

The same is absolutely true of the other top agenda item Belonging.  Culture is the beginning and end of best practice in business.

With a culture of Belonging you will retain great people

With a culture of Belonging you will reap the benefits of diversity

With a culture of Belonging you will recruit people who will make your culture even better

Belonging doesn’t just happen however – it needs work and leadership from the top, but also from every seat, particularly during lockdown, with remote working, and when blended working becomes the norm.

A great head of diversity and inclusion, or a brilliant chief people officer is useful and essential.  But silo-ing the effort of creating a culture and behaviours of Belonging to them and their department is severely limiting.  Every leader in the organisation needs responsibility and vision in this respect.  And in respect of a culture of Belonging there is a leader in every seat in the organisation.

Specialist leads have their crucial value, but to achieve true transformation you need everyone to take extreme ownership responsibility for change.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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