By Chris Sheppardson, CEO at EP Innovates (www.epinnovates.com)
Major change is needed to repair the damage to workplace culture today, in fact the harsh truth is, many of us are reportedly unhappy at work, add to this the increase in mental health issues and depression, the demise of strong working cultures and teams not to mention record numbers of people leaving their jobs every year – and the picture looks rather bleak. So what aspects should we be looking at in 2019 and beyond, to bring culture back to the forefront?
1. Encourage more failures to help young talent to grow
There is no shortage of great talent breaking through into the business world today, but for the younger generations entering the workplace, there is a greater need for strong leadership qualities and universities and businesses need to invest more in developing and preparing graduate talent for the future workplace.
The baby boom generation grew up against a background of parents that had experience a world war and had suffered their own demons, but most of that generation were desperate to leave the nest and experience independence. Universities in those days were linked with Government grants and encouraged the young to grow up at a slower pace and to enjoy life with some freedom. Back in the early 1980s, many graduates lived life fast and hard and by the time they graduated were arguably more ‘worldly’ and to a higher level than today.
The likelihood today, is that graduates enter the workplace, they are pushed to their limits, face incredible pressure – as business continues to focus on targets, bottom line and process (rather than on people, culture and teams). There is little chance to take risks, to fail, to try new things without fear and to embrace change with an open mind. The younger generation have grown up in a world that fears failure (because the mind-set is when you have to hit a target, you’re not allowed to fail), but it’s also a generation that wants to lead but has no leadership to be inspired by and therefore no footsteps to follow.
The real challenge today is not just about education (although important), but also about preparing young people with the confidence to embrace life and the fight that inevitably ensues. The world is changing at a fast and rapid pace and many institutions and structures are struggling to keep to that pace but change is happening and new thinking is required. Emerging graduate generations could be exceptional in the workplace and as leaders of the future, but we do need to lay the foundations at an earlier stage for this to happen.
2. Broaden mental agility by breaking down barriers outside of your usual community
Meeting with peers and new contacts is no great revelation; people have been networking since the dawn of time in one way or another. We are also acutely aware that building strong relationships with people cannot be underestimated in business. In many cases it is the founding stone for the success of many organisations today. Yet we find ourselves stuck in a rut where lack of trust in leadership is becoming the norm, as is the spiralling demise of team spirit and workplace culture.
The question is, are the more traditional structures for networking and developing relationships actually working for today? Is a change in mind set needed to break down those barriers that may be stopping us form exploring new paths and boosting culture? Rather than going down the same road each time, should we take a diversion and look at the idea of networking outside of our comfort zone? There is an argument to suggest that given the state of business cultures in general today, we should be taking inspiration, and knowledge from people across all different industries, all levels of seniority and regardless of our target audience?
Networking in new places and with new people means not only do we open up other channels of discovery we may also be able to learn and apply those learnings to our own businesses and situations. But if that is really going to happen we need to break down some of the barriers that exist if we want to broaden our mental agility and set about creating positive change.
If we start to broaden our minds, there really is a wealth of knowledge to tap into. There is also the element of belonging and community too. For many leaders and entrepreneurs particularly, it can be lonely at the top. Most of us would agree that we tend to push ourselves further when we feel valued or part of something bigger. As humans we are tribal by nature, we like belonging and we also see value in building meaningful relationships whether in life or business – it’s a massive part of our culture.
3. Take greater inspiration from other team-based sectors such as sport
When it comes to succeeding in the corporate world and in the workplace, much today can been learned from the sporting profession. Sport and business are very similar in many ways, yet ironically the way they both operate on a day-to-day basis can be quite different. In sport and for athletes, there is absolutely a ‘win’ mentality and this is also reflected in many of the key attributes, which help those people to reach the top of their game. Loyalty, trust, discipline and dealing with failure are all part of the process for athletes striving to be the best they can be.
Winning, whether in business or in sport is about dedication, commitment and a relentless mentality to never give up; after all no one takes home a gold medal if they don’t have those qualities. Interestingly in business today, people need to possess many of these attributes if they are to reach their full career potential but today many are so focused on ‘winning’ or getting ahead in life that they often attempt the journey to the top in isolation and at any cost.
Sports professionals will often think ‘solo’ in mind when it comes to competing and reaching the top of their field, but on the same token, they are under no illusion that there are also a team of other people that help them to get to that point. In sport, probably one of the most important drivers is the emphasis on teams. There is absolutely nothing wrong with individual ambition, in fact it is vital, but in life, there are few things you can do really well alone.
In business we need better communication on this level, just as in sport we have a game plan, a vision and a shared goal, the same should apply in the corporate world and it doesn’t mean people can’t have individual drive.
4. Focus on future coaching and mentoring that is fit for purpose
Taking inspiration from others has always been a fundamental part of personal development and growth both inside and outside of the workplace. But the genuine need for coaching and mentoring that is fit for purpose in today’s pressurised work place will become even more important for business culture in the future.
Learning from past generations and indeed different industries, will become hugely important as new, younger leaders enter the workplace. There is an onus on older generations to support their development too and this is where experienced mentoring and coaching will play an invaluable role – helping develop a wider perspective and looking at issues through different eyes. It is important for businesses today to create a legacy that allows the young to thrive, make mistakes and most importantly, to learn.
Maybe the starting place is teaching the importance of one’s accountability to the community and to others? One of the reasons that we bring sports players into the workplace to mentor is because they understand the importance of personal accountability and their role within a broader team.
This is where mentors can and do make a difference – they bring a fresh perspective and can challenge the mentee in their thinking. The value of NED’s at board level has always been about holding the board and the CEO/MD to account. A good mentor can also play this role but in a way that supports the development of the individual – to help them think for themselves and to find for themselves, new solutions and new answers to their questions.
5. Place greater emphasis on food being at the heart of culture
Food is integral to culture. Over recent years we have observed the increasing fascination of our love affair with food and most recently the demand for fresh, local produce and greater nutritional value. The question is, if food is so closely linked to human culture, can businesses build more engaged teams and potentially improve employee motivation and productivity simply through this connection we have with our taste and ‘visual’ experience?
Arguably, thirty years ago, most people did not work as hard as many do in the corporate world today. There were more escapes and rewards during the working day – more people smoked and would take a break during various intervals at work, more people took time out of the working day and went to the pub at lunchtime. Today this is rare. Today food has become a key reward and part of relaxation during the day and people do buy food with their eyes.
Food has become more vibrant, more creative and more exciting and suddenly as a result there has been an explosion in the love for fresh produce, not so much organic but local fresh foods. Like it or not, as humans we are naturally inspired via food. As such, we should not be surprised to see businesses in the corporate world hosting greater food styles in their operations as they look for answers and solutions for falling cultures. Businesses want and need their employees to be inspired, why not focus on food to bring people together again?
About EPinnovates (www.epinnovates.com)
A shop window for entrepreneurial innovation, EPinnovates has been created to showcase exciting innovations, new products, services, concepts and businesses forlarger companies to discover and explore. Designed to recognise and support the innovation that entrepreneurs and smaller businesses bring to the future economy, EPinnovates tells stories about entrepreneurs; each has a different tale, adventure and overcomes diverse obstacles, but all are looking to improve business and create value. Accessing these ideas and innovations can be difficult forbusinesses to truly discover so EPinnovates acts to bridge that gap and help to engineer the future for the better byintroducinglarger companies to entrepreneurs through the principles of trust, community and relationships.