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How to lead with purpose and direction – Leadership series

My description of a good leader is; someone able to give people a sense of direction and clarity of purpose. 

I’m Tamson. I am an Insight Coach, Speaker and Trainer for PUSH, specialising in psychological skills and leadership. In the first of this Leadership blog series, I will share my views on two qualities that contribute to great leadership: direction and purpose.

 

Where are you heading?

My question for you: If I was to walk into your organisation, gather everyone together on a nearby London bus and ask, “Which direction are we heading?”, what would I hear? A shout from the back saying “Hackney”, a call of “Clapham” from the front, or a clear cheer from everyone that we’re headed to “Mayfair”.

 

In my work as a leadership coach, I recognise how low productivity and poor job satisfaction are often caused by unclear messages, inaccurate delegation and low rapport between leadership and team members.

 

Neuroscience tells us that when humans have a sense of purpose and understand why they are doing something, the prefrontal context – the executive thinking part of the mind at the front of the brain – lights up and directs our thinking. Accuracy of work activity, balanced decision making and seeing tasks through is highly probable when this part of the brain is charged up with a high blood flow.

 

When blood flow is charged in the amygdala – our emotional processing brain and home to our survival instincts – the accuracy and commitment to tasks is hijacked and compromised by emotional thinking and unwanted reactions.

 

A leader who is clear on both the direction of success for an organisation and how the work activity of teams and individuals impacts this vision neurologically soothes their team members’ minds. They send blood away from the amygdala and into the prefrontal cortex where productivity increases.

 

These parts of the mind have been captured playfully by Professor Steve Peters in his mind management book, The Chimp Paradox.  He describes the emotionally reactive part of the mind as our ‘inner chimp’ and the executive thinking part as the ‘human’. Effective leaders use messages and interactions to settle the chimp in others and wake up the more performing human.

 

Greater togetherness and sharper decisions

As a Senior Psychological Mentor, I worked for and was trained by Prof Peters in the craft of coaching leaders and teams around the country. We coached them to apply the principles of neuroscience to get the best out of themselves and others. Working with teams as a coach for PUSH, my first question to any leader is, “What do you want?”. It is not uncommon to hear a leader complain about the lack of productivity and motivation in their team. Then when I check in with the team, I hear confusion and a lack of clarity about the teams purpose; why they are doing the specific work activity that they are doing and how does it fit into the bigger picture?

 

A simple method I encourage leaders to adopt is the principle of a ‘red thread’.  This is the purpose of the work activity, the very nature of what it is the team has come together to create. For instance, if a team’s purpose is to create ‘the world’s fastest boat’, the red thread question becomes, ‘What decision or action will make the boat go faster?’. A leader who keeps in alignment with this thread is better able to make decisions and direct team effort towards the vision. The team is energised, clear and productive. They know where they are heading and how they impact the vision. This avoids conflict as well as time, energy and cost wasted on activity which will slow the boat down.

 

Keeping aligned

So how do you regularly bring your team back to the purpose of their work activity and the overall organisational direction? i.e. How do you keep aligned with your ‘red thread’?

 

The answer is to first reflect on the purpose of your business or team’s work yourself. Then bring it to your team and discuss it explicitly. If your business survival is based on client satisfaction, perhaps your red thread question would be, ‘Will this decision or action contribute to greater client satisfaction?’ Keep bringing your team back to this question.

 

Clarifying what your red thread is – and specifically your red thread question – will help your team become more engaged and energised. Using this simple strategy will help your team make daily connections between their efforts and the impact they have on the bigger picture. This creates a greater sense of wellbeing and fulfilment, which will lead to greater productivity.

 

PUSH help create leaders who are living, breathing examples of excellence. Who are confident and capable, who listen and value their team members and allow them the opportunity to grow and develop beyond what they thought they were capable of. To find out more, please get in touch.

Employers Must Better Support Working Parents – Here’s How

It’s safe to say that across the board, UK employers are more enlightened and understanding when it comes to working parents than 20 years ago. But the reality is that there is more work to be done. In many cases, a lack of flexibility and consistency as well as preconceptions and stereotyping are among the issues faced by those returning to work after becoming parents. So, what are the key challenges working parents face and how can employers do better at supporting working parents?

Feelings of Guilt

The working mums’ and working dads’ workshops that PUSH run revealed the extent of the problems some working parents experience. One of the key findings was that individuals feel they often can’t do as good a job as a parent, or an employee, because they can’t apply themselves properly to either. The resulting no-win exacerbates feelings of guilt and frustration and ultimately has a negative impact on the individual’s wellbeing and performance.

Lack of Consistency

In short, a lot of employers are getting it wrong on a number of levels. While flexible working could help with many of these problems, it is not being applied as it should. Inconsistencies in how people are treated depending on departments and managers also prevail while a lack of transparency and openness means culturally co-workers can lack the knowledge and understanding required to work alongside returning parents. 

Language and Perceptions

Passive aggressive comments from co-workers such as “good afternoon” when a person comes in half an hour late because of parental duties, for instance, certainly don’t help anyone. And participants in our workshops also reported that maternity and paternity leave is still perceived as a “holiday” or even a “privilege” by some co-workers.

Pressure and New Identity

But pressure also comes from the individual themselves. A working mum told us how as a returning mother she felt mentally, physically and emotionally different than she did before and this “different version” of herself found it hard to step back into the same role. A working dad, meanwhile, who was previously defined by work, had internal conflicts about not being able to work long hours any more because his priorities had changed and he was also concerned about what colleagues thought of him. 

Management Practices

Even when flexible working practices are in place, it isn’t always managed as well as it could be nor accompanied by a flexible mindset. Employers fail to really think through how it could work for the company or the individual with one mum saying it felt like a “demotion” with colleagues not involving her in the same way. 

Being Truly Flexible

There also has to be flexibility on the part of the returning parent. The business still has to run efficiently and effectively and it may be that with the best will in the world, the role – or perhaps clients – aren’t compatible with flexible hours.

So What Needs To Change?

PUSH is determined to address these issues and holds working parent sessions for companies and bespoke workshops for mums and dads. No two parents are the same, no two companies are the same and our workshops have taught us that mums and dads can face very similar and very different challenges. A general lack of recognition of the difficulties dad’s experience, for instance, can be at the root of many problems simply because they are far less talked about. Indeed, one dad described it as an “invisible challenge” for many companies.

What has emerged loud and clear in our work in this area to date though, is that by putting in education and  support structures before, during and after a child is born can make a huge difference and start to create the right culture for working parents to thrive at work and enjoy their home life and being a parent. 

Moreover, we are finding that many of the issues that need to be addressed don’t just affect working parents but are part of the wider discussion about how flexible working should be implemented.

 

Here Is The PUSH 10-point Guide To Better Supporting Working Parents

Lead By Example From The Top

Working parents in senior leadership positions need to role model the right behaviour as well as openly discuss and share the challenges they face. Senior leaders who try to be heroes rather than confront the problems they and others face aren’t doing anyone any favours, including themselves.

Mind Your Language

Educate the workforce at all levels about the right and wrong language to use. Impress upon them the importance of not throwing out glib comments that can make mums and dads feel uncomfortable.

Accept It Might Be Different For Dads

While policies and procedures must be equal, PUSH workshops have shown that the challenges dads face are different and they are more at risk of being overlooked. Talk to both about their pain points and it might require more effort to encourage Dad’s to talk openly about issues.

Introduce New Ideas

Consider what new measures you could put in place such as return-to-work days, home visits, Mum and Dad buddies who will be able to directly relate to new working parents, and bringing-kids-to-work days.

Promote A Two-Way Street

While working parents can face issues, tensions can arise if other members of the workforce feel parents aren’t being as flexible as they could be. Continually bagging the best holiday dates because they have children, for instance, can annoy colleagues. This is where understanding and open communication on both sides is absolutely key. 

Hold Coaching Sessions And Workshops

These can help prepare parents who are about to go on maternity and paternity leave as well as returners by helping them understand how they will feel  at each stage and that such feelings are normal.

Avoid Social Exclusion

Even if working parents may no longer able to go for drinks after work or join in with other social activities, they should still be invited, even when they are on leave. Also try to arrange events at times they can attend.

If It Doesn’t Fit, Don’t Force It

Even with the best will in the world it may not be practical for the individual to return to the same role and, for example, service the same clients. Trying too hard to make it work won’t help either side and it is far better to make the right adjustments to personnel and role as long as it’s done in an open and transparent way.

Put In Place A Support Network

Ensure working parents feel that the communication channels are always open and put in place a support network that includes HR professionals but also fellow working parents.

Working Parents Still Have Careers

Finally, it is important that parents still feel they are on the career ladder so ensure they are treated in the same way as anyone else when it comes to career and promotion options. They are also still part of the company even when they are on leave so communicate any key changes and developments in the workplace and organisation to them.

 

Get in touch to find out how PUSH can help you to support working parents in your organisation through tailored sessions with our expert Coaches.

5 Team Performance Insights That All CEOs Need To Know

Putting people first: The simple answer to a complex problem. PUSH was among those leading the discussion on how we can work better at the recent Getahead Festival in London.

The Getahead Festival, which took place on Friday 14 June in London, is on a mission to help a billion people positively impact their lives in the next 25 years. This absolutely chimes with PUSH’s objective: “To make sure that no one ever feels like they are just existing, or that they dread work”, so we were delighted to be Getahead Festival’s official Work Better partner this year.

We assembled a panel of some of the best minds across mental health and wellbeing, people management, diversity and inclusion and technology to answer an extremely important and pressing question: How Do We Work Better?

We are working more hours than ever but UK productivity continues to lag behind that of the other G7 nations. The country has also seen a 40 per cent increase in mental ill-health over the past 20 years which undoubtedly has an impact in areas such as absenteeism and performance. The figures show that something clearly isn’t working and this situation cannot prevail much longer.

Our panel put forward a vast range of views pertinent to this discussion, including: is tech slowing us down rather than speeding us up?; are we using the right language around mental health?; and would working less hours actually make us more productive?

We came to a number of conclusions but there was one overriding message: putting people first makes them happier and more productive. Based on our discussions, we’ve put together 5 team performance insights that all CEOs need to know to ensure their teams work better.

 

  1. Use Culture To Turn Human Vulnerability Into Strength

Culture has moved up the corporate agenda but few CEOs have truly grasped the important part it can play in keeping workforces healthy and happy as well as more productive. We need to create inclusive, diverse, nurturing and supportive company cultures that make people want to come to work and do their jobs well.

A positive and open culture also means that if they do feel under pressure at work, or have external factors placing a strain on them, they won’t feel this is seen as a weakness. They are more likely to tell their boss which gives everyone options and the chance to improve the situation rather than make it worse.

The right culture can help to turn human vulnerabilities into a positive because it enables us all to learn from experience and adversity and push forward rather than fall back.

 

  1. Make Technology An Enabler 

We’ve allowed technology to create an out-of-control, always-on, 24/7 workplace that is detrimental to our wellbeing and a drain on time and energy. On average we send 200 emails a day and download six times’ more information than we did years ago. How can this equal efficiency and increased productivity? And if we haven’t even learned to manage our inboxes effectively, what hope is there when technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning and robotics enter the workforce, bringing more data and information?

We need to take back control of technology and use it as it was originally intended: as an enabler that frees up employees to add more value at work and therefore feel more fulfilled. This means instead of mapping old ways of working onto new tech, flip the approach, and consider how a  new system or piece of software can create a new, better way of working.

 

  1. Learn From Mother Nature And Build An Ecosystem

In nature, an ecosystem is a community of organisms and their environment which all have a relationship with each other (often a complex one). A tree sends distress signals when it experiences disease or drought and in turn, surrounding trees send water and nutrients via their network of roots. They work together as a single system and their individual actions and interactions help them to survive and thrive. In the same way, teams of people in the workplace benefit from being part of an ecosystem.

Working together as a whole, the ecosystem can help to create an environment in which everyone can flourish. Such an approach makes individuals feel like they are contributing and collaborating to something bigger as well as being supported to achieve their own goals. It encourages them to not only be themselves but also to bring their whole selves to work in the ecosystem. This has an extremely positive impact on both wellness and productivity.

In short, the value of an ecosystem in terms of improved performance and can be worth far more than the sum of its parts.

 

  1. Innovate And Challenge Workplace Norms Like The 9-5

The pressure on day-to-day operations mean that many leaders find it difficult to think differently about how they structure the workplace and the working day. As a consequence, although far more people are working remotely or at home, most of us remain largely in the confines of a 9-5, five days a week role.

Those who have invested time in re-imagining the workplace have seen it pay off though. For instance, one of the PUSH panel speakers found that moving to a four-day week has increased engagement at work and has meant people have the time to use their weekends for achieving goals outside of work. This is hugely fulfilling personally and has a positive impact on mental health. It also means they return to the workplace after the weekend feeling more energised to do their job.

Allowing individuals more control over their working hours can also provide wellness and performance benefits. Working in the evening may better suit an individual for a raft of reasons. Any change needs to be well thought through though. If you know someone is working non-standard hours, managers can’t expect them to be available at other times any more than they would a 9-5 worker to be available for a call in the evening.

 

  1. Take Responsibility For Your Individual Impact 

Decision-makers undeniably influence an organisation, but what can be overlooked is simply that each person makes a difference. “Leadership is not top down. It’s within us all as individuals.” one of the PUSH panelists stated. 

How then, do you become an everyday leader and take responsibility for your impact on the team? First, it’s important to understand that leadership always starts with leading yourself first, and to lead yourself, you must learn how best to do so. Key questions you could ask are: when are you your most efficient? Do you spend your energy in the right places? What holds you back? How can you overcome your challenges? How much attention do you pay to crafting your skill set? When you master leading yourself, confidence follows. 

The second layer, is realising that how you feel has a direct impact on the way you work, the way those around you feel and your daily interactions. By taking agency over which version of yourself you bring to work everyday, you can be empowered to make decisions and take the lead. It’s time to step into your influence. 

 

Getting your team to work at their best is a challenge all CEOs face. There’s no one-size-fits-all or easy route to putting your people first, but we can help. Get in touch to talk about how together, we can improve the performance of your team.

 

Bridging The Organisational Perception Gap

Bridging The Organisational Perception Gap

At PUSH, we have no doubt that people are the unique differentiator in an organisation and one of our overarching missions is to get this message across to employers far and wide. So, we were pleased to see that findings in a new research report by Barnett Waddington, a consultancy at the forefront of risk, pensions, investment and insurance in the UK, adds more grist to our mill.

 

Meaningful and Productive Employment: Bridging the employment experience gap highlights the chasm that exists between a leaders’ perception of the day to day reality of an organisation and that of their employees. For example, the majority of employers (61 per cent) believe the wellbeing of their teams to be high but only 18 per cent of employees surveyed agree with them.

 

It goes on to report that the experience gap isn’t just confined to wellbeing and is amplified by the lack of open and honest communication and engagement that exists between UK organisations and their people.

 

The company states that “an organisation’s people is its greatest competitive advantage, so failure to fully understand employees’ concerns and requirements limits the chance of having a successful business.”

 

Our experience shows that this is especially the case for companies that are similar in terms of structure and process, such as in the media and creative industries. Standing out from the pack, therefore, is down to unlocking the potential that exists within the workforce and this begins by understanding your people and how they feel about their role and the organisation.

 

We’ve been busy developing one of our service offerings in recent months that directly addresses these dangerous perception gaps and issues that can harm a company if left to fester: The PUSH Audit.

 

The role of the audit is to benchmark the present status, essentially the ‘where we are now’, either in relation to the company as a whole or in line with a particular objective. The data and insights gathered can then be assessed against desired outcomes to inform strategy and the necessary PUSH programme of work and action plan implemented. It also can highlight further recommendations for management on internal policies and processes that may need addressing.

 

Such audits can reveal a great deal and don’t just serve as a barometer about how people are feeling but of the overall health of the company. Crucially, they are often a great way of shining a light on any blind spots. For instance, a business transformation programme may have been viewed as a success by management but structural or process changes may be a source of worry and anxiety for those on the shop floor. These may remain hidden but ultimately will negatively impact performance.

 

Talking to your employees about how they are, why they feel a certain way and what help they need to do their jobs is extremely empowering for them, and is also the key to enabling them to do their best work. Employees are often reluctant to bring such issues up with their manager but are more likely to confide in a third party because it amounts to being given permission to be open and honest without any comeback.

 

PUSH uses quantitative and qualitative methods to gain a clear picture of what is going on and both are extremely important. The quantitative approach, which typically includes an online survey, allows us to reach the whole company, while the qualitative part allows a deep dive into what is really going on at a granular level. The latter involves actually talking to the organisation’s people to find out what lies behind some of the issues and problems that they face in their daily work and what would help overcome them.

 

The audits represent a major exploratory exercise for an organisation, which touches and provides insight into all of the key areas affecting business success; from the business process through to performance and productivity. They can also help to assess training effectiveness and any other interventions by measuring the before and after.

 

There is huge power in understanding where we are now across the organisation in order to really home in on what is required to make improvements. It might take a brave company to delve this deeply as what they find isn’t always pretty. But those leaders who are willing to go there will be the ones that drive businesses forward and retain the best staff.

 

Ultimately, they will be employers with the most productive, healthy and engaged workers, and who are aligned with the company’s mission and aspirations.

 

In short, as painful as the reality of an audit might be initially, it makes great business sense.

 

Much like our approach to all of our work together, the PUSH audit is a bespoke design tailored to the company’s individual objective. Contact us to find out more and let’s make a plan to help your company future-proof and thrive.

 

Image-of-the-Union-Jack-Flag-

Could Brexit Actually Be a Time of Huge Opportunity for Your Team and Business?

Like every other business in the UK, the spectre of next March 29th and the uncertainty the decision (or lack thereof) is creating, looms heavy on our minds here at PUSH. We’ve been giving it a lot of thought…

 

It’s this uncertainty, in the economy and in the world of work, that’s got the PUSH team thinking. On the one hand it means that important decisions are get postponed, investment is delayed and a big ‘pause button’ is pressed in so many different areas. Indeed, in many cases, investment in crucial fields like skills development and equipment, is actually under consideration of being totally cut out.

 

However, what if, instead of looking at cuts, business were thinking that now might actually be the time to be investing in people, processes and equipment; to be thinking about ways to boost productivity and improve the resilience of our businesses and our economy?

 

Now is the time to think about creating innovative, inspiring cultures that create genuinely different outcomes – places of work where people can feel psychologically safe and are energized, engaged and motivated enough to think differently and produce their very best work.

 

So, what do we do? Well, whilst there is no one-size-fits-all, as a start point we wanted to share five super-simple Brexit-proof tips from PUSH and, of course, we’d love to talk to you about how we could help tailor a more bespoke programme to support your team in the run-up to and beyond March 29th:

 

Redefining Purpose and Principles

Now, more than ever, it is time to be really clear with your team on your ‘why’. Why are they working at your organisation rather than anywhere else? What does it mean to work at your organisation – what are your company values and how do they align with each of them personally? What is expected of the team and, moreover, what commitment are you making to them – in particular throughout these more challenging times?

 

Communication is King

I heard a wonderful quote the other day, that ‘gossip is the most powerful form of corporate communication’ and it’s true. Infact, in times of instability, the opportunity for gossip only accelerates. So, at times like this, it is more important than ever that the company’s internal communication comes from the top and is consistent.

 

Make it regular and make it transparent and make it authentic. Most of all, ensure that it is two-way. If more junior members of staff want to speak to leadership about their concerns, provide them with an access point so you can quickly answer their worries and provide honest answers and support.

 

Work Out What You Need to Get to Peak Performance

Use this opportunity to conduct a detailed audit of your workforce, map out current and future skills gaps, and invest in training, development and wellness.

 

The PUSH Audit is an incredibly efficient and effective process to gauge this information. This exploratory piece of work to uncover how people are feeling about the environment they are working, the changes they are facing and all the many areas of their day to day that are or aren’t being affected by it.

 

We would love to work with you to use this time to find out exactly what your team needs to ensure you can upskill and retain your competitive edge.

 

Reward Thinking Differently

We so often hear that companies want their teams to be entrepreneurial but then provide no specific means for rewarding it. Now is the time to be innovative; to create new more effective and efficient ways of working and to wow clients to get them to spend more or differently.

 

So, how will you entice your teams to do exactly that? Remunerate based on innovation – and see how your company landscape immediately changes.

 

Deal with Individual Concerns Before They Become Company-Wide Issues

When PUSH support our clients throughout periods of change, we always over-invest in 1-2-1 coaching for individuals. It is important to create confidential, non-judgmental spaces for people to talk about their worries. Firstly, because, if someone is stressed or anxious, they simply cannot perform as well as normal as they are in ‘stress-mode’. So, we need to help provide them with the tools to quickly get back into peak-performance. Secondly, it is vital that issues are nipped in the bud quickly before they become team or even company-wide problem.

 

PUSH has been doing a huge amount of work on evolving its positioning over the last 12 months – to develop into a business consultancy grounded in human behaviour. We answer business problems with people-focused solutions, one of which is, of course, supporting teams through change. Indeed, we have proven results that working with PUSH has increased profitability.

 

We’d love to talk to you about how we could help tailor a more bespoke programme to support your team in the run-up to and beyond March 29th.

 

Download an illustrated PDF version of this blog to share with your team here:

:PUSH-5 Super-Simple Brexit-Proof Tips

birds eye view of office chairs

Change Is Going To Come, So Prepare Your People For It

There’s no shortage of surveys that will tell leaders how the majority of change programmes fail. At PUSH, we think the best indication of measuring the success of your own programmes is to look at your people. Are they happy? Are they healthy? Or has absenteeism increased since you implemented the change?

The digital age means that many organisations are embarking on major digital transformation programmes that in some cases are based on entirely new business models and ways of working. This brings radical change to the structure of the workforce and how people work. Employees, however, are frequently not consulted in the change and can end up feeling it has been foisted on them. They become demotivated and quickly disengage with their role.

Change is inevitable at some point during an organisation’s lifecycle, whether it be because of digital transformation or a merger or acquisition. They were wise words indeed, when David E Morrison wrote that “For leaders to help people change, they do not need to understand change – they need to understand people”. Sadly, many leaders don’t.

If implemented properly, change is not a bad thing and at the same time as making the organisation more profitable and efficient, can make working life better and more interesting for its employees. Technology in particular can help to remove the mundane and routine from a person’s job and make their work-life more interesting.

New technology can give them more space and time to be creative and offers more autonomy, which will appeal to most people. In turn this will make them more motivated and innovative.

 

PUSH supported media company Yahoo when it merged with AOL in 2017 to form the company, Oath. The brief was to provide a programme that focused on building the necessary resilience required, creating a growth mind set while employees continued to operate productively throughout a six-month period, leading up to the Verizon deal close.

The Yahoo THRIVE multi-discipline programme was tailored precisely for the Yahoo team and built entirely on the findings from it’s in-depth audit. Its aim was to give individuals the skills and energy needed to recharge and perform at the highest level.

Initially running as a six-month programme in London, it was soon extended to 12 months and rolled out in Munich, Dublin and Paris. It featured over 300 talks, workshops and one-to-one sessions.

We ensured that the whole of the Yahoo team was emotionally and mentally prepared for the forthcoming sale and that they were strong enough to continue delivering in their roles throughout this challenging period, enabling the business to outperform expectations.

One team member commented: ‘Whilst we still did not know what was coming our way, we felt prepared for it, whatever that might be’.

Yahoo THRIVE enabled the Yahoo team to maintain their energy and achieve sales targets throughout the Verizon deal close period. 

 

In Philosophies of Organizational Change, authors Smith and Graetz point out that an individual experience of change is not just a part of the change management process, but it is the most important component of it. All leaders should have this top-of-mind during any period of change.

The companies that are best able to communicate and effect change are modern thinking companies that have flatter structures, are less hierarchical and have more collaborative cultures. They are more like organisms and are adept at using adaptive and contingent systems. They also have a natural tendency to involve employees in what is happening at the organisation in the same way a start-up would. They are flexible, agile and used to change so they understand the importance of making their people central to it.

Those companies that retain traditional hierarchies and purely focus on process and systems when effecting change are most likely to fail and lose a huge amount of goodwill from the workforce which they may never get back.

The old adage claims that no-one likes change. At PUSH we challenge that notion since the right kind of change, implemented well, can benefit everyone and make the organisation and its people happier and healthier. Helping individuals to overcome limiting thoughts or behaviours removes the fear factor from change. This will ensure that they remain productive and performing well, even if they feel challenged or stressed by what’s going on around them. In short, the key is to help people become comfortable with the uncomfortable.

 

How are you supporting your employees during times of change? What effects of change are you seeing on your team? Is digital transformation affecting the wellness of your staff? Get in touch to find out how we can supprot you and your workforce during times of transition. 

 

Graphic of Oath WIN and Rise Up logo

How Can Organisations Support Women To Flourish As Leaders?

“Leadership does not emerge in a vacuum. If companies are serious about developing the female executive pipeline, they should ensure that their organisation truly enables talented women to flourish as leaders.”

 

Those were the words of Dr. Elena Doldor, a senior lecturer at Queen Mary University, who was speaking on the back of new Cranfield School of Management research [published 15 July 2018] which criticised the lack of progress in improving gender diversity within leading UK companies.

According to Cranfield’s ‘Female FTSE Board Report’, the number of women holding executive positions in FTSE 100 companies has flat-lined for a fourth consecutive year – only 25 women held executive roles in 22 companies in June 2018.

Although the percentage of female non-executive directors is at an all-time high at 280 (35.4%), the overall picture for the FTSE 250 arena is gloomy, the report suggests.

Here, the percentage of women on boards increased only marginally from 22.8% in October 2017 to 23.7%.

Worryingly, the number of female executive directorships fell from 38 to 30 while male-only boards rose to ten.

 

So what needs to change?

 

A LinkedIn Global Recruiting Trends 2018 report published earlier this year revealed that forward-thinking companies were focussing on creating a culture of ‘belonging’ as well as inclusion to make diversity ‘stick’.

“Diversity is being invited to the party, inclusion is being asked to dance and belonging is dancing like no one’s watching,” it states.

“Belonging is the feeling of psychological safety that allows employees to be their best selves at work. Even at the most diverse of companies, employees will disengage and leave if they don’t feel included and accepted.”

 

OATH UK CASE STUDY

One firm that encourages employees to flourish and become the best version of themselves is media technology company Oath UK.

It has created nine Employee Resource Groups that aim to empower workers by providing a sense of inclusion and community and a chance to share their experiences, discuss issues, find guidance and support.

The groups range from UNITED (Progress through Unity) which supports multiple cultures, and PACT (Parents and Caregivers Together) to Neurodiversity (Minds of All Kinds).

Another is WIN (Women’s Inclusion Network), which promotes women and gender equality issues, and is one of the company’s largest ERG’s, spanning 26 offices across countries including England, Germany, India and the United States.

According to Emily Heath, Oath UK’s regional lead for diversity and inclusion, the insight provided by these groups enables the business to ensure it is building an inclusive environment from the ground up and help embed diversity in everything it does.

“Embrace, empower and educate are Oath’s guiding principles,” she says. “We celebrate what makes each of us unique and the communities we build together, we empower by bringing D&I to all parts of the business and we educate on the value we’re seeing. We focus on making it real by having those diversity conversations with our top C Suite businesses helping them understand, what’s happening and talking about the solutions we can provide. “We’re actively working to make facilities like multi-faith rooms and designated spaces for returning mothers to express milk available in our central London office.”


The purpose of WIN, she adds, is to empower women to be their authentic selves and drive their career in the way they want to. “Through WIN we have a greater sense of community, and the women of Oath are enabled to share their experiences, be change champions and encourage mentorship across all levels.”

 

But it doesn’t end there.

 

Oath UK is well aware that if people feel better, they’ll perform better too. Which is why it has gone one step further and teamed up with PUSH to implement Rise Up, professional coaching programme to help women address issues that might be causing them stress in either their home or professional life or affecting their performance.

All Oath UK employees who identify as women have been offered two free coaching sessions with a PUSH expert of their choice. The aim is to bring staff up to their full potential so all sorts of topics are covered including mindfulness, nutrition, personal development, women’s health, and finance.

The worker is assigned a PUSH coach for 30 minutes. She then explains what she wants to achieve – be it a professional or personal goal – and the tools are then put in place to help her achieve it.

Around a month later the employee meets with her coach again to see what progress has been made and what tweaks might be needed.

“We really wanted to provide a coaching element that covered everything from wellness, nutrition, and finances to executive and personal development because ultimately all those things impact how you show up to work,” Heath continues.

“By covering of all of those areas we knew we would be providing the tools to set up the women in our business to be their best selves in the office and give them the confidence to do so.”

 

Additionally, Heath points out that a lack of confidence might hold some women back especially when it comes to things like negotiating pay rises. “A man might argue his case and be considered, while a woman doing exactly the same thing might worry that she is seen as pushy and aggressive”, she adds. “There needs to be a level playing field.

“Just like our Employee Resource Groups which are led by individuals who identify with those communities or are allies of that community, PUSH provides coaches who have real-life experiences and bring the knowledge of how they’ve overcome life’s obstacles.”

So far 200 women have enrolled in the pilot programme, which ends in October, and could be extended globally. “This is just one of the different projects being managed and delivered by the different ERGs and everyone is super positive and engaged with the initiative,” Heath smiles.

PUSH’s founder Cate Murden points out that many women spend much of their time switching between all of the many hats that they wear – mother, daughter, friend, boss, colleague, wife, girlfriend… the list goes on!

“We all just keep going and going and so rarely take time to stop and think to ourselves – what do I actually want to do?” she says. “What do I actually want to change? Indeed the only time that we do tend to stop and think about ourselves is when it’s too late and those carefully balanced plates have come crashing down around us.

“We’re absolutely thrilled to be working with a forward-thinking company like Oath. From the moment that we launched the programme, we could feel the palpable excitement in the room when the women there realised – ‘wow, this can genuinely help me create change in my life’ and the response has been overwhelming. With one employee saying the hour of coaching has been the best hour of L&D they’ve received throughout their entire career, it feels incredible to be part of something so inspiring, energising and life-changing!”

 

PUSH is a corporate wellness company, we are passionate about helping companies build a more diverse and inclusive workplace. Find out more about our team of coaches and read more about the Women Rising Up at Oath UK.  

 

This article is by Helen Gilbert, a freelance journalist who can be found tweeting @gilberthels

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