Stay out of the workplace comfort zone to succeed

27 Mar 23

An open workplace culture is vital for productivity and health, according to a leading expert.

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Don’t design your organisational culture for the lowest common denominator, a culture specialist has urged recruiters.

Instead, design it for trust and a mindset of solving problems, Becky Hewitt OBE, chief of staff for consultancy Kin&Co, said in her keynote talk at LinkedIn’s Forward.

For a healthy organisation, a ‘speaking-up’ culture is needed where the messenger of bad or embarrassing information is “actively hugged” instead of punished for voicing concerns or revealing bad practices, according to the lead careers industry title Recruiter.

“It’s not always going to be comfortable,” Hewitt acknowledged. “You’re taking the risk of being seen as difficult.” 

Speaking about ‘How to build cultures where performance and purpose go hand in hand’, Hewitt discussed the negative impact of “high cortisol, high stress, high fear” organisations on productivity and the biggest risks to organisational culture. She identified the following risks:

Leading with rules, with a tendency toward command and control instead of purpose and values. “Do not design your culture for lowest common denominator,” Hewitt said. “Design for trust. Use the ‘Ikea effect’ as an example: if you build it, you care more about it.”

Relying on company-wide wellbeing initiatives. Instead, wellbeing initiatives should be created for individuals. Also, Hewitt said, “you cannot have ‘wellbeing’ if you are in a toxic culture… all the yoga in the world won’t fix it”.

Parent-child relationships between leaders and employees, reflecting stress and controlling approaches. Instead, a problem-solving, accountable mindset should be supported. Autonomy is desirable; at the same time, it can be “exhausting”, Hewitt said, “when personal values are not aligned with the organisation’s”. 

Tolerating poor conduct. “What behaviour does your CEO allow?” Hewitt asked. “How do your leaders behave?” “Toxic rock stars” are a danger to building purpose-led organisations, she said, adding: “Sometimes culture and purpose can feel at odds with commercial success.” 

Settling for a power imbalance. Instead, organisations should aim for “a culture of belonging”.

Hewitt was one of several speakers addressing recruiters and in-house talent acquisition practitioners at the Forward events.

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