Aimee O'Leary
Written by
Aimee O'Leary

IW: Today, we’re delighted to be joined by three of our 2021 EMEA judges for the Inspiring Workplaces Awards. Welcome: Uzma Mohamedali Coach, Change and Communications Consultant, Lisa Haggar, Human Resources Director, The Fielding Group and David Ducheyne, Chief Executive Officer, Otolith.

Firstly, we wanted to ask you all, what does an Inspiring Workplace mean to you?

UM: When I think of an Inspiring Workplace, I think of a shining bright beacon of light that attracts talented, passionate people.  Of a place where they can thrive on innovation and excellence in order to serve their clients in the best way possible.

LH: To me it means I feel included, valued, able to contribute, feel involved, feel supported, space to be creative, encouraged to develop and grow and of course a place to have Fun and love what I do.

DD: I think an inspiring workplace enables people to achieve meaningful results for themselves and others. It’s a work environment designed by and for people. Strategies in an inspiring workplace are designed with human needs as the key consideration. Furthermore, an inspiring workplace has a long-term perspective and integrates the interests of all stakeholders.

IW: You all mentioned the importance of your people. What are three areas of focus for organizations looking to improve the people experience?

DD: Purpose, Collaboration and Learning, all based on trust. That’s easier said than done, but this requires a very consistent approach on both organizational and individual level. But for me, these three are the foundation of any strategic capability an organization would wish to develop. Let’s never forget that the basis of any enterprise is the people. That sounds quite lofty. But strategies never fail. It’s the people who design and execute them who do.

UM: Collaboration is one of mine too – how do you keep your workforce connected so employees feel like they are living in their culture and experiencing it. (Rather than peering into it!)

Psychological safety – can you bring your ‘whole’ self to work? Authentic people are powerful and inspire trust and a sense of belonging to a company

Productivity – removing barriers to create more agility whether that’s through technology or simplifying structures and process.

LH: 1 – Open and honest communication is key

2- Burn the handbook – write something that has purpose, meaning and lives the company values.

3- Treat your people in the same way as your customer’s (Get your people involved in supporting the above)

IW: Following on from that, what do you think is the top priority when it comes to people at work this year and why?

LH: For me it’s People’s mental wellbeing. Covid-19 has had a devastating impact on everyone. This will not just disappear in June when we are able to get out and about again. Many have had to be strong to support others and my concern is that the true impact of the pandemic will continue to affect people for many years to come.

DD: I would say that we need to come back to a more balanced way of working together. Too many people have been deprived of a rich social work environment. People are craving for more inefficient social encounters, without losing the benefits of flexible working.

UM: Agreed. It’s been a year of working from home for many. Some employees feel fulfilled, others feel isolated. With that in mind, and as thoughts turn towards the future, I think the top priority for think tanks, is how will organisations integrate home working and office working?

A ‘Hybrid working culture’ is one that will focus on turning up the dial on collaboration within and outside institutions and also maximize productivity.

How companies maintain their company culture within this model, will be a leadership priority in my opinion, as it will impact the growth and profitability of the business.

IW: The past 12 months have seen an acceleration of positive change, mostly due to it being enforced upon employers. Changes such as finally trusting and empowering people, flexibility, investment in wellbeing and the reduction in the stigma around mental health. Our question is, how many employers will stick to this path and how many revert to type?

UM: That will depend on how much value they place on integrity – on walking the talk. Is the illusion of being a great workplace more important than actually being one?

I believe that there’s a recognition that things will never be the same again. This realization raises the bar for companies to evolve their work practices to better protect the mental health of their workforce.

As more companies see the value of a more productive workforce, we might expect to see more pressure from the outside in, to positively shape workplace cultures.

LH: I’m ever hopeful that this positive trend will continue, however I think the reality will be 60/40. That said, this is still progress from where we were. The more we continue to see the benefits of respecting our people with the positive changes you mentioned, I’m confident that this will continue to grow in the right direction.

DD: Employers who wish to return to a rigid way of working might lose on the labour market. But all depends on the demand for and supply of talent. I expect shortages in certain profiles and employers will be forced to offer flexible work arrangements. But let’s not forget that flexible work is there only for about 40% of the workforce. There are still many jobs that require physical presence at work. And so, I hope that what you list about positive change, that that will also apply to people in those roles. As I have no psychic talents, it’s impossible to predict how many employers will regress. It will be more than we want but probably to a lesser extent than they want.

IW: Leadership plays a huge role in everything we’ve just spoken about, What do you think is the most important quality in a leader?

UM: Servant Leadership. This is the idea that the leader serves the needs of the employees so that they in turn can serve the needs of their clients, customers or patients.

Leaders like this enable. Often they’re relationship-focused and have empathy. They simplify and remove organizational barriers and their ability to shift perspectives mean that they can see opportunities much faster, allowing innovation to thrive even in difficult times.

DD: It all starts with empathy. Empathy builds trust and enables a leader to adapt their actions to the needs of the people before them. As the effectiveness of leadership is determined by the quality of the relationship’s leaders have with their team, they had better made sure that they listen deeply to what people need.

LH: I agree with what David and Uzma have both said, but I would also add Emotional intelligence.

IW: Taking all that into account, as a judge for the 2021 EMEA Inspiring Workplaces Awards, what do you hope to see in the entries?

LH: I’m very excited to be a judge for the Inspiring workplaces Awards 2021! I hope to see companies who put people at the heart of wat they do/offer, show how they value their colleagues.  Innovation and ideas to showcase their brand and be visionary for others to follow in their footsteps. I hope to the impact they make has a profound impact on others.

DD: I hope to see thorough approaches that start from the human needs. Too often, approaches remain too superficial. I would like to see how top leaders have been involved and how they give the right example. Or let’s see how organizations handled the difficult decisions they had to take in the past year. And of course, let’s look for some evidence that it worked. I’d rather see an initiative that has established some but maybe weak progress, than an approach that remains on the lofty idea side, or one that has inundated the workforce with gimmicks and glitter. We need to change orgnizatins from within and not on the surface.

UM: Too often people focus on the what and the how of their achievement. I am looking for the impact on stakeholders. What was the benefit to leaders, management, employees, the culture of the organisation and society at large, both in qualitative and quantitative terms.

I’m assessing entries for inspiration, integrity and a sense of how other organisations could benefit from what has worked. It may be something simple, but powerful.

I am also looking for an awareness of the importance of empathy and humanity in business in the design and in the impact of the entries.

Now on to a few more personal questions. Who was the last person to inspire you at work and why?

UM: A General Manager when I was at Roche HQ in Switzerland. He role-modelled vulnerability which for a white, senior male, was refreshing to experience. It gave permission for others to do and be, the same.

LH: Previous CEO.  He would schedule the first hour of each day to spend time having a coffee and walk about to set his people up for a good day. He felt this was his most important task of the day. One of the very few truly people centric leaders I have had the privilege to work with.

DD: I have been working with a CEO who is the example of humility. She is very self-critical and keeps far from formalisms and hierarchical distance. Although she does not know it, she has inspired me greatly. Maybe I should tell her this.

IW: On to our penultimate question: What’s the best advice you were ever given? Who was it from?

UM: ‘Go deep’ from my somatic coach who helped me to understand the role that powerful emotions play in protecting my ego.

The result is greater self-awareness, which definitely benefits me as I build my coaching practice.

LH: My first mentor Eleanor. She was a senior partner in a law firm. She told me that in life people will throw stones. Let them. Collect them to build a castle, an empire. Stand at the top and look down on all the doubters, when you get there.

She told me that as a female I would need to work twice as hard as my male counterparts to get half the privileges. So work harder, be first, be smart, pick my battles,  use my voice and never back down.

DD: Throughout my career there were many people who have crossed my path and who have given me loads of advice. I am thankful to all of them. But one advice I got early on and that stuck with me is that everybody is serving someone else. So, we should always ask ourselves whom we are serving today. It keeps us humble and alive.

IW: Some great advice there that we’ll be sure to remember. Finally, we love music and find any chance to weave it into our events, interviews and podcasts!  Name one song that fires you up, when you need to get motivated and fast.

LH: ‘Woman’ by Keshia

UM: Eye of the Tiger by Survivor. It reminds me of my archetype of a bold tiger. To use my fierce courage to challenge the status quo and call forth, in service of my clients.

DD: I tend to listen to depressing classical music. But there’s one tacky song by Garth Brooks that I like a lot: Going against the grain. My friend Ellen introduced it to me back in 1992. One of the phrases stuck with me: If Columbus had complied, this old world might still be flat. It means that we sometimes need to take risks and take a road that is untraveled or difficult. If not, we will keep the status quo.

You can enter the Inspiring Workplaces Awards ahead of April 8, 2021 here.

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