Anyone who has been job hunting recently will be familiar with the emphasis companies put on their values as a way of attracting and retaining talent. But how many of these organizations and their leaders actually demonstrate those values? Of course, I have to ask myself the same questions as Randstad’s chief executive of Northern Europe. What can I do — as a leader — to improve workplace culture? How can I help?
The answer, I believe, lies in being human and humble. The best leaders I’ve worked with have always been willing to listen, and willing to learn, and these are the four principles I find most helpful as I strive to be a more effective leader.
I’m very curious by nature. I’ve always been keen to understand how something works, so that I can try to improve it, which probably explains my earlier career as an engineer. Even in something as precision-focused as engineering, there were often problems associated with ‘human factors’ at work that no-one seemed able to predict or plan for. As I began to think more about how we could better understand and mitigate such issues, I decided to move to Randstad to further explore my ideas around talent management. Here our curiosity is centered around understanding the human side of recruitment.
I’m particularly interested in employer branding, and why people choose a company, or avoid it. Looking at this kind of data helps curious leaders understand what they should be offering, and what they can do to entice new employees and retain existing ones.
The best leaders I’ve worked with have always been willing to listen, and willing to learn.
I can’t think of a bigger cliché in recruitment than describing a company as ‘one big happy family’. But, despite this, I do believe we can learn from the way we sort things out at home. Empathy and understanding go a long way in the decision-making process, wherever you are. If we have a problem in my family, we go and sit down at the kitchen table and try and sort it out. We try to solve it together, but first we need to understand what the issues are and doing that with empathy is more likely to lead to a positive outcome.
A more traditional leader might feel pressure to solve problems themselves, without consulting the affected parties until after the decision has been made. I believe that modern leadership leaves this behind. It embraces the idea that we seek to understand and empathize with the issues and then solve them collaboratively.
3. inclusivity & equity.
Everyone has a talent. A huge part of nurturing talent as a leader is making sure to remove any unnecessary obstacles in the way of success. If leaders understand that inclusivity and equity aren’t just things we have to move toward, but things we should move toward — because we can benefit from them — then the value proposition of encouraging a more diverse and equitable work environment becomes much clearer. It’s win-win.
A small but significant example of this is that we increasingly see changing language within job postings. Years ago, a job posting about a physical factory job would often be written — either by accident or design — in a way that would only attract men. The skills required might focus on physical strength only. These days, the postings are more likely to be targeting healthy, active people who might like to combine their passion for keeping fit with a job that will help to achieve those personal goals.
By doing this, the role becomes far more attractive to a larger pool of people. It’s also an important sign to potential staff: if the messaging is inclusive, the company might be too.
Another lesson I’ve learned from my family about being a leader comes from our annual holiday. So, we’re sat around that kitchen table again, planning what each of us wants to get out of the vacation. One of us wants to go mountain-biking, one of us wants to go shopping, and one of us wants to go to the beach, and so on. Would you let one person decide what everyone does? I can’t imagine that keeping everyone happy, not in my family anyway. It’s the same principle with leadership roles — if you’re not including people in decision-making, you’re excluding them.
Being flexible, and allowing all voices to be heard, creates an environment of inclusivity.
Leaders have perhaps the biggest opportunity here to exercise that shift from a top-down to a collaborative approach.