Articles 7 min read

What is the role of flexible working in business today with Suzie Lewis

We conducted a Q&A interview with Suzie Lewis, Managing Director at Transform for Value, around business transformation, strategic organisational change, and the importance of inclusion and wellbeing within an organisation.

Could you introduce yourself and what you do?

I am the founder and managing director of Transform for Value. Having spent 18 years in large corporate environments, I now support and accompany organisations in their transformation initiatives placing the onus on how to drive value through people as well as data and processes. For individuals and organisations to flourish, it’s critical that people are comfortable with and embrace the speed of an increasingly digital and connected world. But such change is rarely easy. I work hand in hand with clients to find innovative ways of equipping people with the skills and mindset to successfully deliver and ‘live’ the change. I strongly believe that if people are to be truly motivated, they need to enjoy what they do, understand the value they bring and know how to get the most out of their job for both personal satisfaction and to help achieve company objectives.

The workforce and people’s and organisation’s attitude towards diversity and inclusion are changing, how important is it for organisational culture to keep up with, if not ahead of this change?

Inclusion is becoming more and more important in organisational culture and environments. Companies not only need to weave this into their cultural canvas but strive to stay ahead of the change.

I think the rapid evolution of technology and its impact on organisations means that businesses are looking for very different employee profiles. Skills are changing, and collaboration tools and the onset of generational fusion mean that businesses need to start looking at different ways of retaining their staff to keep their environment competitive for both new and existing talent.

There are already diversity initiatives ongoing in most organisations but the game changer is inclusion – how the existing and increasing diversity is managed, recognised, encouraged and perceived within the organisation. The onset of different, smarter workplaces more conducive to collaboration and a more ‘open’ way of working, is also a lever for innovation and inclusion. Organisations need to understand that their competitive advantage lies now more than ever not only in its diversity but in how it is managed and nurtured going forward. It is the organisation’s responsibility to create and support a vision that their executives and people leaders can take steps towards. This can involve creating an agile and adaptive workplace to seed innovation and allowing people to grow their potential and experiment with their ideas.

Organisations need to start laying the foundations for this world now or they will not be prepared for the change when it comes. The industrial revolution took 100 years, the digital revolution will take between 5 and 10. So far it has primarily affected individual companies but in future it will cut across sectors, thereby increasing the importance of understanding, encouraging and managing diversity.

The recent focus on wellbeing and mental health has put pressure on organisations to have more flexible working policies. How important do you think this changing way of working is for the future of employees and organisations? Furthermore, how do you think organisations can ensure teams still function as a unit, despite them potentially not being all onsite at the same location all the time?

Flexible working policies and everything they imply is a game changer for the future. The thinking around employee wellbeing, the number of hours worked, the pressure of the working week and the focus on work/life balance means that the 9 to 5 working structure will soon be obsolete as the generation fusion takes effect. This is also linked to the different perceptions of skills and roles in the workplace. Until recently, our skills and learning would equip us for a large part of our career, coupled with rigid job descriptions and defining job titles. Many employees now identify themselves with a certain skill or group of skills and as part of one or several ecosystems or communities. The ‘working week’ will evolve to accommodate new skills and provide employees with the flexibility they demand. This will be mirrored in the physical and virtual workspaces that are being designed in light of the different constraints and working styles. Businesses will have to offer their employees the same ‘user experience’ at work as they have in their personal lives.

The US Freelancers union tells us that by 2025, more than a third of organisations will have more than 50% of their staff working remotely and that office space will have reduced by as much as 50% over the next 10 years.
However, leaders will still have the challenge of creating a company culture and environment that creates a sense of belonging. Organisations can start to map out how they can create and sustain both an online and physical system to allow this collaboration and interoperability between smaller, more remote teams. Nothing replaces face-to-face communication for building trust and rapport, which is key to the cohesion of a team. This should thus be an essential element of any plan to keep teams functioning as units, irrespective of where they are based. Digital allows us to build on face-to-face communication via applications such as Skype and Google Hangout and to collaborate more effectively.

Due to the nature and speed of the business environment today, organisational change and business transformation are becoming second nature to most businesses, but how would you recommend organisations implement a strategic plan for organisational change?

In today’s environment, change is the only constant. Organisations are starting to think more and more about change but often the implementation strategy for sustainable transformation is overlooked or under-resourced.

I think the difference today is that often we hear about the new processes, tools, or the exponential growth of technology, the new business models and services that data can bring, but the people axis is very often neglected, or relegated, when in fact it is all about people and the way they interact, be it with each other or machines. This is critical in creating sustainable change and therefore improving the readiness of an organisation to transform.

I would recommend that businesses take the time to study this holistic view and define their vision for transformation (the ‘why’). This vision needs to be crafted at the same time as the cultural ambition is defined, to allow integration between the ambition (the ‘what’) and its implementation (the ‘how’). What does it mean for the different actors in the organisation now, in 12 months’ time and 3 years from now, and how do they get there?

How can an organisation begin to strategically change an ingrained culture for the benefit of the employee experience and what are the first steps to a “good culture” for improving the employee experience?

“… People will always remember how you made them feel.” This Maya Angelou quote is my favourite and so topical when talking about the employee experience. An organisation needs to consciously craft the employee experience to understand where the touch points are and how the employees currently feel. This would be my starting point for analysis of where organisations need to change ingrained cultural habits. They first need to ask the people their opinions and what they find demotivating. The notion of the employee experience spans a wider, more integrated view of the employee lifecycle and goes from onboarding and development through to management (career performance, development, mentoring and leadership), culture (behaviours, inclusion, identity) and their physical experience (workplace, technology and wellbeing).

The first stage would be for the organisation to be aware of how their employees currently rate their experience. What does the existing landscape look like? The second stage would be to understand where the issues may lie and how the different stakeholders in the organisation can help to leverage these different points, for example, explicitly promoting different behaviours without rewarding or recognising them.

The final stage would be to work together with a cross-section of the organisation to define how and when to make these changes integral to the DNA of the company. Leadership is a massive lever for organisational change and looking at the different leadership skills needed to successfully transform would be one of my first strategic ports of call.

With the varying generations in the workplace and people’s instinctive preference to work differently, how can you create a culture, employee experience and way of working that benefits the majority, not the few?

My instinctive answer here is to come back to the subject of inclusion. I would even coin the phrase ‘design for inclusion’. This is about designing not only the workplace but also culture, processes and structures that are fit for purpose and can accommodate and capitalise on different potential, profiles and ways of working.
I like to talk here about “design” and refer to the Design Thinking process. This is a great place to start because you have both the philosophy and the means to succeed. The philosophy is the cornerstone of the employee experience – understanding empathy and putting yourself in the user’s shoes to understand their needs but also their emotions.

How important is emotional intelligence as a trait in a Leader in improving the working environment?

Empathy has already been mentioned but of course, you cannot have empathy without other emotional intelligence aspects. Emotional intelligence is quickly becoming the most sought-after leadership skill and will grow in importance as we move further into automation and machine-to-human interaction. Leaders need to be able to put themselves in the shoes of their peers/team and coach them to where they need to go. Self-awareness and awareness of others in a connected environment where information is at everyone’s disposal is key to driving collaboration.

There has been a lot of discussion going on around this for a while, but do you think people ‘buy into’ a leader or the culture of an organisation?

I think they buy into a leader and are retained by the culture of an organisation. The saying goes that people leave bosses not organisations, but I think this paradigm is shifting. This will always be true as leaders are there to inspire us, and there is nothing more inspiring than following, developing and growing your own skills and authenticity alongside a great leader/coach/mentor. However, this will be short-lived if the culture does not advocate, promote or allow those ecosystems to flourish. The new face of talent will not hesitate to take their skills elsewhere to be fulfilled, recognised and motivated. Businesses can and should take this into account.

This interview is exclusive to The Business Transformation Network.

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