With a return to normality almost in sight, CEOs are now confidently looking ahead to revive and accelerate business prospects. Despite its many woes, the pandemic has brought about several positives for people and businesses alike- one being progression toward a more flexible operating model with an improved experience for employees.
But this shift requires proactive support to protect and maintain what’s changed, minimising the risk of further disruption and maximising business performance.
Leaders are investing significant efforts in the drive towards digital transformation, acquiring new capabilities and improving the employee experience, and strengthening their sustainability agenda, as suggested by recent survey reports of over 5000 CEOs worldwide. There is no silver bullet for all of this, but focusing on culture and behaviours certainly has a critical role to play.
1. Accelerating digital transformation
The pandemic accelerated the rate of digitisation, forcing many businesses to adopt remote working in order to maintain operations during lockdown. As a result, the race to be digital has become an imperative for the majority of CEOs in the UK, as many now recognise how fundamental digital transformation is to business survival. Investment is being redirected towards the digital agenda, and transformation efforts are increasingly required to demonstrate digitally-driven principles at their core.
Providing a seamless customer experience, reducing the risk of cyber threats, bringing the supply chain closer to home, and increasing automation are key areas of focus currently, and although these concern technology and process, culture is the thing that underpins them all.
Successful digital transformations are grounded in culture – culture is what binds everything within a business, and motivates people to adopt new technology, enabling a business to effectively innovate. A digital transformation strategy must therefore always align with company culture, taking into account the existing strengths and opportunities to drive new ways of working and behaviours. When employees feel that their existing habits and needs are being considered, they are more likely to engage with changes. In addition, the narrative around digital transformation needs to focus on the employee experience of the change: what’s in it for them? How will they benefit and grow from this? Many businesses spend 90% of transformation efforts on systems and processes, often completely overlooking the behavioural steps and support required to help people understand and adapt. Using existing peer communities and communication, and building awareness early can go a long way when it comes to creating acceptance for change.
2. Acquiring new capabilities and improving the employee experience
CEOs rated the acquisition of new organisational capabilities, including investment in upskilling the workforce and recruiting new skills, one of the top priorities for ensuring their business remains resilient and agile. The pandemic resulted in a multitude of changes to traditional talent management practices and beliefs. The most prominent has perhaps been the swift disappearance of the age of presenteeism, which now feels like a distant memory, with employers forced to trust their workforce to manage and deliver their work from home. This naturally drew attention towards the challenges of work-home life balance, and the employee experience, resulting in a shift in employee expectations of their employers. Employees now expect more support in the areas of mental health, balancing family commitments with work, and adopting a more flexible, outcomes-focused approach as opposed to advocating ‘time at desk’ as the key indicator of performance. Greater emphasis has also been placed on skills versus roles, as businesses look to equip their employees with transferrable skills, enabling them to remain resilient in the age of change and digitisation.
The role of culture here is clear: embracing diversity of thinking, encouraging a fail-fast learning approach, and experimenting with new ideas is a crucial component for acquiring and upskilling talent. And while many business leaders feel they’re already doing this well- employee perceptions often differ! Regular culture health checks will allow you to understand what it really feels like to work within the business, highlighting the areas which create dissatisfaction, and allowing you to hone in on the elements where change would make the biggest difference to talent attraction and retention.
3. Strengthening the sustainability agenda
Public efforts to combat climate change and social inequalities are having a pronounced impact on businesses worldwide. Consumers are opting for sustainably and ethically sourced products, and employees are expecting more from the companies they work for, compelling businesses to bring supply chains closer to home, and to introduce a socially-responsible component into their operating strategy. The pandemic further provided an interesting glimpse of what a world with less pollution and more socially responsible local communities could be like, which an increasing number of businesses and CEOs are looking to sustain.
So how can businesses ensure that social and environmental responsibilities are not side-lined at the cost of profit? By making sure their sustainability agenda is aligned with their business strategy, supported by their leadership, and embedded in their culture. Businesses that have a clear purpose can usually identify the environmental or social aspect of it, which can then be used to both strengthen their brand presence and acceptance, as well as to engage with prospective talent. When a business is consciously invested in the broader impact it can make on communities and the environment, employees and customers respond positively to this authentic need to be responsible, which in turn drives business success, but with less negative repercussions. The sustainability agenda is no longer a nice to have, or a trend to follow while it serves you- all our lives now depend on businesses cleaning up their act, and the more we can recognise the human cultural aspect within our many complex systems and processes, the better for us all.