The People and Process Vodcast episode 6: Sourdough, Orchestras and Windfarms

James Crawley: So, Kirsten, last time we talked about the promise of value, what we defined as the soft stuff.  Now as anyone knows, if you leave bread out overnight, it goes all hard and crunchy. And in the same way, if you leave your soft stuff alone for too long, it goes stale as well. So how do we keep the soft stuff fresh?
Kirsten Gibbs: Well, the easiest way is to live it every day on that look breathes constant life into it. So think of it thinking of your bread analogy. Think of it as a sourdough starter. You have to feed it every day. And there is a bakery in London somewhere that’s using a sourdough starter from 1964. So, like sourdough if you feed it properly, your culture, your soft stuff can last decades
James Crawley: So pretty similar to maintaining your garden, which adapts with the season easily if you get the initial landscaping structure right and keep up with the maintenance.
Kirsten Gibbs: Yeah, and most importantly, just because something is landscaped and maintained doesn’t mean it has to be regimented. You can have creativity and wildness as long as it fits within your risk framework. So how do we apply that to the people agenda and get people to live it every day?
James Crawley: So I guess this is about engagement and specifically employee engagement. One of my favourite topics as you know.  As we previously spoken about, engaged employees or individuals have engaged purpose aligned to the organisational values  and strategy.   And, in order to give these people engaged purpose. It’s not enough to ask them what they think.  It’s about a 360 degree process where people can see their thoughts being actioned and feedback on.  A very simple, practical way of doing this is “you said, we did.”  You see that a lot in the public sector in the NHS and so on, posted up in hospitals. You said we did and it applies to their customers as well. It’s regular and visible cultural process within the organisation. And this prompts a culture of refusing to tolerate behaviours that are not aligned to your organisational beliefs.
Kirsten Gibbs: OK, lovely.
James Crawley: So it’s easy to see how individuals engage in this way. But how does a process support that so that individuals become part of an orchestra as opposed to being competing soloists?
Kirsten Gibbs: Okay, well, if this was an orchestra, what you would do, what your musicians would do, they would practise. They would practise individually, but they’d also practise as a group. They would get together on a regular basis and practise sections of the music together and think about how they could make it sound better.  And they will only incorporate those changes if there’s evidence that it actually makes the performance better. So I think you can do something very similar in a business.  You get people together for group practise and they come and talk about the process. Talk about what works, what doesn’t work, how you might things, make things easier or better for the customer, and then you get a scribe to take notes.  And then those could be followed up afterwards. And the point is, everybody has a turn at being  a scribe  so that everybody’s got the responsibility of capturing or takes turns at doing that, and you might decide what you incorporate based on any number of ways. You could vote. You could have alternative options that so you could actually give people choices, and say you could do any one of two or three things because they’re all good and you choose, at the time, which is the most appropriate.
James Crawley: So it’s a bit like a director’s note, if you think of a the theatre or film. They’ll let actors play out the role several times, then write a note into the script.  that is the guidance that he wants to give.   Still keeps the individuality,  but it becomes an ensemble performance.
Kirsten Gibbs: Yeah, exactly. And the point is, this kind of group practise helps to remind everyone that they are part of an orchestra and custodians of the promise. So they’re collaborating to produce an experience that embodies that promise for the customer and, that experience, if you think about it like a play or a piece of music, that experience is actually being built on the efforts of all the people who went before you, all the people that you work with,  and is going to be carried on by everybody that comes after you. And I think having that kind of group practise helps people think of that bigger picture. This is something we’re doing for the long term. So what other human factors to businesses need to consider to keep things fresh?
James Crawley: Businesses change.
Kirsten Gibbs: Yeah, so, yeah, how do they change?
James Crawley: So products often evolve over time, particularly in manufacturing environments, for example, but also in services firms. So think of Ernst & Young famous accountancy firm.  Who used to be just accountants. But they’re now a full service consultancy and legal firm, even within a subset in within accountancy, what accountants are allowed to offer changes through regulatory  environments. So an example of that would be probate services, which a few years ago were the domain of the lawyers but now could be offered by many probate practitioners within accountancy practises.  Why is this important? Because this can change your customer demographic, which has a direct impact on your employer brand.   One of the key things that potential employees look at when assessing a company, whether they’d like to join it, or work for it is what type of customer they’re gonna be serving.  So whilst product change might not initially be considered a human factor, it clearly is when you consider the impact it has on your staff and your customers,
Kirsten Gibbs: That’s really interesting. What do you mean by that?
James Crawley: So let’s think of an example.  Companies morph over time.  So British Petroleum, subtly, without fanfare, rebranded to BP. They then started saying that BP stood for Beyond Petroleum has opposed to British Petroleum and they now spend hundreds of millions of dollars every year developing things like wind turbines. So 20 years ago, an environmentally sensitive graduate might not be attracted to an oil company for obvious reasons. But actually now they might be because they have the chance to work on leading edge technology with an environmental impact. So the promise of value from BP hasn’t changed. They’re still an energy provider, but they’re just changing how they deliver value to their customers and also to their shareholders
Kirsten Gibbs: And that kind of changes their employer brand.
James Crawley: Exactly
Kirsten Gibbs: Exactly.
James Crawley: Exactly. a less positive example would be a trucking company, that plays heavily on its family staff environment. We’re one big, happy family because of course a lot of that is people driving trucks. But what if they then decide to invest very heavily in autonomous vehicles?  So it still trucking or haulage company, but its product delivery model is very different, as is it’s employer brand and therefore its attractiveness for people to join that brand. Now, with many individuals, and we know this younger generation more than any other before, are very vocal about their beliefs and will not work for an organisation that is not ethically aligned to them. Remember the care curve podcast that I did ? So I think there’s a lot more to this whole topic.
Kirsten Gibbs: Yep,
James Crawley: And I don’t think we’ve got time to discuss it all today.
Kirsten Gibbs: No, unfortunately,
James Crawley: All the things that companies get wrong, all things you do to keep it fresh.
Kirsten Gibbs: Okay, so let’s have that discussion next then.
James Crawley: Perfect.
Kirsten Gibbs: Thank you.