Sustainable OD

A blog dedicated to the wonderfull field of Organisation Development

People at the Heart of Business

This was the brilliant title of the conference that was held by Engage for Success last week. It was truly a great event filled with inspiration, tips and nuggets of knowledge from a variety of perspectives. Those who follow me on Twitter would have seen me Tweeting my top end of the talk nuggets for each speaker so I will not replicate everything onto this blog. I will share some of the things that were touched upon, but also as an attendee what I left with.

To begin with I left with a much needed re-energising feeling that I am in the right field and focusing on the right things when it comes to the impact I want to create with Change Differently and in my wider life. I am more than ever passionate about people at work, and this feeling in my gut that says that nobody should “have to” go to work, but instead “choose” to do what they love, driven by purpose and the impact the job can make in the rest of their life (even if they are not what people tend to describe as career driven). I very much found a room full of people who understood me, and that belief that people should not feel like their life is just wasting away, clock watching and waiting for the weekend. Engagement is a two way street but there is still so much to do out there in the world to get 100% of the organisations creating the environments where people will choose to engage with them.

Would you get naked for your company? I think I would have put Post-its all over my body… that sounds like fun! However, it was not the witty brand video that made me think of how brilliant Absolut were doing their job (quite a few of their employees get undressed, a must watch!). What I think was brilliant was the idea of storytelling. I feel companies need to make more of embracing their history, the founder history and the symbols, values and beliefs that started them out. It is this that instils pride of being part of the community. The values the founder of Absolut had continue today (updated to this century) but it is what makes this brand so very special… and like another speaker in the conference said, you got to steal with pride!


Financial wellbeing and engagement, well that was an eye opener and in a more way than one. Now here is a slight disclaimer and pronouncing my own personal bias like a good OD practitioner that I am (a modest one too)…. I’m not a particular fan of pensions, but I still think people who work should have them. However, the myth that they will take care of you forever is a lie, mainly because jobs for life are a lie… however for people who do not wish to take the risk of investments, big business or becoming an entrepreneur, pensions are still a good way to put your money to work for you. Two big take aways from this: your employees are worrying about their finances and this affects how they perform at work, please make their lives and yours easier by explaining things in simple terms. The last contract I had, I received a letter from my new pension provider first thing I heard about it (I knew I had been auto-enrolled), never got told what to do with the paperwork, called and chased, and well let’s say, it’s back on my to do list because after not getting a response haven’t called back. It would just have been easier if we had some of the fancy digital aids that Francis was showing off, make it fun for people! So that’s one thing, the other thing which got repeated in different ways throughout the whole conference was that thing called language, the words we choose to talk about things. Some of you who know me on a personal level know I’m a big believer in the law of attraction, and I believe the words we choose will focus our energy in different ways, and this applies to the way we talk about change, pensions, employees, strategy and life.


Now, Sir Eric Peacock followed. I believe his interview will be up on the website at some point so keep an eye out. He was the one who said steal with pride, and what he meant was that you don’t always have to be the smart one that comes up with the ideas, but what you do have to be good at is adapting them to fit your culture and organisation. Try them out, if they work, yey! My take away however is one simple question that can be applied in every single situation and not just at work.


Chieu quoted one of my favourite thought leaders named Simon Sinek, “people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it”. He was talking about us the millennials, and the fact that we are in search of purpose at work and don’t believe in the divide of work and personal life. Beside the fact that I think we are definitely more vocal, I think all generations are in search of meaning, purpose and impact. Which is why the old style command and control is so outdated and to be honest should have never existed… but besides the why he touched upon another concept that was later repeated especially during the Mumsnet presentation, flexibility at work. With the borders between work and life now blurred, why not be more flexible, whether you are a parent, a carer, or just have more things to do like sign for a delivery package or go to the bank (who only open at office hours!). Flexible working can exist in any job, we just need to design them that way (one for my org design and policy colleagues).


Then the panel! Wow! So many things were said by Tony, Dame Carol Black and Neil. Although not new there were three things here that I tweeted about which I WILL repeat:

  • “people are not the problem, they are the solution”
  • “no matter what sector or age, we are human beings, so if we are not treated well we all will respond in a similar way…”
  • “the risk is in the next year … employees could be left further behind”

I know right? That last one was not just talking about the big B but about all the changes we will need to do for the UK to remain competitive as a country as it faces it’s productivity issue… that risk… is very very scary (to not say another word).


I love honest stories and the two business cases showcased had just that, an honest story of having quite challenging circumstances and how working with everyone they were able to overcome gigantic obstacles. Disengagement is also a mindset within an individual I believe, they get knocked down and once in a while they no longer get back up, they become the victim. They blame their boss, their company, their whole surrounding for their misfortunes…without knowing it is only a self-fulfilling prophecy. But to be honest, we have all been there, and to get out you need someone to show you there is another way. Paula from the Post Office had to do just that, the mindset was so collective after they had to shut down over half their branches, the culture was a victim culture. Her job was to help re-ignite the passion, the confidence and the aspiration within such a varied organisation, because as she said “coping is not good enough”. They did this by storytelling, by as a leadership team being honest and transparent, but also not shying away from hard decisions, and yes sometimes even having to hold on to the truth if it was better for the humans within the organisation. They worked on helping their people through a tough time, and supported managers to deal with these hard decisions and conversations. If you explain why then they will still understand. I know this to be true as I haven’t always agreed with some decisions within organisations, but I do remember once thinking “I don’t agree with this, but I appreciate x or y”. The way leadership handles these decisions shows a lot about a company. In my opinion, it is in the toughest of times when you will see if those values written upon a wall are true or just tick box.


Do you have an engagement survey? What do you do with it? Listen to your response. As an OD person I know the responses are only as good as the question being asked. I have spent a few extra years learning how to ask better questions, my idol, Edgar Schein mentions this, to be a true helper one must be a humble inquirer. It comes back to language… are you asking the right questions? Do they give you what you really want to know? And then what are you doing with the information. Qlearsite’s whizzy tech can only really help if you’re not setting yourself up to fail by then not taking action on what you’ve received.


Good Work…ah! I just actually completed a survey about what meaningful work means… it was a connection’s dissertation. Mathew Taylor from the RSA spoke greatly about the political aspect of this. Going beyond organisations into governmental policy… This is exciting as it does matter beyond our organisations, if more people were engaged and productivity rose, then the economic landscape would look different. Good work matters, because as Matthew put it bad work is bad for you. Shit jobs don’t need to exist and there is absolutely a need for a new social contract.


Then Katie from Mumsnet spoke. No surprise a lot of it was around family friendly workplaces… however what was more eye opening for me was her story of going from an awesome career to feeling frustrated, demotivated and tired when she was “convinced” into going back and working without flexibility. The pay gap exists in my opinion because of the stats shown in this presentation, 84% of women believe that having a child makes advancing in your career more difficult. Many are still scared to ask for their legal rights around requesting flexible work…at the end of the day, it’s not a legislation problem; it’s a cultural and societal one.


Last, but certainly not least the second of the case study presenters…Land Registry. OMG the transformation! What I loved was the raw honesty, the recognition that the churn in leadership did not help and that willingness to let go of control and really embrace digital and CEO blogging without “rules” and allowing for “self-moderation”. This bravery paid off! Employee voice is the solution, and also thank you for showing that to change a culture and reconnect the broken parts and mould them into something new isn’t an overnight success, and that there is still much to do… but just wow! You should be proud of what you have achieved so far.


As you reader can tell, this conference left me feeling all gooey inside. For years we have said it’s not rocket science. It really isn’t…but as Jeff Olson author of the Slight Edge says, what’s easy to do is also easy not to do… and like with the rest of the life does daily actions compound into our company cultures.

Thank you if you got to the end. Stay tuned for April’s blog after the ODNE conference.


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