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Creating the perfect workplace

12th November 2019

Creating the perfect workplace

So, whatís the most important issue for your company to get right to be successful? Is it good governance (lots of helpful policies and procedures)? Maybe, itís keeping costs low or making sure you use state of the art top notch computer systems?

Most of us will say itís fair treatment of customers Ė thatís certainly crucial. The customer should be at the heart of all your business decisions and all your products and services must be designed with the best interest of your customers in mind.

But how do you create a culture where all these things can easily happen?

Imagine the perfect workplace. Processes are clear and helpful, staff know what to do, if something goes wrong you donít get that fear of blame, instead everyone will try to find out how to prevent it happening again. Everyone has the right tools and training to do their job. The right people do the right jobs. No-one feels that horrible Sunday evening dread of having to go to work the next day - instead when they go into work they look forward to the day ahead. 

Are you starting to see where I am going? Yes itís the people that are crucial to your business. People who understand what you want to offer customers and have the right skills and knowledge to do this. They need to feel a valued part of your team and be treated with respect. Get the right people and treat them well and your business will thrive Ė customers will seek you out and stay with you, they become your advocates recommending you to others.

Having worked for and with a number of companies I believe there are 4 main pillars to ensuring your business can do this.

1: Employing the right people

I have often conducted interviews with HR and managers where there is a lovely corporate speech about what the company stands for and expects, but very little is asked of the candidate to assess whether they are a good fit for the culture. Iím not suggesting you ask someone if they believe in fairness (what do you expect them to say?) but maybe include a question such as ďWhat would you do if a member of your team rang in to ask for the day off because their child is sick?Ē Ė the answer may not meet your protocols but their thinking gives you an idea of what kind of work colleague they would be.

Employing the right people with the right skills and experience is essential Ė I also love some enthusiasm and will usually have some flexibility around experience, if I am comfortable the person can learn.

You must also ensure you are fair in the way you make these decisions and appoint people.

Some years ago, I worked for someone who would appoint the men as technicians (the better career path) and the women as team managers (no promotion beyond the team manager role) on the basis men had the brains and focus for the technical stuff and women were better at nurturing

That same company would also refuse to consider you for a promotion if you had not already applied for every vacancy for the same role anywhere in the country. You had to be prepared to move house, uproot your family and for your partner to leave his or her job to go with you Ė my boss said if you didnít then you werenít sufficiently ambitious and didnít deserve the role. Does any of this feel like the right way to get the right people in the jobs that best suit them?

2: Support

Staff need support to thrive and do well. This means making sure they have the right training and tools to do the job. Processes need to be clear.

Another element of support, is watching whether your people could be under pressure Ė when I managed complaint teams I was always watching for where my staff could be on a difficult phone call, ready to step in if asked or get them a coffee afterwards. Never underestimate the importance of a smile and a 5 minute break. I remember in an audit some years ago a member of my team was criticized by the auditor who was sitting with us, for venting after ending a very difficult call Ė I was with my team member completely, although I do feel itís best to take a walk away from the team (who may be talking to other customers) and your desk for a few minutes.

As a yoga teacher (I love the balance it gives to my day job running Conduct Matters and writing e-learning) I fully approve that many companies provide wellness support to their staff. However, I am also concerned this is can be a sticking plaster - companies pile on the stress and think a yoga class allows them to keep doing this. Life is about balance, a reasonable amount of stress is fine as it helps us get on with things, and can be balanced with some yoga (or whatever activity you like) but if there's too much stress this will make your staff ill.  Don't use wellbeing support as  justification to keep pushing your staff beyond what is healthy and reasonable.

I also believe it's important that this support means that when something goes wrong we don't blame people or instigate a witch-hunt, yes it's important to know what has gone wrong and yes maybe someone did something wrong but let's learn from it and move on. Maybe more training is needed, maybe there is too much work and more people are needed, maybe your systems are out of date - mistakes (like complaints) are a learning experience.

3: Reward

Staff need to feel appreciated and appropriately rewarded. This doesnít just mean their basic salary Ė I remember feeling very appreciated when I was given some chocolates as an appreciation of hard work.

It should go without saying that reward or promotion should not be based on gender or race. Sadly, we know from the gender pay gap reports that this is not the case Ė the latest figures showed that financial services is one of the worst sectors for women to work in Ė on average we earn 77p for every £1 paid to a man.

Your appraisal and objective setting is a great opportunity to make sure you set out the kind of activities you will reward. 

4: Behaviour

Hereís a key one. Itís important to be clear about expected behaviours and what will not be tolerated. However, words mean nothing if some get away with it. The company must not tolerate any form of bullying or unethical behaviour. Staff are often reluctant to report such issues and so your company must watch out for red flags.

Make sure you do not reward poor behaviours. Aggressive sales techniques may bring in a lot of income but this may be at the cost of value to the customer. I am reminded of the Carephone Warehouse fine earlier this year Ė they were selling mobile phone insurance and many customers did not need the cover. Sales staff were paid an incentive for the number of sales but did not have to return the money if the policy was subsequently cancelled. So sales staff encouraged people to buy cover without checking whether they needed it and when the customer later found out they did not need cover, and cancelled, the sales staff kept the money they had been paid for making the sale - that's hardly encouraging ethical sales practice is it?

Itís also important to remember the importance of ethical behaviour outside your job Ė in 2014 the Financial Conduct Authority barred Jonathan Paul Burrows from ever taking any responsible role in the financial services industry Ė the reason? He had been caught fare dodging. He was never prosecuted (settled out of court) and had initially not told his employer. Before his ban he had apparently earned over £1m per year.

None of this should be difficult. 

I am saddened to see that somewhere on the commute to work, some people change from the fair/ethical person at home who shares the washing-up, puts their plastics in the recycling and wants their daughters and sons to enjoy a happy life filled with exciting opportunities - to a selfish corporate monster (or even just someone who ignores and so enables bad behaviour) who treats their colleagues with little respect.  

So letís do something amazing and do our bit to ensure our workplace is a great place to be and our business thrives. 

Author: Sally Pearce (Conduct Matters Ltd)

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