In the past few years, in particular, companies have discovered more and more that happy employees will bring better results to a business. And a large part of making employees happy is allowing them to feel safe and comfortable being themselves in their work environment. This becomes particularly pertinent when it concerns someone’s gender, sexual orientation, ethnic identity, disability status, or anything along those lines.
Co-Host of The Interview Luke James spoke to Leo Wing, Human Resources (HR) Director at Alvarez & Marsal (A&M), a global management consultancy, about how Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) is just good business.
I got a law degree and volunteered at a Rights and Advice Centre which gave free employment law advice to people. Although I’d intended to be a lawyer, from that moment on, I found myself hooked on HR. I saw it as a means to do what I enjoyed on the employment law side of things but also try and make a difference to company culture and improve the employee experience. To date, I’ve spent my career in HR professional services across consultancies and law firms.
Culture comes from the top, and today's leaders need to respond to the evolving needs of their talented people and the market disruptors, or organisations will find themselves being left behind. We’re running a conscious leadership pilot. This is a psychometric to help leaders become more self-aware, and improve their Leadership behaviours and emotional literacy of what they and their teams need to succeed. We are aiming to see improved healthy working environments, performance levels, well-being, and engagement.
We’re also looking to upscale performance managers as coaches. We’re growing rapidly and successfully, but also getting to a stage where our leaders must delegate more people leadership to their teams. The role of a manager is no longer about ticking boxes for HR appraisals, it needs to be continuous. They need to be there as a coach for their people, including regular high-quality career development discussions, encouraging real-time feedback and working towards agile goals. The ideal state is where the individual and manager are aligned on performance and career trajectory throughout the year instead of just during the normal appraisal windows, there are no surprises.
The other one is upwards feedback. It’s important because we’re progressively tying behaviours, culture, and values to total reward, and A&M is encouraging our leaders to continuously focus on their own self-development. It’s not enough to bring in money as a leader to feed yourself and your teams. You must also be a role model and live and breathe our values daily.
It’s not enough to bring in money as a leader to feed yourself and your teams. You must also be a role model and live and breathe our values daily.
Sell the why and back it up with metrics and data. What I found most successful in getting over those obstacles is to start with a smaller pilot initiative with a keen early adopter. Even if it quickly fails, that’s not necessarily a terrible thing, as you’ve learned something valuable. Also, no one will really mind because it was sold as a pilot to a small test audience who wanted to try something new. It could also present a course correction opportunity to find a better solution. But conversely, if it does do well, it will probably benefit from some refinements before a broader rollout. We generally find that good initiatives naturally snowball. The sell is much easier when you’ve got a foot in the door and can show the returns.
It’s slightly easier in our firm because, by the nature of our business, our people are change management consultants. We often go into clients as interim CEOs, CFOs etc, to help clients achieve their business priorities. All of our support services teams adopt a similar mindset, we implement initiatives for the business they need, which has to be specific and relevant.
A key component of engaging colleagues on DEI is improving psychological safety. We’re not perfect; for us, this is about making year on year improvements. From a well-being perspective, we sense that resilience levels are rebuilding after Covid, but it’s clear that firms need to do more to look after their people. It’s not just the right thing to do but an important business priority. If people have challenges or issues, whether at home, work, or a combination, that will have an impact on their engagement levels and productivity. On the workplace cultural side, if people do not feel comfortable to speak up, the risk is that toxic micro-cultures will start to manifest. If that isn’t addressed, your good people will leave.
We have a great inclusive Diversity Office chaired by Managing Directors on the executive board. Our ERGs are really active with our colleagues. There’s always something going on to improve connectivity, relationships, and inclusive belonging in the firm. Earlier this month, our multicultural network hosted a panel discussion with four senior leaders to share their experiences of career progression and the challenges faced in the workplace. Our young professionals hosted a social network event with food, drinks, and music to connect and have fun.
Encourage everyone to be entrepreneurial, seek out regular self-development and to take ownership of their careers. At A&M, we have support networks and infrastructure available to get you wherever you want to go, but we want you to sit in the driving seat. We also recognise that not everyone wants to be a Managing Director. It’s about finding the career path that works for the individual and then putting everything behind them to help them get there.
Surround yourself with good people at work and with friends. It doesn’t matter how good you think you are, your output will always improve if you have excellent support. Also, there are only so many hours a day so you need people to test and challenge your ideas. You don’t just want yes people. I’ve never had an experience where something hasn’t been finessed and improved by others around me. And when it comes to their work, you don’t need to micromanage or have an autocratic style. Get good people, agree the direction of travel and give them space and autonomy.