For an organisation to be successful on the whole, it needs to be populated by people who feel free to be their authentic selves in an environment that celebrates their differences. Going hand in hand with that, it’s important to acknowledge that every individual knows their own needs best, so allowing their voices to influence how things are run will help these goals as well. It’s also a way for everyone to understand their importance as part of the larger team and feel valued for their contributions.
Luke James, Co-Host of The Interview, spoke to Lynn Mirley, Director of Business Support at Eildon Housing Association, about regularly communicating with fellow staff members in order to help build culture at an organisation.
I was at a conference recently, and a presenter was talking about how ‘It’s normal to be different’, and that’s the thing. We’re all different, whether or not we have a specific equality and diversity badge. For inclusion, what should be important is making sure all those differences have voices in the organisation and that we’re able to hear them. It’s challenging sometimes because not everybody has the confidence to speak up, so it’s about having multiple mechanisms to capture voice. We have the same challenge with our customers, so I make sure that my managers and team leaders have regular one-on-one dialogue with people as well as collective conversations. One of the things we’ve done post-lockdown is a regularly scheduled company-wide session that anyone in the organisation can dial into. We also have an employee forum a couple of times a year, and every couple of years, we do a staff conference. Inclusion isn’t static; it’s progressive. We’ve just updated our Equalities and Diversities policy. I think where we’re based in the Scottish Borders, it can be harder to ensure we have a diverse workforce because historically, we can be quite racially and culturally homogenous, so, of course, we can only attract the people who want to live and work in this area. So sometimes, we have to focus on more hidden diversities such as physical disabilities, neurodiversity, etc. But overall, you don’t want to just get lots of mirror images of yourself. You want to challenge that. Diversity of thought and life experience is key.
I think being a social landlord means being exposed to your customers requiring that level of inclusion. We have a huge social value. Most people who work for us have that embedded in them, and that means that they don’t want anybody in a vulnerable position to be excluded from our services. I think our organisation, therefore, naturally works hand in hand with that. In terms of embedding it, it’s about openness and being flexible. For example, we’ve not come out with a prescriptive approach to hybrid working. Instead, each team has self-managed according to the needs of their customers, whether internal or external. They know that the best. Hybrid working has brought to the forefront how differently people work. Some people are much more productive at home and can get through a pile of work, while others need the energy from others. Inclusion is just a broader version of that, in many cases. All of these things require checking in, adapting, and making sure we’re meeting individual and customer needs, finding a sense of connectedness and commonality of values across the organisation.
It’s about making people feel valued, and that can vary depending on the environment. When you’re providing care for ten to 20 older people every day, they’re usually in the position to be very grateful, and you get immediate positive feedback. If you work in customer services, on the other hand, people are usually calling because they have a problem and aren’t happy, which can feel much more negative. So how do you make the customer service people feel valued? One of the best things for a leader is making an entire workforce feel that their contribution is important and that they’re able to influence and inform the company’s future directions of travel. That requires a lot of engagement with your workforce and making sure that they trust and respect you and feel they can confide in you, and feel safe enough to question the current status quo. Really good leaders encourage that without being defensive, which allows that open and engaging conversation with your staff.
I think the org has to walk the talk. You can’t just put it in some documents and sit passively. For me, what’s most important is the conversations you have with people who work in your team and make sure that you’re continually looking at what their aspirations are, and also that their skills and knowledge are best suited to what they’re doing. I’m a great believer that if somebody’s not in the right role, it’s about working with them to help them understand where they could be and get much more satisfaction that way.
Be authentic. Be true to yourself. It’s an awful lot easier to deal with the hard times and difficult bits if you’re not masking who you really are. Finding the organisation that fits you in terms of your values is really important to being happy in your work. I know that I couldn’t go back to working for a for-profit company because I get a lot of personal self-worth from knowing I’m working for an org that does more than that. Life is so much easier when you are being you.