Creating a building takes time, planning, and patience, as well as a myriad of steps that stretch from the initial concept and design all the way through to the actual construction. It requires imagination and inquisitiveness. Similarly, building a culture of inclusion and belonging in an organisation is made up of a series of what might seem like seemingly small, incremental efforts that add up to an environment in which employees can feel safe, respected, and able to grow. And just as with making a building, it requires people to have the desire to learn and integrate new information.
Co-host of The Interview Luke James spoke to Sean Peacock, Head of Human Resources (HR) at Stride Treglown, a multidisciplinary architecture firm, about the links between designing a great building and fostering a positive working culture.
I began with a different path. I did Sciences at university and went into education. I worked there for the better part of nine and a half years until I left and went for an interview at a large, well-known national broadcaster. They gave me some good advice which was that I needed some work experience in the private sector. I went back to university, studied for an HR degree and gained a research placement and eventually a role here at Stride Treglown. I worked my way up, doing everything from doing payroll and folding payslips to the last few years of being the Head of HR. I’ve been here for about ten years now but in some ways, it feels like a lifetime!
It’s mainly about communication, and that’s from our employees to the board, vice versa, and everything in between. A big piece of work started with our employee forum, where they questioned things—around our gender pay gap, around our diversity and inclusion, etc. Then we had the HR team look at our data. We also undertake an engagement and inclusion survey every two years and that’s also fed into it. The kind of things that really help embed it, though, are ultimately very simple: be kind, be curious, listen to people and their life experiences and the things that brought them here, and be accepting of those things. Be inquisitive but not intrusive. We’ve been doing leadership and development training with our senior leaders recently and it’s all around this idea of understanding that we all have our own journey. How do we best understand each other’s journeys and act as enablers rather than barriers to one another? A lot of our team are creative, highly educated, motivated individuals, and that helps a great deal.
There’s a semi-famous equation that says performance is related to ability, motivation, and opportunity. Opportunity comes from how we organise things and well-being, being at work, and feeling listened to and included. It’s about organising work and projects in such a way that it supports where employees’ particular talents lie, which leads to better performance, which in turn leads to better corporate success. What architects and town planners do is turn an intangible idea—building a new community, or higher education facility, or hospital, what have you—into a reality that’s good for both the client and the end users. The best way to do that is to ensure that the work culture that you’re building is a place where your people can flourish.
Because of the nature of how architects work, we have grads and post-grads coming into our business all the time. To become an architect, you go on placement, so we have this culture of new individuals coming in every year with a desire to learn. That’s great because it makes other people want to support and help them. From a professional perspective, we live in a world of changing building regulations and responses. Tragic events sometimes happen in the building industry, so people have that desire and need to learn. In our business, we put together something we call GROW, which is our approach to learning and development. It revolves around self-learning and curation of ideas, thoughts, programs, and access to things, including a learning management system where you can read up on things and watch videos, to booking yourself onto a learning program. We’re trying to teach colleagues to think in an inclusive way. We’re giving people early in their careers opportunities to listen to in-house experts. And that’s all grounded in the sense that people want to learn and improve.
Openness and sensitivity to others. Listening to their needs. Talking on a regular basis. It’s also about visibility and presence. You want to be as reachable as possible. At the same time, you don’t want to create a culture of dependency so you also introduce coaching, and don’t necessarily try to solve every problem but give people the tools to do it themselves. Sharing credit for team successes and not being too egotistically driven.
A person at a training event I attended said that every now and again, you have to stop and sharpen your axe. In other words, learn new things. If you just keep just keep clobbering away at the same task over and over the exact same way, eventually the thing you think works every time will stop working. You have to learn, change, and adapt. Particularly for senior leaders, we can’t keep ploughing on. Sometimes we have to reevaluate if what we’re doing is the best way to do it.
Another bit of advice: find someone who you think embodies the thing you want to be, analyse what makes you think they’re doing the right things, and follow their lead.