The Five Characteristics of a 'Being Human' Culture. Part One: A clear purpose that everyone understands.


A human culture is a win-win for all. It is a place where people can be themselves,  an environment where they can create their best work and share new ideas. The competitive advantage this type of environment creates has contributed to market disruption appreciated by us, the consumer, and is demonstrated  in the growth of the economy. We all want to work in an environment where we are empowered to be our best, and as employers we want to attract and retain talent to drive our company’s ambition, however big or small.

I have previously outlined the Five Characters of a ‘Being Human’ Culture. They are:

  1. A clear purpose that everyone understands.

  2. Authenticity and trust in communications.

  3. Varied, yet complementary, communications.

  4. Diversity of people and ideas.

  5. An environment that allows everyone to be their best self.

In this post I want to delve further into the first, and examine what it means to have a clear purpose.  A clear purpose is beyond words, beyond a mission or vision statement, a clear purpose is all about, ‘Why are we here?’ Each employee should understand how they are contributing to a company’s purpose and how their role supports it. I believe companies realise their purpose in different ways, depending on their tenure, size and inception.

  1. The Start-up Company

Over the years we have seen an increase in ‘start-up’ companies. These Founder-led businesses that have seen a gap in the market, clearly articulated the market opportunity to gain funding, but the vast majority of businesses, as many as 8 in 10, according to one study, fail. Why is that? As this article and a recent report from the ScaleUp Institute illustrate, there are many reasons companies aren’t successful. What sets companies that are successful apart from the rest? It probably isn’t as simple as just having a clearly articulated purpose, but truly believing in what they are doing undoubtedly helps entrepreneurs and their teams achieve success and get through the knock backs.

There is no one answer, as there are many factors but at its core it’s likely that businesses that fail  don’t have a purpose that translates, is accessible, and scales. In short, people can’t align with the purpose. Companies with a clear, articulated, relevant purpose attract employees who are inspired and want to be part of bringing that purpose to life.

The challenge for start-ups is how to scale and grow and keep their purpose alive and intact. As more people join a company, the personal approach of introducing, explaining, and reinforcing the purpose from the Founder and those who joined at the beginning becomes impossible to maintain. Reminding people regularly, through written and verbal communications how their work relates to the company’s overall purpose is important.  It’s also important to reiterate to employees, what their purpose is. A well-thought out and thorough onboarding process is essential, because everyone needs to be familiar with both the company’s  history, their future plans and how these will drive the company’s purpose. This needs to go beyond relying on individual conversations (although those are  still important), but that doesn’t mean that the message isn’t personal. Creative films, podcasts, handbooks, leaders and even notices shared in common spaces can all play a role in sharing and supporting purpose.

2. The Mature Company

As companies age, their purpose may have to evolve in order to stay relevant. This article illustrates the importance of companies being able to keep up with the times and to ensure that their purpose remains relevant.

Evolving a business and its purpose is hard, especially when there are people there who have difficulty connecting to a new purpose. So how do these companies do it? They involve their employees, get their views, and set up a framework to openly listen. As they make changes,  they check that the new purpose makes sense. These companies also accept that there may be employees who can’t stand behind the new purpose and openly ask them, ‘Can you continue to work here, be happy, and do your best work? Or has the time come to move on?’ Change can be hard, but open and honest conversations create better opportunities all round.  Individuals who move on have talents other companies or the economy needs, and evolving companies need employees who support their transformation.

Respecting the past is critical for these transformations to be successful and companies shouldn’t disregard how they worked in the past. It’s about creating a blend of collective company memory, and new ideas and thoughts.  Two-way mentoring, pairing a new employee with a long serving employee, being open to new ideas, as well as a facilitated framework to discuss and critique them, and importantly, leadership paving the way, are all critical ingredients in perfecting this blend of old and new.

In summary, we are all human and we want our ideas to be heard. We also all want the security of knowing where we stand. Being open and honest so people can decide, do they want to evolve or whether it is  time for them to move on to a new venture, whatever that might be is the foundation that an evolving purpose needs to be successful in the long run.

Sustaining Purpose

Whatever the size or age of a company, it’s essential that they never lose sight of their purpose. That means it’s essential to consistently go back to it so it’s not getting lost in the detail. Every strategic decision should begin with a question, ‘How is what we are doing supporting our purpose?’  Every project should be evaluated with the questions, ‘Are we seeing our purpose in action? Have we spoken to consumers? Do they understand our purpose?’ Every people intervention must also put purpose at the centre.

It is important to point out that having and sustaining a clear purpose does not automatically translate to a successful culture that delivers on the purpose. The company culture or the way things are ‘done’ is more than purpose, it's about interactions, communications, decisions making etc. As we all may have experienced, you can have a company with a clear purpose but a culture that does not encourage development, enthusiasm, or motivation to be your best. Human companies need both to thrive.

How do leaders build and model a Oneself way of working?

Kirstin photo.jpg

Can you remember the last time you felt on top of the world? You had just been asked to a close friend’s wedding, you had just won that tennis match, had a brilliant morning run, a fantastic yoga session, a friend called you to see how you are, or a stranger gave you a great smile or unexpected compliment.

Did you take the time to feel that moment? Did the positivity give you a brilliant idea to take the business forward? Did feeling full of energy help you finally get clarity and make a difficult decision?

When we feel great, and on top of our game we are in a place to tackle problems and do our best work. We are in a much stronger position to deliver our best work or be our best self to others, whomever that might be, wife/husband, partner, children, pets, or colleagues. It’s been scientifically proven.  When we are low, or not feeling enthusiastic, we are not going to create our masterpieces.  

Our objective should be to be our best selves as often as we can by bridging our work and personal lives. By being our Oneself, we can channel more positive energy into what we are doing in every area of life, personal or professional.

In this ‘Oneself’ world where we can work anywhere, at any time, our achievements and feeling good times can happen at any time, keeping our positive energy reserves topped up.

Why then do companies still continue to make such rigid distinctions between personal and professional life?  Why can’t we celebrate achievements at work and outside of work equally? As leaders, how can we support our teams to be their best Oneself?

  1. Celebrate personal wins at work. During team meetings/stand ups encourage your team to share a moment that made them feel good, or that they are proud of. By giving them time to share and celebrate, you are recognising and appreciating how their accomplishment or personal good news made them feel. Try and do this at the board level’s a great way for people to get to know each other.

  2. Motivate people to reach their personal goals. Open up recognition awards that are traditionally for work milestones and combine them with personal milestones, like completing a marathon, or learning a new skill or language. When building and developing annual goals take the opportunity to put work and personal goals together.  Don’t worry if you have missed the beginning of the year deadline, goals can be refreshed at any time.

  3. Give people a chance to refresh. Build a supportive environment.  Structure meetings and work so there are breaks.  Ninety minutes is the optimum time for focusing before needing a break. Training has been structured like this for many years, extend this model to everything in the organisation. Read this article for more insight into how to improve performance.

  4. Build people’s strengths. During review periods with your teams rather than focusing on developing weaknesses focus on building strengths. Strengths Finder 2.0 by Tom Rath is a great tool to use to identify strengths during development and planning conversations, if you need one to get started.

  5. Embrace flexibility. Flexible working used to mean working 9 to 5 office hours from either home or consolidating hours into a shorter working week. Today flexible working means working whenever you want, night or day, wherever you want (office, cafe, home, bed) and delivering the work on time thanks to technology. Set clear goals and outcomes with deadlines, and allow your team to work when and where they are their best selves. If they are not a morning person, then don’t expect them to deliver their best first thing!

  6. If needed, help someone move on. If someone is constantly not performing have an honest conversation with them. Can they be their best self in the company, in your team? Do their values, vision, and working practices align with the company? If not, set them free to find the place where they can be their best self. Encourage them to get clear with what they really want and reflect this in their LinkedIn profile and CV and encourage them to go after what they want. Share with anyone in your network who you think can help them.

  7. Model self-care and good limits. Know when you feel good and when you need to take care of yourself. E.g. if you have back-to-back meetings all day, by meeting eight, you are not going to be your best self. Know your limits. It’s even a good idea to empower your PA, if you have one, to implement a ‘no more than X meetings per day’ rule. This sets a good example as well, so your employees can focus on doing substantive work, rather than just being in and out of meetings!

  8. Bring your personal life to work. As a leader and role model being your Oneself, it’s important to demonstrate that you understand that personal lives don’t get put on pause when you’re in the office! Respond to work and personal emails during the day. Go large and have one phone, why do you need a work and a personal phone when you are your Oneself?

  9. Admit when you’re wrong. No one is perfect, and even with the best preparation and intentions sometimes we all make mistakes. When that happens, be sure to acknowledge it, and apologise if appropriate. Discuss what you, and the company, might have learned. This helps create a culture of honesty where people aren’t afraid to admit they’ve made a mistake, and can be their Oneself, even when they aren’t feeling on top of their game.

  10. Remember the importance of good health. No one can be at their peak when they are feeling unwell and not spending time on their personal welling being. Your mental health is just as important as physical health. If you know mediation or going for a walk is good for you, make this a ritual and build this into your day to support yourself and others.

I am not saying you need to feel amazing all the time.  We need the low times and OK times to appreciate the brilliant times and recharge.  What I am saying is that there is much less differentiation than there used to be between our personal and professional lives, so instead of trying to compartmentalise them, finding ways to help them work together in harmony is much more supportive of our best selves, delivering our best work, and being our best self to others.

Being our best Oneself supports a culture where people can thrive and be brilliant.

Put your energy into doing your best work and being will feel better!

What is Culture?

Culture blog post image.jpg

A few years ago, the Human Resources officer used to be asked if they could see a final candidate to check for their cultural fit before extending an offer. Now successful CEOs have culture front and centre alongside strategy and finance as the key factors for success in today’s fast-paced and challenging markets.

With culture’s increased importance more companies are prioritising behaviours over skills during the recruitment process. Given the cost of bringing on new employees is high, and the cost of those who fail even higher, organisations want to ensure the candidate is going to thrive in the culture. With this comes psychological metrics and tests that are added to the recruitment process to test for ‘cultural’ fit, and there’s been a lot of discussion about the increasing importance of work culture. This article does a good job of explaining why culture should be a priority for leaders, and this one highlights a number of reasons why it is important to employees.

But when we ask ‘What is the culture like?,’ what do we really mean? Where do we look to find our culture?

Culture is simply how we work, that is recognised and accepted by the company. This includes how decisions are made, how employees communicate, what behaviours are celebrated and those behaviours that are not, and how people are promoted.  Some companies have a mission statement on the wall alongside their values or behaviours to achieve their vision. Although this may have been committed to the wall, whether they’re truly lived depends on if the organisation stands by these values or dismisses them as wallpaper that they past as they head through reception.

The challenge is you can’t see culture.  So how can you decide what your culture is, and/or what you need to do so others become familiar with it, and what can you do to support it to be successful?  Assuming your organisation has a clear purpose and strategy, below are the top five places to look to de-codify your culture.

  1. Identify the behaviours that drive the successful execution of the strategy. You may have company values, it’s how these values are lived through behaviours. For me it’s about respecting these values if you have them and getting underneath how they are lived day to day. For smaller, start- up companies this may have been done between the founder and the first few employees. For larger organisations, this may have been done a while back and has not been ‘refreshed’. Existing employees may need reminding what the company’s values are. Ask you employees today what they think is working and which behaviours may need to be dialled up to support the organisation’s strategy and purpose.

  2. Rules of the road. Identify what these are. For example, how are issues raised or dealt with when things go wrong? Is it ok to fail and experiment or risk take? For organisations that are regulating other companies this may not be a success factor, but this needs to be explicit. Is it ok to work from home or work flexibility?  How does trust show up?

  3. Leaders, how do leaders behave, what do they encourage/ discourage? Leaders are role modelling the company values all the time. It’s critical the senior leadership team is aligned and can demonstrate what is expected in an authentic way whilst being consistent.

  4. Development, how are people promoted or offered new projects? Are they given to those employees that shout the loudest or to those that display certain behaviours that generate success?

  5. How do you recruit? What questions do you ask candidates to find out if they are going to ‘fit’ in with the future and to be successful. Of your last recent hires who has been successful in the organisation? What behaviours have they displayed?

Once you have all of this information, look for patterns, review your current values or behaviours. Ask yourself does anything need to be changed or strengthened for you to be successful? Then go and test what you’ve found with your leadership and teams.  Following feedback embed these behaviours in everything you do. The more you do, the more your culture will be explicit and the more employees will talk about the culture with heart and passion in a consistent way, with no prompting or PowerPoint decks. This will help your organisation move faster, a critical need in this world that moves at such a pace.


A new chapter: How leaders can support their teams to ensure New Year’s intentions and goals become habitual across the year


My last post at the beginning of the year was all about setting goals for the year ahead, and much further into the future, but I wonder how many of us feel that now in the second week of February our motivation to do things differently has already waned?

The workload is steadily increasing and old habits begin to creep back in. Working late and constantly being connected to our emails can so often mean that even with the best intentions, we struggle with personal goals to meet friends more, try new things go to the gym or eat healthily.

At the heart of it, goal setting is all about us wanting to do a good job and be the best we can be – and achieving our personal goals has a huge impact on our work life. The only way we can really achieve this is by supporting each other as a community or work family as we strive for personal success, ultimately leading to increased productivity and success as an organisation.

So, as leaders what can we do to support team members with achieving their 2018 goals?

1.        Research tells us, successful people are fit and healthy.  Encourage and support employees who want to train for a marathon, do yoga at lunchtime or have started a new diet. Applaud them for doing so and discourage the ‘working through lunch’ mentality.

2.        We can’t work all of the time; to truly be our best selves our brains need regular breaks. Research tells us to work in ‘sprints’ of 90 minutes’ and then take a rest. Don’t go straight into another meeting, sprint or complete emails. When setting up projects, encourage teams to build in regular rest or break periods so that workloads become realistic and people are suitably recharged to give their best ready for the next challenge.

3.        We all want to improve, however growth and development does’t always mean a new training module or exam. Think laterally about how people can be developed based on their interests or skills. It could be by getting involved in a different project that challenges or makes us step outside our comfort zone, or perhaps building a new network of people. As a leader, if your default is to ask a certain individual to do tasks in a particular area, choose somebody different to who you would have asked before.

4.       Change breeds creativity and alternative thinking. Change the structure of your regular team meetings - to signal a change. Alternate the chair within the team, you will get a different style and perspective from the meeting which will lead to different ways of working and different solutions to challenges. You may want to start your first one with sharing your individual goals?

   5     And most importantly, be human. Listen to what your individual team members want to achieve and build this into the team goals where you can. When everyone can see their individual priorities are being recognised the team will be more positive and motivated and driven as a team to achieving success.

And to follow my own advice and share my own goals for 2018, this month I say goodbye to my own work family at BBC Worldwide and join my new work family at ClearScore as their Chief People Officer. Here I aim to continue to do my best work and to develop myself and the team by learning and growing from a completely different industry.

The Future of Work: How leaders can prepare

Duck pic.jpg

As most of us this week are back to work, fully invigorated for the year ahead, it’s the natural time to start thinking about goals for 2018 – be these personal, business based or, as we see the lines between work and personal become more and more blurry, a mixture of the two.

One of the key themes I was involved in debating at a number of events last year was ‘The Future of Work’. With this context many organisations are looking further ahead to the next 10 years when thinking about setting goals in the more immediate term.

It’s been predicted by The Centre Online that by 2028:

  • 53% of existing jobs will be replaced by Artificial intelligence
  • 65% of jobs available we haven’t even heard of yet
  • 62% of us will live in urban cities
  • 1 in 3 will live beyond 100
  • Chinese will be the most spoken language, followed closely by Spanish


  • China will have been the largest economy for 14 years closely followed by India

So what does this really mean for the future of work and what should leaders think about when supporting their teams in 2018? With the trends towards globalisation, automation and mobility, the traditional, large organisational structured hierarchy will erode and we will see more flexible networks of people driven by purpose emerge, with a diverse range of skills to create effective and adaptable working groups.

Recently we have seen a move away from “a job for life” towards a flexible career model, with many of us often now completely changing industry and role a number of times throughout our careers. This means a lot more empowerment, a lot more learning by doing with a lot more of us becoming multi-skilled, in roles created specifically for us without a rule book to refer to.

Mirroring this trend for breaking down the barriers, the war for talent will continue to increase with competition on a global level as virtual working provides organisations with more flexibility and a wider pool to find the right skills. This works as an advantage for individuals looking for work and talent attraction and retention are going to be even more important in order for businesses to win and stay ahead.

The following 5 points are some of the most important things that leaders setting goals for the year around talent attraction and retention need to be thinking about in order to prepare:

1. We need to Inspire and be passionate about what we believe in – it’s not about reporting lines and team members ‘having’ to do things because of the hierarchy it’s about them wanting to work with leaders who broaden and help develop skills.

2. Listen to what people have to say. Encourage new ideas and face up to issues where it’s not working as soon as possible. Respect and trust are the foundations for any company.

3. Start with Questions not always straight to a decision. As leaders we don’t know everything and we are not always right. Let’s keep things in perspective by understanding issues from the point of view of teams that are closer to the issue.

4. If you don’t ask for feedback on successes and failures how can you work at pace and be ahead? Clock issues, sort them and move on. Do it regularly so it becomes a normal part of working life.

5. And most importantly, Be Human, be yourself. Communicating and cascading company messages with no personality won’t encourage open cultures. Lead with personality and authenticity, your teams will follow and believe in you.

Whether it’s 2018 or 2028 or 2038, the fundamental need to be human – to be an authentic leader in order to be successful – doesn’t and won’t change.

Happy goal setting!


Are Millennials really different?


How many articles have you read about Millennials, Generation X or Generation Y wanting to work differently?  There is quite a collection of them online: this one praises their confidence and positivity, this one says they have a desire to match their personal values with work, there’s even a WikiHow post on the topic.

But as employers, do we need to do something different to attract and retain these generations’ employees?

Let’s back up a bit before we answer this question, because it can be confusing speaking about different generations’ needs when it isn’t clear how you are defining each generation.  None of these definitions is hard and fast, but for the purposes of this post, let’s define the generations like so:

Generation X – This is the generation that immediately follows Baby Boomers and demographers and researchers typically use birth years ranging from the early-to-mid 1960s to the early 1980s when speaking about Generation X.

So people who are Generartion X are in between ages are in their lateish 30s to their early 50s, roughly speaking.

Generation Y – This is the group that people often refer to as Millennials.  This group follows Generation X and demographers and researchers typically use the early 1980s as starting birth years, and continue this group through the mid-1990s to the early 2000s.

So when we say Millennials, we mean people who are in their late teens up to their early 30s.

Generation Z – This group comes after the Millennials.  This group started coming along in the mid-1990s to the mid-2000s.  End years for this group haven’t been decided yet.

When people are talking about how to work with younger generations, it is likely that they’re speaking about Millennials – the group that is set to make up half the working population by 2020 (according to a report from UNC Business School).

Obviously what ‘makes’ a generation is a wide-ranging discussion, and as the loose definitions above illustrate, what one person think defines a member of a certain generation, can easily be countered by another argument.

For example, we say that Baby Boomers (born between 1946 and 1964) like hierarchy, annual appraisals, and equate work achievement with life success.  And we say that to recruit Millennials, companies need to think about building relationships, and craft offers that consider not just current skills, but also aspirations and needs.

But aren’t we generalising?  Can’t we all think of a Baby Boomer we know who shunned corporate structure for a creative life teaching or designing?  Can’t we also all think of a Millennial we know that craves the clear structure and hierarchal reporting line that their generation is supposed to dislike?

Let’s remember what we truly all have in common.

The reality is we are all human.

We all different, and we all work best in different ways, regardless of when or where we were born.

What we all have in common regardless of age, gender, ethnicity, or background is the desire to do our best work and have it recognised.

But, of course, times do change.

One difference is the tremendous technological advancements we have seen over the past 40 or so years which have drastically altered our expectations, our perspectives on how to do work and our efficiency, effectively allowing us to do more.

Do you remember when we wrote memos before emails?  Took time to plan a route to a meeting instead of relying on our Sat Nav?  Used to have to make expensive overseas phone calls for meetings that we can now hold on Skype?

For those that have been born into this tech-integrated world, rather than observed these changes as they happened the level to which technology has become enmeshed in our day-to-day lives sometimes surprise us.

How many of us have witnessed a young child approach a TV and swipe across to try and move to the next programme (and in fact, some TVs now do this!).  I heard another recent example – a family I know was on holiday in a remote part of England with no satellite TV, and one of their children asked, ‘How do they know what and when I want to watch Daddy?’  A perfect example of how technology has changed our expectations!

As employers we do need to be aware of how prospective employees changing expectations, effects our ability to attract and retain talent, but in a way that’s structured to appeal to all of our employees, not just a specific age group.  (Especially because there will always be exceptions to the rule!)

So what do we need to do?

  • Remember, one size doesn’t fit all.

While generational demographics might be useful for forecasting how many people will draw on their pensions in ten years’ time, they aren’t really useful when it comes to understanding how individual employees will behave because they make assumptions e.g. ‘Older people are no good with technology.’

I have witnessed executives about to retire who are much more tech savvy than their younger colleagues, because they are interested.

This is exactly why some of us love our digital calendars and other still can’t live without a paper diary – we are all different.

  • Create an environment that embraces different perspectives.

 Remember that people of ALL different types of level of experience can learn from each other, so create a work culture where this is facilitated.  Partner your senior execs with your junior employees and build and execute strategies with the wisdom gleaned from reverse/mutual mentoring.

  • Create time to learn new things.

Have open time in your meetings to share new technology or hear about a new topic.  You might learn about a new app, or have a debate about driverless cars and what sort of impact they’ll have.

Taking five minutes might save you time in the long run, thanks to identifying a more streamlined way to do your timesheets or expenses, or just get the team thinking in a different way.

  • When it comes to finding new talent – be open to new formats.

One of the ways that technology has changed the workplace is that there isn’t a standard two page CV anymore.  Some people like to bring their experience to life through videos, other prefer a short document.  As long as you are getting the essential information you need about            each candidate to develop a shortlist, the format shouldn’t matter.

  • There’s no ‘one size fits all’ way to lead.

Just as there’s no one-size fits all approach to understanding individual employees, there’s no one size fits all approach to leading teams either.  We all have different motivations, passions and things that frustrate us.  We all have good days and bad ones.

As leaders we have to remember to be flexible when leading our teams – you may have set out your overall vision and gained buy in from the team for a new project in one stellar meeting, but the real magic behind retaining team members engagement and interest is in individual conversations and supporting them to do their best work.

To sum up, as colleagues, leaders and organisations, we need to embrace difference across the board – to think differently, innovate and to be competitive – it’s not just about Millennials!

If we can do that, we’ll all increase our chances of succeeding and doing our best work.

Bring it on!



We know the future of work is changing.  Recently the business pages have been full of stories both about how robots and technology are going to change our jobs, and also how millennials are changing the nature of the workforceand how business think.

One day, AI will take over roles that people currently perform, and driverless cars will change our lives, but these changes are a long way off.

Or are they?

The reality is we are changing how we work every day.  It seems a natural time to reflect on this, what with the changing of the seasons and the inevitable feeling of ‘newness’ that the start of the school year evokes, even if you are no longer a student.

As we resume our busy work schedules after our summer holidays, some of us might even be making conscious decisions to work in a different way, or find work that suits us better.

Our relationship with work is changing too.  Technology has blurred the lines between work and home life.  We can take a call from home or the in the office, and no one will know the difference.  We’re no longer bound to our desks to get things done and this gives us the flexibility to leave early, go to the gym or out to dinner, and then still finish a project by the deadline.  Gone are the days when we used to change out of our ‘work clothes’ and switch into ‘home’ from ‘work’ mode.

We are now our oneself.

It is proven; not being yourself costs.  It cost you personally, companies’ organisationally, and even the wider economy.  137.3 million working days were lost due to sickness or injury in the UK in 2016.  Of those, mental health issues (including stress, depression, anxiety and serious conditions), resulted in 15.8 million days lost.

At least some of this stress and anxiety, and the resulting sick days, are being brought on as a result of being unhappy at work.  Working in a way that doesn’t agree with us, for an organisation that doesn’t have a clear purpose, and doesn’t allow us to work flexibly, or where we feel undervalued and unsupported can lead to us feeling physically and emotionally unwell, as this heart-wrenching letter illustrates.

As executives and managers who want to lead their teams to drive business growth through purposeful work, and create environments for our employees and colleagues where they feel that they can do their best work, it is essential that we remember the boundaries between our working and personal lives are becoming more blurred, and that this affects us.

It also is essential for us to remember, both in our working and in our personal lives, that we are not machines and that we need to take time to recuperate.  And it’s critical for us to remember that we aren’t all the same, and different people recuperate in different ways.

And thank goodness for that, for if we were all the same, life would be far less interesting than it is, and our economic woes would be far more profound than the effect of a few sick days.  If we all approached problems in the same ways over and over, where would new ideas and innovation come from?

To empower our teams to do their best work, and to build and maintain environments where this is possible, we must encourage and support everyone in an endeavor to be their oneself.

How can we encourage this?

  • Be your oneself.

We must lead by example.  To encourage everyone within an organization to be their oneselves, mean you have to be your oneself too.  If you are open, passionate and not afraid of being vulnerable or admitting you were wrong when things may not have gone quite according to plan, you give your team permission to do the same.

Being your oneself takes up a lot less energy than trying to be someone you are not, and that energy can be put back into the business and you doing you best work.

  • Prioritise environment

Even if we aren’t chained to our desks to get things done in the way we used to be, there’s no denying that we spend a lot of time at work.  So make the working environment (including the supporting technology) a priority.  Investing in the tools to help you do your work better, faster and more efficiently, or just as important, more pleasurably, will help create a place your team can thrive in.  You don’t want to offer your employees an environment that’s worse or much less comfortable than where they live – that will not encourage them to be their oneself.

You want your employees to treat the work environment with respect like their home, and to treat colleagues with respect like friends or family.  We all get annoyed when our partners and friends look at their phone repeatedly throughout dinner or a face-to-face conversation, so try not to look at yours in meetings.  Technology is important but so is letting people know you are paying attention to them!

Some start-up companies have even put all of their eggs in one basket and liveand work together.  For a lot of us, this is probably as step too far, but it certainly speaks to the desire that people have to bridge their working and personal lives and live as their oneselves.  For the rest of us, it’s worth considering, your company’s physical environment and the equipment your employee’s take out of the office represent your Employer brand – will they want to be associated with it?

  • Leaders should help employees get to know their oneself

There are a plethora of management books, articles and courses on how to motivate and engage employees, but I believe they all boil down to a fundamental principle: the future of work is human and we will all do better by getting to know one another.  Trust your employees to know what is best for them, rather than deciding what they should do, or what they need to know.  But be there to help them navigate through all the information and options available to them to ensure they don’t miss key opportunities.  Instead of a manager/reportee relationship, in an environment where people can be their oneselves, it will be more like two friend advising and supporting each other.

  • Don’t pretend the workplace is a bubble

We can’t pretend that external factors don’t affect us, and we can’t always predict what will happen or how people will feel.  Recent political events like the Brexit vote and the US presidential elections are obvious examples of this, and it is silly to think that people don’t carry their personal views and emotions with them to work.  So it is important to stay grounded and keep up to date with the world outside of work and when pivotal events happen, it’s essential that you listen to your team members about how they’re feeling, not just about work, but about everything.  To support people being their oneselves, we have to understand their views on the world and what they are passionate about in life, as well as what they are passionate about the company and what’s important to them at work.

  • Move away from policing

As the workplace changes, HR needs to evolve.  As HR professionals and business leaders we need to move away from policing, rule-based guidance to a role in which we provide expert people advice in partnership with CEOs, managers and employees to get the best from people.  We all have a people responsibility in our organisations – it can’t just be the remit of HR.

For all of us to be our onesleves, everyone in the organization has to make people their number one priority.


If each of us does our bit, and lives as our oneself, we will all support the world being a healthy place to work in so we can all do our best and feel our best, contributing to overall economic growth.

Why companies need to work on creating positive cultures from start-up stage


Recently it’s been tough to differentiate news about Uber as a tech start up from news about Uber’s working environment Although it is still rated the highest-ever value start-up, it’s difficult to believe that the company is attracting the kind of talent it wants, or further investment.

Their negative culture has potentially eclipsed their positive product.

When you think of other big businesses that have failed, or whose reputations have suffered over the past few years, like Sports Direct or Enron, the discussion about where they went wrong or why they failed invariably involves not only poor investments and/or irregular businesses practices, but also what was wrong with the internal workings of these organisations, e.g. values they were lacking, or that they didn’t prioritise taking care of their employees.  In other words, these companies failed, or have suffered significant reputational damage, because of very poor cultures.

This really highlights the importance of actively working to establish a positive culture from the get-go.  Culture is as integral a part of a business as having a growth strategy and implementing financial planning.  Getting it wrong impacts your chance of success.  Ignore it completely and you may as well pack up and go home.

But what does establishing a positive culture really mean?

Historically it has meant companies defining their values, but a simple web page listing them isn’t enough anymore.  In today’s information-rich world, where everyone can so easily learn about anything, that means your values need to be real and accessible and lived.  Think of Pepsi’s much reviled advert starring Kendal Jenner – there are a plethora of articles detailing what was wrong with the ad, but in a nutshell it simply felt inauthentic like it trivialised serious social issues, definitely not the values they wanted to espouse.

Whilst Pepsi has a strong brand, and from their overall success, has a culture that delivers results the backlash from that advert emphasises how important it is for a company’s values to feel real, accessible, and lived, and the damage that can be done when they ring false.

Besides connecting with customers and staying out of the press for all the wrong reasons, there are sound business reasons as to why it is important to establish a positive work culture from the very beginning:

  • A positive culture helps you attract the best talent

Although the quality of products and services that businesses provide are important, it is really the people that deliver them that are going to mean the difference between success and failure.  That means that companies consistently need to attract the best people possible, and recruitment isn’t a walk in the park.  Not only does it encompass advertising for roles and the logistics of setting up interviews, it is a dynamic two-way conversation between a company and an individual, who will come with information about that company gleaned from their own research and impressions.  These can be informed by a wide range of factors including colleagues in the industry, social media, and of course, a company’s wider reputation.

To make sure you are attracting the talent you want to be working with, it pays to make sure you are developing a positive reputation.

  • A positive culture saves time and money

When it comes to running a company, employees are one of the greatest expenses, both in terms of money invested and time spent and the costs of someone not working out are more than just financial.

Establishing a culture that clearly sets out a direction and processes for people, creates an environment where everyone can be their best selves.  In this type of environment people are able to form ideas that support the vision of a company, rather than ones that get bogged down in projects that would be nice to do, but don’t go anywhere.

Consistently being unable to deliver ideas leads to frustration amongst employees and costs companies money.  When employees are empowered to do work that satisfies them that also supports the overall direction of a company that is a win-win situation.

It is worth putting in focused time and energy upfront to think what you need to do to establish this type of environment.  It will save time and money in the long run because people will be less likely to move on.

  • A positive culture means positive partnerships

It is a competitive and intense marketplace.  Everyone wants more for their money.  One way companies are delivering more is by partnering up to launch and deliver projects.  This is great strategy for companies that want to do something innovative with less risk, and these collaborations also offer employees the chance to work on an exciting project outside of their traditional remit.  Again, a win-win situation.

When it is done right, these types of partnerships can be extremely effective.  Take the collaboration between The Cambridge Satchel Company and Brompton.  One makes bags and one makes bikes, and together they created a sleek leather bike satchel that fits perfectly on Brompton front carriers.  This partnership works so well because both The Cambridge Satchel Company and Brompton have a strong commitment to manufacturing in Britain, quality design and fun.  Their values and culture are a natural mesh.

If you get partnerships or mergers wrong, the negative impact can be far reaching.  Huge mergers have been abandoned because the internal culture of companies were so drastically different people were prevented from doing their best work.  That means productivity and profitably suffer – the merger of car giants Daimler and Chrysler is a good example.  Once heralded as a ‘merger of equals’ it didn’t take long before it was described as a ‘fiasco.’  Knowing which values you prioritise within your own organisation helps you evaluate what you are looking for in a collaborative partner.

  • A stable, positive culture attracts investment

When Uber started to attract attention because of negative practices, two of their investors wrote an open letter explaining why they felt it was important for them, as financial backers, to clearly state that the allegations about the working culture at Uber made them uncomfortable and needed to be addressed urgently.  In today’s landscape, where personal blogs, social media platform and sites like Glass Door make it easy to find out what employees really think about a company, it is silly to think that investors aren’t’t doing this research.  Indeed, experts advise understanding a company’s values as an important part of weighing investment opportunities.  If investors find a significant amount of a young company’s workforce isn’t happy with working practices there, or that leadership isn’t able to articulate what is good about their company’s culture, that’s not going to be a point for the ‘pro’ column.

  • A positive culture means people do better work

As humans, we are wired to want to spend time where we feel inspired and energised, and outside of work, that’s typically what we do.  At work, this is why the question, ‘What did you get up to at the weekend?’ can be so illuminating.  By really listening to the answer, we can learn what our colleagues are inspired by.

But why shouldn’t we feel inspired and energised by our working lives?  By creating a positive culture where people can be their best selves and do their best work, we are benefiting everyone, because people who feel good, do good work.

When a company grows up how does it stay human?


George Bernard Shaw once said, ‘Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds, cannot change anything.’

The first part of this quote is essential for businesses to remember.   No matter how big or small the change, it is essential for change to happen for progress to happen.

We all know that changes happen within companies for a variety of reasons – one company may have bought another so two cultures and ways of working need to be merged, a small team might be brought into a new department, or an organisation that began as a start-up with a team of just a few people may grow rapidly after significant investment.

Rapid growth can be especially disconcerting.  After feeling that you once knew everyone in your company, their partners and the details of their personal lives – birthdays, weddings, etc. it can be difficult to have the feeling that you no longer know the in-and-outs of everything that was happening within your company – once your opinion might have been sought on every big decision, but as organisations grow, if they don’t change, they fail.

What’s essential for companies to remember as they are changing, progressing and growing is how change effects people within the workplace at a human level.  To ensure that change is progressive and positive, time and thought has to be put into planning and implementing growth and change.

How do companies do this?  By acknowledging that people are an essential piece of the jigsaw and maintaining an honest, open, human discourse throughout their development and progress.

Here are some key things to keep in mind:

1. Remember that humans don’t like change – acknowledge people’s feelings and concerns and give them time to share their ideas.

We all have our routines and even the smallest change can upset our working days – if your favourite mug isn’t in the cupboard for the morning tea run your whole morning can feel ‘off’.

So, when big changes are on the horizon, it’s important to communicate why this change is needed, providing as much context as possible, with as much notice and clarity as you can and why this change is needed, proving as much context as possible.  This gives people the time to process their thoughts and feelings, and also allows them to come back with any questions they might have.  As companies go through change, it may not be possible to have all the answers, but allowing people to share their concerns can go some way to alleviating them and establishes an open dialogue.

2. Don’t forget the past – ask your team what they value most about the company and incorporate those core ideas into your plans if you can.

Especially when companies that have been small start-ups expand rapidly, it can feel as if the company is losing touch with its original values and purpose.  So when change happens, ask employees what works in the company?  What do we need to hang on to?  What do we need to dial up to be even better to support the changes we’re making?  These are important questions and critical to the success of the change. Your employees are at the ‘on the ground’ at the coal face speaking to customers every day and have critical insights to offer.

This is not just about ensuring people feel involved, it’s business sense.

Also – celebrate the past.  All the work and learnings from right back to the beginning made your company what it is today.  This history is an important part of your culture and should be acknowledged and built upon. Bring together those individuals who have been at your organisation the longest and in a small group, and ask their advice. What has worked well before?  What hasn’t?Ask them to play an active role with leading the change so it’s successful and lands.

3. Accept that you won’t know everything – you will have to delegate parts of the puzzle to other leaders within your organisation in order to keep growing.

It can be hard to let go of projects and work that’s been important to us, but in a growing company, we can’t know everyone and be involved in everything forever.  This would take away from us doing, experimenting and growing ourselves and prevent us from being future focused on the strategic long term vision and modelling the new way of working. For a growing company, leaders need to focus on their own part of the jigsaw (whilst  working across the entire jigsaw) and creating the environment/purpose for their teams to do their best work for their part of the jigsaw.

Being human and leading your piece of the puzzle will have a big impact.

4. Recognise team member’s work – praise tasks done well to individual team members and communicate to them how the team’s work is contributing to the company’s goals.

As humans we all want recognition that is sincere.  In a rapidly growing company, it’s especially important that leaders recognise and acknowledge everyone’s contributions.  Establishing a culture of saying ‘thank you,’ and speaking about how contributions matter is an important element of establishing a culture where people feel recognised and valued.

Senior leadership should communication how teams contribute to the company meeting its goals, and team leaders should communicate this back to their teams – everyone should know how the piece of the puzzle their working on, should fit in with the whole puzzle.

5. Keep moving forward – a leader’s job is to provide the framework so ideas generated are put into practice.

It’s not only internal changes that impact companies.  External trends and events can impact how the puzzle pieces fit together as well.  As leaders, it’s important when the market changes, we don’t make unilateral changes about how we will approach new challenges without consulting our teams to ask what we should do – two heads, after all, are better than one.  And a team of heads is better than two!  For leaders, it’s also important that we provide the framework that the ideas that are generated and put into practice, and that they don’t remain on a post-it note.  After all – progress is impossible without change!


Building a human culture through times of change


“How are you?”

“Busy!” “Hectic!”

Sound familiar? And if we weren’t busy and multi-tasking would we think something was wrong?  Probably….

Thanks to technology such as voice activation we can now do even more things at the same time, if only Alexa could make us a cup of tea…

We live in an exciting, competitive, complex and disruptive world where, as consumers, we are more demanding – we want more for less. So how do workplaces satisfy our ever changing and sophisticated needs?

It’s all about creating the right environment and developing a human culture that allows us to be ourselves, support us in doing our best work that nurtures new ideas that support growth.

So here are my five top recommendations to building a human culture that delivers growth:

  1. Be clear on your purpose and why we are doing it?  – As humans we question everything. As employees we want to understand a number of questions such as: “Why should I support what this organisation is trying to do?” “Do I personally want to invest in its growth?” “Is it going to help me with my personal growth and development?” “Will I be rewarded equally?” Ensure leaders have time to debate and challenge ‘the why’ so they own it and feel personally committed.

Leaders who exude success when talking in their own words inspire teams – employees want to work for authentic leaders.

  1. Be authentic and real – Make time to have a cup of coffee with employees, find out what is really going on in the organisation – how are people really feeling and what are they thinking? It’s all about creating the right space to enable the issues and honest talk to come to the surface. Without this there is no room to develop a culture of trust and understanding. Listening to your employees and leaders not only builds trust but it gives you great information and insight to make the best decisions. And let’s face it, we all feel valued if we are asked our view and opinion, but we are only fully engaged if we feel this view is valued and acted on.

Being real = building trust.

  1. Communicate, communicate, communicate – In every possible way. We all have different ways and preferences for communicating and we all like to have the ability to respond back in different ways – written, verbal, informally, formally. Some conversations are worth waiting to have over coffee rather than a formal email. The channel of communication that we chose can completely change the way a message is received or understood and it’s so important to recognise how best to communicate with different individuals. At the heart of all communication should be the ‘Why’ are we doing this? It’s only when people truly understand and feel that their concerns have been heard and recognised that you know a message has landed in an organisation. When it has, remind people again why it’s so important, update them with the progress that is being made, and what’s going to be happening next. Let them know how they have contributed to making a difference and most importantly ask for their feedback.

Recognition= richer two way communication.

  1. Keep it simple – We constantly hear that there is too much complexity in the world – therefore don’t make it more complicated or communications get lost. Keep messages simple and don’t reinvent a new process to create change. If you do so, chances are you will miss the opportunity to make change happen naturally across the organisation. Ask yourself, do you really need a process for this because of a problem or can it be solved through a conversation?

Simplicity = More space for ideas.

  1. Proof – Change takes time so remind yourself and the organisation when a milestone has been met. Celebrate every success and don’t get stuck looking for problems or areas to fix. When you review revenue and profit targets, review your change stories at the same time – I guarantee there will be correlation!

Understanding patterns of success = future repeatability.

Can you be yourself at work?


When were you last on fire?

Imagine it is a Sunday evening.  Are you genuinely excited its Monday tomorrow because over the weekend you have had an idea that you want to test and put into practice or do you have a ritual that you go through to get your ‘work armour’ ready for Monday morning?  It might be at this point you realise that your clothes are in the washing machine, wet and floppy and in no condition to serve as armour of any kind.

Imagine now that you didn’t have to go through that ritual.  Imagine you didn’t have to spend extra time preparing for what you should do and say at work, and instead, could just be yourself.  I guarantee the world would be all round a better place.  In such a world, ideas would flow freely and be built on, instead of being judged.  We would leave the office or the conference with a spring in our step, excited to go home and share with our friends and family how our ideas and contributions were taken seriously.

Now remember a time when you were ‘on fire,’ doing your best at something – bottle this feeling and try to summarise in one word or symbol.  Write it down.

 Can you be yourself at work?

Imagine if you participated in meetings, from the ‘heart’ without translating your ideas into corporate language or having to solicit support for it ahead of time.  If you could just say what you were thinking and work with a group of people who wanted to make it happen.  How good would that be?  What if instead of asking how the sales forecasts were going, your manager asked, ‘How are you really?’ or ‘What support or help do you need from me to be your ‘true on-fire self’ at work?’  Would you respond positively?

Being our human selves is much easier than being something we aren’t.  Why do companies force us down the route of being our ‘work-self’ when we could save that energy for our work and be our best self?  Work is a competitive place which automatically means we feel we need to be on guard and not share our fears or concerns but instead use up energy by being someone else.

None of us are perfect, but we can all agree that we’re all human.  So let’s be human.  Let’s treat our colleagues with respect. Let’s encourage dialogue that will open us up to other perspectives, and let’s trust ourselves and others to do the right thing.

Companies that create environments that allow their employees to be human will win in the future, no matter how big or small they are, because their employees will have more energy and goodwill to do their jobs, energy that won’t be wasted on maintaining a false work identity.

Employers should build environments where people can be human

Remember the symbol or word you wrote down that encapsulates how you felt when you were last on fire?  The next time you’re facing a challenging situation at work, remember it to re-invigorate you.  (I think of feeling focused, and ready to take on the world with my feet firmly planted on the ground.)  I learned this exercise when I was working toward my coaching accreditation – it works!  When I haven’t revisited this exercise for a while, because I get caught up in the mountain of stuff to do, I realise that just turning up to work without my usual energy, is not just me letting myself down, but also, and more importantly, the people I work with.

So, how can we bring this energy with us into the work place more easily?  The answer is that we all need to learn to leave our ‘work armour’ at home and be more human at work, and employers should work with their employees to foster this type of environment.

Lead by human example

To begin, set an example.  Once you’ve identified the word or symbol that represents your true self, write it in your work notebook.  Refer to it every morning.  If you are responsible for managing or developing others, ask your team to do this and begin your week by revisiting it.  Then, make a commitment to stop using company speak and referring to PowerPoint when you’re sharing ideas.  Ask people to explain their idea and invite others to spark from it, either to build on the idea or take it in another direction.  Recognise individual ideas, and check in with how the idea is developing so it doesn’t get lost.

If you are a leader or a manager you can create how you work with your team and encourage open and respectful sharing through your team meetings.  Be human yourself by letting your team know when you think you have messed up – and celebrate when you’ve got it right – to show your own human side.

No one can do everything on their own, so ask for support from your peers or your own manager.  Direct their energy to where it will help most e.g. commending you on unique ideas.  Likewise, let members of your team know that you are there to help them.

HR professionals can lead the cultural change at companies by thinking less about process and making their communication less complicated.  The next time you need to communicate a process or an idea to a colleague, use the ‘mum’ test.  Would she understand the language you’re using?  Could you stand up in a tube carriage and explain what you need to in between stops?  If not, then it’s probably too complicated.  Take a human approach to speaking to colleagues and invite them for a coffee – you will find out more about them and they will see you as a person, rather than just a member of the HR team.

New employees can make a difference too.  If you have just joined a company, be curious.  Ask ‘why?’ questions.  Understand what has gone on before you by humanising it.

 Being human = best work

With new technological advances every day, demanding consumers wanting more for less, resulting in new business models and ways of working, (and a host of considerations like flexible working, managing change, resilience, and leading though times of uncertainty for employers to consider,) the world of work is changing.  Workplaces are often focused on a top down approach, following corporate rules and governance, and in some places management by fear rather than encouragement.  In today’s fast-paced and sometimes unpredictable world, it’s good to remember that at the simplest level, employers should want people to do their best work.  Since being human is here forever, the goal of companies and employers should be to create an environment where their employees can be their true selves to do this.