Flower power – diverse workplaces are more profitable long term

In nearly 15 years of working as an executive coach in London, Scotland and around the UK, it’s clearer than ever to me that when employees are accepted equally for their usual and unusual traits, you’ll get a healthier, more productive and successful work culture.

In 1800 the world population was just under 1 billion (stay with me on this!). It took over 120 years for that number of people to double to 2 billion in the 1920s. And in the subsequent 100 years, the earth’s population has more than tripled. Presently our fragile planet is supporting nearly 7.3 billion souls. So … what do these statistics have to do with workplace productivity?

With an increase in population comes and increase in diversity – intercultural & interfaith relationships; nuclear, extended and blended families; longer life spans where people to do more, see more, think more, consume more and change more; greater access to travel, education and information, all of which are mind and idea expanding.

As quickly as the population grows, alongside grows the demand for the essentials required for each person’s physical, mental, emotional and spiritual needs to be met. Change is happening faster than ever because as a species we require solutions to feed, clothe, house, educate, inform, support, entertain and inspire an ever-expanding marketplace.

Why do companies need to embrace the diversity of it’s employees? It comes back to increased population because demand for, well everything, is increasing which in turn drives global change and change, which in turn requires quickly-evolving new ideas and solutions.

It is no longer possible as a company director to fix on a ‘right way to be within this company’ and to expect thereafter to have employees be routine and formulaic in the delivery of a brand’s product or service; nor would it be reasonable to expect to be in business in 10 years time with this being the leading mindset.

Healthy, forward-focussed companies have a process where the creative and intellectual differences within their workforce are harnessed and encouraged. It’s a tough process to manage initially – especially for leaders who are wedded to full control – however the pay-backs for getting this culture right are priceless.

Some practical ways to encouraging diversity and difference include:

  • Having highly-astute, people-orientated leaders present at board level educating on diversity and inclusion from the top down on an ongoing basis
  • Creating a bi-annual CPD requirement specifically for senior directors to be updated on re-framing a team’s differences (and similarities) as being an asset
  • Designing a process where new ideas from all tiers of a company, on products, services and processes can be aired and put to the senior team for consideration and action
  • Encouraging personalisation of a work space (within reason)
  • Educating all team members on advanced communication – non-judgemental, inquisitive, respectful, possibility-orientated language
  • Encouraging hires that as a manager you know will stir things up a little (requires a leader to commit to ongoing development and constant reviewing of assumptions themselves)
  • Stay aware where assumptions may be being made around the big 7: gender, age, race, religion, sexual orientation, disability and culture; and also stay aware of subtle assumptions around: body shape, dress sense, tattoos, where a person was educated, accent, car-type, capability and desire to progress.

It takes effort and awareness to spot your own assumptions. As an executive coach in the UK, this is one of the varied number of conversations I have with C-levels and senior directors in many business sectors. Remember, what our planet and its people now require to thrive is such a fast-changing formula, never be ashamed to raise your hand to say ‘here’s where my experience and knowledge remains priceless; and here’s where I could do with a new perspective’.

The no-frills HRD formula for finding an executive coach in London

There are excellent executive coaches in London (or anywhere) who are less than skilled marketeers. Conversely there are unskilled exec coaches who are highly skilled marketeers (be alert for these).

If you’re an HR head looking for the highest-skilled coach how do you edit out the diamonds from the dummies – especially when time is so valuable and you perhaps haven’t the resources to go through a huge tender, assessment, contracting process?

Here’s my Quintuple-Ask formula that’s economical, timely & effective:

  • Ask your LinkedIn network: ask for recommendations of coaches they’ve had good experiences with, AND those they would recommend you steer clear of. NB. Ensure they private message the info back to you – obviously!
  • Ask the senior tier of your company: HR teams many not know all the exec coaches presently working with their senior team. I get contacted more often by company directors who’ve been recommended to call by friends or someone in their professional network. Most senior execs inform their HRD after we’ve contracted, however not all, so you might get some new names out of this exercise.
  • Ask online: googling ‘executive coach London’, ‘CEO coach UK’, ‘leadership coaching Aberdeen’ (or wherever) will deliver coaches who are invested in their overall marketing and are active in keeping their website information fresh and relevant. How are they representing themselves? Who’s their target market? What’s their experience? Are they still in business 2 years or 20 years after having started? Are they qualified as coaches? Or are they ex-corporate leaders, trainers, or mentors – all of whom have value, yet none of whom are executive coaches – just know the skills you’re buying.
  • Ask coaches by phone: when you have a top 20 list (or just 10 perhaps), it’s easily whittled down to a top 5 in a single 15 minute first conversation. With a key half dozen questions you’ll know who makes sense to meet face to face and who doesn’t.
  • Ask coaches direclty: schedule a single day where all 5 coaches will come in and rotate every 45 minutes through a selected 5 executive who’ll coach and talk with them. There’s no hiding in a face-to-face service sampling. You can choose for your execs to give number or comment feedback – or a mixture of both. The stats and opinions will indicate to you which of the coaching tribe are right for your organisation – perhaps 2 or 3. Perhaps all 5.

This selection process could be implemented in under a month – and by one person. It’s intensive, but cost and time effective. A diverse range of qualified, experienced executive coaches make all the difference to a company’s evolution.

Executive coaching in the UK: happiness + satisfaction = profits

I’ve noticed recently that certain UK business cultures are more open to investing in their people’s ‘soft’ skills; the mental and emotional skills that enrich a corporate environment. They include the ability to effectively communicate, openly negotiate, embrace change, respect diversity and have active and versatile team dynamics.

The 2 company types most likely to encourage maximum release of potential in their teams are:

  • small businesses (50 people or less) with fast decision making abilities, ambitions expansion plans and the founder still at the helm; and
  • super-large corporates (1000 +) with products and services in demand in most countries on the planet.

Executive coaching makes sense for leaders in these 2 categories because:

  • it provides a confidential space to talk through the possibilities and to test how convinced an MD might be about the next 12 months of growth – and when they’re convinced, they’re convincing (streamlining buy-in from group heads and inspiring collaborative action taking)
  • the more aware their leaders are the more likely they’ll make a smart decision first time round – saving time and money
  • directors who are coached are generally more satisfied with work and life; and a business that invests in its talent is more likely to retain it
  • coaching creates clarity which in turn creates confidence – and confident people inspire others to question the status quo and to push the boundaries beyond those of the competition
  • it encourages leaders to question their assumptions and limiting beliefs and replace them with innovative thinking
  • a regular conversation about what’s going well and what could be going better means that issues aren’t left unattended long enough to gather momentum
  • there’s never a moment where a leader knows it all. Lifelong learning, with an aware and conscious coach, will expand knowledge, enrich communication skills and contribute to bringing out the best in colleagues and clients alike

You may notice that not one of these points directly has a dollar sign directly against it. And that’s because there’s an emerging new era for what defines corporate success. People come first. The money flows afterwards.

Executive coaching contributes to happy employees, who in turn do extraordinary work every day to satisfy clients and customers.

The knock on reward from happiness and satisfaction is repeat business and multiple customer recommendations. There’s genuinely no more effective a marketing strategy. From that starting point, you can (in the simplest terms) leave the financial bottom line to take care of itself.

Corporate risk – how big is too big?

Corporate risk is a tricky subject. Too little risk and the competitors will be steaming ahead. Too much risk and it scares the shareholders (and the accountants!) – unless of course it all plays out perfectly … in which case you’re the hero (for today at least)!

A certain amount of risk is essential for organisation to break new ground, put together more creative teams and stay ahead in their sector.

I recently worked with an Managing Director client where the foyer of his house (where he also has an office) was bigger than the total meterage of my own home. I was hired by the company to support this MD’s high performance as of one of the most valuable leaders in the organisation. He is super-bright, inspired, motivated and people at all levels of the company like to be in his company.

Normally my conversations with directors are quick-paced, colourful in exploring the possibilities, clear about what a best way forward would be and what ultimate outcomes would benefit the most people. This MD was known for forging forward with fresh ideas and smart hires. He’d had super-positive results in his past 2 companies. On a scale of 1-10 I’d say he was an 8.5 when it came to risk and he had a highly developed sense of this market sector, his clients needs, what the next generation of products & services was going to look like.

Here’s the top 3 things I think are worth knowing about risk having coached this MD and other leaders like him:

  • Measurement makes risk less risky: if you know the skill set of your teams, the value of your service, and the needs of your clients; if you have a deep sense of your brand, a handle on company finances and cash flow, and a sense of what you’d be willing to lose in order to gain, then the decisions that others may perceive as risky may instead feel exciting to you.
  • Discomfort can be motivating: stretching your leaders to get new systems, new schedules and new numbers out of their teams may well increase tension (and perhaps even a reaction from comfort-zone lovers), but it’s worth it if the alternative is sameness and the stretch ultimately keeps a company thriving, employing talent (who are supporting families) and increasing their client service.
  • Change & expansion cultures are healthy: all future-embracing companies would be smart to actively skill up their managers and directors to systemise the present, then invest in asking ‘so what could be next’? ‘What does more look like’? ‘How can we further meet the needs of our clients and customers’?

We’ve all heard the ‘no risk no reward’ line. It makes sense more so in today’s fast-paced markets than ever.

Or I can leave you to ponder Albert Einstein’s take on risk; he said: “A ship is always safe at shore – but that’s not what it’s built for”.