Over the last 1,5 year our world has been heavily impacted in many ways by the Covid-19 pandemic. Many things that we took for granted and that are just part of the usual way we do things were all of a sudden not so obvious anymore. For Companies, this disruptive event has put enormous challenges on the table. The Covid-19 pandemic has for many been the Black Swan Event*, that nobody expected to occur, causing a huge mind shift and change in how the world works.
When you are driving on a road with a big bus and a Black Swan suddenly and unexpectedly crosses the road, it is very likely that you will not be able to avoid it. When you are driving that same road with a motor cycle or a bike, you’ll probably start to swivel, trying to stay in the saddle. Whilst many CEO’s and Managers have put great effort in adjusting their business approach and revisit their short and mid-term strategy, taking immediate actions to stay in the saddle while facing the new challenges, the impact of the existing Company Culture has more than ever shown it’s significance. How has your company culture helped or hindered you in these unprecedented times?
The way people act and interact when there are no rules that tell them what to do, that is what Culture is all about
Company culture can be defined as a set of shared values, beliefs, goals and practices that characterize an organization. Company culture refers to the attitudes and behaviours of a company and its employees. We see it in the way the people in the organization interact with each other, the values they hold, and the decisions they make.
If you’re asking yourself, what is my company culture like, take stock of what you’ve seen during this crisis: how have people reacted on the changes they were facing? Have they put their energy in collectively finding the best way to cope with it or did each department, team or even individual employee worked their own problems, for better or for worse? Have people been creative and open-minded or were they mostly grieving about what could not be done in the usual way anymore? Did your leaders find ways to keep their teams motivated and engaged when business results were deteriorating and/or even more workload and high pressure was overwhelming the team? Was there a climate of trust and commitment or did all the mandatory telework make leaders feel they were not in control anymore?
I have seen fantastic examples of company values coming to life even stronger than before:
- Determined to help their customer, sales engineers were setting up demo equipment in their own garage and running virtual demo meetings with the customers from their home
- Production operators together with Health & Safety instructors using all their creativity to find safe ways to keep production going and care for the health of the employees
- IT teams taking ownership and walking the extra mile in equipping the organization and it’s people to work from home every day
- Leaders empowering their team members and together finding the best way to solve problems, cooperate and stay connected as a team
- Organizations reinventing their training approach and installing a new learning culture that is accessible to all employees
And sure, I have also seen other examples, where company values such as accountability or trust remained idle words or instilled practices overtook from the desired cultural values.
In times of crisis the true culture in the company comes to the surface and has a huge impact on how your organization reacts to the situation. It’s worth considering the value of some lessons learned.
Use this experience to do a retrospect with your teams. What can you learn from this? Which company values that you have been writing about on your website and that you have been promoting at every employee event have showed their true face in the past months at all levels in the organization? What behaviors and attitudes have helped you most to face the Black Swan on the road? What practices should you get rid of for the future to stay performant in your business?
Black Swan Events are so rare that they seldom happen. Maybe it is time to revisit this definition. Look ahead and imagine new problems on your road, disruptors like the already occurring shortage in supply, increasing employee absenteeism and turnover, severe weather events or other natural disasters. This is a good time to evolve your business practices and company culture to be adaptive in the face of growing threats. And ask yourself: how comfortable am I being uncomfortable?
* Although the author of “The Black Swan”, Nassim Nicholas Taleb, argues that epidemiologists have been warning of pandemics for many years and therefore the outbreak of Covid-19 is not a Black Swan, he recognizes that what is a Black Swan for some, might not be a Black Swan for others.
An Dewaele, former CHRO of Barco, is becoming a partner at Square Circle adding a vast expertise to the team to fulfill a common mission: support companies with business driven people solutions to be successful in an increasingly volatile, mobile and complex world.
An has over 30 years of human resources experience in global companies, where she held several senior HR positions in multiple European and Global Roles in the automotive and high-tech industry, based in Sweden and Belgium.
An Dewaele: “Being successful in executing the strategy is what a company makes or breaks. Making this happen is all about culture, leadership, engagement and talent. Throughout my career, I have supported several transformations working with these key elements, that play a vital role in driving business performance and growth. Within Square Circle, my focus will be on supporting companies in leveraging the existing capabilities and create the platform for long term results.”
During several decades, An has covered the breadth of HR activities on operational and on strategic level with a passion for leadership, talent, culture, team performance and employee engagement. Having worked both on local sites and in headquarters, in multicultural environments, she understands the different dynamics that are at play and that should not be ignored.
An Dewaele : “In today’s fast changing world you have to actively manage culture as it defines how your company behaves and strives for results. With the aim of harnessing its full potential, growing leadership and talent and coaching leaders so that they can build a culture of engagement should be high on the agenda of every management team. Every company is different and should see what works best for them. There is no magic formula that can be applied unilaterally. My priority at Square Circle, therefore, is to share my experience helping organizations as a true “compagnon de route” in developing their human potential effectively and powerfully.”
The range of services delivered by An within Square Circle will focus on following topics:
- Development of leaders and talents through hands on and customized training, mentoring and coaching.
- Accelerate the development of a productive working relationship between new leaders and their team through Leadership Assimilation workshops.
- Boost learning with and from others through self-managed learning, a powerful method that starts from concrete and real situations people are facing in their job.
- Coach leaders to build engagement, giving them tools to listen to their teams, defining a shared view, a way of working where all team members adhere to and feel proud to contribute.
- Support in transforming organizational culture, going from word to action and bring the new desired culture to live.
Founded in 2002, Square Circle brings hands-on management and communication expertise with a pragmatic approach to drive successful transformational change projects, manage constructive labor relations, build strong company cultures, prevent operational risks, manage crises and engage employees as key drivers of performance.
The beneficial effect of professional communication in any organizational restructuring, and especially when there are mass redundancies involved, is now widely recognized, backed up by facts and figures. The effect operates at a number of levels.
1. Being in control of the project right from the beginning and keeping control throughout the process
There is a saying: “If you want peace, prepare for war.” Preparing for a corporate restructuring must avoid all amateurishness and ensure the inclusion of all the target groups on which the firm depends. Specific preparation must be made to back up the internal announcement, handle the press and other mass media, and manage external communication.
Crisis scenarios will have to be studied in advance and borne in mind when formulating a crisis plan. There must be provision to train people in handling the media and uncertainty. All of this will have to be included in specific arrangements for organization and planning. A professional approach to communication will give the firm a significantly greater chance of succeeding in its plan.
2. Ensuring the senior managers’ credibility and protecting the firm’s reputation when dealing with the media in difficult circumstances, while also retaining trust among customers, banks, strategic suppliers, governmental authorities, etc.
At times of corporate restructuring, the press and other media primarily focus on the attitude the firm adopts towards the staff, rather than looking at the basic problem. A journalist knows that a firm’s announcement of an “intention” actually means that it is determined, and that nothing will prevent it from carrying out the plan! On the other hand, all eyes will be on the firm’s attitude towards industrial-relations problems. Specific training in handling the media will make it possible to frame messages that correspond with the media’s values while meeting the firm’s aims. The same is true in relation to customers, banks, important suppliers and the authorities. A proactive and personalized approach will make all the difference in terms of trust in the firm and the firm’s reputation.
3. In case of a collective dismissal, avoiding trade unions or staff members resorting to legal proceedings for failure to comply with Belgium’s Loi Renault, with the risk of financial and other penalties being imposed
Every word is important when there is an intention to close or restructure a firm, as it may be used against the organization. A professional approach to communication will ensure that the messages communicated both internally and externally comply scrupulously with the law. This must apply not only to documents but also in orally communicated messages from managers. Those in charge of communication must, for this purpose, have a good knowledge of what is implied by the Loi Renault and also have wide experience enabling them to brief senior and other managers. Bringing a professional approach to bear in communication should avoid legal appeals being made, based on shortcomings or communication errors at any stage.
4. Avoiding the dissemination of incorrect information that can produce conflicts
A basic rule for success in communication is being proactive. Being the first to disseminate a message is definitely an advantage over the trade unions. It is not enough, however. The announcement of a corporate restructuring must be framed according to certain communication principles if it is to be persuasive throughout the firm. Expressing the “business case” for a restructuring in terms that are clear and comprehensible to everyone is a job in itself.
It has been shown that clear and proactive communication avoids giving trade unions an opportunity to sow doubt, and makes it possible to avoid “emotional” types of industrial action.
5. Ensuring the plan’s credibility and that its effect is beneficial for the future, with no loss of the employees who hold the key to the firm’s successful relaunch
In any restructuring, two types of message have to be communicated: messages for those who may leave the firm and, even more importantly, messages for those who will remain and on whom the firm will depend for making the relaunch or plans for change a success.
This is a delicate exercise. Achieving the right balance depends on numerous factors. Control over these is important, so as to avoid losing key employees and prepare for a successful relaunch.
6. Avoiding or limiting industrial-relations conflicts, and managing crises, while keeping the firm as fully operational as possible
Avoiding and managing industrial-relations crises are a job in its own right within the communication field. Keeping the firm operational in particularly volatile or emotional circumstances is not something where you can ad lib. In either case, expertise in managing human behavior and change is essential, as is solid experience of managing industrial-relations crises. This experience has to be communicated to the managers (through general training and specific briefing) to assist in controlling difficult situations that can arise in everyday dealings with the staff.
7. Managing the situation when negotiations have reached a stalemate
Often, a stalemate can be overcome by a thoroughly convincing communication initiative to the staff, sometimes backed up by the media. Examples have occurred where staff representatives have refused to participate in the works-council meeting where an announcement was to be made. Other cases have been where there was a ballot to accept an industrial-relations plan, etc. There is no shortage of instruments, but what really matters is to develop a winning strategy, based on extensive experience of the field.
8. Training and supporting the supervisory staff in their communication activities aimed at changing opinions, accepting that the information and consultation phase is over, and ensuring the business continues
Middle management is a fundamental link in communication with the grass roots. People now stress that 80% of the messages communicated by a firm have to go through the supervisory staff, with only 20% being amenable to management from the center. This is especially true for middle managers, who often find themselves very much alone when dealing with a restructuring plan and staff reactions and questions. It has been noted that appropriate training in change-related communication and frequent back-up in the form of arguments or questions & answers are really helpful for these managers. The positive influence on grass roots’ opinions and on continuing business is widely recognized.
9. Managing the post-restructuring relaunch in order to achieve the plan’s aims
During a restructuring, a lot of energy is expended and resources deployed in the communication of the project and the management of the different steps of the process. This often creates a specific dynamic in terms of communication channels that should be kept open and alive after the restructuring. This contributes a lot to remobilizing the employees around the company project in order to provide the impetus needed to remotivate the staff and achieve the firm’s plan.
Unleash your company’s hidden performance
Stimulate recovery today.
After months of difficult containment and despite alarming and often alarmist forecasts, most Belgian companies are not ‘at the end of their rope’. But let’s be clear: the critical phase is coming now. In most cases it will be necessary to reorganize structures in order to control costs. But that will not be enough.
Tomorrow’s ‘winning’ companies must also look to the medium and long term. Transforming a company is of little use if it continues to be managed with pre-crisis concepts. One example: the freedom gained by employees through ‘forced’ teleworking will not disappear when the situation returns to normal. The classic hierarchy concept will be overturned.
It is therefore time to thoroughly rethink not only your structures and ways of working, but also your ways of functioning and internal cooperation, in parallel with everything you are currently doing to return to normal.
And to help you achieve this transformation, did you know that your company has a hidden source of economic and human resources? A real reservoir of performance that can be perfectly mobilized right now to activate the economic recovery and get out of the crisis?
Mobilizing hidden performance: within the reach of any company
Let’s start with an obvious fact…often forgotten in recent years. The level of performance of your organization is strongly linked to its ability to maintain sustainable cooperation between employees, teams, hierarchical levels, operational and functional units.
By interacting correctly, the ‘human’ organization develops and sells the products and services that keep it alive. But as nothing is perfect in this changing world, some of the interactions cause problems that need to be ‘regulated’. This regulation generates waste of time, energy, financial and human resources that it would be smarter to use to help your organization to (re)develop.
These losses of energy, human and financial resources are manifold. We will give a few examples, but check at the end of the article how your company fits into a more exhaustive list:
– Destruction of added value resulting from poor synchronization of activities
– Financial overloads caused by problematic operational implementation
– Overtime pay caused by shifts in functions due to a lack of delegation
– Time and resources consumed in the regulation of repetitive or predictable problems
– Over-consumption of resources due to a lack of steering of activities
– Losses in production and quality caused by a low level of responsibility of operators
– Implementation of change projects that are top slow, over budget or not meeting objectives because the strategy has not been cascaded throughout the company
More than 4,000 ‘dysfunctions’ of this type have been identified over 45 years of management research in companies and public organizations. They are also called hidden costs because they do not appear in balance sheets or management tools. However, they do have an impact on the final result.
These dysfunctions create losses of energy and means, but also create frustration and human disengagement. They undermine a company’s energy and strike force. Their economic impact has been calculated in several thousand companies. This real ‘source of additional performance’ fluctuates between €25,000 and €60,000 per worker per year, on a recurring basis.
Let’s take an example: a company with 100 employees has an additional source of economic performance at its fingertips, which is between €2.5 and €6 million per year. Amounts that could be used to finance digitalization, strengthen structures, improve competitiveness, invest in innovation, training, increase the investments necessary for successful transformation, support profitability.
So what are we waiting for to exploit it?
An approach exists. It places people at the centre of economic performance.
While models such as Lean Manufacturing, Six Sigma and Kaizen have been able to contribute to the optimisation of certain processes, they no longer meet the new needs generated by the impact of the pandemic on mentalities, behaviours, working methods and the new challenges taken up in a very large number of markets.
The future belongs to companies that have truly integrated human and economic factors into their DNA. Such an approach exists: it is called ‘socio-economic’.
This managerial approach applies itself to supporting growth by also continuously developing all the hidden sources of performance. The additional resources released by this approach are used to strengthen competitiveness, turnover, the quality of products and services, innovation, growth, the attractiveness of work… according to the strategic priorities of each company.
Why deprive ourselves of additional sources of performance that are just waiting to be exploited to get out of the crisis?
Experience shows that up to 55% of the hidden sources of performance that all companies, whatever their size or activity, can recover annually. Provided that the elements that give rise to them are clearly identified, precisely calculated, analysed for their root cause and ‘recycled’ into performance by means of a structured management method that mobilises all the company’s stakeholders.
A socio-economic approach gives management, supervisors and employees the means and tools to effectively manage the company’s resources in their own area of responsibility. Man is no longer considered as a cog in a big machine that needs to be ‘oiled’ periodically, but as a co-producer of added value and a self-controller of his own management by dealing with malfunctions in a way that is shared by all and in close consultation with his colleagues and superiors.
This approach is neither a democracy nor a concept of self-management. On the contrary, it brings management back to its essential mission: to look after the employees so that they can look after the machines, the internal and external customers. In other words, it puts into practice the fact that in a company we are all ‘salesmen’ or ‘producers’.
A self-financed approach,
It is therefore in your company’s best interest to mobilise its hidden performance potential to reconnect with customers and markets, improve its competitiveness, its attractiveness to employees, its commercial strike force, its ability to innovate and to face the competition in full possession of its resources.
The socio-economic approach is entirely self-financed. The economic gains obtained in the very short term largely finance the relatively light investments in the training of management and the piloting of the method. Experience shows that self-financing is achieved on average over a period of 6 to 8 months, and very often over a much shorter period.
With this self-financed approach, a successful exit from the crisis on a budgetary level is within the reach of every company. Take the step! Join the thousands of companies that have already integrated this approach into their growth and development strategy. Hidden human and economic resources are at your fingertips.
Implementation of socio-economic management.
The approach can be started as a pilot project in one or more departments or as a strategic project for a site, a factory, a company as a whole. It offers great flexibility in its implementation.
The first step in its implementation is therefore to define the scope of its application. This step allows management to concretise precise expectations, expected progress and to define the scope of intervention, which can be sequenced over time.
Second stage: start of training/concertation of management and supervisory staff on the socio-economic management method and tools.
At the same time, conducting a horizontal diagnosis and vertical diagnostics to highlight the sources generating hidden costs, monitoring groups of projects and the implementation of actions to transform them into economic and social performance.
Six areas are covered: working conditions, work organization, time management, communication-coordination-concertation, integrated training and strategic implementation.
A specific and unique software program allows to classify the sources of hidden costs by domain and reveals the convergences or divergences of opinion between management and management.
An expert’s opinion is issued together with a proposal for dealing with malfunctions by ‘baskets’.
The dysfunctions are then dealt with through project groups and priority action plans over 6 months, mobilising workers at all levels of the company.
The method allows each employee to continuously assess the progress achieved and ensures that socio-economic know-how is passed on throughout the organization, in order to achieve sustainable results.
The first concrete results can be expected within the first 2 to 3 months, sometimes even earlier.
Most of the companies that have adopted socio-economic management have gradually integrated it into all their structures, creating a real continuous dynamic of human and economic progress.
Does your company also encounter this type of problem? They form a hidden source of performance ready to be mobilised!
A non-exhaustive list, to date, over 45 years of research, approximately 4000 dysfunctions have been identified.
- Poor consultation and coordination between people, teams and departments: maintenance of ‘silos’, loss of flexibility, cumbersome decision-making processes, additional costs of strategic implementation.
- Unsuitable working conditions: impact on concentration, motivation, productivity and the quality of the work performed, additional cost of operational implementation.
- Deficient communication: partial information and lack of feedback to steer change, insufficient valorisation of the skills potential present in the company, fixed corporate culture, strong resistance to change.
- Weak management of working time: recurrent loss of time leading to overtime, multiple and unmanaged meetings, loss of quality in decisions, loss of time and efficiency in strategic implementation.
- Fragmentation of working time: frequent interruptions due to inefficient work organization, chronic emergency work with impact on the quality of work, services, products, loss of productivity, cost of overtime.
- Deficient or uncoordinated programming of activities: additional cost due to loss of time and energy, over-consumption of financial and human resources.
- High staff turnover: loss of efficiency, additional recruitment costs, negative impact on the implementation of change and strategy.
- High absenteeism: additional cost of temporary staff.
- Lack of versatility in teams: failure to adapt teams to new and future needs, cumbersome and over-costing strategic implementation.
- Insufficient, poorly adapted or poorly used programming and monitoring tools: lack of ‘steering’ of teams due to the lack of suitable indicators.
- Non-integrated training: difficulties in developing skills, additional cost of training that is not adapted to the needs of the company.
- Poor implementation of the strategy: failure to disseminate the strategy at all levels, failure to achieve the required transformations and the company’s objectives, chronic underperformance of management and staff in implementing the strategy and making changes.
These dysfunctions have two types of impact:
Economic impact: lower productivity, quality problems, loss of competitiveness, higher financing costs, reduced capacity for innovation, poor strategic implementation, increased costs, failure to achieve economic and financial objectives.
Social impact: Insufficient mobilisation of human potential to achieve change and goals, corporate culture frozen by strong resistance to change, lack of staff flexibility, under-utilisation of talents and skills, increased absenteeism and staff turnover, increased costs of strategic implementation.
Inadequate communication is still in the top 3 of frustrations and problems arising from employee surveys, engagement studies and communication audits. This is not surprising when we see that in many companies internal communication is still regarded as the task and responsibility of the communications department, if it exists, or of HR, and is managed centrally.
However, in a rapidly evolving world where flexible organisational structures and continuous change projects are becoming a constant, a centralised internal communication model is not sufficient to drive evolutions and build corporate culture.
The level of performance of an organisation depends on the management’s ability to establish sustainable cooperation with its employees through productive, effective and efficient relationships. These relationships inevitably fall apart and need to be rebuilt over and over again. It is therefore the core task of management to understand the interactions within its team and to manage them on a daily basis to ensure that each employee can get the best out of themselves.
Internal communication therefore becomes a skill that cannot be separated from leadership and management.
Communication skills are not innate.
Apart from a few innate talents, we find that managers are unable or poorly able to use their communication effectively. Not because they don’t want to, but rather because they act from their gut feeling, which is rarely sustainable. Although it sounds easy, communication is the biggest challenge for most managers.
Examples of gut feeling management:
- Assume that employees like the strategy if few questions are asked during its slide presentation.
- assume that everyone at least understands the message(s), if no questions are asked
- 1-on-1 conversations with employees, outside the (semi-) annual performance appraisals, experienced as a waste of time due to a lack of expertise in conducting valuable bilateral conversations.
- Selling a change project as an assignment from the management that cannot be escaped in the hope that the employees will accept and carry it out as a matter of course
- Consider absenteeism and high staff turnover in their own department as a problem to be solved by HR.
- think that slide shows can replace interpersonal communication
- waver difficult questions asked by employees to senior management levels instead of taking responsibility for providing the answers themselves.
Dealing with interactions, the main task of each manager.
Internal communication stands and falls with the intensity at which interactions between people, people and structures such as new technology, people and ideas such as a new vision or culture, are steered.
Examples of dealing effectively with interactions:
- Regular one-on-one meetings are scheduled with each employee in which 80% of the time is spent on how the employee perceives his/her work.
- Discussions with employees are recorded and followed up in detail. In this way, a manager knows perfectly well what someone said months ago.
- The manager knows his people well and speaks to them when he suspects that there is a problem.
- The introduction of new technology is planned on a tailor-made basis for each employee with the possibility that some may need more coaching and training than others.
- New projects are finalised with the team before they are implemented, taking into account the input of the team.
- Management assignments are seen as an opportunity to prove what their own team can do.
This cannot be achieved at all with traditional internal communication methods, channels and tools.
“Take care of your people”.
Our experience shows that managers can fulfil their communication role perfectly if they are given tailor-made training in management and communication skills. After all, we are not only talking about communication techniques here, but especially about the way a manager understands and directs the interactions in his team. Our motto is clear: take care of your people, they will take care of the machines, the products, the services and the customers.
Does internal communication still have a role to play?
In the future, internal communication will have to assist management even more in creating and managing interactions. In doing so, 20% of the communication will be managed centrally, in order to create coherence in the organisation. The remaining 80% of internal communication will be integrated into line management, at the level of interactions, where the results will ultimately be achieved.