Mar 24, 2021

Opinion: People are dynamic – their work should be too

Shane Metcalf, Chief Culture O...
5 min
Why designing a workplace culture that puts human needs at the core is crucial in the pandemic era, says Shane Metcalf, Chief Culture Officer of 15 Five
Why designing a workplace culture that puts human needs at the core is crucial in the pandemic era, says Shane Metcalf, Chief Culture Officer of 15 Five...

This past year presented challenge after challenge for everyone. For leaders, ignoring the personal side of their employees became not only impossible, it became a liability. We’ve all been presented with the opportunity to lean into empathy and learn to support our people in unprecedented ways, alongside being honest about what we ourselves are going through and how it affects us. Turns out, we’re all humans first, professionals second. 

This more human approach to leadership, or what I call dynamic human leadership, is not an altogether new idea, but it is an idea whose time has come. We now have an opportunity to reinvent our organizations and our cultures for the better, with more freedom, more compassion, more individualisation – to not only make space for human thriving, but to prioritise it and understand its strategic value in achieving business outcomes. 

So how do leaders today design a workplace culture that puts the human first?

1. Aim to create a community, not just a culture

Culture is a by-product so if you don’t have some foundational elements it can be hard to establish and even harder to maintain, especially in fast-growing companies. Instead of striving for culture, focus on creating community. Community is about connection and authentic relating, which are vital elements that are missing from many organisations today. While connection may be happening at the individual level, it must be something that is encouraged across the entire organization. 

Leaders must promote openness, relationship-building, and communication between every person in their organization. That means asking questions, leaning into hard conversations, challenging people, digging beneath the surface, and getting curious. One way we cultivate community is through a ritual called Question Friday, where one person asks a more personal question and small groups discuss their answers. This is a great low-risk, high reward activity that helps people connect on a personal level, and it’s really easy to do digitally

2. Help people better understand what they really need

This past year showed everyone the importance of self-care. While nearly everyone was worried about their physical health, mental health was also something that was top of mind and prominent in conversations, more so than we’ve seen before. Leaders can no longer pretend that what happens 'outside' of work doesn’t have a direct effect on what happens inside, and vice versa. 

It’s time that organizations do more to support their people’s health – both physical and mental. Reward better sleep. Encourage time off. Help people discover their own values and passions, destigmatize therapy and counseling. Treating people as humans rather than simply employees will not only help people feel more in tune with their natural selves, it will leave them more energized and excited to work, not to mention grateful for an employer who is actively supporting their evolutionary journey.

3. Lean into digital communication channels 

There are numerous benefits to in-person communication; however, supplemental digital channels offer distinct advantages. Digital channels offer a unique way to give people a voice at scale. It can be easy to blend into the background in large, in-person groups, especially for more introverted people. 

Digital channels provide a way for all people to offer their opinion and take in information. We suggest using a digital, asynchronous check-in to help managers and their direct reports stay in close contact and alignment. These can be great on their own, but they can be used in conjunction with a one-on-one to make that meeting even more effective. 

Digital communication channels can also help to provide more equitable and inclusive programs and cultures, as they provide different ways to communicate so people can choose what channel works best for them. With more people than ever using digital channels to communicate personally and professionally, it’s time for leaders to lean on them more – a lot of good can come out of it.

4. Recognize that you are human too

When you become a leader the other parts of you don’t suddenly disappear. There are many parts that make you a human, and it’s important to be aware of what you’re really bringing to the table. I encourage leaders to realize that the journey of becoming a true leader is a hero's journey – one in which we uncover our own foundational values, blindposts, and even shadows and 'clean up' our own psychology so we can lead from a place of service and avoid projecting our own biases and traumas onto our people. I love the saying 'Healed people heal people – hurt people hurt people.' 

Leaders, and especially founders should prioritize their own development and radical self awareness because whether for good or bad, an organization is an expression of the consciousness of their founders and leaders. Without it, the blindspots and unresolved traumas and attachment styles that inevitably come out in how people lead have unintended consequences. 

Transformational therapy and coaching can do wonders. Organizations can rarely move beyond the consciousness of their leaders, so founders, executives and leaders must do the inner work to integrate the different parts of themselves. This not only helps their leadership, it sets the tone for everyone else and gives people the permission to their own developmental work.

5. Find software that can help you scale 

You must invest in software that can support you and your organization in a changing environment. Many leaders were unprepared for an entirely remote workforce when the pandemic hit, and managers may have been the most impacted, as they had to deal with a new set of people issues. 

Leaders must find software that opens up new communication channels, helps people feel connected, and establishes habits and practices that increase communication, alignment, performance, and connection. Simultaneously the bar has been raised for the builders of software to build tools that support human flourishing, not just create addiction that drives profits. 

There has been a shift in how organizations view the importance of culture and what it takes to build and maintain a healthy one. For far too long only a small slice of the human pie was accepted and embraced in a professional setting, but there is a huge opportunity for organizations that embrace dynamic leadership.

Author Bio: Shane Metcalf is the Chief Culture Officer and co-founder of 15Five, an award-winning workplace. He is responsible for architecting a culture that produces positive brain states, builds deep trust, and belonging while tapping into intrinsic motivation and ensuring each person is achieving new levels of performance on a regular basis. Follow him on Twitter at @shane_metcalf and on LinkedIn. Also, tune into his HR Superstars Podcast here.

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Jun 6, 2021

Business Chief Legend: Former PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi

Kate Birch
4 min
As the first and only female CEO of PepsiCo, Indra Nooyi smashed corporate America’s glass ceiling and transformed the performance and purpose of PepsiCo

At a recent Asia Pacific-focused event, organised by P&G and UN Women, the former CEO of PepsiCo, Indra Nooyi, shared why enabling a diverse and inclusive workforce can directly impact the bottom line.

“If 80% of our products are bought by women because they were the gatekeepers at home, or make all the purchases, why don’t we have a large number of women represented in our ranks,” she told a virtual global crowd of thousands. 

Such business advice may seem rather obvious today, but in 2006, when Nooyi put this business philosophy into practice at PepsiCo, it was both pioneering and progressive. Because not only did the performance of PepsiCo transform under Nooyi’s 12-year tenure as CEO, but so did its purpose and people, with Nooyi widely praised for transforming the firm’s diversity and inclusion agenda.

And who better to do so than someone who had herself smashed the corporate American glass ceiling. Because, when Nooyi became CEO in 2006, following 12 years as Chief Strategist, not only was she among just a handful of female CEOs leading Fortune 500 firms, and one of very few foreign-born executives, she was both the first female CEO to lead PepsiCo, and the first person of colour. Not to mention also being a wife and mother.

Proving performance and purpose can co-exist

And she more than got the job done, growing PepsiCo revenues by 80%, making the firm more global than it had ever been, so that by the time she stepped down in 2018, nearly 20% of net revenues came from MENA, Asia and Latin America, and expanding the business significantly with key acquisitions (Tropicana) and mergers (Quaker Oats).

But it was Nooyi’s strategic redirection of PepsiCo, transforming both its purpose and people, that really made an impact. As chief architect of PepsiCo’s pledge, Performance with Purpose, unveiled in 2006 and a precursor to the modern sustainability movement, Nooyi repositioned the firm to focus on what is best for the world and for its people, from sustainability and social responsibility to diversity and diet.

She transformed the firm’s D&I agenda, created a culture where workers were encouraged to stay with the company, moved corporate spending away from junk food and into healthier alternatives, redesigned packaging to reduce waste, and switched to renewable energy sources and recycling.

As she told Forbes in 2017, “I wanted to make sure that PepsiCo was not only delivering top-tier financial returns but doing so in a way that was responsive to the needs of the world around us.”

Indra Nooyi talking with US President Biden (then Vice President) in 2014

Smashing corporate America's glass ceiling

And it was this ability to realise a world in which business is both practiced and recognised as a force for good that has earned Nooyi a place in CEO history books and landed her numerous accolades, including 11 honorary degrees, the Hero of Conscious Capitalism award at 2017’s CEO Summit, consistent inclusion in the world’s 100 most powerful women (including #1 by Forbes in 2009/10) and most recently, induction into the National Women’s Hall of Fame.

Not bad for a girl from Chennai, India, who was expected to lead a conventional life as a wife and mother, but by her own admission was a bit of a “rebel”, with a passion for playing cricket and lead guitarist in a band. In the late 70s, she relocated to the US, earning herself a Master’s in management from Yale, and beginning a four decade-long strategy-focused career that was born at BCG in 1980 where she spent six years and ended in 2018 following 24 impactful years at PepsiCo.

And while she has now retired from corporate life, Nooyi continues to wield the influence that so positively changed the direction of one of the world’s largest companies. As well as serving on the board for ecommerce giant Amazon, she speaks at summits close to her heart, and has recently penned her memoir, advising corporates on better integrating work and family.

And while she has now retired from corporate life, Nooyi continues to wield the influence that so positively changed the direction of one of the world’s largest companies. As well as serving on the board for ecommerce giant Amazon, she speaks at summits close to her heart, and has recently penned her memoir, advising corporates on better integrating work and family. 

Indra Nooyi's memoir will be available from September 28, 2021, and can be pre-ordered. 

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