For this article, we have summarised themes of work and workplaces from our interactions with a range of clients over the past couple of months. As always, we remain silent on the names of our clients to hold a free voice in the market.

The format is short and sharp:
• What types of organisations?
• What type of work?
• What are the key themes?
• What did we learn?

Types of Organisations we’ve worked with?

To give the breadth of our work, and connectivity across the economy, we’ve worked with:

  • 2 big banks
  • 2 of our largest universities
  • 2 Federal Government departments
  • 3 significant health funds
  • A key healthcare company

Type of work we’ve done with them?

Culture measurement – and understanding work and workplaces – leveraging our proprietary mwah. Culture Dashboard

Cultural alignment – between 2 or more organisations looking to understand the strengths, opportunities and aspiration within their own culture, and the culture of a complementary organisation, typically through an M&A event

Calling out the ‘throw pillows’ of culture. You’ll see our CEO’s article “The Throw Pillows of Culture” alongside this article. It talks about the long list of random things some organisations do, that look good but really don’t make much difference or add value, and end up as a trip hazard on the floor. As COVID-19 was a global health pandemic, amongst lots of great work in People & Culture / HR, Wellbeing, Finance, IT etc. there seems to be a malingering raft of total crap in a range of corporate settings – and we are frequently asked to call this out. Our external lens, or more aptly lack of single organisation shackles, is freeing and powerful for us. Basically, we can say what everyone sees and thinks, but with less fear of reprisal.

Key themes of work and workplaces

  1. The cyclical nature of the ‘power’ balance between employer and employee. Pre-covid, organisations/employers had an overweight (>75%) say in work (patterns etc.), and covid tipped the scales / rebalanced this to be overweight to individuals (by necessity, then preference).
  2. Work patterns remain a polarising topic. They are either ‘not relevant, I just want to talk about doing great work’ or ‘my work pattern is the only conversation I want to have about work’.
  3. Culture, Change and Transformation are high on the agenda for organisations (and HR professionals) – yet stability and security are high on the agenda for individuals. Expectations and reality often don’t meet and it can be a cause of tension. Enterprise leaders are seeking growth, agility, sustainability, and future proofing through any economic cycle in thoughtful ways; HR leaders are seeking to bed down restructures, org charts and position descriptions that are long redundant by the time they’re bedded down, no matter how fast you do it.
  4. The obligation / opportunity to care. Some have this in spades by design (for example, a hospital has a legal obligation to care wholeheartedly, repeatedly and without judgement). In others, it’s a choice and not everyone makes it. We see an increasing cohort of people across industries, jobs and levels that see work as merely transactional – and the societal, community and human aspects of both doing the work, and the impact of the work, are at great risk.
  5. Unsurprisingly, there is an ongoing need (and appetite) to find a meaningful happy medium through the polarity (power balance, work patterns, culture and change ++) – not take an extreme view of ‘carrot’ or ‘stick’.

What we’ve learnt

  • M&A activities are still strongly on the agenda (even if somewhat muted from a ‘deal flow’ perspective) where there is strategic potential. The process of exploration and due diligence place a significant impost on people and organisations – whether a deal proceeds or not. Finding points of value that make the process of ‘due diligence’ worthwhile – whether it is ‘go’ or ‘no go’, is critical to get good participation and value from the process. The demoralisation around deals that stop and start is real.
  • Very few people are driving to the heart of the topics listed above. They are largely (and unfortunately) off the table – because we’re afraid of the polarity. Maybe rightly so. How do you bridge workers that are transactional and staunchly individually minded at best, with those that have care, spirit and drive for the collective way beyond themselves. It’s the challenge of the 2020s – and we need to chat about it.
  • Ultimately, we still love what HR has the potential to be, even though it’s a partner we’ve been on again, off again with for most of our collective careers. We need to lift now more than ever, not hang amongst ourselves in an HR bubble speaking about how we’re tired, powerless, and unappreciated, or how the business and its people are broken and don’t get us, or how we think IR and compliance is the be all and end all of what we can do, or how we need to throw a few more cushions. We still believe, and know, that great HR adds real value to people – individually, collectively, societally and as communities – but at the minute we are feeling the HR vacuum and the consequences it leaves on people and organisations every day.