Enhancing business culture – a question of balance

Tracy Westall

By Tracy Westall, chair, Curium Solutions

I’m not sure it’s possible to over dramatize the impact of the pandemic on business and leaders will be handling the economic fallout for years.

From the first lockdown, business leaders have been working out how to navigate their way through for clients, people and business culture. Three important assets for any business.

As return to the office becomes a louder drumbeat and it’s all change again, focusing on people and culture is still, if not more important. The ever so slightly “institutionalised” working environment many of us are operating is on the move again and many are taking stock about how to work in the future.

Flexible working is well and truly mainstream. The “We don’t do that here” approach simply doesn’t cut it anymore. 2020 has firmly won that debate.

Evidence supporting the claim that the working world has changed is plentiful. For example, The 2021 Modern Families Index Spotlight (Bright Horizons) shows that 57% of respondents want some kind of flexibility between home and office and two thirds of working parents said they would consider an employers childcare support arrangement before accepting a new job. Basically, any business ignoring these things is taking a real risk with future talent.

These enforced changes have had real and at times surprising benefits; increased productivity, better work/life balance, the ability to manage caring responsibilities without having to leave the desk. All these things have prompted different types of conversations in many organisations. So as the call to get back to the office gets louder – and it will – as the need to bring life back to our city centres becomes a call to action, leaders will have to continue to navigate potential people tensions and the inevitable cultural impact it could have on businesses.

As a NED, I know it’s important the Board is talking about this as a strategic issue. As chair at Curium Solutions, we know talent attraction, retention and retaining culture are fundamental elements of a successful business and we take it very seriously. For us, culture is everything.

Great culture has real business value. It’s hard to build but easy to lose so needs constant work and conscious effort. So, does the wholesale change we’ve seen offer a chance to fix bad culture or specific stubborn issues? Could this be a reset moment? For example, businesses struggling with diversity could incorporate flexible policies to attract new talent? Revisiting communication strategies, updating language and making sure there is a vision for everyone to get behind all help culture. Testing these things and refining helps avoid pitfalls. For example, making sure everyone’s understanding of flexible working is the same. Staff wanting to choose when and where they work could be completely different to an employers view of flexibility which might be about not coming to the office on a Monday and Friday!

Whatever 2021 throws up, business leaders learning from last 12 months, balancing what is right for the business, maintaining the best bits of their culture and enhancing it where needed will surely lead the way.

Tracy Westall has been a board executive in the digital and technology sector for 30 years.

She was a board director at Midlands tech firm, SCC plc, running a £350m public sector business and latterly director of corporate dervices.

Tracy was also the director of GBSLEP responsible for stimulating innovation in the West Midlands, sat on the Smart City Commission, Birmingham Science City Board, championed the Digital Leaders West Midlands programme and supported the West Midlands Mayor through the West Midlands Digital Advisory Board.

She is chair at Curium Solutions, an awarding winning people led change consultancy in Birmingham who have just become an Employee-Owned trust with Tracy sitting as an independent Non Executive of the trust.

In addition to being a non-executive Director at the Department for Transport, sitting on the Future of Transport Advisory Board supporting the BEIS Industrial Grand Challenge. She is also non-executive director at WM5G, Birmingham Tech Week, an Advisory Board member for Bruntwood Scitech Birmingham, a governor at Birmingham City University and founder of her own board advisory business helping businesses scale up.

Tracy spent several years on the main board of Tech UK, the trade association for the UK tech sector and is passionate about increasing diversity and inclusion in the sector, speaking regularly at events. She was recognised as the digital leaders West Midlands Champion in 2018 and has recently joined the executive board for the Coventry City of Culture 2021 as a non-executive.