Culture: Invest now or forever hold your peace.

9 August 2022

    Stretching Exercises During Meeting

    And businesses that invest in people and culture are, on average, 23% more profitable than those that don’t.

    So why’s it still so far down the agenda for most?

    There’s a polite, virtue signalling acknowledgement of its importance. It sounds pretty callous if you say that you don’t care about your people.

    But in real terms, this type of investment is the first thing to be scrapped when things aren’t going so well.

    “This is serious now. We haven’t got time for that “soft” nonsense. “

    But extracting your people from the business argument makes no sense.

    And I promise this isn’t just because we want you to spend money with us.

    (I mean, please do!)

    It’s because we really believe it.


    But it’s just not regarded as important enough.

    The fact is, investment in people and culture is still widely seen as a “nice to have”, side-dish.

    People will invest happily if there’s leftover budget after investment in the real stuff.

    But it’s not built into the central business strategy.

    It’s even seen as entirely separate to business strategy. Pool tables, table tennis tables, a good coffee machine, regular socials are fine if they’re manifestations of positive culture. But they don’t constitute positive culture in and of themselves.

    Investment in people and culture must be part of business strategy and WILL make your business more profitable long term.

    But to use Stephen Covey’s time management matrix, it’s just not urgent or important enough.

    We’re so often busy putting out fires in Quadrants 1 and 2 with immediately pressing matters. This busy-ness is accompanied by that spike in cortisol that apparently signals its importance.

    But the emotional association of stress with importance in business clouds our ability to plan for the long term. It clouds our ability to decipher what’s actually important or not.


    A health crisis.

    It also has a hugely detrimental impact on a business’s long term health.

    Not to mention the health of all of the people that work there.

    It’s no coincidence that paid time off for stress related illness is at an all time high. In 2021/22, work related stress, anxiety or depression accounted for 50% of all work-related ill health.

    When we’re constantly busying ourselves with crisis management, pressing problems and deadline driven projects, which are important, it’s easy to be dragged into the less important, but equally stressful, arena of interruptions in the form of emails, calls and meetings that actually don’t move you or the business forward.

    In this state, talk of the wellbeing, engagement, purpose, communication and creativity of the workforce is relegated to the status of fluff. This is dangerously short sighted.

    Why do we need to wait until something’s a full blown crisis, causing high levels of stress, for us to act?


    The great resignation.

    For example, the great resignation saw 41% of the global workforce “ready to quit” according to the Microsoft work trend index carried out in 2021. And the readiness has been born out with people leaving their jobs in droves.

    Across industries, the average response from executives to the question of what percentage of their workforce quit in the last 6 months was 20%.

    With each employee resignation costing, on average, $11,372, that’s a pretty costly trend.

    And put simply, If your business isn’t a nice, inspiring place to be, it’s an easier decision to leave.


    We’re not proactive enough.

    Now businesses are reacting. But what if we took a more proactive approach? What if we recognised the essential importance of investing in people and culture, long term, rather than waiting until there’s an urgent people crisis?

    Maintaining a healthy diet isn’t urgent until it’s neglected for too long. We have a routine health check up, discovering several diet related health complications, or in the worst case scenario, life threatening illness.

    Unfortunately, we’re a symptomatically influenced society. We’re reactive, not proactive. But we have to be smarter here.

    Investment in people and business culture has to be placed in Quadrant 2 – “Important, not urgent” in order to avoid an urgent crisis. Businesses need to be quite intentional about this to maintain their long term health, prosperity and, even, very survival.


    But the residue of psychological resistance dies hard.

    There’s a lot more to unpack here.

    For so long, exhaustion at work has been worn as a badge of honour. It sits deep in our collective psyche that work isn’t supposed to be fun – that it’s supposed to be serious, hard graft.

    To demand otherwise is unrealistic and probably signifies that you’re not a hard worker. So that comes with elements of shame and judgement. This self flagellating approach to work is so ingrained and represents a real block to growth.

    The idea that work can and should be a place where you feel happy, creative and inspired; where you’re able to be yourself and where you genuinely care about your work is still viewed with scepticism by many.

    Even for those leaders that acknowledge the importance of these things intellectually and speak openly on them, when push comes to shove, this intellectual acknowledgement isn’t backed with action.

    But the tide is turning, certainly amongst the workforce. There is an awakening. New generations of talent ARE demanding all of this stuff.

    New leaders ARE starting to act.

    It’s so important not to get left behind.


    Here’s our guidance:

    If all of the above seems too big, and you’re struggling with where to start, here are our suggestions for some immediately actionable progress:


    1. Non urgent planning.

    Make use of Stephen Covey’s time management matrix and be really intentional about how you fill in Quadrant 2 – Non urgent; important.

    At the end of every week, block in some time to plan the next – adding specific actions to Quadrant 2 that will help enhance your business culture.

    Encourage everyone around you to do the same.

    This simple action will help ensure you spend less time in stressful crisis management. The planning should help avoid the crises in the first place and massively reduce dangerous stress levels.


    2. Ask your people what they want.

    Put together a comprehensive, anonymous survey to gather opinion on the current business culture as well as suggestions for improvement.

    You can be quite direct in asking people what they want. Given the business argument espoused above for cultures where people feel happy, connected and inspired, this is a no brainer.

    Consider whether you can comprehensively conduct this survey internally or if you need some external expertise in executing this. We have partners in this field and would be happy to put you in touch.


    3. Re-evaluate the budget.

    If you have the opportunity to influence the allocation of budget, ask whether there’s enough investment in the non urgent; important quadrant.

    Is the focus more on the proactive or reactive side of things?

    How much focus is given to the long term health of the business?

    How much focus is given to how happy, connected and inspired the people in your business are?

    If you feel that the balance isn’t quite right, change it.



    To businesses or leaders that remain guarded about investment in people and culture, I urge a re-evaluation.

    Aside from altruism, which is always desirable, a happy, healthy, motivated workforce will definitely perform much better than one that isn’t those things. They’re also more likely to stick around longer.

    Far from a side-dish, your people need to be placed front and centre of your business strategy.

    After all, they are your business. Don’t let them get sick.

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