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Culture Eats Strategy for Breakfast

Posted on Thu, 2017-09-21 00:00 by Kirsty Laing

I had the pleasure of speaking at the FutureScot Asset Management Conference last week at Glasgow Caledonian University.  In the room were the leading lights of the Public Sector’s property community with the conference led off by a keynote address from Morag Angus, the Scottish Government’s Chief Surveyor.

We’ve been working with the public sector for a long time helping with estate rationalisation and workplace strategy so we understand the pressures that the audience have faced, and continue to face.  However, we challenged the room with the need to better consider the people aspects of change, the human beings whose lives are impacted. 

It was extremely heartening to hear Morag Angus and other speakers such as David Bentley of CIPFA and Alan Paul of Fife Council reference the importance of communicating better with people when delivering workplace change. 

We explored the importance of listening to staff when embarking on a move to agile working and estate rationalisation.  I’m sure that some people in the room were surprised by the average cost of replacing a mid-manager (£30-50,000), the percentage of people who are actively engaged at work (a mere 10%), the cost of lost productivity to the UK economy (a whopping £340 billion).

Change is inevitable in any organisation and as technology continues to transform how we work, workplaces will adapt to fit.  However, change is hard for people.  If workplace change is solely focused on property then it is exponentially harder. 

In the panel discussion that followed, the chair asked me a question.  He said “I understand the benefit to the staff by asking them what they want and communicating with them throughout the process but what does the organisation and you as the designer get from all this communication?”  My answer on the day was “everything!” 

People want to feel listened to.  They are pragmatic and understand that they will not get everything that they want but if organisations manage that engagement with staff in an expert way, they are consistently improved by the experience. 

Don’t ask people what they want, ask them what they do.  Understand the pressure-points within their roles, the other people they need to engage with, the culture of their team, their department and how they fit within the wider organisation.  We can then profile their needs rather than their wants and design a solution that is truly fit for purpose.

So, what does the organisation get out of this?  They get an environment that is truly fit for the future of their organisation – and all the productivity gains that come with this.  They have a workforce who are invested in the changes that are being made (often a move to agile working, more open plan environments and more flexible work-settings) rather than the victims of that change.  They have an organisation that doesn’t simply understand what is happening, but also understands why it is happening – and they are coached in advance to get the best out of their new workplace.

My conclusion from the day is this:  the Public Sector has done a fine job of estate rationalisation in a very challenging period of austerity.  However, what impact has this had on productivity when it has mattered most? 

If productivity is a key focus then the next phase of workplace transformation is all about agile working, hot desking, flexible working and culture change.  It’s not just about the layouts or the feature walls.  It is about the users of the space, what they do, how they feel at work and what we can do to make their workplace experiences as tailored, productive and enjoyable as possible.

It’s all about people.                  

Thanks to @Fly3DLtd for the image.       


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