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Culture as a Strategy in 2021

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) is something that seems to be front of mind for most company leaders I speak to; it is the most current issue to address or problem to fix to make our workplace better. I do not really see it this way, for me, DEI is an opportunity to unlock higher levels of engagement, empowerment, creativity, and productivity.

From my perspective, a construction leader’s job is to: put together teams of people with different talents, lift their beliefs in each other, champion their strengths, encourage them to see their own worth and that of their team members, and create a collective superpower to solve complex problems.

Recruiting for character, attitude, and mindset is only the start. We need to ensure that we continue to develop a culture where everyone feels like they belong. It’s a common mistake to think that new people should “fit in” to become absorbed into our existing culture, and behave in the same way as everyone around them, but this could mean that we lose out on the real benefits of DEI.

We should develop our teams by embracing our diverse thinking, creating new behaviours and attitudes, and harnessing them in a collaborative way to expand our culture, our thinking, our processes, and our problem-solving.

Diversity of thought requires patience and a strong belief in a philosophy that the means justify the end; because when we encourage diversity of thought, it takes time to reach consensus. Tensions may arise and they require careful management, a strong belief in mutual respect, and requires everyone to keep an open mind to encourage the collaborative environment needed to allow DEI to flourish. This will lead to better and brighter ideas.

The economic case for DEI in our workplace has been academically proven many times, however, very few organisations have the courage to take the steps needed to see the data as real evidence, and are somewhat reluctant to take the leap of faith necessary to effect real advances in making their organisational culture truly inclusive, for fear of losing out. I know that being pale, stale, and male in a leadership position is a barrier to making a credible case for DEI and belonging and that external liabilities often dilute influence, but these visible perceptions do not lessen my resolve to champion the cause of empowering everyone to be their best and ignoring our biases. As Tiffany Jana says, “everybody is biased, we all make unconscious assumptions that get in the way of our good intentions and keep us from building authentic relationships with people who are different from us.” Scarcity of labour against a backdrop of increasing demand is a dilemma that is ever-increasing, and it seems inevitable that we must look inwards to create a mindset where we build our team through a focus on making the sum of the parts add up to more than the whole by increasing productivity. Hiring for character, attitude, and diversity of thought and background is made even more difficult when our current immigration policies are juxtaposed with our growth needs. We need to rethink our approach to attracting talent to realise that organisational culture is not set from just the top, it also comes from the middle and the front line; it is the very heart of any and every organization. This takes courage, as Anais Nin says, “Our lives shrink or expand in proportion to our courage.” So how can we get some real traction when it comes to DEI? Chilazi and Bohnet say the answer lies in defining “the will and the way”. The will reflects our desire and motivation to act. The way reflects our means to execute, i.e. our knowledge, the resources, and tools we can draw on to act. These can be constrained by our situational, cultural, temporal, or financial environments. Therefore, to generate lasting behaviour change, we need to address both the will, and the way, by tackling the motivational and cognitive challenges that can arise from change. Creating goals and targets can be a powerful way of changing behaviour, because goals can address both our will, by being motivational, and our way by guiding us towards learning new cognitive skills. The process of working together to agree on goals can act as an intervention because it creates collective buy-in, and adds context. Collectively setting goals can be the perfect nudge to alter our behaviour. We are all inherently motivated towards achieving goals; therefore by collaboratively setting goals, we generate the will to do them, together. Goals invoke accountability and expectation; this requires us to justify our actions to those around us. Goals introduce personal commitment. Goals focus our cognitive and behavioural attention on important activities thus enabling us to expend the energy and effort to draw upon the collective knowledge and experience needed in order to reach them. So, if you want to create higher levels of DEI and belonging in your company, get to work and set some audacious goals that will grab everyone’s attention. Deliberately start creating an everyone culture, don’t wait for it to be the next HR initiative. Get out there and take the lead, because DEI will help us perform better as an industry. As our people grow, we grow, and our productivity will improve.


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