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How to build a #human element into your organisational culture – Xero

By Kai Ping Lew
Thu 21 Sep 2017
FYI, this story is more than a year old

Article by Xero chief people officer Rachael Powell

Today, the business world is in a state of perpetual change and rapid transformation and businesses and industries are being disrupted.

The only way to survive and be competitive is to be more nimble, adaptable and innovative than ever before.

And importantly, we need to think about our greatest asset - our people - in a new way.

Investing in our human capital is even more important than ever – and here’s an acronym, EBITDA, that will help.

They stand for the six key components I believe are fundamental in today’s volatile business world if we want to create a positive workplace where people thrive and can do the best work of their lives.

E for Engagement

Engagement is vital to individual and team performance; having a purpose and identifying strengths are key things that drive this.

Firstly, a clear purpose frames the foundation for success and ensures everyone understands the ‘why’ of your business.

Research shows that purpose drives engagement and loyalty more than people’s pay or benefits.

Importantly, it helps us feel like we matter and that our hard work is part of something bigger.

Secondly, identify and develop people's strengths.

We all have a finite amount of energy so it makes sense to focus on the things we’re good at and energised by.

People who use their strengths are up to six times more productive than people who are slogging away at something that drains and disengages them.

However, that doesn’t mean we don’t address weaknesses when we need to, particularly where it’s business critical.

It’s about ensuring that we get the proportion on each side of the ledger right and we know that it’s far more beneficial to invest time doing more of what we do well. 

Coupling a known strength to support a weakness is also a good way to go as the strength leverage will build the energy and momentum to combat our challenges. 

Putting it into practice:

  • Have a clear and compelling purpose - and sing it from the rooftops both internally and externally
  • Practice strength spotting and coaching - make sure you know your own strengths, focus on other people’s strengths and actually label them for people. You can use the free online strengths tool VIA Strengths that focuses on 24 character strengths, but you can also mindfully observe behaviours to identify strengths in others for coaching purposes.
  • Use strength-based interviewing - focus the interview around a positive conversation as opposed to a sense of inspection. Ask questions that allow the person to highlight their naturally occurring strengths e.g. What are you most proud of? What energises you? Describe a time when you were at your best? Not only will you enjoy the conversation a lot more, but you will also be able to assess the match of the candidate strengths to the role you are looking to fill. This is a much better indication of their ability to flourish in the role than experience and qualifications.
B for Belonging

We have an unwavering focus on diversity and inclusion at Xero.

‘Diversity is getting invited to the party. Inclusion is getting asked to dance.’

This is all about being able to bring your whole self to work, feeling valued and a sense of belonging.

It’s what the #human value at Xero is all about.

People have a biological need to belong and this enhances positive emotions, meaningful relationships, and performance at work.

Putting it into practice:

  • Ensure your values are clear and unique to your culture and hire against these values. Your values will become the guiding light in your organisation for decision-making, providing a common language, and evoking a sense of belonging.
  • Consider flexible working - take an ‘if not, why not’ approach and embrace the benefits that flexible working will bring to your business. Flexibility is hard to do and particularly when business needs must be put first. However, we also know that the cost of attrition can cripple a business and damage the employee brand proposition, so considering individual needs is important for any business looking to retain talent.
  • Run unconscious bias training - help all employees (particularly leaders and managers) uncover any unconscious bias that could be hindering greater diversity and inclusion around recruitment, promotions and other important decisions. You can create your own training or you can leverage some online modules such as Facebook’s.
I for Innovation

In the current environment of change and complexity, only organisations that innovate will survive and be able to compete.

This requires something we don’t often make the time and space to do – play. 

Play supports curiosity (a growth mindset trait) and triggers the imagination. 

It’s about fun and trying new things without fearing ramifications of failure.

Putting it into practice:

Build play and innovation into all areas of your business. Give people the time to do it and create environments that inspire it. For example:

  • Walk and talk meetings out of the office to enhance physical and intellectual capacity creating new neural pathways in the brain
  • Kick off a meeting with an innovation game/exercise or just by asking a non-obvious question to get people to think differently
  • Create offices that encourage play e.g. basketball hoop/table tennis
  • Use ‘design thinking’ to leverage intuition and empathy to reframe a problem which will lead to more solutions
  • Get teams together to brainstorm and encourage equal participation from all personality types

You won’t always hit the innovation jackpot but even one new idea may be the transformation your business needs to set it apart.

T for Trust

Trust is one of the most important things in building high-quality connections with your team and customers.

And yet it’s also one of the most difficult in a global world now that is more dislocated and disconnected than ever before.

Some of the most effective ways to build trust include communication, expressing vulnerability, active listening, and displaying gratitude and compassion.

Putting it into practice:

  • Communication is key - communication tools like Yammer, Slack and Google Hangouts help overcome the problem of multiple time zones and geographies. However, these don’t replace the value of having conversations with people. Be open, transparent, and share as much as you can about your business. Knowledge is power, so share that power with others who can help grow your business!
  • Vulnerability - as leaders, we can admit we don’t have all the answers, make mistakes and ask people for help. Not only does this build trust, but your life will also be far less stressful.
  • Listen to what people have to say - this may even include having a regular Engagement Survey where people can provide feedback (often anonymously) and respond and taking action when it’s needed.
  • Show gratitude and compassion - remember to appreciate others, say thank you and show them empathy and compassion.

Some of these actions may seem small yet are a powerful way to build trust and enhance employee wellbeing.

High-quality connections are the biggest contributor to enhancing well-being for all people.

D for Dream

I love the quote by Winston Churchill - ‘a pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty’.

There’s no doubt that Xero would not be where it is today without Rod, our founder and CEO, being an eternal optimist and being brave enough to dream.

However, today that dream has become a reality and our vision has grown even bigger: ‘to rewire the global small business economy connecting millions of businesses to their banks, advisors and each other’.

Putting it into practice:

  • Take time out from ‘business as usual’ to dream. Bring the dreamers together in your business and look ahead 2 years and ask the question ‘What is good? What is right? What is possible?’ Ignore any obstacles and limitations and just imagine the possibilities. These inhibitions are merely the stories we tell ourselves and will hold us back from progress.
A for Accomplishment

Accomplishment is about achieving things that matter and the sense of satisfaction and mastery this gives us.

It’s about having meaningful goals and no matter whether they are big or small making sure we stop and appreciate when we achieve them.

It requires grit as we will inevitably be thrown curveballs so we need the passion and perseverance to push ahead.

It’s also about having rituals and celebrations in your business that ensure we recognise and relish things along the way.

Putting it into practice:

  • Set performance goals and learning goals - performance goals give a tangible sense of accomplishment but learning goals encourage a growth mindset and even if we fail we’ve tried something new and stepped out of our comfort zone - that’s an achievement!
  • Celebrations along the way - recently we celebrated our 10-year anniversary with 10-year pins and branded cupcakes at a morning tea for all Xeros. It doesn’t have to be big or expensive, just something that brings everyone together.
  • Create rituals - these need to be meaningful to your business. We’re a relatively young company so still creating our rituals but we’ve always had a newly designed Xero t-shirt that comes out each year, we love to share food whether it’s a team morning tea or lunch, and there’s Xerocon, a yearly ritual where we connect and say thank you to all of our most passionate partners.

Just like the EBITDA accounting equation, there is no one part of this framework that works in isolation.

It’s all important, interrelated and needs your constant attention. 

And the reality is much harder in practice than theory.

Creating a positive environment where your people are the beating heart of your business and able to flourish requires energy, focus and persistence.

This article was originally published on LinkedIn. It has been edited for brevity and clarity.

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