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If you position yourself near a lift, one can watch "comings" and "goings".
On any given day, a lobby can be a flurry of activity, and recently I found myself observing a particular going. It was the moment of departure of a loyal servant who had spent some years working for an organisation.
Dedicated service came down to that moment where they pronounced themselves off now to their colleagues and with that, their back turned, no doubt logins disabled, security tag wiped, and everyone carried on their own way.
It gave me pause to think about two aspects of organisational churn.
At present there is much angst about the "goings". Borders reopening and delayed overseas adventures seem once more possible. A job offer with a 30% rise in a new and exciting city seems certain to see a further resignation.
Re-evaluating work-life balance post-Covid brings a few more entering that departure lift. People pursuing a passion project, the war for talent, the brain drain and the Great Resignation have entered our buzz word bingo game, and in some sectors, especially technology, cyber and audit for example, the winner does indeed take all.
This, of course, creates angst around the boardroom table and suddenly employee value proposition is discussed like never before.
Campaigns on LinkedIn are activated to build an employer brand, benchmarking of remuneration undertaken and employee net promoter scores interrogated for indications of cultural health.
Diversity is championed and inclusive cultures are promoted. Employee ownership schemes are developed or evolved. HR and marketing teams may never have been busier.
All, of course, worthy activities in their own right but what does the person turning their back and entering the lift tell you about your organisation and how do you know what it’s truly like on the ground.
Do the exit interview findings offer any indication?
"Trish!" I hear any CEO reading this, say "You’re starting to get a little too close to my space!"
Maybe that’s true but somehow as a governor, you are going to need to satisfy yourself that the culture of your organisation is at least acceptable and preferably optimal for the current employment environment and strategic objectives for your business.
Whatever reporting you do pursue, one of the things you will be trying to understand is, as that person steps in the lift, do they do so with their head high, feeling valued and appreciated as a servant who remains loyal long after the doors close or do they have their head down, feel their concerns were unheard and that their colleagues simply didn’t care about them and their perspectives.
Did they think the company values were lived and honoured, or just statements confined to marketing collateral? Did they feel that the focus on wellbeing simply translated to a bowl of picked over bruised fruit in the staff tearoom and yoga mats in the corner for those so inclined?
Naive I hear you say, not every employee departs on happy terms. Yes, but it’s a bit like that story of saving starfish on the beach, it makes a difference to those that are saved and it is like the other measures noted above, an insight into your organisation’s culture.
We might be living in interesting times and some pretty large pay cheques are being written to lure your employees away but, money is one part of any equation.
The weight it’s given in the equation will be multiplied by other factors from the employee relationship. New Zealand is a long skinny village with small degrees of separation — one conversation can make a difference to whom you attract and retain.
Of course, it is not just employees who depart organisations. As governors, our time, too, comes when we must step into the lift and have the door close behind us.
It may be that we have parted ways and the decisions being made do not align with our views and values. Perhaps our term has ended and no renewal is open to us.
A board review and difficult conversation from the chair may force our hand, too. Or just maybe we have undertaken an honest assessment, held the mirror up and realised we were warming a seat and not really adding any substantive value.
As great as your CV might look with a range of roles on it of reasonable duration, what I am really interested in, in any governance interview, is what your achievements were, and how you relate to management in the organisation.
For me personally, I will soon be entering that lift and concluding 15 years’ governing in a sector I am passionate about. A sad day for me, but as my term on an entity nears the end, I know it is time for someone new with fresh perspectives to enter.
And when that day comes, I will walk into and out of the lift, a most loyal supporter of the arts, and continue my journey from a seat in the audience versus at the governance table.
In life, we can often be our own harshest critics, so use this notion to your advantage. Grab a piece of paper and write your roles on the left hand side and your achievements in these roles on the right.
Do they balance as you expect? Is there more work to be done? Are you the right person to do it? Do you have the time to truly make a difference? Do you have the energy and passion for the entity and can you make the continued commitment it needs both in good times and in bad?
The ledger will not lie and the answers will be there before us.File that bit of paper away, then pull it out again in 12 months, and ask yourself the same thing again.
So when you are next waiting for the lift in a lobby, and it opens and says, "Going up", make sure your right hand column gives you a validated ticket to ride and when it’s "Going down" make sure, as much as you can, you and the people travelling with you have their heads high and smiling as new loyal ambassadors of your organisation.
- Trish Oakley is the chairwoman of the Otago Southland branch of the Institute of Directors (IOD). This article is opinion only and not intended as governance advice. IOD is the professional body for directors and is at the heart of New Zealand’s governance community.