As a competitive gymnast, flexibility was a cornerstone and a key element of my training and success. It’s what helped me perform the more difficult moves in order to achieve the highest scores, and it’s what protected and prevented my body from injury.
In the workplace, the same is absolutely true. With flexibility being key to how organisations deal with challenges and disruptions, it’s crucial to also implement protectors from the ‘injuries’ the world may throw your way. Whether it’s adding flexibility to where and how work is done, or in adapting and moving away from traditional HR, adopting a flexible mindset will help you as an HR professional develop and deliver solutions in new, innovative and effective ways.
Now, as we move forward in 2022 and beyond, flexibility will continue to be an essential requirement for us all. It will help us keep pace with what’s going on around us and drive retention and engagement when it comes to our people.
How to deal with flexibility in your organisation
There are two parts to flexibility: the ‘in’ and the ‘out’.
The ‘in’ is being flexible by quickly adapting and changing to new circumstances and challenges – so what goes into our decisions and actions.
The ‘out’ is building flexibility and choice into our programmes and practises – so that what is delivered meets the diverse needs of our people.
In both cases, for HR this means being agile and open to change as we address different situations. It also means getting the balance right between being responsive and strategic so that we can effectively meet our objectives.
Getting this balance ‘right’ is never easy, especially when we’re often given little time, support and direction. It’s also not easy because it hasn’t always been a skill that’s been expected of or appreciated, so for many it’s a new skill that needs to be learned and mastered.
Here are four tips to help guide you as you deal with flexibility and change in your organisation.
1. Stay true to your culture and values
The absolute starting point for any change needs to be alignment; staying true to your culture and your company values, which are the cornerstone of who you are and how you operate.
Too often I’ve seen companies make decisions that with their culture and values, increasing the gap from what makes them who they are and what they stand for.
Instead, use culture and values as a lens to look through when making flexibility decisions. Do this, and you’ll have ones that continue to support and drive your culture and values as well as your business.
A organisation has a strong culture of appreciation and a company value which focuses on celebrating successes. During a challenging time, the business wanted to make changes to their recognition programme to help save money.
To do this, business leaders instructed HR to keep their annual recognition award programme, but to remove all other recognition plans (e.g. everyday recognition e-cards and everyday recognition awards) to save the required money. However, when HR looked through their culture and values lens, they saw that this change would contradict both, ultimately sending the wrong message to their workforce.
Instead, HR worked with business leaders to change the decision, removing the annual awards and keeping their everyday recognition plans. This saved the same amount of money while staying true to their culture and values.
2. Strive for symmetry
As a gymnast, my flexibility coaches would say that I needed to ‘strive for symmetry,’ which meant aiming for equal flexibility on both sides (e.g. being able to touch both toes, not just one.) Do this, they said, and it not only looks better but you have a lesser chance of injury as both sides work together to protect your body.
The same is true in organisations. As you aim for flexibility, you also need to strive for symmetry, or what I like to think of as addressing the ‘cause and effect,’ which is when you fix one problem and cause another, creating an imbalance.
If you keep this in mind as you flex and change, you won’t create these new problems that need to be addressed in the short or long term, and your overall programmes will look better and work together to drive retention and engagement.
A company was asked to change their pay increase policies to help save money. They decided to reduce their rule about maximum pay increases, moving it from 30% to 20%.
The HR team didn’t think through the knock-on effect this would have on where employees would sit within their pay bands. As the business had a rule that employees must be paid at least at the minimum of the band, changing the maximum pay increase to 20% when the pay bands were a 25% increase between bands meant that some employees would now be sitting below the pay band minimum.
This created a new problem as the programmes conflicted and no longer worked together. Seeing this, they decided to change another element of their pay practises that delivered the same savings but in a more symmetrical way.
3. Don’t be distracted by the noise
Next, and often the most challenging situation to deal with, is when we’re asked to flex and change based on ‘noise.’ In these situations, you have a group or individual making noise by demanding a change, often with emotion driving the noise.
Here it’s important to listen to and understand their concerns and requests, but not let it distract your decisions and actions from your overall strategies and objectives.
A senior leader has come to HR to discuss reintroducing a benefit of free breakfast at their onsite café. They were concerned because their team was complaining this had been taken away, which was creating noise and becoming a problem.
When stepping away from the noise, the HR team reminded the senior leader that the benefit was changed – from free breakfast to a credit at their onsite café to be used on anything throughout the day.
This new approach met the diverse needs of their workforce, so if HR had listened to the noise and changed it back, it would have caused problems and moved away from their strategies relating to diversity and inclusion.
4. Be open-minded
When it comes to being flexible, it’s important to look at the situation from different perspectives and be open-minded to a variety of viewpoints and solutions.
Make it a priority to listen and understand as many views as possible. Put on what I like to call the ‘solution table’ as many ideas as you can think of, challenging your traditional and existing practises and finding new ways to do things.
One of my company values is to ‘open the door to possibilities.’ This serves as a reminder to me each day to do this, to open the ‘door’ and my mind to any and every solution imagined.
This is particularly crucial in this ever-changing world. It’s important to be open-minded and flexible to the change that is needed to help us all deal with and overcome the challenges that come our way.
In ending, let me suggest that you consider and refer to these four tips as you flex and drive change at your organisation. And remember, flexibility is a tool and enabler of what you wish to achieve, so use it in a strategic and effective way to give you the focus and strength to do so.