culture, leadership, and the digital age.

We had the pleasure of sitting down for a ‘socially distanced’ chat with the lovely Lisa Kennedy to discuss all things culture, leadership, and the digital age. Read on to learn more about Lisa’s take on the role leaders play in shaping culture now and into the future.

What role do leaders have in organisational culture?

Like many others during “iso”, I’ve dabbled in a couple of new projects at home. Some have failed, some have worked, some are a work in progress… like my new vegetable patch! It’s still alive (mostly) and something I’m continuing to work on. And as I think about this question, it makes me think about the vegetable patch (organisational culture) and the work I’m doing in it as the gardener (leader).

Firstly, the soil – this is my new version of the iceberg model. Invest in the soil, what’s underneath, and reap the rewards with good pak choy and tomatoes! The notion of above the line / below the line is critical to a leader understanding their role in organisational culture. An individual can’t make an impact on culture unless they are aware of the impact they create and are aware of their behaviours and actions. At Metcash we’re using a number of psychometric tools (e.g. LSI and Hogan) to help leaders understand their drivers and values and then how they inform behaviours. Just like the veggie patch, culture starts in your own backyard. 

Secondly, the plants. Without sounding corny (sorry!), the gardener should plant a variety of veggies and consider which plants work best with others to achieve the best results. I’ve found out this is called companion planting. Companion – this word isn’t often used in relation to work and yet its definition is “someone whom one spends a lot of time with”. This is a word we should use more at work! In the workplace, diversity and inclusion are fundamental to culture and performance and diversity is much more than a commitment to excluding discrimination. We need leaders in Australian organisations to continue pushing their comfort zones when it comes to their own commitments to diversity and inclusion.

I’ve worked out that a little goes a long way with a veggie patch. A few minutes in the garden each day, checking the plants, watering, picking off caterpillars (and hopefully picking some produce) is better than half an hour once a week. This is a good principle for leaders and culture. Culture is not something to create, set, and forget. Leaders should be observing what’s working and what’s not on a daily basis, addressing problems, and creating solutions. And sometimes, it might involve getting rid of some pests that creep into the veggie patch!

What are the key priorities for leaders in shaping culture, post-COVID-19?

Are we ready to talk post-C-19? Eek, I’m not sure that we’re there yet, unfortunately, but we have moved into a different phase with C-19 and it’s important to acknowledge that.

The top priority for leaders right now is to analyse the culture during the pandemic to see what to retain, what to evolve and understand what can be left behind. At the beginning of C-19, when things were unclear, our Group CEO communicated three priorities for Metcash. These priorities focused and grounded people during a time of uncertainty. It simplified things somewhat. I aligned my team to these priorities and used them to make decisions about projects and plans – to change what my team were working on and how we worked together. I hope we are able to keep this notion of simplification and focus as we move into the post-COVID-19 period. 

Another priority for leaders is to consider how to build and nurture culture in an environment where people are working in a variety of locations. To a large extent, the culture of a company is the product of its history – the traditions, beliefs, and norms. Leaders will need to share this cultural information when new people join the team more consciously than they’ve done before. The culture is also a product of a company’s values; how the values are lived is different now that we are working in new ways. For some leaders, now is the perfect time to chat with their teams about culture and ask how do we show up as a team? Are we behaving how we want? What do we want to be known for?

What are the top capabilities driving high-performing cultures in the digital age?

I’ve been reading about capabilities leaders need at the moment and thinking, “Yeah, these are what we’ve talked about for the past few years!” Flexibility, collaboration, dealing with ambiguity, resilience, etc. What’s new? Well, what I see now is the emphasis within these capabilities has changed. For instance, resilience now has a strong focus on mental wellbeing, which is critical for operating in a digital age. Many people find technology contributes to feelings of stress, overwhelm, and fear. Wellbeing and mental health are now being recognised as vital components of looking after employees and organisations that are considering the role technology plays in this topic will come out on top. 

Collaboration also has a new emphasis in the digital age. We’ve all had to become super-users of video-conferencing tools almost overnight. Digital whiteboards, Google Docs (and for those of us with children, Google Classroom), project management tools. It goes on. I’ve found it interesting noticing how people learn these new collaboration products – a combination of experimentation, short demos, and picking up tips from each other. It’s learning in the flow of work happening everywhere. Organisations that can quickly adapt to collaborating using the latest digital platforms will lead the way into the future of work 2.0.

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about the author

Sophie Tompsett - General Manager NSW

Sophie has an outstanding reputation for delivering results with a high customer service focus and prides herself on her commercial, pragmatic and consultative approach with both clients and candidates.

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