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Tomorrow’s Best Work Today

Speaker 1: Welcome to The Inclusive Growth Show with Toby Mildon, future proofing your business by creating a diverse workplace.
Toby Mildon: Hello, and welcome to this episode of The Inclusive Growth Show. I’m Toby Mildon, and today, I’m joined by Andy Swann, who is the author of The Future of Work, and I met Andy years ago when I was working at the BBC. He was writing his book at the time, and he was really interested in modern workplaces, but that included diversity and inclusion within the workplace, so he came to speak to me at the BBC when I was doing lots of work implementing diversity and inclusion change within the corporation, and that’s how we got to know each other. So, Andy, it’s great to have you on the show today.
Andy Swann: Thank you so much, Toby, it’s great to be here. Thank you for inviting me on. Look forward to the conversation.
Toby Mildon: I’m looking forward to it as well. Andy, I gave you a bit of an intro there, but can you let us know a bit more about yourself, what you currently do, and I suppose a bit about your career background?
Andy Swann: Yeah, absolutely. So, as you mentioned, I wrote a book called The Human Workplace, and that’s my kind of what I call my Andy Swann work. So I’ve always had this fascination around the relationship between people, organisations and work, and what works well and what doesn’t. So I do a lot of speaking and writing, and The Human Workplace was the culmination of those things, and obviously, as you know, I occasionally run an event called All About People, which you kindly came to speak at after that first meeting we had. In addition to that, my day job, as it were, I run a company called My Amazing Team, which has two parts. We have a part called MAT Studios, which is an innovation consultancy for want of a better term, and we also have Elevate Labs, which is a creative and tech hub that really looks at how to create experiences that connect people with each other and with brands and other things like that. So, yeah, never a dull moment. [chuckle]
Toby Mildon: I know you’re a busy man and you do loads of funky stuff, and, yeah, I remember speaking at your All About People conference, and it was a great day. It was a really, really good conference. So why did you write The Human Workplace book?
Andy Swann: I think The Human Workplace, the book, it was a culmination for me of my journeys in work for 15 years. I’d become increasingly interested in what enabled people to do good work, what blocked it, and so you kinda have to take a bit of my career background to get that. So I had a couple of stints starting up things, I ran a music magazine, I tried to a tech start-up, I worked for the NHS as a kind of mid-level manager, I ran and modernized medical records departments at a number of quite famous hospitals, and there I really got caught up in this kind of understanding how bureaucracy and over-complicating things would actually stop people from being able to achieve the work that they actually wanted to do, and the difference between what a 2% performance increase looks like on a spreadsheet and what that really means for the people who are out there trying to do that work.
Andy Swann: So that became a really fascinating thing for me, and I carried that forward when I inherited a family recruitment company, and that got me really interested in how organisations bring people in, what they do, how that relationship forms while they’re there, what happens when they leave, and then I moved on to employee engagement, organizational culture, and then the environment you create for people. So all of these things came together.
Andy Swann: I then ended up running change management programs for BDG, a workplace design company, and all of these things came together and culminated in The Human Workplace, which was this idea that actually where we talk about things in very siloed ways a lot of times. HR talks one thing, organizational development does another, workplace design does another, facilities, etcetera, etcetera, and it’s just to try and bring all of these things together and understand that actually when people thrive, the organisation thrives too, and rather than give people a blueprint for creating that, actually helping them work through the frameworks that allow them to create the right human workplace for their own organisation.
Toby Mildon: Yeah, so what I like about your book is that it’s really well-structured and it’s a really practical book as well for business managers, and the first section of your book is called Getting to Grips with the Basics, and what exactly do you cover in that section?
Andy Swann: Absolutely, and I think that it’s a really important message actually, that we all professionally get bogged down in complications sometimes, and organisations in particular, the larger they are, have layers and layers of complexity that block things from happening, and really the start of the book was a call to, let’s stand back and let’s look at things for what they really are. How do we define the business? What is the business or the organisation or the setup that we work in aiming to do? How does it want to go about that? What are the things behind it? So to kind of break apart some of those things that we talk about as values, as culture. What brings all that together? And then actually to start a different view of organisations actually as being separate from the business in as much as the business has an aim of what it wants to achieve.
Andy Swann: And in my view, the organisation is kind of the structure or platform that enables the business to go out and achieve what it wants to do, and I think if you step back and separate those two things and start looking at organisations as structures for achieving a business aim, you can start seeing it in a very different way and kind of build it as that platform, from that perspective, quite simple perspective as well. When people thrive, organisations thrive too, so let’s enable our people and all the things that come with that, which I know we’ll touch upon in a moment, the contribution of diverse perspectives into creativity which fuels innovation, and all of these things that form part of that platform. But yeah, that kind of start with the basics is, take a step back, really look at your organisation, why it exists, what it exists for, and what it needs to achieve in order to succeed, and yeah, it’s kind of that simple.
Toby Mildon: Yeah, I think it’s a really good way to start the book because when I start working with my clients, I often go through the basics with them, so for me, it’s about repositioning diversity and inclusion with the organisation’s vision, mission and values. So a lot of organisations treat diversity and inclusion as a bit like a box ticking exercise or an activity that’s kind of done on the side of the business. But actually diversity and inclusion should be an enabler of your vision, mission and values. So yeah, I often talk to my clients about those things and to make sure that it’s all aligned, I suppose. What are some of the other key principles that you talk about in your book from, I suppose a general human workplace perspective, before we do a deep dive into the diversity and inclusion side of things?
Andy Swann: Yeah, absolutely, and I think it kind of… For me, this was about… I could have grabbed examples of a million start-ups where there’s five people wearing hoodies doing cool things and how easy it was for them to connect and communicate and to change really quickly and to adapt and be agile. But what I really want us to do is understand what happens when you’ve got complexity, what happens when you’re in a global organisation or you have hundreds or thousands of employees? How can you enable individuals, teams, departments, units? How can you enable them, but also bring them together? Because obviously, every organisation has that wealth of skills, of expertise, of knowledge, of perspective in every single person they have, and they tend to traditionally just use them and say, “This is your job description, this is the part you play. Don’t go over and above that. Just do that, come in at 9 o’clock, go home at 5 o’clock, and that’s that.” And so it was to try and break down some of those walls and really look at this kind of, the organisation as a much bigger pool of potential. There’s all of these people who are there for a reason. They’re there because they want to contribute.
Andy Swann: So how can you enable them to contribute in the best way? Because if everybody… You know as well as I do, the stats around employee engagement. There’s something like 87% of the global workforce is disengaged in its work. And I was actually reading some stats yesterday about people looking for work at the moment, and it kind bore that out, that 87% of people at the moment are either actively or passively looking for new roles. And you kind of realize, if only 13% of your workforce really wants to be there, is really engaged and really able to contribute, that’s a huge amount of missed potential for your organisation. And it was really to step back and look at more of, “How can you as an organisation, as leaders, enable the contribution of everyone and kind of recognise that contribution?” Because again, the organisation can benefit if everybody can play the biggest part they can, and how can you really tap into that amazing potential in all of the people that are there because… Just because Sheila works in accounts, that doesn’t mean that accounts is all she can do. Because at the weekend, she may be taking amazing photographs that the marketing department could really benefit from those skills.
Andy Swann: So it was kind of… It’s kind of a really… That title, the human or… The human workplace, how do you really enable humans? And in as much as we hear a lot about the future of work becoming the robots taking over our jobs actually, it involves that as well. How do you put the right technology and communications in place to enable humans to do what they’re best at?
Toby Mildon: Yeah, definitely. When it comes to diversity and inclusion, when you were writing the book and you were doing research, because you wrote case studies and spoke to diversity and inclusion specialists. What did you find out that you put into your book?
Andy Swann: I think for me, what you tend to discover is that a lot of organisations still see diversity and inclusion as an add-on. They’re told that they should be better at it, so they go and do it, not because they truly believe in it, but just because, like you said, earlier, it’s kind of a tick box exercise. And what I kind of, I like to do is flip that and instead of saying, “Here’s why you should do it.” I actually say to them, “It’s so ridiculous for you to not be doing it, what’s your excuse?” And kind of make that case. And I try and tie it into the bigger an organisation, the more everything has to be tied to return on investment and finance and bottom line and things like that. And actually, my kind of argument is always, “Well, how does optimum diversity and inclusion impact your bottom line?” And like I said, I run an innovation consultancy, and innovation is a big buzzword at the moment. Every organisation has to innovate, especially in 2020, everybody suddenly had to innovate and change the way they worked, or the way their business ran, or the way their company was structured and had to do it very quickly.
Andy Swann: And when you need to innovate, you need to think creatively. So if you step back from there, if you say, “Every organisation needs to innovate and those who do it best are those who succeed the most.” And then if you step back from there, to innovate, you have to have great ideas and you have to… And great ideas come from creativity. So in order to have great creativity, creativity comes from diversity of perspective. The broader the perspectives you can bring together to contribute to having ideas, the more likely the chance of you having some amazing, creative, new perspective on an existing problem. So the more diverse your workforce, in whatever way you look at that diversity, the greater number of potential perspectives that you can bring together.
Andy Swann: So diversity, I call it “Absolute diversity.” Absolute diversity is essential for the success of any organisation because it’s the true path to innovation and the true path to creating the future. And then when you come to inclusion, if people can’t contribute, they could have all the knowledge, the expertise and perspective in the world, and if they’re not part of that conversation, if they’re not able to participate or contribute, then actually, the organisation itself is missing out on a huge amount of potential for innovation, which further down the line leads to impact on the bottom line. So for me, that’s what I discovered. And I spoke to amazing people like you who were really kind of pushing the boundaries in organisations and moving them in that direction. And you all know that there’s still a long way to go in that respect, and it’s very easy for buyers to come in, and particularly where, found a start-up company and just start recruiting photocopies of themselves again and again, or you have an entire sales department full of alpha white males, and actually, it loses a lot of potential for creativity and innovation and alternative approaches.
Toby Mildon: Yeah, I often find that companies that are in their start-up or scale-up phase of their growth, they’re so busy and so stretched, and they’re so focused on creating whatever their core product or service is that when they get to a certain stage, they have to start professionalizing the way that they operate as a business, so they have to start thinking about having a more official recruitment process in place, for example, and they start having a team that means they now need to start employing managers. And that’s when we start to see things creep in, where the recruitment process starts adopting the bias of the founders, that managers are promoted from within, but then they don’t necessarily have the right skills or competencies to be inclusive managers, so it’s really important for businesses at that stage of their development to really think seriously about diversity and inclusion because I can guarantee it will bite them in the arse later on when they get bigger.
Andy Swann: Absolutely, and it’s funny, we touch on that in the book. There seems to be this magic number of around 50 people in an organisation where, up to about 50, everybody can know everyone else’s name and pretty much fit in a room. Once you get over 50, that’s where complexity starts coming in and all of these things you just mentioned, and it adds this kind of inhuman layer to everything, because all of a sudden you have these layers of management. So the most junior person can’t just walk up to the CEO and have a conversation and say, “Here’s what I’ve noticed, here’s what we should be doing.” And so all of these things kind of creep in and put barriers up to full human enablement and participation and, yeah, and it has an impact.
Toby Mildon: Yeah. When you were writing the book, what examples of really good practice did you come across where you thought, “Wow, that’s pretty advanced thinking in terms of what companies are doing?”
Andy Swann: It’s interesting, and throughout the book, there was no organisation on the planet that I’ve found who I would say, “This is exactly how it should be done.” And every organisation does it in its own way, and I think the things that I found most impactful were where people were being empowered from the inside to have ideas and to take responsibility to be the change they wanted to see. Schneider Electric is a great example. They run a really interesting global well-being program for all of their global employees, and it’s very localized. It’s almost global strategy, local delivery, but actually empowering the local teams to deliver it, and it means that, whether it’s around recruitment or how they set up their workplace, they can be much more culturally sensitive or much more responsive to the needs of the actual people within their team.
Andy Swann: And you see this manifest in different ways through their global locations, and although the spirit is still the same, because there is that strategy set at the top level, actually the way it’s executed locally is very powerful and very different, so that was a big standout for me. And I think there were lots of pockets of things like that, particularly where… There was a lot of interesting things about recognizing people’s contribution, and not in necessarily the traditional financial way, but just really appreciating people and connecting them in that way, but I think, yeah, I think things like the Schneider Electric around empowering people and enabling people was very powerful, and that had a great impact on diversity and inclusion within those teams as well. I think that was a really big thing for me.
Toby Mildon: Yeah, I really like your point around their approach to a global strategy, but local response, because that’s really important for international businesses in diversity. There needs to be a global strategy, which is sponsored by the Global Chief Executive, and they are ultimately accountable for that, but then it needs to be locally adapted because diversity in different countries has different demographics, and there’s things like LGBT, for example, in some countries, it’s unlawful, and so it is important that I suppose global businesses have that local sensitivity embedded in their strategy as well.
Andy Swann: Yeah, yeah, absolutely.
Toby Mildon: Yeah. So this is, of course, the Inclusive Growth Show, and what’s your thoughts on what inclusive growth means?
Andy Swann: I really like this question. I’ve been thinking about it for a while, and I think the word “Growth” is a really interesting and important one here because traditionally, when you hear the word “Growth” in a business perspective, it’s about growing profits, growing revenue, and all of these things. And I think one thing that we’ve been seeing for the last few years, and particularly in 2020, is this idea of human growth. How can I be the best person I can be? How can I contribute the best, and how can the organisation best serve its people? This kind of reversal of, “How can we enable?” So I think this idea of growth as progress, not just growth as in scaling in size or growth as development is a really interesting idea.
Andy Swann: And inclusive for me is about enabling people. I talk a lot about providing a platform for people to thrive, because again, when people thrive, the organisation thrives too, and I think it’s that for me. It’s removing complexity. I talk about this simple, better human filter. Anything you do, you just have to stand back and go, “Okay, how could this be simpler? How can we make it better? How can it be more human?” Because everything the organisation should do, it should be about enabling everybody in that organisation, regardless of their needs, regardless of who they are or what they do and their approach. Enable them to be able to contribute in the best possible way on any given day, and respect the fact that some days you’re able to contribute more than others.
Andy Swann: That kind of structure of nine to five Monday to Friday doesn’t fit everyone, and does that, just because they can’t work well, nine to five Monday to Friday, does that mean they can’t work well every day? Absolutely not. And this kind of this looking at, I call it freedom within parameters. Look at the absolute parameters of your business, say for example you have a manufacturing machine that has to run in a certain location at certain times, or you have to be on the phone to answer client calls at certain times, those are parameters that you can’t avoid in your business. But start with complete freedom and then add in only the parameters. Don’t start with huge complexity and then try and add back in freedom because actually you need to create a platform for people to thrive, and we talk about platforms a lot in this modern age. And we all use platforms every day, whether you use social media or any of these other things. This kind of terminology of platforms makes sense to people now. And I think it’s starting… We’re starting down that road to look at organisations in that way.
Andy Swann: Instead of the CEO being this kind of person in a big glass office that everybody is too scared to talk to. Actually it’s turning around and actually the CEO’s job is now becoming almost a servant to the organisation. How can I enable all of these people to do their best possible work on any given day? Because if that happens, and if everyone can collaborate and communicate, and if we have that diversity of perspective then actually greatness will come from the organisation. And actually the other great message about that is do it, this inclusive growth, do it in your own way. Your organisation is a unique group of people doing unique things that no other organisation is doing exactly the same way. Sitting back and going, “Oh, Google have done this, so we’ll do this, or this company has done this therefore, it means it’s how we should set up our company.” It’s never gonna work. Take inspiration from case studies but actually create your own version of inclusive growth based on the aims of your organisation and your business. And I think for me that’s the essence of it.
Toby Mildon: Yeah, I think that’s a brilliant thing to end on because when I do strategy workshops with my clients, I talk about the red ocean and blue ocean strategies. And basically red ocean strategy thinking is that it’s kind of, it’s all about fighting over a slice of the pie and elbowing your way in and trying to mimic what other people are doing and contesting over that competitive space. But I don’t like that approach because I prefer the blue ocean thinking approach, which is all about, “Well, how can you do your own thing? How can you be creative? How can you be a leader in the diversity and inclusion space?” And I get my clients to think that way, and the reason why I get them to think about that kind of blue ocean or red ocean thinking is that I want them… I recognise that all of my clients are really unique, like you say, they’re a unique collection of human beings. And what works for one business probably won’t work for them, they need to come up with their own unique recipe and ingredients. Before we go Andy, how does somebody listening to this interview get a hold of your book?
Andy Swann: It’s available in the usual places. Amazon is always a good place to start. So yeah, just search for The Human Workplace, Andy Swann on Amazon. Yeah, always lovely to hear when people have read the book and what they think and to engage in some conversations. So, I have a saying that everything good starts with a conversation.
Toby Mildon: Brilliant. So, go and get a copy of the book on Amazon and leave a five star review, of course.
Andy Swann: And I would appreciate it.
Toby Mildon: And then, how does somebody get in touch with you if they want to have a chat with you?
Andy Swann: Yeah, absolutely. A good place is Twitter, I respond pretty quickly on there. So @AndySwann on Twitter just remember there are two N’s in Swann. You can find me at my website andyswann.io, or just look me up on LinkedIn. Like I said, I’m always, always happy to chat with people and just say hello and share some ideas, so yeah.
Toby Mildon: Brilliant. Well Andy, thank you ever so much for joining me on today’s episode. And thank you for tuning in and then listening to my interview with Andy. I hope you found it interesting and helpful in the job that you’re doing. And I look forward to seeing you on the next episode of The Inclusive Growth Show which will be coming up very soon. Thanks.
Speaker 1: Thank you for listening to The Inclusive Growth Show. For further information and resources from Toby and his team, head on over to our website at mildon.co.uk.

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