Q: What is the relevancy of the Prioritizing People Model© in the context of where we find ourselves in terms of workplace evolution?
KF: In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, something strange and unexpected happened in the corporate world. It rediscovered the value of its humanity. It was a disruption that impacted everyone and the hierarchical values of ‘them’ and ‘us’ were replaced by ‘we are all in this together’. It created a culture of care that simply had not existed in many organizations before the pandemic.
Q: Under the psychological needs part of the Prioritizing People Model©, you talk about it helping to create an engaged, committed, productive workforce. What does that look like for you?
KF: Individuals need ‘social capital’ – good relationships at work and at home – to maintain good mental health and engagement. Organizations need to promote effective communication and social cohesion within the workplace to support good work relationships and engagement, and outside the workplace with family, friends and community.
Q: The second stage – psychological needs – seems to be the most complex with eight elements that make up this part of the Prioritizing People Model©, is that right?
KF: Yes, we see this stage as offering the greatest potential for organizations to reap the benefits of prioritizing their people and the one where there is enormous opportunity to achieve significant cultural change, rather than a set of initiatives to tick corporate social responsibility boxes. This stage embraces Esteem and Belonging and has eight discrete stages: autonomy, career development, effort/reward balance, fair and respectful workplaces, social engagement, work/life balance, collaboration and positive relationships, and consultation and participation.
Q: The COVID-19 pandemic has changed our ways of working forever. When employees are working from home – either permanently or as part of a hybrid working model – how can we promote consultation and participation?
KF: The pandemic is bringing about new and different workplace health and safety issues and highlighting poor practice. If an organization is truly committed to prioritizing its people, effective and ongoing consultation and participation of workers is essential – however and wherever they are working. The elements of the ‘psychological contract’ – the unwritten expectations that employers and their people have about each other – cannot be second guessed. Organizations must clearly set out their expectations and ask their people what ‘good looks like’ for them. This means actively listening and taking action on the answers and then checking-in regularly to see if it’s working. If workers feel that they are being actively engaged for genuine contribution, their commitment and motivation will be enhanced. If they see that their contribution is making a difference and their feedback is being not only listened to but acted upon, they will engage more and feel more empowered. This will reinforce a culture of trust, becoming a positive, perpetuating cycle.
Q: Collaboration and positive relationships seem to be a loose, intangible goal – how would you define it?
KF: We’re talking about supportive relationships here from leadership and line management through to those between colleagues and contractors, which are essential to meeting psychological needs. These relationships should encourage openness, honesty, responsiveness and commitment, providing consistent behaviours and communication. It also requires agreement, clarity and consistency on which behaviours are unacceptable and accountability when these standards are not met. It encapsulates the need to give constructive feedback and to appreciate and respect differences and other barriers to belonging.
Q: We hear a lot these days about work/life balance, what does it mean in terms of the Prioritizing People Model©?
KF: This is one of the areas with greatest potential for creating trust. Having time to spend with family and friends is part of an individual’s psychological health and it is supported by initiatives such as flexible or hybrid working. The flipside here is that it’s also one of the areas where trust can be most quickly eroded. For example, many organizations have working hours, leave or even out of hours email policies, but the underlying culture demonstrated by leadership undermines this. Senior managers who send or receive emails out of hours or during annual leave set an expectation on what is required to succeed. The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has shown that there is opportunity here to demonstrate trust in employees through flexible working hours or hybrid working that can reduce commuting time for the individual and deliver savings for the organization through reduced property occupancy costs as less physical space is required.
Q: The Prioritizing People Model© points to the importance of social engagement, does that mean the annual Christmas or summer party is no longer enough?
KF: Social engagement, beyond family and friends, is recognized as an important part of belonging and psychological well-being. It is often essential to workers at both ends of the age spectrum as a means for them to develop and maintain friendships and support networks. For older workers, it is essential for healthy ageing and several longitudinal studies have shown that social engagement was associated with a lower risk of heart disease, cancers and all-cause mortality. It does go beyond the seasonal team get-togethers, as it also embraces community engagement initiatives, such as volunteering, mentoring or fund raising for good causes.
Q: We hear a lot about diversity and inclusion these days, how do we avoid the accusation of ‘virtue-signalling’ and make a genuine attempt to address the issue?
KF: Creating diverse and inclusive workplaces is essential for resilience, particularly adaptive capacity and innovation. Diversity ensures that there are different perspectives that develop innovative behaviours and create a working environment that promotes new insights and ideas through imagination and unconventional approaches. Achieving real diversity, equity and inclusion is going to require a profound overhaul of people governance policies and processes, followed by a step-by-step rebuilding with robust and meaningful representation from a truly diverse group.
Q: It’s often assumed that reward and financial earnings are synonymous. What does the Prioritizing People Model© indicate?
KF: Effort and rewards imbalances are closely aligned to psychological issues around esteem and have been shown to be linked with negative physical and mental health outcomes. High effort, low reward jobs are particularly associated with burnout. But reward is not simply financial. Properly designed remuneration and reward schemes can be powerful motivational tools, unlocking discretionary effort, rewarding good performance and attracting the best talent. What is important here is ‘recognition’ and that often encompasses the provision of positive feedback and clear, accessible career progression opportunities. Recognition needs to be an intrinsic part of the culture of an organization.
Q: Not all organizations have sufficient scale to be able to offer regular promotion to its people. If it’s hard to be able to guarantee career progression, what else is there?
KF: Career development is broader than simply enabling promotion. Opportunities such as leadership training programmes support both recognition and career development, as do other important development tools such as coaching. Organizations need to offer continuous learning and the competency and capabilities needed for achieving sustainable employability.
Q: What’s the significance of focusing on autonomy as part of the Prioritizing People Model©?
KF: This is perhaps the most overlooked aspect when prioritizing people, as the issue of trust is at the heart of it. What people are seeking at this level is the esteem that comes from independence and freedom. It means empowering people to make decisions about the way they work and includes aspects such as discretion over the way the work is carried out: pace, deadlines, and workload. The ability to control work through participation in decision-making and the autonomy to decide when and where the work is delivered, such as flexible working, helps unlock discretionary effort and delivers benefit for the organization. It’s worth noting that without autonomy and the creative freedom that comes from it, organizations cannot unlock the final element of the model – innovation.