The Risk of Not Choosing to Challenge
The theme for this year’s International Women’s Day on the 8th of March is #ChoosetoChallenge. While there is much to be gained through challenging thoughts, behaviours and long-standing cultural norms in organisations, the growing cost of not challenging these things can be much higher for organisations to bear.
The costs of not challenging are rising
Traditionally a culture that preserved the status quo and protected those in the hierarchy regardless of behaviour provided more benefits to those in power than costs. As the power base within organisations and society continue to change, so too do the risks of operating an organisation where ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ is at the core of culture. Coupled with the need to be agile, attract diverse talent to foster innovation and maintain a strong brand, time is running out for these organisations.
Innovation and creativity may stall
Innovative ideas come from an environment where there is diverse thinking, psychological safety to challenge the way things are done and the human capability to embrace new perspectives with the hope of elevating outcomes for the organisation. Environments where employees are required to risk their personal brand and reputation to drive innovation will stiffen and succumb to the harmony of group think after all, harmony trumps diversity!
Productivity and performance suffer
Cultures that protect secrets and encourage silence trap the human spirit stripping people of any intrinsic motivation that would normally flourish in environments where everyone is empowered to step into their skills, capability and experience. Rarely is an unchallenged or initial idea the most efficient; duplication of tasks, process shortcuts and benefiting from past experiences of employees is crucial to continuous improvement as is the role of friendly challenge to harvest the true benefits that come from collaborative teamwork.
Good people will leave, and good people stay way
Cultures that place limitations on people’s abilities to contribute and connect with purpose will be red flags to high potential talent and future leaders. Tired of feeling constrained or stuck, great talent will leave and join cultures that better align with their values. As this happens word will get out and an organisation’s employer brand will reflect the experience of current and past employees, meaning the organisation will be less attractive to potential employees decreasing the over value of human capital and talent pipeline.
Employee wellbeing deteriorates
Stress leave, bullying accusations and other work health safety claims skyrocket in environments that are not supportive and are focused on the success of the individual. With this comes an increase of presenteeism, absenteeism and emotional load on all parties across the organisation who are put under even more pressure as investigations seek to unpack the ‘truth’.
Reputational Capital takes a hit
Finally, what perhaps is the biggest red flag and potentially of most concern to executive management and board directors is the operational risk to an organisation. The risk to share value, investment appeal, government relationships, public boycotts or compromised procurement channels: all very real risks as we see the pressure building societally to create workplace environments that demonstrate authentic inclusion and constructive cultures.
One only has to look at the recent events around Crown Casino that has seen the departure of both directors and management in response to the investigation commissioned by NSW’s Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority (ILGA). The investigation that has the potential to limit the organisations ability to trade declared Crown’s core problems to be “poor corporate governance, deficient risk management structures and processes and a poor corporate culture”.
The costs are stacking up and the business case for destroying silent and toxic cultures in favour of collaborative, inclusive workplaces where everyone thrives is getting harder to ignore. The time for workplaces that don’t challenge is well and truly running out.
How to create a workplace environment where it’s safe to choose to challenge
1. Create a culture where it is safe (physically, emotionally and mentally) to call out inappropriate behaviour and comments
2. Catch it small and early – it’s much easier when you speak up early on the small items that feel lower risk
3. Make it about the behaviour not the person (hold the judgement, focus on the outcome)
4. Stay calm and neutral – avoid blaming or shaming the person
5. Do it with purpose – in service of a respectful workplace (don’t do it to be right or assert your moral superiority)
The way in which you challenge, and how you’re being when you challenge is as important as what you say. When we are in judgement, the other person naturally becomes defensive or protective (their character is being questioned) – when we deliver a message that points out the behaviour with a neutral tone, it invites the person to question their approach and consider a different perspective.
So, as we approach IWD 2021, it’s time to Get Loud Australia, #ChooseToChallenge & #ChallengewithCompassion