The Importance of Nudging by Andrew Fox

I remember last year my CEO asked me to find out how many working mothers we had in our employment (total pop m+f c 90k).  Although the data is not stored in that fashion making a few assumptions I sat down with him and had a conversation about the answer, but more importantly that I was worried that this might not be the right question. Whilst I have spoken before about the importance of diversification at the top, and therefore targets etc etc are probably for now essential, this rhetoric is divisive and polarising.  We moved the debate onto a broader platform whereby the goal became about creating an inclusive environment where everybody could be themselves and be their best.  When an HR Director is working with an insightful leader open to learning the skill is not in pushing but in nudging.

I am fascinated to see how companies like Gillette and Nike are taking this similar debate out to market in what I believe is truly inspirational and courageous.

Googles recent study on effective teams again emphases the importance of psychological safety. They found that for effective teams you need, psychological safety, dependability, structure and clarity, meaning, Impact). 

By creating a workplace and culture where everybody feels they are safe to bring there whole selves to work and be themselves at work. Whilst at the same time understanding that making mistakes  within reason, is accepted,  organisations can expect greater performance and higher discretionary innovation.  As the work places of today change so rapidly, often driven by adoption of technology or new technology this will become increasingly important.

Much is currently being written about the importance of psychological safety, I think because organisations have become very quick to layoff staff for short term results. Sinek (2014) in “Leaders Eat Last” says that to avoid economic disruption in the short term poorly run organisations hire and fire in a cyclic nature. 

This has a serious hidden cost in that it erodes and undermines psychological safety.  If you treat staff as disposable they will become mercenary.  HR’s response to this has over the past two decades been to talk about the war for talent.  But I honestly think this is based on an incomplete understanding of the problem.  In fact I think the rhetoric around war for talent has done HR far more harm than good.  I am not saying that there have not been or will be in the future shortages of certain key skills.  But the HR debate on the war for talent seldom identifies what talent actually means for their organisations( it differs) nor what specific skills might be needed for the future success of the organisation.

What HR should be focusing more time on is the culture of the organisation and how that culture needs to “ future proof “ the organisation.  Sustainable performance should be the goal?

Therefore leaders need to be nudged towards discussing, understanding and thereafter managing the culture of their organisation.  In fact I would boldly argue that this should be on the list of top three things a leader should be concerned about and involved in as part of their role.  It certainly should be at the top of the HR agenda.

Kathryn Dill, of Forbes says; According to Glassdoor Career Trends Analyst Scott Dobroski, "Company culture is among the top five factors people consider" when weighing a job offer. And while salary remains firmly installed in spot number one, the importance of company culture in attracting staff is growing. (2014)  The article goes on to confirm that the companies that fared the best in a survey  “are those with a clear mission statement and stated values that are congruent internally and externally. Employees frequently take note of how the company deals with users, clients, and external constituents, as well as how they behave "within the walls" of the company”.


And remember whether you talk about it and manage it or not, you have a culture.  It will either work for you , or against you.


This article is exclusive to The Business Transformation Network.


Andrew Fox is MD of Rhino Consulting and is an HR Professional, commercially focused and results driven with an excellent track record in leading brands in Financial Services and Professional Services, globally (previously Group Head of Learning & Talent Development at HSBC). Andrew is accomplished at influencing at Board level, providing an unrivalled focus on delivery and execution combined with an ability to create and frame the strategic agenda.