The most important result of a strong organisational culture is sustainability. Not in the environmental sense – this is about being resilient to shocks, capable of creative solutions and planning for the long term. That resilience and creativity is rooted in diverse and inclusive workplaces – which makes the right people policies central to both culture and enterprise value. So we asked delegates at Contemporary FD to debate their approaches.


The culture of an organisation is intimately tied up with the people inside it. And these days, many business leaders are realising that they cannot hope to compete in rapidly changing markets without a diversity of thought and culture among those employees. Let’s be clear: no business needs a profit motive to make progress on diversity and inclusion. Obviously, avoiding hiring or promotion prejudice is, very simply, the right thing to do. But that’s often not as easy as it sounds.

Lots of businesses are succeeding, however – they’re addressing groupthink, unconscious bias and closed-off cultures in their own teams and businesses. So we invited Richard Chapple, Chief Customer Officer at Gymshark; Andy Hogarth, CEO and former CFO of Staffline; and Jennifer Barrow, head of Corporate Responsibility, Financial Conduct Authority to lay out five questions on this subject for the delegates at Contemporary FD.


Hiring: cast the net wider

The first group of tables discussed what they are doing to ensure recruitment isn’t skewed by unconscious bias – where people don’t believe they skew personnel decisions, but their innate preferences do exactly that – and like-for-like hiring. The good news is that many of the FDs run businesses where there is a conscious attempt to challenge unconscious bias though, for example, training sessions. 

It also seems to be the norm now to anonymise job applications – removing information (such as names or schools) that might nudge managers toward or away from particular candidates. All the tables discussing this question mentioned “blind CVs,” and a couple of FDs also advised their peers to consider training for interviewers.

Allied to that, a more considered approach to jobs and roles helps. Tighter definition of competencies (either alongside or instead of specific experiences), for example, helps businesses bring in people with new ideas, not just those capable of doing the same old things. Equally, diverse management is a huge accelerant of these more open workplaces, ensuring both recruitment and workplace feel open to new voices.


Monitoring: what gets measured, get managed

Hiring is one thing – knowing whether your people are happy, your workplaces open to ideas and different approaches is another. So we asked the second group of FDs to discuss how they’re monitoring and reporting on diversity. And some were disarmingly frank: “generally we’re not reporting…”

But some of the groups raised a huge number of options used in their own businesses. HR monitoring of gender, race and other groupings; staff surveys; a written approach to the business’s social agenda; one-to-ones between senior leaders and staff; anonymous SWOT analysis of the company by employees (do-it-yourself Glassdoor, in a sense)… But throughout the day, one technique that came up on culture measurement time and again was exit interviews.

Knowing why people leave, where they go and how they do are all crucial to course-correcting culture. Critically, departing staff feel able to be honest in a way employees cannot, no matter how reassuring management are. The process needs to be well-managed – filtering out score-settling, for example. But alongside these other tests of 


The generation game

Diversity isn’t just about race, sex, physical status, sexual orientation or even class. With older people staying on in employment and some seemingly more defined qualities among younger employees (not least around technological adeptness), many organisations are starting to think about designing policies for radically different generational needs.

Some words of caution on the day: don’t assume younger people are all that different, or that they’re a homogenous group; and don’t think that because “millennials” are supposed to desire greater “purpose” in their employment that older works aren’t equally motivated by values or flexibility.

Useful, then, that one group listed “facilitating group discussions among teams” as a smart approach. This can also feed into more sophisticated team design, looking to match complementary skills. “CFOs need to build a balanced team,” explained one group. “Younger members can be more dynamic and speed the adoption of new technology; older ones deliver experience and stability.”

Sitting alongside that more open communication, one group also identified flexible employment policies as a big win for multi-generational workplaces. Both young and old might value flexible hours for different reasons. And flex benefits – the young probably prefer cash, the older employees more generous pension provision, say – can make a big difference.


Culture and rewards

We wanted the fourth group of FDs to consider what HR, pay and benefits policies are making a difference to their culture. And one group nicely summed up the heart of this question: “what motivates employees?” How does any kind of remuneration address people driven by the pursuit of knowledge, for example? What about employees who feel they have no other choice but to work for your business, who aren’t passionate about coming into work?

You might still design rewards to nudge health or set policies to make the workplace more welcoming. But, as with the multi-generational workplace, it’s the flexibility of your pay and benefits that is likely to make the most difference. 

One group concentrated on the life-cycle of the business. Most of the delegates at Contemporary FD are from high-growth companies that are expecting to change and evolve. As start-ups, it’s all nervous energy and employees motivated by risk and future equity value. As they mature, pay levels have to meet market norms; benefits should reflect that lower risk appetite.

On FD explained their business’s bonus policy in a cultural context. Half an employee’s bonus is geared to EBITDA, and 25% personal objectives. But 25% is earned through alignment to company values and behaviour in the workplace. 

One other point: rewards, said another group, should be regular and tailored. Want to recruit young people for your business out of town? Lay on a minibus. Want people to enjoy being in the office out of hours? Great kitchen facilities can make a difference. And balance the rewards to sustainable business objectives – not just sales. Speaking of sales…


Meeting customers on their own ground

There are lots of reasons to have a more diverse and inclusive workforce. But a huge one is creating a business where customers of any kind feel “at home” – and new products and services emerge to meet their needs. So how are FDs ensuring that their own people reflect their customer base – not just at low levels, but into senior management? And if that’s taking time, how else are they bringing different voices into decision-making?

The first step, said one group, is to be conscious about your customers. Why are they? Who might they be in the future? And then how do you embed a listening culture in your people, and appropriate feedback mechanism to get the news to decision-makers? Customer panels and insight reports are just two options – another was a balanced scorecard approach to understanding the interface between customers and employees.

“But this all means nothing without executive sponsorship,” stressed one group of FDs. It’s the leadership that can ensure the employees have a customer-focused culture; and that the employees reflect the customer base in terms of diversity. 

“Customer might be the wrong word,” said another group. “Our culture must reflect wider stakeholders. Who is the customer in a B2B2C business?” That’s why having open-minded teams with a diversity of viewpoints is valuable: it helps ensure that your people can be in the mindset of any potential customer – and delight them time after time.