Penny Hunt's blog coffee conversationsMy father was a professor of maths. His colleagues were rather.…eccentric. Their subject – and its infinite seductive mysteries – were much more real to them than the concerns of actual, breathing, students.

One ludicrously clever professor continued his lecture (ironically, about imaginary numbers) after the summer break at exactly the point where he had been interrupted by the bell 3 ½ months earlier. I think the only punctuation was some throat clearing.
So let me learn from that and quickly remind you where we got up to last week….

We were talking about how the narrative around ‘how to advance women in the workplace’ question isn’t right, and how the usual interventions of quotas and training are just not working.   The job to be done is shifting culture, shifting in order to support everyone – men and women – to be themselves.

And that’s not just a hunch.

I undertook my own research last year into the men and women issue at work to really understand how companies differ, what works, what doesn’t, and why.   I ran workshops, focus groups, interviews, in companies as diverse as BBCWorldwide, FCO, an Insurance giant, Charities, Agencies such as Shine Communications, and many others in 2014 – and found some answers.

Penny Hunt's drawing of how to make things growWhat happens in those environments where men and work wonderfully together?

It’s amazing.

If you want to start encouraging people to be themselves, then don’t try to impose change.

Do something much more radical – start talking.
The common catalyst for change is conversation and contact.
I found that the very act of dialogue changes the environment.
The what, the who, the how takes some thinking about, some careful diagnosis, sure. And it needs amazing CEO support.

The learning helped me develop a process (more of that another time)

But here are some findings and tips to use right away.

Firstly, some simple rules of the change game:

  • Do: open up and allow the organization to value the individual – this helps both men and women flourish – and should happen before introducing any specific interventions to support women.
    Do not: concentrate on a ‘promoting women problem’ as a specific task. Counter-intuitively, this entrenches the issue.
    (what you focus on grows!)
  • Do: diagnose carefully the nature of the culture / industry / specifics of the organization to choose the right participants, process and subject – the right ‘culture conversation’.
  • Do not: promise to deliver listening, and access to leadership, if this is not a real commitment.

Secondly, some tips

  • Mix up teams. Regularly.
  • Set up regular ‘I’ll be having a coffee here’ slots so that anyone can come and talk. Don’t give up.
  • Start a network.
  • Sit in reception occasionally.
  • Watch and listen.

These tips will help loosen that eccentric professor mode (we all fall into it) where the subject of leading and building a great business becomes more real than the people it is all really about.

It all starts with conversation.

And what you focus on will grow.

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