From the CEO: Does your business need to do a Bowie?

In this week's #MEAExpress, MEA CEO Peter McDonald likened David Bowie's 'Changes' to the magnitude of enforced change our industry is now facing and the subsequent opportunities that present themselves for reinvention during this period of time. 

I got to thinking about culture recently and then as thoughts do, my thinking took tangents. I started to ponder how many businesses will have different working environments post pandemic as a result of people change within them.

Organisational culture is defined by the Australian Human Resources Institute as being “the values and behaviours that contribute to the unique social and psychological environment”. This includes an ‘organisation's expectations, experiences, philosophy, and values that hold it together, and is expressed in its self-image, inner workings, interactions with the outside world, and future expectations. It is based on shared attitudes, beliefs, customs, and written and unwritten rules that have been developed over time and are considered valid.’

Its this last part of the explanation that I want to explore – the concept of ‘shared’. Typically when people come into a workplace they attempt to identify the norms embodied by the organisation’s elders – whether these people be that as a result of seniority or service longevity – and conform to those.

But what happens when there’s wholesale change in a people community such as a staff like we’ve witnessed in COVID times, and those who did the sharing aren’t there to share anymore. There are businesses where entire hierarchy tiers have disappeared. When the people went, so too did a degree of the business soul. Now that could be a good thing if the environment had morphed into one that was sub-optimal. But equally, it could be devastating if a workplace was one where everyone was happy to be, and targeted results were being achieved.

A few editions ago I wrote about recruiting for attitude and training for experience. I maintain the viewpoints I expressed there (sidenote – subsequent to member engagement with that article, my thoughts on evaluating attitude in a recruitment process will be the basis of a future column). Fit is so important in a team. The metaphor about one bad apple comes to mind.

For mine though, the organisational culture is one enabled by a business’ leadership. The buck stops with the bosses. So this period of enforced change for the sector is an opportune time for those in charge to reflect ahead of the rebuild, and ongoingly as they do. Now’s a time when business managers can ask themselves a series of hard questions including ‘Did I have it right last time?’ and ‘Was my employees’ and customers’ experience of my brand what I needed and wanted it to be?’.

I guess if answers to those two questions are honest yeses, it’s a copy and paste approach. Do it all over again and get back to where you left off as quickly as possible. But if something wasn’t right about the office aura and the honest answers to the ‘have it right’ and ‘brand experience’ questions were no’s, now’s the time a leader can make his or her mark and effect change. Change is good – when it’s not for change’s sake – as uncomfortable as people can sometimes be with that. Overcoming the fear of the unknown can be very empowering.

Like so many things, it comes down to perspective. The magnitude of change at once that has been forced upon the sector is unlikely to present again in our careers. So, would it be anything but wise than to optimise the opportunities it enables? Events are rarely not intended to be positive occasions. They say positivity breeds positivity. If you’re a business leader in a start again or near to situation, establish behaviour guidelines that will underwrite creation of your ideal workplace – and recruit to those expectations in conjunction with required skills.

Like I say, its highly unlikely you’ll get another chance in your career to implement wholesale change of your human resources. The events sector is awakening, and its going to bounce quick smart. This will require agility in recruitment and potentially recruitment at volumes and speeds that are atypical. There’s a high margin for error when tasks are undertaken en masse hurriedly. So be honest with yourself about who you want working in your business to ensure it hums internally in harmony, and the new team you create want to keep playing for your side. Stay true to that honesty and recruit for that attitude.

There’s a statement often attributed to Mahatma Gandhi (which is in fact a misquote) but in reality it’s no less wise: Be the change you want to see in the world. Workplaces can be worlds of their own so if you’d like to see change, lead and live it.

Having just referenced harmony, it’s a good segue to incorporate a song – as I do every column – to complement the article theme. David Bowie’s song Changes is about stepping out and reinvention. Quite the chameleon throughout his career, this song became the anthem for it. Observations of the song lyrics and Bowie’s career include that the first verse was a public acknowledgement that his earlier styles – laterally thinking, his earlier culture – were not true to him, and that through this song he commits to a life of constant revision without spending time worrying about or regretting the past. I suggest his subsequent global success provides a lesson for us.

But it’s the words of the chorus that make understanding the song message more simple:

Turn and face the strange
There's gonna have to be a different man
Time may change me
But I can't trace time

In a nutshell, for better or worse we can’t undo the change COVID has enforced on our lives or businesses. We can only rebuild and evolve making informed decisions and choices. In rebuilding we do have the opportunity to right past wrongs – a one in 100-year extent of opportunity. Now with the knowledge of the difficulty that enforced change can present, making deliberate change for the better takes on increased importance. We spend so much of our lives at work. Active effort to create and ongoingly share a workplace culture that’s attractive to people we want to work with and who will be good for business will go a long way towards that.

Finally, I mentioned earlier that I had engagement from members in response to my article about recruiting for attitude. I value that. I ask that readers please feel comfortable sharing your thoughts on my thoughts, and if there’s an issue or matter you’d like to know where I or MEA stand, please suggest it as a potential future article premise. That’s possible by clicking here.


Song – “Changes”

Album – “Hunky Dory”