Business with purpose: Investing in talent and culture

How do you become an employer of choice for top talent? 


Musab Hemsi, Employment Director at Anderson Strathern and accredited specialist in employment law, discusses how businesses can define their purpose through greater investment into talent and culture.

In terms of investing in talent and culture, you say that it’s not just about the moral imperative – that is, treating everyone the same because it’s the right thing to do. What do you mean by that?

We have a legal foundation in pretty much every country in the world that outlines how people should be treated with some degree of equality and equity, and that’s absolutely correct. But why should we do that? From a business perspective, leaders are often interested in investing in culture in the same way they’re interested in investing in any other aspect of their business. Whether it’s infrastructure security or buildings or other assets, they invest in those things so that they achieve a return. They want something back.

Investing in culture should be no different. When you are looking at investing in your culture, you want to do it because it’s the right thing to do and because you have a legal obligation. But also look at how you can optimise the things you want in return. What do you want back from creating the type of business and culture you’re aiming for?

So while there is a commercial aspect to it, there is also the moral side. And there are various other angles around engagement of people and how maximising that engagement can benefit and enrich your company.

Is there a way for organisations to pinpoint what they should actually invest in so that it’s fair, equitable and valuable for all stakeholders?

There’s a whole host of different starting steps they can take, the chief among them: ask people. People will engage with things like employee engagement surveys, one-to-one appraisals and you can ask questions about how we can support you to be better, to be happier, to be more productive. That intel is so useful to a business, especially when taken holistically across departments. They can also seek external advice from business advisors, or other business owners who perhaps operate in a similar industry, or with a similar business size or geographical spread.

The other really useful thing is to do your research and find out the current industry challenges for your business. It’s quite difficult when you’re leading a business to always have your ear to the ground about some of the things that employees are perceiving as cultural strengths or weaknesses. So, ask them, research it, seek external advice.

The final step which I found to be particularly useful is called reverse mentoring. This is when C-suite individuals and those at the executive level will essentially partner with those at the opposite end of the business – entry-level and junior employees. The junior staff will essentially hold meetings with the executives on a monthly or bi-monthly basis and talk about their perceptions, what’s going on for them in the business, what’s good, bad and ugly. Executives can really learn a lot from doing this.

In terms of encouraging greater diversity in the tech and financial services sectors, what does that look like right now?

Diversity in tech is enormous at the moment, not just in the UK but globally. There’s a gender-diversity problem in tech with too few women entering and progressing within the profession. But neurodiversity is an area that just has enormous potential – not just in tech, but generally across most professions.

Let’s start with the general premise that diversity is a good thing. Again, not just because it’s a moral imperative. If you are not yet clear that having a diverse team, diverse execs, a diverse board, or diverse engagement from people is going to be beneficial to your business, then you are massively missing the trick here.

People are creating more diversity within their businesses. You’re seeing an increase in ethnic diversity. There’s some improvement in gender diversity as well, in boardrooms particularly, but we’re still a bit behind where we want to be. And I think where we want to be is to have businesses being inclusive and reflective of the societies they serve. Neurodiversity in tech and financial services is enormous, and probably one of the pioneering examples of it was JPMorgan, which in 2015 created their Autism at Work program.

Clearly some companies are further down the line than others in terms of their diversity and being much more socially aware. Others are maybe not so interested, or the penny hasn’t dropped yet. But there are some who are just looking for ways to start. So, the all-important question: what are your tips for implementing happiness in a business?

Shed yourself of that initial thought that this is going to cost you money. The vast majority of the measures you take will cost you nothing. Let me give you an example. In our firm, there is a member of staff who’s really into baking. She loves baking and the business allows her to publish a new recipe in the newsletter every month. That costs nothing.

There is also a guy who is a member of an amateur football team. They managed to get into the Scottish Cup and were pitted against a Premier League team. The firm paid for tickets for 35 people to go down and support him. The tickets weren’t expensive, but he quite rightly feels happy because the business supported him.

Did they win?

No, they got battered. But I was one of the people who went down there, and if anyone wants to see the images you can go on my LinkedIn page and scroll through – you’ll see loads of these firm events. That amateur football club is not our client. We have no financial benefit in going down and supporting him, other than that he was really happy we were there.

By the way, has just finished his contract and had offers from other law firms. But he chose to stay here, which says a lot. So, a lot of the steps we’re taking don’t cost much, but it’s often about asking people, what are you passionate about?

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