Is ‘the norm’ still working for you?

Yemi Penn is the managing director of Penny Consulting and W Squared Coaching. She mentors and implements strategies for corporate executives and their teams, to create real impact, disruption and diversity in their workplaces. Here, she talks about how a shift in the workplace ‘norm’ can reinforce the effectiveness of a business and how to start a conversation about change to grow a more diverse corporate culture for all.

Regardless of how much we think we adapt to change effortlessly, it remains a challenging paradigm to embrace. Change means coming from a place of ‘knowing’ to ‘not knowing’, which sprinkles a level of uncertainty in the air. If we work according to the ‘norm’, change can be perceived as bringing about chaos.

How change is introduced and managed is more often than not the difference between success and failure. In the past, it was not uncommon for management to adopt the attitude that any change would have to be dealt with by the team as a whole, encouraging people to ‘suck it up’, or offering other uncompromising ultimatums. But this doesn’t have to be the case if we are honest and communicative with ourselves as senior leaders and executives, and importantly with our colleagues.

By challenging the concept that the ‘norm’ is what has always been done and has in turn brought about results, we take the first step towards a conversation to bring about cultural change. The simple question: “Is the norm still working for us?” allows organisations to address the potential for a shift which can make a business more sustainable.

Valuable feedback

Firstly, organisations would do well to take a step back to understand how they currently operate internally. How do their teams truly feel, accepting that the feedback isn’t always desirable in the first instance.

It becomes imperative for business leaders to engage with their teams and bring about a dialogue whereby colleagues feel able to present their ideas and interpretations of what is working well, where improvements can be made and how change can work for the benefit of a business’ long term goals.

So, how can this be achieved?

  • By tapping into our emotional intelligence – share personal stories of where you have been faced with change, how did you respond? Were you resistant or supportive of the change? How did it work out in the end and what mindset did you need to work on to get to reach the objectives of the change?
  • By being objective – contrary to traditional business practice, emotion is an essential part of who we are, our reactions and abilities to perform to our best potential. If emotion and passion are channelled properly and with respect, then we can be objective and see the benefits of change.
  • One practical way to encourage debate is to host an informal round table discussion or lunch ‘n’ learn session as an easy way to introduce change in a non-threatening and collaborative way.

Encouraging diversity

Shifting the workplace norm and acknowledging that change is a positive action brings about opportunity for increased diversity within a team. By acknowledging where improvements can be made, through feedback from all colleagues, senior managers and leaders can start to understand what their ‘blind spots’ are.

We all have a belief system that forms our opinions of the world, which ultimately filters into our daily work lives. Understanding a new way of thinking, a different education or spectrum that does not align with our own experiences, allows us to focus on the benefits that it provides, creating an effortless mechanism for encouraging and implementing diversity into the workforce.

Working smarter, not harder

Flexible working is fast being adopted by businesses who want to get the very best out of individuals, rather than enforcing the rigidity of the traditional working day. Diversity isn’t just from a gender balance perspective, flexible working also focuses on making the most of the range of skills present within a company, something that organisations throughout New Zealand are encouraged to prioritise.

Understanding and accommodating the changes in people’s circumstances and lifestyles change during the course of their working lives, achieves the best results from everyone. From flexible working hours, job-sharing, remote working and the ‘compressed week’ – businesses should be seeking to measure output rather than the hours clocked up with colleagues being paid for the quality and efficiency of the work that has been delivered.

By introducing change that enables people to manage their work life balance with greater independence and autonomy, flexibility allows individuals to dictate how and when they want to work, which in turn brings about increased motivation, commitment, efficiency and productivity on the premise that the organisation remains transparent in communicating its overall objectives.

This isn’t just about bringing more women or ethnic minorities into the workplace but it is about widening our vision to actively encourage diversity of thinking. This comes from our experiences and understanding of cultures that might differ to our ‘norm’, so organisations must focus on how we can integrate difference into the business’ culture and environment. Once values are clearly defined and underpinned in behaviour, this diversity of experience is working towards an ultimate common goal.


About Yemi

Yemi, who is originally from London but now living in Australia, has worked as a project management consultant in the engineering sector for over 16 years.  Her mission for Penny Consulting is to disrupt the way people work, giving organisations and their people the tools and strategies to work smarter and become more efficient. 

Through her work with W Squared Coaching and Penny Consulting, Yemi has worked with clients to create more diversity across many business sectors, challenging traditional skills. Connect with Yemi via LinkedIn.