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14 June 2018 — 5 min read

How to kickstart cultural change at work - a CEO’s perspective

“We believe that organisations are successful when they have cultures of trust, innovation, and inclusivity. People are more successful when those things are in place too, it makes them more prepared to share ideas, collaborate, and be creative.”
Melissa Sabella, Founder and CEO, The Honeycomb Works

We already know that being happy at work leads to people being more effective in their roles. We’ve conducted research with philosophers to investigate what behaviours impact working culture, and we’ve interviewed an occupational psychologist about the importance of finding the right working balance. But how do you kickstart cultural change at work?

We recently spoke with Melissa Sabella, Founder and CEO of The Honeycomb Works, a business helping its clients drive positive behavioural change in the workplace, to find out. Through digital tools, and coaching The Honeycomb Works is helping businesses take the right steps to improve collaboration and provide an environment that makes people want to stay and produce their best work.

Melissa is dedicated to and emphatic about improving the world of work. “Companies have tremendous power to improve the way we live when they are innovative and inclusive,” says Melissa. “But they need help to do it. They get caught up in these huge change programmes but don't give people the chance to adapt their daily habits and behaviours. It results in unhappy teams that are less effective and can have serious, detrimental effects on the business.”

Having spent most of her career in learning and education, Melissa noticed that the problem wasn’t necessarily the change itself, but more that people were being forgotten in the process. “People don’t wake up in the morning thinking about how they can make their co-workers' lives miserable,” says Melissa. “They try their best, but the workplace has shifted so much; everyone is now involved in everyone’s work and dependent on each other to do well. When that all works smoothly it’s amazing, but when it goes wrong it can be tough to identify where the problem is and how to fix it. It became clear to me that technology is the vehicle driving this change, but often there’s nobody behind the wheel.”

The Honeycomb is a behavioural framework that helps leaders visualise and identify areas for improvement. It works on an individual level, providing micro and macro behavioural suggestions and targets that deliver small, incremental improvements. “There are many behavioural frameworks out there,” explains Melissa. “But, very few are backed with evidence or science. We looked at the science of habit change and created a framework that develops the key areas research tells us drive success and satisfaction. We then measured those habits and actions that bring results.”

The framework comprises of hundreds of actions, organised into core areas and broken down into smaller achievable tasks, like a cell in a honeycomb. “We want people to be engaged with it and not be overwhelmed, so it is optimised for how much our brains can handle at one time,” continues Melissa. “We work with our clients to understand the strategy and build a honeycomb structure full of the actions and behaviours that will drive that vision. We personalise it for roles, geographies, and culture and then people can see exactly how they are performing against their own measures.”

Asked for the steps leaders should take to create a better working environment, Melissa was full of ideas:

1. Identify the vision

“You have to give your people something to work for by giving them a vision that is meaningful to them, important to the business and evergreen,” says Melissa. “Provide your people the North Star to orient themselves around, to guide their behaviours That keeps the business moving forward in the right direction.”

2. Break it down into simple steps

“As a leader you don’t want to be too prescriptive as nobody likes to be micromanaged,” says Melissa. “However, you do need to make your vision tangible and specific. For example, how does the mission translate to your customer service team, versus your IT team? You need to make all employees understand how they fit in and what they can do to drive the business forward.”

3. Find the most critical things to change

“It may seem like common sense but you will be surprised at the number of businesses that get caught up in projects that drain resources and don’t return the investment,” says Melissa. “Identify the things that absolutely have to happen and set to work on them. Make sure you are modelling an environment and culture that inspires creativity and innovation within your team by working on the right things together.”

4. Be ruthless with your priorities

“Once you have identified the most critical things to change, you have to be ruthless,” says Melissa. “Nobody said that this was easy, so be prepared to make difficult decisions and prioritise those things that will provide the best results. You have to say no to something”

So with all this in mind, what is Melissa's vision of the future of work? “The ideal is that it is flexible and distributed, giving people much more freedom. We are already seeing that push towards agile working environments but I think it will develop further. We might start to see a rise in project based teams, collaborators that come together with similar ethics and ideals to solve particular challenges. Unfortunately, there is great potential for exploitation – the 'gig economy' has had a vastly different impact on people and we'll need to protect their privacy and security. The tools and technology are there to create truly fluid ways of working, but we'll need to work to be sure we are creating a more equitable world of opportunities for everyone.”

Find more stories on improving your workplace culture and increasing happiness at work here.

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