In this episode of Relationships at Work, Russel chats with speaker and executive board chair Jenny Knott on understanding the value of innovation through inclusivity and getting buy-in from executive.
Jenny shares her insights and experience in...
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Russel Lolacher: And on the show today we have Jenny Knott and here is why she is awesome. She is a non executive director for SimplyHealth and deputy chair of both their remuner, Remuneration... Oh my goodness, that's a word for me. And Capital and Risk Committees . She's the chair of the Board Audit Committee in her capacity as Trustee for Ovarian Cancer Action and chairwoman of Acuita, a global senior executive leadership advisory firm founded on the science that greater inclusivity improves business performance. I want to really stress the word inclusivity. Cause that's going to be a big topic today. She's a former CEO, CFO and COO of an investment bank with over 35 years of experience as well as a leading innovator in financial technologies, public speaker on commercial benefits of truly innovative, inclusive boards and corporate cultures and she's here today. Hello, Jenny.
Jenny Knott: Hi, Russel. Some of that was probably a little bit out of date. I actually am a domestic violence charity trustee now, rather than a gynecological cancers, but it doesn't matter. It's all, about positive and moving things forward.
What you probably heard in some of my other board roles as well, is that I've chosen this part of my career to work on and work with purpose led organizations. Fitting I'm making up for being an accountant and a banker for 35 years.
Russel Lolacher: Karma, Jenny. Karma.
Jenny Knott: I need to work on those credits. I need those credits and the Pearly Gates, Russel.
Russel Lolacher: So let's talk a bit about that history. With the first question I ask all of my guests, Jenny, which is what's your best or worst employee experience? What can you share?
Jenny Knott: I'm going to go positive because I always think I like being optimistic and positive.
I think. I have many of both, mainly on the positive side, but I'm going to, I'm going to talk about, the, I guess it's not an experience. It's, how I look back at my career. And I think for me personally, what really matters is that my colleagues, enjoyed working with me for me around me and so the fact that I have so many colleagues that have worked with me in a number of different organizations as I moved around different financial institutions I was able to encourage so many of my former colleagues to come work with me at the next one even today.
You know, for me, that's It's something that I'm super proud of that people choose not once, but more than once, sometimes four or five times to continue to work with me. So there's something about the depth and breadth of the relationships, that I have. And and even when I'm of an age now where some of our former colleagues, you know, moved past have died, when we meet up, the fact that so many of the teams that I've worked with and in turn up to, to show their love and their respect for that person that's passed. I think, you know, I'm super proud of that because I feel that I'm part of something that engendered such loyalties, such commitment, such respect, and yeah so, that, that would be my most positive experience.
Russel Lolacher: It's funny we, talk so much about the workplace, we talk about productivity, we talk about all these things. I even just did it just the other day about change management. And it's so often funny how we look at process and protocols and keep forgetting that there are people involved with feelings, human emotions and relationships, which is the whole point of this show is really to dig into that.
So I love that your story is such a reinforcement of the colleagues and the workforce transcends the work a lot of the time. And that's where the meaning really is found.
Jenny Knott: Sure. Look, if everybody turns up to work just to do a BAU job between 9 to 5 I think, you know, that's a, that's sad. I think we spend a lot of time at work.
We, we need to enjoy it a bit more than just passing the time or, feeling that we have to be there and we have to, you know, meet a minimum standard of conduct. You know in, given, the you know, we have highs and lows at work and we spend an awful lot of our waking time with our colleagues, I think the fact that you can build strong teams and be part of a strong team and feel valued is really critical to the success of that team. And hopefully then we'll cope with the lows and we'll enjoy the highs.
Russel Lolacher: Absolutely. A big part of that relationships and a big part of, just being human at work is inclusivity. Is feeling like you are a part of an organization that you belong and are talking today is not just, I mean, I've had lots of episodes where we talk about inclusivity.
But the angle that I'm, we're talking about today, I find really interesting, which is how to sell it, how to get buy in from executive on why inclusivity is something that they should be taking seriously, as opposed to something on a calendar, a poster or something they need to do because HR tells them So, as someone with a lot of executive experience, a lot of board experience, why should we care about inclusivity in the workplace?
Jenny Knott: Sure. So there are two extremes to caring about inclusivity and to selling inclusivity. One extreme is morally. Morally, you know, being an inclusive organization is the right thing to do.
The other one, which, you know, works for the, is the, is possibly the more appropriate lens for the world that I come from, so a corporate world predominantly, is actually there are commercial benefits to an inclusive culture. So I personally have now a hypothesis. It didn't exist in my language, by the way, 25 years ago.
We didn't talk about diversity and inclusivity. I just naturally enjoyed working in teams with people who were super engaged, super, challenging and and came from lots of different backgrounds, so that, you know, I always believed that some of the parts would be, greater than any individual.
You know, so that was always something that was passionate to, and embedded in my DNA before, before I knew what it meant, but if I just unpack a little bit what I'm talking about, is I have a, hypothesis, is that if, you don't have a culture that is really embracing of diversity and inclusivity as foundations, you will not have a culture of innovation.
And if you don't have a culture of innovation, you will not thrive and survive in the 21st century. So for me, it's actually a really fundamental cornerstone of any organization to have a truly inclusive culture. And you can argue at the tail end, it's just things like, you know, if people don't stay, if your colleagues don't stay and you have a high turnover, then then you're going to have high recruitment fees.
Great talent will leave because they get frustrated with continuously having churn and burn at the, in the people they have to support them and around them. And that's all true, you know. And there's a commercial lens to that, but I think there's a much more commercial lens to without inclusivity.
There is.. and diversity. There.. The ability for an organization to embrace what matters from an innovation perspective is completely compromised. So should we unpack some of that a bit further? Would that be helpful?
Russel Lolacher: Absolutely. Absolutely.
Jenny Knott: I don't want to sort of, you know, have just my voice. So interrupt me anytime.
Russel Lolacher: Oh, no, I've got tons of questions, but you're, given some really good information. Yeah.
Jenny Knott: Okay. So, I look at diversity from three core lenses. Clearly there's a demographic diversity, but you know, I can't help the fact I was born a white female and in the UK, and I'm very blessed and privileged because of that.
And I acknowledge that. But my experiential diversity and my cognitive diversity. What matters to me and the experiences I've had in my life, they differentiate me from other white women born in the UK. And so, for me, those three lenses on diversity are really critical. And. But there's no point saying, well, I'm going to go hire, you know, a, was not anymore, obviously, a young woman who went to comprehensive school from Southeast London and see what she does to my team if they don't actually embrace.
some of the differences that I bring. So here's where inclusivity starts to matter, you know? So if I hadn't felt throughout my career in the teams and the organizations that I worked in, if I hadn't felt respected or I hadn't felt empowered to do my job, if I hadn't felt a really critical and aligned sense of purpose or a sense of belonging.
Or heard when things distressed me or, I was worried about things, then I wouldn't have felt included. I wouldn't have felt valued. I wouldn't have felt part of a team and I wouldn't have given that all and I wouldn't have stayed. So inclusivity, you know, it talks all of those words very easy to write down, but without.
Without actually walking the walk and truly facilitating a culture where you do empower your colleagues, where you do listen to them, where you do ensure that they have a sense of belonging... If you, fail in those things, you will fail in the foundations of what is required in your organization from culture and behaviors and what matters to that organization to enable innovation.
So we can't possibly innovate if, if we don't think about recruiting differently and then making those colleagues feel included in our organization. So tech is a really great example, right? So back in the day when we first started hiring thousands and hundreds of thousands of coders inside financial services, you know, those guys, those engineers, those girls... Super cool black t shirts, skinny jeans, headphones on, now it's their earpods. But you know, they didn't want to wear a suit to the office. They didn't want to sit there all you know, clogged up with the dress formality of financial services and nor did they need to because they weren't in front of clients.
But an organization that doesn't have an inclusive culture would have made them conform to the dress code rather than embrace the way that they want to, you know, feel comfortable sitting at their laptop, working at work. And now the world has moved on and we don't necessarily need them in the office for those, for their working hours.
But nevertheless, you know, that's a great, for me, a great example of inclusivity. And if you recruit different you, need to change as well. You can't just ask the person that, great, I've recruited someone who's different. You pretty do that, but you still got to conform with me. That doesn't make any sense.
You know, when, so when we come to, why inclusivity matters for innovation. Another great example is reward, you know, how you reward does matter. So if you don't have an inclusive culture where people have a sense of feeling valued and respected, and you don't reward what matters to those people, but you only reward on one lens only, which is a profit lens, then you will start to lose that great innovative talent.
So there's lots of factors to innovation that I think are really important to have a, robust culture of innovation but just to, you know, keep it simple, the foundations of inclusivity and diversity are for me, the critical pillars.
Russel Lolacher: Now, if you're an organization that's trying to be more inclusive and you work at any level of the organization and you're trying to pitch it to executive that we need to take this more seriously, what are executives in your experience typically wanting to know? DEIB shows up on their agenda and their 17th meeting of the day. What are the questions they're asking to, to better understand why they need to take this as a priority?
Jenny Knott: You know, as I said at the start, you've got two, two great big persuasive debates. You've got the moral debate and then you've got the commercial debate.
And for me, the commercial debate comes to that innovation. It comes to, do you want to work in an organization where your colleagues will learn fast and have a great culture of accountability where they will be able to embrace a plethora, a broad spectrum of leadership styles where their colleagues felt listened to.
Where we start to develop an anticipatory approach to what our clients need on how our product should evolve. If you don't have an inclusive culture, you will not have any of the behaviours. and values in your organization embedded that are fundamental to achieving those outcomes. You know it's, a, to me, selling inclusivity is a really easy sell.
When you start translating what are the business benefits, the commercial outcomes, the organizational, tips that will arise as a consequence of a robust, inclusive culture. And, those aren't words Russel. The reason D& I and all of that good stuff falls flat sometimes and needs a harder sell, and in fact in some organizations it needs a tell rather than a sell. Is, because they're not walking the walk, on what matters.
And, you know, I always argue to people, if it matters to you, inclusivity, Where is it in your appraisal process? How much of your performance rating is allocated to the demonstration by your colleagues of inclusive behaviours? And how much of the bonus are you rewarding against that point? So if you don't even remember to include inclusivity and examples of inclusivity, or, any, kind of acknowledgement that inclusivity matters in your appraisal process and in your reward process, then guess what?
You're telling the whole organisation. It doesn't matter. And therefore, because what really matters is what you get paid for. So if it's not in your job description, and it's not in your appraisal process, and it's not a big waiting for your bonus calculation, it doesn't matter to the organisation clearly.
Russel Lolacher: Have you heard any objections to inclusivity? If we're going to an executive board and they're like costs, what is this going to cost me? Are there common objectives or is does it just feel like just saying no to say no?
Jenny Knott: No, I don't think people ever say no cause they're just belligerent buggers.
I think people say no cause I think people generally say no because they're fearful cause they don't know how to do this. And they don't know how to measure it, and they don't know how to articulate it. So it's fear. I mean as we joked at the start, right, you know, organizations are really about people.
And I spend a lot of time in discussions with colleagues, board level, executive level, et cetera. What comes first, client or colleagues? And people always say, oh, we're client centric, clients come first. And I'm like, that's great. So who talks to your clients? Who thinks about what matters to your clients? Who listens to your clients? The argument for me is colleagues. Colleagues first, because if you don't have an organisation run by colleagues who feel empowered, who feel aligned to the purpose of the organisation, who feel that they belong, who feel that they really are there to represent and be the ambassadors, your clients aren't going to get the best sense of your corporate or your institution, whatever sphere it's in.
Colleagues first, and in that regard, you know, how organizations make colleagues feel included, for many people, is outside of their normal comfort zone. They'd far rather focus on hard matters of P& L, which is completely critical, but P& L doesn't get delivered. Through an AI algorithm, P& L gets delivered because we have an idea, we build a solution, or we have a service, we try and make it brilliant, we try and wow our clients, we need to price it appropriately, we need to go out and market it, we need to go out and sell it, we need to build those strategic relationships, and the common, denominator in everything I've talked about plus another thousand examples is we, and we is human.
And so the reality is colleagues often don't enjoy, and senior executives and board members, is, how to be human for these organizations and how to really introduce and walk the walk and articulate a culture of inclusivity. It's fear driven. It's not actually that everybody puts their hands up.
They just don't know how to, and say, you know, horrible. When they do that, what they're really saying is, I don't know how to do this, and I don't know how to articulate it, I don't know how to communicate it, I don't know how to measure it, I don't know how to promote it and sell it and excite everybody.
But it's really very simple. It's, those five or six things that I outlined earlier. I mean, they're not difficult. And if you really want to make them matter and you get the business outcomes, the commercial outcomes, the organization feeling that it's relevant to its community, feeling like the organization is relevant to its client base...
That's all about inclusivity. That's what innovation achieves for you. So you have to tell your organization this matters and that's the reward, the job description and the appraisal.
Russel Lolacher: Is it an easy connection to those KPIs for you to go, okay. So we've become more inclusive. Our innovation... how do you measure that?
What is, I mean I hear rewards. I hear a few things you've said about reinforcing it, but how do you actually measure or moving the needle to reinforce that inclusivity is working. And this is something that's important.
Jenny Knott: Yeah. So in your average sort of OKR (objectives and key results) architecture, you'll have, what is your, you know, what are you trying to achieve?
How are you going to do it? So, via what? So via a culture of inclusivity. So I want to, let's say, embrace an appropriate risk framework. I want to make my organization more, more confident in embracing risk because we were so stifled by risk. You know, we see risk is negative. We're paralyzed by fear.
We don't take more risk anymore. So you say, okay, I want an organization. My OKR is what I want is an organization embraces more risk in an appropriate way via A culture of inclusivity or innovation and inclusivity so that we improve our bottom line net outcomes for our clients and ourselves and all our stakeholders, our colleagues, our clients, our investors, our regulators, whatever.
And the outcome we're looking for is we're looking for more fresh revenues, or we're looking for an increase in profitability, or we're looking for profitable growth, or we're looking for more new products, or we're looking to wow our clients, or we're looking to increase our cash EBITDA (earnings before interest, taxes, and amortization) you know that's the outcome.
And you can argue that's for clients, for the community, for colleagues, for your shareholders. And how are we going to do it? We're going to do it by rewarding what matters. We're going to do it by embracing a culture of innovation and inclusivity. And we're going to do that by leading by example.
We're going to hire the right people and we're going to increase the expectation of our organization that that we're going to have the right metrics and they're going to be aligned and they're going to be owned. That's what an OKR looks like for me. It looks like this is what, this is via, this is so that.
This is the outcome that we're looking for the benefit of X, and this is how we're doing it. That's a great OKR. You can do that for inclusivity. You can do it for innovation. It's the language that you use to couch. So I'm talking about pretty crisp commercial outcomes there, but in a context of inclusivity and innovation.
Russel Lolacher: Absolutely. So where I'm kind of, I'm like, I got a personal question for you. So we kind of made a joke off the top of working in banking and then moving into inclusivity being such a champion. Or something you, you've been very passionate about championing in your other, in your board work and so forth.
What was the pivot for you that you felt like this was something you wanted to dedicate yourself a little bit more specifically to? Because, I mean if we're saying that inclusivity is an easy sell, but you're saying, you know what, this needs more attention, this needs something that I need to be a little bit more focused and intentional on what was it for you that it needed to go that route?
Jenny Knott: So it really was the unpacking of innovation. You know, for me, the culture of innovation wasn't effective in organizations, you know, organizations are failing and there's, you know, The graveyard of corporate failures is populated by organizations, be they Lehman Brothers or Kodak, who failed on truly embracing a culture of innovation because they failed on embracing a culture of inclusivity.
So if you look at someone like Lehman's, right, demographically, Lehman's was a really diverse organization, but it absolutely was not an inclusive organization. You could not walk into a Lehman's boardroom and challenge the consensus thinking. They didn't like challenge. You know, that was, there a culture of, inclusivity, even though there was a massively demographically a fabulous set of stats?
Absolutely not. Because people did not feel empowered to raise the alarm or challenge the thinking from the leadership. And if they tried to, they were removed from the organization. Interestingly, you could apply that to 2022-2023 and look at SV Bank, you know. Why did SV Bank fail there in their business model?
Their business model failed because the culture of speak up, feeling included and confident and saying, actually, I'm worried about the structure of our balance sheet. I'm worried. You know, there is a lot on Twitter. A lot out there in the public domain about how employees and colleagues within SV Bank felt that they tried to raise the alarm, but the culture of inclusivity massively failed them because they weren't heard. They weren't, they didn't feel that they could speak up. They didn't feel that they could challenge. And the senior executive allegedly and the board didn't listen. didn't respect, didn't empower the organization to make their concerns, given the channel for that to be heard, respected, addressed, and resolved.
And SV Bank failed. But if you ask lots and lots of colleagues in SV Bank, did they try to raise the alarm bells? Did they try and draw attention to this, you know, big red flag, you know, fluttering away inside SB Bank? Absolutely. But the culture of inclusivity failed that organization more than anything else.
Russel Lolacher: Have you ever been in a situation where you're working with an organization or you're talking to an organization about inclusivity and you're just realizing No, you're just not ready for this. You are your culture. I mean, you're talking about psychological safety, a lot of what you're mentioning here with those two examples. That there just wasn't any in those organization for people to be able to truth to power.
Is there any other red flags for an organization that they just might not be ready and they're headed towards extinction if they're not, if they're not, if innovation is not something that they're able to do.
Jenny Knott: Accountability culture is a similar thing, right? In an organization that has a really poor accountability culture, where if you interviewed the execs, they couldn't align behind what the three priorities are, and who's owning them, and what's good looks like, and how we're progressing against them.
And whether those metrics are clear and owned and who's reporting back on them and whether or not they've got a culture where you can pivot because you can be proactive and say, here's some red flags. So, for me, you know, the, if they if when I'm working with a board, they're not hearing me on inclusivity, they hear me better on accountability, and then we can go back to inclusivity..
Russel Lolacher: That I love that as a pivot. I was, thinking about this is like, if you're talking to a board, a perfect example of what you just said, and you know, in the room, it's not working, like you see that your arguments... you know, inclusivity is important, but you can see that you're not hitting the notes. That pivot is accountabiity.
Is there anything else that you've seen that's worked to really get buy in?
Jenny Knott: Well, for me, I go back to the basics on accountability because that is very relatable. You know I, and I use examples of talent and rewards again because it's very, it's, again, it's what matters to most of the individuals in the decision making process.
And you say, well, you know, how are you getting the return on investment for your employees? Have you got the right people in the right seats? Does everybody know who is accountable? What are they accountable for? When are they delivering it? Why are you doing it? And how are you measuring the outcomes of all of the above?
And if they can't align on that, you just, you can embarrass people into. The fact that doesn't work really quickly and then you can unpack that into, inclusivity. So, easily the waterfall down is very obvious.
Russel Lolacher: Do you ever have to get how do I put this fear tactics into the point where if, fear on their end might be the reason that they're not being inclusive as a board as, executive for someone that's trying to convince.
them to be more inclusive. Do you have to go down the reputational risks, legal risks? Like, is that as prevalent?
Jenny Knott: In Europe, for sure. Our world has changed. As of next year, the reporting year next year.. Most European corporates and certainly in the UK regulated entities have to have one of the top four roles. So either chair or what we call the senior independent director, the CEO or the CFO need to be a woman. So there's a sort of diversity component being forced through the regulatory path into organisations. So they're all rushing around at the moment, they don't fancy firing their chair or their CEO or their CFO, so the easiest one for them to, go recruit their female number is is into the SID, the Senior Independent Director. And a lot of people aren't well briefed on that because I always say beware of being the SID. The SID does nothing until everything falls apart and then suddenly they're the only person who are in a position to, to report to the regulators or to report to whatever overarching body, the London Stock Exchange listing requirements or whatever, you know the if they've been breached.
You know, there is some regulatory levers happening. So you can't hide behind, the fact that you're not achieving those, diversity requirements. Now you have to actually explain why you failed to the regulator. And so the problem is if you don't have a culture of inclusivity, you won't keep people in those roles.
You won't keep the talent in that role. You might not even be able to attract it in the first place, but even if you do attract it, you know, keeping it is going to be difficult if that inclusivity culture is not there. You know, that goes back to that foundation pillar. Diversity, you know is morally the right thing to do, but it's also commercially and sustainably the right thing to do.
Diversity doesn't, it won't be effective if you don't make your diverse talent feel included and accountable and empowered. And if you fail on those, you won't get a culture of innovation. So it's all commercial. So you need to just, you know, take them back through. That that, what I call the pillars.
So I sort of draw it on the board as a big pyramid and say, you know, it's a bit like Maslow's hierarchy of needs. You want to be here, but the reality is you're, you know, you want to be a commercially sustainable, wonderful organization that delivers X, Y, Z, A, B, C percent growth, blah, blah, blah. That's fabulous.
I get what your strategy is, but the fundamental strata's in that pyramid that will embrace that and support that and facilitate that are based on these you know, sort of, you know, I guess what was I calling them? I don't want to keep calling them foundation, but you know, bricks of the, culture of, or truly diverse and inclusive culture, innovation and and accountability.
Russel Lolacher: But Jenny, I have, I'm curious about your fears on this is that once an organization goes down this path, they hire a D.EIB lead for the organization or the V. P. or a certain level of, presentation where they look like they're taking this seriously. But the minute something goes wrong...
Jenny Knott: Stop there.
That's the problem, right? Because it doesn't belong to an independent individual. It doesn't belong to an individual, right? So it has to belong to the board. It has to belong to the non execs and the execs. It has to belong to the organization. It has to be something that matters. to the organization. So the minute you do, now you can have some resource specialists, subject matter expertise come in and help you, but the ownership, the accountability for embedding an inclusive culture does not reside with one man or woman and and, you know, a spreadsheet.
It belongs to the organization. It belongs top down and they have to own that and walk that walk. So the minute I start hearing, Oh I've hired a head of D&I, you know, why do I need to do any more? Well, it's like, well, that, how do you solve data then? Do you just bring in a chief data officer, sit them in a cupboard behind the list and say, data's great now. It's not how it works. You know, if you're, if you want to, and most organizations really need to embrace data and need to recognize that they're probably a tech and data firm first, almost. And so that's what's talked out. It doesn't start with putting a CDO in the cupboard and saying, there's our master or mistress of data insights and data science.
It starts with the board and the exec saying data matters. We need much better libraries and taxonomies and we need much better ownership of our data and ability to reconcile it and blah, blah, blah, blah. You know, for me, the minute we start saying I have a D and I head floating around, what more can I do? That, they fundamentally have misunderstood the strategic commercial benefits.
Russel Lolacher: But those DEI and B and if they do go down that route, and I completely agree with you, but they're also the first ones cut. If there's any problems or challenges in the organization or ERGs are removed because we're trying to downsize our tech industry. So we need to get rid of those ERGs because it's one more thing we don't want to invest in.
Does that worry you?
Jenny Knott: Of course, because that means that organization doesn't value it then, because if it mattered at the top of the shop, then one D& I person would not be the first for the chopping block, right? There'd be a lot more opportunity for addressing, and by the way, you know, we can't always cut our way out of our P& L problems.
Part of the issue here is, you know, if you look at the turnover, you're probably paying higher recruitment fees and having less productive staff because they don't feel included, because they're not productive, because they don't feel valued, because they don't feel aligned to your purpose, because they don't feel a sense of belonging and they don't listen to.
And so their ideas, if they had them, were not being embraced for efficiency. Because they're saying, Oh, so do you, know, I'd have to work a little bit harder to implement this new idea. And it's actually going to impact that department because they and I are doing the same thing twice. You don't care about me.
So why will I bother? So the way to grow your out yourself out of P and L problems is to use your colleagues to address your cost base. Use your colleagues to address where the inefficiencies are with servicing your clients or developing your products or what's not working.
But if colleagues don't feel heard, valued or empowered and, you know, aligned to, you, then they're not going to bother. Who else knows the organization better than your colleagues? So you know it's, the, wrong thing to do a hundred percent. And again, you know, just taking, an A4 picture of the logos of the graveyards of the corporates that have failed and being able to really simplistically articulate some of the primary reasons behind the corporate failure.
You start making it a bit more relatable and they ought to be rethinking their DNI. person as a, cut as the first cut to go to.
Russel Lolacher: So Jenny, give me some happy news. Like, is there any organizations you've seen that have really embraced inclusivity in the last couple of years, or even in their DNA to start in the last couple of years where it's been now, this is an example of how it's supposed to be done.
Jenny Knott: Well, I think a lot of organizations are recognizing they need to try and do it better. I mean, I would hope that most of the organizations I work with recognize that, You know, a culture of inclusivity is predicated on having a really great diverse workforce and they as excited, empowered, challenged, respected employees will help you through the difficult times.
And we've seen that, you know, we saw it through COVID. We saw a lot of organizations move that dial because colleagues said, well, I think we could do it this way. And they were listened to, they were heard. And guess what? The organization responded. How excited do you feel when you put an idea forward and it's heard and it's listened to and it's implemented?
So I think a lot of organizations leveraged COVID as an unintended driver for, actually creating a much more inclusive operating model where people had, they had to work quite hard when people were sitting indoors. And a colleague of mine, you mentioned the organization Aqueda, there's a wonderful lady who's an advisor to Aqueda and I'm the chair of the advisory board called Baroness Tenny Gray Thompson and, she was, she said during COVID times, people aren't working from home, they're living at work. And that's really important. So those organizations that acknowledge their colleagues were actually living at work. You know, their home had become their workplace and therefore the need to really listen to them and really engage with them and really make them feel valued. Those organizations that were successful through COVID actually did a better job at using you know, digital mediums to go around the table and check in and say, how are you?
You haven't spoken for the, in this meeting so far. What would you like to say? And, that, you know, behavior of being really proactively inclusive, in Zoom calls or team meetings, you know, you had to focus on that because your colleagues were isolated. So you really had to work a bit. A bit harder at making them feel included.
Those organizations that did that well have really flourished. And there's lots of them.
Russel Lolacher: It's funny. I think I remember seeing some comment that like, what was the biggest driver of innovation and change for your organization? Your CEO? Nope. Your chief information officer? Nope. The pandemic? Yup. Like it needed to be forced upon most of these organizations to really understand that these things were important and it wasn't driven internally.
It's almost that they, they had to wake up to it rather than realize it themselves.
Jenny Knott: It, you know, fear paralyzes organizations. So at the point that COVID. you know, became an external factor. Everybody had to rely on to respond to it, to deal with it. And it actually made an organization start moving forward collectively together and align people at the top of the shop and waterfall down.
You know, the fear of failure was more, dominating than the fear of I don't know how to do this sortof stuff
Russel Lolacher: Fair. I think leadership really realized what kind of leaders they were. I think cultures really realized what kind of leadership they had for better or for worse. And I think it was a really interesting time and I think it's going to be a while before we're on the other side of this or maybe we never will be.
Maybe, it's just, hopefully it's all for the better.
Jenny Knott: Well, yes, I mean, yeah, one would hope so. But, you know, turnover was really high in COVID in organizations. And I remember a lot of how the hell are they leaving? You know, how can they get another job? There's nobody meeting, but other organizations that were better employers, more inclusive employers.
We're doing a better job of making their colleagues feel included, going out to the headhunters, going out to top talent and bringing them in the middle of COVID. And people were like, well, I'm not going to stay working for you where you just don't care. I'd rather go work for them. So I remember lots of organizations saying, Oh my God, turnover's gone up.
How are people leaving?
Russel Lolacher: And the thing was is that one person would leave the second person would leave and then everybody sort of got that permission to go, Oh, you can do that? That's it. That's an option? I never even realized that for us gen X types or Boomers. We just, it's never even been on the table that's something you could do. So yeah, that was really eye opening.
Jenny Knott: Yeah, it is. And that, that is also a consequence of a culture that doesn't have great accountability where top talent and the most productive talent just says, I'm fed up. I'm fed up. I can't achieve what I need to achieve. I can't deliver because this organization doesn't have a culture of accountability.
People aren't feeling valued. My colleagues keep turning over, you know, I get to X and they just like hide behind whatever, and they're not getting things done and we're not moving forward and nobody's accountable for the bits that I need to be successful. So you know what? Yeah. I'm out. So you often see that top talent and top strata of talent, maybe not the top talent that the board sees as top talent, which is often focused on the C suite, but the real top talent in the organization, the real movers and shakers, they go first.
And and actually what you're left with is an unproductive rump if you don't have a proper culture of accountability and inclusivity.
Russel Lolacher: I think that's a perfect note to leave on Jenny. So I've got one last question to ask you, which is what's one simple action people can do right now to improve their relationships at work?
Jenny Knott: To improve their relationship... I would say that the most important thing that you can do to improve your relationship at work or your relationships is authentically ask questions and authentically listen to the answers. Whatever they are. Just, how are you? And if you're asking the how are you, mean it, put the phone down, put your pen down, look your colleague in the eye, ask them, how are you?
And make sure that you really listen to their answer.
Russel Lolacher: Love that. That's Jenny Knott. She's non executive director for Simply Health and she is a public speaker on the commercial benefits of truly innovative and inclusive board and corporate cultures. Thank you so much for being here, Jenny.