Interaction's Thrivalism

Small Change - With Babel Project's Jennifer Duckworth

March 29, 2022 Interaction Season 3 Episode 3
Small Change - With Babel Project's Jennifer Duckworth
Interaction's Thrivalism
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Interaction's Thrivalism
Small Change - With Babel Project's Jennifer Duckworth
Mar 29, 2022 Season 3 Episode 3

Creating a healthy, high-performing workplace is difficult. Creating a healthy, high-performing workplace while navigating the changes wrought by COVID 19 and establishing news ways of working while also dealing with seismic organizational change is even more difficult.  


In this episode we discuss how businesses can build in the resilience needed to manage change, what organizations need to be thinking about when it comes to employee wellness and how to keep your workplace culture robust and authentic throughout turbulent times.  


Thanks for listening! Check out Interaction's website for more workplace culture content and case studies (or just follow us on LinkedIn and Twitter).

Show Notes Transcript

Creating a healthy, high-performing workplace is difficult. Creating a healthy, high-performing workplace while navigating the changes wrought by COVID 19 and establishing news ways of working while also dealing with seismic organizational change is even more difficult.  


In this episode we discuss how businesses can build in the resilience needed to manage change, what organizations need to be thinking about when it comes to employee wellness and how to keep your workplace culture robust and authentic throughout turbulent times.  


Thanks for listening! Check out Interaction's website for more workplace culture content and case studies (or just follow us on LinkedIn and Twitter).

Jennifer Duckworth: It’s allvery well having a lovely display in your foyer when you walk into your office of having the values up there. And they've been wordsmithed by some excellent marketeers, but you need to really be working with the employees and the people on the ground to bring this kind of bottom up approach to establishing what the values are and getting that buy in. 


Toby Brown: Hi, I'm Toby Brown, head of marketing at Interaction. And this is Thrivalism, our podcast about all things workplace. And talking of workplaces, creating a healthy, high performing one is difficult. Creating a healthy, high performing workplace while navigating the changes wrought by COVID 19 and establishing new ways of working while also dealing with seismic organisational change is even more difficult.  

So in this episode I'm delighted to welcome Director of Babel Projects, Workplace Psychologist, Employee Wellbeing Consultant, HR and change expert Jennifer Duckworth. Jennifer Hello. 


Jennifer Duckworth: Hello. Hi. Toby. 


Toby Brown: Hi, lovely to have you on. I'd like to talk about all of that stuff with you. I'd like to talk about how businesses can build in the resilience they need to manage, change, what organisations need to be thinking about when it comes to employee wellness and how to keep your workplace culture robust in quite turbulent times. That's a lot of stuff and a big subject.  

So maybe we can start with you. Do you want to tell us a bit about how you ended up being an expert in all these areas, what piqued your interest at an early age? 


Jennifer Duckworth: Well, yeah, I'm a work psychologist now, but prior to that I worked in HR, so I had a corporate HR role for many years. My first degree was in psychology, so I was always interested in psychology. And then from that I went straight into corporate world, working with people and teams. It was really generalist role, so I did all sorts of different things, but the area that I was particularly keen on and interested in was really understanding people, what made people tick, how you could get the best out of people, and how you could train managers and train individuals to help them. They'd be great at their jobs and love their jobs and then also create a culture around that where people could really enjoy work, have fun there and thrive. And so those were the areas within HR that I really liked. And then when I left that those roles I did a Master's in occupational and business psychology, which is a bit of a mouthful, but I've had lots of practise saying that one, and since then I've been working as an independent consultant. So using that HR background and then the real kind of the grounding in the evidence and the research that I learnt through the MSC to work with organisations independently, helping them understand what how they can build happier workforces, where their people can really thrive. 


Toby Brown: And with that skill set and that focus, I imagine it's been a busy few years for you recently? 


Jennifer Duckworth: Yes, it has. It has. There's been lots I've had lots of different projects and lots of different clients working on it on a variety of things. You mentioned resilience earlier. So some days I might be working with teams, running training courses or programmes to help them understand the factors that feed into resilience and how they can really improve that in the workplace. Other days I might be working on HR projects, so for example, helping individual companies look at their values, establish what their values are, and really understand the behaviours that drive their values and get everybody kind of singing from the same hymn sheet and also work on change management projects as well, which I think is one of the things we're going to cover today. So obviously there's been huge amounts of change recently. 


Toby Brown: The change management stuff probably sits at the top of that tree because that's quite a broad subject, isn't it? So when organisations are beginning that process, what are some of the common challenges they encounter and what's the stuff they need to be thinking about to create sort of successful and sustainable change? 


Jennifer Duckworth: I think the first thing they need to be thinking about with changes that it will be particularly challenging at the moment, because people have had such a long time with constant levels of uncertainty. And I think the thing that people fear about change is the uncertainty that it brings. Change would be straightforward if we all knew what was around the corner, because we're programmed psychologically to be concerned and fear change because from our caveman days, if there was something different in our environment, then our senses would be on red alert and we would be scared and that would be good because that would protect us from getting killed by a sabertooth tiger or a dinosaur. But nowadays, I think, though, what businesses can do is to really help people understand why they're bringing in a change. So what's the reason behind it and how it really aligns with organisational values and goals? I think it's about getting leadership teams really behind the change and endorsing it because I've seen many change projects fail because the middle managers or the HR teams really believe in the change. But if the senior leaders aren't really endorsing it and walking the talk, then it's very unlikely that things are going to land because you always you look at your role models in that business or the people that are influential before you really make the change yourself.  


Toby Brown: You touched on the role of organisational values in that change process and that's something I'm really interested in. All organisations try and pin down their values at some point. Not many of them feel like they do it authentically and successfully, and certainly not many of them feel like those values really filter down to everybody in their form of collective experience. That’s just a statement is not a question. But what are some of the things that people need to bear in mind when creating their values? What some pitfalls you find and what are some things to be aware of when you're trying to build and integrate values throughout an organisation? 


Jennifer Duckworth: I think one of the key things to think about with organisational values is you need to be able to bring them to life for individuals. So it's all very well having a lovely display in your foyer when you walk into your office of having the values up there. And they've been wordsmithed by some excellent marketeers, probably like yourself, Toby, but you need to really be working with the employees that the people on the ground to bring this kind of bottom-up approach to establishing what the values are and getting that buy in. So pieces of work that I've done recently on values, actually it was one with a reasonably small company which made it I guess a bit easier to be able to connect with everyone and get them involved. But that can work just as well with large teams. You just have a longer process or programme to allow people to get involved, either through focus groups or through surveys or different ways of working with people to help them, really help them define the values, agree them across the board. And then the final stage that I think maybe some companies maybe forget is working out what the behaviours are. So what will we be doing on a day to day basis that shows us that we're living this value and equally what are the things that show that we aren't living this value and are we going to be brave enough to call each other out on that if we're not living and breathing those values? 


Toby Brown: Yeah. Stick and carrot to try and get them to run through the organisation when you when you build those values from the bottom up. Isn't there a danger sometimes that you end up with generic ones that sound the same across loads of different businesses? They're like, we value inclusivity and freedom and animal rights or whatever those values might be, but how do you steer away from values that end up being quite generic? 


Jennifer Duckworth: I think it's about working out what's important to that population within that organisation. And as long as you're asking the right questions, when you're talking to the employees, they shouldn't be coming up with things like that. You don't ask them what the values, you ask them what are the great things about working here? Or you ask them, what is it about this company or this business that you really love or what makes us a brilliant team? And then you figure out what those values are later. The way I do it is you end up with loads and loads of post-it notes all over the wall because you've got loads and loads and loads of ideas and then you start to theme them. And then at that point that's when the values start to start to come out. 


Toby Brown: And you mentioned earlier about people resisting change on a fundamental level because it's the status quo is safe. Is there anything you can do on an individual level to help people navigate that change from an organisational perspective? So are there granular things that organisations and businesses can do to help people fear that change less? 


Jennifer Duckworth: There’s an anxiety around change and that's where the resistance comes in - from this fear of uncertainty and a lack of control as well. So I think one of the key things, one of the key psychological needs that we have is autonomy or a sense of control. So if you can, first of all, give employees the rationale behind the change, and the consequences of not changing and what it means for them on an individual level as well. So, you know, being able to communicate not only about the organisation and why they're making the change, but what that means for the individual as well. And hopefully they'll be lots of benefits to the change as well. And there might be some things that are lost that the person will be sad about. And that's another reason that people can be concerned about change because it's a loss. You know, people have talk about the change curve, which you may have heard of the kind of classic change curve that we talk about, the different emotions that we go through when we're going through change that's actually based on a grief process. So you're going through grief, you're going through a loss for what was happening before and then moving into a new way of being or way of working. 


Toby Brown: So what are the phases on that change curve? 


Jennifer Duckworth: So you've got shock at the beginning. So you're surprised or you're shocked at what's going to happen, what's going to happen next, or you might be quite surprised about how it's communicated. Often then you get denial and people can move through these stages very quickly or they can move through them slowly, so everybody will be different. So that's another challenge for organisations is people aren't robots, they won't be doing everything at the same time. So yeah, shock then denial then a kind of frustration, frustration or a recognition that things are different. Sometimes people can get that's where the fear comes in and maybe anger as well. The lower level of the curve is a kind of depression. So you can get a low mood or a lacking in energy as you come through the change. And then then the curve comes up the other side and the stages are experiment, which is where people start to initially engage with the new situation and then decision, you know, kind of learning how to work in new situations and feeling more positive about these things. And then finally integration. So that's when changes are integrated and you get an individual who's ready to move on and they're adapting to that change and kind of rebuilding what their reality is. 


Toby Brown: I hadn't heard of that. So thanks. That's really interesting. Obviously, this stuff has got really big impacts on stress levels, anxiety, wellness, those sort of things. And you do quite a lot of work in that field as well. How would you even begin to approach making sure everybody's wellness stays at sort of respectable levels throughout the change process. What the beginning steps there? 


Jennifer Duckworth: Thinking about wellness, I mean it's great at the moment because wellbeing is really kind of rising up the agenda. So workplaces are really thinking about that at the same time and they do wellbeing does go hand in hand with change. So a lot of the things that you would be putting in place to ensure that a change process works effectively and successfully and brings everyone with you at the same kind of things that support wellbeing. So I often say to people, think about the there's three very distinct psychological needs that we have and they will be the same regardless of where we're working, what change we're going through. We're always going to have these, these deep-rooted needs and it's quite handy that you can remember them with ABC. So A is the autonomy that I mentioned earlier. Having some sense of control over the change or indeed over our own situation will give us a stronger sense of wellbeing and will be good for our mental health. So you've got the A, you've got the autonomy and then that will flow through in change programmes by making sure you've got people involved or giving them the opportunity to be involved and give upward feedback into the organisation about how they're feeling or what their motivations are or what they're looking for from the change so that some level of autonomy. B is for belonging. So that is all about being supported socially and having that sense of belonging within the organisation. So that's where all the good stuff comes in around creating a culture where you're really supporting each other, and you've got strong relationships and a sense of connexion with the organisation and with each other. And then the C is for competence. So that is all about us feeling like what we're doing at work and in our lives is meaningful. You've kind of got clarity around it. We've got meaning, we've got purpose, and we're also being good at something or being good enough at something and getting stuff done. So that sense of some level of competence is really important. So those three things altogether. 


Toby Brown: Going back to the belonging element of that, one of the blogs that you write that I read has a really interesting point about focussing on the weak ties of relationships, and that's not something that I've given much thought to until I read it and then it made total sense. So could you just talk me through what you mean by that? 


Jennifer Duckworth: There's some key pieces of research about focussing on the weak ties versus the strong ties. And a lot has been written about this quite recently because of the move to working remotely, obviously, through the pandemic, and then coming back into many companies, coming back into a kind of hybrid situation, making sure that they have people focussing on these weak ties as well as the strong ties. So strong ties are our friends, family and colleagues at work that we work with day in, day out. And we've probably got a strong relationship with them. We're probably friends with them. We probably do social stuff with them and we know them quite well. And those connexions are important. But psychologists used to think that those were the only important ones, that those are the ones that really mattered. But actually the weaker ties, which are the more informal connexions that we have with people either in life. So if you're walking down to the station every day and you get a coffee from the same little coffee shop before you get on the train, when you're talking to the barista in there, that's one of your weaker ties. So you don't have a really deep relationship with them. But it's somebody that is in your network that you're social with, that you see every day or, you know, reasonably regularly. And so in the workplace, these weaker ties are the people that you would bump into in the lift or in the kitchen or these kind of watercooler moments that lots has been written about recently, because it's really hard to recreate them through a zoom chat or through a Teams meeting. And so organisations are really struggling with how do we make sure these weak ties stronger. 


Toby Brown: And why are those ties so important? Is that on an individual level for people's well-being or is that on an organisational level for the way the business functions? 


Jennifer Duckworth: They're important because we get lots more information and ideas from people that aren't in our very close network. So if you think about the people that you hang out with all the time or your friends or family, more than likely you're going to have similar kinds, perhaps similar kinds of opinions, similar kinds of interests. Not always, but you might be fishing in that same pool, that ideas pool if you like. Whereas when we connect with people outside of that, that circle, that inner circle, that's where ideas come from. That's where innovation and creativity comes from and more. So new information and new opportunities. And so in a work setting, there's often talk about how creativity can be sparked by these watercooler moments because you're talking to people outside of your regular group. 


Toby Brown: So that's really interesting. I really like that idea as well. Even on a fundamental level, when you have a little walk down the street and you bump into a couple of people you vaguely know and you have a nice small interaction with them, it still leaves you feeling quite uplifted and energised with a different perspective on stuff. And that's the another thing that comes into that then is we just touch on the hybrid working there and remote working. And what lots of people are struggling with at the moment is how to maintain their culture and not dilute it and keep people feeling connected and not isolated when they've got hybrid working. And it's really difficult subject, isn't it? Because every organisation is different, all the workforces is different. Are there what are some granular things you advise people to see when trying to consider how to keep everyone connected and culture unified? 


Jennifer Duckworth: Yeah, you're right. It's a big concern at the moment and people are wanting to retain some of the convenience and flexibility around Homeworking whilst at the same time not throwing the baby out with the bathwater, not losing the level of connexion that you get when you're face to face in the office. So what I've been advising companies is think about these moments that matter. So things that are really crucial and really important, try and do those face to face. So instead of thinking about days of the week, which I guess is one kind of approach that some businesses might take, we're going to be in the office Tuesday, Wednesday, and the rest of the time you can do what you like or whatever the different approaches might be. But instead of thinking about day, think about the activities, thinking about the different work tasks that are important in your organisation or in your team, and then define and agree. Okay, these are the things that at the moments that matter. So these are the ones that we're going to do face to face and make sure that we have that connexion on a on a reasonably regular basis. So I think that's one thing that's kind of helped people start to kind of think about the right thing, the right way to manage those creating social moments. 


Just making sure that there's plenty of opportunities for people to come together and feel that sense of belonging and asking the employee group to be doing that rather than that just kind of being defined by an HR team or a or a management team, but making sure again, that's kind of bottom up because otherwise you might end up with all these kind of slightly cheesy or forced social, social interactions that nobody really wants to be at or do. So trying to give that kind of responsibility to the employee group is always useful. I was gonna say the other one we've been talking about is Magnetising offices, which I guess is something that's very close to your heart at Interaction, and that is about making sure that people have a reason to come in to the office. It's not just to see each other. Yes, to see each other is great. But they also need to be an environment there that can compete with whatever benefits you have in your home and that will actually bring you in. And then once people are in the office, there's a lot of research that says doing stuff together, like eating together and taking breaks together is really, really valuable for that sense of connexion. So don't just work together and then go home, actually do all those social things as well. 



Toby Brown: Yes. It's weird, isn't it? Because we do that interaction. We all eat lunch together at the same sort of shared space. And for new starters and people new to the business, it can feel a bit maybe forced occasionally because they're maybe not used to it and they're suddenly sitting with lots of people, but within a week or so they really love it because it is a very different time. You get to spend with your colleagues and talk about different stuff and you form different relationships and you work out different dynamics. So you might have to force it a bit at the beginning, but those rituals and routines can end up being really like glue that holds of culture that's really good fun. And in terms of individual resilience as well, I know that's an area you do quite a lot of work into and it's a word we hear thrown around a lot when it comes to these sort of issues. But what what's your understanding of resilience? And I guess another thing that I encountered in some of your writing, which I thought was really interesting, is the idea that resilience is flexible and we can train it and grow it. And it isn't something that's inherent because sort of the people think they’re resilient or they're not and they're fragile or not. But that's not the case at all, is it?  


Jennifer Duckworth: Resilience is a hot topic at the moment, but it is something that I've been working in for the last couple of years, so I've kind of grown my knowledge in that in that area. Yeah. So the research tells us that resilience is not a fixed trait. It's not something we've born, we're born with or not, and it's not really a personality trait. There are some personality traits that will kind of help you be more resilient, to be fair. So that sense of having a good sense of optimism and that can be established through life experience and through some through genetics and also a sense of openness to new experience can also be helpful for resilience, which is a personality trait. But broadly speaking, the research tells us that it is. You are able to develop resilience. And when you when you learn that and you realise that, that's when it can become quite powerful I think. And that's why organisations are thinking, well how can we help people understand more about what resilience is and how can we train them and help them improve their resilience so that when we are going through change or when there's lots of uncertainty or stressful times, which as we all know, is pretty standard in the workplace and life in general, we can react well and we can cope well. We know the different kind of tools we can use and resources that we have around us to help us manage those tough times. 


Toby Brown: So what are some of the ways that people can train resilience? How does one grow their personal resilience? 


Jennifer Duckworth: It’s all about understanding what the core kind of factors are that build our resilience. So one of the key ones is all around having a good sense of purpose and meaning in life. So if we really understand what we enjoy and what our strengths are and we make sure that we have high levels of engagement, either in work or in home or ideally in both of them, then when the chips are down and when things are difficult, we've got lots of different things that we can use to kind of different areas of our life where we can kind of like pull up, pull ourselves back up again. So having that sense of purpose and meaning is important. Supportive relationships are really valuable and really important. They really help buffer the negative impact of stress in our lives. So if we've got people that we can be with that kind of instil a sense of belonging. So that kind of tribe thing that we were talking about earlier, also people that we can share our emotions with and talk about our problems and our fears and people that can provide practical support as well. So those kind of supportive relationships are really, really crucial for our resilience. 


Toby Brown: Is there do you think that's something that organisations can monitor how resilient their culture is and their people? Are there signs they can look out for to give them an indicator? 


Jennifer Duckworth: Yeah, you can measure resilience. I mean, there's different tools and techniques that you can use to measure resilience. One of the tools I use actually does measure individual resilience. So, you know, you can use on your online questionnaires or surveys so individuals can get a good measure of their resilience and understand the different things that feed it. And then organisations at the same time can then get a good understanding of if there's different areas where people perhaps need to improve or need a bit of a boost to, to the different factors that feed it. 


Toby Brown: And then one of the things that people seem to fail at a lot is the last hurdle of creating change, but then embedding that change through an organisation. So what are some ways that I know this is stuff you do some work on, on embedding change and getting people to change their habits over the long term rather than just a brief blip. And then back to business as usual. 


Jennifer Duckworth: Yeah, sure. So within organisations, within organisations or kind of individually says there's two different things. 


Toby Brown: I was thinking organisationally but I mean both are sort of overlapping massively so either really. 


Jennifer Duckworth: So yeah, when we're thinking about behaviour change and thinking about individuals, that's obviously something that's challenging for organisations because everybody's different and they're coming to coming to the party with a different set of skills and experiences and kind of interest in the change or otherwise. So it’s about capability, opportunity and motivation. And these are some of the key factors that we need to think about if we want to embed behaviour change. So capability is all about does that person have the skills and the experience to be able to make that change that they're thinking about? Making opportunity is all about the physical and the social environment to be able to enable the behaviour change that you're looking for. So something that really makes it easy for the individual or enables the individual to make that change. And then the motivation piece is, am I motivated to make that change? Is it going to make me feel good? Is it going to bring some, you know, positive benefits to my life? So that kind of links back to the communication that we were talking about earlier and making sure people understand what that change is all about. 


Toby Brown: So in terms of that communication piece, I think everyone's working in businesses and organisations that aren't great at communicating and get even worse when times are uncertain. And often the response is, we don't want to communicate because we don't know what's around the corner. We've got nothing to say we're trying to figure out. We just won't say anything for a bit. And that never goes down particularly well, does it? But is sort of understandable from the organisation's perspective because they might be considering redundancies or drastic change. What are some rules they actually live by when trying to think about how to communicate this change down through the business? 


Jennifer Duckworth: Yeah, good question. I think it is a challenging one for organisations and I think yeah, the mistake that you can make is to think, well if we don't have anything to say, let's not say anything at all for now. But actually when you're an employee working, you know, maybe in a junior role or any role, it doesn't matter if you're not hearing anything, then you will start to fill the gaps with rumour or with hearsay. And that's where the gossip and the rumour mill starts churning. And then you've got a bigger problem on your hands because you've got stuff out there that people are talking about that probably isn't true at all. So I think it's really important and I always advise clients to really think about their communication strategy and really be constantly communicating with their teams and making sure that they're saying something so they're keeping people updated or they're just repeating the same messages and using different channels and making sure that because every time you send a communication, you don't know that everyone's going to click on that email and read it, do you? Or really kind of engage with it or really understand it and digest it. Even so, making sure that you've got lots of different channels which appeal to different people. So, you know, we talk about having running townhalls to communicate a message as well as running focus groups as well as running sending an email out so people have different channels that they can kind of engage with. 


Toby Brown: So you can’t overdo it? 


Jennifer Duckworth: I don't think so, no. What do you think? 


Toby Brown: No, I agree. I think if you overdo it, people disengage with some of that message, which is fine. But if you don't do it at all, people haven't got anything to engage with. It's also they spiral off into all sorts of stuff, don't they? So yeah, it's just, it's always funny watching that from inside, I guess. So talking about overdoing it, I think we're sort of coming to the end of our end of our time. It's been incredible to have you on - I've learnt loads on this podcast. It's been great. Where can people go to find out a bit more about you and what you do? 


Jennifer Duckworth: Oh great. Yeah. So I've got a website which is Or you can find me on LinkedIn. It's Jennifer Duckworth. You'll be able to find me there as well. 


Toby Brown: Amazing. Lovely. Thanks so much. Coming on, Jen. Take care. 



Dieter Wood: I hope you enjoyed that. And if you did, please give us a good rating on your platform of choice and be sure to subscribe to future episodes. And why are you doing that? Why not follow into action on all the usual socials? Thanks and see you on the next episode.