Owner of a small graphic design firm, This Ain’t Rock ’n’ Roll, Charlie Waterhouse, explains why he actively looks to employ mothers part-time. How did we ever used to get anything done? In the olden days I mean. Before the internet. When we had to wait in for bike couriers, or (God forbid) go to the Post Office. My game, Graphic Design is a non-stop to-and-fro between studio and client. Brief begets proposal, spawning response, rethink, re-supply and repeat refinement. All of which used to have to happen on bits of paper and board, presented in physical meetings or ferried from office to office. It made lead-times lengthy, and (if one goes back even further than the dawn of the ’net to a time before computers), involved a whole raft of different people, from secretaries and art directors to typesetters and reprographics experts. Today it’s possible for an individual to generate in minutes or hours what might’ve required several weeks, and several people. I’m over-simplifying here of course – new challenges and complications have arisen thanks to technology. We’ve had to learn how to do websites and all that gubbins for starters – but you get the picture: our industry used to be rooted in the physical, and now it lives very much in the virtual. Even printed items are often only printed (out) at the final stage. And what is true of the creative bit of the process is increasingly reflected in the organisational. Email instead of bikes, Skype rather than meetings; the mainstream manifestations of technology’s redrawing of our interaction are self-evident. But until recently such innovation was still rooted squarely in the physical reality of the office. And in full-time work. So desks grew computers; boardrooms got big chav tellies with cameras. Big servers sat in air-conditioned rooms to power all this innovation. And we continued to clock-in. Then, home broadband and wifi began to pull the rug from the thinking that the only place to be productive was at the end of a commute. The means of production existed outside the office. The physical ‘truth’ of work changed. Now, we keep track of job progress through amazing tools like Basecamp, or hang out in the virtual office that is Slack. In our office, we simply don’t need to be in the same place at the same time. While some of us choose to sit in a funny little office on the rather ancient Borough High Street, others call the wilds of Wales home. Tokyo even. We don’t have to be present to be able to contribute. All of which makes life a hell of a lot more flexible. Especially for parents. Parents have to deal with more than their fair share of the inflexible. Drop-offs and pick-ups; inset days, sick days – endless school holidays. Not to mention all the other inflexible parenting stuff. And by parents, I do of course mean mainly mothers. It used to be that part-time was as much defined by the detrimental time one wasn’t in the office. Not any more. So after decades of you-can-have-it-all nonsense, it does feel like it might just be possible for mothers to be taken seriously as members of staff – without the St. Peter-esque prerequisite of having to deny the family. A slightly more pragmatic you-can-have-a-reasonable-bit-of-this-and-a-half-decent-bit-of-that which feels more balanced, less compromised. It feels like the right thing to do too. Part-time working that encourages mothers reduces the power of the professional Bermuda Triangle that removes 30-something women from the workplace (not to mention the misogynist argument that women aren’t as valuable to the workplace because they have children). Plus, on a really basic level (and at the risk of sounding like a smug parent) I don’t think you really understand responsibility until you’ve had kids. Or is it that you don’t really understand what constitutes a hard day in the office? Dealing with difficult suppliers, moving deadlines, squeezed budgets (or any of the myriad challenges our modern work environment might throw at us) does more than pale in comparison to the demands of child-rearing – it hides whimpering in the stock cupboard until 5:35 and everyone’s gone home. Which is a rather long-winded way of saying: employ a mother and you employ someone who a) has perspective, and b) knows how to get a job done. Thanks to Charlie Waterhouse at This Ain't Rock'n'Roll.
According to Assay Advisory, a company specialising in supporting businesses all over the world, creating a work culture that encourages creativity, openness and innovation is a winning formula for business growth. The key to consistently successful innovation isn't just about having a handful of people with a few great ideas - it's about creating an organisational and relational culture, where businesses truly invest in the needs of their employees. This allows creativity and innovation to thrive systematically, delivering long-term competitive advantage for the business. Though people often confuse them, leaders and managers have very different roles. Managers are there to manage complexity, ensuring that employees carry out their given tasks as quickly and efficiently as possible. They are concerned with what's going on inside the organisation. Leaders are concerned with what's going on outside the organisation. It's their task to look ahead and prepare the business for what's coming so that it can survive and thrive. By definition, leaders manage change, and that often requires adapting or doing something different: innovating something within the business in order for it to adapt, grow and retain competitive advantage. Therefore innovation = change. And change is not always welcome. In fact, most organisations are resistant to change. People like to know where they stand and they prefer to keep the status quo. There may be vested interests, employees or managers who believe they will lose out if you start doing things a different way. Perhaps it's outside their comfort zone. After all, change inherently means risk and they have spent a great deal of time eliminating risk in today’s operations. The importance of starting with culture For these reasons, many businesses at some level are anti-innovation. They do not have a culture that consistently embraces the possibility of change. But to borrow an evolutionary metaphor, if your environment is changing then there's no choice: you have to adapt to survive. And today’s environment is changing. We are moving to a more flexible working culture, where full-time is no longer the default. Business innovation today means including a capability of truly listening to staff needs and this means being open to the idea of employees working from home, part-time working or even job sharing. Creating an open and flexible culture is part of building a profitable business, and spending time developing a great team of people makes sense, as this becomes part of the business assets. At Assay we believe that creating the right culture underpins high performance in business. If you get your beliefs, values and intent right, commercial success will naturally follow. Businesses that support creativity, innovation, openness and flexibility adapt to a changing environment faster than the competition. This kind of creativity and innovation can't be bolted on to a business. It needs to be explicitly built in as part of its culture. Most organisations have a transactional culture: their people do what they do because they're asked to and because they get paid for it. Great innovative organisations have a relational culture: one in which each partner listens to the needs of the other and where people are encouraged to participate in solving problems together. If this philosophy is intrinsically built into the business model, people are happy to participate more fully because they have an investment in the likely success of the future business. Ideation, invention, innovation In practice, this process of change has three stages. It starts with individuals creating or generating ideas -ideation. These ideas are then brought together, discussed, honed and adapted to provide solutions - invention. Finally, these solutions and technologies are productised to produce new products and services that can be valued or commercialised - innovation. The task of leaders is to ensure their organisation is always fit for purpose. The best way to do that is to foster a culture of innovation both at the strategic level and at the operational, or both product and service level. Culture as an asset Most owners are familiar with the business valuation equation: V = P x M, where the valuation (“V”) of a business equals profit (“P”) times a multiple (“M”). If profit is £10m and the valuation multiple is five, then the company is valued at £50m. Whilst Profit (“P”) is a measure of past and current profits, the Multiple (“M”) is a measure and judgement of future profits. The greater the likelihood of future profits the higher the multiple. When focusing on culture and innovation, most businesses are doing so with a “P” focus only. However, an organisation that creates a culture of innovation and investment in people, and where that culture has been embedded and systemised, will also be creating an asset that has the potential to generate future profits, thus enhancing its multiple or “M” and therefore its likely equity value. How innovative is your business? When working with clients on improving their multiple and making them attractive in the future we assess the overall culture and the culture of innovation within their business reviewing several critical competencies, including: Leadership/vision – how open are you as leaders to innovation, change and an open flexible culture - do you understand and support it? Mindset and culture – how are new ideas treated in your business? The innovation mindset of the organisation must support the exploitation of ideas that could improve your business. Clearly aligned strategy – what evidence is there in your business plan and company annual reports that innovation is systematically put into practice? Intellectual property – how much of your competitive advantage have you codified and protected – and do you do this systematically? As it can't be bought, outsourced or delegated, it's a business owner or leader's personal responsibility to create the focus and change needed for innovation to flourish. Focusing on an open and flexible culture as the starting point for consistently successful innovation is a powerful approach for businesses to develop and thrive. Author: Thanks to Peter Harford from Assay Advisory.
Thank you to the employers who filled in our survey. The results are in and are overwhelmingly positive. According to these enlightened employers, flexibility is a bonus and employing part-time mothers not only saves money but their industry “know-how” is a worthwhile asset to growing a business. The companies surveyed covered a wide variety of industries – from retail and banking to care services and advertising. Where staff work * 37% work in the office. * 62.5% work as a combination of work and home. How staff work * 100% of employers agreed that part-timers were hard working and focused. * 100% of employers thought their industry know was an asset to the company. * 100% of employers thought their part-time staff saved them money. * 100% thought their productivity was very good. * 100% thought there was good team support between full and part-time. * 100% thought it took the same amount of time to manage part-time as full-time. And if they employed a part-time mother – the results were similarly positive * 100% of employers agreed that part-time mothers were hard working and focused. * 100% of employers thought their industry know was an asset to the company. * 60% of employers thought their part-time mothers saved them money. * 100% thought their productivity was very good. * 20% thought it took more managerial time managing part-time mothers. * 80% thought their part-time mothers where very loyal. * 60% agreed that accommodating domestic needs was not a problem. And it looks as if part-time is here to stay with 66% saying they would be taking on more part-time staff in the future and 100% saying that part-time and flexible working should be more widely embraced. Which days were a favourite for part-time? 66% thought that Mondays Tuesday, and Wednesday all day were best for part-time staff. Who trusts who? * 100% of employers trust part and full-time staff to do an equally as good job. And best of all, read some of the comments around part-time staff... “Access to experienced people who are motivated to work effectively for the company without a full-time overhead.” “Vast experience & ability that wouldn’t be available to us normally.” “Flexibility, cost efficient and scale-able.” “It allows us to utilise the skills of people who are now unable to work full time due to other commitments, it also allows us to have flexibility in our staffing levels and spread the load around the team more.” “Flexibility of costs and capabilities.”