Jodie Fox on repairing workplace culture. The Canberra scandals have been met with outrage and shock. What can we learn, practically, about responding to sexual or other harassment? Worklogic director, Jodie Fox is a lawyer turned investigator. She discusses creating a positive culture with Peter Wilkinson and Liam Cox. #crisiscommunications #leadership #corporateaffairs #publicrelations #ceos
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The horrendous events that are being exposed in Canberra is prompting long-overdue conversations in workplaces across Australia. Worklogic director, Jodie Fox, joins us. Jodie as a workplace investigator, how do you change culture in the workplace?
There are about four things, Liam, that I think you need to look at to really make a difference in terms of culture. The core place that you need to start in changing culture is making sure that you have a set of values that articulate for the organisation the behaviour they want to see, the kind of place they want to be as an organisation, that they are really clear on those and able to articulate those. Once you’ve done that, I think that the next key part of changing culture is getting your leadership on board. You really need the most senior members of your organisation to be on board with the values, to understand them, to live them, to breathe them and to champion them in the rest of the organisation. And that means then that the next step, which is to get the rest of the employees in the organisation, the rest of the members of the organisation, to understand what the values mean for them and what sort of culture they want to have in the organisation becomes a lot easy because it’s being modelled at that senior level. And then you have your processes and your procedures that backup this iterative process of ensuring that people are behaving in line with their organization’s values. So you’re calling it out when it’s not happening, you are seeing senior people modelling the values, walking the talk, that they’re doing, they’re being accountable.
So, that’s very close to the corporate affairs approach too, Jodie, but I take it that part of that would be to have the quick investigation upfront so that you can actually mine the values, the will, et cetera. Am I right?
So, if you’ve had something that’s acute, then it’s a reason. So you’ve got a workplace complaint of harassment and bullying, obviously, that’s something that needs to be dealt with, it needs to be dealt with as part of the broader conversation around culture. But it’s a process where you basically make a finding of fact in relation to the allegations that have been made.
See, one of the things with the Kate Jenkins inquiry at Parliament House is it’s not due until November, which is a horrendous delay. The investigations that we’ve organised for companies, we try and get them done in five weeks, maximum, eight weeks. In one particular case, which seemed like it was dragging on for a long time, it was very difficult for the staff. But while that investigation is going on, there are a number of things that can be done inside a company. And I can identify five very quickly. The first is to start an open conversation inside the organisation. It happens anyway, at the water cooler, the gossip takes off. And as you said, if the leaders can start the conversation and really start people talking, that’s the first thing. The second thing is, inevitably, if there are really truculent people who are resistant to change, if they insist on being obnoxious, sexist, misogynist, in this case, or whatever, and refuse to change, just be, then they have to go. The third is start a retraining programme for the rest of the staff. And again, this can be soft, just a conversation about what’s appropriate language, what’s larrikin language that is sort of okay and what’s not okay, is a very easy conversation and things can change really quickly. The fourth is have a helpline where people can get confidential counselling if they need it. And that can be external. And the fifth is if they want to take the confidential counselling further, there’s a mechanism inside for people to be processed with empathy and with diligence.
One question, off the back of that, Jodie, that I have is how vital is it that the investigations are conducted independently, so the victim knows that the process won’t be corrupted by powerful people within the company that may be looking to sweep an incident under the carpet?
Yeah. So, the principles of procedural fairness say that you need to give people a fair hearing and that the decision-makers, including, mostly, the investigator in an investigation, need to be without bias and without the perception of bias. That can be really difficult in circumstances where an internal HR function, for example, is investigating someone senior in the organisation because they have existing relationships, because their performance may well depend on that particular person’s goodwill. And I think it’s about the conversation, the confidence-building for the complainant that this is a transparent and independent investigation.
So the end-goal clearly is cultural transformation to ensure that these incidents never occur again. The women I speak with are sick of the talk and want action. How do you ensure that your recommendations are backed up with real change from the company in question?
The broader conversation about how to create a workplace where sexual harassment or where bullying, where other kinds of bad behaviour doesn’t occur, where you really lifting the overall culture and creating a healthy workplace, that’s a much broader conversation. And I think that if a company is interested in that broader conversation, then an investigation is woven in as part of that, it’s okay, “This is a reason this has erupted. We need to act quickly, obviously, on these complaints, and we’re bringing in someone to investigate those and to get to the truths of them one way or the other. But there’s a broader conversation here that we have to have. And regardless, frankly, of the outcome of the investigations, we’re going to need to have it.”
One of the things that you said that impressed me, Jodie, right off at the top, is that it has to come from the top. And one of the things that we look at is the structure of the board, to start with. And very often, we find that there are stuffy old people who are stuck in the past on the board, or there may be some good people on the board, but the board is badly structured so it’s not geared towards equality and mitigating any kind of harassment, bullying, sexual misbehaviour, mental harassment, and so on. And so, it may need a bit of gender equity on the board, or it certainly may need somebody, say, with your expertise on the board, who can ask the right questions. The second thing that often has to happen is that the CEO has to go because the CEO who is there was ultimately responsible for the things that occurred. So, we need a CEO who’s fit for purpose.
So, we do do a reasonable amount of work with boards. And look, there are some really great, dynamic people on boards and I wouldn’t say that the issue is this sort of pale, male, and stale sort of issue, I think it’s broader and deeper. And I think it’s this issue of allowing boards to really communicate well with each other and to really get some more leverage off of the experience that they were already really great people inboard. Not to saying that they shouldn’t be more women on boards, there absolutely should be. But there are already great people that work on boards, but I think there is that real downfall with, they just don’t communicate well and they don’t have the kinds of conversations they need to have often in terms of being able to really value culture as the way we do things, the way we get things done around here. And head the way in which the organisation can really lift and grow. And I think that there’s a real need for culture to be that driving force.
Well, a great conversation and some really valuable learnings there. Jodie Fox, thank you very much for your time.
Yeah, thank you.
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