In the first Coffee Chat in 15 of the New Year, Bob Rehill spoke with Assad Ahmed, Founding Director at Phase 3 about what company culture may look like in 2022 and beyond.

Following a difficult two years, 2022 is here and companies are looking ahead as to what the year may bring. We know that organisations have really been feeling the impact on company culture since the start of the pandemic in early 2020, with Covid-19 changing how people feel about their workplace. In 2022, culture is already a hot topic on the executive agenda, so Bob began with asking Assad not only what the culture is like at Phase 3, but what is he seeing in the space and what he is being told by his clients?

“It’s very good question. I’d like to think, and I’m pretty bias, that our culture at Phase 3 is fantastic. But in terms of what I’m seeing in the marketplace, is a lot of fantastic and innovative technology to help drive culture. Obviously, everyone’s still working at home which makes it that much harder.”

Assad continues “When you’re not seeing people, you’re not having the coffee chats in the kitchen, or the at the coffee machine or the kettle, it’s that much harder to create that culture, that atmosphere. And there’s a lot of fantastic technology out there that can help you drive that.”

Fundamentally, Assad believes that culture comes from the top down and is driven by your team. “If you’re getting it right, your team are going to be talking about it and sharing that with whoever they speak to. If you’re getting it wrong, they’re also going to be sharing it. In the current jobs market with the Great Resignation upon us, we’re not immune to that either and I think having the right culture is absolutely crucial for longevity.”

As such, employers have to look to encourage that type of behaviour in their staff. “The main points really are empathy and listening to your team. You can’t fake it. You can’t fake caring for your team. I talk about ‘inbound culture’ and ‘outbound culture’. ‘Outbound’ is what I want the world to see, I can post whatever I want on LinkedIn and Facebook and do interviews and recordings like this, and tell a great story, but the ‘inbound culture’ is what my team are actually feeling. Do they think that Phase 3 care about them? Do they think me and the rest of the management team have created a culture of empathy, where people actually care for each other, and the team genuinely does come first?”

Bob agrees “It’s something that we’ve done within our organisation. We can post on Facebook or on Instagram all the things about what we believe is great behaviour and looking after our people, but do we genuinely practice that internally? We did this very simple thing over Christmas and we just said to everyone take two weeks off, spend that time with your family. That is a way of creating cultural acceptance. Also, there is the element of wanting to work with like-minded organisations as well.”

So as a result of this, have Phase 3 found clients coming talking about culture and how you might better help them?

 “Yes, to an extent” Assad agrees. “Obviously HR is an area that we operate in mainly from a technology point of view, rather than the pure HR culture kind of onboarding side of things, but I read something really interesting recently and it’s changed my Twitter feed. I was just seeing a lot of junk basically and I read this American guy who’s quite big on company culture and he said, ‘Do you care more about your employees than you do your bottom line?’ And I thought, wow, that that is true company culture, isn’t it? If you get that part right, the bottom line automatically falls into place. It may take longer, but you get the first part right, the second part happens by default.”

Bob really agrees with this sentiment. “It’s really interesting, I’d like to believe, and my employees will tell me if not, that we do look after our employees first before the bottom line. There are some organisations now that I say no to working with, because I don’t believe they live and behave in an equal culture that we want to be.”

Assad believes a lot of what Phase 3 does is driven by the partners that they work with. “In late 2020 and 2021, it was just ridiculous in terms of partners wanting to work with us and we actually turned down more partners than we accepted. The reason for that is exactly what you just said, the partnership didn’t feel 50/50. It fell 70/30 in the vendors favour, and that is driven by culture, it’s a mindset that we are the special ones, and you are just there to help us succeed. It filters down, you see it from the different people you speak to in an organization from HRD down to Business Partner, that HR Manager to assist whoever you’re speaking to, they use the same kind of terminology. So that’s why the top down is so important.”

The number of people moving jobs now and attrition rates are on the rise, so it’s fair to say that in the current marketplace, people have started to recognise whether their own company has looked after them during this difficult period and their needs, versus the needs of the company. As a result, people are starting to think about moving into organisations where their friends and colleagues have told them how they were looked after when things got tough, and it has started to really show whether certain employers actually believe that looking after employees was an important part of their DNA.

Assad agrees that the pandemic has definitely quickened the pace of this change. “This whole kind of revolving door that we’re seeing now and the jobs market, the Great Resignation, great reset, whatever you want to call it, people want more than just the financial benefit of work. Don’t get me wrong, we all know that’s absolutely crucial – you’ve got to pay bills! But it’s about your values; what drives your business; where are you on sustainability; what is your carbon footprint? These are the things people want to have a value driven relationship with their employers, rather than a transaction. It’s absolutely crucial, your values, your beliefs as a business, because that’s what drives everything you do.”

For Bob, the idea of your values as a driver really resonates strongly. “In the recruitment and talent acquisition space now, employers are having to make sure that prospective employees really understand their organisation. And actually, the sell now isn’t about I want someone with these skills to do the job, it’s actually the person looking for a new role is saying ‘I know I can do the job, but how are you going to look after me? Are you going to live and breathe those values that I now expect to see in an organisation? It’s becoming a real determining factor in whether someone joins one organisation versus another, so the war for talent is just getting a different dimension now.”

To wrap up, Bob asked Assad his thoughts on how much technology can offer support?

“There’s been so much innovation, a lot of it driven by COVID, in terms of remote onboarding experience, for example, pay on demand, charitable donations, and the whole kind of HR tech. Various organisations that we’ve spoken to, your HR system manager that now is standalone, best of breed for talent, best of breed for onboarding, best of breed for this best of breed, rather than a one size fits all type system? I think that’s going to continue.”

Bob agrees: “We always have this debate with clients, do you go best of breed or do you go with one system, which gives you everything you need, but not quite the strength? Using technology to support remote onboarding is so important, but also, employee engagement during their lifetime is now very much technology driven. And you want the technology to drive the way you think, as an organisation. There’s a really fine balance of using technology, but not just being reliant on technology – it’s also got to be leadership behaviour, management behaviour and people behaviour. If you get them right, you can create a very strong cultural unity within the organisation. It’s all about finding the right balance.”

Finally, Bob asked Assad what Phase 3 has in store for 2022. “It’s been a crazy ride over the last couple of years. We are the current CIPP Payroll Service Provider of the year, which is a huge thing for us. We have a big drive in terms of payroll and partners, and we’re also looking at growing the team to expand the kinds of services we offer. It’s a great time to be part of Phase 3. It’s also a great time to be in the technology industry, as there is a lot of innovation going on and it’s just fantastic.”

Phase 3 are an exhibitor on the HRTech247 Consulting & Advisory Partner floor of the Partners Hall. You can visit their virtual space here