Building a house for all

We shall never tire of reflecting on the changes brought about by the pandemic with no sphere of our lives going untouched. Indeed, our whole universe of action has been severely disrupted without enough time to fully digest all its consequences. The need to adapt to unpredictable, ever-changing, and at times, overwhelming circumstances, is the task which we now face on a daily basis.

One of our longstanding beliefs is that the key to true competitiveness and sustainability in business lies in strengthening both the mechanisms of the project, and a sense of belonging to the common purpose of the organisation. Without a doubt, the pandemic has posed an enormous challenge in terms of our capacity to promote this behaviour amongst the organisation’s individuals.

To that end, for years we have been working on generating novel dynamics which promote a sense of shared values to create a company culture which fosters individual participation in a variety of initiatives and exchanging experiences. How this is achieved is by creating a space where personal relations may flourish as they provide us with the tools and building blocks with which to build a house for all.

As I look back upon my own career, I am reminded of the endless hours spent nurturing these edifying behaviours and dynamics. Suddenly, however, the bug showed up in our lives, substantially altering how we live. Stay-at-home orders did away with face-to-face chats in the hallway, or around the coffee machine; instead, human interaction was limited to plasma screens, Zoom, Teams, or some other videoconferencing platform. We, thus, had to reinvent ourselves.

The structures of team cohesion are now further complicated by the difficulties in sharing our work while struggling to keep it human, and although working from home brings numerous advantages to business management, too much of a good thing can compound the already arduous task of including team-members in the design and experience of the business project. In effect, leadership now loses one of its most important tools: the warmth and closeness resulting from active listening and on the spot, spontaneous motivation of others.

We now find ourselves in unchartered territory. Verbal and non-verbal communication is carefully planned out in strict schedules and into narrow time-slots, making it even more difficult to learn how to navigate these new obstacles if we want to consolidate the house we are collectively aiming to erect.

But that’s not all. Recent recruits to the team have missed out on a year’s worth of team-building, not to mention the assimilation of shared values and experiences. In essence, they have been prevented from developing an identification with the company which in turn makes it harder for management to train, mentor and retain talent. This is especially acute amongst the younger professionals who are just starting out in their respective careers. As experts in human resources rightly point out, the window of opportunity to hook them into the team is a narrow one, which is within the first few months from the time of hiring, after which that opportunity quickly evaporates.

Nevertheless, not all is lost. There is, in my opinion, one positive aspect arising from all of this, namely, improved contact amongst the company’s various constituent parts which are spread out over a wide geographic area. Technology has enabled us to improve connections with parts of the company which might have otherwise been more marginalized or even alienated in the building of a better, more solid, house for all. And this is precisely what I believe we must think about: how we are managing the multi-national company in terms of including each and every individual in the shared project. All too often, we think that there is a top-down expansion of the project throughout the company internationally, but the pandemic and how we have relearned to work have shown us that this actually produces the opposite effect.

Therefore, we face increasing challenges as we strive to develop a shared project to improve competitiveness in companies. New mechanisms with which to create and share knowledge are needed, and with it, innovation in business models and processes. Strengthening ties with global clients means better adapting to their specific needs and appreciating their unique attributes, as well as enriching collective thinking with different beliefs and behaviours. Above all, it means integrating into the organization the variety of cultures and idiosyncrasies of peoples wherever it operates.

In my opinion, most processes of international implementation are heavily invested in, and focused on, management models, cultural traits, values, or inter-relational mechanisms between the parent company and those very traits and values. Rarely though, do we find that organisations have incorporated into their business culture the very culture and experiences of the countries where they operate. Ultimately, this produces barriers and obstacles to people being fully integrated into the business project since there is a widespread tendency to view one’s own values as true and unchangeable.

As we move forward, I believe that one of the essential competencies to be cultivated in order to power up business plans is precisely that, the capacity to hold a multicultural dialogue, and to foster dynamics which will benefit the overall design of the ‘house for all’. Furthermore, the design of such a house would be adapted and shaped by the very community of people who both develop and occupy it, themselves originating from a multitude of cultures and places from around the globe. With the contribution of new experiences, the resulting culture would be infinitely richer, boosting the identity of the parent company, making it better suited to the multicultural world in which we currently live.

I would encourage companies to both think about, and reflect on, just how we will incorporate the richness of the global village into our business plans. With management structures which aim to include all members with their shared values, and enriched by the mosaic of multiculturalism, we can forge a tight-knit group where everyone counts. As the Basque poet Gabriel Aresti declared in his famous poem, “I shall defend my father’s house”, but today that edifice takes on a growing dimension beyond our borders. May we work together to build not only a house, but a home for all for all to live in.

Sabin Azua

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