Author Profile Picture

Isobel Rimmer

Masterclass Training


Read more about Isobel Rimmer

How HR can cultivate a culture of curiosity, and why this is important right now

A learning culture is what will help business thrive in the post Covid-19 world.

For some time now, the industry has made reference to a ‘VUCA’ world (one that’s volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous). Well, it’s VUCA squared now and a different mindset is required if we are to help people find a way forward. How, then, can we change people’s perspective and inspire them to overcome the complex challenges that Covid-19 has brought?

Curiosity is the ‘happy virus’ that can help us come out stronger post Covid-19.

In a fascinating article by Elizabeth Smith, Curiosity – the super power we might have overlooked published as the world went into lockdown, she makes the point that curiosity is both a behaviour and an emotion. She explains that when we are curious, we have a strong and genuine intention in our endeavours or cause.  

Define reality

If curiosity is a behaviour, then we can choose to develop the ability to be curious, but we can’t be curious in a vacuum – we need context. HR leaders have to shape and define that reality, so their people know what they’re working with. In research carried out by the Pew Center, people were asked, ‘do you feel better knowing economic news, even if it’s bad?’ More than eight in ten (85%) said yes, and only 15% said no.

If revenue continues at 75% of normal levels post Covid-19, then the workforce will reduce. A high-profile CEO told his people last week, “we’re spending more money than we’re making”. People need to know that reality. HR, as guardians of the talent in an organisation must help set that context, too.

Behaviours create the culture

No one person is responsible for creating the culture, but we’re all responsible for our behaviour. If HR recognises curiosity as the superpower it is, it can reward it accordingly. People won’t feel brave enough to be curious and try out new ideas, however, if they’re not trusted or enabled to do so. They need to experiment, learn from what worked (and what didn’t) and try again.

We learn more from our mistakes than our successes, yet in organisations there is an unrealistic expectation that we have to get things right, first time. HR can change this – they can set up sprint projects, ideation sessions, cross-functional project teams, prototypes that fail fast. Encourage a culture of design thinking, encouraging people to be curious about what the problem really is and looking for new angles to solve it. It’s about bringing people from different functions together to solve problems that matter now and unleashing that curiosity in reality.

Curiosity and revenue – HR’s role

In retaining customers and growing revenue, HR plays a pivotal role. Everyone needs to be more curious about customers or service users – curious about why they do things, don’t do things, ask for things, buy from us, work with us, use our services or not. It’s not just the job of ‘sales’ or frontline operatives – it’s everyone’s responsibility. Curiosity is the ‘happy virus’ that can help us come out stronger post Covid-19.

Unleash the ‘secret army’

I call the ‘non sellers’ an organisation’s ‘secret army’. They are in daily, direct or indirect contact with customers and clients. They’re responding to queries, resolving technical issues, chasing payments, carrying out checks, delivering goods, supporting your sellers, handling customer service enquiries. What they share – whatever their title or competencies or behaviours in their role profile – is that they are connected, in some way, to customers.

 HR plays a pivotal role in creating the context where managers lead by example, foster collaboration and coach and mentor.

Should HR teach these people ‘to sell’? That’s probably counter-productive, but we can help them be more curious to understand their customers better. If we reframe ‘selling’ for what it really is, helping customers solve a problem and making them want to work with us, buy from us and recommend us to others, we unleash more potential. In the post Covid-19 world, referrals will be even more important as it continues to be challenging to open up and develop new customers when working virtually. It’s more expensive – five to eight times more depending on which research you read – to win a new customer than to generate additional business from an existing one.

Mindset, toolset, skill set

To unleash the potential of every member of your ‘secret army’, you have to first help them to be more curious about their customers, whether those customers are internal or external. Encourage them to want to discover more. What happened? Why? How can we do things differently next time?

People need structure, tools and techniques, however, that make it easier to connect with customers and understand their world – not tricks or underhand methods. Equip your secret army with a toolset to help them be curious about customers in a structured way and they will open up conversations and discussions naturally and share your products and services in ways that will lead to opportunities for growth.  

Share the toolset 

All these tools can be shared through webinars, via Zoom or in Teams in bite sized accessible ways – whether people are working from home or transitioning back to the office/shop floor. We’re working differently and learning differently. Show people how to use these tools in the new reality and watch them grow in confidence. Let them experiment using the tools with colleagues across the organisation and see them collaborate more.

The toolset can help everyone in the secret army to connect, discover, share and collaborate. These four phases are built on what we do naturally as humans. We meet up, discover things about one another, share experiences, knowledge and ideas and then collaborate on future activities together.  

A skill is a technique you can use under pressure

With a more curious mindset and with an easily accessible toolkit, HR and learning and development leaders can enable people to practice with their teams, give and receive feedback and embed the skills. As skill and confidence develop, we achieve more.

Members of the secret army need support, encouragement and feedback to use the tools and apply the tools every day. HR plays a pivotal role in creating the context where managers lead by example, foster collaboration and coach and mentor – again all behaviours that can be learned.  

HR can encourage curiosity by recognising it for the behaviour, and indeed the superpower, that it is. By creating a culture of curiosity, with tools and techniques to apply that in a realistic context, and supporting it with feedback and review, we can unleash the potential of every member of our team. Good HR practice is about making that happen.

Interested in this topic? Read Learning culture: why we must champion curiosity and cultivate critical thinking.

Author Profile Picture
Isobel Rimmer


Read more from Isobel Rimmer
Thank you! Your subscription has been confirmed. You'll hear from us soon.
Subscribe to HRZone's newsletter