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Philippa White

The International Exchange

Founder and CEO

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What if you made your workforce organisational citizens?

Reframing how you see workers is the first step in building a human culture. Instead of being cogs in the wheel, see them as citizens of the organisations.

Companies are looking at their workforce the wrong way. Employees aren’t robots – they have passion, creativity, self-awareness, empathy and a thousand other capabilities that have complex needs and, if supported, bring complex and powerful benefits.

If organisations viewed their people as part of a greater whole, working towards a common goal and purpose, they could feel the benefits of a unified community. And what if those who worked with or for the organisatiation were seen as the customer of a company? Imagine they were the primary focus of the company, rather than seen as the force who served the organisation?

Bias and discrimination wasting talent

I’m a Mum. I have two girls who are 7 and 11, and I run my own company. I have been working for myself way before I had children, which in hindsight has given me a tremendous advantage. I didn’t know how lucky I was until I started to see the inevitable.

So many of my friends, highly intelligent women from around the globe, many Ivy League and Oxbridge graduates, now not working, not making their own money and struggling tremendously with their self-esteem. Why? Because they had children. And they hit that ‘maternal wall.  The form of gender discrimination that working mothers encounter when they need to start juggling children and a job. And one of the common ways people are seen as a worker-as-cog vs human beings.

What if companies started to think and approach their business as if it was a living and breathing organism?

Don’t you think such an approach is a huge waste of incredible talent? How can companies let this happen? Isn’t it better (and probably more competitive) to see people as human beings, and then find work arounds?

What if companies started to think and approach their business as if it was a living and breathing organism? What if they thought of it not as a siloed money-making machine operated by robots, but instead thinking about how we are all connected and part of a greater whole? What if companies viewed their employees as citizens?

People not workers, society not job

My friend Jon Alexander, co-founder of the New Citizenship Project and author of Citizens, says a citizen is the idea of the individual in society. It’s about being human and knowing what the right thing to do is. A citizen is someone who can and wants to shape the world and society that they are a part of and brings energy and creativity to bare on the world they live in. A citizen is about tapping into the resources of everyone and finding the best outcomes as a society. It’s being more than a sum of your parts.

If we all did this, the world, and companies, large and small would be in a much better place. Therefore, the critical role of leadership is knowing how to manage talent and can lead from their hearts.

These leaders must know who they are, remain true to who they are, are authentic, and can express their greatness on a big stage based on their humanity, vulnerability, and respect for others.

They don’t surround themselves with people who think like them creating an echo chamber. They trust others on their team who think differently so that they will have a top performing team with diverse talent, complementing their strengths. And they realise the importance of being able to adapt, being empathetic, flexible, and culturally intelligent. As one of our major TIE clients says, which is a large financial institution, “leadership skills that the future needs”.

Therefore, the businesses that shine can articulate their culture and beliefs so that their people understand how they fit in the bigger picture. The more that businesses do that, the easier it is for people to have their personal purpose connect and align with the company that they are working with.

If an employee is seen not only as a citizen of a company, but also as a customer of a company, what does that look like?

Creating space for people

Then it’s about cultivating agency. When you create space for people, they will step into it. This also a big part of what we do, and another reason many clients work with us. It’s so important to allow people with the opportunity to step out of the hierarchy and find their path.

It’s about facilitating this potential, unearthing it, and realising we are more together than we are apart. It’s unearthing the strengths that your people have, understanding what they have to offer, and then seeing how diverse talent can be better together. This is just the start of what it looks like when employees are viewed as citizens of a company and not consumers of jobs.

So, let’s take this further. If we are rethinking how we see employees, then how does this change the way we think about business? If an employee is seen not only as a citizen of a company, but also as a customer of a company, what does that look like?

Another friend of mine, David Webster, co-Founder and CEO of the Carrot Collective, is building a new type of creative agency that delivers digital creative services to customers. But the key difference is how they operate – they retooled the agency. They have no offices, and this is by design. There is no bias as to where talent is based. The business is built around three core human centred disciplines – talent, culture, and operations.

David and his business partners started asking some key questions. What do people want and where do people want to be? And does this impact how they can do their job? They also started to realise that by serving their employees, they created happier people working with them. People that are more content with where they are. They are rewarded on what they value most in life, which then makes them better at what they do, and in turn, serves the brands and clients they work with.

What we are talking about here is a company that is driven by people’s needs. Driven by their values and belief systems. It’s the concept of life work balance and how to create the right conditions at companies that are built around someone’s life.

How is it possible, in this day and age, to be allowing a drain of extraordinary talent, due to logistical challenges, like having a baby? Surely all that is needed is a laptop and an internet connection? And perhaps a bit of flexibility. The rest can be figured out.

To have people who work with you that are happy, feel comfortable in their own skin, and can realise what they want to do on their own terms will create loyal citizens that work with you. They will feel valued, and then do whatever they can to make your company mission possible.

But, to understand what is happening under the surface of your company, and to arrive at a meaningful purpose that your people can relate to, requires ears. This requires real questions being asked, and having people actively listen to the answers.

Good leadership is about listening and knowing that you don’t know the answers to problems

How do we change things?

What are your people looking for? What needs to change to ensure alignment? If you ask your staff, “why are we here?” Will your staff know the answer? And is the organisation still living up to the why they originally signed up for?

Sadly, these conversations aren’t happening enough. We need to try to change habits, so people are heard. We need to create a culture where people speak up and they can find their voices.

Good leadership is about listening and knowing that you don’t know the answers to problems. You have to listen to the people who will speak up and the results will see everyone working together towards the greater goal. It’s about opening the doors and bringing others in. It’s about opening everything up to have more wisdom in the space.

The world is changing extremely quickly. It’s volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous. To respond, a company can’t use solutions that are 20 years old. Companies need to adapt and find contemporary solutions for a modern world. In times of change, companies need to keep learning about the world around them. Any vibrant organisation must have a constant dialogue with itself. It must listen to the organisation, listen to the people and constantly be willing to challenge the status quo.

Interested in this topic? Read It’s time to develop radically mindful leadership.

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Philippa White

Founder and CEO

Read more from Philippa White

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