How to enable mental difference to drive business productivity
Colin Minto is a Talent Attraction, Retention, Mental Wellbeing and Culture Change specialist. He has become a trusted advisor for global complex businesses in transforming their resourcing and digital attraction strategies. Here he opens up about his own mental health experience, and demonstrates his step by step approach on how organisations can embrace and leverage mental difference to drive business productivity.
I recently used my OCD to solve a business challenge..
It was during a 10K run, so unfortunately I posted a terrible time as I was thinking about this challenge throughout. After immersing myself fully in consultancy and product development surrounding mental difference and workforce stress diagnosis for the last sixteen months, I have seen how fragmented the space is becoming, even though it is still embryonic.
There are many great awareness raising initiatives, commentators, experts, advocates and supporters, which is great, but I have witnessed business and HR leaders getting a little confused and not necessarily getting the answers they seek from events, online resources and other sources of information.
I’ve been in business for 27 years now, the last ten in senior resourcing and HR roles in some of the largest organisations in the world, but as I’m currently in consulting mode, I needed to jump back virtually into an HR leadership role to establish what I would want from the market to be able to fully embrace the subject of mental difference.
As mentioned, I used my OCD to solve this challenge. Since the age of ten OCD has forced me to solve catastrophic issues and challenges in my head over and over again, so it has conditioned me into an extremely competent problem solver and solutions provider. In addition, I personally believe OCD has unlocked elements of my thinking capability, which allows me to mine a little deeper than I would if I hadn’t had a life long battle with mental illness. So in a little over 50 minutes, I processed and morphed everything I had absorbed into a step by step approach to solve how an organisation can embrace and leverage mental difference, and I named it the ENABLE Mental Difference Model.
E = Educate
There’s an employer and an employee angle to this.
Employer: Leaders need to know the impact that stress and poor mental health can have on their people and their business performance. If this knowledge is captured effectively and validated by credible data, I guarantee they WILL catapult stress and mental wellbeing into their priority list! This in turn will manifest itself in a strategic and prioritised investment to fix and prevent challenges and incidents, which downstream means an elevated investment in employee wellbeing.
You will notice I don’t go down the route of recycling all the researched facts and figures that have already been widely publicised surrounding the impact to business and UK Plc. This is deliberate because I have a view that we’ve got enough of that out there now, and we get it: it’s important. It’s time however to co-ordinate everything that can be done into a credible, step by step order (there goes the OCD again).
What I do like to do is to get people thinking about the impacts that can be fuelled by stress to start pulling together components of the business case.
Employers need to understand the levels of stress employees are under, where the concentrations of it are and why it is there. They need to know if stress levels in employee groups are in fact a problem, because different people have different tolerances and resilience. Once they can do this, they can prioritise their focus, resources and investment to optimise outcomes. It’s why we researched and developed StressFactor™.
Employee: All workers across an organisation need to understand from qualified medical professionals the range of known mental illnesses and their symptoms, and how best to seek help from the medical profession. This will enable individuals to understand if they themselves are experiencing things that might suggest they are having difficulty with their mental health and how best to seek advice and support.
Equally it will give others the ability to identify characteristics and behaviours in others that might suggest someone is having mental health difficulties, and if so, what they can do to help that person. This can be either by direct intervention and conversation, or by confidentially bringing it to the attention of the internal mental health first aider(s) or equivalent support staff.
Finally this knowledge will help to increase compassion across the organisation and reduce stigma, so that when behaviours are witnessed which would normally draw an adverse assumption or reaction, people might think twice and recognise it as being uncharacteristic and it could be due to some form of cognitive distress.
Naturally some will say this shouldn’t be the job of an employer in isolation and that society and the education system should be providing this level of information and understanding. Unfortunately, it is apparent from the stigma that is still attached to mental difference and the general lack of knowledge and awareness across the business community that more can be done here. I praise the efforts of the mental health charities and organisations that are making so much progress, and campaigns/petitions like HeaducationUK, to make mental health education compulsory in schools.
If we can support all of this great work as employers as well, we are guaranteed to reach most or all that are affected to deliver the biggest impact.
N = Normalise
Once a level of understanding exists the conversation surrounding mental difference can be normalised within the working environment.
Events designed to allow the organisation and individuals to open up and discuss mental difference result in creating the right conditions for people to bring their whole selves to work and achieve optimum productivity. They also surface people that are passionate about the subject, either because they themselves have personal experience, or know someone that does.
A range of preventative and reactive support activities, mechanisms and resources will develop for people to access when required, leading to a more engaged, open, healthy and productive workforce. Compassion again is stimulated along with a legacy to keep the conversation going. Brand value is generated, especially internal and external employer brand, as the positive messaging surrounding employee engagement and care is amplified across social media and old school face to face networking.
It is vitally important however to have a clear strategy for these events because of the sensitivity of the subject matter and potential outputs, which will include some people opening up about their most personal thoughts, feeling and attributes. The correct levels of support need to be in place in anticipation, plus a commitment from the organisation that no-one is judged or treated unfairly because of their disclosures.
A = Align
Your mental wellbeing strategy needs to align to your general wellbeing strategy, which needs to align with your people strategy, which ultimately needs to align with your overall business strategy (phew, got there). It’s much easier to say this than actually achieve this, therefore specialist support in the form of high level strategy sessions with total C Suite commitment is essential.
I would suggest this is where you will focus on your resourcing strategy as part of the people strategy, to shape your roles by the skills and capabilities required, more so than the elements that could bring unconscious bias into the recruitment process. Anything short of achieving a full understanding and acceptance that a critical focus on mental wellbeing and how this contributes to overall business productivity and performance, misses the target and will unfortunately be sub optimal.
B = Business Case
The outcome is invariably going to require investment, but by this time you will not only know it’s the right thing to do, you will know is the best thing to do, to support achieving your business objectives and the expectations of all of your stakeholders.
This is the time to build a robust implementation plan, including: project team, resources, responsibilities, processes, methodologies, technologies, third party support, KPI’s and measurements.
By articulating the opportunity, investment case, validated potential outcomes and implementation plan, you will secure the investment and have the correct governance process in place.
L = Live
Time to go live, as per your strategy and implementation plan. Bring everything to life and put everything into action. Watch as your employees benefit and your business flourishes. It will be truly transformational across many levels.
E = Evaluate
By now you will know your starting point and it is essential to evaluate and measure progress and success. The frequency of monitoring and measuring will be high – probably monthly in the early months and ultimately move to quarterly.
The measurement points will be driven by the strategy, but to ensure engagement, stakeholder advocacy, support and continual investment, the success needs to be articulated and communicated effectively and continuously across the organisation.
This is a true strategic play, and something that you can’t just dip your toe in. It’s too sensitive to go half measures. Tremendous productivity gains are achievable but at the same time this impacts demonstrably on people’s lives. Please don’t let that stop you, just choose your advisors wisely.
Whilst this article focusses on mental difference, the whole subject of diversity should not get lost. In fact the ENABLE model could support a best practice approach to diversity as a whole, but there are better people than me to commentate on this.
psd’s HR Practice has been established for 20 years. We recruit at all levels of the profession and across all industry sectors.
Colin Minto is a trusted advisor for global complex businesses in re-engineering and transforming their resourcing and digital attraction strategies, realising their local and global aspirations surrounding recruitment and HR technology and surfacing hidden workforce stress to provide the evidence base to take pre-emptive actions that improve productivity, reduce risk and deepen culture.
Colin has specialised in attracting best people to organisations for 20+ years and is the go to person for many clients and employees to translate the talent attraction, management and development needs of HR and the business into the optimum resourcing and end to end technology suite, including; career site, digital attraction, social media, recruiting technology and core HR technology.
Colin supports global organisations such as Viacom, LinkedIn and many others with their strategic thinking surrounding mental wellbeing and stress, and delivers topical lunch and learn experiences (e.g. TATA Consultancy Services, Universities Superannuation Scheme, Bird and Bird, Lloyds of London) to educate leadership and employee audiences. He is an established associate of multiple recruiting and HR management consultancies to support and enhance their offerings and client delivery and is a regular topical conference and seminar speaker and contributor to pro bono mental health initiatives such as Thrive in the City, Shaw Mind Foundation and WharfAbility.