Chief Transformation Officer, Diversity Atlas

Dr.Wesley Payne McClendon is Chief Transformation Officer at Diversity Atlas where he leads global business development and leadership on culture, diversity and inclusion transformation engagements. Wesley is also a Distinguished Visiting Scholar, Victoria Graduate School of Business and Independent Director and Chair, People & Culture Committee, Australian Institute of Architects.

What sort of flexible work practices have you undertaken in your career?

Most of the flexible work practices that I’ve undertaken in my career have been either organic, unplanned or more recently (prior to the pandemic), difficult to maintain due to senior executives inability to let go control of what they can’t see, touch and feel.

In previous executive roles, I’ve wanted to work from home at least once a week using available technology to connect to teams and clients when required. However, this request, until now, had been met with scepticism.

What are the biggest barriers or challenges you have overcome in advancing your career so far?

The biggest challenge I’ve overcome is the view, particularly in Australia, that advanced degrees (PhD, DBA) are limited to academic knowledge and theory roles rather than being appropriately positioned to provide organisations and clients with a deep level of subject matter expertise that, when applied to solving business and industry problems, can be commercially beneficial.

Storytelling has allowed me to position the relevance and application of technical knowledge and expertise as a means through which to talk about and leverage experiences, perspectives and solutions specific to change, choice and uncertainty.

It’s been a very challenging year for many, how have you personally worked to change the conversation and support initiatives within your business around flexibility and areas such as wellness / health and productivity?

Inasmuch as it has been a challenging year, it has also reaffirmed the value and benefit of leading and working remotely. For those able to “communicate purpose, give up control and cultivate trust,” the unfortunate realities and outcomes of the pandemic have made it much easier to connect and catch up with colleagues (academic, executive and boards), shut off distractions, and designate time and space to work.

Remote working has allowed me to cycle 20 kilometres in the mornings, eat lunch in the garden and take walks to the beach during the normal course of the day. Any one of these activities wouldn’t have been considered had I been commuting to and working in the city.

Once I adjusted my thinking to working from home as the new normal — compared to a once-in-a-while working outpost, I began to take advantage of space, efficient use of time, health and wellbeing opportunities and productivity potential.

You spend a lot of your time advising leaders on transformation and change, what are the most progressive leaders doing differently since Covid?

I think progressive leaders are doing at least two things at once: First, leaders are taking a step back and looking at the whole of their businesses from a reflectively objective perspective. From this vantage point, they’re reconsidering their market position, reviewing the commercial value of products and services, and making decisions about what to keep, cut or reinvent. And second, these leaders are using the time to find new ways of proactively approaching customers, and manage internal resources and external expenditures.

With such a focus on remote work, what are your tips for building culture and community when people aren’t necessarily together in physical spaces each day?

I talk about leading in crisis and remote working in three recently published articles: Seven Habits of Leaders in Crisis; Leadership, Pandemics and the Future of Working; and The Curious Case of Leading Remotely.

In the most recent article, the Curious Case of Leading Remotely, I pose three simple tips:

1. Define and communicate purpose

Leading remotely requires a clearly defined and regularly communicated purpose that not only confirms understanding and buy-in, but also provides a compelling platform on which to develop and align a common purpose.

2. Establish a set of principles for working remotely

Co-designing a set of principles for working remotely with directly-reporting staff and teams aligns a common purpose and establishes agreed upon standards, assumptions and ways of working.

3. Let go

Step away and trust the commitment and engagement of a common purpose and ways of working principles to guide the proximity of leadership required, and the support necessary for others to perform well in their own work spaces.

You’re a big supporter of flexible work and also have strongly advocated for diversity especially at leadership levels. We’re seeing change, but it’s still slow across many industries — what will help drive change faster?

As COVID-19 has illustrated, necessity is the mother of invention. At the same time, crisis is also an opportunity to build transformative capability. As a teaching moment, leaders should use the current environment as an impetus to identify and understand the value, distribution and mix of culture, diversity and inclusion, and how best to deploy human resource variety as a strategic approach to change, choice and uncertainty.

Could you share your top 2 or 3 predictions for what the new future may hold and how workplaces will shape up heading into 2021 and beyond.

1: Not surprisingly, more companies will make remote working a core part of business as usual. Less obvious will be the weakening of organisation culture as a differentiator in the marketplace and a tangible element of an employer value proposition.

2: As the impact of COVID slows down and businesses return to a new normal, there will likely be an exodus of talent from organisations that failed to apply the lessons learned from remote working. Simultaneously, there will be a rapid movement toward those organisations that have figured out, reinvented and embedded new ways of working into the DNA of their culture to benefit all levels and types of staff.

3: Trust and outcomes will become a larger part of the lexicon, values and performance practices of enlightened organisations in 2021 and beyond. These soon-to-be new normal practices will replace an out-dated focus on micro-management and processes, respectively, especially in a remote working environment.

Dr.Wesley McClendon shared his insights with Puffling’s Niamh Fitzpatrick.

If you’re interested in more on Puffling or being featured in a future interview profile, connect with Niamh here.

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