Creating the Right Environment – The Leesman Index
Nick Dougan, an Action Coach Business Coach based in Sevenoaks in West Kent, reflects on creating the right environment for your team, with a particular view on the Leesman Index or Lmi, the “first unified and truly independent workplace effectiveness measurement tool”.
I had the privilege, at the end of last month, to make a presentation at FICPI’s Open Seminar on management in the patent profession. (You can see my presentation on my LinkedIn page.) One of my fellow presenters was Tim Oldman, one of the founders of Leesman (www.leesman.co.uk), a consultancy dedicated to identifying what people want and need from their working environment and thus to guide workplace design to maximise employee engagement and satisfaction. I’ve run employee satisfaction surveys before, and have found them to be useful in identifying changes that should usefully be made, but the office environment was only covered as one of many factors. Leesman’s tool focuses exclusively on the workplace itself.
Tim has a background in office interior design and planning, and set up Leesman with a small team who had worked on a number of projects to maximise the effectiveness of the workspace for a number of large corporates. He pointed out the results of a British Institution of Facilities Management survey, in which 86% of respondents said that the recognised that the quality of a workplace impacts on the productivity of its users…while 58% are trying to reduce the space they occupy by increasing occupant densities!
A conflict there? Evidence of management cynicism? Perhaps, but Tim told us a story which illustrates how just having more space per office user might not increase satisfaction. I may not have all of the details exactly right, but these were the essentials. A company with a call-centre type sales operation in the West End had “packed in” its staff – after all, the West End of London has some of the highest rents in the world. As the company became more successful and more space in the same building became available, its directors began to think of spreading the operation onto another floor and giving everyone a few more square feet. At this point Tim’s investigation of workplace effectiveness revealed that this was not in fact what the employees wanted. They liked the buzz of working in relatively cramped conditions. What they really wanted was a canteen and relaxation area. That had not even been on the directors’ radar – after all, there were scores of cafes, sandwich shops and restaurants within easy walking distance, that’s one of the great benefits of being in the centre of London! Besides, who wants to encourage employees to relax, to stop working? In fact, their employees were not keen on routinely spending £5 on sandwiches and a seat out of the office. They wanted to eat something that they’d brought in from home, possibly something that they could microwave. And in fact, far from wishing to loaf around, they wanted to take a short break, have a chat with colleagues, and then get back to their workspaces quickly to earn more overtime and commission. Result: desk densities remained the same, and the extra space was used to provide a rest area with appropriate facilities – and a more engaged and satisfied workforce.
The Lmi aims indexes different aspects of satisfaction with the workplace and benchmarks them against a pool of data gathered from previous engagements – and Leesman’s plan is to get 25,000 individual responses from at least 100 project surveys by the end of 2011. I’m wondering whether I have any clients who might get something out of this – the cost of the small firm (<250 respondents) survey is only a little more than £3,000. For the very small organisation, of course, this will still not be cost effective – perhaps a team meeting to discuss improvements to the physical environment in an open minded way would be a good start.
Already the data is showing up differences between different types of office users, some obvious, you might think, others les so. For example, “Upper age ranges” value natural light and low noise levels, while those workplace features are much less important to “lower age range”, who are much more interested in the quality of their computer and telephone equipment. We had the opportunity to discuss the possible age discrimination implications of trying to provide different workstations for different ages of staff, and agreed that while it was important to bear that in mind, the point was to be able to meet different individuals’ needs and preferences irrespective of their ages.
ActionCOACH methodologies emphasise the importance of creating the right environment for team members to thrive. We all know, of course, that creating the right environment is about much more than having great working conditions. I used to be in the Army, for example, and I know that great teams can flourish in the most inhospitable and arduous of conditions. I’m also always inspired by stories and documentaries about, e.g. teachers who deliver great education in the most rudimentary of classrooms. But we know too that the quality of the working environment can have a huge impact on how we think about our organisation – it’s one thing to work in basic conditions because there’s no choice or no money, it’s quite another to do so because the boss is mean or other people are prioritised for resources. Moreover, as Tim’s story illustrates, it’s not just about the amount of cash that’s available, it’s about working out, with team members, how best to spend it. Modern psychology tells us that the subconscious and emotional power of the way language is used is often far more important than its rational content. The Leesman index may, similarly, equip us to design offices that are attuned to the needs of our particular teams and to make it easier for them to deliver the performance that we, and they, really want. Excellent organisations need great leadership and individuals who are well suited to their roles and who trust each other and work well together, and all of these things may be made easier by having the most appropriate environment.
So, if you’re a medium sized business coming up to moving offices, taking a little extra space or even just thinking of reorganising the space, you might like to speak to Tim Oldman. If you’re a small business in Kent and you don’t think that your working environment is helping your team to thrive, feel free to call me or one of my colleagues!
Nick Dougan is an Action Coach Business Coach based in Kent. You can find out more about Nick and the work he does, which includes coaching, consultancy, management training and business advice in general, at www.actioncoach.com/nickdougan. Nick is also a Law Society accredited Lexcel Consultant, applying coaching and consultancy skills to help solicitors and other professional service firms achieve both higher profits and an excellent working environment; read more about that work at www.nickdougan.com .