What to do about Learning?

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At what age do you think you’ll stop working? I’ve asked this question to executives at the peak of their career, and to MBA students in the early stages of theirs and it seems like we’re finally getting it. More and more, the answer I hear is ‘never’, or at the very least ‘well into my 70s’. It seems we’re coming to terms with – embracing even – the prospect of an extended working life.

But here’s the catch. What about the next logical questions: What skills will you need to build to be employable in the future? How will you build them… and who’s going to pay?

At this point, the room tends to go quiet.

While we’ve figured out that we need to be working for longer, we are far less certain about what it takes to stay employable in an ever changing world of work. This is exacerbated by the disruptions we see around us in our roles, organisations and industries as technology displaces some jobs while augmenting others; as new competitors enter the landscape and fundamentally shift how customers and clients engage with our products and services.

It’s clear then, that much will have to change — both in how we as individuals understand and anticipate the evolving nature of work, and how we then respond:

Anticipation. As part of my research consortium, The Future of Work, I recently launched a survey asking people in large corporations how they were addressing learning. I was fascinated to see that many of them scored highly in terms of investing time and energy into regularly learning new skills. However, they scored lower on anticipating which skills would be valuable in the future. Essentially, they were investing a lot of resources into learning, without knowing in which direction they should be going. This is concerning.

Response. What do we need to do differently to learn over the course of a longer working life? Here again, it seems that we are experimenting at the edges of the system with online learning modules and mentoring, but are yet to make the fundamental shifts required to maintain our employability.

What’s the answer? I firmly believe that this is a societal shift and must be addressed at every level and by multiple stakeholders – individuals, governments, educational institutions, organisations. For now, however, let me focus on organisations.

Work is a major place of learning, and it is incumbent on organisations to be active both in the anticipation and response stages:

  • Anticipation: is your organisation analysing how jobs are changing and then translating this into guidance for your employees?
  • Response: does your organisation provide people with the time and resources to act on this by embracing lifelong learning?

There are some organisations already leading the way here: media and telecoms company, AT&T, anticipates future job profiles through the mapping of job categories. This then demonstrates which areas will grow and where jobs may be at risk. Westpac, the Australian bank, enables response with a platform-based approach called LearningBank, which has been rolled out to 40,000 employees. This is a social learning environment where employees co-create and share their own learning material as well as accessing training curated by the company.

Where does this leave us? It took time for us as individuals to come around to the reality of longer working lives, and perhaps it will take time too for organisations to fully appreciate the challenge ahead and their role in addressing it. In the meantime, however, those organisations that anticipate and respond fastest, have much to gain from an informed and employable workforce.

 

 

Guest Blog – Why Would You Receive Reassurance?

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No one ever admits this. But everyone craves for it. Reassurance. The politician from his voters. The entrepreneur from his clients. The subordinate from the superior. The managers. from their talent. A business model from its environment.

Unfortunately reassurance in VUCA times has to pass through a re-certification by the appropriate stakeholder group. Except parental, there is no blind reassurance today for anything. How do we earn the reassurance?

3 simple suggestions to reflect over:

  1. Ensure your relevance: your skills must still have currency. They must not have a diminishing marginal utility . Build emergent ones, divest redundant ones. Acquire the ones that will be needed as you look at your future risks and opportunities. Reinvent yourself, however painful it may seem.
  2. Build wider networks: the world is far more networked today than we can ever imagine. Collaborate, connect, communicate, co-create with various network groups. Staying only tethered to a function, industry or geography is inadequate. The reassurance demands a wider connecting of the dots.
  3. Stay hungry: stay hungry for ideas, for talent, for learning, for leadership. Hunger drives a very different passion. Many unfortunately are satiated and still expect reassurances. That is not going to be.

 

Prabir Jha, Global Chief People Officer at Cipla

Thriving in a World of Distractions

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Hannah Blog HeadshotDuring my final year of university, every Monday morning at 8:30, you could find me meditating amongst 20 peers and an unconventionally laid-back German professor. To be clear, I am not by any means a morning person. As a self-diagnosed insomniac, my only motive at that hour was to get away with stealing a nap under the guise of meditation. However, the premise of the course instantly captured my attention and interest. Later, the intangible transformations I noticed within myself managed to hold and heighten my curiosity.

Words have limited utility when understanding mindfulness. It can be roughly defined as the awareness that comes to mind when paying attention to the present moment – but this in itself doesn’t encompass the breadth of the mindful experience. One of my favourite metaphors to describe the mindful mindset is the following:

Imagine yourself alone in an empty room. No furniture, no windows, no technology. Just you. You’re deep in thought and enjoying your own company. Perhaps you’re meditating, or imagining a brilliant idea, or visualising a beautiful space, or just allowing your thoughts to lead you down unexplored pathways.

And then suddenly… your attention is drawn to a distinctive buzzing sound. A fly appears to have emerged out of thin air and now you’ve lost your train of thought. How dare this fly disrupt your creative space! You instantly decide that this persistent buzz needs to be destroyed. How else will you regain your state of peace?

You soon discover an unexpected issue: every time you successfully swat the fly, two more take its place. Eventually you’re surrounded by fly chaos – an orchestra of buzzing – without escape. You’ve spent all of your time and energy opposing the fly, and now you’re exhausted.

Maybe you shouldn’t have opposed the original fly, you think to yourself, but that infuriating buzzing surely would have driven you mad.

So really, what other option did you have?

Most of us operate in a reactive state, processing information on ‘auto-pilot’. When a fly enters your personal space, the automatic reaction is to judge it as an annoyance. This stems from an embedded belief that the fly should not be present – it should be resisted. Yet as Carl Jung, the founder of analytical psychology, asserted, “what you resist not only persists, but will grow in size”.

The same goes for distracting or distressing thoughts. Humans are genetically primed towards a negativity bias, meaning that unhelpful ways of thinking are easier to engage in. Through attempting to resist or eliminate negatively judged events, these events are more likely to leave lasting impacts on the human brain. This notion is exemplified through interpersonal relationships, where an estimated five warm and positive interactions are needed to counteract just one loss of trust interaction.

Mindfulness aims to change this conceptual mode of processing from automatic to intentional. Rather than eliminating negative emotions or stressors, the mindful perspective changes your relationship to them, allowing us to non-judgmentally accept their presence. In other words, worrying about, trying to eliminate, or distracting yourself from the fly aren’t your only options. Instead, by expanding your awareness to permit acceptance of the fly, adaptive growth and transformation can arise.

Hannah Blog Image

So, how can we embrace the mindful mindset? How can we begin to welcome the unwelcome distractions we experience on a daily basis?

The good news is, you don’t have to commit to three hours of meditation and reflection every Monday morning. You do, however, need a certain level of commitment in order to notice significant transformations in the way you think and react. Short daily practices have shown to have lasting impacts on mood and attentional control at both the behavioural and neuronal level. This mindfulness practice encompasses the classic breathing and body-scan meditations, but can also include mindfulness of routine activities (such as eating, walking, or running), or mindful movement (i.e. yoga).

I noticed the impact of mindfulness on my stress levels almost immediately. After class on Mindful Mondays, I was uncharacteristically alert and energised, and felt a general spike in mood. This translated to amplified focus and productivity throughout the day.

Picking up on these intangible transformations motivated me to practice independently. I began using that mindfulness app I had downloaded ages ago but never felt the need to open. When lying in bed restlessly, thoughts and plans encircling my mental arena, Headspace’s sleep meditation became my go-to fix.

From my perspective, one of the few things we have control over in life is how we react to things outside of our control. This is the core of what mindfulness taught me. But I’m still not a morning person. 

Learn more about how mindfulness can engender individual and organisational transformation by contacting: Hannah@hotspotsmovement.com

Digital Myth Debunking – Here’s why digital natives may not be as savvy as you think…

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RaphOn a summer’s day in 1994, I was born in Paris as a ‘digital native’ – part of the generation born into a world where technology was readily available – through smartphones to laptops to social media platforms. By the time I reached High School, technology was moving swiftly into the education experience and we were told that we would be required to use laptops in the classroom for note-taking instead of using paper. Rather than celebrating this advance – as you might assume a millennial would – me and my peers saw it as a ‘counterproductive’ system ‘ruining education’ whilst our Principal at the time, in his early 50’s, narrated to us just how great technology was for society and education.

Was this clash between my grade and the Principal predictive of millennials and how we feel about technology today? Given that the older generations developed, introduced and fostered this digital world, would it not make sense for us, millennials, to be most critical of it? With these questions in mind I highlight the importance of questioning the assumption that millennials prefer and work better with the digital world than previous generations.

Let’s have a look at some of the myths or assumptions about the older generations and their interaction with digital:

Myth #1: They have more difficulty using technology than millennials

Older generations do not necessarily have more difficulty using technology than millennials in the workforce. A study by Dropbox and Ipsos Mori surveying over 4,000 information workers in the United States and Europe found that people over 55 use 4.9 forms of technology per week, compared to an average of 4.7. More importantly, older workers have less trouble when working with multiple devices compared to millennials, with just 13% reporting issues when working with multiple devices, compared to 37% of millennials.

Myth #2: They find technology in the workplace to be more stressful than millennials

Older generations do not necessarily find technology to be more stressful in the workplace than their younger counterparts. In fact, the same study found that older workers experienced less stress at work because of technology – 25% experienced stress compared to 36% of 18 to 34 year olds. The findings in this study were also replicated in a State of Workplace Productivity Report published by Cornerstone onDemand. This study focused on information and technology overload and found that 38% of millennials reported experiencing technology overload compared to only 20% of employees from older generations. These figures again challenge the existing myths about younger people and their engagement with technology.

Myth #3: Millennials are naturally gifted when it comes to technology as they are born ‘digital natives’

Perhaps the most interesting myth however is that millennials are naturally gifted when it comes to technology as they have been exposed to it for their entire lives. This myth brings me back to the story about my underclassmen in high school being told to use laptops in class instead of taking hand-written notes. If this generation were indeed working with computers so closely throughout their upbringing, would this correlate with how tech-savy they would end up being in the workplace? Pew Research Center found that when it comes to knowledge about the web, there are very few differences between millennials and older generations. Whilst millennials knew better for example that Wikipedia was collaboratively edited, older generations had better knowledge on what the acronym, URL, stood for, and so on. In addition to knowledge about the web, studies have also shown that actual knowledge about computer skills is also not significantly higher for the younger generation. A recent study in Austria, for example, indicated that only 7% of 15-29 year olds had very good computer skills. Fuelling this myth is millennials’ own misconceptions about their abilities when it comes to technology. Whilst 84% of surveyed millennials expressed that they had ‘good’ or ‘very good’ computer skills, over 40% scored ‘badly’ or ‘very badly’ when it came to the actual practical test. In fact, the study added that the biggest gap between perceived and actual skills was consistently found in the 15 to 29-year-old participants.

It is incredibly important to question the myths around generations and the digital world. The question remains however as to why millennials may have more difficulties with technology in the workplace than older generations. Here are some ideas:

• First, millennials may have more difficulty with technology than older generations as they are more likely to get distracted in the workplace due to technology. For example, a study by Nextrio found that whilst 50% of employees younger than 43 access personal websites and emails at work, only 13% of employees aged 44-60 do so. With technology creating more distractions for millennials at work, this could explain why stress levels associated with technology are higher for millennials and why difficulties may arise when millennials try to handle multiple devices, as they are overloaded with distractions online.

• Second, millennials have more of an expectation of technology to work all the time. Growing up with immediate access to simple technology (Facebook, iPhones, Google etc), millennials may be less tolerant of issues with technology at work, causing more stress and difficulty with digital programs. In turn, older generations who have seen the development of technology first hand, witnessing the struggles of slow servers, crashing programs and more, are more tolerant of technological issues and better at navigating around them. Almost 60% of millennials would bring their own device to work compared to less than 40% of older generation employees.

pexels-photo-267392Returning to my story with the laptops being introduced for note-taking, I personally believe that older generations have less difficulty with technology as they are more likely to actively choose to incorporate technology into their lives without assuming it to be the only way. As a millennial who has not had the option of technology, I cherish human face-to-face interactions with as little technology imposed on me as possible. In fact, I believe that being a millennial makes me appreciate opportunities away from the chaos of the digital world in the workplace even more than older generations, as it is something quite rare and special. Five years have passed since my graduation in 2012 and I still firmly believe that my school’s addition of laptops for note-taking was a terrible and detrimental idea for its students. What would be interesting would be to give the students an actual choice about whether to use technology in the classroom or not and then explore which of these students perceive and interact with technology most positively in the future.

By Raphael Korine, Research, Hot Spots Movement

To find out more about generational myth debunking, contact me on raphael@hotspotsmovement.com

References:

  1.  http://www.cio.com/article/3103893/it-industry/think-older-workersstruggle-with-technology-think-again.html
  2. http://logicaloperations.com/insights/blog/2013/11/11/114/are-youngpeople-struggling-with-technology-in-the-workplace/
  3. http://www.pewinternet.org/2014/11/25/web-iq/
  4. Ronald Bieber “Survey: computer skills in Austria (2014)”, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BtAFgBiTb5g.
  5. http://www.nextrio.com/generation-gap-technology-workplace/

Guest Blog – Discharging my ‘Loyal Soldier’

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Beth Bundy Image

Over the last few years I’ve been working with a fabulous mentor who has been instrumental in helping me find strategies to deal with my ‘inner critic’ or ‘imposter syndrome’.

Initially, my interest in this area was entirely personal and driven by the experience of the ego ride first appointment into a senior executive role. But, as I read more and shared more articles online, it became clear that I’m not alone. Maybe it’s the taboo subject of our generation, and is in some way linked to our connected device driven world where our social media lives belie reality. However, my experience is that when I raise it as an issue professionally it’s as if I just pointed to the elephant in the corner of the room and everyone wants to talk about it, just not in groups. So, I’m raising it here, with some reflections on the practices I use to manage it.

Being accountable to a mentor

Just having a mentor has helped me to identify the problem, and be held to account about what goes on in my inner world. I need to do this monthly, I’m a better person for it.

Understanding the internal voice

Possibly my mentor’s greatest gift to me was ‘Falling Upward: How to live the second half of life well’, by Richard Rohr. Richard is a Franciscan priest, and boy is he calm. In this book my epiphany moment was his description of our need to ‘discharge our loyal soldier’. This is the voice that served us well as we grew up, through our 20’s and into our early 30’s. It regulated our behaviour, guided us through what was ‘right and wrong’ and set us ‘the rules by which we should live in order to be something’. However, once we’ve got there, this voice isn’t as helpful. Once we can learn to recognise this, we can thank that voice when it makes and appearance and discharge it.

If I’m bluntly honest I think my loyal soldier only got louder when I got to that place where it had nothing to really regulate, and therefore became more of a distraction. So I’m also interested in how it can interfere with the work of an executive team who are all managing their own inner critic and their sense of place around the table, or ego. It’s definitely still a taboo subject in that setting, but maybe its the reason why so many organisations now provide mentors to their executive teams.

Healthy habits

I’m also on the mindfulness wagon. In the same way that I avoided WeightWatchers for years because ‘I don’t need that’, I had avoided this. Then along came ‘HeadSpace’, again like WW it grabbed me because it’s an app. It means I can do this completely solo when it suits me. I recently had a conversation with my husband at the end of a work day, we both have big jobs and our end of day debriefs can be intense. On this occasion I had done a HeadSpace practice, he hadn’t. After a few minutes of listening to him ramble, I gently said ‘honey, go do a HeadSpace’ then call me back. The subject matter changed completely, and for the better. Finally, I journal now, I have a routine / structure to the content and it involves active gratitude.

Beth Bundy Featured Image - Final

Reality check

Managing the inner critic is a bit like physical exercise. When it’s going well, life is great, but let’s be real we get thrown off balance a lot. So I’m also not going to say that my life is a bed of roses. Even with all these great strategies, I recently reached a point where sleep was just not possible and the inner critic was in charge at 1am, 2am, 3am, you get the picture. So in this world where we’re connected 24/7, we have to give intentional thought to how we can disconnect individually and how do we model this as leaders because I’m certain the alternative is not sustainable. I’m sure it starts with talking about it, taking the temperature of our team regularly and figuring out what works for each person.

Beth Bundy is Group People & Organisation Director at Auckland University of Technology

The Dinosaur in the HR Room

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This is not another horrid example of mixed metaphors but what sprung to mind when I read a recent contribution to the 100-Year Life website, which we created for Lynda Gratton and Andrew Scott’s book The 100-Year Life: Living and Working in an Age of Longevity. We ask website visitors to submit their stories about either how their longer lives are panning out or how they expect to see them pan out.

The contribution that sparked my Dinosaur in the HR Room reaction was as follows:

“I am an IT Consultant. I have just been asked to go back to a client I worked for last year doing the same job with the same people. It took me four hours to complete the HR pre-employment questions and evidences. 

I have worked for almost 40 years and have three degrees, completing my last one over five years ago.

I can now afford to retire and do not need to work just for the money. As well as taking time for holidays and family life I do some voluntary work.

For any gaps in my employment record of more than 2 weeks they want me to provide details of a friend that I have known for more than five years who can explain these gaps.

They also make it mandatory to provide at least one lecturer reference and one academic qualification from the last five years.

 I am afraid they the corporate world in the UK certainly has no understanding of a flexible life so far.”

I thought this was a painfully clear illustration of why as organisations we need to do more than talk about engaging easily with new ways of working, from contractors to freelance workers. We would be wise to appreciate that it’s no longer ‘the future’ – it’s happening now, and by making engaging with our organisations cumbersome for freelance talent, we stand to lose out on great individuals, or at the very least, appear like dinosaurs and as such send the wrong signals.

Here at Hot Spots Movement we call these cumbersome approaches ‘sunset processes’ – that is, processes that were established possibly many years ago when the nature of work and workers was different, or perhaps came with an acquired company and were deemed too complicated to discontinue it at the time.  These ‘sunset processes’ have reached the end of their valuable life and the challenge for HR is to remove them so that they do not end up constraining the business.

In short, people processes can be illustrated by showing an excavation site where you can see the different archaeological ages, layer by layer.

Removing sunset processes is just the start. As HR professionals we need to decide rather urgently if we want to lead how our organisations engage with freelance talent. If the answer is yes, then we need to design the engagement journey for freelancers with two important outcomes in mind: (1) ensure that freelancers want to work with our company (yes, you will want to be a freelance ‘employer’ of choice) and (2) ensure that the company benefits in all respects from engaging with freelance talent.

If HR doesn’t take the lead, line management will procure freelance talent directly, and our organisations won’t benefit from a signature ‘Freelance Experience’. Over the past years, HR functions have spent much time designing their Employee Experience, with the smartest companies appreciating that this experience begins well before the first working day and all the way through to how their people leave the company. I can’t think of any reason why you wouldn’t put as much effort into designing the Freelance Experience as you do for the Employee Experience. The reward – and the risk –  is no less substantial.

Maybe now is the time to let the dinosaur move to the museum and say goodbye to processes that are not fit for purpose, or plainly unnecessary, for the age of agile working and longer careers.

 

Diverse Networks of Weak Ties – The Key to a Strong Background

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10235The other day I was thinking about the benefits I’ve experienced from living in three countries in the past decade. Meeting people from the U.S. to China, and Norway to South Africa has allowed me to build a wide range of networks with weak ties. Here at Hot Spots Movement, such diverse networks form a core part of our research, particularly in terms of their importance for sparking innovation and creativity, and helping individuals make transitions into different roles over longer working lives. In fact, diverse networks are becoming increasingly important for two reasons.

Firstly, we’re living longer and as a result will be working longer too. This means that our careers will look more like 50- or 60-year marathons than the 30-year ‘sprints’ of previous generations. Longer career spans will require us to move between roles, organisations and even industries at various points. Diverse networks are essential for achieving this, as they provide us with insight into other opportunities and help us make the leap when the time comes.

Secondly, technological advances mean that the roles or professions we have trained for – for example, accountant or lawyer – are likely to be disrupted over our longer careers. We are already seeing this with automation displacing the more routine work of paralegals and book-keepers. This means that we will need to be prepared to make more transitions in preparation for, and in response to, technological innovation in our industry. Here again, we will need a diverse network to help us navigate our way through this complexity and into new opportunities.

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A great way of assessing the diversity of your network is by asking some very simple questions about who you spend time with, who you connect with over email or LinkedIn, and who you go to for advice or inspiration. Do these connections have the same cultural and academic backgrounds as you? Are they in similar industries? Or, do you have connections with people with quite different backgrounds, educational profiles, and from entirely different lines of work?

Having assessed the diversity of your connections, you might then be thinking to yourself, ‘how can I further strengthen the diversity of my network?’

My approach has involved living in different countries though this is of course not an option for everyone. Instead, perhaps there are small adjustments you can make that will increase the likelihood of you meeting and forming connections with people who are different to you. It could be as simple as spending time with other teams in your own organisation – organising social events where teams from different departments get together. Another approach could be to think more consciously about from whom you seek advice on your next work project. Do you have friends who can connect you with others in their network to provide a new source of advice and inspiration?

These are simple actions, but the results may be dramatic. So over the course of this week, perhaps consider how diverse your network really is. Then commit to making just a few new connections with people you don’t naturally spend time with. Who knows, you might stumble upon a new opportunity for your next career transition.

 

Sources:

Gratton & Scott, Hundred-Year Life

Shifting Identities, The Strength of Weak Ties, Mark S. Granovetter, American Journal of Sociology, V.78 I.6, 1973

Working Identity, Herminia Ibarra, Harvard Business School Press, 2003

The Future of Retirement, Life After Work, HSBC, 2014