Are your newest employees your best innovators?

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On my first day at Hot Spots Movement, I had one specific question on my mind that was particularly important to me: are they going to listen to my new ideas? Lots of smaller companies have a challenge innovating due to decision-making being driven by a select few, usually the founders, who can sometimes fail to embrace change. Research shows that start-ups are 9.4% less productive on average when the founder is also CEO[1]. So, starting a new job at a 10-person company with a single founder, you can see where my apprehension stemmed from.

Luckily for me and given what we do here, Hot Spots Movement recognises these challenges and in my first few weeks I have been set to work looking at existing processes, documents and marketing with the goal of thinking of ways to improve them. Why a brand-new person with no experience of the product or research? The answer is that I brought different advantages:

1. I had more time than anyone else. With projects already underway, aside from training and shadowing, I had spare time on my hands. I could take the burden of creative thinking off those who were in client meetings and delivering projects. I could set aside dedicated time for new ideas.

2. I had no biases or preconceptions: I had a blank slate in terms of how I thought we should represent ourselves, meaning I could be totally honest about my thoughts and think without restriction. I had no existing investment in current processes.

As I delved more into our research and read more about innovation, I began to discover that the challenges of innovating in an SME are not that different to those in a multi-national FTSE 100 company. There are a couple of key similarities:

1. Employees don’t have time to incubate. Everyone is busy these days and this is impacting the time we can spend simply thinking creatively about innovative ideas. Distracting technology and open-plan workspaces mean that we are dedicating less and less time to creative thinking.

2. Innovation inbreeding. This is the concept that the same group of people keep thinking of ideas and don’t, or can’t, look elsewhere for new ideas. In a small company this is unavoidable; if you only have 10 employees, you only have 10 brains thinking of new ideas and they quickly come to think in sync about certain things. In a larger company, this is usually by design as innovation is left to a specific ‘innovation team’ who themselves have the same challenges a small company of fewer brains and convergent thinking.

Whether you’re an organisation of 10 people or 110,000 people, the argument is definitely there to be made that your newest employees may be the best equipped to help with innovation. They arrive with new experiences, different perspectives and often have the most ‘free-time’ that they will have in their entire career at the business as they have yet to take on projects. In small companies, one person can have more impact – when I arrived into a team of 12 employees, the brain capacity increased by almost 10% overnight – and if you think about the number of new employees arriving into larger businesses, the aggregate effect is likely to be the same.

Finally, back to my earlier question, did they listen to my new ideas? Well, I have made some suggestions that have been taken well and you may see the outcomes in the near future.


[1] http://www.people.hbs.edu/rsadun/AreFounderCEOsGoodManagers.pdf

3 unexpected insights on the future of work

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I have been exploring and researching the future of work for over 6 years now. It has been a fascinating journey as the pace of change driven by accelerating connectivity, new talent models, and cognitive tools is astonishing. In this blog, I would like to share 3 unexpected insights on the future of work that I have come across from my research and advisory work with companies around the world. They are:

  1. Hierarchies are here to stay

Experiments to do away with hierarchical power structures in most organisations have not been smooth. An indicator of these challenges is that when given the choice of embracing holacracy or taking a buyout, almost 210 of Zappos 1,500 employees took redundancy rather than relinquish their titles and status. Indeed, getting organisations to do away with hierarchical power structures is proving to be next to impossible. For all its enemies – and the millions of copies of employee empowerment handbooks – hierarchy is amazingly resilient. An indicator of this is that since 1983, the number of managers employed in the U.S. economy has nearly doubled, while employment in other occupations has grown by less than 40%, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.[i]

Why do hierarchies persist? Countless social scientists have similarly argued that hierarchies are necessary. In fact, many theorists have even argued that hierarchies are inevitable as they stem from our evolutionary roots. In other words, if different forms of social organisation were more advantageous, groups would have successfully adopted them long ago.[ii] Hierarchy has evolved to be the most dominant form of social organisation because it works. All those structures and systems serve a purpose. On the most basic level, the invisible hand of hierarchy helps people know who does what, when and how, and simplifies interactions by setting clear expectations and role clarity.[iii]

  1. The importance of solitude

Creativity requires solitude. Today’s world is fixated with association. We live in hyper-social times where the random association of things is not just routine; it is endemic. However, in recent years, neuroscientists have discovered that we tend to get our best ideas when our attention is not fully engaged in our immediate environment. When we are not focusing on anything in particular and letting the mind wander, the brain’s default mode network is activated. Many of our most creative insights arise from the activity of this network. Using many regions across the brain, the default mode network enables us to remember the past, think about the future, understand ourselves, and create meaning from our experiences. Activating this network requires deep internal reflection facilitated by solitude.[iv]

  1. Engagement is not a purely beneficial experience

A recent study conducted by Yale University study examined the levels of engagement and burnout in over 1,000 U.S. employees. “For some people, engagement is indeed a purely beneficial experience; 2 out of 5 employees in the survey reported high engagement and low burnout. These are the optimally engaged group. However, the data also showed that 1 out of 5 employees reported both high engagement and high burnout. This group is the engaged-exhausted group. These engaged-exhausted workers were passionate about their work, but also had intensely mixed feelings about it — reporting high levels of interest, stress, and frustration. While they showed desirable behaviours such as high skill acquisition, these apparent model employees also reported the highest turnover intentions in our sample — even higher than the unengaged group.”[v] That means that organisations may be at risk of losing some of their high performers not for a lack of engagement, but because of their concurrent experiences of high stress and burnout symptoms.[vi]

 


[i] Hamel, G. & Zanini, M. 2016. Top-down solutions like Holacracy won’t fix bureaucracy. Harvard Business Review

[ii] Anderson, C., & Brown, C. E. (2010). The functions and dysfunctions of hierarchy. Research in organisational behavior, 30, 55-89.

[iii] Monarth, H. (2014). A company without job titles will still have hierarchies. Harvard Business Review.

[iv] https://hbr.org/2015/12/executives-protect-your-alone-time

[v] https://hbr.org/2018/02/1-in-5-highly-engaged-employees-is-at-risk-of-burnout

[vi] https://hbr.org/2018/02/1-in-5-highly-engaged-employees-is-at-risk-of-burnout

I’m Productive – What Should I Stop Doing?

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For somebody like me for whom time is a gift – not as extra years added to the later part of my life but right now in the form of an 8th day of the week, an extra hour every day – I’m keen to understand why time is so volatile. Why are so many people struggling to make ends meet time-wise at work?

When at Hot Spots Movement we speak to companies around the world, and again lately when we were in Australia, we hear from senior executives how stretched they are, with many requests on their time that are not to do with their ‘day job’. Of course, in a time such as this of increasingly fluid job design and project-based working, the definition of ‘day job’ is not a hard and fast one. Nevertheless, it seems that many of the requests are peripheral to people’s roles. You may ask why this is an issue – after all being useful is profoundly satisfying to most people, and contributing to the ‘greater good’ of the organisation by delivering input over and above your own projects surely is positive? It is, but not at the expense of preserving time to focus, to think, and to ponder longer-term strategic matters. When people are persistently stretched, and their time therefore is too fragmented, their productivity, creativity and wellbeing may suffer. Although a hidden cost for some time, it will eventually catch up with both the individual and the organisation.

So, what is it that is occupying the time of busy executives, and are these tasks really adding value? They seem to fall into two categories: reporting, and collaborative endeavours, such as attending meetings or reviewing others’ work.

Let’s start with reporting. One of the many great columns Lucy Kellaway wrote in The Financial Times was about why young people leave jobs. Her empirical evidence was that they lose the will to live because they were promised meaningful work, however, once on the job, they’re asked to produce reports and spreadsheets that are not being put to use. I’m not convinced this only happens to young people.

Next, collaboration. As the new and indiscriminately applied preferred working style in many organisations, there’s a tendency to over-collaborate and be too consensus-focused (or afraid of taking full accountability). Both lead to more meetings and more requests for input, where in fact one or two viewpoints would suffice. Of course, there’s a certain respect for hierarchy, and there are compliance-driven requests, but we could question more what is on our to-do list, be they legacy tasks or new tasks. And a bit tongue-in-cheek, see what happens if we don’t get around to providing our input. I’m not sure it would always even be noticed?

As companies move to designing work around projects rather than roles, I’m wondering if we should learn from freelance workers who work on discrete and time-defined projects, measured on outcome, and therefore can focus on these? Perhaps a zero-budgeting [1] based approach to how we spend our time may be helpful – regularly resetting the to-do list to 0. We need to be regularly asking ourselves, ‘what is it that keeps me busy, and is it really adding value?’ On that note, back to my to-do list, where the first point is to critically question the items!

[1] Where you have to justify what you need to spend, starting from 0 for every period, rather than assuming legacy spend requirements.

10 facts about our Research Manager, Dr. Anna Gurun

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AGContinuing the celebrations for our upcoming 10th anniversary this October, now less than three weeks away, here are 10 interesting facts about our Research Manager, Dr. Anna Gurun.

1.When did you join Hot Spots Movement?

I joined last April. 

2. What’s your role at Hot Spots Movement?

I work in the research team, which involves shaping the research for our Masterclasses and working on bespoke client consulting projects and workshops.

3. What has been the most interesting project to work on? 

It’s more a type of project, but I love analysing and writing the reports for our Jam projects, using content analysis to source insights for organisations from thousands of employees.

4. What clients do you work with?

I work with a wide range of clients, and find this diversity one of the most interesting parts of the job.

5. What has been your favourite piece of research to work on, or your favourite Masterclass?

I love the conceptual elements of Masterclass research, and found our recent one on Building Narratives on the Future of Work fascinating to work on. Being so research-driven, we’re able to be multi-disciplinary in our approach, and I enjoyed finding out more about the power of stories and narratives and bringing in insights from sociology, anthropology and neuroscience. 

6. What is your favourite part of your role at Hot Spots Movement?

Definitely the variety of projects. I like having the opportunity to do both theoretical, conceptual research and the more practical, consulting projects.

7. What has been your favourite place to travel to with Hot Spots Movement?

I loved visiting Sydney to run our workshop there, despite the jet lag.

8. What is the best book you’ve read in the last year?

So hard to choose! For fiction, I would say I Still Dream by James Smythe, which explores AI and the relationship between humans and technology, or A Corpse in the Koryo, which is a North Korea set crime thriller. For non-fiction, I loved Flaneuse by Lauren Elkin, and New Power by Henry Timms and Jeremy Heimans.

9. What does no one know about you?

I used to live in Paris, so am always interested in projects that would allow me to use my French.

10. What one thing do you think will define your future of work?

Change. My working live so far has taken me to different cities and different roles, and I think future transformations, whether in location, job role or interests are almost inevitable. 


To find out more or to speak to Anna about her ongoing work, contact anna@hotspotsmovement.com.

Keep an eye out for next week’s 10 facts on our Digital Support Manager, David Takacs!

Three insights on the future of work from our Sydney Workshop

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AG

I recently returned from running our annual Workshop in Sydney. Alongside trying to find the best flat white in the city and dealing with jetlag, I was able to hear more about what is on the minds of our Australia based clients. At our workshop we discussed why companies need to build a narrative on the future of work, and how to build a future-proofed culture amongst other topics. There were three major takeaways for organisations that came out for me around the workshop.

  1. Think about your narrative

 Despite increasing digital disruption and the rise of AI and analytics, organisations need to ensure they don’t forget the social aspects of change, and the power of stories over straight facts or data. Research has shown that stories impact people’s brains differently to facts, causing more connections in the brain and leading to closer relationships between the storyteller and the listener. People use stories as a way of understanding the world and this is particularly true when it comes to the future of work. Employees are looking to employers to provide a sense of stability and purpose in a rapidly changing world. Organisations therefore need to reflect on their own narrative on the future, thinking about what it will mean to work in their company and how work will be done in the future. Where are your non-negotiables? Where are you going to take a bet and what will stay the same? In considering questions such as these, companies can provide their workers with a story about where they are going, and how they will be supported along this journey.

  1. Abandon assumptions around aging

 The importance of not relying on stereotypes and assumptions around aging also came out strongly in the Workshop. Longer working lives mean that organisations cannot make assumptions around the needs and desires of their workforce, particularly older workers.  No longer is it always the case that a worker in their 60s is looking to retire, for example. Organisations need to make sure that their practices and processes are not based on erroneous expectations. They need to rethink the way they approach retirement, or what it means to progress in the organisation, so that people are not penalised if they want to downgrade their working hours without losing status in the organisation.

  1. Identify your influencers

 Finally, the need to think about the cultural influencers in organisations was another important point. Rather than relying on hierarchical leaders, companies need to uncover the real influencers and work with them to drive cultural change. These influencers can be discovered through network analysis or crowdsourced conversations but should be brought in early on in the process to ensure the behavioural change so crucial so a successful culture shift.


It was great to hear from our members in Sydney, and we look forward to our next trip Down Under!

Mindfulness in the workplace: another health fad?

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During my final year at University, students were approached by counsellors about taking lessons in mindfulness in order to help us cope with the stress of final year. Initially, I dismissed it as another one of those health fads claiming to be a panacea for all modern ills, but after hearing about the benefits from other friends, I decided to do some research. Mindfulness can be described as a way to focus one’s awareness on the present, so that you are more conscious of what you are doing in that moment. Essentially, it is a way to re-programme one’s mind to think in less stressful ways. Admittedly, as quite an anxious person, this resonated with me, and so now I try to incorporate mindfulness into my everyday life, and since starting here at Hot Spots Movement, I have been interested in how mindfulness could be transferred into my working life, and how it can help workers to be less stressed and ultimately more productive.

Over the past decade, research into mindfulness has exploded, with thousands of studies being conducted into its possible potential. The latest neuroscience studies are predominantly what transformed this practice from an ancient Buddhist concept into an exercise adopted by celebrities, businesses, politicians and the NHS. In 2007, scientists discovered that there are two different networks in our brain, two different ways we interact with the world: the default network and the direct experience network[1]. The direct experience network is activated when you are being mindful; not thinking about the past, the future or about other people. It is argued that this way of thinking allows you to get closer to the reality of an event, making you more flexible and relaxed in the decisions you make.

Business woman meditating

Some of the world’s biggest companies such as Google, Facebook and interestingly, our Future of Work Consortium member KPMG are paying attention to these studies and are now offering mindfulness or meditation programmes as a way to make their employees happier and less stressed. For example, Chade-Meng Tan, a Google pioneer completely revolutionised Google through introducing the ground-breaking ‘Search Inside Yourself’ mindfulness programme to all employees[2]. Perhaps this approach to wellbeing is one of the reasons why Google is consistently rated as the world’s best employer[3]. Similarly, CEO Mark Bertolini completely reshaped the culture of Aetna when he joined in 2010, drawing on his experience of mindfulness, which helped him through a time of intense depression after a life-threatening skiing incident[4]. He introduced free yoga and meditation classes to all employees, with those participating reporting on average a 28% reduction in their stress levels and a 20% improvement in sleep quality. Since Bertolini took over as CEO, Aetna’s stock increased threefold. The New York Times wrote an interesting article on this case study, finding that Aetna’s employees each gained an average of 62 minutes per week of productivity, which Aetna estimates is worth $3,000 per employee per year[5].

Another motivation behind introducing mindfulness into the workplace has been the immense pressure that workers are under today. According to the City Mental Health Alliance, 50% of long-term absences are accounted for by such stress, accumulating to 70 million sick days[6]. More poignantly for employers, stress causes losses of £26 billion a year for the UK alone, and so it is no surprise that the leading innovative businesses have embraced mindfulness, in the hope that it will reflect in not only employees’ wellbeing, but also in productivity levels, and ultimately in profits.

I believe that introducing mindfulness into an organisation is a step in the right direction. Research may still not be able to unequivocally say that practicing mindfulness increases productivity, however the results of neuroscience studies are impressive and the case studies such as those of Google and Aetna show it is definitely worth investing in.

If you’d like to find out more about the benefits of mindfulness at work, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me at charlotte@hotspotsmovement.com

 

[1] https://www.psychologytoday.com/gb/blog/your-brain-work/200910/the-neuroscience-mindfulness

[2] https://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/google-meditation-mindfulness-technology

[3] https://www.forbes.com/sites/kristinstoller/2017/10/10/worlds-best-employers-2017/#7eb2ad252a01

[4] https://qz.com/work/1294914/the-ceo-of-aetna-was-considering-suicide-before-he-found-meditation/

[5] https://www.nytimes.com/2015/03/01/business/at-aetna-a-ceos-management-by-mantra.html?_r=0

[6] http://citymha.org.uk/about-us/

 

10 facts about our Head of Research and Analysis, Haniah Shaukat

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Continuing the celebrations for our upcoming 10th anniversary this October, now only five weeks away, here are 10 interesting facts about our Head of Research and Analysis, Haniah Shaukat.

1.When did you join Hot Spots Movement?

I joined in 2012 and my first role at Hot Spots Movement was to support Professor Lynda Gratton as a Lead Researcher for her book, The Key – How Corporations Succeed by Solving the World’s Toughest Problems.

2. What is your role at Hot Spots Movement?

I am head of research and analysis at Hot Spots Movement. My expertise lies in advising corporations on how to deliver future-proofed people strategies and working practices.

3. What has been the most interesting project to work on?

I have had the opportunity to work on a menagerie of really interesting projects. However, what has really stood out for me is the Inclusion and Diversity (I&D) Research Consortium we ran a couple of years ago. We were able to challenge conventional thinking and our research went beyond the current discussions of I&D to anticipate what organisations must do now in order to attract, engage and unleash the potential of diverse talent in the future.

4. Which clients do you work with?

I work with a diverse mix of clients that span a variety of industries and geographies. It is absolutely fascinating to observe the various differences and similarities between them in their people practices and processes.

5. What has been your favourite piece of research to work on, or your favourite Masterclass?

The research we did for the Shifting Identities Masterclass really pushed the boundaries of our current understanding of the workforce. We found that organisations will increasingly be engaging with a workforce about which few assumptions can be made. In this context, organisations will need to rethink their people practices and processes and ensure that they are aligned to accommodate and engage multiple and shifting identities.

6. What is your favourite part of your role at Hot Spots Movement?

I love looking beyond the horizon and investigating the trends that will shape our future of work.

7. What has been your favourite place to travel with Hot Spots Movement?

Cambridge definitely, such a picturesque city.

8. What is the best book you’ve read in the last year?

I love South Asian Literature. I grew up in Pakistan so regardless of literary quality, they typically hit enough nostalgia to land well with me.  I would highly recommend Moth Smoke by Mohsin Hamid.

9. What does no one know about you?

When I get some free time, which is very rare between my 3-year-old son and a full-time job, I love studying architecture and interior designing. I truly love and have a passion for transforming a raw space into a beautiful room.

10. What one thing do you think will define your future of work?

The future of work will provide endless opportunities for transformation. I am really excited to explore and uncover my ‘possible future selves’.

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