How to unlock agile working in your organisation… and five pitfalls to avoid

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Here at Hot Spots Movement, we have supported many leading organisations in realising their ambitions around agile working. This experience has revealed to us what it takes to successfully roll out an agile working approach in big, established companies – and crucially – the pitfalls to avoid. Here are five questions you need to ask yourself in order to unleash agility in your organisation:

  1. Are you clear about why you’re embarking on agile working?

Agile working not as an end in itself, however, many companies fall into the trap of addressing it as if it is a separate initiative on the to-do list. Instead, for agile working to really take hold it must be viewed as an enabler of individual, team and organisational outcomes important to your company. What is it about agile working that will enable you to deliver on your business or talent strategy?

  1. Where are you on the journey?

Like any culture shift, agile working takes time. Every organisation is at a different level of maturity when it comes to bringing about this agility – for some, it’s facilitating the next level of coordination between team members on different working contracts, in different locations, combining under one purpose; for others, it’s about getting acceptance of the idea of working from home once in a while. Both are valid and important milestones, and it’s critical that organisations appreciate where they are on the journey and avoid the temptation to run too fast.

  1. Who’s leading the way?

A common challenge for organisations embarking on agile working is converting the intellectual understanding of why this approach is required, with the practical commitment to make it happen in teams and divisions throughout the organisation. Our experience is that this challenge tends to manifest at senior leadership levels, with sentiments such as ‘I agree we need agile working, but not for my team – it wouldn’t work for us.’ It’s essential that leaders are presented with the case for agile working as an enabler of the business strategy (See point 1) and are tasked with being part of the solution as to how it will work within their team.

  1. How will you take everyone along with you?

Agile working is a journey that everyone in the organisation must be on together. While it is critical that leaders appreciate and act on their role in endorsing agile working, the success or failure will ultimately rest on the everyday behaviours and interactions of colleagues and team members. Everyone must appreciate their role not only in taking up flexible working themselves, but in enabling their colleagues to do the same. The emphasis on each person’s role in enabling agile working shifts the conversation away from the individual, instead focusing it on the team dynamic. Doing so alleviates from the very beginning some of the concerns from leaders and managers about negative impacts on collaboration and team performance.

  1. How will you tap into what really drives behaviour in your organisation?

A common barrier to agile working is the belief that it will negatively impact one’s career progression, being viewed as a sing of less than 100% commitment to the organisation and its clients. To overcome this, agile working must be positioned as a capability required of high performers who want to progress in the organisation. Those on high potential programmes or Partner tracks must be evaluated in part on their ability to work in an agile way themselves, and enable high performing agile teams. Creating this link is essential in shifting the perception of agile working away from isolated initiatives for specific groups of employees, and towards a future-proofed way of working to unleash performance.

With employees increasingly impatient for new and agile ways of working, perhaps it’s time to ask (and answer) the questions that will move your organisation forward on the journey.

Find out more about our work in this area by contacting:

E: emma@hotspotsmovement.com | T: +44 (0) 20 7759 1848

The Unintended Consequences of a Strong Culture

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Hannah Blog HeadshotWith our Shifting Cultures Masterclass around the corner, I’ve been doing some thinking about culture – specifically, the elusive concept of a ‘strong culture’.

Crafting a strong culture can be interpreted as forming a shared social identity, or a culture in which individuals identify highly with one another and the organisation as a whole. There are benefits to this approach; high-identifying employees demonstrate greater abilities in coping with stress, resilience, and performance. Equally, there are also pitfalls – highly-identifying teams can become more susceptible to stress and burnout due to pressure to constantly perform and fear of letting the team down. So, the pursuit of a strong culture is not as straight-forward as it may appear; in fact, there are three major unintended consequences that may emerge in the strongest of cultures:

  1. Strong cultures hire for culture fit. This focus, though seemingly advantageous, can make it difficult to hire individuals who are different from the prevailing culture, despite their potential as a counterbalancing asset. While personality and culture fit are important, considering them as deciding factors in the recruitment process significantly limits diversity of thought. We then enter the trap of like-minded hiring like-minded, while those that may offer a unique value-adding perspective are neglected or snatched up by competitors.
  2. In strong cultures, the strongest voices are heard. This is a problem because there is the potential for a significant group to be silenced. Even in cases of fairly homogenised cultures, employees are still subject to familiarity blindness – it is difficult for those immersed within a culture to see a culture. Every employee sees the world through their own biased cultural filters. This can turn dangerous when employees are immersed in and blinded to potentially toxic environments, as there is no way to challenge normative behaviours.
  3. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, strong cultures are change resistant. Strength implies stability, and as such, is not welcoming to subcultures. An emergent theme in our research is that subcultures are healthy – even essential – players in helping the organisation stay agile. This is because they encourage creative thinking and constructive controversy in regard to how the organisation should interact both internally and with the environment. Moreover, subcultures serve as the spawning grounds for emerging values, keeping the organisation aligned with the needs of customers, society and other stakeholders.

With all this in mind, rather than constantly strengthening and reinforcing culture, I propose that we should be focused on creating a dynamic culture instead.

The key tenets of a dynamic culture include nurturing diverse perspectives, and providing channels for employee voices to be heard. This is not to say that you should throw your values out the window. It’s important to unite your employees under a set of core values – values that are central the organisation’s functioning – in order to reap the benefits of a shared social identity. However, it’s just as important to ensure that these are distinguished from peripheral values – traits that are desirable but not essential to organisation. It is here on the periphery where agility and innovation thrive, allowing people to simultaneously embrace and constructively challenge the dominant culture.

So, if you’re looking to craft a strong culture, you may be better off considering instead how to cultivate a dynamic one. Dynamic cultures adapt to uncertainty and continuous change, fostering diversity of thought and perspective with plenty of room for questioning the norm.

Stay tuned for our upcoming Masterclass, The Agile People Strategy, on 2nd October 2018. For more information, contact hannah@hotspotsmovement.com.

How can organisations realise the promise of diversity?

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“If you work hard you will succeed. If you really want to achieve your dreams, it’s in your hands.”

annaWe are all familiar with variations on these thoughts, and the idea that individualism and hard work will win out in the end is a truism that many people take on faith. Organisations often construct their recruitment processes with the idea that society is meritocratic – believing that those high-potential hires have succeeded due to their work ethic and skills alone.

Despite this, research has shown that it is often those from affluent backgrounds who land the best jobs. Even when people from disadvantaged backgrounds manage to break into a professional career, they face an earnings penalty compared to colleagues who come from better-off backgrounds.[i] Despite having the same education attainment, role and experience as their more privileged colleagues, those from poorer backgrounds are paid an average of £2,242 (seven per cent) less.[ii] Women and ethnic minorities face a ‘double’ disadvantage in earnings. Those from poorer backgrounds in some cases also exclude themselves from promotion for fear of not ‘fitting in’ and were less likely to ask for pay rises. This is a challenge that organisations are increasingly waking up to. Competition for talent and the need for diversity of thought mean that organisations will lose out commercially if they do not have a cross-section of employees that reflect wider society.

So how can companies improve their diversity and foster inclusiveness around social mobility? Here are three insights from our research:

  • Look for unintended biases in the recruitment process – Could your recruitment approach be filtering out applicants from less advantaged backgrounds? Some organisations, such as EY, are experimenting with relaxing their hiring criteria, or implementing ‘blind’ CVs in recruitment, so that details on university or education are hidden.[iii] Advances in predicative talent analytics may also enable organisations to identify promising talent from a larger pool than they might traditionally consider, basing hiring on data rather than intuition.[iv]
  • Sense-check the gap between the rhetoric and reality – Organisations may think they have the practices and processes in place to increase their social diversity, but if people at all levels of the organisation are unware of them, or don’t use them, there will be no shift in culture or behaviour.
  • Identify a priority area and experiment – Companies often think that moving the needle on diversity means making large-scale changes across several areas. Our research and work on our own I&D Framework has shown that a tailored and focused approach is often more effective. Start by identifying what your organisation does well, and where it is weaker. Selecting key areas allows companies to monitor and measure new interventions to understand the real impact and the changes that take place.

Keeping these insights in mind will help ensure your organisation builds a diverse, inclusive culture.

Interested in creating an I&D strategy that is ready to enable action within your organisation and truly shift the needle on I&D read our complimentary Insights Report on Inclusion and Diversity here: http://bit.ly/IandD-MovingTheNeedle

Or for more information about our I&D research, contact me at anna@hotspotsmovement.com or on 02077591852

[i] Rivera, L. (2015). Pedigree: How Elite Students Get Elite Jobs. Princeton University Press

[ii] Friedman, S., Laurison, D., and Macmillan, L. (2017). Social Mobility, The Class Pay Gap and Intergenerational Worklessness: New Insights From The Labour Force Survey.

[iii] EY drives social mobility by removing academic entry criteria http://www.ey.com/uk/en/newsroom/news-releases/17-02-02-ey-drives-social-mobility-by-removing-academic-entry-criteria

[iv] (2017) FoW Report on Shifting Identities

Could Video Game Breaks at Work be the Key to Unlocking Performance?

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Raphael PicturewebWhenever I get the chance, I like to relax at home over a game of Super Smash Brothers. I play this Mario video game frequently, as it always has the ability to make me feel happy and rejuvenated. Moreover, as Super Smash Brothers is a multi-player game, it has always been a fantastic activity to share with my friends.

The other night, after playing a few games of Super Smash Brothers, I began to wonder what role games can have in improving performance and mood at work. After all, our research here at Hot Spots Movement has in recent years uncovered many uses for games in the corporate setting – from Knack.it using games to identify skills profiles in recruitment efforts, to organisations gamifying their learning platforms.

I decided to do some research to see what evidence there was for the link between games and performance. Here’s what I found…

During a long day of work, we experience cognitive fatigue from stress, anxiety and frustration. Research suggests that playing video games during work breaks can simultaneously reduce stress and improve general morale. In a recent study[1], participants were given a computer-based game called Sushi Cat during a short break at work. Interestingly, the study found that those given this game experienced a significant increase in mood compared to those who did not. A separate 2014 Kansas State University study[2] also supports this finding, indicating that employees who took one to two minute breaks to play Candy Crush or Angry Birds were significantly happier than their peers. In fact, by video games increasing morale and happiness, engagement and ultimately employee retention, also go up[3]. This is because if people are happier at work, they are more likely to feel better about the work itself, increasing engagement and retention.

Secondly, recent research suggests that playing video games during work breaks can also improve intelligence, consciousness and cognitive ability. In fact, a recent MRI study[4] found that playing Super Mario games can actually stimulate neurogenesis and connectivity of certain brain regions such as the right hippocampus and the right prefrontal cortex. This increased level of connectivity and neuroplasticity directly improves our memory formation, spatial orientation, strategic planning and fine motor skills – all incredibly valuable human skills to bring to work. In today’s society especially, where routine tasks continue to be replaced by automation, these human skills are increasingly valuable.

Finally, gaming at work provides an opportunity for employees to collaborate, which translates directly to business outcomes[5].  In addition, some games can also increase empathy for colleagues and increase pro-social behaviour, or any action intended to help other people. For example, a study on American undergraduates[6] found that after playing the pro-social game, Super Mario Sunshine (a game where Mario must clean up environmental pollution), the students became significantly more helpful. By recommending games that encourage pro-social behaviour, companies can help foster more positive relationships amongst their staff.

Whilst there are many benefits to encouraging gaming during work breaks, it is also important to consider reservations that companies may still have. For example, digital distractions – technological tools hampering our ability to manage and balance energy, time and attention – are one of the defining problems of today’s workplace. As such, adding another layer of distractions could contribute to a reduction in productivity. In order to avoid this, it is important for companies to clearly signal that gaming should be an activity specifically reserved for micro-breaks and in a collaborative setting.

Another concern that companies may have is that certain video games that are more violent in nature, such as Grand Theft Auto or Call of Duty, may foster anti-social behaviours at work. In fact, studies have shown that there is a consistent relation between violent video games and increased aggressive and callous behaviour[7]. In order to avoid this behavioural outcome, and maximise the benefits of gaming during work breaks, it is crucial for companies to carefully select which games are encouraged at their workplace and consider how they reinforce positive behaviours while discouraging negative ones. For example, promoting pro-social games, such as the Mario saga games mentioned above, could be recommended to employees instead.

Encouraging gaming during work breaks, may prove a creative solution to set a company apart. The benefits of gaming go far beyond amusement and, when carefully curated, can be a powerful force in encouraging positive and pro-social behaviours. So, when you’re next considering how to reenergise and reconnect your team, maybe Super Mario is the key.

[1] http://www.newsweek.com/video-games-reduce-stress-study-642426

[2] http://www.k-state.edu/media/newsreleases/jul14/smartphone7714.html

[3] https://www.payscale.com/career-news/2017/08/5-reasons-you-should-play-video-games-at-work-according-to-awesome-scientists

[4] https://www.mpg.de/research/video-games-brain

[5] http://www.bbc.com/capital/story/20160707-can-gaming-at-work-make-you-more-productive

[6] https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/super_mario_helping_more_than_the_princess

[7] http://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/study-finds-that-violent-video-games-may-be-linked-to-aggressive-behaviour-10458614.html

Two Questions that I’m keen to Answer in 2018

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4a5e4-6a019affbb02b7970b019affc09e79970d-piLast week my colleague Emma and I gave an interview on the theme of ‘motivating tomorrow’s workforce’. It reminded me that there are several important questions about the relationship between tomorrow’s talent and organisations, which we haven’t yet fully addressed – and that the answers may be simpler than we think.

  1. Are our organisations ready to embrace an adult-to-adult relationship between organisations and talent?
  2. How will it change the role of HR professionals?

Are we ready for the adult-to-adult relationship between organisations and talent?

In my view, one of the key elements of this changing relationship is that it’s no longer the sole responsibility of the company to understand what kind of working arrangement will attract talent and enable people to perform at their very best. This is good news, for two reasons. Firstly, because we can expect our talent to be increasingly comfortable bringing their ‘wholes selves’ to work, meaning working arrangements will need to become highly individualised. Secondly, with longer working lives becoming a reality, the strong link between ‘age and stage’ is weakening, making age a much less reliable indicator of expectations and aspirations.

In this new reality of multi-faceted diversity, it would seem unrealistic to expect HR to propose work arrangements that work for every individual. And why should we? I’m of the belief that adults know what’s right for them and are fundamentally keen to do the right thing by the organisations. As we start considering the relationship an adult-to-adult one, there’s no reason they wouldn’t deliver on these expectations.

Adult-Adult RelationshipWhat does this mean for HR? It means we need to change our organisations’ narratives to make clear that empowerment is a two-way deal. It is a constructive relationship between adults, not one where one party suggests specific rules for how people can work flexibly, which may or may not work, for the people involved, both individually, and as a team of workers. We should invite our people to design their own arrangements for flexible working and expect them to be thoughtful about how this will work for the organisation and for their colleagues (as individuals’ flexible working arrangements can take a toll on their fellow work team members), and likewise their own career journeys (moving between fast track, slow lane, plateau, sideways, etc.).

To build this narrative, and not least to get senior management to live by it, HR must be a credible source of strategic direction, and be proactive. This requires changing deeply engrained views of roles and responsibility. It also requires mutual trust, which needs to be preceded not only by the new narrative, but also by training, guidance and coaching.

My final question to the HR community is how do we train ourselves for this role? I’d suggest we start by ensuring we profoundly understand what the future of work will look like – (and assume that predicting the exact pace of change is near impossible so ‘sooner rather than later’ is a safe assumption regarding the timeline). We need to be a force of proposition and prepare our organisations for this change – it could well be the biggest one so far this millennium!

Speaking Up for a Healthy Workforce

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10235Speaking up is very important in all aspects of our life. For instance, we might choose to speak up when we are not happy with our situation, and it can take a number of shapes and forms. From polite requests in a restaurant to ranting on Twitter, the spectrum covers a lot of options. However, people do not always feel like they can, or should, speak up. Whether that is a case of lack of opportunity, fear of speaking up or a sense of pointlessness, there are a multitude of reasons for silence.

We ran a Jam – an online crowdsourcing solution that enables thousands of people to discuss a set number of topics – with a multinational organisation in November, and one of the big discoveries of the project was that employees did not feel like they could speak up. They did not feel there were enough channels or opportunities, and they felt that their leaders did not listen. Simply put, the environment was not psychologically safe. Research shows that in psychologically safe environments, employees feel encouraged to ask for clarification, to point out errors, and to share new and challenging ideas[1].

So how can organisations help employees have the confidence to speak up?

Megaphone

Often, it is the day-to-day behaviour of leadership and line managers that determines whether psychological safety exists within an organisation.[2] Halfhearted efforts like vague invitations to submit opinions and ideas will not work. What will make a difference is taking the following four steps to assure employees that it is both safe and worthwhile to speak up and contribute[3]:

Initiate: Initiating conversations informally is much more effective than just being open to it when it comes your way[4].

Intimacy: Psychological safety requires leaders to minimise the institutional and attitudinal distances that typically separate them from their employees. This shifts the focus from a top-down distribution of information to a bottom-up exchange of ideas.

Immunity: Employees need to feel empowered to experiment and fail.

Intentionality: In surveys of more than 3,500 employees in multiple organisations, James Detert of Columbia University found that leaders’ failure to ‘close the loop’ increased subordinates’ belief that speaking up was futile by 30%[5]. But if leaders had closed the loop in the past, their reports spoke up 19% more frequently. This highlights an important learning for leaders: if they’d like their employees to speak up they need to commit to acting on the concerns of their employees.

Talking openly and honestly is of great value in the workplace, and we all need the right space and tools to achieve this. Whether the tool is having a chat in the communal kitchen while sipping your morning coffee or a crowdsourcing platform involving tens of thousands of people across the entire organisation, the point is that we all need to be enabled to feel confident enough to voice our feelings and opinions without having to worry about any negative consequences.

[1] Project Aristotle, Google

[2] Giles, S. 2016. The most important leadership competencies, according to leaders around the world. Harvard Business Review

[3] Future of Work Research Consortium, A FoW Report on Power and Leadership. 2016

[4] Groysberg, B. and Slind, M., 2012. Leadership is a conversation. Harvard business review, 90(6), pp.76-­84

[5] Detert, J.R. and Burris, E.R., 2016. Can Your Employees Really Speak Freely? Harvard Business Review, 94(1-­2), pp.80-­87

“People are your greatest asset”

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We hear this phrase echoing around the corridors of Canary Wharf and Downtown Manhattan, but are we really unleashing the potential of all the great people in our organisation? Well, in our experience, we find that companies often recruit talented, high performing individuals, but then fail to empower these individuals to affect change.

So what are the levers that organisations must activate if they are to enable their people to unleash their full potential?

1. Speaking up – We spend a lot of time thinking about this at Hot Spots Movement, as well as working on this capability with clients, andText Box what we’ve found is that speaking up is far more likely and powerful in organisations which create an environment of psychological safety. What do we mean by psychological safety? This is an environment in which people’s views are valued, no matter their seniority or function, where people can challenge the status quo and are free to build on each other’s ideas. In addition to creating psychological safety, we find it’s crucial that organisations act on the insights given. People will only speak up if they feel they are being listened to, and that their views are being acted upon.

2. Collaboration – Here, we are looking at tapping into collective people power. Research shows that innovative and impactful ideas tend to come from cross-enterprise collaboration, rather than one team from a research lab or company department working on an issue in isolation.[1] Additionally, new workplace technologies have allowed organisations to bring people together in a many-to-many communication model, inspiring innovation as well as giving employees greater agency when it comes to decision-making.

3. Innovation and Productivity – Organisations often find themselves tasked with doing more with less, and have to constantly reinvent themselves in the face of disruption. As such, innovation is no longer a department or function, but instead a mentality that must pervade the entire organisation. Interestingly, our experience from running innovation projects with clients indicates an innate desire and capacity to innovate which is latent within many employees. What these employees are lacking, however, is the time to do so, or the incentives to ensure they make time for innovation.

4. Organisational Structure and Values – Research shows that strong values and purpose are effective in unleashing the people power of current employees, as well as becoming an increasingly important role in the attraction of new talent.[2] The challenge that organisations face here is to ensure that the rhetoric matches reality. That is to say, if you have a set of values in your office lobby, you need to ensure that they are being reflected in the processes and practices that underpin the everyday behaviour of your employees, and be sure that employees are rewarded for living those values.

We’re undertaking ongoing research into this topic through the Unleashing People Power Survey. This 10-minute survey allows you to pulse-check  how your organisation is performing on each of the above four levers, as well as how this compares to the benchmarking of 60+ multinationals. Perhaps take a moment today to complete it, and send it to your colleagues too – the more responses, the more insightful the data.

If you’re interested in taking the Unleashing People Power Survey or would like to learn more about how to unleash the energy of your people, please contact Harriet Molyneaux harriet@hotspotsmovement.com.

[1] Wuchty, S., Jones, B. and Uzzi, B. 2007. The Increasing Dominance of Teams in Production of Knowledge, Science 316, no. 5827: 1036–1039

[2] Nally, D. (2015). Five reasons diversity and inclusion matter to every business and every employee. PwC CEO Insights.