Month: January 2018

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

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:

Or for more information about our I&D research, contact me at 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

[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 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.