Changing Pace: the difference between excelling and falling short at work (and life)

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Screen Shot 2015-11-02 at 09.20.00Last week I was speaking at an event for an energy company in the Nordics.

The night before the event we were having dinner together and I noticed people avidly checking their phones for the latest score in a sports match of seemingly national significance[1]. When I asked what sport it was I was surprised to learn that it was a chess match. How could a potentially slow-paced game attract so much attention in real-time I pondered?

Now contrast this with another sports event, when FIFA took football (soccer) to the USA. They were asked to shift the pace of the match from two 45-minute halves with a break (standard football timings), to more of a basketball format, with 20-minute sessions and three breaks. The US television channels claimed that an American audience shouldn’t/couldn’t/wouldn’t watch 45 minutes straight without a breather.[2]

While these are just anecdotes rather than careful analyses of each of the countries or cultures in question, they do hint at something we should perhaps pay more attention to in our lives: pace.

This is something I’ve examined in myself in recent years, when I’ve thought about what I’m good at and why I struggle with other endeavors. One example is when I first started speaking at events. My biggest challenge was to talk at a slower pace so that I could be clearly understood, but no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t do it.

I eventually realized that the speed at which I spoke was innately tied up with the speed at which I approached just about everything in life, perhaps under the impression that that made me more productive. This meant that in order to speak more slowly, I had to practice just ‘being’ at a slower pace. I made myself walk slower, breathe slower, eat slower…. and only by doing all of those other things was I finally able to master presenting at a coherent speed.

It turned out that what I really needed to do was step outside of my comfortable pace of being, and learn to operate in another rhythm. It was a realization that for me, made the difference between excelling at something that was critical for my role, or continually falling short.

Now, pace isn’t something we talk much about at work, but perhaps it should be. We all have a natural pace that makes us great at certain things, but holds us back in other respects.

Maybe take a moment today to consider your natural pace – are you a chess match or a basketball game? And then practice ‘playing the other sport.’ What does it feel like when you simply walk a little faster or slower? What would you be better at if you sped up or slowed down at work? It may be that getting comfortable with a different pace, a different rhythm is the key to helping you master something you’ve been grappling with for years.

[1] Surely a turn of phrase that gives away how little I know about sports, let alone writing about them

[2] I appreciate the advertising community may have had something to do with this narrative

It’s Official: Mergers and Acquisitions are Back

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SONY DSC2015 was a record year, with $4.2 trillion of transactions pending or completed at the end of December. This news leaves shareholders and Mergers and Acquisitions (M&A) bankers gleefully rubbing their hands together, however history has repeatedly shown us that after too many mergers employee engagement is lost. So what should you do if you’re the person left with the herculean task of curating these two very separate groups of people into one cohesive body with a shared purpose, values and community?

Let’s take a look at why disengagement sets in. Organisations have an unnervingly brief window of opportunity after announcing a merger to create a single community with shared values and purpose. If they don’t act fast, this opportunity is lost and the “us and them culture” sets in; individual employees ask “where do I fit in?”; and the values of the dominant company swallow up those of the smaller company. This makes the chance of cementing a truly joint purpose, from an engaged community with shared values, unobtainable.

So what should you be doing to avoid this? Well for a start it is fundamental that organisations engage employees from both sides of the merger in the co-creation of shared values as soon as possible after the merger announcement. This must be an engagement at scale, and in a way that enables them to contribute to the discussion and formulation of the shared values. The very act of focusing your people on co-creation establishes a sense of community across both sides of the merger. This sense of community in turn pushes the newly formed organisation over a tipping point of engagement. You can capitalise on the renewed energy created by heightened engagement to rapidly sense-check shared values across the organisation and enable employees to feel ownership over these values. This process creates a sense of belonging, motivation and engagement on an individual level, to maintain the energy and drive needed to push through the stress of the merger.

By following a process of acting both rapidly and inclusively you ensure that, instead of creating a sense of loss at the changes made by the merger, you’ve created a community. This is a community with a shared purpose, driving engagement, around the values of your newly formed company. This engagement has the added bonus of contributing to the success of the merger, ensuring your shareholders are still happy.

Do you need to cement values across silos? Contact for further information on how to achieve this.

Why knowledge sharing doesn’t happen at work – and what you can do about it

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Screen Shot 2015-11-02 at 09.20.00If you work at a company of more than a few hundred employees, the chances are you spend at least some time each day on knowledge-sharing platforms… or at least you are being told you should. The rise of these platforms has been one of the defining corporate endeavours of the last decade. I say endeavour because despite the big investments in this type of technology, we hear endlessly that they have not achieved the collaborative, knowledge-sharing cultures they set out to.

But why? After all, the platforms themselves are usually intuitive and engaging. They’re rolled out to entire divisions and departments with gusto and in some companies they even manage to get the holy grail that is leadership role-modelling.

One of the answers according to our research here at the Future of Work is signalling. Let me explain.

The investments that companies have made in the systems is only part of what is required. Those systems must be just one element of a wider culture of collaboration. One in which people receive frequent and consistent behavioural cues that knowledge-sharing is expected and well received. These cues, or signals, come from the way in which the work environment is structured, both the physical environment and the processes and practices that surround every day behaviour.

Think about it in your organisation: when you walk into your office (let’s be honest, most of us – 87% in fact – still work primarily in an office) what are the cues you receive about how you should behave? Is it ok to be away from your desk or offline without an explanation for a few minutes, perhaps even an hour, so that you can start a conversation with a colleague and share knowledge the old fashioned way? Or, is any time away viewed with suspicion? Do you have the autonomy to build networks outside of your organisation, or with people in other regions? These are basic, but important questions because without the cultural norms encouraging people to share knowledge in-person, day-to-day, companies are unlikely to see those same people eagerly using knowledge-sharing platforms. Why would we expect an entirely different set of behaviours merely because people are online?

So, what’s the key message for organisations that are looking to enhance knowledge-sharing? Create signals – loud and clear – that encourage people to build on the expertise of others and use their skills to contribute the success of teams beyond their own. This requires an analysis of the many signals sent out by performance management approaches, training and development opportunities, and selection processes – what do each of these organisational tools tell people about how they should behave?

It means providing people with space and time to talk, wander, browse – indulge their curiosity for a few minutes a day and spark the conversations that will get them intrigued enough to search for more information, perhaps on a knowledge-sharing platform. Finally, when it comes to the platforms themselves, ensure they too send out clear signals about their purpose and the format in which people should contribute. The success of social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter is that they are subtly prescriptive about what you should share and how (Twitter’s 140 characters being the obvious example). And avoid at all costs the fragmentation of employees across platforms. This in itself sends a mixed signal as to where people should be spending their time and contributing their expertise.

Knowledge-sharing platforms are a potentially game-changing tool to harness a culture of collaboration. Just don’t expect them to transform people into new ways of working simply by virtue of moving them online.

What genocide can teach us about change 

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Lynda - Hot Spots Movement - Portrait by LK - web size 72dpiMy partner and I went to Rwanda a couple of weeks ago. Our mission was to trek up the country’s highest mountains to see the mountain gorillas that inhabit these bamboo forests.

People had told us that this would be a “life-changing experience” and indeed both of us came back changed. But it was not seeing the gorillas that changed us. It was being in Rwanda.

Most people will have a vague recollection of the terrible genocide that ravaged the country 20 years ago when people, often neighbours, turned on each other during 100 days of bloodletting. More than a million people died.

Yet now people appear to live in peace with each other and the country is prospering. How could this happen and what might we learn from it?

I realise it’s trite to make any comparison between the terror of a genocide and the organisational life and change that I study. Yet I feel I’ve learnt a great deal from my experiences in Rwanda and wanted to share them because it seems to me that there is a great deal to learn. Here are four insights:

– Facing up to the truth. The truth in the genocide was beyond imagination. Yet painstakingly and courageously, families and communities faced up to what had happened. First in courts and then in community groups the truth of what happened was openly discussed and confronted.

– Removing negative symbols of the past. The hatred between groups prior to the genocide was fuelled in part by cattle owning. Some groups had more cattle than others and their superiority was demonstrated through cattle ownership. After the genocide the government stopped the grazing of cattle on public ground – all cattle had to be kept in domestic yards. They also ensured that every family – however poor – owned a cow.

– Creating pride. Rwanda is spotless – not just cleaner than any African country, but cleaner than London. Every month the whole community get together and clean their space. It’s an act of enormous pride. What ever their past, this is a community capable of competence, they can keep their street clean.

– Creating a sense of the future. Almost every young person we spoke to felt positive about their future. They did not want to describe themselves through their tribal grouping but rather as ‘Rwandans’. They felt positive about the future of the country and trusted their leaders.

These are four lessons that anyone involved in corporate change knows. What the extraordinary change that Rwanda tells us is that it’s possible – by following these four lessons relentlessly – to turn around from even the darkest of moments.