Commentary

The Unintended Consequences of Agile Working

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IzzyWebsiteThe advancements in technology, paired with globalisation have promoted a trend towards agile working, with workers free to work at a time and location which suits them. In the changing world of work, there is a growing trend for employees to work flexibly and not be required to be tied to their desks in traditional working patterns, with 70% of people globally working remotely at least once a week [1]. There are multiple organisational benefits to agile working, including increased productivity, autonomy and the promotion of work-life balance for employees.

Recently, Microsoft Japan implemented a 4 day working week to much success. Offering its 2,300 employees a variety of agile working styles, Microsoft Japan launched a pilot programme aiming to increase productivity and morale, with a goal to realise the same results with 20% fewer weekly hours[2]. The results appeared to be highly positive: a 40% rise in productivity, happier workers and a decline in days taken off. However, there are often unintended consequences of agile working which organisations should consider in their approach. The introduction of the shorter week came with the introduction of ‘strict new rules’, with managers being ‘heavy handed’ in their implementation, including employees being fined for taking too long on work-related matters.

Taking these dynamics into consideration, the pressure to output the same amount, or the resulting 40% rise in productivity in Microsoft’s case, in a shorter amount of time could have a detrimental effect upon employees wellbeing and long term efficiency.

Organisations such as Tiggertrap and the Los Angeles Times have also suffered unintended consequences when introducing an unlimited vacation policy. On the face of it, this seems like a positive idea which promotes high levels of rejuvenation, empowerment and autonomy. However, in practice often these policies push people to always be ‘on’ and connected, with a Glassdoor survey showing that 61% of workers admit to working despite being on vacation[3].

In many cases, one of the main disadvantages associated with unlimited vacation policies is that often employees end up taking less time off. Tiggertrap scrapped their unlimited vacation policy after results found that employees had reduced their average number of holiday taken from 28 days to 15. Factors such as unspoken expectations and nobody wanting to be the person who takes the most time off, contribute to spiralling behaviour in which employees take even less holiday than before. Adding to this, the advancement in technology has enabled new ways of working, but has also promoted the growth of an ‘always on’ culture, in which there are potential stresses of constantly being connected to work and never truly switching off.

So, after this reflection of the disadvantages of a more agile approach to working arrangements, why should organisations still consider this strategy as their most future-proofed option?

In the changing world of work, organisations need to adapt their traditional approaches to ways of working in order to attract and retain the best talent. By offering a wider menu of options of working hours, organisations should be able to attract a broader range of people and maintain a stronger talent pipeline. In confronting the unintended consequences, it is crucial that organisations develop policies that will not just allow employees to work flexibly or have time off, but encourage them to do so. If the aim of the policy is to enhance a less frenzied working environment, with reduced burnout and higher productivity, organisations need to tackle the culture in which these policies sit and support individual behaviour that does not promote employees to be ‘always on’ and constantly connected. To approach this, organisations could benefit from considering a more tailored approach, aiming to promote a culture which empowers their employees ‘to communicate when they need time to disconnect’, rather than rolling out a one-size-fits-all policy[4].


[1] https://www.cnbc.com/2018/05/30/70-percent-of-people-globally-work-remotely-at-least-once-a-week-iwg-study.html

2 Kelly, J. (2019). Microsoft Japan Launched A Four-Day Workweek To Much Success: Is This The Key To Attracting Talent In The Tight U.S. Job Market?. [online] Forbes.com. Available at: https://www.forbes.com/sites/jackkelly/2019/11/05/microsoft-japan-launched-a-four-day-week-work-to-much-success-is-this-the-answer-to-attract-talent-in-the-tight-us-job-market/#4863cf6759ff  [Accessed 21 Nov. 2019].

3 Unlimited Vacation Time Policy (2016), Hot Spots Movement. Available at: http://hotspotscdn.blob.core.windows.net/files/1247/unlimited-vacation-time-case-study-160915.pdf [Accessed 21st. Nov. 2019]

4 Future of HR Report (2016), Hot Spots Movement, Available at http://hotspotscdn.blob.core.windows.net/files/1267/future-of-hr-report-final.pdf

The Power of Purpose in Finance

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0Historically, Trust in finance was viewed as fundamental and underpinned the banking industry from its outset – in fact, the word ‘credit’ is derived from the Latin word for ‘trust’.

In more recent times however, the 2008 financial crisis prompted a swathe of mistrust to sweep the financial sector; bonuses had grown bigger and bigger as transparency dwindled and significant regulatory steps had to be taken in an attempt to rebuild faith in the sector.

The poet Robert Frost summed up the sentiment towards financial services institutions; “A bank is a place where they lend you an umbrella in fair weather and ask for it back again when it begins to rain.”1 This is echoed in the 2019 Edelman Trust Barometer which, despite showing a gradual increase in trust over the past five years, highlights Financial Services as the least trusted of the industry sectors2.

There are a number of factors contributing to this view, one of which being the widely reported sums of bankers’ bonuses. Such reports are instrumental in the view that there is no greater Purpose in financial services than profit.

However, this all-consuming focus on profit hasn’t always been the driver of financial institutions. A British economist has highlighted that, “For nearly all of its 2,000-year history, the corporation has combined a public purpose with its commercial activities. It is only over the last 60 years that the idea that profit is the only purpose of business has emerged.”This quest for ever increasing financial gains is not a Purpose which inspires trust, nor does it sit well with the regulators.

Time to make a change?

Banking culture is under increased scrutiny by the FCA, whose approach now has a greater focus on culture and governance – as is highlighted in our recent white paper at HSM, which uncovers this in more detail. ‘Purpose’ has been highlighted as one of the four key drivers of culture and behaviour which firms can identify and proactively influence.4 In his outgoing speech as Chief Executive of the FCA, Andrew Bailey emphasised the importance of culture in driving more ethical behaviour: “culture is about encouraging and incentivising good things, not just stopping bad things from happening.”5

Action needs to be taken by many firms in light of these new conditions, to consider and clarify the wider Purpose and to enable the associated values and behaviours to permeate the sector. There is an opportunity to use this moment to more broadly transform the social impact of financial institutions and not merely allow these considerations to become a tick-box exercise. 

Adopting a more Purposeful approach

A clear Purpose not only highlights the aims and direction of a firm, but also earns greater understanding and trust from the public. A number of financial institutions have considered their Purpose and taken a more holistic view of their aims and responsibilities for customers, employees and society. They are driving real mindset shifts in their approach to everyday tasks, building a customer centric approach where employees at all levels embody the traits and behaviours of the shared goals, ultimately helping to achieve the progression and betterment of society. 

However, we can’t just forget the financial targets; firms need to flourish to be able to achieve their goals. However, financial gain should no longer be the sole objective. Indeed, impact of Purpose is profound and a clear link can be drawn between it and performance, with firms demonstrating a deeply ingrained Purpose correlating strongly with ten-year shareholder returns.6 

Financial Institutions have the ability to play a significant part in the inclusion, growth and enrichment of society; but this has to be reflected in their Purpose. It may just be that the power of Purpose could be the catalyst for rebuilding trust, better businesses and a more sustainable society.

I’d love to hear more about your experiences of the power of Purpose. If you would like to have a discussion, please get in touch with me at oliver@hotspotsmovement.com


 1. Oxford Reference

2.2019 Edelman Trust Barometer

3. OUP Blog, Colin Mayer

4.FCA Transforming Culture in Financial Services, FCA Approach to Supervision

5. Transforming culture in financial services conference, Andrew Bailey

6.Purpose with the Power to Transform your Organisation, BCG

What is ‘Good Work’?

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IzzyWebsiteAs work has changed, the relationship between organisations and their people has progressed. Work has moved away from the industrial revolution and the homogenisation of workers and evolved into an era of autonomy with a new emphasis on the wellbeing of the individual. In recent decades this shift has been characterised by the increased responsibility and awareness of organisations for the wellness of their people.

However, despite the increased focus on individual wellbeing in the workplace, there has been a decline in job satisfaction. In the 1980s ‘roughly 61% of pollsters were satisfied with their jobs’, by 2010 this figure had dropped to 43%[2]. Even amongst highly skilled professions such as medicine and law, studies reflected rising discontent.

Financial security is an obviously important element – we know from our work with organisations that people need to be paid fairly – however, after that, economic incentive is not a big driver of satisfaction. In his essay ‘On the Phenomenon of Bullshit Jobs’, David Graeber explores the negative ramifications for people who feel that their job is worthless and lacks value. These are roles in which the person cannot justify the existence of their responsibilities, despite often being highly respected jobs and well paid. These people frequently feel that the tasks they perform do not contribute to a wider cause, creating a sense of disillusionment and ‘pointlessness’ to their role. Linked to this is the emotional connection between work and identity, with 55% of people gaining some sense of identity from their job[1]. This lack of meaning can be emotionally detrimental to employees, leaving workers feeling unfulfilled in the performance of tasks they believe do not make a difference[2].

Here at HSM we advise that organisations, and particularly leaders, talk about ‘Good Work’ and evaluate whether the roles the offer provide a sense of meaning to their employees, looking beyond the traditional financial incentives to drive job fulfilment. The concept of ‘Good work’ highlights the importance of a role providing meaning, autonomy, dignity and a sense of belongingness. Employees wish to feel their efforts are adding value and are meaningful, even to a small degree. Furthermore, ‘good work’ needs to extend a sense of control to employees, promoting a level of freedom and autonomy within a role. Evidence of this was shown in Amy Wrzesniewski’s and Jane Dutton’s 2001 study, which found that janitors at large hospitals who viewed their roles as being part of the healing process of patients, rather than as a series of cleaning tasks, had higher levels of job satisfaction[3].

The positive implication of a more engaged workforce is substantial, particularly when placed in the unsettled context of technological disruption and social change. With statistics highlighting that 70% of the workforce is disengaged, a proactive and creative approach is required to increase job satisfaction[1].

Interested in learning more about how you can influence ‘Good Work’ in your organisation? Get in touch with me at isabella@hotspotsmovement.com


[1] Future of Work Research Consortium, ‘Building Narratives on the Future of Work’ Report, 2018

[2] Wealthy, Successful and Miserable – C. Duhigg, The Future of Work, The New York Times Magazine

[3] Crafting a Job: Revisioning Employees as Active Crafters of Their Work. A. Wrzesniewski and J. E. Dutton, 2001

The Power of Unwritten Rules

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By Graham Oxley, Project Manager – Digital Engagement

grahamWhether at work or at home, we often hear about unwritten rules. These are the norms, behaviours or actions that people are expected to follow or do even though they are not written down anywhere in a formal rule book or culture document. We encounter these unwritten rules every day and get annoyed when people don’t follow them – think of every time you have muttered under your breath when the person in front of you doesn’t hold the door for you. But beyond merely being frustrating, in certain contexts, such as corporate culture and sports, unwritten rules have the power to create a vastly different reality to the intended rhetoric of written rules.  Often, we see that once a written rule is created, various factors go to work to change, reinforce or undermine it, until the unwritten rules that have been created hold more power than the written rule that they have emerged around.  

One place where unwritten rules are in abundance is sports, and this has been making the news recently. Firstly, there has been fierce debate in cricket this week around Ravi Ashwin, the Indian all-rounder playing for Kings XI Punjab, who performed a ‘Mankad’ dismissal on England batsman Jos Buttler in an Indian Premier League match against the Rajasthan Royals.[1] This is allowed in the official rulebook, but a large number of ex-players and pundits have condemned him for contravening ‘the Spirit of Cricket’, which is a set of unwritten rules that many cricketers subscribe to. On the same day, on the other side of the world in Miami, Nick Kyrgios, an Australian tennis player, served underhand in beating Dusan Lajovic.[2] The reaction towards this has been more balanced; Judy Murray labelled him a genius afterwards, but during the game a spectator ran onto the court to remonstrate with him for the tactics. These are two examples in just the last week, which show that unwritten rules are rife across the sports world; footballers put the ball out of play when the opposition has an injured player, rugby league players do not contest scrums and baseball has so many unwritten rules that people lose track.[3]

The question that follows here is: how do unwritten rules relate to my business? Organisations operate as complex systems of (1) formal, interdependent processes – such as pay, performance and training; and (2) informal practices and behaviours operating under the radar, such as ad hoc flexibility in work schedules, or the prioritisation of presence over performance. The latter are the ‘unwritten rules of the game’ and they exert a strong influence over employee behaviours and have a significant impact on the success or failure of any new intervention implemented. Here is an example: your organisation may have set up a generous parental leave policy aimed at improving engagement amongst families. However, if the culture and leadership of your organisation signals, through non-verbal or verbal cues, that anyone who takes up their full parental leave will face a delay in getting a promotion or pay rise, the reality of that decision looks very different to what the written rhetoric intended.

Clarity on the unwritten rules of the game that are shaping behaviour is therefore key before launching any new initiative. This exercise allows businesses to understand how any intervention will influence and be influenced by other factors at play, giving an early indication of any unintended consequences that you need to consider and plan for.

So how do we find out the unwritten rules of the game? The answer lies in engaging your employees in an open dialogue. Taking the time to truly listen to your employees to understand their diverse motivators, enablers and triggers will pave the way forward. We have worked with a number of clients on this challenge; you can see a snapshot of who we have worked with here.

I would be happy to have a further discussion about how you can go about uncovering the unwritten rules of the game and ensuring that your organisations’ reality is truly representative of the rhetoric. Just drop me an email at graham@hotspotsmovement.com.


[1] https://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/cricket/47697369

[2] https://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/tennis/47704618

[3] https://www.abc.net.au/news/2018-10-12/unwritten-rules-in-sport-are-fast-becoming-a-thing-of-the-past/10364436

Three Perspectives on the Future of High Performance

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CHIt’s been one month since our Future of High Performance Masterclass and we’re excited to soon be sharing our Report with members of the Future of Work Research Consortium, which will present the key findings from our extensive research on this theme.  The Masterclass was packed full of insights, activities and opportunities to network and share good practices.  We had three fantastic guest speakers on the day, so here are my key takeaways from their insightful contributions.

Dr. Randall S. Peterson, Professor of Organisational Behaviour at London Business School, spoke to delegates about the power of collaboration in high performance teams.  My favourite takeaway from Randall’s presentation was about how research shows that the best teams are the most diverse – but so are the very worst teams.  He argued that the key was in the management of these teams.  When diverse teams are managed well, members have access to a variety of sources of information and have opportunities to learn from each other and grow.  However, when teams are managed poorly, it gives rise to task conflicts (disagreements around the content of the work), relationship conflicts (personal disagreements) and process conflicts (disagreements about the logistics of getting work done).  Creating common understandings of problems, encouraging information sharing and promoting psychological safety and belongingness are a couple of ways to begin managing conflict and supporting high performance teams.

Tom Ravenscroft, founder and CEO of Enabling Enterprise, identified three major myths about human skills which need to be formally debunked.  The first is that these skills are innate and that there are some “natural” team players.  The second myth is that these skills are picked up by osmosis and simply “rub off” on people, rather than needing to be taught.  The third is that these skills lie latent and that, in the “right situation”, people will show these skills.  Organisations need to abandon these assumptions in order to make real progress towards building the skills of the future.

ballet-sneaker-dress-ballet-dancer-163379.jpeg

Lynda Gratton, Hot Spots Movement’s founder and CEO, told delegates about her main impressions from the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting in Davos this year – you can read her full blog for MIT Sloan here.  Lynda stated that one hot topic was that work is undergoing a major transition, as technology demands that people upskill and reskill more rapidly than ever before.[1]  At our Masterclass, one of our delegates asked Lynda a fascinating question: how can CEOs continue to be creative when they are under increasing pressure to take immediate action to address this transition in work?  Our research indicates that CEOs need the support of HR to look beyond the short term and develop a narrative on the future of work.[2]  By developing a point of view on learning and making their involvement and investment in learning initiatives a priority, they can help their people to develop the skillsets necessary to transform and adapt.

So, some key questions to consider when thinking about high performance in the long term are:

  • Am I building the uniquely human skills I will need to succeed in the future of work?
  • Am I harnessing the power of diversity in my team?
  • Does my CEO have a clear narrative on what our organisation will look like in the future and what we need to do and learn in order to get there?

As our definition of high performance changes, building our skillsets and prioritising our interpersonal skills and development will help us to become more future-proofed.  Drop me an email if you’d like to have a conversation about high performance at callandra@hotspotsmovement.com.


[1] Lynda Gratton, ‘Five Insights From Davos on the Future of Work’, MIT Sloan Management Review Blog (2019).

[2] FoW, Building Narratives on the Future of Work Masterclass Report (2018).

A Lesson on Culture Change from Ole Gunnar Solskjaer

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By Graham Oxley, Project Manager – Digital Engagement

The manager of Manchester United is not someone that people would often look to when researching culture change. However, the remarkable turnaround in fortunes at the club since new manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer joined on the 19th December 2018 is worth investigating. When you look closely, you can see the hallmarks of successful culture change that can be applied to any business, from football team to multi-national corporation as I intend to show. This is particularly exciting to me because it allows me to see a connection between my favourite hobby and my daily work in helping businesses enact effective culture transformations.

Solskjaer has not had lots of time in the job, but he has unwittingly (or not?) taken a number of the same steps that we recommend to organisations looking to transform the culture:

1.    Engage your influencers – People naturally want to reduce their cognitive dissonance and this means that in teams and organisations, employees adopt the behaviours of those people who have reference power[i]. These people are your influencers, and if you can engage them in adopting the behaviours you seek, this can naturally filter through the organisation. Paul Pogba is one of the most influential men in the Manchester United squad, which is why in pursuit of a culture of attacking football, Solskjaer has focussed on encouraging his star player to play more positively and watched this rub off on the rest of the squad.

2.    Focus on micro-behaviours – Micro-behaviours are defined as small, thoughtless acts that can act in dissonance with a culture. For example, speaking over a junior colleague in a meeting is a small act, but may be in counter to an organisation’s intended culture of respect and collaboration. Calling out these negative micro-behaviours can help continually reinforce the organisation’s culture in employees’ minds until it becomes unconscious. Solskjaer has identified a respect for the club as something that he wants to foster in the culture and focussed on micro-behaviours such as asking all players to wear matching Manchester United branded jackets when arriving at the games to show unity, as opposed to wearing whatever they wanted previously[ii].

3.    Fostering a culture of positivity – Positivity can have a significant impact on creativity, which can be explained by neuroscience. The neocortex and limbic system, seats of rational thought and emotions, work together to produce creativity, which means to be creative, you need both to be stimulated and feel safe.[iii] A lot of culture change initiatives in organisations focus on the rational or intellectual appeal for employees, however it is important to maintain a focus on the emotional elements to ensure that employees are feeling positive and therefore unleash creativity. Solskjaer knew that creativity was a big part of the culture he wanted to embed, so has focussed heavily on positivity in his messages both externally and internally, which was a stark contrast to the previous culture described by some as ‘fear and hate’[iv].

We frequently talk to clients about the importance of each of the above when it comes to enacting successful cultural change and it is interesting to see some real-life examples coming from an unexpected source. One word of caution however; immediate change is highly unlikely in a large multi-national organisation. Changing the culture in a 25-man football squad is a much smaller task, and even Solskjaer himself has admitted that ‘we are still very much a work in progress’[v]. However, he has adopted some key principles that are the key to cultural change no matter what the size of organisation and perhaps there is a lesson there for anyone enacting their programme of transformation.

Here at HSM, we help clients leverage the power of crowd-sourcing to make evidence-based decisions around delivering effective culture change. If you want to discuss this further, or are a football fan, drop me an email on graham@hotspotsmovement.com and I am happy to have a more in-depth chat.


[i] Shu, L. Gino, F. Bazerman, M H., (2011) Ethical Discrepancy : Changing Our Attitudes to Resolve Moral Dissonance, Behavioral Business Ethics: Ideas on an Emerging Field. Taylor and Francis Publishing

[ii] https://www.manchestereveningnews.co.uk/sport/football/man-utd-solskjaer-mourinho-news-15674358

[iii] Dietrich, A. (2015). How creativity happens in the brain. Springer. Chicago

[iv] https://www.manchestereveningnews.co.uk/sport/football/man-utd-solskjaer-mourinho-news-15674358

[v] https://www.standard.co.uk/sport/football/manchesterunited/how-man-utd-boss-ole-gunnar-solskjaer-has-transformed-paul-pogba-in-just-two-weeks-a4027561.html

Do Diversity Statements Really Work?

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lottiehsmphotoWe are surrounded by pro-diversity messages today – from the #MeToo campaign, to the controversial Pepsi advert featuring Kendall Jenner – diversity, and the lack of it, penetrates every aspect of society.

We find here at HSM, that workplace diversity and inclusion (D&I) is often the most pressing challenge for many HR executives, and it’s no surprise given that there are only 25 female Fortune 500 CEOs and three black Fortune 500 CEOs[1], and that just 16% of autistic adults in the UK are in full-time employment[2]. Many organisations are trying to amend these inequalities not only because it has become socially unacceptable, but also because it has been evidenced that a diverse workforce can greatly benefit an organisation’s bottom line.

For example McKinsey has found that companies in the top quartile of ethnic and racial diversity were 35% more likely to financially outperform their industry competitors[3]. This clearly has huge appeal for organisations, yet there remains a significant gap between the rhetoric and the reality of diversity efforts today. In this post I will focus on how often well-intentioned organisations are unaware of how to make the leap from the rhetoric of aspirational diversity agendas, to creating a reality of a company culture that is truly diverse and inclusive.

One way in which companies try to incorporate a pro-diversity message within their organisation’s culture and values is by including diversity or equal employer opportunity (EEO) statements, or by creating lengthy and comprehensive D&I policies. It is sometimes assumed that by creating these statements or policies, they will automatically attract a more diverse applicant pool of talent, and thus a more diverse workforce, allowing them to benefit from all of the advantages of diverse workforces. However, research has shown that EEO and diversity statements are ineffective in bringing about actual change[4]. A recent World Economic Forum report claimed that although 97% of companies have diversity programs or statements in place, only 25% of employees from diverse groups believe that they have personally benefited from these initiatives[5].

agreement-black-business-943630

So where can we go from here? Evidently employers still have a long way to go in fully addressing discrimination in organisations. Eliminating discrimination and working towards inclusivity needs to be made a regular part of the conversation in order to become a reality. For example, it could be a good starting point to ask employees what they think inclusion means, to ask them to share their experiences of feeling excluded, and to co-create with their employers the actions that would make the company more inclusive. The ideas and actions that come from these conversations can help bring your policy to life, as they truly come from the heart of your organisation and your people, those who will ultimately be responsible for implementing it.

This is something we have enabled clients to do, using our Collaboration Jams. These online, crowdsourced conversations enable thousands of employees to connect in a many-to-many conversation around the most pressing issues. Combined with expert facilitation, they make even the most sensitive topics safe to explore and provide leaders and HR teams with evidence-based solutions. Get in touch to find out more about how you can empower your employees to convert your diversity rhetoric into a reality.


[1] http://fortune.com/2017/06/09/white-men-senior-executives-fortune-500-companies-diversity-data/

[2] https://researchbriefings.parliament.uk/ResearchBriefing/Summary/CBP-7540

[3] https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/organization/our-insights/why-diversity-matters

[4] https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/000312240607100404

[5] https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2019/01/company-diversity-fatigue-no-excuse/