Virtual Engagement during Covid-19 – how can we redesign our ways of working to be better than before?
By Sally McNamara, Asia Pacific Director
Companies have been grappling with declining employee engagement for several decades. Research has suggested that up to 85% of people are not engaged or actively disengaged at work[i]. The interesting point is that the same research also suggests that it might not be the actual work that is the problem, but rather the outdated management styles that are still very much at play. In particular, the industrial era ‘command and control’ approach is proving a difficult habit to break at every level of organisational design: strategy, structure, processes, rewards and people.[ii]
Humans rarely adapt at scale unless there is a forced trigger to do so. Nobel prize winning economist Daniel Kahneman has explored this idea deeply in his work, demonstrating that in most cases, we would much rather avoid a loss than achieve a gain, unless the circumstances are very bad.[iii]
What if this pandemic is not just a test of survival and making do, but a greater call to much needed workplace adaptation? A chance to develop new principles that actually align with the challenges we face in this digital age? All too often we have been trying to implement new processes and practices without understanding the real issues, as anyone who has attempted to implement a new technology solution on top of an outdated structure and process will readily attest to.
As Professor Lynda Gratton reinforced in her recent webinar on “Working Virtually”[iv], one of the major blockers to the previous success of virtual working was due to the fact that leaders themselves were not working virtually. This promoted a lingering suspicion that people working virtually must surely be “Netflix and chilling” all day long, rather than working. Such an insidious lack of trust is a key factor in driving disengagement, and we know that organisations who are high-trust outperform those who are low-trust, with research suggesting by as much as 2.5 times.[v]
Now that the majority of our global population are synchronised in virtual working, it is an opportunity to build better ways of working that are based on trust, both for now and into the future. However, if we are not careful, we may simply replicate old principles and assumptions to bring our bad habits with us into the virtual world of work. Here are a few ideas for how we can avoid doing so:
1. Build a Narrative – A narrative provides a way to make sense of events and communicate experience, knowledge and emotions. Creating a strong narrative does not rely upon the leaders having all the answers (now more than ever – this is clearly impossible). However, it does rely on creating an ongoing thread of communication that recognises the deep uncertainty whilst also visioning the future, to help people connect with a sense of direction and purpose. This could be an opportunity to fundamentally shift some of the ways you work for the better. Why not involve your people in co-creating new ways of working? It could also be an opportunity to create new solutions for your clients and customers – as the saying goes, “necessity is the mother of invention”.
2. Be Outcomes Focused – What if we were to measure productivity by outcomes rather than hours or time online? As schools continue to shut down around the world and global teams need to shift their working patterns to fit current shifts in demand, we will need to think more creatively than ever about how well our concept of “standard days” actually work in practice, both now and into the future.
3. Examining Unwritten Rules – An example of an unwritten rule is that the official work start time is 09:00 but once you become part of the team, you realise your colleagues have all been there since 07:30 as standard. This is a chance to re-evaluate your unwritten rules and how they may be impacting wellbeing and engagement, rather than just replicating them in the virtual world. As Novartis CEO Vas Narasimhan recently said in relation to the Covid-19 pandemic, we need to “create clarity for teams and trust them without micromanaging”[vi]. We may need to be even more careful of where the lines between our personal and work lives become ever more blurred, and that the pressure to be “online” may actually increase.
4. Extending Empathy – The one thing we need now, more than ever, is empathy. The definition of empathy is being able to sit beside someone and feel with them. We need to accept and welcome that everyone will be having good days and bad days. If a team member has been in isolation or unable to see their family, it is unlikely they will be able to perform at their usual level. I have had more than one friend share with me that they are pretending their video function does not work because their anxiety levels are high, and they feel more comfortable with voice calls. An unintended consequence of our desire to communicate may be that in some cases, we are creating more stress through enforcing a one-size-fits-all approach.
If you would like to discuss this topic in greater depth, please reach out to me on email or comment below.
[i] “What is employee engagement and how to you improve it?”, Gallup, accessed March 20, 2020, https://www.gallup.com/workplace/285674/improve-employee-engagement-workplace.asp
[iii] “Thinking Fast and Slow”, Daniel Kahnemann, 2011
[iv] “Working Virtually”, London Business School, March 18 2020 – https://www.london.edu/campaigns/executive-education/pandemic-webinars#previouswebinars
[v] The Connection Between Employee Trust and Financial Performance, HBR, July 18 2016, https://hbr.org/2016/07/the-connection-between-employee-trust-and-financial-performance
[vi] “Strong Leadership for Uncertain Times”, Financial Times, March 22, 2020 https://www.ft.com/content/e4aec0cc-6849-11ea-a3c9-1fe6fedcca75
By Tom Goulding, Analyst
It has been widely reported that stress is the “health epidemic of the 21st Century”. The latest statistics for the UK suggest that 12.8 million workdays were lost in 2018/19 to work-related stress, depression, and anxiety.1 The most commonly-cited reason was workload pressures, including tight deadlines and too much responsibility. Evidence strongly suggests that stress impacts employee health2, job satisfaction3, turnover4, as well as productivity and profits.5
The resulting costs of a stressed workforce are significant, and employers have taken note. The Organisational Health and Wellbeing industry that seeks to reduce workplace stress was worth an estimated £526 million in the UK last year.6 However, the effectiveness of programmes in improving wellbeing is questionable. One study examined over 30,000 U.S. warehouse workers, finding those in wellbeing programmes reported no difference in absenteeism, healthcare spending, or job performance.7 Another study implies corporate wellbeing programmes are overwhelmingly taken up by healthy employees, and may even alienate those dealing with existing issues, meaning that programmes can screen out the employees that need help the most.8
The corporate approach to wellbeing evidently needs to be re-examined. W. Edwards Deming argued that “every system is perfectly designed to get the results it gets”, and it seems clear that many organisations are currently designed to produce stressed workers. It seems tautological to say that people are stressed because work is stressful, but it is an important point to make. While theory and evidence both suggest some level of stress is beneficial for performance, too much stress is undoubtedly harmful, as shown in the graph below. If most people are more stressed than is optimal, this is because their roles are more stressful than is optimal.
Wellbeing initiatives often focus on individuals, aiming to improve their resilience or boost the sense of satisfaction employees get from their work. While there is a growing ‘job crafting’ movement9 in the Human Resources world, the power to redesign roles generally belongs to organisations rather than employees. Individual resilience is just one half of the picture. The focus on individuals is particularly convenient for employers, as it precludes any scrutiny into how they are contributing to the problem. This oversight likely underlies the previously discussed ineffectiveness of many wellbeing initiatives.
Furthermore, shifting responsibility from the least powerful part of the system (individuals) to the most powerful (the organisation) magnifies the potential impact of interventions. To take an example that has likely impacted your own life, consider plastic straws. You can choose to personally avoid plastic straws, but it would be impossible for an individual to match the impact of Tesco’s recent decision10 to remove one billion pieces of single-use plastic from their stores by end of 2020, or many retailers’ decision to remove plastic straws altogether.
There is no one-size-fits-all approach but, ultimately, a large portion of the responsibility must lie with the organisation to listen to their people and act to make changes to the system. Some situations can be remedied by increased flexibility of working hours or location, while others require more clearly-defined boundaries between ‘work time’ and ‘home time’. Some companies would benefit from having wellbeing sessions during the workday, while others would generate yet more stress as employees try to find the time to fit these in among their schedules. Offering free gym classes or fresh fruit and calling it a day simply are not enough, and often miss the mark entirely. Organisations must develop a signature approach to wellbeing that is tailored specifically for their people and environment.
Of course, it is still up to employees to engage with wellbeing initiatives once they are deployed, but deployment of genuinely effective initiatives is only possible once organisations accept their responsibility and start making systematic changes to address their specific issues.
If you’re interested in developing a clear picture of where to begin within your own organisation, or want to discuss your own experience with health and wellbeing initiatives, please feel free to get in touch with me.
- Health and Safety Executive. (2019). Work-related stress, anxiety or depression statistics in Great Britain; https://www.hse.gov.uk/statistics/causdis/stress.pdf
- Mayo Clinic Staff. (2019). Stress symptoms: Effects on your body and behaviour;
- Ismail et al. (2015). The Relationship between Stress and Job Satisfaction: Evidence from a Malaysian Peacekeeping Mission.
- Lu Y, Hu X, Huang X, et al. (2017). The relationship between job satisfaction, work stress, work–family conflict, and turnover intention among physicians in Guangdong, China: a cross-sectional study.
- Denning, Stephanie. (2018). How Stress Is The Business World’s Silent Killer; https://www.forbes.com/sites/stephaniedenning/2018/05/04/what-is-the-cost-of-stress-how-stress-is-the-business-worlds-silent-killer/#706b6546e061
- IbisWorld. (2019). Corporate Wellness Services in the UK – Market Research Report; https://www.ibisworld.com/united-kingdom/market-research-reports/corporate-wellness-services-industry/
- Song, Baicker. (2019). Effect of a Workplace Wellness Program on Employee Health and Economic Outcomes: A Randomized Clinical Trial
- Jones, Molitor, Reif. (2018). What Do Workplace Wellness Programs Do? Evidence from the Illinois Workplace Wellness Study.
- Lee, Louise. (2016). Should Employees Design Their Own Jobs? https://www.gsb.stanford.edu/insights/should-employees-design-their-own-jobs
- Tesco news bulletin. (2019); https://www.tescoplc.com/news/2019/tesco-to-remove-one-billion-pieces-of-plastic-from-products-by-the-end-of-2020/?category=packaging
By Nader Sleiman, Analyst
‘Could AI decide your job fate?’ recently led my LinkedIn homepage in the News and Views section. The storyline included a link to an article in The Telegraph entitled ‘AI used for first time in job interviews in UK to find best applicants’. As the article went into detail on how AI would be introduced into recruitment practices, and the positive and negative impacts it might have, the ethics behind introducing this technology in selection were put in question. Despite our fascination with introducing technology to the workplace, there are points when one must pause and reflect on when and how technology is used and whether this use is adding value. I hope that what follows serves as an eye-opener regarding what AI means for recruitment today, and why it is still too early for this tool to be adopted for the purpose of assessing people’s candidacy.
Is AI in recruitment simply ‘good’ or ‘bad’?
The Telegraph article introduced both sides of the argument: the side presenting a positive view of AI in recruitment, and the side that saw the flaws AI demonstrated in this area only in 2018 when Amazon shut down their recruitment AI project for racial and gender bias. Technology has grown to play a crucial role for HR processes. Information systems such as Workday, Oracle’s Taleo, and SAP’s SuccessFactors have facilitated the automated side of HR, paving the way for a focus on process improvement. Even AI offers recruiters great benefits, such as facial recognition that detects candidates’ emotional state and body language during recorded interviews to identify personal characteristics and quality of information delivery. Similarly to its simpler predecessors, AI reduces time spent on HR procedures and allows recruitment professionals more time to focus on developing the process. This technology also could contribute to reducing subjectivity, as well, but it is yet to achieve this level of advancement.
Adopting AI remains a questionable approach to recruitment, largely because of its history of bias. Dr. Muneera Bano of Swinburne University of Technology points out that AI’s gender bias is the result of historical gender discrepancy in cyber content. As AI gathers information, the biases expressed by human beings are integrated into AI’s assessments, threatening the chances of women being fairly assessed. Joy Buolamwini’s research found that IBM, Microsoft, and Amazon’s AI recruitment systems failed to even identify the gender of famous African American women, such as Michelle Obama, Serena Williams, and Oprah Winfrey. The result, therefore, is an AI preference for male candidates over female candidates in the assessment, which could lead to dismissing qualified female candidates of colour solely on the basis of race or gender.
Reflecting on Interviews as a Selection Tool
Although automation is without doubt a key part of the future of work, the automation of HR professionals’ selection practices, particularly the practice of interviewing itself, must be re-evaluated.
The predictive validity of interviews, in their various types, has been discussed and questioned by HR researchers for decades. This is only partly because of the possible subjectivity of the interviewer, but it is also because of the differences that may appear in performance from the same person under varying circumstances. Numerous circumstantial variables can affect a candidate’s performance in interviews, making this selection technique less representative of candidates’ skills. For that reason, businesses need to focus on more than just the technological aspect of the future of work, as the process itself could be flawed to begin with. In other words, introducing technology to a flawed process, whose flaw has little to do with its use of technology or lack thereof, cannot improve it.
As automation and technological changes make their way further into the way we operate as organisations, we must never forget to question and improve the core of how we do things. The most important element will always be the human resource. If you would like to discuss recruitment practices and how technology can currently contribute to selection practices, please feel free to send me an email.
 Dastin, Jeffrey (Oct 10, 2018). Amazon scraps secret AI recruiting tool that showed bias against women. Reuters.
 Burbeck, E. (1988). Predictive Validity of the Recruit Selection Interview. The Police Journal, 61(4), 304–311.
By Ellen Kwan, Analyst
3 Unexpected Insights on Dynamic Workforce Planning
At the end of last year, Future of Work Research Consortium delegates came together for HSM’s Dynamic Workforce Planning Masterclass, which was full of insights, activities and cross-industry collaboration. Through conversations and live polling with consortium members, we have gained some new perspectives on Dynamic Workforce Planning. As it is often the case, learning was a two-way street at the Masterclass – we have also walked away with unexpected perspectives on Dynamic Workforce Planning.
Upskill and Reskill for Social Mobility
“Automation presents an interesting counterintuition in shifting people whose skills are in decline into higher paying jobs.”
While the advent of the digital revolution presents an opportunity to overcome challenges in social mobility, the same opportunities could instead be barriers to those without existing digital skills.
As noted by the Social Mobility Commission’s State of the Nation 2018-19 report, “being born privileged in Britain means that you are likely to remain privileged. Being born disadvantaged, however, means that you may have to overcome a series of barriers to ensure that your children are not stuck in the same trap”. The UK’s social mobility has been reported to have remained “virtually stagnant” since 2014. This phenomenon can, in part, be attributed to the “virtuous cycle of work training and pay rises” available to high-skilled workers. While almost a third of employees in managerial and professional occupations took part in training over the past three months, only 18% in routine and manual jobs had the same opportunity. According to Dr. Lunchinskaya from the Institute for Employment Research, these findings show a vicious cycle of learning “whereby those with low or no qualifications are much less likely to access education and training after leaving school than those with high qualification.” As a result, the low-skilled are unable to upskill to meet the needs of the digital future, continuously preserving low-skilled employees at lower paid roles.
Automation presents organisations and governments with the opportunity to shape how their workforce and social landscape looks. When CEOs were asked to list the most important measures of success in 2019, the number one measure was “impact on society, including income inequality and diversity.” Rather than upskilling or reskilling employees to similar roles which would be future-proofed, organisations could play a key role in displaced employees’ social mobility by identifying roles with the most skill and task adjacencies that offer higher pay. Therefore, as automation and digitisation become an increasingly prevalent phenomenon across different types of work, organisations can either become active shapers of the social landscape, or lose part of their workforce to the increasing digital divide.
Reframe the Language of the Future
“The way we speak about the future can bring joy to encourage people to embrace those ideas of the future.”
What immediately comes to mind when you hear terms like “automation”, “Artificial Intelligence”, or “human-machine collaboration”? With thoughts of Skynet and Elon Musk’s warnings on humankind’s future enslavement to machines, it comes as no surprise that over 65% of Americans fear automation.
Consider Daniel Kahneman’s research on thinking fast and slow. While thinking fast (system 1 thinking) relies on first impressions and ‘gut-reactions’ to make decisions, thinking slow (system 2) relies on reflection and logical analysis. Our tendency to make gut-reactions first can be attributed to the fact that when we have capacity for rational information processing, we have little authority to use that information for making decisions. In the deeper part of our brain where system 1 thinking takes place (the Vagus nerve), we have no rational processing capacity, but more authority in using system 1 to make decisions. Therefore, when employees are told that technological change is coming, system 1 could already be operating before employees can consider benefits of the change. Instead, fast thinking relies on heuristics and mental biases to create conclusions about the technological change – fear and anxiety.
An example of a mental bias that fast thinking falls victim to is availability heuristic. The availability heuristic leads people to assume that information that is readily available is valid. A study in 2010 found that people who watch violent media gave higher estimates of crime in the real world than those not exposed to violent media. In the context of automation and digitisation, the barrage of media reports on job losses from automation, film adaptations of robotic overlords taking over humanity, and stories or anecdotes about others whose jobs have been displaced can cause employees to overestimate the threat of automation.
While thinking fast can lead us to conclusions of doom and gloom around automation in the future of work, organisations and leaders can work to shift emotions of fear into excitement. Research has found that certain fearful situations can activate the reward centre in the brain under specific conditions. Klucken (2009) recommends creating situations for predictable fear, rather than unanticipated fear. When we can anticipate the fearful situation, humans are able to activate the limbic system, allowing us to feel alert and excited without concern over actual threats.
In summary, when framing language of the future, leaders should ensure that their message fulfils the following three requirements:
- Widespread and readily available in a number of different formats for employees (e.g. videos, learning journeys, blog posts)
- Positive and focused on potential gains for employees
- Transparent about next steps and implications on employees’ roles
Renaissance of Work
“Let’s start calling the future of work ‘The Renaissance of Work.’”
As technological ingenuity has grown exponentially prevalent in the workplace, we now need to put a human focus back into work. With technology’s growing potential, leaders are now starting to see the role that humans can play alongside technology. From creating new jobs to manage and regulate technology (e.g. AI ethics engineers) to shifting focus from technical skills to uniquely human skills (e.g. creativity), the human focus is beginning to catch up to the digital boom.
Moving beyond human-machine collaboration, organisations will need to employ social ingenuity to truly thrive in the future of work. Demographic and societal changes, such as longer working lives and shifting family dynamics, requires organisations to reinvent the way we think about work and its role in identity and life. Organisations must begin thinking about what it means to put humans at the centre, understanding what the future landscape of work may look like, and identifying avenues to enable humans to thrive, rather than to be held a victim of the future landscape.
An example of social ingenuity needed now is the concept of retirement. Traditionally, people are recruited into an entry-level position after completing their full-time education. Throughout their careers, they climb up the promotional ladder, making occasional jumps across organisations. This eventually stops as people reach their late 50s or early 60s, as they prepare for retirement. However, as longevity increases, so does people’s desire to lengthen their working lives. While governments play a key role in mandating official retirement age, organisations play an active part in how retirement can be implemented. Too often, employees are offered a binary choice between full-time work or retirement. By doing so, organisations fail to tap into the crystalline intelligence typically held in experienced employees, which refers to the tacit knowledge of how to perform tasks. The renaissance of work calls for a mindset shift in how retirement is perceived, whether it continues to remain as a binary choice, or a flexible combination of work embedded within retirement. If the future of retirement does call for flexibility, what would it look like? These are questions that organisations should begin considering to leverage the skills and potential offered by retiring employees.
By redefining the concept of retirement, organisations can utilise the full potential of their workforce. In turn, employees can also craft the retirement lifestyle that best suits them according to their financial, emotional, and social needs.
As we reach the Renaissance of Work, leaders must put humans back at the forefront of work. Taking a human-focused lens moves beyond thinking about skills or jobs, but considers how to leverage changing human needs to craft a mutually beneficial future of work.
If you would like to find out more about Dynamic Workforce Planning, or how you can join Prof. Lynda Gratton’s Future of Work Research Consortium, get in touch with Anna.
 Kahneman, Daniel, 1934- author. (2011). Thinking, fast and slow. New York :Farrar, Straus and Giroux,
 Riddle, Karen (2010). “Always on My Mind: Exploring How Frequent, Recent, and Vivid Television Portrayals Are Used in the Formation of Social Reality Judgments”. Media Psychology. 13 (2): 155–179.
 Klucken, T. et al 2009. “Contingency Learning in Human Fear Conditioning Involves the Ventral Striatum.” Human Brain Mapping 30:3636–3644
The 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 . 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. 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.
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.
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
Historically, 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.”3 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 email@example.com
As 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%. 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. 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.
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.
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.
Interested in learning more about how you can influence ‘Good Work’ in your organisation? Get in touch with me at firstname.lastname@example.org
 Future of Work Research Consortium, ‘Building Narratives on the Future of Work’ Report, 2018
 Wealthy, Successful and Miserable – C. Duhigg, The Future of Work, The New York Times Magazine
 Crafting a Job: Revisioning Employees as Active Crafters of Their Work. A. Wrzesniewski and J. E. Dutton, 2001
By Graham Oxley, Project Manager – Digital Engagement
Whether 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. 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. 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.
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 email@example.com.
It’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.
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. 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. 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
 Lynda Gratton, ‘Five Insights From Davos on the Future of Work’, MIT Sloan Management Review Blog (2019).
 FoW, Building Narratives on the Future of Work Masterclass Report (2018).
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 email@example.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
[iii] Dietrich, A. (2015). How creativity happens in the brain. Springer. Chicago