According to Harvard Psychologist, Dan Gilbert, ‘all of us are walking around with an illusion, an illusion that we have just recently become the people that we were always meant to be and will be for the rest of our lives. However, time is a powerful force. It transforms our preferences. It reshapes our values. It alters our identities. We seem to appreciate this fact, but only in retrospect. Only when we look backwards do we realise how much change happens in a decade.’[i] Our research at the Future of Work (FoW) Research Consortium is indicating that this notion of transformations is becoming increasingly tangible and pronounced for three reasons: longer working lives, greater reflexivity and new social norms.
Longer working lives: More years have been added to life expectancy in the last century than in all previous millennia of mankind. A longer life means a longer working life, with some predicting that we will be working until we are 80. In this context, a longer working life provides more productive hours, presents more opportunities to be grasped and more identities to be explored. Simply put, longer working lives present an increasing range of possible ways of living.
Greater reflexivity: We are seeing an increasing disintegration of societal traditions enabling us greater freedom to think about and construct who we want to be. According to sociologist Ulrich Beck, we now live in a ‘risk society’ where tradition has less influence and people have more choice.
New social norms: An increased acceptance of homosexuality is perhaps the best example of new social norms forming. For example, whilst 70% of people believed gay marriage was wrong in 1973 this figure went down to almost 40% by 2010. In contrast, the percentage of people who thought that there was nothing wrong with gay marriage increased from just 10% in 1973 to over 40% in 2010.[ii]
Indeed, the rise in individualisation and its resulting impact on social norms explains why people are increasingly comfortable in both expressing and accepting a wider range of identities. What all this means is that each person at a given point in time has a spectrum of many possible selves. These possible selves are future articulations of who they might be and what they might do. They represent an ideal of what they might become, what they would like to become or what they are afraid of becoming.
What are your possible future selves?
[i] Retrieved from https://www.ted.com/talks/dan_gilbert_you_are_always_changing
[ii] Retrieved from https://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2013/04/the-rise-of-gay-marriage-and-the- decline-of-straight-marriage-wheres-the-link/274665/
[iii] Ibarra, H. (2004). Working identity: Unconventional strategies for reinventing your career. Harvard Business Press
If you’ve been to any business conferences over the past few months, you won’t have failed to notice that interest in topics such as mindfulness, health and wellbeing is at something of an all-time high. CEOs have been encouraged to pay more attention to the importance of sleep, and many businesses are encouraging moments of meditation – we even drew these topics into our Resilience and Purpose FoW theme. And yet, while I think it’s great that business leaders are thinking about these issues, I am beginning to wonder whether we’ve been examining them from the right angle.
The key to preserving decision-making ability
The main thing that strikes me about today’s discussions around wellbeing is that they have tended to focus on the individual. Of course, the link between all round healthy and fit workers being resilient, and resilient workers being a good starting point for running a resilient and profitable company, is logic that most of the members of the broader Hot Spots Movement community seem happy to adopt. But don’t mindfulness, health and wellbeing have a more direct and immediate effect on the health of a business? Recently, I’ve been wondering whether many of us aren’t missing the most important point: that if workers are not healthy, not fit, or simply tired, they are likely to make poor decisions and big mistakes.
Think of this: Busy executives who defy time zones and walk off planes and straight into meetings may ‘still be standing’ and seemingly function, but are they at their best for making sound decisions? And at what point does their impaired ‘fitness for making the best decisions have a negative impact on the business? Are some decisions so important that executives would need to be particularly rested before making them? In some businesses, the wrong decisions can have fatal implications (for example where physical safety of workers or clients is involved), but I’m hard pushed to see any industry where suboptimal or downright wrong decisions or poor execution of decisions or tasks wouldn’t have very negative implications for the business.
Great thought is given to these issues in some industries – airline pilots, for example, have very strict regimes for number of hours they can fly, how much they need to rest in between, etc. and I suspect most people find that infinitely sensible. But assuming that all decisions are important, even if they don’t have potential and immediate life-and-death implications, why wouldn’t we apply this to all work?
Join the debate
I wonder whether our attention to mindfulness and wellbeing wouldn’t significantly increase if we took it out of its current feel good territory and started to look at the serious business benefits and risk mitigation they can offer. Perhaps what’s needed is more effective terminology to allow us to shift health and wellbeing from being topics that generate polite and PC-driven interest to being business critical.
This is a topic I think we should all be discussing – and I’d love to hear your ideas. Contact me – or us – on Twitter via @tschneidermann or @HSpotM.
I really enjoyed this recent article, in which McKinsey’s Rik Kirkland interviews Paul Polman, CEO, Unilever. In the course of the interview, Polman discusses his thoughts on “the new corporation”, the need to switch from short-term to long-term thinking and his view that business has a duty to serve society in a sustainable and equitable way. He also shares some great examples of how Unilever is already doing this within its supply chain.
Polman’s initiatives at Unilever are among the examples shared by Lynda in her forthcoming book The Key: How Corporations Succeed by Solving the World’s Toughest Problems – you can pre-order the book now through Amazon.
By Lynda Gratton
We live in a fragile world. Every one of us faces profound and escalating challenges– youth unemployment touches many families; income inequality and poverty are a source of shame for many of us in developed countries; whilst it is only the least observant who could fail to recognise the early signs of a profound change in the climate. These challenges are no longer particular to one country or area: they affect most people around the world.
The challenges faced by organisations are no less complex. They too are faced with the implications of climate change, of inequality, and of the gap between their needs and the available pool of talent. These challenges are on a greater and more global scale than ever before, and emerging at an ever faster trajectory. Previously stable companies find themselves on shaky ground – and the negative consequences of the problems that surround them are proving difficult to reverse.
Over the last five years I have directed the Future of Work Research Consortium which brings together executives from more than 50 companies to consider how best to address these challenges. What is clear is that resilience is the key, and to build resilience companies will be called upon to develop a whole new set of tools and ways of innovating.
Building inner resilience
Resilience starts with what happens inside the corporation –with an, intellectually challenging, emotionally vibrant and socially connected community of employees. Those companies, like Tata Consultancy Services and Unilever who are attempting to do this, are using newly emerging technology to amplify the intellectual ideas and knowledge of employees across their businesses. They are ensuring that they gather the social wealth held in the different communities of people and in the networks that crisscross the company and stretch beyond its boundaries.
Executives also need to think hard about how to design jobs in a way that they enhance rather than denude the emotional vitality of their employees. For some, like BT, the wide-scale adoption of flexible working is allowing people to manage their own time in a positive and enhancing way. Others, like Deloitte are thinking hard about how to break the career hierarchies and introduce a matrix process that allows people to increase or decrease their contribution at different stages of their working life.
The importance of outer resilience
Creating a foundation of resilience is critical – and in some corporations there is also a focus on building resilience in supply chains and in the wider world they operate in. This is crucial because increasingly companies do not exist independently of the rest of the world, and their future is reliant on their interaction with the communities in which they are embedded.
I saw this at Danone where people across the company are actively working with farmers in their supply chain to ensure that they are building strong communities – the John Lewis Partnership is doing the same in the UK. These are corporations that are facing the challenges of our increasingly fragile world head-on, by recognising their connection with the outside world. They understand that their businesses are profoundly related to the communities in which they work and are able to think differently and comprehensively about the larger environment in which they operate. Some, like Royal Dutch Shell, are using scenario planning to help executives really become aware of the forces shaping their lives and their businesses. It is this awareness that will enable them to face these forces in a positive way, seeing them as opportunities rather than threats. The final piece of the puzzle is leadership: building resilience needs leaders who are prepared to balance long- term needs with short- term financial results.
What is clear to me is that being resilient requires making the choices that are positive for employees, investors and those in the communities they touch.
Lynda Gratton’s latest book, The Key: How Corporations Succeed by Solving the World’s Toughest Problems, is out on 9th June.
By Lynda Gratton
Something that is becoming increasingly apparent in the discussion around corporate resilience is that creativity matters. Large organisations are building vast banks of talented and creative employees to ensure they are ahead of the competition. However, when it comes to tapping into the potential inherent in this talent pool, they can find themselves at a loss, frequently going back to the same small group of people for their next big business idea.
With employees scattered over the world it can be challenging to find out what your people are thinking. In an attempt to mitigate this, many companies already have open innovation programmes to help them discover the thoughts and ideas of individuals both inside and outside their organisation. Practices such as sharing business plans with a wider audience and inviting employees to provide input are proven to have a positive impact on sales.
One avenue for surfacing ideas which I think too many companies ignore is experimentation. This can be a particularly valuable process when you are faced with problems to which no-one has a ready-made answer.
It seems obvious to me that if you are faced with an unknown, you need to experiment around the issue to find an answer. All the breakthroughs we have seen in medicine, for example, have come through a process of hypothesis, experimentation and clinical trials where several different options are tried out and compared. Despite the scientific record, very few companies dare to experiment. Recently, when I was seeking out examples of corporate experimentation for my book, The Key, I found that they were few and far between. In fact, the only two that made it into the finished book were at Roche and Xerox. This is despite the fact that one of the biggest changes in the workplace – flexible working – was the result of repeated experimentation at BT.
Looking at the examples of experimentation I did find, most of them were led by scholars or academics, such as Professor Ruth Wageman, who led the self-managing teams project at Xerox. This is another indication that companies are apprehensive about experimenting themselves. And if companies as a whole are poor at experimentation, their HR departments are worse. And yet, I feel that if companies would only dare to try, experimentation has a wealth of benefits to offer. Take, for example, the sphere of performance management. HR teams, managers and employees all agree that current processes are ineffective, but none of them have alternatives. Experimentation would be an ideal way to find methods that really work – and, as with BT, for your organisation’s discovery to become the model that others follow for decades to come.
Lynda Gratton’s latest book, The Key: How Corporations Succeed by Solving Some of the World’s Toughest Problems will be published on June 1st and is available to pre-order through Amazon now.
By Lynda Gratton
If you could name a single factor as the biggest enemy of employee retention in your organisation, what would it be? My guess would be job design – specifically, the availability of career customisation.
You might think your organisation already offers career customisation and improved job design, but let me make my point clear: improving job design is not that same as bringing flexibility into work. Many – if not most – large corporations have flexible working arrangements. But when it comes to improved job design – by which I mean initiatives such as phased retirement, job share schemes and, on- and off-boarding ramps, they are lagging far behind. I estimate that such companies have a period of three years at most to introduce these elements of job design before the lack of them starts to have a serious impact.
This is becoming an urgent issue. As things stand, when people want to customise their careers they do so by leaving the company. The most valuable people are building their career elsewhere because companies are not providing what they need.
This talent drain is just one reason why companies need to ramp up their experiments and pilots in the field of job design: and it’s about to get worse. As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, life stage is becoming an increasingly important factor in people’s career choices – and people reach these stages at vastly different ages. For example, some employees will choose to become parents in their 20s, while others do the same in their 40s. As people start to live longer, we will see more and more people rejecting traditional linear career paths and opting for careers that move sideways, downwards, or even pause for a while. It is the companies that are dealing with these issues already – and the ones that act now to start handling them more effectively – that will prove resilient over the coming decades.
The importance of scale
So why are so many companies, many of whom have already invested heavily in flexible working and job design, failing so miserably in this respect? One reason is that companies have for too long associated the idea of career customisation with motherhood. Often because when women in particular leave an organisation, there is an immediate assumption they are doing so to start a family. In fact, what I’ve noticed about my MBA students at LBS is that often when they leave a company, it’s to start their own business. And a key reason for this is that doing so empowers them to take charge of their own job design.
A damaging side effect of associating career customisation with motherhood is a lack of scale. You may have some great improved job design initiatives but failing to scale them beyond the concept of maternity leave means that employees will continue to achieve career customisation by moving on.
The solution to this problem is to make career customisation fluid, mainstream and transparent. Healthy, loyal employees have control over how, when, where they work and can manage their careers in tune with the rhythms of their life. To enable this, employers need to let workers know that the design of their job can change according to their circumstances and that customisation is available to everyone, not just mothers. Above all, they need to know what their options are at each stage of their life and career, so that they can make the appropriate choices.