With our Shifting Cultures Masterclass around the corner, I’ve been doing some thinking about culture – specifically, the elusive concept of a ‘strong culture’.
Crafting a strong culture can be interpreted as forming a shared social identity, or a culture in which individuals identify highly with one another and the organisation as a whole. There are benefits to this approach; high-identifying employees demonstrate greater abilities in coping with stress, resilience, and performance. Equally, there are also pitfalls – highly-identifying teams can become more susceptible to stress and burnout due to pressure to constantly perform and fear of letting the team down. So, the pursuit of a strong culture is not as straight-forward as it may appear; in fact, there are three major unintended consequences that may emerge in the strongest of cultures:
- Strong cultures hire for culture fit. This focus, though seemingly advantageous, can make it difficult to hire individuals who are different from the prevailing culture, despite their potential as a counterbalancing asset. While personality and culture fit are important, considering them as deciding factors in the recruitment process significantly limits diversity of thought. We then enter the trap of like-minded hiring like-minded, while those that may offer a unique value-adding perspective are neglected or snatched up by competitors.
- In strong cultures, the strongest voices are heard. This is a problem because there is the potential for a significant group to be silenced. Even in cases of fairly homogenised cultures, employees are still subject to familiarity blindness – it is difficult for those immersed within a culture to see a culture. Every employee sees the world through their own biased cultural filters. This can turn dangerous when employees are immersed in and blinded to potentially toxic environments, as there is no way to challenge normative behaviours.
- Finally, and perhaps most importantly, strong cultures are change resistant. Strength implies stability, and as such, is not welcoming to subcultures. An emergent theme in our research is that subcultures are healthy – even essential – players in helping the organisation stay agile. This is because they encourage creative thinking and constructive controversy in regard to how the organisation should interact both internally and with the environment. Moreover, subcultures serve as the spawning grounds for emerging values, keeping the organisation aligned with the needs of customers, society and other stakeholders.
With all this in mind, rather than constantly strengthening and reinforcing culture, I propose that we should be focused on creating a dynamic culture instead.
The key tenets of a dynamic culture include nurturing diverse perspectives, and providing channels for employee voices to be heard. This is not to say that you should throw your values out the window. It’s important to unite your employees under a set of core values – values that are central the organisation’s functioning – in order to reap the benefits of a shared social identity. However, it’s just as important to ensure that these are distinguished from peripheral values – traits that are desirable but not essential to organisation. It is here on the periphery where agility and innovation thrive, allowing people to simultaneously embrace and constructively challenge the dominant culture.
So, if you’re looking to craft a strong culture, you may be better off considering instead how to cultivate a dynamic one. Dynamic cultures adapt to uncertainty and continuous change, fostering diversity of thought and perspective with plenty of room for questioning the norm.
Stay tuned for our upcoming Masterclass, The Agile People Strategy, on 2nd October 2018. For more information, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
“If you work hard you will succeed. If you really want to achieve your dreams, it’s in your hands.”
We are all familiar with variations on these thoughts, and the idea that individualism and hard work will win out in the end is a truism that many people take on faith. Organisations often construct their recruitment processes with the idea that society is meritocratic – believing that those high-potential hires have succeeded due to their work ethic and skills alone.
Despite this, research has shown that it is often those from affluent backgrounds who land the best jobs. Even when people from disadvantaged backgrounds manage to break into a professional career, they face an earnings penalty compared to colleagues who come from better-off backgrounds.[i] Despite having the same education attainment, role and experience as their more privileged colleagues, those from poorer backgrounds are paid an average of £2,242 (seven per cent) less.[ii] Women and ethnic minorities face a ‘double’ disadvantage in earnings. Those from poorer backgrounds in some cases also exclude themselves from promotion for fear of not ‘fitting in’ and were less likely to ask for pay rises. This is a challenge that organisations are increasingly waking up to. Competition for talent and the need for diversity of thought mean that organisations will lose out commercially if they do not have a cross-section of employees that reflect wider society.
So how can companies improve their diversity and foster inclusiveness around social mobility? Here are three insights from our research:
- Look for unintended biases in the recruitment process – Could your recruitment approach be filtering out applicants from less advantaged backgrounds? Some organisations, such as EY, are experimenting with relaxing their hiring criteria, or implementing ‘blind’ CVs in recruitment, so that details on university or education are hidden.[iii] Advances in predicative talent analytics may also enable organisations to identify promising talent from a larger pool than they might traditionally consider, basing hiring on data rather than intuition.[iv]
- Sense-check the gap between the rhetoric and reality – Organisations may think they have the practices and processes in place to increase their social diversity, but if people at all levels of the organisation are unware of them, or don’t use them, there will be no shift in culture or behaviour.
- Identify a priority area and experiment – Companies often think that moving the needle on diversity means making large-scale changes across several areas. Our research and work on our own I&D Framework has shown that a tailored and focused approach is often more effective. Start by identifying what your organisation does well, and where it is weaker. Selecting key areas allows companies to monitor and measure new interventions to understand the real impact and the changes that take place.
Keeping these insights in mind will help ensure your organisation builds a diverse, inclusive culture.
Interested in creating an I&D strategy that is ready to enable action within your organisation and truly shift the needle on I&D read our complimentary Insights Report on Inclusion and Diversity here: http://bit.ly/IandD-MovingTheNeedle
Or for more information about our I&D research, contact me at email@example.com or on 02077591852
[i] Rivera, L. (2015). Pedigree: How Elite Students Get Elite Jobs. Princeton University Press
[ii] Friedman, S., Laurison, D., and Macmillan, L. (2017). Social Mobility, The Class Pay Gap and Intergenerational Worklessness: New Insights From The Labour Force Survey.
[iii] EY drives social mobility by removing academic entry criteria http://www.ey.com/uk/en/newsroom/news-releases/17-02-02-ey-drives-social-mobility-by-removing-academic-entry-criteria
[iv] (2017) FoW Report on Shifting Identities
The wave of stories of pervasive sexual harassment and assault in recent weeks, from Hollywood to Parliament, have made me think about the role of culture in normalising such behaviour. We are currently researching Shifting Cultures for our upcoming Masterclass, and part of that research has centred on how cultures are formed. Are organisations aware of how much of their culture is shaped by the mindset of the dominant group?
We all have social identities, established through self-reflection from interactions with others. The sociologist Charles Horton Cooley referred to this as the ‘looking glass self’. As we grow up and are socialised, we see the way people talk and act with us, which then feeds into our self-perception. This includes stereotypes that people already have about our group identity. As a middle-class, white woman from an educated background, for example, I will have received subtle cues about how I’m expected to behave, and what I’m expected to achieve.
Yet arguably, not everyone is aware of the extent to which they have benefited from their collective identity. In his discussion on modern masculinity, the artist Grayson Perry identified a group he termed ‘Default Man’. White, middle-class, heterosexual, usually middle-aged, they are, as Perry notes, a tribe that does not think of itself as a tribe. Instead they often see themselves as individuals. Yet collectively they profoundly shape our culture.
Take the workplace. There are fewer S&P 1500 companies led by women than S&P companies led by men named John. It is clear that this impacts organisational culture, yet it is unlikely that as an individual ‘John’ feels his progress acts a role-model for other men like him, or that he is part of a community with similar experiences that shape his behaviour and mindset. Does John feel that he got where he was all by himself, with no societal support at all? Research has identified an ‘out-group’ homogeneity effect,where people believe in the uniformity of those not like them: ‘they are alike: we are diverse’. The power imbalance still prevalent in society means that the male in-group often either consciously or unconsciously defines the broader culture.
This is true for the more toxic elements discussed in recent weeks, but also for parts of culture that we are not even aware of. There is a parable that describes two young fish swimming along, who happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, “Morning boys. How’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, “What the hell is water?” How much of what we take for granted in terms of qualities of an effective leader, or criteria for progression within an organisation is subjectively biased in favour of the dominant group?
Recently, there has been a rise in the number of organisations realising that building an inclusive culture means engaging the majority group. Deloitte, for example, ended its women’s networks and affinity groups, instead involving men in the conversation and making them accountable for D&I goals. The fact that is has taken this long, highlights the extent to which men have traditionally been viewed as the default that doesn’t need to change, rather than an identity group like any other. If workplace culture is going to shift this needs to continue, as companies reckon with how much of their culture is formed by one group and the ramifications of this.
 Rousseau, N. (2002) Self, Symbols and Society, Rowman and Littlefield.
 Perry, G. (8 October 2014) The Rise and Fall of Default Man, New Statesman https://www.newstatesman.com/culture/2014/10/grayson-perry-rise-and-fall-default-man
 FoW Power and Leadership Report 2016
 Ostrom, T.M and Sedikides, C. (1992) Out-Group Homogenity Effects in Naural and Minimal Groups, Psychological Bulletin 112(3). 536-553.
 Wittenberg-Cox, A. (3 August 2017) Deloitte’s Radical Attempt to Reframe Diversity, Harvard Bussiness Review https://hbr.org/2017/08/deloittes-radical-attempt-to-reframe-diversity
Last week, I attended a workshop at my toddler’s nursery school and I was disheartened to see that there was only one father in a room full of mothers – most of whom had left their work early in order to attend. And I wondered, where is the change that was to come with the millennial men? Doesn’t all the research indicate that they want to become much more involved fathers? What is stopping them?
I have been researching the topic of gender parity for over a few years now, and it is extremely off-putting to see lack of progress we have made on this issue. Many large organisations are now on their second or third wave of diversity and inclusion programmes. However, a good number of them are still struggling to identify obvious improvements in the metrics they hoped to see changes in.
I feel we cannot move the needle on this issue unless we collectively stop viewing mothers as being primarily responsible for childcare. According to the 2016 Women in the Workplace Study, at every stage in their careers, women perform more childcare than men. The study also found a link between the quantity of childcare women do and their leadership ambition: the more work women do at home, the less interested they are in leadership positions. The main reason for this disconnect is that the combination of work and childcare responsibilities is difficult to reconcile with the dominant model in the business world, which demands total availability as well as greater geographical mobility.
Motherhood has long been a dominant explanation for the small proportion of women in corporate boardrooms. Some of the most compelling evidence of the motherhood penalty comes from experiments conducted by sociologists; Shelley Correll, Stephen Bernard, and In Paik. In the experiment, they asked college students to rate a pair of job applicants after examining their résumés and the notes from screening interviews. After establishing that the application materials presented the candidates as equally qualified, the researchers altered them to indicate that one applicant was a parent. When being considered for the same job, mothers were significantly less likely to be recommended for hire and, when they were, they were offered on average $11,000 less in starting salary, than childless women. Fathers were not penalised at all. The participants revealed that they assumed the mothers to be inherently less competent and less committed.
One school of thought suggests that the issue is down to women’s own preferences – that women value career less than men or that mothers do not want high-profile, challenging work. However, research indicates that women are certainly not lacking in ambition. In fact, they begin their careers with ambitions that are just as high as their male peers. Furthermore, the 2013 Life and Leadership After HBS study, which surveyed more than 25,000 Harvard Business School graduates, suggests that when women leave their jobs after becoming mothers, only a small number do so because they want to devote their attention to motherhood; the majority leave reluctantly, because they find themselves in unfulfilling roles with few prospects for advancement.
What is the way forward? Millennial men finally behaving in accordance to what they have been saying, and organisations actively enabling and not penalising them to embrace fatherhood.
McKinsey & Company and LEanIn.org. (2016, September). Women in the Workplace Study. Retrieved from https://womenintheworkplace.com
Life and Leadership after HBS. (2013). Retrieved from
Correll, S., Benard, S., & Paik, I. (2007). Getting a Job: Is there a motherhood penalty. American Journal of Sociology, Vol. 112, No. 5
The other day I was thinking about the benefits I’ve experienced from living in three countries in the past decade. Meeting people from the U.S. to China, and Norway to South Africa has allowed me to build a wide range of networks with weak ties. Here at Hot Spots Movement, such diverse networks form a core part of our research, particularly in terms of their importance for sparking innovation and creativity, and helping individuals make transitions into different roles over longer working lives. In fact, diverse networks are becoming increasingly important for two reasons.
Firstly, we’re living longer and as a result will be working longer too. This means that our careers will look more like 50- or 60-year marathons than the 30-year ‘sprints’ of previous generations. Longer career spans will require us to move between roles, organisations and even industries at various points. Diverse networks are essential for achieving this, as they provide us with insight into other opportunities and help us make the leap when the time comes.
Secondly, technological advances mean that the roles or professions we have trained for – for example, accountant or lawyer – are likely to be disrupted over our longer careers. We are already seeing this with automation displacing the more routine work of paralegals and book-keepers. This means that we will need to be prepared to make more transitions in preparation for, and in response to, technological innovation in our industry. Here again, we will need a diverse network to help us navigate our way through this complexity and into new opportunities.
A great way of assessing the diversity of your network is by asking some very simple questions about who you spend time with, who you connect with over email or LinkedIn, and who you go to for advice or inspiration. Do these connections have the same cultural and academic backgrounds as you? Are they in similar industries? Or, do you have connections with people with quite different backgrounds, educational profiles, and from entirely different lines of work?
Having assessed the diversity of your connections, you might then be thinking to yourself, ‘how can I further strengthen the diversity of my network?’
My approach has involved living in different countries though this is of course not an option for everyone. Instead, perhaps there are small adjustments you can make that will increase the likelihood of you meeting and forming connections with people who are different to you. It could be as simple as spending time with other teams in your own organisation – organising social events where teams from different departments get together. Another approach could be to think more consciously about from whom you seek advice on your next work project. Do you have friends who can connect you with others in their network to provide a new source of advice and inspiration?
These are simple actions, but the results may be dramatic. So over the course of this week, perhaps consider how diverse your network really is. Then commit to making just a few new connections with people you don’t naturally spend time with. Who knows, you might stumble upon a new opportunity for your next career transition.
Gratton & Scott, Hundred-Year Life
Shifting Identities, The Strength of Weak Ties, Mark S. Granovetter, American Journal of Sociology, V.78 I.6, 1973
Working Identity, Herminia Ibarra, Harvard Business School Press, 2003
The Future of Retirement, Life After Work, HSBC, 2014
Here’s what sport can teach us about diversity in business.
Could you win a football game with 11 goalkeepers? Or, maybe a netball match with 7 goal shooters? Ok, how about a rowing race with 9 coxes?
Of course not, is clearly the answer. But whilst these may seem like flippant examples, they hint at the challenge we often face in organisations: creating diverse teams, with each member bringing a different skillset, or way of thinking that elevates group performance.
Diversity (or the lack thereof) in the world of business is something we look at a great deal here at Hot Spots Movement. Whether that’s gender diversity, ethnic diversity or neurodiversity – it’s clear that boardrooms and offices are just not diverse enough.
There are obvious and significant ethical issues around discriminating over gender, race, sexual orientation or mental health. However, there is another reason why companies should be sitting up and taking note: Lack of diversity is impacting on the bottom-line. There is a growing body of research showing that the more diverse a team is, the greater the chance for innovation. Which whether in the context of the smallest start-up or the largest multi-national, means a competitive edge.
This may sound like common sense when said out loud. But it’s surprising how few organisations fully grasp or truly act upon this information. As such, I wanted to support this claim by taking examples from the world of sport – whilst sport without doubt has its own diversity issues, examples of the benefits of diversity are easily quantified and for many plain to see.
Academic studies of the world of sport provides concrete evidence in support of the notion that diversity positively affects performance. Researchers from Duke University tested the theory within the UEFA Champions League (Europe’s elite club football competition) and found that heterogenous teams significantly outperformed their less diverse opponents . So substantial were these findings that even when player’s transfer value and quality ratings have been adjusted for, even relatively small increases in cultural diversity could double a team’s goal difference.
Now let’s take this concept across the pond to one of the world’s most lucrative sports leagues, the National Basketball Association. Interbasket analysed the performance of the league’s most and least diverse teams over a five-year period. When comparing the 10 most against the 10 least demographically diverse teams in the league they found that teams with the highest number of foreign players won on average 11 games a season more than those who measured poorly on diversity . This is a particularly impressive result, when considering that those 11 games account for 13% of wins available for a team across a whole season. What business leader would not want to see a 13% increase in performance from their teams?
Diversity then can clearly have an extraordinarily positive impact on performance of teams, increasing creativity, innovation and flexibility. So, I challenge you the next time you’re hiring someone to look beyond someone who shares your background. Perhaps ask yourself, ‘Am I creating a team full of goalkeepers, or have I got every position covered, ready for the big game?’
Need help with your diversity strategy? Find out how Hot Spots Movement can help by checking out our website here: http://www.hotspotsmovement.com/
 Malesky, E., Saiegh, S. and Ingersoll, K. (2014). Diversity and Group Performance: Evidence from the World’s Top Soccer League. APSA 2014 Annual Meeting Paper.
Being the newest member of Hot Spots Movement, a key focus in my recent job search was to join an organisation which celebrates diversity. Not only do I have a diverse background in terms of my heritage, (being Jamaican, Finnish, Pakistani and English!) but I’m also – like everyone, really – diverse in the way I think and feel. And it’s this latter type of diversity that many organisations are only now beginning to understand and act upon.
One element of this ‘diversity of thought’ is mental health. This is something we all come into contact with, either personally or through the experiences of friends and family. However, it consists to be a pervasively silent culture. In fact, with 3 out of 4 employees experiencing a wobble in mental stability at some point, it is one of the biggest workplace issues, costing UK employers £30 billion alone, through lost production, recruitment and absence. And yet, conversations and initiatives around mental health are conspicuously absent in many organisations.
From my own experience, speaking with others and through readings, implementing a successful mental health strategy alongside changing attitudes and cultural expectations, is of course challenging and does not happen overnight. It can prove difficult to merge the law, practice, training, evaluation and management into one company-wide policy.
This is why I was particularly excited to come across an exciting, new approach to tackling mental health: Co-production. This method puts employees affected by mental health at the heart of planning, delivering and evaluating policies. Offering them the chance to come forward, not to label themselves, but to work alongside HR professionals, is extremely innovative and merges expert and lived experience. This creates active networks that both support those affected and better informs those who aren’t.
Co-production appears to have many positives, including being based on psychological research dating back to the 1950s, blurring the lines of distinction between authority and recipients and being economic in drawing on the wisdom of employees themselves. As a result, Co-production and involving those who suffer, may help them feel a better sense of belonging and reduced stigma – in turn, increasing their sense of competence, engagement and loyalty.
This collaborative approach to problem-solving resonates with so much of the work we do here at Hot Spots Movement, from our advisory practice, to the Future of Work Research Consortium and our crowdsourcing methodology, the ‘Jam.’ I cannot help feeling that co-production is an energising and innovative concept that could really move the needle on mental health in organisations and empower those most affected with ownership over the solution.
For more information on how you can collaborate with your colleagues on mental health challenges visit our website http://www.hotspotsmovement.com and contact one of the team.
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