How to unlock agile working in your organisation… and five pitfalls to avoid

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Here at Hot Spots Movement, we have supported many leading organisations in realising their ambitions around agile working. This experience has revealed to us what it takes to successfully roll out an agile working approach in big, established companies – and crucially – the pitfalls to avoid. Here are five questions you need to ask yourself in order to unleash agility in your organisation:

  1. Are you clear about why you’re embarking on agile working?

Agile working not as an end in itself, however, many companies fall into the trap of addressing it as if it is a separate initiative on the to-do list. Instead, for agile working to really take hold it must be viewed as an enabler of individual, team and organisational outcomes important to your company. What is it about agile working that will enable you to deliver on your business or talent strategy?

  1. Where are you on the journey?

Like any culture shift, agile working takes time. Every organisation is at a different level of maturity when it comes to bringing about this agility – for some, it’s facilitating the next level of coordination between team members on different working contracts, in different locations, combining under one purpose; for others, it’s about getting acceptance of the idea of working from home once in a while. Both are valid and important milestones, and it’s critical that organisations appreciate where they are on the journey and avoid the temptation to run too fast.

  1. Who’s leading the way?

A common challenge for organisations embarking on agile working is converting the intellectual understanding of why this approach is required, with the practical commitment to make it happen in teams and divisions throughout the organisation. Our experience is that this challenge tends to manifest at senior leadership levels, with sentiments such as ‘I agree we need agile working, but not for my team – it wouldn’t work for us.’ It’s essential that leaders are presented with the case for agile working as an enabler of the business strategy (See point 1) and are tasked with being part of the solution as to how it will work within their team.

  1. How will you take everyone along with you?

Agile working is a journey that everyone in the organisation must be on together. While it is critical that leaders appreciate and act on their role in endorsing agile working, the success or failure will ultimately rest on the everyday behaviours and interactions of colleagues and team members. Everyone must appreciate their role not only in taking up flexible working themselves, but in enabling their colleagues to do the same. The emphasis on each person’s role in enabling agile working shifts the conversation away from the individual, instead focusing it on the team dynamic. Doing so alleviates from the very beginning some of the concerns from leaders and managers about negative impacts on collaboration and team performance.

  1. How will you tap into what really drives behaviour in your organisation?

A common barrier to agile working is the belief that it will negatively impact one’s career progression, being viewed as a sing of less than 100% commitment to the organisation and its clients. To overcome this, agile working must be positioned as a capability required of high performers who want to progress in the organisation. Those on high potential programmes or Partner tracks must be evaluated in part on their ability to work in an agile way themselves, and enable high performing agile teams. Creating this link is essential in shifting the perception of agile working away from isolated initiatives for specific groups of employees, and towards a future-proofed way of working to unleash performance.

With employees increasingly impatient for new and agile ways of working, perhaps it’s time to ask (and answer) the questions that will move your organisation forward on the journey.

Find out more about our work in this area by contacting:

E: emma@hotspotsmovement.com | T: +44 (0) 20 7759 1848

The Unintended Consequences of a Strong Culture

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Hannah Blog HeadshotWith 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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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 hannah@hotspotsmovement.com.

Two Questions that I’m keen to Answer in 2018

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4a5e4-6a019affbb02b7970b019affc09e79970d-piLast week my colleague Emma and I gave an interview on the theme of ‘motivating tomorrow’s workforce’. It reminded me that there are several important questions about the relationship between tomorrow’s talent and organisations, which we haven’t yet fully addressed – and that the answers may be simpler than we think.

  1. Are our organisations ready to embrace an adult-to-adult relationship between organisations and talent?
  2. How will it change the role of HR professionals?

Are we ready for the adult-to-adult relationship between organisations and talent?

In my view, one of the key elements of this changing relationship is that it’s no longer the sole responsibility of the company to understand what kind of working arrangement will attract talent and enable people to perform at their very best. This is good news, for two reasons. Firstly, because we can expect our talent to be increasingly comfortable bringing their ‘wholes selves’ to work, meaning working arrangements will need to become highly individualised. Secondly, with longer working lives becoming a reality, the strong link between ‘age and stage’ is weakening, making age a much less reliable indicator of expectations and aspirations.

In this new reality of multi-faceted diversity, it would seem unrealistic to expect HR to propose work arrangements that work for every individual. And why should we? I’m of the belief that adults know what’s right for them and are fundamentally keen to do the right thing by the organisations. As we start considering the relationship an adult-to-adult one, there’s no reason they wouldn’t deliver on these expectations.

Adult-Adult RelationshipWhat does this mean for HR? It means we need to change our organisations’ narratives to make clear that empowerment is a two-way deal. It is a constructive relationship between adults, not one where one party suggests specific rules for how people can work flexibly, which may or may not work, for the people involved, both individually, and as a team of workers. We should invite our people to design their own arrangements for flexible working and expect them to be thoughtful about how this will work for the organisation and for their colleagues (as individuals’ flexible working arrangements can take a toll on their fellow work team members), and likewise their own career journeys (moving between fast track, slow lane, plateau, sideways, etc.).

To build this narrative, and not least to get senior management to live by it, HR must be a credible source of strategic direction, and be proactive. This requires changing deeply engrained views of roles and responsibility. It also requires mutual trust, which needs to be preceded not only by the new narrative, but also by training, guidance and coaching.

My final question to the HR community is how do we train ourselves for this role? I’d suggest we start by ensuring we profoundly understand what the future of work will look like – (and assume that predicting the exact pace of change is near impossible so ‘sooner rather than later’ is a safe assumption regarding the timeline). We need to be a force of proposition and prepare our organisations for this change – it could well be the biggest one so far this millennium!

“People are your greatest asset”

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We hear this phrase echoing around the corridors of Canary Wharf and Downtown Manhattan, but are we really unleashing the potential of all the great people in our organisation? Well, in our experience, we find that companies often recruit talented, high performing individuals, but then fail to empower these individuals to affect change.

So what are the levers that organisations must activate if they are to enable their people to unleash their full potential?

1. Speaking up – We spend a lot of time thinking about this at Hot Spots Movement, as well as working on this capability with clients, andText Box what we’ve found is that speaking up is far more likely and powerful in organisations which create an environment of psychological safety. What do we mean by psychological safety? This is an environment in which people’s views are valued, no matter their seniority or function, where people can challenge the status quo and are free to build on each other’s ideas. In addition to creating psychological safety, we find it’s crucial that organisations act on the insights given. People will only speak up if they feel they are being listened to, and that their views are being acted upon.

2. Collaboration – Here, we are looking at tapping into collective people power. Research shows that innovative and impactful ideas tend to come from cross-enterprise collaboration, rather than one team from a research lab or company department working on an issue in isolation.[1] Additionally, new workplace technologies have allowed organisations to bring people together in a many-to-many communication model, inspiring innovation as well as giving employees greater agency when it comes to decision-making.

3. Innovation and Productivity – Organisations often find themselves tasked with doing more with less, and have to constantly reinvent themselves in the face of disruption. As such, innovation is no longer a department or function, but instead a mentality that must pervade the entire organisation. Interestingly, our experience from running innovation projects with clients indicates an innate desire and capacity to innovate which is latent within many employees. What these employees are lacking, however, is the time to do so, or the incentives to ensure they make time for innovation.

4. Organisational Structure and Values – Research shows that strong values and purpose are effective in unleashing the people power of current employees, as well as becoming an increasingly important role in the attraction of new talent.[2] The challenge that organisations face here is to ensure that the rhetoric matches reality. That is to say, if you have a set of values in your office lobby, you need to ensure that they are being reflected in the processes and practices that underpin the everyday behaviour of your employees, and be sure that employees are rewarded for living those values.

We’re undertaking ongoing research into this topic through the Unleashing People Power Survey. This 10-minute survey allows you to pulse-check  how your organisation is performing on each of the above four levers, as well as how this compares to the benchmarking of 60+ multinationals. Perhaps take a moment today to complete it, and send it to your colleagues too – the more responses, the more insightful the data.

If you’re interested in taking the Unleashing People Power Survey or would like to learn more about how to unleash the energy of your people, please contact Harriet Molyneaux harriet@hotspotsmovement.com.

[1] Wuchty, S., Jones, B. and Uzzi, B. 2007. The Increasing Dominance of Teams in Production of Knowledge, Science 316, no. 5827: 1036–1039

[2] Nally, D. (2015). Five reasons diversity and inclusion matter to every business and every employee. PwC CEO Insights.

Co-Production: the emerging trend in workplace mental health initiatives

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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.Melexp



Melissa Forbes

Head of Admin & Community Management

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is Employee Voice? Beyond the Engagement Paradigm

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By Sarah Elsing, researcher, Hot Spots Movement

Employee Voice is often linked to employee engagement. While employee surveys are used to assess employees’ levels of engagement, Employee Voice can be understood not only as a way of assessing people’s engagement levels but also as one way of enabling this engagement. It also reaches far beyond the realm of employee engagement. A two-way conversation with employees can help boost staff morale and productivity but it can also be useful in the problem-solving process, create innovation, and help an organisation’s leadership renegotiate the deal with its changing workforce.

Despite these wide-ranging uses and benefits, Employee Voice mechanisms are still most often applied in a reactive manner. Only when staff morale or productivity are already low do organisations start engaging their employees in a conversation. When this is the case, they often focus on understanding what is causing the problem rather than allowing employees to voice their ideas on how to improve the situation. As a large, diverse group of problem-solvers and innovators, employees remain largely untapped. At Hot Spots Movement, we therefore find that the best Employee Voice tools allow their participants to move from a reactive, negative and reflective state of mind to a more proactive, constructive and future-oriented conversation.

If you would like to find out more about Employee Voice and how it can work for you, simply leave your details on our contact form using the keyword ‘Employee Voice’. Our white paper on Employee Voice draws on the latest insights from our client-based research and provides best practice tips on how to make it work particularly in an era of digitalisation.