Guest blog by Siobhan McHale, CHRO at Dulux Group
“Anne Lewis” mulled over a problem she was having with a staff member as she queued for her morning coffee at the city’s popular Hole In The Wall Café. She was the executive in charge of a retail loans department at “BlueStoneBank (BSB)” and she had an issue with one of the employees in her team. Jack had been working at the bank for 6 years but had seemed quite disengaged recently. He was bright and others in the team liked working with him but he had been in the same position for over 3 years now. He seemed stuck in a rut. Indeed, over the past few months she noticed that Jack had been so leisurely in his ways that others in the team had to wade in to help him get through his workload.
Anne was meeting with her boss Lee later that afternoon and she knew he would be demanding more from her team. The recent performance stats were not looking good and she needed everyone in the Department, including Jack, to pull their weight. If they didn’t all lift their game Lee would start micromanaging her again!
The Chevy Corvette Sting Ray
As Anne stood in line she wondered whether Jack was simply bored with work or just disinterested in life in general. She remembered a recent work social event when he had spoken animatedly about his passion for antique cars. He seemed to spend every waking hour, when he wasn’t at work, tinkering with that Chevy Corvette Sting Ray sitting in his garage. She wished Jack had the same level of enthusiasm for his job as he had for his beloved collectible car.
Jack seemed much more engaged in working on his Chevy Corvette Sting Ray than he was in his role at BSB
Anne’s mind went back again to the meeting with her boss Lee later that afternoon. She knew that her Department was coming under scrutiny and Jack’s recent listless manner wasn’t helping one bit! She wondered if she should take a different approach to unleashing some of his discretionary effort at work.
The coffee catch-up
Anne ordered her usual cappuccino and decided to get Jack a latte which was his favourite morning brew. Five minutes later she bounded into his office and, as she handed him his coffee, she asked “Jack how do you see your role, you know your job here at BBS?” He took a long sip of the latte, leaned back in his chair and responded “Hey, thanks for the coffee! Well my role, as I see it, is to help our customers complete their loan applications and then submit them to the Risk department for approval. As you know it’s all about driving the revenue line I suppose.”
Anne enquired “What loans do you have on your ‘to do’ list for today?” Jack stretched his arms out above his head and responded “One couple, the Mendozas, want to try and buy their first home in a cool suburb near the bay. Another loan is for a recent graduate Sofia who has just gotten her driving license and wants to purchase her first car. The last high priority one for today is for this guy Liam who is a fanatical sailor and wants to buy a boat so that he can try his hand at fulfilling his dream of sailing around the world!”
“That’s a pretty interesting and diverse group” Anne responded. “And it seems to me from those stories that you’re actually helping to make these peoples’ dreams come true in your role, eh?’ Jack looked at her over the rim of his coffee cup. He raised his eyebrow and nodded slowly. “Yes I suppose you could say that.”
Over the next few week Anne noticed a spring in Jack’s step. He was getting to work on time, she was finding fewer mistakes in his applications and he just seemed, well, happier. He was also a lot more productive and even made time to help out others in the Department. All of this had led to an increase in the team’s productivity which has not gone un-noticed by the boss Lee, who was once again singing Anne’s praises.
The power of reframing
When I caught up with Anne at The Hole In The Wall Café later that month she talked about the shift in Jack’s attitude. “What’s changed to create a happier and more engaged employee? I asked. Anne explained the work that she had been doing over the past few months to reframe the role of her team and to connect them more closely to the difference their work was making in the lives of customers. She went on to say “I reframed Jack’s role from ‘form filler’ to ‘dream maker’ and that, I believe, has made all the difference.”
Reframing verb (transitive) 1. to support or enclose (a picture, photograph, etc) in a new or different frame. 2. to change the plans or basic details of (a policy, idea, etc)
Reframing is about looking at the world through a different lens and is a powerful way to transform our thinking by giving a different meaning to our experience. Reframing the role of employees can lead to higher levels of engagement especially if connected to the difference that your company makes in the lives of others.
How are your employees framing their role at work? Is there an opportunity to reframe how they see the part they are playing in meeting the needs of customers?
Jack had reframed his role from ‘form filler’ to ‘dream maker’ and that had made all the difference
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Do you think you could beat a robot at football? The answer, for most of us, is yes. Ok, so how about at a game of Chess? The answer this time is most likely no (unless you’ve whacked the difficulty levels right down).
These were topics discussed in a recent article by Matthew Syed (a sports journalist, of whom I’m a massive fan). Syed assesses why robots, which can now comfortably beat even the most talented humans at games such as chess, Go and Shogi, are still unable to get close to an average human, let alone your Messi’s or Rooney’s, in creative sports such as football.
A surprisingly simple explanation for why this is the case is that hundreds of thousands of years of human evolution and natural selection has honed our skills, such as creative problem solving, hand and eye coordination and motor intelligence, that favour high performance in sports. On the other hand, skills such as logic and calculation are relatively recent human skills that we have yet to perfect. As a result, sports that require motor skills and creativity come much more naturally to us then games where our mental capacity and logic is key.
And this got me thinking. Why, in a world of rapid digital automation and the potential loss of jobs resulting from this, are we trying to cling on to roles and tasks that a machine can do infinitely better than we can? Particularly, given this is often at the expense of those tasks that play to our uniquely human strengths, having been honed by a necessity to creatively adapt in order to survive.
Now obviously, not all of us can be a Messi or a Rooney, but in our normal roles, we have ample opportunity to focus on the creative and non-routine tasks that machines simply cannot do. The World Economic Forum predicts skills such as emotional intelligence and the ability to teach others, as well as cognitive skills such as creativity will be in higher demand across all industries over the next five years, so crucial will these skills be to our future.
This is something that both employers and employees alike need to be thinking about. It is crucial that we create jobs where automation complements and augments what we do and allows our workforce to be more productive than ever before. For example, we spend hours filling out expense forms or time sheets, when instead we could be designing products or selling to potential clients, tasks that can’t be done by machines.
As employers, it is your job to educate your people around this. How will their jobs change in the future and what training will you need to provide them with to be capable of filling those roles? An additional, and often overlooked, element of this is rewarding innovation and creativity. We must demonstrate that these uniquely human assets are key for the future. Here at Hot Spots Movement, we work with numerous companies who are looking at incorporating creative, collaborative and innovative metrics into their KPIs, in order to create a culture that promotes these uniquely human skills and encourages their employees to hone their relevant abilities.
Likewise, as employees it’s important we are embracing the learning opportunities and preparing ourselves for future roles as creative, caring or non-routine workers. In addition to this, as we see the roles of paralegals, book keepers and many others change, we must adapt accordingly and develop our creative, problem solving and innovative abilities in order to ensure we remain employable in the future.
Finally, as parents (a role that many millennials and Gen-Yers will take on over the next few years) we have a responsibility to understand what the future of work looks like and use this to help guide our children on skills that will be crucial in this new world of work. For example, being able to crunch numbers rapidly or proof-read vast swathes of texts will no longer be vital skills that make you employable, AI and robots can do this better than we ever can. However, skills such as problem solving, innovation, creativity and personal skills will be the desired assets of the future.
So, let’s not see AI as something to be feared and resisted. Instead, lets make sure that we allow Siri to unleash our inner Messi’s.
If you’d like to find out more about how we can help you and your employees prepare for the Future of Work then just drop me an email at email@example.com
This is not another horrid example of mixed metaphors but what sprung to mind when I read a recent contribution to the 100-Year Life website, which we created for Lynda Gratton and Andrew Scott’s book The 100-Year Life: Living and Working in an Age of Longevity. We ask website visitors to submit their stories about either how their longer lives are panning out or how they expect to see them pan out.
The contribution that sparked my Dinosaur in the HR Room reaction was as follows:
“I am an IT Consultant. I have just been asked to go back to a client I worked for last year doing the same job with the same people. It took me four hours to complete the HR pre-employment questions and evidences.
I have worked for almost 40 years and have three degrees, completing my last one over five years ago.
I can now afford to retire and do not need to work just for the money. As well as taking time for holidays and family life I do some voluntary work.
For any gaps in my employment record of more than 2 weeks they want me to provide details of a friend that I have known for more than five years who can explain these gaps.
They also make it mandatory to provide at least one lecturer reference and one academic qualification from the last five years.
I am afraid they the corporate world in the UK certainly has no understanding of a flexible life so far.”
I thought this was a painfully clear illustration of why as organisations we need to do more than talk about engaging easily with new ways of working, from contractors to freelance workers. We would be wise to appreciate that it’s no longer ‘the future’ – it’s happening now, and by making engaging with our organisations cumbersome for freelance talent, we stand to lose out on great individuals, or at the very least, appear like dinosaurs and as such send the wrong signals.
Here at Hot Spots Movement we call these cumbersome approaches ‘sunset processes’ – that is, processes that were established possibly many years ago when the nature of work and workers was different, or perhaps came with an acquired company and were deemed too complicated to discontinue it at the time. These ‘sunset processes’ have reached the end of their valuable life and the challenge for HR is to remove them so that they do not end up constraining the business.
In short, people processes can be illustrated by showing an excavation site where you can see the different archaeological ages, layer by layer.
Removing sunset processes is just the start. As HR professionals we need to decide rather urgently if we want to lead how our organisations engage with freelance talent. If the answer is yes, then we need to design the engagement journey for freelancers with two important outcomes in mind: (1) ensure that freelancers want to work with our company (yes, you will want to be a freelance ‘employer’ of choice) and (2) ensure that the company benefits in all respects from engaging with freelance talent.
If HR doesn’t take the lead, line management will procure freelance talent directly, and our organisations won’t benefit from a signature ‘Freelance Experience’. Over the past years, HR functions have spent much time designing their Employee Experience, with the smartest companies appreciating that this experience begins well before the first working day and all the way through to how their people leave the company. I can’t think of any reason why you wouldn’t put as much effort into designing the Freelance Experience as you do for the Employee Experience. The reward – and the risk – is no less substantial.
Maybe now is the time to let the dinosaur move to the museum and say goodbye to processes that are not fit for purpose, or plainly unnecessary, for the age of agile working and longer careers.
Last 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. 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.
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.
 Surely a turn of phrase that gives away how little I know about sports, let alone writing about them
 I appreciate the advertising community may have had something to do with this narrative
As the COO of Hot Spots Movement, a research company specialising in understanding what the future of work will look like, I spend a lot of time thinking about jobs – both at a global level and with regards to my team. Frankly, I’m increasingly thinking that job descriptions are a waste of time. With work becoming far more task and project-based, traditional job descriptions feel too static and only marginally helpful in understanding what an employee contributes and how he or she can develop to bring even more value to the organisation. I’d suggest we arrest the time robber that job descriptions are, in favour of focusing on competencies, tasks and projects.
At Hot Spots Movement, we think that rather than expecting candidates to fit job descriptions, organisations and managers should focus on building roles around employee capabilities and potential. And we actually walk the talk: when we recruit, we look for candidates with capabilities, specific skills and a mindset that roughly address the needs within our team, and we then swiftly move on to continually identifying what they are good at. Defining their role based on those factors rather than a pre-existing job description seems to be a far better approach. Not only are project portfolios easier to change than people and more easily support my preferred approach of building on strengths than remedying weaknesses, it’s also an approach that can unveil unsuspected skills and aptitudes. And in this day and age, it’s important that roles can evolve easily over time to move in line with employee life stages rather than follow a set career route.
One of the core differences between this approach and traditional job-description-driven recruitment and development is the fact that it shifts the focus away from ticking boxes on a list of short-term wants. Instead, it encourages looking for a strong match between personality, purpose and values of the company and the candidate – a firm basis for a long-standing and productive relationship between employer and employee.
This type of fluid approach is often associated with smaller, newer workplaces – but there’s no reason it wouldn’t work in a big organisation. What matters is whether the line manager is able and willing to implement it.