Leadership

The story of Jack the bored banker: The big secret to employee engagement

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The Bored BankerGuest 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.

Chevy Corvette StingrayJack 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.”

ReframedReframing 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.

Reflection

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?

Dream MakerJack had reframed his role from ‘form filler’ to ‘dream maker’ and that had made all the difference


Thank you for reading my post. I’m passionate about creating better workplaces and regularly write about culture and change. If you would like to read future articles please ‘follow or send me a LinkedIn invite. Want to read more?

Creativity in the Digital Age – Focus on your inner Messi not your inner Siri

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Headshot for Website Colour

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.

Robots Football

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 john@hotspotsmovement.com

How to win friends and influencers  

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SONY DSCThere has been a fundamental disruption of influence and power over the past few years. Historically, power and influence were in the hands of a chosen few at the top of hierarchies such as politicians, CEOs and public figures. Today we see a different picture. A great example of this is the meteoric rise of Vloggers. These are often teenagers, posting videos from their homes somewhere quite remote. They can command viewers in the their millions and make – or break – a brand or product purely through the influence of a 50 second video. Just last week celebrity influencer Kylie Jenner appears to have wiped roughly $1.5 billion off the market value of Snapchat with one tweet.

The interesting point for organisations to take away is that this isn’t just happening in the outside world. It’s happening at work too. Enterprise social networks such as Yammer or Chatter, as well as a tendency towards flatter hierarchies in many organisations, means that your influencers aren’t necessary all sitting in the executive team. At work, influencers are ‘people who can, because of their knowledge, skills and position in the company network, and not their formal hierarchical power, shape the views of multiple colleagues’[1]. These influencers can become powerful change agents, most particularly in the face of culture change or a major transition your organisation is undertaking.

A challenge for organisations is to identify these influencers, and ensure they can leverage them to support organisational needs and outcomes. While I find that most of the organisations I speak with are aware this should be on their to do list, I sense that many are struggling to find a route to achieving it. So I’ve drawn out three ways to illustrate how to identify influencers, focus on them to nudge behaviour and leverage them to change micro-behaviours.

  1. Identify influencers: Tata Consultancy Services (TCS), a long-standing client of ours, has made public communication the default through an internal social networking platform the norm called Knome. By using Knome in place of email, a private form communication they aim to unleash unstructured collaboration, innovation and creativity. Interestingly, TCS have also used this tool to identify influencers within their organisation. By using a platform, they can see beyond the traditional hierarchy and identify those with social capital or bright ideas, wherever they might sit within the organisation
  2. Focus on influencers to nudge behaviour: Nudge theory is a concept in behavioural science where positive reinforcements and indirect suggestions influence the motives, incentives and decision making of groups and individuals[2]. As you can imagine, if organisations focus on changing the behaviours of influencers and leaders, these nudges become all the more powerful. This is due to the multiplier effect of highly visible or influential people on their peers
  3. Leverage influencers to change micro-behaviours: Enabling workplace culture change requires an understanding and altering of micro-behaviours. It is important for influencers and leaders to call out negative micro-behaviours in the workplace. Equally, leaders and influencers should provide micro-affirmations, that is congratulating the efforts and achievements of employees when they engage in the right kind of work or behaviours. In doing so, employees’ behaviour becomes conditioned through negative repercussions and positive reinforcements, provided by both leaders and influencers

Identifying and leveraging influencers requires subtle and thoughtful work, but research indicates that the outcomes can be significant, particularly in the context of culture change. I have certainly seen the results in the crowdsourcing projects that I run with clients – both in engaging influencers to raise awareness and engagement before the event, and in identifying hidden influencers during crowdsourcing events themselves.

If you’d like to find out more about how to identify and leverage influencers in your organisation, feel free to contact me on harriet@hotspotsmovement.com

[1] 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

[2] Workwire, (2015) Workplace Nudging Persuade People To Desirable Behaviour

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!

Speaking Up for a Healthy Workforce

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10235Speaking up is very important in all aspects of our life. For instance, we might choose to speak up when we are not happy with our situation, and it can take a number of shapes and forms. From polite requests in a restaurant to ranting on Twitter, the spectrum covers a lot of options. However, people do not always feel like they can, or should, speak up. Whether that is a case of lack of opportunity, fear of speaking up or a sense of pointlessness, there are a multitude of reasons for silence.

We ran a Jam – an online crowdsourcing solution that enables thousands of people to discuss a set number of topics – with a multinational organisation in November, and one of the big discoveries of the project was that employees did not feel like they could speak up. They did not feel there were enough channels or opportunities, and they felt that their leaders did not listen. Simply put, the environment was not psychologically safe. Research shows that in psychologically safe environments, employees feel encouraged to ask for clarification, to point out errors, and to share new and challenging ideas[1].

So how can organisations help employees have the confidence to speak up?

Megaphone

Often, it is the day-to-day behaviour of leadership and line managers that determines whether psychological safety exists within an organisation.[2] Halfhearted efforts like vague invitations to submit opinions and ideas will not work. What will make a difference is taking the following four steps to assure employees that it is both safe and worthwhile to speak up and contribute[3]:

Initiate: Initiating conversations informally is much more effective than just being open to it when it comes your way[4].

Intimacy: Psychological safety requires leaders to minimise the institutional and attitudinal distances that typically separate them from their employees. This shifts the focus from a top-down distribution of information to a bottom-up exchange of ideas.

Immunity: Employees need to feel empowered to experiment and fail.

Intentionality: In surveys of more than 3,500 employees in multiple organisations, James Detert of Columbia University found that leaders’ failure to ‘close the loop’ increased subordinates’ belief that speaking up was futile by 30%[5]. But if leaders had closed the loop in the past, their reports spoke up 19% more frequently. This highlights an important learning for leaders: if they’d like their employees to speak up they need to commit to acting on the concerns of their employees.

Talking openly and honestly is of great value in the workplace, and we all need the right space and tools to achieve this. Whether the tool is having a chat in the communal kitchen while sipping your morning coffee or a crowdsourcing platform involving tens of thousands of people across the entire organisation, the point is that we all need to be enabled to feel confident enough to voice our feelings and opinions without having to worry about any negative consequences.

[1] Project Aristotle, Google

[2] Giles, S. 2016. The most important leadership competencies, according to leaders around the world. Harvard Business Review

[3] Future of Work Research Consortium, A FoW Report on Power and Leadership. 2016

[4] Groysberg, B. and Slind, M., 2012. Leadership is a conversation. Harvard business review, 90(6), pp.76-­84

[5] Detert, J.R. and Burris, E.R., 2016. Can Your Employees Really Speak Freely? Harvard Business Review, 94(1-­2), pp.80-­87

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