performance management

Sex: Does it Make You Better at Your Job?

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By Emma Birchall, Head of Research – Future of Work

The link has been contested for centuries with Plato warning Olympians to abstain before competitions. Sex is, of course, just one of the long list of activities we are told to do or to avoid in order to concentrate better, be more creative, have more energy and generally succeed in our work. So, what’s the answer? How do we know what works and what doesn’t? Well, the latest development in the movement to quantify everything could help. Forget the Quantified Self – which tracks calories burned, miles run and steps taken – we now have the Quantified Mind. This movement promises to capture data on our mental performance, day-to-day and year-to-year, identifying patterns of behaviour that enable us to be our best. For some people, this may mean abstaining from sex, but being sure to have a full breakfast. For others, perhaps the combination of meditation and meetings scheduled for 4pm rather than 3pm is the winning formula.

To produce the data required to identify winning behaviour patterns, companies such as QuantifiedMind provide people with a series of tests they must complete before and after the activity in question. Ever wondered whether your morning latte really does increase your alertness, or if it is merely a habit or placebo? Join Quantified Mind’s Coffee experiment and, by completing a set of tests each day before and after having your coffee, you will produce a set of data that indicates how this routine activity really helps or hinders your performance.

But, how accurate is this data on the complex relationship between an activity and subsequent performance? Critics such as John Bogle, founder of investment company Vanguard, argues that “Numbers are not reality. At best, they are a pale reflection of reality. At worst, they are a gross distortion of the truths.” Hence, relying on statistics to create a direct causal link between one activity and another could be misguided given all the distractions, events and emotions that influence our performance on a given day. Even if the data does provide some clues as to how to increase our effectiveness, is this a path we want to go down as individuals and as society, tracking our thoughts, actions and behaviours to the point that it becomes oppressive and perhaps even narcissistic? If the success of the Quantified Self movement is any indicator, these concerns will surely be overshadowed by our curiosity and innate desire to do all we can to enhance our performance. If your colleague skips their morning coffee tomorrow before submitting a winning proposal, you too may find yourself more curious than concerned about your Quantified Mind.

Five insights on engagement

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by Emma Birchall, Head of Research, Future of Work

We had a busy start to the week as we hosted our Engagement 2.0 masterclass in London. It was a diverse event offering a wide range of perspectives on the topic, so towards the end of the day, we asked our delegates to think about – and then share – the key insights they were going to take away. Here are the top five…

  1. The link between engagement and performance

    In her keynote, Lynda pointed out that the popularity of engagement surveys is based on the belief that measuring engagement is a way of measuring performance. But some recent research suggests that low performers can be highly engaged and high performers disenfranchised. If this is true, and engagement isn’t as reliable an indicator of performance as previously thought, what does that mean for the future of the engagement survey? And, what are the implications of tying managers’ bonuses to engagement scores?

  2. Is HR ready for Big Data?

    There’s no doubt that Big Data holds a lot of promise. Guest speaker Guy Halfteck gave us his perspective on the potential of Big Data has to help companies identify the best talent for each role. Guy’s company, Knack, uses gaming to generate real-time data about people’s skills that can predict an individual’s performance in a role. But, as one of the videos we commissioned with Central Saint Martin’s highlighted, there is still a lot of work for companies to do when it comes to ensuring they are extracting the most relevant data and interpreting it correctly.

  3. Appreciating diversity

    One thing our delegates were concerned about was how to customise engagement approaches to reflect diversity. While organisations have traditionally focused on adapting their offerings based on gender, race, disability and other visible indicators, our members felt that diversity ran deeper and that truly customised approaches must now reflect life stages and aspirations.

  4. Renegotiating the employee/employer relationship

    The workers of the future won’t be looking for a “permanent” role – they’ll be looking to organisations to add to their career portfolio by providing them with opportunities that will help build their own personal brand. In light of this, how can organisations prepare themselves to renegotiate the deal? How can they create portable credentials that employees can transfer into their next role?

  5. Managing intangible assets

    As our recent newsletter highlighted, health and wellbeing is at the forefront of many workers’ minds. At the masterclass, it was pointed out that in the days when jobs were for life, employers took care of employee health and wellbeing – a priority that fell by the wayside as careers models shifted. The big question is how organisations can re-integrate health and wellbeing into their outlook given that in future employees will be on the scene for a few years at most.

And finally…We all need more sleep!

One of Lynda’s key take-aways from Davos was the need for a solid eight hours’ sleep. Lack of sleep causes poor decision-making, poor health, and can even trigger conditions such as Alzheimer’s. But does anyone but the most eccentric of senior executives have the opportunity to take a nap in the middle of the day? One of our delegates said their company encourages naps – and perhaps in future this practice should become more widespread.

Insights from the New Ways of Working Masterclass

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Emma

by Emma Birchall, Head of Research, Future of Work

We started this week with a bang by hosting one of our Future of Work masterclasses on the subject of New Ways of Working. Here are some of the highlights.

The impact of social networks

It’s no surprise that social media was a major discussion point. As Lynda pointed out in her keynote, social media has already had a huge impact – but it isn’t quite as entrenched as other habits. While 70% of companies now use social structures and communities internally, with 90% reporting benefits, email remains dominant and many companies struggle to exploit social media’s collaborative potential. Most businesses are only just realising that online communities are becoming just as important as physical communities and many-to-many communication hold great value for the future. Increasingly, social media is becoming the only way to ensure disparate groups of employees make the connections that will help boost productivity and strengthen teams.

Guest speaker Darren Keegan of Tycoon Systems expanded on this theme by highlighting the value of virtual reality workspaces – and why they shouldn’t be ignored as a tool for enabling geographically diverse teams to collaborate effectively.

Global talent pools and hyperspecialised work

Our speakers also focused on job design and the trend towards complex work. With many of the most talented workers choosing portfolio careers and virtual working becoming embedded in corporate culture, companies are waking up to the fact that they can acquire specialist skills virtually instead of hiring experts full-time. By allowing employers to share the most talented workers rather than competing for them this model offers huge benefits such as enabling businesses to carry out complex projects at a reasonable cost. However, it also poses some unique challenges, including the question of how best to assemble teams when some workers are remote, and how to ensure employees stay motivated. Guest speaker Gary Swart, CEO of oDesk – also a renowned expert on the future of work – provided practical insights into this new way of working by describing how oDesk’s business model helps workers build more meaningful, varied and lucrative careers while at the same time enabling businesses to streamline hiring processes and access high-quality work at the best price.

New ways of managing performance

As job design changes, performance management methods have to be updated accordingly. In a world where teams aren’t necessarily co-located, employees frequently work on many projects with different leaders and peers, performance management is following the same patterns as communication and evolving from a one-to-one model to a many-to-many model.

As with communication, social media would seem to be a great solution to this – platforms like Work.com are already offering such services. The real issue around performance management, however, is behaviour. There is no escaping the fact that remote workers receive lower performance appraisals than co-located team members and that people give feedback based on how well they like someone rather than their skill level. Once again, Gary Swart’s take on this provided a glimpse into the future: freelancers on oDesk are already assessed based on their skills rather than what a manager thinks of them.

Finally, we invited members to think outside the box by looking at ways in which human resources professionals can learn from marketing firms when it comes to observing and influencing behaviour. Jonathan Chippindale of Holition provided unique and fascinating insights into how concepts such as augmented reality and gamification are revolutionising consumer behaviours.