By Lynda Gratton
Something that is becoming increasingly apparent in the discussion around corporate resilience is that creativity matters. Large organisations are building vast banks of talented and creative employees to ensure they are ahead of the competition. However, when it comes to tapping into the potential inherent in this talent pool, they can find themselves at a loss, frequently going back to the same small group of people for their next big business idea.
With employees scattered over the world it can be challenging to find out what your people are thinking. In an attempt to mitigate this, many companies already have open innovation programmes to help them discover the thoughts and ideas of individuals both inside and outside their organisation. Practices such as sharing business plans with a wider audience and inviting employees to provide input are proven to have a positive impact on sales.
One avenue for surfacing ideas which I think too many companies ignore is experimentation. This can be a particularly valuable process when you are faced with problems to which no-one has a ready-made answer.
It seems obvious to me that if you are faced with an unknown, you need to experiment around the issue to find an answer. All the breakthroughs we have seen in medicine, for example, have come through a process of hypothesis, experimentation and clinical trials where several different options are tried out and compared. Despite the scientific record, very few companies dare to experiment. Recently, when I was seeking out examples of corporate experimentation for my book, The Key, I found that they were few and far between. In fact, the only two that made it into the finished book were at Roche and Xerox. This is despite the fact that one of the biggest changes in the workplace – flexible working – was the result of repeated experimentation at BT.
Looking at the examples of experimentation I did find, most of them were led by scholars or academics, such as Professor Ruth Wageman, who led the self-managing teams project at Xerox. This is another indication that companies are apprehensive about experimenting themselves. And if companies as a whole are poor at experimentation, their HR departments are worse. And yet, I feel that if companies would only dare to try, experimentation has a wealth of benefits to offer. Take, for example, the sphere of performance management. HR teams, managers and employees all agree that current processes are ineffective, but none of them have alternatives. Experimentation would be an ideal way to find methods that really work – and, as with BT, for your organisation’s discovery to become the model that others follow for decades to come.
Lynda Gratton’s latest book, The Key: How Corporations Succeed by Solving Some of the World’s Toughest Problems will be published on June 1st and is available to pre-order through Amazon now.
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.
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…
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?
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.
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.
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?
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.