It’s been one month since our Future of High Performance Masterclass and we’re excited to soon be sharing our Report with members of the Future of Work Research Consortium, which will present the key findings from our extensive research on this theme. The Masterclass was packed full of insights, activities and opportunities to network and share good practices. We had three fantastic guest speakers on the day, so here are my key takeaways from their insightful contributions.
Dr. Randall S. Peterson, Professor of Organisational Behaviour at London Business School, spoke to delegates about the power of collaboration in high performance teams. My favourite takeaway from Randall’s presentation was about how research shows that the best teams are the most diverse – but so are the very worst teams. He argued that the key was in the management of these teams. When diverse teams are managed well, members have access to a variety of sources of information and have opportunities to learn from each other and grow. However, when teams are managed poorly, it gives rise to task conflicts (disagreements around the content of the work), relationship conflicts (personal disagreements) and process conflicts (disagreements about the logistics of getting work done). Creating common understandings of problems, encouraging information sharing and promoting psychological safety and belongingness are a couple of ways to begin managing conflict and supporting high performance teams.
Tom Ravenscroft, founder and CEO of Enabling Enterprise, identified three major myths about human skills which need to be formally debunked. The first is that these skills are innate and that there are some “natural” team players. The second myth is that these skills are picked up by osmosis and simply “rub off” on people, rather than needing to be taught. The third is that these skills lie latent and that, in the “right situation”, people will show these skills. Organisations need to abandon these assumptions in order to make real progress towards building the skills of the future.
Lynda Gratton, Hot Spots Movement’s founder and CEO, told delegates about her main impressions from the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting in Davos this year – you can read her full blog for MIT Sloan here. Lynda stated that one hot topic was that work is undergoing a major transition, as technology demands that people upskill and reskill more rapidly than ever before. At our Masterclass, one of our delegates asked Lynda a fascinating question: how can CEOs continue to be creative when they are under increasing pressure to take immediate action to address this transition in work? Our research indicates that CEOs need the support of HR to look beyond the short term and develop a narrative on the future of work. By developing a point of view on learning and making their involvement and investment in learning initiatives a priority, they can help their people to develop the skillsets necessary to transform and adapt.
So, some key questions to consider when thinking about high performance in the long term are:
- Am I building the uniquely human skills I will need to succeed in the future of work?
- Am I harnessing the power of diversity in my team?
- Does my CEO have a clear narrative on what our organisation will look like in the future and what we need to do and learn in order to get there?
As our definition of high performance changes, building our skillsets and prioritising our interpersonal skills and development will help us to become more future-proofed. Drop me an email if you’d like to have a conversation about high performance at firstname.lastname@example.org.
 Lynda Gratton, ‘Five Insights From Davos on the Future of Work’, MIT Sloan Management Review Blog (2019).
 FoW, Building Narratives on the Future of Work Masterclass Report (2018).
We are surrounded by pro-diversity messages today – from the #MeToo campaign, to the controversial Pepsi advert featuring Kendall Jenner – diversity, and the lack of it, penetrates every aspect of society.
We find here at HSM, that workplace diversity and inclusion (D&I) is often the most pressing challenge for many HR executives, and it’s no surprise given that there are only 25 female Fortune 500 CEOs and three black Fortune 500 CEOs, and that just 16% of autistic adults in the UK are in full-time employment. Many organisations are trying to amend these inequalities not only because it has become socially unacceptable, but also because it has been evidenced that a diverse workforce can greatly benefit an organisation’s bottom line.
For example McKinsey has found that companies in the top quartile of ethnic and racial diversity were 35% more likely to financially outperform their industry competitors. This clearly has huge appeal for organisations, yet there remains a significant gap between the rhetoric and the reality of diversity efforts today. In this post I will focus on how often well-intentioned organisations are unaware of how to make the leap from the rhetoric of aspirational diversity agendas, to creating a reality of a company culture that is truly diverse and inclusive.
One way in which companies try to incorporate a pro-diversity message within their organisation’s culture and values is by including diversity or equal employer opportunity (EEO) statements, or by creating lengthy and comprehensive D&I policies. It is sometimes assumed that by creating these statements or policies, they will automatically attract a more diverse applicant pool of talent, and thus a more diverse workforce, allowing them to benefit from all of the advantages of diverse workforces. However, research has shown that EEO and diversity statements are ineffective in bringing about actual change. A recent World Economic Forum report claimed that although 97% of companies have diversity programs or statements in place, only 25% of employees from diverse groups believe that they have personally benefited from these initiatives.
So where can we go from here? Evidently employers still have a long way to go in fully addressing discrimination in organisations. Eliminating discrimination and working towards inclusivity needs to be made a regular part of the conversation in order to become a reality. For example, it could be a good starting point to ask employees what they think inclusion means, to ask them to share their experiences of feeling excluded, and to co-create with their employers the actions that would make the company more inclusive. The ideas and actions that come from these conversations can help bring your policy to life, as they truly come from the heart of your organisation and your people, those who will ultimately be responsible for implementing it.
This is something we have enabled clients to do, using our Collaboration Jams. These online, crowdsourced conversations enable thousands of employees to connect in a many-to-many conversation around the most pressing issues. Combined with expert facilitation, they make even the most sensitive topics safe to explore and provide leaders and HR teams with evidence-based solutions. Get in touch to find out more about how you can empower your employees to convert your diversity rhetoric into a reality.
By Amanda Fajak, Executive Director at Walking the Talk
20 years ago I published an article looking at the link between power, gender and the likelihood of promotion. In that research I uncovered an important finding. Women were associated with emotion and emotion was a characteristic that was not associated with strong leadership. Inversely, men were associated with assertiveness, a characteristic that was associated with strong leadership.
This finding has been reiterated many times over the years with the general consensus being that men are traditionally associated with aggression, risk taking, decisive behaviour and autonomy (what are called agentic qualities) – what have historically been viewed as valuable leadership skills – whereas women are traditionally associated with being kind, caring, humble and relational (what are called communal qualities) – historically less valued leadership skills. These stereotypes of men and women have resulted in historic streaming of men and women into different careers (very broadly in 1998 this meant men traditionally in finance and business and women in nursing and teaching).
Fast forward to 2018 and I was curious as to what has changed. When you look into our business press, there is still evidence of the male hero leader – with the likes of Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos and Mark Zukerberg being credited with single handedly changing our lives. However there are also strong women leaders and influencers making the headlines – Michelle Obama, Angela Merkl, Mary Barra (GE), Indra Nooyi (Pepsico), Carolyn McCall (ITV), Theresa May to name a few.
Interestingly, research from as recently as 10 years ago showed that despite an increasing number of women in more powerful roles, women had started to see an association between feminine and leadership characteristics, but men had not.
The latest research by Eagly – who has polled views on gender stereotyping since 1946 – delivered good and bad news. Over time, men have increasingly been seen as more agentic (aggressive, decisive, etc). Over time women have been increasingly seen as more intelligent and competent than men but the stereotype of women being more communal has also increased.
These sorts of findings are a source of frustration to many. On the surface it would appear that we haven’t made much progress in breaking down stereotypes. This is only 1 lens, if we broaden out our perspective another picture might be emerging.
Recent research conducted by Walking the Talk showed that investment professionals are less likely to invest in organisations that are aggressive, overconfident, overly hierarchical – organisations that have more agentic qualities.
Similarly, recent research by the Centre for Creative Leadership listed the following 10 characteristics to be associated with leaders: Honesty; Ability to delegate; Communication; Sense of humour; Confidence; Commitment; Positive attitude; Creativity; Ability to inspire; Intuition. These are more communal qualities.
In the same vein the latest thinking about the leaders that create psychological safety – a critical underpinning to organisation health – includes modesty; humility; openness; supportiveness; inclusive decision making; acknowledging others; emotional intelligence; and accessibility – more communal qualities.
If we look at changing perceptions about leadership it is evident that we are starting to see a significant shift in terms of what good leadership looks like. Could it be that although stereotypes about women have not changed, society has come to a point where it is starting to recognise that feminine characteristics are what it takes for strong leadership?
 Fajak, A. & Haslam, A. (1998). Gender solidarity in hierarchical organizations. British Journal of Social Psychology. 37, 73-94.
 Eagly, A.H.. Wood, W. & Diekman, A.B. (2000). Social role theory of sex differences and similarities: A current appraisal. In T. Eckes and H.M. Trautner (Eds.). The developmental social psychology of gender (pp.123-174). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.
 Duehr, E. & Bono. J. (2006). Men, women, and managers: are stereotypes finally changing? Personnel Psychology, 59, 815-846.
The Danish existentialist philosopher, Soren Kierkegaard, once proclaimed that “we live forward, but we understand backward. Life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forward”. Such thought-provoking aphorisms are just one example of how a discipline which has its origins dating back to over 2000 years ago can still offer foresight into the future. However, despite laying claim to be the oldest discipline in the world and providing the epistemological framework for academia – the influence of philosophy in society has waned in recent times. In 2010, for example, the late Professor Hawking declared that scientists rather than philosophers “have become the bearers of the torch of discovery in our quest for knowledge”[i]. The decline in philosophy’s significance as a method of inquiry is reflected in the statistics too, with figures from the American Academy of Arts and Sciences showing the number of people obtaining philosophy degrees has fallen by 8.7% since 2012[ii].
Despite diminishing interest in the discipline, the increased importance of human skills in the age of automation and technological advancements means there is a strong argument to be made for the recrudescence of philosophy within all spheres of society, and none more so than within the corporate sphere. With this in mind, I thought it would be interesting to explore what the wisdom from some of the greatest philosophers in history can tell us about some of the main themes that are shaping the future of work.
The Stoics and remaining calm in times of accelerated change
It is widely acknowledged within the future of work community that two of the main characteristics that define modern work are volatility and uncertainty. The notion of a lifelong career is seemingly redundant; while there seems to be little consensus on the extent to which technological advancements will threaten the existence of jobs. Thus, to begin this voyage into the relationship between philosophy and the world of work, it seems appropriate to start by exploring the ideas of a group of Athenian scholars who became known as ‘The Stoics’. Widely regarded as the founding fathers of practical philosophy, central to their belief system is the idea that regardless of how unpredictable the world can be, by using our minds correctly we can always be in control of our emotions and impulses, no matter how overwhelming they might be. This mindset is commonly referred to as ‘stoic calm’.
Embracing the virtues of ‘stoicism’ in the modern corporate world unlocks tremendous benefits for organisations experiencing profound change. For instance, a ‘stoic’ individual would show greater resilience to any changes brought about by macro forces such as technological disruption, as they would in theory express a greater willingness to acquiring the skills needed to overcome the challenges such forces present. Similarly, they would be accepting of the fact that the traditional three-stage model of education, work and retirement was obsolescent. Indeed, the stoic individual is one who acknowledges that the only constant in life is change and is therefore also equipped with the emotional skills required to effectively cope with acute forms of disruption.
To this end, stoicism differs from most existing branches of philosophy in one important sense: its purpose is a practical application that can harness the cognitive skills needed for modern work, and as such, it is not a purely intellectual enterprise. Instead, it’s a tool that we can use to become better in our craft, establish more meaningful relationships with colleagues and business partners also allowing us to pragmatically navigate any fundamental disruptions in the labour market. Thus, despite being over 2,000 years old, it is a mindset that, if adopted correctly, could equip modern workers with the mental clarity and resilience required to thrive and prosper in this period of uncertain and accelerated change.
Aristotle, being virtuous and organisational ethics
Keeping with the theme of Athenian scholars, Aristotle, a man regarded as one of the most influential of all philosophers, and his concept of ‘virtuous ethics’, can help provide clarity on the ethical decisions organisations need to make in the future. In essence, Aristotle believed that the framework for being a virtuous person simply consisted of being a good person, and not being a slave to one’s lowest impulses. With recent revelations such as the ‘Cambridge Analytica’ Facebook data scandal, the moral fibre of organisations is under great scrutiny and an adoption of virtuous ethics as a framework can help provide organisations with the necessary moral guidance to make ethically sound decisions.
The concept of ‘virtuous ethics’ not only provides a strong moral framework for organisations to abide by, but it also enables people to fulfil their potential and improve their overall well-being. With recent data indicating that 58% do not trust their colleagues[iii], and 7 out of 10 people not trusting their HR department[iv]; living more virtuously offers a set of ideals that can help galvanise people while simultaneously healing fractured relationships and lead to greater cohesion within organisations.
Nietzsche the Übermensch and high-performance
At first glance, the often misanthropic and pessimistic rhetoric of another great philosopher – Nietzsche has no place in the context of optimising performance. But dig deeper into his philosophy and it becomes clear that the ‘future of high performance’ can learn a lot from his musings. Notably, the concept of the ‘Übermensch’ – translated into English as the ‘Superman’ offers a unique philosophy for how to optimise performance and unlock potential.
For Nietzsche, the idea of Übermensch was more like a vision than a theory; a vision whereby one is emboldened to find the necessary inner strength to overcome any personal insecurities and embrace fear and uncertainty, rather than run away from it. With research demonstrating that creating a space of psychological safety is pivotal for organisations looking to unleash their creative potential; following the principles of Nietzsche’s Übermensch and believing that failure is a necessary stage in the path to fulfilment, can help lay the foundations for people to experiment without fear and come back stronger if they fail.
Perhaps in these increasingly uncertain times when disruptive technology raises profound questions about the skills humans will need to prosper in the future, revisiting the most ancient of disciplines can, in a somewhat paradoxical sense, offer a strong foundation for the cultivation of the uniquely human skills needed to effectively navigate accelerated periods of change. Indeed, to quote Steve Jobs – “technology alone is not enough, it’s technology married with liberal arts, married with humanities that yield the results that make our hearts sing.”
If you would like to discuss further how teaching philosophy can prepare you for the future of work, then please contact Marvin at email@example.com.
Innovation is a strategic priority for the majority of my clients. However, while organisations are focussed on innovation agendas and projects, many fail to prioritise enabling the people in their organisation to think innovatively. This is an error. Innovative thought is energy intensive, time-consuming and requires us to use a different part of our brains than operational work.
I explored this challenge recently, when invited to judge the ideas coming out of a Hackathon on a Leadership Programme at Chubb, the Insurance Company, run by their decidedly innovative VP of Talent & Development, Terry Jones. Watching the participants come together to innovate around pressing challenges at the organisation and the insurance sector more broadly, it was fascinating to see their journey from the usual corporate stance of operational short-term thinking, to arriving at out-of-the-box, truly creative solutions.
This led me think more deeply about why it is that Hackathons are so effective at generating innovative thought:
1. Hackathons generate lots of ideas: Researcher Dean Keith Simonton of UC-Davis provides strong evidence from multiple studies that creativity results from generating lots of ideas. In every occupation Simonton studied, from composers, artists, and poets to inventors and scientists, the story is the same: Creativity is a function of the quantity of ideas produced.
2. Hackathons make time for the work that matters: Research by Julian Birkinshaw, Professor of Strategy and Entrepreneurialism at London Business School indicates that knowledge workers spend an average of 41% on discretionary activities that offer little personal satisfaction. In a similar vein, the well-established Pareto Principle dictates that 80% of production comes from 20% of efforts. In this context, how can organisations make time for the work that matters, freeing up a significant portion of the day for incubation? At Chubb, the Leadership Programme Hackathon appeared to successfully achieve this.
3. The Chubb Hackathon encouraged curiosity in their leaders: Research indicates that successful leadership is less about having all the answers, and more about wondering and questioning. A curious, inquisitive leader also sets an example that inspires creative thinking throughout the company. According to research by Hal Gregerson, Jeffrey Dyer and Clayton Christensen, there are five ‘discovery skills’ that enable curiosity in leaders: associating, questioning, observing, experimenting, and networking. Their research found that innovative leaders spend 50% more time on these discovery activities than do CEOs with no track record for innovation.[i]
What are you doing to encourage the vital capability of innovative thought at your organisation? I’d love to hear from you. And if you want to learn more about stimulating innovative thought at your organisation, get in contact with me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
 For those of you not in the know, Hackathons are creative problem-solving events. They can involve technology and code, or simply be a group of people in a room together trying to solve a challenge
[i] Dyer, J., Gregerson, H., & Christensen, C. (2013). The Innovator’s DNA. Harvard Business Press. Chicago
I have been exploring and researching the future of work for over 6 years now. It has been a fascinating journey as the pace of change driven by accelerating connectivity, new talent models, and cognitive tools is astonishing. In this blog, I would like to share 3 unexpected insights on the future of work that I have come across from my research and advisory work with companies around the world. They are:
- Hierarchies are here to stay
Experiments to do away with hierarchical power structures in most organisations have not been smooth. An indicator of these challenges is that when given the choice of embracing holacracy or taking a buyout, almost 210 of Zappos 1,500 employees took redundancy rather than relinquish their titles and status. Indeed, getting organisations to do away with hierarchical power structures is proving to be next to impossible. For all its enemies – and the millions of copies of employee empowerment handbooks – hierarchy is amazingly resilient. An indicator of this is that since 1983, the number of managers employed in the U.S. economy has nearly doubled, while employment in other occupations has grown by less than 40%, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.[i]
Why do hierarchies persist? Countless social scientists have similarly argued that hierarchies are necessary. In fact, many theorists have even argued that hierarchies are inevitable as they stem from our evolutionary roots. In other words, if different forms of social organisation were more advantageous, groups would have successfully adopted them long ago.[ii] Hierarchy has evolved to be the most dominant form of social organisation because it works. All those structures and systems serve a purpose. On the most basic level, the invisible hand of hierarchy helps people know who does what, when and how, and simplifies interactions by setting clear expectations and role clarity.[iii]
- The importance of solitude
Creativity requires solitude. Today’s world is fixated with association. We live in hyper-social times where the random association of things is not just routine; it is endemic. However, in recent years, neuroscientists have discovered that we tend to get our best ideas when our attention is not fully engaged in our immediate environment. When we are not focusing on anything in particular and letting the mind wander, the brain’s default mode network is activated. Many of our most creative insights arise from the activity of this network. Using many regions across the brain, the default mode network enables us to remember the past, think about the future, understand ourselves, and create meaning from our experiences. Activating this network requires deep internal reflection facilitated by solitude.[iv]
- Engagement is not a purely beneficial experience
A recent study conducted by Yale University study examined the levels of engagement and burnout in over 1,000 U.S. employees. “For some people, engagement is indeed a purely beneficial experience; 2 out of 5 employees in the survey reported high engagement and low burnout. These are the optimally engaged group. However, the data also showed that 1 out of 5 employees reported both high engagement and high burnout. This group is the engaged-exhausted group. These engaged-exhausted workers were passionate about their work, but also had intensely mixed feelings about it — reporting high levels of interest, stress, and frustration. While they showed desirable behaviours such as high skill acquisition, these apparent model employees also reported the highest turnover intentions in our sample — even higher than the unengaged group.”[v] That means that organisations may be at risk of losing some of their high performers not for a lack of engagement, but because of their concurrent experiences of high stress and burnout symptoms.[vi]
[i] Hamel, G. & Zanini, M. 2016. Top-down solutions like Holacracy won’t fix bureaucracy. Harvard Business Review
[ii] Anderson, C., & Brown, C. E. (2010). The functions and dysfunctions of hierarchy. Research in organisational behavior, 30, 55-89.
[iii] Monarth, H. (2014). A company without job titles will still have hierarchies. Harvard Business Review.
I recently returned from running our annual Workshop in Sydney. Alongside trying to find the best flat white in the city and dealing with jetlag, I was able to hear more about what is on the minds of our Australia based clients. At our workshop we discussed why companies need to build a narrative on the future of work, and how to build a future-proofed culture amongst other topics. There were three major takeaways for organisations that came out for me around the workshop.
- Think about your narrative
Despite increasing digital disruption and the rise of AI and analytics, organisations need to ensure they don’t forget the social aspects of change, and the power of stories over straight facts or data. Research has shown that stories impact people’s brains differently to facts, causing more connections in the brain and leading to closer relationships between the storyteller and the listener. People use stories as a way of understanding the world and this is particularly true when it comes to the future of work. Employees are looking to employers to provide a sense of stability and purpose in a rapidly changing world. Organisations therefore need to reflect on their own narrative on the future, thinking about what it will mean to work in their company and how work will be done in the future. Where are your non-negotiables? Where are you going to take a bet and what will stay the same? In considering questions such as these, companies can provide their workers with a story about where they are going, and how they will be supported along this journey.
- Abandon assumptions around aging
The importance of not relying on stereotypes and assumptions around aging also came out strongly in the Workshop. Longer working lives mean that organisations cannot make assumptions around the needs and desires of their workforce, particularly older workers. No longer is it always the case that a worker in their 60s is looking to retire, for example. Organisations need to make sure that their practices and processes are not based on erroneous expectations. They need to rethink the way they approach retirement, or what it means to progress in the organisation, so that people are not penalised if they want to downgrade their working hours without losing status in the organisation.
- Identify your influencers
Finally, the need to think about the cultural influencers in organisations was another important point. Rather than relying on hierarchical leaders, companies need to uncover the real influencers and work with them to drive cultural change. These influencers can be discovered through network analysis or crowdsourced conversations but should be brought in early on in the process to ensure the behavioural change so crucial so a successful culture shift.
It was great to hear from our members in Sydney, and we look forward to our next trip Down Under!