Research

Building resilience in a fragile world

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Lynda - Hot Spots Movement - Portrait by LK - web size 72dpi

By Lynda Gratton
We live in a fragile world. Every one of us faces profound and escalating challenges– youth unemployment touches many families; income inequality and poverty are a source of shame for many of us in developed countries; whilst it is only the least observant who could fail to recognise the early signs of a profound change in the climate. These challenges are no longer particular to one country or area: they affect most people around the world.

The challenges faced by organisations are no less complex. They too are faced with the implications of climate change, of inequality, and of the gap between their needs and the available pool of talent. These challenges are on a greater and more global scale than ever before, and emerging at an ever faster trajectory. Previously stable companies find themselves on shaky ground – and the negative consequences of the problems that surround them are proving difficult to reverse.

Over the last five years I have directed the Future of Work Research Consortium which brings together executives from more than 50 companies to consider how best to address these challenges. What is clear is that resilience is the key, and to build resilience companies will be called upon to develop a whole new set of tools and ways of innovating.

Building inner resilience

Resilience starts with what happens inside the corporation –with an, intellectually challenging, emotionally vibrant and socially connected community of employees. Those companies, like Tata Consultancy Services and Unilever who are attempting to do this, are using newly emerging technology to amplify the intellectual ideas and knowledge of employees across their businesses. They are ensuring that they gather the social wealth held in the different communities of people and in the networks that crisscross the company and stretch beyond its boundaries.

Executives also need to think hard about how to design jobs in a way that they enhance rather than denude the emotional vitality of their employees. For some, like BT, the wide-scale adoption of flexible working is allowing people to manage their own time in a positive and enhancing way. Others, like Deloitte are thinking hard about how to break the career hierarchies and introduce a matrix process that allows people to increase or decrease their contribution at different stages of their working life.

The importance of outer resilience

Creating a foundation of resilience is critical – and in some corporations there is also a focus on building resilience in supply chains and in the wider world they operate in. This is crucial because increasingly companies do not exist independently of the rest of the world, and their future is reliant on their interaction with the communities in which they are embedded.

I saw this at Danone where people across the company are actively working with farmers in their supply chain to ensure that they are building strong communities – the John Lewis Partnership is doing the same in the UK. These are corporations that are facing the challenges of our increasingly fragile world head-on, by recognising their connection with the outside world. They understand that their businesses are profoundly related to the communities in which they work and are able to think differently and comprehensively about the larger environment in which they operate. Some, like Royal Dutch Shell, are using scenario planning to help executives really become aware of the forces shaping their lives and their businesses. It is this awareness that will enable them to face these forces in a positive way, seeing them as opportunities rather than threats. The final piece of the puzzle is leadership: building resilience needs leaders who are prepared to balance long- term needs with short- term financial results.

What is clear to me is that being resilient requires making the choices that are positive for employees, investors and those in the communities they touch.

Lynda Gratton’s latest book, The Key: How Corporations Succeed by Solving the World’s Toughest Problems, is out on 9th June.

MIT engages teenager to help design MOOCs

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Emma

by Emma Birchall, Head of Research, Future of Work
MIT is currently working on the format of its mass open online courses (MOOCS) with the help of a 17 year-old student from MongoliaBattushig Myanganbayar managed a perfect score on one of the university’s electronic engineering courses when he was just 15. Now a student at MIT, he is also helping them design the courses in a way that will appeal to high school students and others who don’t already have a degree-level education.

MIT aren’t the only ones interested in what Gen Z thinks – we’re conducting a Gen Z survey as part of our Talent Innovation theme for the Future of Work Research consortium. To find out how your organisation can get involved, contact tina@hotspotsmovement.com.

Serious games and collaboration

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Dr. Howard B. Esbin By Dr Howard B Esbin, Heliotrope, Founder & Director Guest poster Dr Howard B Esbin takes a look at the primal origins of play, the history of using games as a collaborative tool, and their growing importance for modern business.  It takes just 0.41 seconds for Google’s search engine to list 16, 200,000 results on the twinned topic of serious games and collaboration. The following search headings are representative.

  • Designing collaborative multi-player serious games
  • Problem solving and collaboration using serious games
  • Scripted collaboration in serious gaming for complex learning
  • Collaboration in serious game development: a case study
  • Problem solving and collaboration using mobile serious games

Let’s start with the term ‘collaborate’. It stems from the ancient Latin ‘collaborare’ meaning to ‘work with’. The contemporary definition is “work jointly on an activity, esp. to produce or create something”  (New Oxford American Dictionary). ‘Cooperation’ also stems from the Latin ‘cooperationem” meaning “working together”. The semantic roots of both words are closely intertwined for good reason. The science of evolutionary cooperation offers some insight why. Cooperation is practised by many species. Bees, for example, cooperate to produce their hives and honey. Humans learned, through long experience and adaptation, that cooperation is an immense asset for survival. ‘Play’ is another activity, like cooperation, with primal roots. “Anyone who has ever tossed a Frisbee to a beloved dog knows that playfulness crosses species lines. What does this mean? For humans and other animals, play is a universal training course and language of trust” (Fred Donaldson). Games grew naturally out of play. The original Proto-Germanic meaning of ‘game’ included: ‘joy, glee, sport, merriment, participation, communion, people together.’. In other words, our ancestors understood that games brought people together. ‘Communion’ a natural outcome is defined as “the sharing or exchanging of intimate thoughts and feelings, esp. when the exchange is on a mental or spiritual level” (New Oxford American Dictionary). “Games are formalized expressions of play which allow people to go beyond immediate imagination and direct physical activity. Games capture the ideas and behaviours of people at one period of time and carry that through time to their descendants. Games like liubo, xiangqi, and go illustrate the thinking of the military leaders who employed them centuries ago.”

Ceramic tomb figurines of two gentlemen playing liubo, Han Dynasty (25–220 CE)
Ceramic tomb figurines of two gentlemen playing liubo, Han Dynasty (25–220 CE)

Liubo, for example, pictured in the photo below is at least two thousand years old. “The realm of strategy… is where games have exerted the most remarkable impact on the conduct of war, serving as a tool for, as one U.S. Army general put it, “writing history in advance”.  Apropos, Lord Wellington is supposed to have famously said, “the battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton”. So we now understand that the role of play and games has been educational for a long time and instrumental in helping people work together more effectively. There are now 7.151 billion people living on this planet (as estimated by the United States Census Bureau). Practically speaking, anyone can contact anyone else thanks to ubiquitous Internet, inexpensive communication technologies, and almost free accessibility. Collaboration Play and games can stretch our imaginations in so many different and beneficial ways. Giving the means to billions of people is an immense phenomenon. No wonder the “worldwide video game industry is booming with sales revenues expected to reach $101 billion dollars this year”. For example, “1 billion people spend at least 1 hour a day playing games…(which means) 7 billion hours of highly engaged gameplay a week worldwide” (ibid). On the other hand, “89% of global workers are unengaged” according to Gallup (ibid). This is costing an estimated “$2 trillion dollars is the estimated cost of unengaged workers for companies annually” (ibid). Simply put, “realizing the engagement power behind games, companies…are looking to gamification as a way to better its productivity and employee satisfaction” (ibid). Deloitte Consulting’s Leadership Academy is a good example of this burgeoning trend. “DLA is an online program for training its own employees as well as its clients. DLA found that by embedding missions, badges, and leaderboards into a user-friendly platform alongside video lectures, in-depth courses, tests and quizzes, users have become engaged and more likely to complete the online training programs… Using gamification principles, use of its Deloitte Leadership Academy (DLA) training program has increased 37% in the number of users returning to the site each week. Participants are spending increased amounts of time on the site and completing programs in increasing numbers…The technology research firm Gartner, Inc. predicts gamification will be used in 25 percent of redesigned business processes by 2015, this will grow to more than a $2.8 billion business by 2016, and 70 percent of Global 2000 businesses will be managing at least one “gamified” application or system by 2014.” In conclusion, the relation between serious gaming and collaboration has never been clearer or its value more immediate. Dr. Howard B. Esbin is the creator of Prelude, a serious game that fosters trust and collaboration. It is used in schools, community agencies, and workplace training internationally. Its design is informed by his research on social learning, imagination, and positive psychology. He founded Heliotrope, a social enterprise to promote Prelude and related research. Howard also has two decades of senior management experience in the private sector, international development, and philanthropy. The International Labour Organization, Education Canada, and UNESCO have published his work. 

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.

Exploring mega-trends with GEA

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Emma

by Emma Birchall, Head of Research, Future of Work

Earlier this month I was in Dusseldorf delivering one of our new workshop formats for engineering firm GEA – a combination of our latest research, insights from the Future of Work Research Consortium and company-specific data.

GEA holds regular monthly meetings of their senior HR leadership and wanted to initiate discussion about their future HR strategy by preceding one of their meetings with a workshop discussing the mega-trends and how they are impacting GEA, and in particular its HR function. It was a useful opportunity to take time to think about these mega-trends, which affect and drive much of the company’s HR strategy.

The workshop we devised was divided into two parts: a morning session during which we discussed the mega-trends we’ve identified during our research and an afternoon session which applied these trends to GEA and extrapolated the challenges they are likely to face in light of these trends.

The one thing we needed to make the afternoon session work was data on how GEA is currently dealing with major challenges. To obtain this we sent our Future of Work diagnostic to all attendees in advance of the workshop, and invited them to complete it and send it to other members of their teams.

Using this information, we were able to give the attendees three different perspectives on mega-trends: how they will affect the corporate community as a whole; the trends FoW members feel will be most important over the coming two decades; and the trends and challenges GEA considers most important. There were often differences in these data sets: for example, a number of things FoW members thought would be important were less important to GEA. We were then able to examine this at a deeper level and encourage attendees to consider the reasons for the different perspectives, weighing up whether their industry make some issues less relevant than others, or whether there are some trends to which they need to pay more attention.

The real value of this for GEA is that we were able to give them access to what we know about trends and help them apply it to their current challenges and to a specific rather than speculative future.

We’re hoping to run some more of these workshops over the coming months – contact tina@hotspotsmovement.com if you’d like to learn more.

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.

The End of the Engagement Survey?

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Maxphoto
By Max Mockett, Head of Research and Technology, The Hot Spots Movement

A few months ago, two survey companies had a violent public debate about the merits of measuring engagement as an indicator of performance. On the one side, Gallup argued that engagement (which it defines as 12 specific elements) predicts performance outcomes. On the other, Leadership IQ claimed that there is often an inverse relationship between engagement and performance, meaning that engaged people can still be low performers.

This debate hit the pages of the Wall Street Journal and Harvard Business Review, but for me the debate seemed to be missing the broader and more urgent point: that surveys and the companies that advocate them are missing a huge shift in the way that
we work.

There is no doubt that engagement has some effect on employee productivity. Gallup and Leadership IQ agree on that much. However, administering yearly surveys to measure and benchmark engagement is no longer revealing insights into how people want to
work. When talking to companies on the topic of engagement, there is growing indifference and even resentment towards the yearly grind of administering, analysing and reporting on abstract and aggregated engagement scores. The
employee engagement survey is no longer fit for purpose, if it ever was.

A social approach to engagement

Organisations are inherently social constructs. Traditionally, the sheer scale and complexity of many global organisations has led to the creation of hierarchies of command. The engagement survey reflects this hierarchy, being sent from the top to gauge the sentiment of those further down the line. Yet we all know that technology has now evolved to such a point that work no longer relies on hierarchies and the simplifying constructs of command-and-control. The complexity of global organisations can be mirrored and enhanced by complex self-organising online communities. In this context, the idea of employee engagement surveys seems anachronistic, and should give way to something that is not only far more collaborative, but also something that is instantaneous.

We’ve been working on FoWlab for five years now. What started off as a simple online forum for our Future of Work Consortium members to come and discuss our research has since become a world-class platform for conducting online “Jams”. Though we never set out to create an alternative to employee engagement surveys, we think we may have created something that augments, and most probably succeeds the traditional survey in the field of engagement.

FoWlab, as the soft-spoken woman in our video will tell you, is a guided online conversation that harnesses the collaborative intelligence of an organisation’s employees to find solutions to its complex challenges. At first glance, FoWlab looks like Facebook or Yammer. But it’s not a platform as much as it is an online event. And it is more a research tool than a social hub. It runs for just 72 hours, and is constantly facilitated by a global team of researchers.

Unexpected insights

In the last three years, we have conducted FoWlab Jams for many of the world’s largest companies, and the most interesting thing that has come out of the experience is that it delivers many of the same insights as employee engagement surveys, but in a way
that itself creates engagement rather than simply measuring it. Part of this is down to the fact that it builds on many-to-many relationships and interactions, rather than simply being a one-to-many consultation. FoWlab encourages participants to ask their own questions on subjects that they feel passionate about, and develop the ideas of other participants in an open and truly collaborative conversation. Engagement surveys, limited as they are to predefined questions that tend to be sector-agnostic, have a tendency to miss vital information.

A great example of this came out of a FoWlab Jam we ran with PwC’s millennial population. Dennis Finn, Vice Chairman and Global Human Capital Leader at the company, said that “by encouraging our employees to freely discuss why they chose to work for PwC, and how their working lives could be improved, FoWlab was great at delivering unexpected insights that the survey would never have touched on”. The Jam ran parallel to a broader company-wide survey and, in addition to confirming many of the results that came out of the survey, FoWlab revealed that a great deal of millennials at PwC were fixated on their physical wellbeing and thought that the ability to spend time at the gym was a crucial factor in their engagement levels at work. The issue of physical wellbeing wasn’t covered in the survey, nor do many other engagement surveys ask about it.

A common criticism we hear laid against surveys is that they tend to confirm what you already know. You can feel when your employees are unengaged at work, and putting a percentage against that feeling isn’t going to do much. But running a FoWlab jam not only helps organisations diagnose problems that you may not have preempted in a survey, it can also help generate solutions to those problems. Of the three days that FoWlab runs, one day is dedicated exclusively to action steps, asking “how can we turn the insights discussed over the past 48 hours into tangible solutions?”

So while Leadership IQ and Gallup continue to argue about the meaning of engagement, we at the Future of Work Consortium are building the future of engagement by involving the people you want to engage in a collaborative discussion about the future of the organisation.