It has been a week since Gillette released their new ‘The Best Men Can Be’ advert and the world of social media turned upside down. From ‘well done’ to decrying the advertisement as being biased against men, the comments and opinions kept flooding in. So — is Gillette’s ad biased against men, or highlighting needed social change? Perhaps both, but here is a third theory: it was our unconscious bias that made us feel one way or another.
The human brain is hard-wired to make hasty decisions that draw on a variety of assumptions and experiences. Consider this: we are exposed to as many as 11 million pieces of information at any one time, but our brain can only functionally deal with about 40. To filter out all the remaining pieces of information, our brain develops a perceptual lens that only lets in certain things. On one hand, this prevents information overload, but at the same time, we are not subjective on our interpretation of what is in front of us.
Unconscious behaviour is not just individual; it influences organisational culture as well. Unconscious organisational patterns exert an enormous influence over an organisation’s decisions, choices, and behaviours. These deep-seated company characteristics are often the reason that despite conscious efforts, organisations are failing to move the needle on inclusion and diversity. Even when leaders declare a commitment to fairness in their organisations, unconscious bias causes them to evaluate equal performers differently, as Emilio Castilla, of Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Stephen Benard, of Indiana University, have demonstrated in their research on the “paradox of meritocracy.”[i]
So… Is diversity training the best an organisation can get?
Not really. According to the renowned behavioural economist, Daniel Kahneman, it is very hard to eliminate our individual biases. Hundreds of studies have examined the relevance of interventions for reducing bias.[ii] It turns out that the positive effects of diversity training rarely last beyond a day or two, and a number of studies suggest that people often respond to compulsory courses with anger and resistance, with many participants actually reporting more animosity towards other groups afterward.
What is the way forward? Organisations should consider the approach known as choice architecture. This involves deliberately structuring how the information is presented: You do not take away the individual’s right to decide or tell them what they should do. You just make it easier for them to reach more rational decisions. For example, orchestras deployed this technique by using blind auditions in the 1970s.[iii] Cecilia Rouse of Princeton University and Claudia Golden of Harvard University have illustrated that this simple change played an important role in increasing the percentage of women in orchestras from 5% to almost 40% today.[iv] Organisations cannot easily put job candidates behind a curtain, but they can do a version of this with people analytics. For example, using software that allows recruiters to strip age, gender, educational and socioeconomic background information out of résumés so they can focus exclusively on talent.
How is your organisation overcoming unconscious biases? Is people analytics currently being utilising in hiring by your organisation? I would love to hear your insights on this very important topic. Email me at email@example.com
 Ross, H. (2008). Proven Strategies for Addressing Unconscious Bias in the Workplace. Cook Ross.
[i] Castilla, E. J., & Benard, S. (2010). The Paradox of Meritocracy in Organizations. Administrative Science Quarterly, 55(4), 543-676.
[ii]Levy Paluck, E., and Green, Donald P. (2009). Prejudice Reduction: What Works? A Review and Assessment of Research and Practice. Annual Review of Psychology, 60, 339-367. Retrieved from http://static1.squarespace.com/static/5186d08fe4b065e39b45b91e/t/51e3234ce4b0c8784c9e4aae/1373840204345/Paluck_Green_AnnRev_2009.pdf
[iv]Goldin, C. and Rouse, C. (2009, September). Orchestrating Impartiality: The Impact of ‘Blind’ Auditions on Female Musicians. Retrieved from
The rapid pace of innovation and disruption means the average lifespan of organisations listed on the S&P has shortened from 60 years in the 1950s to just 18 years today. A significant shrink. As a result, many organisations face a regular battle to reinvent themselves, as well as shift their cultures to match the new reality.
We have recently explored this challenge with our Future of Work Research Consortium members in order to identify the enablers that can help organisations seeking to shift their cultures. Our research indicates that enabling workplace culture shift requires first and foremost an understanding and altering of micro-behaviours, specifically, negative types of micro-behaviours. Such micro-behaviours are thoughtless, unfair, often unintentional, and in dissonance with the environment organisations are looking to create. The collective practice of negative micro-behaviours can lead to the formation of toxic cultures.
How can organisations change negative micro-behaviours? Our research has revealed the effectiveness of nudging. 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. We’ve recently collaborated with Lisa Shu, Professor of Behavioural Economics at London Business School, whose research on nudge theory has shown that whether they intentionally chose this role or not, organisations are inadvertent architects of the decision-making of their employees, customers, and shareholders. However, whilst effective nudges do change the choice environment, the beauty is that they do not require a huge organisational change or intervention. For example, if an organisation were to be fostering a culture of sustainability, the company could put up a display showing the daily energy consumption at the workplace. This gentle nudge has shown to reduce energy consumption in workplaces, helping the development of a sustainable culture.
Another effective way to change negative micro-behaviours is through ‘change agents’, that is, those influencers within your organisation 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’. What we’re finding is that the behaviours of influencers have increasingly significant effect on the company population as a whole. Typically, due to more trust in influencers as relatable role models, employees are more likely to adopt the behaviours, values and attitudes practiced by these colleagues.
With many organisations facing the need to reinvent their culture, our advice to you is to think twice about implementing large-scale strategic programmes or initiatives. Instead look to the people within your organisation, and leverage their collective power through nudging and change agents to effect change.
Want to learn more about nudging and change agents? Reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll be happy to talk you through our research.
 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
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Last month marked my first year of working at Hot Spots Movement and it’s been a fruitful year of learning where I have kick-started a career in Community Management and met some fascinating people. I’ve grown to be immensely proud to work here and this anniversary is a great cause to look back at the past 12 months and share what I’ve learnt throughout our Future of Work Themes and showcase how our research is implemented into our own employee experience.
Within weeks of joining the company it was time for The Future of Work’s second Masterclass of the year, Shifting Identities. I had jumped into the deep end of the investigation into what organisations need to do differently to exuberate their diversity efforts and for me personally identifying as a multi-cultural person and having just left a property company (currently quite a non-diverse industry!), I felt an instant connection and sense of belonging. Throughout the theme, we explored the need to rethink and engage the multiple identities of employees over time, such as dual-career couples, parents and older workers. As the months went on and we taught and consulted companies on how to move the needle in these key areas of inclusion and diversity, I soon witnessed the same practices being applied here and discovered how we foster our own constantly shifting identities – and there are many! We have a new mother, a new husband, a new charity owner, new homeowners, new graduates, multiple nationalities and several partners in ‘dual career’ relationships. Its been a fulfilling experience learning what all these identities and life experiences mean for our flexible ways of working and communicating and seeing how we incorporate numerous qualities such as trust and respect.
Our next theme, which we shared at our October 2017 Masterclass, was about what organisations need to do in order to be aware of whether their employees are building or depleting their productivity, vitality and ability to transform. Companies investing in their employees’ Intangible Assets was something which seemed logical to me – who wouldn’t think about their staff’s well-being?! I soon uncovered the impact that learning, vitality and the ability to transform has on employees engagement, creativity and pride in a company – not just their overall happiness at work. There is an abundance of research showing that Intangible Assets are crucial in enabling employees to thrive in the future and so it was great to see them reinforced into our work at Hot Spots Movement. For example, vitality and the notion of work life balance is extremely important here – several of our colleagues go to the gym or yoga classes together within working hours and we all get involved with the many aspects of the business, allowing us to constantly learn and be creative. Many of us have also changed and developed our roles in the last 12 months – including me! I’ve recently joined the Marketing and Comms function and am really enjoying embracing it as a new facet to Community Management.
The third and final theme of my first 12 months was Shifting Cultures, which we explored at the beginning of this year and at our February Masterclass. With many organisations implementing and feeling the pressure of facilitating complex changes in their company cultures, we explored what it takes to enact such changes and, specifically, how, by whom, and what barriers exist. I was welcomed with open arms into a culture where our values, beliefs, attitudes and behaviours are all aligned, creating an ethos which is collaborative, innovative and fun! We play games, have competitions, socialise and even little things like swapping seats every few months really keeps energy and interaction levels high. As a team, we have taken the time to get to know each other making us more supportive and stronger advocates of group work. We share projects allowing for ongoing challenges and creativity and we operate in a fast-paced, vibrant environment where we are all connected to our company’s purpose. We are also based in Somerset House – a renowned creative hub on the Thames, bringing a real sense of community to work.
I have had an inspiring first year at Hot Spots Movement and am very much looking forward to the next one where we will be exploring Agile People Strategies and The Future of High Performance, having just finished our immediate previous theme on Narratives on The Future of Work at our June Masterclass.
Get in touch with us now to find out how you can incorporate our research into engaging your employees!
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If you work at a company of more than a few hundred employees, the chances are you spend at least some time each day on knowledge-sharing platforms… or at least you are being told you should. The rise of these platforms has been one of the defining corporate endeavours of the last decade. I say endeavour because despite the big investments in this type of technology, we hear endlessly that they have not achieved the collaborative, knowledge-sharing cultures they set out to.
But why? After all, the platforms themselves are usually intuitive and engaging. They’re rolled out to entire divisions and departments with gusto and in some companies they even manage to get the holy grail that is leadership role-modelling.
One of the answers according to our research here at the Future of Work is signalling. Let me explain.
The investments that companies have made in the systems is only part of what is required. Those systems must be just one element of a wider culture of collaboration. One in which people receive frequent and consistent behavioural cues that knowledge-sharing is expected and well received. These cues, or signals, come from the way in which the work environment is structured, both the physical environment and the processes and practices that surround every day behaviour.
Think about it in your organisation: when you walk into your office (let’s be honest, most of us – 87% in fact – still work primarily in an office) what are the cues you receive about how you should behave? Is it ok to be away from your desk or offline without an explanation for a few minutes, perhaps even an hour, so that you can start a conversation with a colleague and share knowledge the old fashioned way? Or, is any time away viewed with suspicion? Do you have the autonomy to build networks outside of your organisation, or with people in other regions? These are basic, but important questions because without the cultural norms encouraging people to share knowledge in-person, day-to-day, companies are unlikely to see those same people eagerly using knowledge-sharing platforms. Why would we expect an entirely different set of behaviours merely because people are online?
So, what’s the key message for organisations that are looking to enhance knowledge-sharing? Create signals – loud and clear – that encourage people to build on the expertise of others and use their skills to contribute the success of teams beyond their own. This requires an analysis of the many signals sent out by performance management approaches, training and development opportunities, and selection processes – what do each of these organisational tools tell people about how they should behave?
It means providing people with space and time to talk, wander, browse – indulge their curiosity for a few minutes a day and spark the conversations that will get them intrigued enough to search for more information, perhaps on a knowledge-sharing platform. Finally, when it comes to the platforms themselves, ensure they too send out clear signals about their purpose and the format in which people should contribute. The success of social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter is that they are subtly prescriptive about what you should share and how (Twitter’s 140 characters being the obvious example). And avoid at all costs the fragmentation of employees across platforms. This in itself sends a mixed signal as to where people should be spending their time and contributing their expertise.
Knowledge-sharing platforms are a potentially game-changing tool to harness a culture of collaboration. Just don’t expect them to transform people into new ways of working simply by virtue of moving them online.
~William Henry Davies
During the Talent Innovation Masterclass, Lynda paused her keynote talk for two minutes of silence. It felt like an hour. This would usually be a nightmare scenario for a speaker; the creeping self-consciousness evoked in the audience painfully stretching out the seconds. But this was a period of controlled reflection, as attendees were asked to study a painting during the period of silence. To decontextualise and condense their focus for a moment of pure visual association.
Perhaps in the context of a presentation, enforced silence is at least initially a discomforting experience for the audience. Yet having overcome the quiet by focusing on an image, the audience were able to collect their thoughts and extract greater depth from the material before them. A singular focus allows us to engage with content in a more critical, immersive way. By stopping to think in the workplace, we open up space for creative, expressive thoughts, as opposed to functional duties. Consequently, we are more likely to innovate.
But what relevance does this have for a Masterclass on Talent Innovation? Well, with automation encroaching upon jobs of all skill levels, the Masterclass was an important opportunity for us to think about the uniquely human skills we bring to work that cannot (yet) be computerised. These quintessentially human qualities include creativity, curiosity and innovation and they are the qualities that underscore the success of our organisations. However, as Lynda cautioned in her keynote, many companies are subverting these human qualities by designing jobs that place multiple demands and obligations on people, that leave very little discretionary time, and that place multiple constraints on what people can and cannot do. The result is the squeezing out of the space for creativity – that invaluable human quality.
There is no doubt that we in live in an information-saturated age. Our working lives, living in busy cities, and widespread connectivity offer a wealth of constant data and change. In particular, visual imagery is everywhere we look. It offers the perfect form to capture the millisecond measurement of the modern attention span. Harvard Professor of Humanities Jennifer Roberts has sought to buck this trend. Professor Roberts felt that her role as an educator was to a large extent to help her students “learn to learn.” By that she meant helping them decelerate and pay deep attention to what they are studying.
According to Professor Roberts, outside of a space of learning, students are driven towards immediacy by social and technological pressures. Professor Roberts realised that she had to give her pupils “permission and the structures to slow down”, by explicitly engineering the pace and tempo of their learning experiences.
In one particular class, she asked her students to choose a single painting for a research project. Once chosen, their first task was to study the picture for three hours: a painfully long time to consider a still object. The students were asked to note down their evolving observations and any questions or speculations that arose. The time span was explicitly designed to seem excessive. Also crucial to the exercise was the museum or archive setting, which removed the student from his or her everyday surroundings and distractions.
At first many students resisted the exercise, failing to see how the small, still frame of the painting could warrant three hours worth of study. Was it possible to hold three hours worth of stimulation and thought in a single work of art? Yet having completed the exercise, many were amazed by the recesses of explorative thought that this contemplation had unlocked.
The exercise demonstrates the difference between things looked upon and things seen, offering an interesting meditation upon the parallel rise of connectivity and mindfulness in modern society. The Internet and MOOCs offer access to a wealth of material, but access does not equate to knowledge: just because we have observed something, does not necessarily mean we have truly understood and absorbed it. To turn access into learning requires time, discipline and patience.
So, how can apply this within our organisations? And, what potential does this have in helping us bring those uniquely human skills to work?
Organisations seeking creativity and innovation from their people must consider how they may be eroding their employees’ ability to focus and decelerate through too many demands and obligations. This ultimately requires a brave call from managers, who must seek to cut menial tasks and process in order to reduce the burden on talent. It requires them to free up their teams so that they can bring those uniquely human qualities to their work, and can focus and think critically in an otherwise accelerated world.
For more information on the topics covered in this blog, contact Tom: email@example.com
Photograph ©2013 Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Advances in technology have revolutionised the way we collaborate in our personal lives. We have daily updates even from distant friends through Facebook news feeds, we rent hotel services through peer-to-peer platforms like AirBnB, and we seek help and advice from user forums rather than company manuals. Where we have made far less progress however, is in awakening this new era of collaboration in the workplace. Indeed, while collaborative technology is at our fingertips, we still gravitate towards conventional and outdated approaches to information sharing, decision-making and personal development. But why is this?
My many years of research have taught me time and again that a company’s culture is often at the heart of the issue. Even organisations that invest time and money in collaborative platforms like Yammer and Chatter, fail to see the impact they hoped for because they neglected to assess whether or not their company’s culture encouraged collaboration. Indeed, if performance management processes, remuneration systems, and job deigns are all individually oriented, then companies are unlikely to see employees dash to engage with collaborative technologies. To make collaboration work then, we must view an organisation as a system and develop processes and practices that give clear signals in favour of collaborative behaviour. But who in the organisation is able to transform culture in this way?
Of all the functions in a company, HR is the guardian of the future and the most influential in transforming culture. In the coming years it will fall to HR teams to foster collaborative cultures through rewards and recognition for knowledge sharing, complementary skill development within teams, and a renewed focus on network building. This challenge is the current focus for my research team at the Future of Work Research Consortium. Over the next few months we will be working with our members – some of the world’s leading organisations – to craft the future of HR and define the capabilities needed for this function to be the driving force behind collaborative organisations.
By Lynda Gratton
The start of a new year is a natural point for thinking ahead and planning for the future. Just before 2013 ended, I sat down for an interview with the BBC’s Peter Day, continuing a conversation he and I have been having for over 20 years. During the interview I talked not only about the changes I’ve observed since he and I last spoke, but also about the five trends I see emerging in 2014 and beyond.
The shade of your future depends on where you are
Something that has become abundantly clear in recent years is that whether your future seems bright or dim depends on where you live. Young people in Europe, for example, are facing an extremely tough time and face the prospect of being less prosperous than their parents generation. But for their counterparts in India or China, expectations are entirely different, with many of them looking forward to a higher income than their parents.
It’s my belief that the youth unemployment we see affecting many countries is structural not cyclical. The past few years have been marked by the hollowing out of work, by which I mean that the middle-skilled jobs traditionally taken on by graduates have been outsourced or being replaced by technology, leaving only low-skilled jobs or high-skilled jobs which require more experience and education than the average twentysomething has to offer. This can leave young people adrift, without that very first job role from which to move upwards.
One major game-changer which I see having a huge impact in 2014 is online education. Online courses are becoming widely available – and they are revolutionising the scope of what people can aspire to. Suddenly, people all over the world are enrolling on courses that were previously only available to affluent individuals in specific locations. I saw a living example of the impact this is having at the World Economic Forum at Davos in 2013. There I watched a panel with Bill Gates, the head of Stanford, the head of MIT – and a 13 year-old Pakistani girl. If you’re wondering why this girl was invited to join these eminent figures, the reason is simple: this young teenager came top in Stanford’s online examinations. This struck me as an outstanding example of how the world is changing: here is a girl who even five years ago would have had no opportunity to leave Lahore, but thanks to a world-class university putting its courses and examinations online, she has the world at her feet. There is no doubt that this will create huge competition for young people in the West.
Quotas for women?
It’s astounding to think that while 50% of graduates are women and 30% of managers are women, only 10% of business leaders are women. For someone who thought that the glass ceiling was about to shatter 20 years ago, this is extremely disappointing. Despite all our hopes to see more women at the top of leading organisations, the speed of change has been glacial. It seems that large organisations remain hierarchical, bureaucratic and have a tendency to pay lip service to the concept of having women in the boardroom. Frequently, they are not places where women feel comfortable holding senior positions. One solution that has been put forward is that of female quotas, but this is an issue which divides opinion amongst senior women. For my part, I’m on the side that thinks quotas are a good thing. The way I see it, if you are in a situation where nothing seems to be moving, a shock is what’s needed.
The business side of social media
I also think we’ll start to see organisations using social media within their businesses as elegantly as people use it in their everyday lives. A trend that has emerged in the last year or two is that there is technology that connects every single person in an organisation in a very sophisticated way. For example, I’ve seen this happening at Tata Consulting Services, a business that employs over 150,000 people under 24 and connects them to each other using social media. The result of this is that people naturally form communities to get things done, to discuss ideas, and to have fun. Since their Knome platform was launched, TCS employees have formed themselves into 3,500 communities. My team at the Hot Spots Movement helps companies do this in a more targeted fashion with their FoWlab jams: facilitated online conversations which companies can use to engage their employees on issues as diverse as brand values, job design and meaningful work. I see this becoming a model that many other companies will follow. 2014 promises to bring some interesting organisational changes led by technology, particularly the kind that allows people to communicate on a many-to-many basis. This kind of communication model will have a huge impact on how people work together – and on the role of leaders. In fact, it has the potential to change the very nature of what we call leadership. After all, if information is flowing easily and horizontally – what does a leader do?
Both online education and social information sharing rely enormously on trust – something that will prove challenging for some. For those of us who are Baby Boomers or from Gen X, building trust has always been based on face-to-face interaction – and building trust in a virtual environment can prove challenging. People from younger generations, on the other hand, have grown up working online and playing games virtually, which gives them the advantage of being able to develop trust easily without the need for face-to-face contact. A workforce is emerging where humans can build trust in a virtual environment and this promises to revolutionise how information is shared and how knowledge and expertise flow within organisations.