Last week I was speaking at an event for an energy company in the Nordics.
The night before the event we were having dinner together and I noticed people avidly checking their phones for the latest score in a sports match of seemingly national significance. When I asked what sport it was I was surprised to learn that it was a chess match. How could a potentially slow-paced game attract so much attention in real-time I pondered?
Now contrast this with another sports event, when FIFA took football (soccer) to the USA. They were asked to shift the pace of the match from two 45-minute halves with a break (standard football timings), to more of a basketball format, with 20-minute sessions and three breaks. The US television channels claimed that an American audience shouldn’t/couldn’t/wouldn’t watch 45 minutes straight without a breather.
While these are just anecdotes rather than careful analyses of each of the countries or cultures in question, they do hint at something we should perhaps pay more attention to in our lives: pace.
This is something I’ve examined in myself in recent years, when I’ve thought about what I’m good at and why I struggle with other endeavors. One example is when I first started speaking at events. My biggest challenge was to talk at a slower pace so that I could be clearly understood, but no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t do it.
I eventually realized that the speed at which I spoke was innately tied up with the speed at which I approached just about everything in life, perhaps under the impression that that made me more productive. This meant that in order to speak more slowly, I had to practice just ‘being’ at a slower pace. I made myself walk slower, breathe slower, eat slower…. and only by doing all of those other things was I finally able to master presenting at a coherent speed.
It turned out that what I really needed to do was step outside of my comfortable pace of being, and learn to operate in another rhythm. It was a realization that for me, made the difference between excelling at something that was critical for my role, or continually falling short.
Now, pace isn’t something we talk much about at work, but perhaps it should be. We all have a natural pace that makes us great at certain things, but holds us back in other respects.
Maybe take a moment today to consider your natural pace – are you a chess match or a basketball game? And then practice ‘playing the other sport.’ What does it feel like when you simply walk a little faster or slower? What would you be better at if you sped up or slowed down at work? It may be that getting comfortable with a different pace, a different rhythm is the key to helping you master something you’ve been grappling with for years.
 Surely a turn of phrase that gives away how little I know about sports, let alone writing about them
 I appreciate the advertising community may have had something to do with this narrative
A close friend invited me to this year’s MozFest. If you’ve never heard of it, don’t worry, you haven’t been living under a rock. It is Mozilla’s annual 3-day event that seeks to drive innovation on the web. It is also a networking opportunity for the hugely diverse and incredibly creative tech community. Mozilla’s vision is that “learning should be hands-on, immersive, and done collectively”. And no doubt, the event itself reflected this vision with a vast array of talks, games, demonstrations, creative group work, and spaces for innovative ideas. One of the main inspirations I took away was about digital badges.
Up until two weeks ago, I didn’t even know what digital badges were. But the more I look into the topic, the more I find that they are actually becoming quite established in the learning landscape. In fact, IBM recently launched its Open Badge Program to attract talent and keep people engaged. At MozFest, a whole floor was dedicated to Mozilla’s Open Badges project, which was launched already in 2012.
In case you don’t know, digital badges are a type of certification for a skill, accomplishment or capability, much like the badges handed out in the military or the Scouts. Universities, online course providers, companies, museums – any learning provider really – can issue badges, which recipients can add to their profiles like LinkedIn and showcase their skills and capabilities to their peers and potential employers. As there are no limits to content or the submission process (at one museum, you can get a badge for cockroach handling), digital badges aim to disrupt traditional approaches by facilitating informal learning, providing alternative learning pathways, and supporting lifelong learning.
Within organisations, badges are already being used to support performance management, drive collaboration and innovation among employees and enhance employee engagement. Unisys, for example, developed an internal platform that provides each employee with a profile where they can display their badges, allowing them to establish a company presence, connect to other employees with similar skills and search for those with specific subject expertise. IBM is also using badges to provide credentials to external talent, for specific learning journeys, and thereby creating a global pool of talent that it can draw upon. Within IBM, employees who felt recognised for learning achievements (e.g. through badges) were three times more engaged than those who didn’t.
In MozFest’s session on Architecture for Learning Pathways, experts discussed next steps for the badge project. How can badges lead to specific jobs, careers, and help people achieve certain goals? How do different badges relate to each other with regard to the types of achievements they represent? How can they be grouped together to create different learning pathways? Do learning pathways always have to be linear? How can high achievers be differentiated from low achievers?
While these questions are certainly relevant for the education sector, they are also relevant for the corporate world. Training and development is already a major factor in the war for talent while new technologies are transforming the landscape of required skills. In this respect, companies must rethink the value of qualifications, alternative career pathways, and continuous learning. Can badges be used to address some of these challenges, for example, to facilitate lateral career moves? This is something high on our research agenda at the Future of Work. Over the next four months we will be analysing the future of employability and learning to find out more about the big disruptors in this area.
Image: Badges from the Royal Observatory Greenwich, UK Antibiotic Guardian, Amazon and Siemens
By Sarah Elsing, researcher, Hot Spots Movement
Employee Voice is often linked to employee engagement. While employee surveys are used to assess employees’ levels of engagement, Employee Voice can be understood not only as a way of assessing people’s engagement levels but also as one way of enabling this engagement. It also reaches far beyond the realm of employee engagement. A two-way conversation with employees can help boost staff morale and productivity but it can also be useful in the problem-solving process, create innovation, and help an organisation’s leadership renegotiate the deal with its changing workforce.
Despite these wide-ranging uses and benefits, Employee Voice mechanisms are still most often applied in a reactive manner. Only when staff morale or productivity are already low do organisations start engaging their employees in a conversation. When this is the case, they often focus on understanding what is causing the problem rather than allowing employees to voice their ideas on how to improve the situation. As a large, diverse group of problem-solvers and innovators, employees remain largely untapped. At Hot Spots Movement, we therefore find that the best Employee Voice tools allow their participants to move from a reactive, negative and reflective state of mind to a more proactive, constructive and future-oriented conversation.
If you would like to find out more about Employee Voice and how it can work for you, simply leave your details on our contact form using the keyword ‘Employee Voice’. Our white paper on Employee Voice draws on the latest insights from our client-based research and provides best practice tips on how to make it work particularly in an era of digitalisation.
As the COO of Hot Spots Movement, a research company specialising in understanding what the future of work will look like, I spend a lot of time thinking about jobs – both at a global level and with regards to my team. Frankly, I’m increasingly thinking that job descriptions are a waste of time. With work becoming far more task and project-based, traditional job descriptions feel too static and only marginally helpful in understanding what an employee contributes and how he or she can develop to bring even more value to the organisation. I’d suggest we arrest the time robber that job descriptions are, in favour of focusing on competencies, tasks and projects.
At Hot Spots Movement, we think that rather than expecting candidates to fit job descriptions, organisations and managers should focus on building roles around employee capabilities and potential. And we actually walk the talk: when we recruit, we look for candidates with capabilities, specific skills and a mindset that roughly address the needs within our team, and we then swiftly move on to continually identifying what they are good at. Defining their role based on those factors rather than a pre-existing job description seems to be a far better approach. Not only are project portfolios easier to change than people and more easily support my preferred approach of building on strengths than remedying weaknesses, it’s also an approach that can unveil unsuspected skills and aptitudes. And in this day and age, it’s important that roles can evolve easily over time to move in line with employee life stages rather than follow a set career route.
One of the core differences between this approach and traditional job-description-driven recruitment and development is the fact that it shifts the focus away from ticking boxes on a list of short-term wants. Instead, it encourages looking for a strong match between personality, purpose and values of the company and the candidate – a firm basis for a long-standing and productive relationship between employer and employee.
This type of fluid approach is often associated with smaller, newer workplaces – but there’s no reason it wouldn’t work in a big organisation. What matters is whether the line manager is able and willing to implement it.
Big data is no longer a novelty for corporate organisations, nor is it the territory of those companies that are particularly pioneering. It frequently makes its way into board meetings and the C-Suite see the value of their organisation using the vast data points that technology now makes available to them. Then why is it only customers, and not employees, feeling the benefit of these advances?
Let’s take a look at how much big data has revolutionised the way that companies market their products and tailor experiences to the individual customer. Amazon has even introduced anticipatory shipping in order to ensure that one of the key differentiators of their service, speed of delivery, remains ahead of their competitors. The company collects a huge volume of data on buyers’ previous purchases, where they hover their mouse and their demography. Complex algorithms allow Amazon to predict what the customer will buy next and they then ship this product to a warehouse or transit van near the customer, ready for their click and buy. The item is subsequently delivered in a matter of minutes or hours rather than the conventional days or weeks, and Amazon maintains its competitive edge.
If organisations have this level of big data on their customers to ensure the company can consistently deliver on their USP, why are they not doing the same for their people? We know that employees are increasingly mobile and retention of the best talent is a huge focus for many organisations. By using big data about their people, organisations can contribute to the employee experience that people want.
At the Hot Spots Movement we have been struck by the benefits of using big data within organisations. When our clients look to bring about a major organisational change, they come to us to run a Jam – a global conversation lasting up to 72-hours. The Jam enables our clients to get the input they need drawing on expertise, experience and creativity from different functions and geographies from across their company. Analysing this thoughtful, extended conversation in the platform allows our clients to have access to the kind of qualitative big data they require. Challenges that have been tackled through this qualitative big data have included work/life balance, brand values and unleashing talent potential.
Our plea to the C-Suite of big corporate organisations? Use the data they have available to them within their companies to help tailor the employee experience and provide an environment they want to stay in.
Historically the answer was simple – money. That’s why the HR function of most companies goes to such extreme lengths to design pay packets (bonuses, team-based rewards, stock options and so on) and to decide through antiquated performance management systems who gets paid what. Indeed, it’s why they’ve been persuaded that senior leaders really are worth up to 200% more than the pay of an average employee.
Yet we have known for sometime that although pay might indeed be a valuable asset for an employee, it’s unlikely to be the driver for their motivation. Indeed, years of research have shown that this valuable asset turns out more often to be a source of dissatisfaction rather than a motivator. Most people don’t work harder, or more creatively or cooperatively because they are paid more.
So recently the search has been on for more ‘intangible assets’ that could be really valued by employees. Perhaps it’s the opportunity to work more flexibly, or the chance to work for a boss that likes you, or to work in a convivial open plan office that employees value. And indeed, perhaps it’s this combination that results in employees being engaged rather than disengaged.
I think – to use a simple metaphor – we are barking up the wrong tree. Let me explain. Over the last couple of years my colleague, the economist Andrew Scott, and I have been asking a simple question ‘What happens when most people live to 100 years’. It’s been a fascinating exploration. One undeniable truth is that if you live to 100 then you will probably need to work into your 80s. Now there is no doubt that over the course of a long working life money is indeed crucial – no one wants to look forward to an old age lived in poverty. So money is a valuable asset that a company can give to an employee.
However, across a long life this tangible asset, whilst important, has to be balanced by equally important intangible assets. It seems to me that chief amongst these crucial intangible assets is the type of work an employee is given to perform. Work that is valuable both now and as a hedge against the future has three crucial elements:
- It is interesting and allows workers to engage their mind and creativity
- It has developmental potential – particularly to in terms of capabilities that are ‘portable’ in the sense that they can be used beyond the current job
- It is non-routine so is unlikely to be substituted in the short term by robotics or Artificial Intelligence
For the sake of simplicity let’s call this ‘good work’. Now let’s play a mind game. Let’s assume that a leader in a corporation acknowledges that the intangible asset of ‘good work’ is as valuable to an employee as the tangible asset of money. If this were the case, what would we expect to see happening within the corporation? Here are five ideas:
- We would expect jobs to be analysed with regards to the extent that they are composed of tasks that are interesting, developmental and non-routine. We could even imagine that these job characteristics are rated against a common currency – let’s call this unit a ‘tang’.
- So when an employer is advertising a job, they are able to show both the financial assets the job is valued at (salary, bonus, stock options etc.) and also its ‘tang’ assets (interest, developmental potential, non-routine)
- When an employee is deciding on whether to take a job, they can balance the tangible and intangible assets it creates. They can decide, for example, that they are prepared to take a higher ‘tang’ rated job at a certain point in their career, even if the salary is lower. Or indeed take a higher paid job whilst acknowledging that the ‘tang’ value is low.
- It could be that managers who are particularly skilled at designing jobs for their team that have a high ‘tang’ value are celebrated for this sculpting skill.
- We might expect that if the ‘tang’ value of a job falls below a certain level then the whole job has to be re-designed to increase the ‘tang value’ by adding tasks that are interesting, developmental or non-routine. This re-design could be initiated by the manager, or indeed by the worker who is performing the job and who is encouraged to broaden the scope of the job to envelope more ‘tang’ rich activities.
Right now it is still money that dominates the negotiated relationship between an employee and employer. Let’s widen the conversation to include an equally important asset – good work. Perhaps by understanding the value of work with as much finesse as we currently understand the value of reward systems, we can begin to give employees a better choice about the deal they want to strike.