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Three Perspectives on the Future of High Performance

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CHIt’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.

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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.[1]  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.[2]  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 callandra@hotspotsmovement.com.


[1] Lynda Gratton, ‘Five Insights From Davos on the Future of Work’, MIT Sloan Management Review Blog (2019).

[2] FoW, Building Narratives on the Future of Work Masterclass Report (2018).

A Lesson on Culture Change from Ole Gunnar Solskjaer

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By Graham Oxley, Project Manager – Digital Engagement

The manager of Manchester United is not someone that people would often look to when researching culture change. However, the remarkable turnaround in fortunes at the club since new manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer joined on the 19th December 2018 is worth investigating. When you look closely, you can see the hallmarks of successful culture change that can be applied to any business, from football team to multi-national corporation as I intend to show. This is particularly exciting to me because it allows me to see a connection between my favourite hobby and my daily work in helping businesses enact effective culture transformations.

Solskjaer has not had lots of time in the job, but he has unwittingly (or not?) taken a number of the same steps that we recommend to organisations looking to transform the culture:

1.    Engage your influencers – People naturally want to reduce their cognitive dissonance and this means that in teams and organisations, employees adopt the behaviours of those people who have reference power[i]. These people are your influencers, and if you can engage them in adopting the behaviours you seek, this can naturally filter through the organisation. Paul Pogba is one of the most influential men in the Manchester United squad, which is why in pursuit of a culture of attacking football, Solskjaer has focussed on encouraging his star player to play more positively and watched this rub off on the rest of the squad.

2.    Focus on micro-behaviours – Micro-behaviours are defined as small, thoughtless acts that can act in dissonance with a culture. For example, speaking over a junior colleague in a meeting is a small act, but may be in counter to an organisation’s intended culture of respect and collaboration. Calling out these negative micro-behaviours can help continually reinforce the organisation’s culture in employees’ minds until it becomes unconscious. Solskjaer has identified a respect for the club as something that he wants to foster in the culture and focussed on micro-behaviours such as asking all players to wear matching Manchester United branded jackets when arriving at the games to show unity, as opposed to wearing whatever they wanted previously[ii].

3.    Fostering a culture of positivity – Positivity can have a significant impact on creativity, which can be explained by neuroscience. The neocortex and limbic system, seats of rational thought and emotions, work together to produce creativity, which means to be creative, you need both to be stimulated and feel safe.[iii] A lot of culture change initiatives in organisations focus on the rational or intellectual appeal for employees, however it is important to maintain a focus on the emotional elements to ensure that employees are feeling positive and therefore unleash creativity. Solskjaer knew that creativity was a big part of the culture he wanted to embed, so has focussed heavily on positivity in his messages both externally and internally, which was a stark contrast to the previous culture described by some as ‘fear and hate’[iv].

We frequently talk to clients about the importance of each of the above when it comes to enacting successful cultural change and it is interesting to see some real-life examples coming from an unexpected source. One word of caution however; immediate change is highly unlikely in a large multi-national organisation. Changing the culture in a 25-man football squad is a much smaller task, and even Solskjaer himself has admitted that ‘we are still very much a work in progress’[v]. However, he has adopted some key principles that are the key to cultural change no matter what the size of organisation and perhaps there is a lesson there for anyone enacting their programme of transformation.

Here at HSM, we help clients leverage the power of crowd-sourcing to make evidence-based decisions around delivering effective culture change. If you want to discuss this further, or are a football fan, drop me an email on graham@hotspotsmovement.com and I am happy to have a more in-depth chat.


[i] 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

[ii] https://www.manchestereveningnews.co.uk/sport/football/man-utd-solskjaer-mourinho-news-15674358

[iii] Dietrich, A. (2015). How creativity happens in the brain. Springer. Chicago

[iv] https://www.manchestereveningnews.co.uk/sport/football/man-utd-solskjaer-mourinho-news-15674358

[v] https://www.standard.co.uk/sport/football/manchesterunited/how-man-utd-boss-ole-gunnar-solskjaer-has-transformed-paul-pogba-in-just-two-weeks-a4027561.html

Do Diversity Statements Really Work?

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lottiehsmphotoWe 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[1], and that just 16% of autistic adults in the UK are in full-time employment[2]. 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[3]. 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[4]. 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[5].

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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.


[1] http://fortune.com/2017/06/09/white-men-senior-executives-fortune-500-companies-diversity-data/

[2] https://researchbriefings.parliament.uk/ResearchBriefing/Summary/CBP-7540

[3] https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/organization/our-insights/why-diversity-matters

[4] https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/000312240607100404

[5] https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2019/01/company-diversity-fatigue-no-excuse/

Gillette – A Lesson on Inclusion and Diversity for Organisations

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DTIt 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.[1] 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]

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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 david@hotspotsmovement.com


[1] 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

[iii] Ibid.

[iv]Goldin, C. and Rouse, C. (2009, September). Orchestrating Impartiality: The Impact of ‘Blind’ Auditions on Female Musicians. Retrieved from

https://scholar.harvard.edu/files/goldin/files/orchestrating_impartiality_the_effect_of_blind_auditions_on_female_musicians.pdf

New Year, New Culture? Three Resolutions for HR Professionals

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MFHappy new year! January 2019 is in full swing and we should all be two weeks in to our new years’ resolutions (…or not!). Whilst staying fit and healthy, saving money, and travelling remain high on the list of our top resolutions, for the last 5 years, getting a new job is approximately 15% of the nations’ main focus – quite a scary statistic for HR professionals trying to hold on to great talent.

Our research suggests that there are three new years’ resolutions that organisations should consider in order to hold on to the great people that drive their performance:

  1. Build a Narrative around The Future of Work

Employees are anxious about the future of work and what this means for them, and they’re looking to their leaders for direction. In increasingly uncertain times, it is essential that your organisation and leaders are informed about the trends shaping the future of work and have a well-developed point of view to communicate to their teams. We’ve been working with 30 of the world’s leading companies to help them understand what a strong narrative looks like and how it can be developed. We’ve also worked with companies to engage their employees on the journey – tapping into their insights and experience to create a narrative that really resonates.

        2. Upgrade your company culture

Shifting a company culture can be daunting – but not as daunting as not changing it at all. According to research by Robert Walters, 73% of professionals in the UK have left a job because of an outdated workplace culture. With every organisation having a culture, and every employee experiencing it daily, it’s something which needs to continuously transform to reflect your organisation, its people and the modern day. There are many ways to get started on this, including identifying who the real influencers are within your organisation; harnessing the power of positive sub cultures within the company; and changing people’s micro behaviours in order to bring about larger scale change. Click here to find out more about how you can shift your company culture in 2019.

       3. Stay Agile

Flexible working and work-life balance are the at the forefront of workplace agility. As technology improves, so too do our means of crafting agile people strategies that give people more freedom to decide how, when and where they work.  Staying agile means building adaptability, fostering speed and dynamism, and enabling fluidity, all of which will be critical to mobilising talent in a changing world of work. We’ve just completed a fascinating piece of research on the benefits and unintended consequences of agile ways of working. One key revelation was the need to ensure that agile and activity-based work environments provide enough team continuity to ensure that people do not end up feeling lonely or isolated.


To find out more about any of these topics, please contact emma@hotspotsmovement.com

Identifying Your Organisation’s Influencers

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JFWhat does it take to successfully deliver an organisational transformation? Whether it’s a culture change, a new operating model, or a shift in the approach to performance management, this is the number one question on many executives’ minds. When attempting to answer this question, people often default to the conventional wisdom of leadership buy in and role modelling. However, our experience at HSM suggests that many executives may be missing a vital ingredient – influencers.

When most people think of influencers within their organisation they think of leaders; managers, directors and their executive board who have a lot of formal hierarchical power and can sway their colleagues due to their position within the organisation. However, there is another group who are harder to identify, yet can be even more important when embedding change. These are people who can, because of their knowledge, skills and position in the company network, and not their formal hierarchical power, shape the views and behaviours of multiple colleagues. It is this ability to softly effect the behaviours of others that makes them such a valuable tool in your change initiative.

But how can you identify these influencers? By their very nature they can sit in any part of your organisation, in any function, in any region and could have been there for 20 years or just a couple of months.

One method advocated by Yoonjin Choi and Paul Ingram of Columbia College (2017) is to analyse semantic networks, which track how knowledge flows within a community. Choi and Ingram define culture as a web of connected concepts that people use to make sense of situations.  For example, if a culture is collaborative, then at the centre of the web would be concepts such as “Help others”, “Good Communication” and “Altruistic”. Choi and Ingram then identified influencers through semantic network analysis asking questions such as “choose three people who are valued, and then…why is this person valued?” Using this information, they mapped out the culture, showing that some concepts were central, and some were distant. Cultural fit and therefore the strength of an influencer is then defined as the degree to which an individual has these concepts assigned to them. For example, your team members may describe their colleague Sam, as someone who regularly helps others and often takes time to explain decisions made in the team. Sam would therefore have high cultural fit to a collaborative company culture and as such would be a useful influencer in embedding this culture across the firm.

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Another method is one we use frequently here at Hot Spots Movement – the power of Crowdsourcing to solve complex organisational challenges. Crowdsourcing is an inclusive problem-solving approach that gives everyone in the organisation a voice, regardless of rank or tenure. This enables organisations to identify influencers from different regions, departments and levels, irrespective of their place in the hierarchy. During our Crowdsourcing Conversations, we identify influencers firstly, by highlighting participants who had particularly high energy and enthusiasm in the conversation, demonstrated by high participation rates. Secondly, we look at the quality of comments, to find those who added significant value to the conversation. And finally, we establish which individuals had strong social capital, these are participants who received a high number of comments, likes and praise for their comments. Only participants that meet these varied criteria can be defined as influencers and therefore individuals that our clients can engage with when launching a change programme.

With many companies embarking on transformation programmes, perhaps now is the time to find out who in the organisation really has influence. Contact me at john@hotspotsmovement.com to find out more.

Guest Blog – Redefining leaders: Have we broken the myth of the hero leader

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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[1]. 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[2]. 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[3].

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The latest research by Eagly[4] – 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[5] 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[6] 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?


 [1] Fajak, A. & Haslam, A. (1998). Gender solidarity in hierarchical organizations. British Journal of Social Psychology. 37, 73-94.

[2] 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.

[3] Duehr, E. & Bono. J. (2006). Men, women, and managers: are stereotypes finally changing? Personnel Psychology, 59, 815-846.

[4] https://knowledge.insead.edu/leadership-organisations/the-truth-about-gender-stereotypes-8691

[5] https://info.walkingthetalk.com/culture-counts-report

[6] https://www.ccl.org/blog/characteristics-good-leader/