The Future of HR – Building Collaborative Insight

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Lynda - Hot Spots Movement - Portrait by LK - web size 72dpiAdvances 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 Indeed, while collaborative technology is at our fingertips, we still gravitate towards conventional and outdated approaches to information sharing, decision-making and personal development.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.

The Future of Talent in South Africa, with Mandisi Feni, HR Director at Ricoh

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EmmaThis week, I was in Johannesburg catching up with Mandisi Feni, HR Director at business solutions company, Ricoh. Over a coffee in Ricoh’s South Africa Head Office, I asked Mandisi what were the most pertinent HR challenges facing Ricoh and other companies operating in the region: “Recruiting for executive positions can be a difficult task” he said. “Often we have to rely on international talent due to shortages in the local market, which means persuading people to relocate far from their home countries.” Mandisi felt that many people are put off by some of the fears around relocating to developing regions, such as instability and high crime rates. However, opening people’s eyes to the reality of the many opportunities and the excitement of operating in emerging markets was central to successful international recruitment campaigns, “this is a very exciting time for South Africa. We are one of the biggest economies on the continent alongside Nigeria, and are well placed to tap into other interesting markets in this fast-growing region.”

I asked Mandisi about the local talent pool in South Africa and his view on the education system: “I feel that the quality of students matriculating now is actually falling below previous generations. We still have a way to go in terms of equipping people with the skills they need to join the workforce ready-to-go,” he said. I asked what Ricoh was doing to solve the skills gap for its new graduates, “We take great care in on-boarding our new hires and have put in place a highly effective one-year programme. The first three months of the scheme are focussed on ensuring our hires have the foundation skills and capabilities they will need in order to unleash their potential here at Ricoh. They spend the remaining nine months in Ricoh offices, getting to know the team, the culture and effective ways of working.” Mandisi was enthusiastic about the ability of companies operating in South Africa to take on and train up local talent to become future leaders with valuable insight and connections in the region.

Finally we spoke about the great diversity in South Africa and the opportunities this presented for collaboration, “There are 11 national languages in South Africa, of which I speak 7,” Mandisi told me, having just taken a phone call in Xhosa (the language recognised for its distinctive use of clicks). “This reflects the great cultural variety in the region, and is just one of the many beautiful aspects of South Africa.” I had to agree. During my two week trip to Johannesburg and Cape Town I experienced the true warmth of this growing economy. What struck me most about South Africa and the many people I met, was the capacity for transformation. This vibrant country has emerged from a very recent and troubled past with an unmistakable desire for progress and a remarkable ability to make change happen. For businesses operating in the region, this capacity is perhaps the most alluring factor. Indeed, in South Africa, anything is possible.

Building a Collaborative Architecture

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Lynda - Hot Spots Movement - Portrait by LK - web size 72dpiMy Future of Work Research Consortium (FoW) recently held a focus group call to gain an in-depth understanding of the challenges faced by Consortium companies when building a collaborative architecture. What struck me was that that in most organisations the architecture (that is, the people practices and organisational culture) seems to be set up to leverage employees’ self-interested nature. However, recent research in evolutionary biology, psychology, and economics suggests that people behave far more cooperatively than we have assumed for decades. Neuroscientists have even found neural evidence of a human predisposition to cooperate. The fact that most people are ‘wired to cooperate’ can also be seen through the emerging trend of collaborative consumption: people are now sharing and exchanging all kinds of assets, from money to cars to skills, in ways and on a scale never possible before, for example through Wikipedia and Airbnb. In an article published in 2013 called Human Cooperation, David Rand and Martin Nowak used a series of experiments to determine whether or not people are innately cooperative. Their results indicated that when making decisions rapidly, people are more likely to be cooperative than selfish – the intuitive decision is almost always cooperation. Most of the FoW members who joined our focus group call agreed with this view and felt that the breakdown of collaboration in companies was due to the organisational architecture.

The architecture of most organisations today is based on individual accountability despite the fact that most work is collaborative and that people are innately cooperative. For example, work flows and decision processes in organisations are not typically designed to reflect the collaborative nature of work and innovation. Similarly, talent management practices tend to focus on individual competencies and experiences, while overlooking the critical importance of an employee’s networks and collaborative achievements. The challenge for organisations today is to build new architectures that help employees embrace their collaborative sentiments for the benefit of the business.

From the discussions on the call and my own research in this area, it seems there are several questions that organisations need to consider when building a collaborative architecture:

The Structure

Does the structure of the organisation support knowledge creation, transfer and sharing? How does the organisation build valuable networks and communities across the various departments and functions?

The Culture and Values

Is the culture of the organisation based on empathy, solidarity, transparency and fairness? Is the culture of the organisation predicated less on rules and more on social norms?

The People Practices and Processes

What are the variables for which performance is appraised and rewarded? How does the organisation engage global and diverse talent?

The People

How does the organisation train employees to work collaboratively? What are the tools that support collaborative working? How does the organisation create interesting work that has meaning both in terms of personal development and values?

The Leaders and Top Team

What are the experiences, characteristics, aspirations and visions of the top team? How diverse is the leadership? 
How has the leadership contributed to the success of the organisation’s collaborative architecture?

There is undoubtedly much more that could be said about building a collaborative architecture, and our next Future of Work Masterclass – taking place on 3rd February 2015 – will focus on The Collaborative Imperative. We will broaden the conversation and, together with expert guest speakers and panellists,  will design the way forward for building successful collaborative architectures.

Do we really know enough about Gen Z? I think not.

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4a5e4-6a019affbb02b7970b019affc09e79970d-piIn the course of our research on Gen Z (those born since the early 2000s), what has struck me most of all is the fact that there’s very little deep analysis or observation available about this age group. Instead, newspapers and magazines abound with articles about how obsessed teenagers are with their phones and how technology is ruining their attention spans.

So, it was interesting to come across this article in the Economist which suggests that in fact, the habits of today’s young people have more in common with those of their great-grandparents than the popular stereotype. In fact, Gen Z seems to be rejecting rather a lot of common youth stereotypes: from alcohol and drug use to teen pregnancy, 20th century-style teen problems are on the decline.

So why is this? The Economist piece suggests that Gen Z has more to worry about when it comes to the future: the need to compete for academic success from an increasingly young age, concern about the scarcity of jobs, and a growing lack of privacy may all have contributed to making this generation more reticent about indulging in life’s excesses.

While many are happy to speculate about the motivations and preoccupations affecting Gen Z, I’m inclined to think we should ask them. At the Hot Spots Movement, we’re conducting an in-depth survey of 14-18 year-olds, their values and aspirations, to find out just what it is that makes them tick, how their priorities differ from those of their predecessors and how we can best prepare to share a workplace with them.

We’re still actively looking for young people to take our survey – if you have any young people, parents, educators or youth groups in your network, please feel free to share the link:

Preparing Australia for the Future of Work

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We’ve noticed a significant interest in FoW coming from Australia over the past year or so, and as befits a research consultancy, we were intrigued to know the source of this interest. We asked Kristen Miller, Workplace Transformation Director at Westpac Group to provide us with a perspective and here’s what she had to say…

32738af“Today, Australia’s population of about 23 million is one of the most culturally and linguistically diverse populations in the world. As a result, Australian workplaces need to be prepared to deal with the challenges and opportunities this presents.

In recent times, Australian companies have dealt with workplace challenges that have led them to focus on preparing better for the future. For example, the mining boom in 2011 led to skill shortages, the “war for talent”, economic prosperity and wage growth. Coupled with a decade of economic growth and record-low unemployment rates, companies felt challenged in an unknown territory – people. Traditional (and successful) industries found themselves challenged with regard to how, when and what people worked on as the employee/employer power shifted increasingly toward employee choice – many companies were ill-prepared.

Changing where, when and how we work
In terms of working habits, government investment in the National Broadband Network (NBN) is designed to provide access to a minimum level of broadband service across the nation. This initiative has led to an increase in opportunities in education, business, entertainment, health care and sociability giving everyone the potential to be more productive, more creative, more efficient and more connected for decades to come. Importantly, working from home has become a real option for many now that anyone can experience a fast and reliable internet connection in the home.

This connectivity is vital for other reasons. Australia is a high wage-earning country and because of this, many companies within Australia have moved to offshoring and partnering arrangements to initially minimise cost. The changing landscape of on-going globalisation, and Australia’s relative distance from other parts of the world, is making work international, networked, culturally diverse and 24/7. Value creation and productivity for Australia will depend on its ability to build and maintain networks across regional and national boundaries, meaning that Australian companies have to be focussed on the global talent pool when it comes to employing the next generation of workers.

Gearing up for marathon careers
Like many other countries around the world, Australia has an aging population. Combined with high quality health care, this means that a larger proportion of the population is moving towards retirement and living far longer. The impact of this is that current superannuation plans are not expected to sustain people for their retired lifetime resulting in an increased burden on social welfare. As a result there has been increased focus from the Federal Government on raising the pension age, and organisations are now starting to think about ways to engage and support an aging workforce.

Recent years have also seen increased media coverage of the importance of work/life balance, wellbeing in the workplace, activity based working and employers of choice. These stories are often used as ways to highlight what employers should be considering as a way to attract and retain key talent. As a result, a number of organisations are seeking out additional or more progressive ways to differentiate themselves from competitors – raising the bar for everyone in the process.

Australian organisations are keen not only to learn how to deal with the implications of these shifts, but also to prepare for the changes will follow them. Participating in the Future of Work Research Consortium has been a great way for Westpac to gain deeper insights into the forces shaping the world we work in and how we can respond to them.”

Do you work for an Australian-based organisation that’s tackling these issues? Contact to find out how joining the Future of Work Research Consortium could help.

Are Mindfulness, Health and Wellbeing Necessary or Just Nice to Have?

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Tina Schneidermann - Portrait 03 by LK - CONTRASTby Tina Schneidermann, COO, Hot Spots Movement

If you’ve been to any business conferences over the past few months, you won’t have failed to notice that interest in topics such as mindfulness, health and wellbeing is at something of an all-time high. CEOs have been encouraged to pay more attention to the importance of sleep, and many businesses are encouraging moments of meditation – we even drew these topics into our Resilience and Purpose FoW theme. And yet, while I think it’s great that business leaders are thinking about these issues, I am beginning to wonder whether we’ve been examining them from the right angle.

The key to preserving decision-making ability

The main thing that strikes me about today’s discussions around wellbeing is that they have tended to focus on the individual. Of course, the link between all round healthy and fit workers being resilient, and resilient workers being a good starting point for running a resilient and profitable company, is logic that most of the members of the broader Hot Spots Movement community seem happy to adopt. But don’t mindfulness, health and wellbeing have a more direct and immediate effect on the health of a business? Recently, I’ve been wondering whether many of us aren’t missing the most important point: that if workers are not healthy, not fit, or simply tired, they are likely to make poor decisions and big mistakes.

Think of this: Busy executives who defy time zones and walk off planes and straight into meetings may ‘still be standing’ and seemingly function, but are they at their best for making sound decisions? And at what point does their impaired ‘fitness for making the best decisions have a negative impact on the business? Are some decisions so important that executives would need to be particularly rested before making them? In some businesses, the wrong decisions can have fatal implications (for example where physical safety of workers or clients is involved), but I’m hard pushed to see any industry where suboptimal or downright wrong decisions or poor execution of decisions or tasks wouldn’t have very negative implications for the business.

Great thought is given to these issues in some industries – airline pilots, for example, have very strict regimes for number of hours they can fly, how much they need to rest in between, etc. and I suspect most people find that infinitely sensible. But assuming that all decisions are important, even if they don’t have potential and immediate life-and-death implications, why wouldn’t we apply this to all work?

Join the debate

I wonder whether our attention to mindfulness and wellbeing wouldn’t significantly increase if we took it out of its current feel good territory and started to look at the serious business benefits and risk mitigation they can offer. Perhaps what’s needed is more effective terminology to allow us to shift health and wellbeing from being topics that generate polite and PC-driven interest to being business critical.

This is a topic I think we should all be discussing – and I’d love to hear your ideas. Contact me – or us – on Twitter via @tschneidermann or @HSpotM.


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Emmaby Emma Birchall, Head of Research, Future of Work

Our research team really enjoyed Lucy Kellaway’s recent article in the FT about how the most diverse teams often end up descending into groupthink, remain at the level of banal exchange of business jargon rich platitudes and find it hard to make any decisions – let alone creative ones.

So, is this a death knell for diverse teams? We think that Lucy’s observations are thought-provoking and certainly reinforce Lynda’s research which shows that people find it easiest to collaborate with people they perceive as being similar to themselves. But what it tells us most of all is that creative collaboration in the context of a diverse group takes practise. Throw a group of smart people representing different cultures, genders and generations into a room and they will interact based on the lowest common denominator – business jargon – rather than nudging each other towards mind-blowing insights. Perhaps we need to change our perception of a diverse group – does it always have to be two women, two seniors, two bright young things, and two participants from other cultures? Or perhaps we need to offer training on how to collaborate effectively within a diverse group. What’s clear is that diverse groups are capable of achieving great things – but companies need to do more than simply bringing them together to empower such greatness.