Guest Blog – Four gifts to help your employees be even more successful than you

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Screen Shot 2017-03-01 at 10.28.00.pngThis week NAB released some compelling research on what Australians considered to be the hallmarks of a good job. Three of the top four things were “fulfilling”, “something I’m passionate about” and “meaningful”.

This was based on a survey of more than 2000 Australians aged 16-70 conducted by global research firm Ipsos. It was the third chapter in a broader white paper, Rethink Success, that looks at how Australians define “success”.

The first chapter, released late last year, found that Australians define success not as money or status, by firstly by happiness, then good family relationships, feeling fit and healthy and being a good person.

As a leader, these are my four top tips for creating a workplace where people can be truly successful in this broader sense.

1.      Give work a meaning – purpose and vision inspires and provides a common goal to rally around.

Many people think of their job as a part of their identity. Meaningful work (work that has a purpose) is fulfilling – it makes us proud, it makes us happy.

At NAB we have focused the whole organisation around the customer. Whether our people are in customer facing roles or not, we all have a role to play in making it easier for customers to reach their potential.

We have also discovered that our vision – to be Australia and New Zealand’s most respected bank –  is the single most significant driver of engagement for our people, according to employee survey data.

And beyond that, the notion of ‘respect’ satisfies that need for our people to know we trust and believe in them; they are good people.

2.      Allow people to meaningfully connect with values that align with your vision.

Employees and customers are increasingly choosing to work and do business with companies that align with their values and aspirations. It is important that every single employee understands what a company’s values are.

Two years ago when NAB launched its organisational values, we didn’t want to rely on communication packs, wallet cards or mouse pads with the company values emblazoned on them. We recognised that human beings are wired to remember stories. So we encouraged leaders to bring their own personal experience and meaning, and communicate NAB’s values (Passion for customers; Will to win; Be bold; Respect for people; Do the right thing) through story-telling. This has had a significant influence on the way people understand the values.

Leaders who communicate values through story-telling have a significant influence on the way people think and feel.

3.      Contribute to employee wellbeing – be supportive, flexible, fun.

To quote Confucius, ‘Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life’  

Creating a flexible working environment allows you to accommodate the diverse needs of people – both customers and employees. It leads to higher productivity, and enables people to live in a way that accommodates their personal lifestyle needs.

In my experience, supporting flexibility in a way that meets both the individual and business needs, demonstrates your trust in your people and strengthens their commitment and willingness to take on challenging work (see how this links back to meaning?).

4.      Nurture a growth mindset – so your people are credible, capable and confident to face into the future.

Change in the working landscape is more rapid with digitisation and disruption. Traditional pathways are being paved over with new roads.

Our role as leaders is to believe in people, their ideas and dreams, and show interest in their aspirations. Create a space where people can demonstrate and develop their talents, determine what they want from their career and encourage and support them to achieve it.

Careers are increasingly becoming dynamic and fluid. There is a greater level of empowerment for those who are willing to shift tracks.

But if you don’t know where you’re heading, how will you know what to pack?

Purpose is key.  It helps you map a direction, and focuses you on the capabilities you need to get there.

This brings me to my purpose, which is “to help people  grow every day, by creating the right culture and connecting them to the learning and development they need to be credible, capable and confident now and in the future”.

What gives your job meaning and what guides you towards your future?

Steve Barrow is Executive General Manager of People, Culture and Capability at NAB.

My first impressions of Virtual Reality

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10235“Unfortunately no one can be told what the Matrix is. You have to see it yourself.” – Morpheus, The Matrix

The Matrix trilogy, Minority Report or James Cameron’s Avatar – these are only some of the films that used to blow my mind as a child. I found it absolutely amazing how much good CGI improves viewer experience, and could not wait to see those things in real life. I only had to wait until our Employability and Learning Masterclass to find out where virtual reality (VR) stands today, and to see how organisations can benefit from it on a day-to-day basis.

At the Masterclass, we saw some examples of using VR in medical training and engineering – so companies are already reaping the benefits of VR. First I tried the immersive VR consisting of a mask and two handheld controllers. Second was the Hololens, which is a strange blend between a motorcycle helmet and safety goggles you would normally find in labs.

img_20170207_131058When wearing the VR kit, I was standing in a factory next to a conveyor belt, picking up and boxing a selection of products. It was a training programme that had a competitive element to it as I was in the factory with another worker.

As this was my first VR experience, I was not sure what to expect. Needless to say that wearing the VR kit needs some adjustments, but overall I got the hang of it in a few minutes. I was surprised how much wearing a mask and holding two controllers can deceive my senses. My brain was tricked into thinking I’m in that factory. Even if I knew I was in a room with no furniture around me, I still navigated around the objects in the VR environment as if they were real.

The Hololens experience felt more tangible and realistic. I was able to see my own hands as well as the physical space around me. The mind-blowing feature was the floating aircraft engine in the middle of the room. I could walk around it, look at it from different angles, and the most exciting feature was when I was told I could disassemble it using my hands, without controllers. The gestures are very similar to using a smartphone or a tablet, you if you own either of those things, you will have no problems using the Hololens.

Of course there are rough edges here and there, and the current scalability of VR is debatable, but considering that this is the dawn of this technology, the improvement since the Google Glass is staggering. So how far are we from VR augmenting, disrupting and transforming our offices? Will VR have a major impact on collaboration? Could we use the technology to quickly assemble creative teams whose members are scattered around the planet? Could VR enhance working from home?

Whatever the answers might be to these questions, we will soon find out how VR can push the boundaries of human productivity, creativity and possibilities.

Here’s why your new year’s resolution should be to fail more…

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Screen Shot 2015-11-02 at 09.20.00Last week we ran our first workshop using Improv techniques to spur on innovative behaviours in one of London’s top PR firms. It was a great event and reminded me of one of the most important areas we advise companies on at the moment, and one of my favourite learning points from Improv: embracing failure.
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Most of the workshops I’ve run in the last three years have included at least a partial focus on innovation and the need to do things differently in an ever-changing world. I’ve spoken to many organisations that struggle to unleash the innovative capability they know they have in their workforce, and struggle even more to understand why. The answer in most instances is fear of failure.
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In high performance cultures, failure is not an option. And yet, when we embark on the process of innovation, failure is pretty much a guaranteed stop along the way to success. Just think of all the great inventors of our time – James Dyson, Patricia Bath, Hedy Lamar – all of them failed many times before they succeeded.
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It begs the question, would their great inventions have been realised if they were working in your organisation? Or would they have been thwarted at the early stages because they challenged conventional ways of working, or because failure is to be avoided at all costs?
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So, how do we make peace with failure in organisations?
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Well, here’s where the techniques of Improv really come in.
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When you’re about to go on stage without a script, you MUST be ready for failure because it’s inevitable. At some point, one of you will call another actor by the wrong character name or accidentally contradict a ‘truth’ that has been created in another scene. What I’ve learned most in this context is that it’s not the failure itself that is important, but the reaction we have to it. Whether it’s to call it out as part of the humour, “I must say, I find it quite passive aggressive that you continually refer to me by the wrong name,” or to weave it into the story somewhere further down the line. In doing so, we turn the failure into a success, just not the one we had originally conceived of. This is what my Improv colleagues Steve Roe and Max Dickins refer to as pivoting failure into success. And to prove that this truly does work in the business world, they cite many examples including that of Instagram which was originally created as a way of mapping the world through photographs, but failed in its original vision and soon became used in the way we know it now, to share photos and create connections between people.
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If we want our teams and organisations to be innovative, then we have to get better at creating cultures in which people are liberated from their fear of failure. How do we do this? First, by sense checking the processes and practices that influence people’s behaviour: does our performance management approach allow for failure as a learning point, or is all failure career-limiting? Second, we must practice the behaviours that enable us throw ourselves into a new idea, that give us the confidence to try something new with our team and that make us feel comfortable in the unknown. These are the behaviours that we’re helping people practice through Improv: stepping into the unscripted world, trusting yourself, and running towards failure as an opportunity for a success you hadn’t yet conceived of.

Changing Pace: the difference between excelling and falling short at work (and life)

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Screen Shot 2015-11-02 at 09.20.00Last 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[1]. 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.[2]

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.

[1] Surely a turn of phrase that gives away how little I know about sports, let alone writing about them

[2] I appreciate the advertising community may have had something to do with this narrative

Diversity & Inclusion: Is it really needed?

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For all the hullaballoo about diversity, what do we know about it and is it needed? Let’s atemstart by exploring some facts about the case for diversity:

  • In the UK, the Women and Work Commission found that better use of women’s skills in work could be worth between £15 – 23bn for the economy each year.
  • The spending power of people over 65 i.e. the grey pound is set to hit the £100bn mark.
  • Recent surveys in the USA show that 70% of all consumer spending is made by women.
  • It is expected that ethnic minority spending power will soon top £300bn.

Despite clear evidence that diversity is especially crucial in today’s global marketplace, businesses are still very slow and sometimes reluctant to embrace this change. This is because diversity as a concept sounds simple in theory, however in practice it is rather difficult. The first challenge is the heavily entrenched and archaic recruitment processes/graduate schemes in most organisations. For example, a recent article in The Guardian reports that the UK’s top professions are terribly skewed towards privately educated people compared to the general profile of the UK population.

Furthermore, when we generally speak about the positive impact of diversity we assume that everyone gets on or will get on. This is simply not true as workplaces today are riddled with biases. Bias in today’s workplace is largely implicit, making it ambiguous and often very difficult to prove. One of the common misconceptions about biases is that only the so-called ‘majority’ population holds them. In fact, members of any group are capable of holding stereotypes about particular categories of people. Unconscious behavior is not just individual; it influences organisational culture as well. Unconscious organisational patterns exert an enormous influence over organisational decisions, choices and behaviours. These deep-seated company characteristics are often the reason that despite our best conscious efforts, the ‘organisational unconscious’ perpetuates the status quo and keeps old patterns and norms firmly rooted.

Finally, most organisations tend to think of diversity in terms of the ‘visible differences’ between people, such as gender, age and race. Diversity is about these differences, but this narrow focus ultimately falls short of what it really means. For diversity to deliver on its promise, organisations should harness a more powerful and nuanced kind of diversity: diversity of thought. This broader view is encapsulated by the idea that different perspectives and heuristics are the real point of difference, rather than our visible differences.

In spite of these dreary facts, there are glimmers of hope as some companies are beginning to realise the potential for diversity and what it means for creativity, productivity and innovation. For example, companies like Gen Mills, HP Inc. and Verizon have demanded their Ad Agencies to shed the “mad men like reputation” and recruit a more diverse workforce. In fact, back in August, Gen Mills insisted on its Ad Agency’s’ creative departments to be staffed with 50% women and 20% blacks. Similarly, John Lewis recently promoted Paula Nickolds to the role of MD – the first female MD in its 152 year history.

It is time to make diversity a top priority and the businesses that fail to see the importance of this, according to Sahar Andrade, ’might find themselves unable to attract and retain the kinds of customers, employees, and business partners that constitute our changing world in 5 to 10 years’.

Digital badges and the future of learning

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sarahhsmwebsiteA 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.

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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

Do you know how to take a break?

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20151002_190625.jpg.jpegI’m sitting in our open-plan offices in Somerset House. If you are not familiar with the building, Somerset House is a neoclassical palace with an imposing façade overlooking the river Thames, and a grand courtyard with a majestic fountain. The sun is out, the sky is blue, and the mild autumn breeze is playing with the Union Jack flag.

Somerset House is the ideal creative and inspiring environment for writing a blog. However, 20 men are busy building the ice rink just below our office window and we work in an open-plan office. The rattling, beeping, drilling, shouting, phone ringing, and that annoying sound Outlook makes when I get an email… I can’t hear myself think, so how am I going to write this blog on creativity? If you are also struggling with creativity, here is one tip from the Hot Spots team that I tested.

With hard deadlines coming up, a project to deliver, and almost everyone on the phone around me, I’m stressed. Struggling with this blog seems like a waste of time. I remembered from our Innovative Organisation Masterclass that letting the mind wander is a good way of coming up with creative ideas. Sounds like exactly what I need.

So I’m sitting in the shell chair in our empty meeting room. I only brought a pen and paper. My phone is in the other room because work will find me if it really wants to. I’ve spent 20 minutes alone, in silence with my thoughts, not focusing on my immediate environment. I even took some notes and wrote the blog outline, and now I have something to work with. But what has just happened?

This is called “internal recovery” and refers to the break we are recommended to take every 90-minutes. These recovery sessions become particularly important when working with technology as it makes our brains overly active. The positive impact of these recovery sessions was also confirmed by Professor K. Anders Ericsson and his colleagues at Florida State University. They observed athletes, chess players and musicians, and found that best performers typically practice in uninterrupted, 90-minute cycles.

It seems that the 20-minute technological detox had a positive iDavidmpact on my productivity. I came up with a blog topic and my brain was fresh enough to write this blog despite the industrial noises, email notifications, and ongoing calls around me. It was definitely worth trying this one tip, and I am considering making this part of my work routine. So today when you feel like work is just not happening, find a calm spot and let your mind wander.

If you’d like to find out what else the Research Team is thinking about here at Hot Spots Movement or just want to have a chat about our work, get in touch.