careers

The End of Job Descriptions and Stable Job Design

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4a5e4-6a019affbb02b7970b019affc09e79970d-piAs 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.

Three tips for improvising your way to success

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IMG_4012Over the last couple of years, I’ve been learning the art of Improv. For those of you who have never experienced such joy, Improv is a form of completely unscripted theatre or comedy, where a group of fully-grown adults create a story, characters and some kind of plot completely in the moment. As we walk onto the stage we have no idea who our character will be, where the scene is, or what the relationship is that we have with each other And yet, somehow it works. Somehow, we create something that is coherent, makes sense and sometimes – just sometimes – is hilariously funny.

Now, if this were a team in an organisation, we would consider it doomed to fail: No goals, no clarity on team roles, no accountability – no chance. But in this domain it succeeds. It got me thinking about what it is that makes it possible for Improv to… well, just work really, and what that could then teach us about creating successful teams in organisations. It all starts with three simple rules that allow everything else to follow freely:

#1 Listen to offers

The first time I got on stage to do an Improv scene my mind was screaming to me: “Say something. Anything. For the love of God fill the silence!” The result: disaster and a very public way to learn the hidden beauty of staying quiet and listening. And so comes the first rule: listen to what others are offering. The only way that something unscripted can work is if you are truly listening to all the cues your team are sending you about where you are in the scene, who your character is to them, and what the hell’s going on. Likewise, they need to be listening out for every possible piece of information from you so that you can all create something together.

There are many parallels here to what we see happening in teams. I can recall so many meetings in which it’s seemed like we’re all working off a different script. And why? Because that’s exactly what we were doing. We were armed with our own individual scripts about what we wanted to achieve, our foregone conclusions about the matter, ready to force that on others whether consciously or without even realizing that’s what we were doing. Next time you’re in a meeting with your team, try leaving the script behind. Make a conscious effort to focus and hear every ‘offer’ made by the other person. Every sentence, every word.

#2 Accept offers

The most awkward moments in Improv are when one actor makes an ‘offer’ in terms of what’s going on in the scene, for example: “Hey, great to bump into you. We always seem to see each other at this same park” only for their fellow actor to reject that offer and instead pursue their own agenda: “This isn’t a park it’s a school classroom, what were you thinking?” There’s really nowhere good to go from that point. It’s a clear rejection and now you are both completely lost somewhere in a…  school parkroom? Or a park school class? Huh? When this happens in Improv it’s painfully visible and the chaos that ensues is immediate.

Once again, having learned this the hard way in performances, I’ve become particularly aware of it in other realms of life and work. How often do we listen to someone’s idea (offer) only to reject it, either subtly by moving the conversation back to our own brilliant idea, or by outright declaring it impossible due to a set of constraints reeled out too quickly to be a true response to what we’ve just heard?

I think the reason we find this so hard is because it requires us to be vulnerable. In a scene, if I accept someone else’s offer in terms of where we are or what our relationship is, then I have to put more thought and energy into responding than if I were to simply shut it down and force my own idea – inevitably one I’m more comfortable with. It’s unknown territory and I can’t guarantee I’ll sail through it. Likewise, exploring someone else’s way of thinking at work means letting go of our reassuringly familiar reality to step into theirs. It’s uncomfortable. As a leader, you may feel you need to add value by having the vision and providing clarity of output. You may feel that if you’re not driving the meeting or the project, then you’re not doing you role as a leader. However, the two are of not mutually exclusive at all.

Next time you feel yourself inclined to say no to an idea – to reject someone’s offer – perhaps take a moment. Acknowledge that it feels a bit uncomfortable and then stick with it. It may be that the discomfort lasts only a few moments and is the path to something you never thought possible.

#3 Make other people look good

Every so often, I’ll be in a scene and see an opportunity to throw in a line so witty it’s sure to have the crowd thinking, ‘God she’s hilarious’. And every time I’ve given into the temptation it’s resulted in a soul-destroying awkward pause. Now, while this is no doubt useful feedback about the quality of my jokes, it’s also a fairly unanimous experience in Improv. Why? Because Improv is about teams, not stand up comics, and any attempt to elevate yourself over and above your fellow Improvisers just destroys whatever it is you were creating together.

And so comes the third rule: make others look good. The logic is pretty simple when you think about it: if everyone does it, then everyone ends up looking good. Lovely. So what happens if we take this approach in our teams? If we all go in agreeing that our role is to make our team members look good rather than being our individual best?

This doesn’t mean that individual performance is completely negated, but that in an environment in which no one superstar (or stand up comic genius) is sufficient to succeed, we all embrace working together. We all help amplify the performance of others and bask in the great feeling that comes with knowing that they will do the same for us. This is how we can unleash additional value, enabling others else to shine and then building on that ‘greatness’.

These rules are pretty simple. But what resonated with me was how incredibly important they are in any successful collaboration – whether it be a friendship, a relationship, a project team or maybe even an Improv group. And that they are mutually reinforcing. Follow one of the rules avidly and you’re sure to find yourself deploying the other two: really listen to the other person in your team and you will find yourself immediately more likely to accept their offer and help them look good.

In increasingly unpredictable and unscripted worlds, perhaps now is the time to truly embrace improvisation.

“Immense harm is caused by the belief that work is virtuous” What we can learn from the old greats

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Screen Shot 2015-11-02 at 09.20.00In 1932, philosopher Bertrand Russell wrote an essay titled In Praise of Idleness. He was writing at a time when only the most affluent in society had the opportunity for leisure time while the poor laboured away in dirty, dangerous and dull work. Today, the situation is quite the opposite: for the first time in history, the most skilled, highest earners in society are working the longest hours. But why is it that those who can afford the most leisure are now taking the least?

It turns out we still have much to learn from the old greats such as Russell and Keynes. Both had distinct yet complementary philosophies on the meaning of work that may help us understand why affluent knowledge workers, with above average pay cheques and already high standards of living, are slaving away to the point of burnout.

The first message is that as a society, we have had a vested interest in seeing work as virtuous. Back in the 18th and 19th centuries, the virtues of work were extolled by the affluent, upper classes who, according to Russell, preached ‘the dignity of labour [to the poor], while taking care themselves to remain undignified in this respect.’ The dignity of labour ‘kept adults from drink and children from mischief,’ by distracting them with 15-hour work days. This ideology was reinforced by religious beliefs that the poor were far more likely to go to heaven than the rich, thus their gratification was coming, just posthumously. So what does this mean for today? According to Keynes, despite entire populations moving into higher skill, higher paid work, ‘we have been trained too long to strive and not to enjoy.’ We ascribe status now to those who make valuable contributions to the success of organisations and our ‘busyness’ has become a proxy for that level of contribution. Perhaps then, if we are to resolve the challenge of long working hours, burnout and stress, we need to remind ourselves of the meaning of work, its role in our own lives and in society as a whole. Now that we don’t need work to prevent us all from becoming delinquent on gin and to get into the afterlife, maybe we can reassess how we spend our time?

A second message from the works of the old greats is that how we spend our leisure time is also a point of contention. Both Keynes and Russell stressed the importance of leisure time in pursuing academic and creative interests. According to Russell, the small leisure class in previous centuries ‘cultivated the arts and discovered sciences; it wrote the books, invented the philosophies, and refined social relations […] without the leisure class, man would never have emerged from barbarism.’ Today, we might argue that these activities take place within institutions such as universities, businesses and NGOs. However, Russell warned that when ‘studies are organised […] the man who thinks of some original line of research is likely to be discouraged,’ making it an inadequate substitute for real leisure time.

While our context has changed markedly since the 18th and 19th Centuries, perhaps there is still something to take from this. How can we liberate people to pursue their passions, experiment and innovate under the necessary pre-condition of ‘no required output’? Some companies such as Google and 3G have attempted this with their ‘20% time to play’ rule, allowing employees to spend the equivalent of one day a week following up on an idea they have had on the understanding that it may come to nothing. But maybe, instead of creating rules around when and how much work time people can spend in liberated, free-thinking, we need to accept the fact that people need to be absent, disconnected and unrestricted if we want them to come up with new ideas. In short, we need to acknowledge the value of leisure time and ensure that work does not encroach. Likewise, we need to reserve energy as well as time for the pursuit of leisure or else, according to Russell, ‘pleasures […] become mainly passive: seeing cinemas, watching football matches, listening to the radio, and so on [… as a result of our] active energies being fully taken up with work.’

Keynes predicted that we would all be working three-hour days by now. We’ve perhaps ended up closer to Russell’s depiction of ‘a large percentage of the population idle, because we can dispense with their labour by making the others overwork.’ We simultaneously have people working extended hours and persistent unemployment. Could our ineffectiveness at addressing the skills mismatches behind this phenomenon be in part because we can make the skilled overwork? Both Keynes and Russell expected it to take some time to transition into a society that can accept and create value through extended leisure, without blindly pursuing more and more work as an end in itself. But perhaps it’s worth remembering Russell’s departing line: ‘there is no reason to go on being foolish forever.’

Sources:

Keynes, John Maynard. “Economic Possibilities For Our Grandchildren”. (1930): n. pag. Print.

Russell, Bertrand. “In Praise Of Idleness”. (1932): n. pag. Print.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What if money was no longer the most valuable asset a company could offer an employee?

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Lynda - Hot Spots Movement - Portrait by LK - web size 72dpiWhat is the most valuable asset a company can give an employee?

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.

Critical thinking in the information age, by Tom Lock

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Screen Shot 2015-05-20 at 15.58.26What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.

~William Henry Davies

During the Talent Innovation Masterclass, Lynda paused her keynote talk for two minutes of silence. It felt like an hour. This would usually be a nightmare scenario for a speaker; the creeping self-consciousness evoked in the audience painfully stretching out the seconds. But this was a period of controlled reflection, as attendees were asked to study a painting during the period of silence. To decontextualise and condense their focus for a moment of pure visual association.

Perhaps in the context of a presentation, enforced silence is at least initially a discomforting experience for the audience. Yet having overcome the quiet by focusing on an image, the audience were able to collect their thoughts and extract greater depth from the material before them. A singular focus allows us to engage with content in a more critical, immersive way. By stopping to think in the workplace, we open up space for creative, expressive thoughts, as opposed to functional duties. Consequently, we are more likely to innovate.

But what relevance does this have for a Masterclass on Talent Innovation? Well, with automation encroaching upon jobs of all skill levels, the Masterclass was an important opportunity for us to think about the uniquely human skills we bring to work that cannot (yet) be computerised. These quintessentially human qualities include creativity, curiosity and innovation and they are the qualities that underscore the success of our organisations. However, as Lynda cautioned in her keynote, many companies are subverting these human qualities by designing jobs that place multiple demands and obligations on people, that leave very little discretionary time, and that place multiple constraints on what people can and cannot do. The result is the squeezing out of the space for creativity – that invaluable human quality.

There is no doubt that we in live in an information-saturated age. Our working lives, living in busy cities, and widespread connectivity offer a wealth of constant data and change. In particular, visual imagery is everywhere we look. It offers the perfect form to capture the millisecond measurement of the modern attention span. Harvard Professor of Humanities Jennifer Roberts has sought to buck this trend. Professor Roberts felt that her role as an educator was to a large extent to help her students “learn to learn.” By that she meant helping them decelerate and pay deep attention to what they are studying.

According to Professor Roberts, outside of a space of learning, students are driven towards immediacy by social and technological pressures. Professor Roberts realised that she had to give her pupils “permission and the structures to slow down”, by explicitly engineering the pace and tempo of their learning experiences.

In one particular class, she asked her students to choose a single painting for a research project. Once chosen, their first task was to study the picture for three hours: a painfully long time to consider a still object. The students were asked to note down their evolving observations and any questions or speculations that arose. The time span was explicitly designed to seem excessive. Also crucial to the exercise was the museum or archive setting, which removed the student from his or her everyday surroundings and distractions.

At first many students resisted the exercise, failing to see how the small, still frame of the painting could warrant three hours worth of study. Was it possible to hold three hours worth of stimulation and thought in a single work of art? Yet having completed the exercise, many were amazed by the recesses of explorative thought that this contemplation had unlocked.

The exercise demonstrates the difference between things looked upon and things seen, offering an interesting meditation upon the parallel rise of connectivity and mindfulness in modern society. The Internet and MOOCs offer access to a wealth of material, but access does not equate to knowledge: just because we have observed something, does not necessarily mean we have truly understood and absorbed it. To turn access into learning requires time, discipline and patience.

So, how can apply this within our organisations? And, what potential does this have in helping us bring those uniquely human skills to work?

Organisations seeking creativity and innovation from their people must consider how they may be eroding their employees’ ability to focus and decelerate through too many demands and obligations. This ultimately requires a brave call from managers, who must seek to cut menial tasks and process in order to reduce the burden on talent. It requires them to free up their teams so that they can bring those uniquely human qualities to their work, and can focus and think critically in an otherwise accelerated world.

For more information on the topics covered in this blog, contact Tom: tom@hotspotsmovement.com

Source: http://harvardmagazine.com/2013/11/the-power-of-patience

Photograph ©2013 Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

From Australia, by guest blogger Rosemary Kirkby

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bUdSQrPjAustralia has been the lucky country in the years following the 2008 global financial slowdown. However, as individuals, we’ve never quite believed that our economy was strong and recent warnings of slowing growth in China, (our largest trading partner) falling iron ore and coal prices, youth unemployment, as well as talk of a housing bubble following surging prices in our principal cities, have served to fuel national anxiety. The reality is, however, that Australia is actually well placed to transition to a new, broader-based economy, less reliant on commodities.

There is emerging consensus that growth needs to be innovation-led. The change envisaged is not incremental but potentially transformational. It will need a combination of discipline and courage, not least from our major companies who must lead the pursuit of new sources of revenue and growth. For HR this is not business-as-usual. Many of the policies, systems, processes and behaviours (our working cultures) which have served us so well at the end of the 20th Century need to be re-designed to fit the more dynamic market conditions of the 21st Century. This is an opportunity to engage all employees in designing their own futures.

One important enabling condition is the need for greater “flexibility” and there is evidence that Australian employers and their people are embracing it with alacrity. Last year Aecom, a global provider of management and technical services, analysed workplace surveys conducted by its clients to understand their employees desire to work away from the office. They found that between 31% and 54% of employees across the Resources, Finance, Retail and Media sectors would appreciate doing so for 1 to 2 days a week. This has important implications for the leasing of space in commercial buildings, for employee health and wellbeing, for workforce participation, for productivity and other areas such as transport infrastructure and the life of our cities.

Telstra, Australia’s largest telecommunications company with more than 35,000 employees, has demonstrated how Government legislation and leadership can work with employers and their people to accelerate the process of change. At the end of 2013 CEO, David Thodey, introduced an initiative known as “All Roles Flex”, becoming the first large corporation in Australia to ensure that everyone had access to flexible ways of working. This followed the introduction of the Federal Government’s Fair Work Act 2009, enshrining in law the right to request flexible working arrangements. It also followed two years of working with around twenty other corporate and Government leaders as Male Champions of Change, a group established by Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Elizabeth Broderick, to help accelerate development of women as leaders. “What I really like about this approach is that it disrupts the status quo and encourages open conversations right from the start.” David Thodey wrote in November 2013.

Telstra, along with many Australian companies (for example ANZ, NAB, Westpac, CBA, Suncorp, Lend Lease, Macquarie Bank) has over the last decade embraced the inclusive design of the workplace as yet another opportunity to have that conversation with their people about the future. It has given employees and other stakeholders, most notably customers, a voice in the design of the company’s future. It has reduced the cost of accommodation, created spaces which support collaboration, resulted in healthier, more flexible and environmentally more responsive buildings. This has put power in the hands of the organisation’s people to connect freely with others and to better manage their work and careers. This moment in history, and not just Australia’s, is an opportunity for the HR team to lead from the front, as thought leaders about the future of work, setting the need for change in the wider national and global context.

It must necessarily start with HR undergoing its own transformation, reimagining its role in developing and executing business strategy and reconfiguring its skill base so that its traditional strengths in supporting the management of people is balanced by strengths in leading business and culture transformation. Be prepared for conversations which are disruptive of the status quo but which facilitate innovative solutions to increasingly complex problems.

Beyond Our Nature – Insights from Davos 2015

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Lynda - Hot Spots Movement - Portrait by LK - web size 72dpi

The global challenges facing the world – such as rising poverty, youth unemployment and climate change – are not themes that are new to Davos. What is new for Davos 2015, is a growing realisation that to address these challenges we have to go beyond human nature. Let me explain. Underlying all these global challenges are many stakeholders each of whom have their own approach and way of looking at the world. Take youth unemployment as an example. When young people are able to get jobs it is because many stakeholders work together: companies create jobs for youngsters; governments shape fiscal and regulatory environments that encourage job creation; educators focus on skills that are important to the job market and the young people themselves are motivated and able to look for work. When it works it is because within this complex system, multiple stakeholders are able to understand each other, and to act on this understanding.

And here is the rub. As the neuroscientists at Davos reminded us, we humans are evolutionarily exquisite at working with small groups of people who are very similar to us – and particularly so if they are related. In fact, as Dunbar has shown, anything above 150 people and natural groups break up. We are pre-disposed to like people who are like us, we imitate people we admire, and across our networks our behaviours and attitudes are contagious.

So whilst we are exquisitely evolved to work in tribal groups, little in our evolution prepares us for the sorts of challenges we are now facing. Challenges that can only be solved if we are able to work in huge groups, containing many different types of people, negotiating across complex alliances.

Of course technology (which is accelerating some of these global challenges) is also providing an array of solutions. When thousands of people are able to work together in virtual communities and when their insights are augmented by artificial intelligence, then complex problems are more likely to be understood.

But is understanding sufficient to get them solved? One of the sessions I attended at Davos this year looked more deeply at alliances. What became clear was that the alliances that are capable of addressing these global challenges – indeed of addressing the challenges of innovation and resilience – are extraordinarily complex. They require people who are very different from each other to have some empathy for each others’ position; they require a process to build trust when many of the stakeholders are virtual strangers and don’t spend much time with each other; and they require a process of commitment making that is more complex than much we have seen before.

All of this is indeed possible, but it goes beyond our human nature. So the question I think we face is whether we will be constrained forever by our evolutionary behaviours and attitudes, or whether we are able in a sense to leap beyond them. How we do this then remains the key issue. When human nature changes (for example our attitudes to slavery or women’s rights) it is because across society the narrative and stories change, owing to courageous role models. The societal discourse itself then begins to evolve.

Addressing many of the world’s challenges requires us to move beyond our human nature. Now is the time for stories to be told about how it could be, and for role models to courageously act out collaboration and alliance building beyond the tribe.