I’m constantly struck by the cross-disciplinary learning that business can take from the arts. At our Masterclasses for the Future of Work Research Consortium, two of our most popular external speakers have been Kasper Holten and Farooq Chaudhry, formerly director of opera at the Royal Opera House and producer for English National Ballet respectively. They weren’t just popular with our audience of senior HR execs because they were something a bit different. They were popular for the meaningful and actionable takeaways they provided about leadership, discipline and innovative thinking.
This got me thinking about the lessons I’ve learned from a lifelong passion of mine, ballet. Whether watching the prima ballerinas at Sadler’s Wells and Covent Garden, or sweating away at my own amateur ballet practice, here’s what I try to bring to the workplace from this disciplined art form:
Routine breeds excellence
Ballet is the living and breathing embodiment of the old adage ‘practice makes perfect’. Dancers pirouette their way to around a 100,000 hours of practice before they can even begin their professional careers. This impressive number of hours is made up of the same exercises year in-year out eventually culminating in exquisite, seemingly effortless performances. And it’s not a huge leap to apply this to business. In terms of a process or delivery style, routine practice enables us to deliver more, faster and with increased confidence.
Prioritise your time management
A good friend of mine went to ballet school, and at the age of eleven was skilfully juggling school work and punishing practice schedules, all the while maintaining a positive mindset. This ability to prioritise and manage your time alongside your positivity is crucial in our workplaces today. I see clients balancing increased workloads with less discretionary time, while being expected simultaneously to produce creative thought. This means they have to balance their focus on both hard and soft skills.
Strive for positivity and build resilience
In terms of knocks to confidence and the need to survive tough feedback, ballet is an undeniably punishing career. Even the likes of Darcey Bussell of Royal Ballet fame and Carlos Acosta, who’s meteoric rise to excellence has been well-documented, have suffered failed auditions and crippling injuries. It amazes me then to see dancers dart through the air as though they don’t have a care in the world. This is something I try to apply at work. Even with the most well-practiced routines and brilliantly prioritised schedule, we will experience times that test us. Remembering these are just moments on the much bigger picture of our careers will help us build a positive mindset and maintain resilience.
To learn about other cross-disciplinary learnings we can apply in business, contact firstname.lastname@example.org
I really enjoyed this recent article, in which McKinsey’s Rik Kirkland interviews Paul Polman, CEO, Unilever. In the course of the interview, Polman discusses his thoughts on “the new corporation”, the need to switch from short-term to long-term thinking and his view that business has a duty to serve society in a sustainable and equitable way. He also shares some great examples of how Unilever is already doing this within its supply chain.
Polman’s initiatives at Unilever are among the examples shared by Lynda in her forthcoming book The Key: How Corporations Succeed by Solving the World’s Toughest Problems – you can pre-order the book now through Amazon.
By Lynda Gratton
The topic of emotional vitality has recently become increasingly popular in HR circles – and the general consensus is that if you are an employee, your emotional vitality is suffering at the hands of your employers.
This might be important news to individuals, but why are so many companies interested? Why do they care if people are stressed or tired?
The reason is that as work becomes more complex, balance and creativity are becoming increasingly vital to competitive advantage – and it’s a well-established research finding that while tired, stressed people are perfectly able to do their normal everyday tasks, they are also less able to be creative.
Stress is your biggest risk
So, what exactly are organisations doing to destroy their employees’ emotional vitality? The #1 answer everywhere is stress – and there are three reasons why.
- Demands and obligations – Stressed people often cite the number demands and obligations placed upon them at work as a key cause of stress. What this tells us is that stress often originates from the design of work, with many employees finding themselves faced with ridiculous demands as a result of poor management and duplication of effort. To combat this, companies need to design work to manage the demands the demands placed on people and to reduce the amount of unimportant tasks people are required to perform.
- Discretionary time – My research shows that when it comes to stress, the issue is not the hours people work but whether they have the capacity to take time out to rejuvenate themselves. We could all work for 12 hours a day. In fact, many of us have been selected for our jobs because we have the ability to do so. The important thing is that we can’t do it all the time. What matters is not simply taking time off, but when we do it and whether we feel we can do so. There’s nothing wrong with expecting employees to be always-on as long as they know that is the nature of the job and they have ample time to recuperate.
- Constraint – If you ask what drives Gen Y workers what drives them mad at work, presenteeism is often the answer. Younger employees resent the need to stay in the office until 10pm and the constraint of having to be “seen”. In fact they find it upsetting, since working additional hours affords them little advantage. Crucially, this is not about flexible working but about job design and recuperation.
These issues matter because stress is a huge problem – one so big, it’s actually business risk. In fact next time you conduct a risk analysis, you should probably include stress on your risk list. And as you can see, job design is key when it comes to mitigating this risk.
The importance of the work-home cycle
As research by academics such as Hans-Joachim Wolfram shows, the work-home cycle also has a huge role to play when it comes to managing and combating stress. This cycle can be either caustic and draining, or positive. Work doesn’t have the monopoly on stress – a person’s home life can be stressful too – but for the most part, people leave home feeling authentic and resilient at home because it is a place where they can feel authentic and have the opportunity to recuperate in a supportive environment. However, if people leave home feeling guilty or anxious, it can affect their stress levels at work. By the same token, if an individual leaves work feeling networked, inspired by things they have learnt, this has a positive spillover into their home life: in this context, work is good and the knowledge and connections gained there can be a source of support for the family.
To get the balance of the work-home cycle right, organisations need to stop thinking about work and home as two unconnected spheres, because they are incredibly connected. Companies must think about how they support families and about whether employees have enough scope to ensure a cycle of positive spillover.