Archive | November, 2016

Identifying your Blind Spots: psychological influences on decision making

10 Nov

Dr Chia-Jung Tsay from UCL School of Management is also a trained musician. Her research tried to find out if we rely on visual over sound. As experts and leaders we might be unaware of how we make decisions regarding hiring, promotions, etc. You don’t believe this? Take a test here on unconscious bias.


Chia-Jung Tsay looked at the impact of visual information in individual performance, leadership and group performance. We are all vulnerable to psychological inclinations of this kind.

Initial findings:

  • Reported reliance on sound
  • Non-conscious dependence on vision
  • Sound discarded as noise

Why do we select certain visual winners over others? You tend to look at who was the most confident. If you are then the perception is that you are more qualified. Who was the most passionate? ‘Passion’ tends to be the most important factors in Chia-Jung’s research. The visual passion is so evocative, that we might hire a candidate because of that and not because of what they said.

Chia Jung’s research looked at music or pitch competitions and when people were shown the silent visual video they were able to identify the right winner. Visual was more important than the sound/content of the music or pitch competitions.

In summary:

Experts are trained and societal institutions are constructed to identify, develop, and reward the highest levels of achievement. We trust that professionals can judge performance through their specialized knowledge. Yet, experts are just as vulnerable as novices to the dominance of visual information (vision heuristic) and the influence of beliefs about the source of achievement on the perception and judgment of talent (naturalness bias). Given their effect on professional evaluation and decision-making, such biases can affect how organizations select and recruit top talent.



Using Insights from Behavioural Science to Improve Business Performance

9 Nov

Hilary Scarlett is an international speaker, consultant and author explaining that the purpose of the session is to look at insights from behavioural science and neuroscience into what helps us perform at our best and what gets in the way.

Our brains are not designed for the 21st century workplace. Our brains have not changed that much, but work has. One part of the brain that has evolved is the part of the brain deals with emotional control. Our brain wants us to survive. Minimise threat and maximise reward. If we have the following 6 factors, people will perform better…

  1. Self-esteem
  2. Purpose
  3. Autonomy
  4. Certainty
  5. Equity – all about fair treatment and trasparency
  6. Social Connection – we would not make it if we didn’t have someone looking after that.

Autonomy and Choice: Need to have a sense of control. In one elderly home people that were allowed to look after the plants, choose how to have their room, etc. were happier and more likely to be alive than an elderly home that had things dictated to the residents.

Certainty is hugely important to the brain. You speculate about change and lose a great amount of energy if you don’t have it.

Now onto how SABMiller has done this year based on neuroscience findings. Samantha Rockey on stage. SABMiller wasthe second largest brewer in the world and over the last year they have been involved in the biggest acquisition in UK history. From 11th November 2015 until recently the organisation was effectively ‘under threat’. When organisation are acquired two things happen: you don’t have control over your destination. The second thing is that your whole understanding of the world starts to shift and it starts feeling a bit like the American Elections this morning. How do you draw on the skills from behavioural science to navigate a very confusing time for a lot of colleagues? That was the leadership challenge that SABMiller faced. You have to recognise the huge learning opportunity that comes from it.

What is keeping you awake at night? Personally ‘Brexit’ and the exchange rate do make me worry. It is true that I have no control over this, but you do end up thinking about it. Our brains crave certainty and understanding and sometimes it isn’t possible. ‘Hoping that something won’t happen’ isn’t enough. How does strength based development help? You tend to see a reduction of stress and a general uplift. Employees are empowered to find their own way for development. SABMiller helped them identify what their strengths were.

SABMiller also created ‘hope’ for the future and putting small achievable goals in place. You need to acknowledge uncertainty. Sometimes you need to give bad news and once people understand the news, then they can plan around them. Line managers are terrified of colleagues bursting into tears, however adult to adult conversations rarely result in that. You need to have that honest talk. Help leaders deliver the news as they are. When you treat people as grownups, you shift the conversation to a much more productive space.

When people go through an acquisition you do find a rise of cortisol, so physiologically you will be going through a lot of stress. SABMiller was conscious of this and they encouraged people to manage this through sleep, nutrition, exercise, focus and growth mind set. This should be part and parcel of what organisations do anyway in order to build resilience ahead of tough times.

People are told to leave emotions at the door, before stepping in the office and that is unreasonable. Bring the emotions back into the workplace. What are you thinking? and What are you feeling? Those two questions open up some deep conversations. People experience change cycles in different ways and at different times. There was a huge relief in asking those questions and having those conversations. Give the licence to use emotional language at work. Move from data to feelings.

The clear and powerful nuggets that we can take from this session are that:

  • Preparing for resilience is the new competitive edge and requires continuous focus.
  • Leadership development is a key lever in building resilient organisations.
  • Small behaviour shifts can support large scale transformation and change.

Collaboration, Innovation and Creativity in the New World of Work

9 Nov
Key note speaker at #CIPDACE 16, Margaret Heffernan. Apologies for the typos, I am trying to beat Ian Pettigrew to it this year 🙂
Margaret starts by telling us about an experiment between 2 flocks of chickens. An average flock of productive chickens and a flock where one super productive chicken gets added to the group… After some time we discover that the first flock was more successful, whilst in the second flock, all chickens but 3 were dead…
The productivity of the few had been achieved by suppressing the productivity of the rest. 
A super chicken does not help. for the last 50 years we have run organisations like the super flock of chickens. We have created spectacular talent contests to identify and promote them. We have discovered that the productivity of the few was achieved by suppressing the productivity of the rest. We have done in our schools and companies and we find exactly the same as William Mure found. Aggression, devastation and waste. Why doesn’t it work? We didn’t start this because we thought it would fail… Darwin didn’t say that success lies with the brutest or the most aggressive. He said the most adaptive succeed. Problems are to complex to be solved by super men, or super chickens… Team work is really important. We do need teams to create something different that we haven’t seen before. How do we do that? We all have experience of working in a team that cannot get things done. And some teams achieve anything. So, what is the difference? Tom Malone at MIT tried to figure this out. The most successful teams were not the ones with the higher IQ. Also not the ones with a few IQ superstars. The teams that were really good shared 3 characteristics: 1) Score more highly on test for empathy. You are thinking about each others. Collective minds and intelligence. 2) The really successful teams tended to get the full participation of every members. No passengers. No dominating voice. 3) The really successful teams had more women in them. It may be that women score more highly on empathy… What really matters is what happens between people. In practice this means that one of the salient characteristics of really successful businesses is helpfulness. Not a sexy word, but it means that have a room of super smart people that share their ‘Know How’.

Helpfulness is fast, efficient, safe… everyone has a higher level of confidence and expertise that wasn’t there before. Fundamental to it is the idea of sharing information because that is what people do when they work genuinely together. ‘Social Physic’ has been recommended by Margaret as a book to read. The author discovers that inside every network there are people that seem to know everybody… The more of them, the more the information flows. It flows fast and accurately. As a test he convinces an organisation to do a 10 minute coffee breaks with a group of colleagues. From that group emerges a productivity increase that can be quantified in 10 million dollars. Helpful and collective intelligence of network organisation increases productivity. The productivity of the whole depends on the productivity of everyone, not just a few.
Margaret looks back at her experience at managing companies. She hired some great people, but the company wasn’t quite working out. In the UK she went to the pub with her colleagues after work, but in Boston it was different. So she encouraged colleagues to stand up on a Friday and introduce themselves. It was awkward initially, but Friday after Friday they started building relationships and things improved.
If you really want to measure the health of the organisation you need to test how fast important information flows. You need to start talking seriously the idea of ‘Social Capital’. Of course people work better together and when they work together they develop trust… Why now does this feel so urgent? It used to be that there was a time that we could safely make 5 year plans on pretty accurate fore-plans and predictions. It did work. It was like running a factory. Globalisation happened. A world that is complication is now complex. You cannot predict how complex systems work. You can’t safely make long term predictions. The safe window for accurate forecasting is 2 years. Shorter than it has ever been. All of those management systems based on predictions, won’t deliver. If you don’t create high levels of trust and a shared consciousness, then you cannot get anything done. That is the nature of complexity. Complexity is not chaos. There are certain behaviours that will get more out of a complex environment than others. What are those? They are fantastic listeners and ask fantastic questions. As a leader, try and sit in a meeting and do not say a word. Listening is really critical. Have the courage, patience and discipline to not interrupt. Giving people opportunity to contribute in other areas and not just their area of expertise. Problems are routinely solved by people working outside of the area of expertise. This is the unused capacity we have in our organisations. How do you get all of this fantastic thinking out of the head of these fantastic colleagues. What are the barriers that are keeping people trapped? What is stopping them achieving their potential? Is we stop the debates, we stop the organisation finding solutions. In an unpredictable, complex world, we are going to make mistakes. Of course we are. Complex environments reveal themselves through experimentation. You need to look at the failure and learn from it. Every decision is just a hypothesis about the future.
Are there any organisations that are doing all of this? Yes, Margaret found one in Seattle… Microsoft. It used to be super-chicken central. Scary track record. They needed to think differently about how they did work. Microsoft in the last 2 years has transformed itself spectacularly. They embraced very wholeheartedly the idea that talent and expertise is not fixed. You want a culture where every single person knows that they are there to learn. They understand that the more mistakes they make, the more they learn. Even the CEO at the beginning made a huge mistake…
Expertise alone is a starting point, not an end point. We want colleagues enthused with a love of learning. We have got to revisit and re-frame the issue of diversity. You need to cherish the difference between people. People not like you have a lot more to teach you. We have to prize curiosity. When we are interviewing people, let’s ask them different types of questions. Who got you here? If people think their success is only up to them, then that’s not great… Hiring managers are more like impresarios.
Massive institutional failures have been caused by knowledge that resided in the organisations, but had not been shared. We have to breakdown the bureaucracy and hierarchy. We are facing challenges that are not going to be solved by super men or super chickens. If we are going to build institutions that other people can trust, in a society that trust is normal, then we need to invest in each other. Our greatest success lies on how you connect with each other. The only way for an organisation to grow is by allowing our people to grow.

It’s that time of the year again – #CIPDACE16

4 Nov

It’s November and that only means one thing and no, it’s not the Red Cups from Starbucks or the German Christmas Markets popping up everywhere, it’s the CIPD Annual Conference. Wednesday 9th to Thursday 10th up here in chilly (wrap up warm!) Manchester. IMHO, this is the biggest and the best HR conference in the country.

Every year it offers the opportunity first and foremost to think about yourself and your own development. Us HR lot are the first to understand the importance of keeping up to date and learning, but we often forget to take the time out of our busy schedule to do so. We all need some time off to refocus.

This time last year, I was listening to Professor Cary Cooper talking about wellbeing. This prompted a blog post with some practical ideas on how to improve wellbeing at work. I knew last year that I was not leading by example. I realise now quite how badly I was looking after myself. I now know, looking back at how I was feeling this time last year, how much the office routine and my bad practices were really impacting on my health.

Reading the post today made me feel extremely proud of all the small adjustments that I have made and that have now become part of my routine and helped me feel better and perform better. I am mentally more resilient and I am happier. I am taking my lunch breaks, team meetings have been outdoors on nice days, I encourage colleagues to take breaks, have breakfast together and I’ve led by example. I’ve even joined our recently formed workplace choir!

I’ve realised in the past 12 months of how lucky I am to work for a company that will allow colleagues to sing for an hour a week, an organisation that allows yoga classes to go ahead, an office with free fruit around every corner and free breakfast. I know not all of us work for companies like mine, however it does start somewhere and it usually needs to start from the top. Are you a HR Director? Then if you campaign for a choir or fitness classes, you may even get a sign off and approval to go ahead. (please note that you may also get shouted at and lose your job…)  You can make things happen and then you can also lead by example. If you join the choir, this will encourage many more to do so and the company’s culture will slowly start changing. I’m seeing this happening every day. Are you a HR Manager? Then take your breaks, let your guys go home a bit earlier if they have worked hard for you and mainly lead by example.

I am excited to find out how #CIPDACE16 may change my life this year. I am looking forward to catching up with the rest of the blog squad that by using the above hashtag will keep the content coming your way in case you cannot make up your mind on what session to attend. No need to stress about it, we have it covered and you will be able to read up on what you have missed. I look forward to talking some more about change, uncertainty, Brexit, as this is already having an impact on our workforce and I look forward to the more light-hearted sessions like ‘Humour and Happiness for More Engaged and Effective Teams’. And I am really looking forward to hearing my first Italian keynote speaker and getting involved in all the fun events around the conference. Have a look at Gemma’s post here for 10 things to do.


And just in case you need somewhere to reflect on all the great things you have learned or you need to catch up on some blogs on the Thursday night before heading home, Manchester has indeed got German Christmas Markets opening that day.