Healthy people = healthy profits

Wellbeing and mental health are trending topics and for good reason! Many individuals and organisations are campaigning to end the stigma around mental health by raising awareness of the issue and fighting for better treatment and support being made available.

And businesses are catching on. More organisations than ever before are prioritising employee wellbeing and mental health over company profits. And this change in business approaches is yielding exceptional results.

Reduction in healthcare costs
It goes without saying that healthy employees cost you less. Most organisations pay out around $13,000 per employee on healthcare costs every year. And if you have an employee count of over 1,000…well, you do the maths. It doesn’t take a genius to work out that, when it comes to health, prevention is nearly always better than cure.

For many organisations, introducing office perks such as standing desks, healthy snacks, mental health treatment, gym memberships, and mindfulness initiatives have been great ways to support mental health and reduce health issues resulting from a sedentary lifestyle. “High-powered professionals often prioritise work over their own health. As laudable as this is, it can be unsustainable,” says Kayla Gill, content director at LuxuryRehabs.com. “It’s possible to achieve your goals while still living a healthy life.”

People want to work for ethical companies and so adopting these kinds of programmes can provide the added bonus of attracting and maintaining top talent

The rise of obesity and stress can have an extremely negative effect on employee performance. So, by taking proactive steps and caring for the mental and physical wellbeing of your team,you will see a reduction in medical claim costs and employee absences.

Improve recruitment and retention

Employees who are unhappy leave their workplace in search of somewhere better. Organisations that don’t prioritise the mental health of their employees will see a higher rate of employee turnover and find it harder to retain their top talent. Turnover costs US employers over $1 trillion a year.

Creating health programmes and enforcing wellness activities for employees are great ways to provide a healthy outlet for managing stress. This can make for a happier working environment. And a happier team means a more engaged and satisfied one.

What’s more, adopting health and wellness programmes shows potential employees that you are an ethical company that cares about treating people right and supporting them in all aspects of their lives.

People want to work for ethical companies and so adopting these kinds of programmes can provide the added bonus of attracting and maintaining top talent.

Boost productivity and engagement

Employees that are dissatisfied at work and struggling with their mental health will often be less productive and struggle to engage. Companies that prioritise employee wellbeing will see the mental health of employees improve, as well as their resilience to stress, their decision-making, their relationships with colleagues, and their approach to work.

Employee engagement is the gold standard for business success. Engaged and highly motivated employees will always do their best work and tend to go above and beyond what is required of them. Employee wellbeing and good engagement and productivity rates go hand-in-hand. One affects the other. Employees whose wellbeing in the workplace is prioritised are twice as likely to be engaged and productive at work.

If you aren’t investing in the mental health and wellbeing of your employees, you should be. Better mental health means boosted employee productivity and engagement, ultimately leading to higher profits and success for your business.

Better customer service
The better your customer service, the more customers you will attract and retain. Great customer service is central to the success of your business. Organisations that excel in customer service see the results of their efforts in the financial success of their businesses.

However, the success of your customer service will depend on the mental health and wellbeing of your employees. An overworked, stressed, or struggling employee will ultimately result in poor customer service. And this can hurt your brand reputation.

In contrast, employees that are well looked after and have high wellbeing tend to provide far better customer service, show more enthusiasm for their job, and be more productive in their role. These factors alone can boost business turnover and help win and retain high numbers of new customers.

Improve brand reputation

As a brand, if you support the mental health and wellbeing of your employees, it won’t take long for others to hear about your efforts. Employees love to shout from the rooftops about organisations they work for that allow for benefits such as flexible working hours, unlimited holidays, gym memberships, health insurance, and paid therapist appointments.

Organisations that provide the mental health of their staff are more likely to be highly favoured by their team, potential employees, and their customers. When people know that you care they are more likely to care about you, too. And in order to grow your business, you want people to care about it. So, supporting the mental health and wellness of your team is a great place to start.

Final words
Prioritising the mental health and physical wellness of your employees doesn’t just benefit them, it can also benefit your business. Healthier employees are happier employees and that means better job satisfaction, higher motivation levels, and increased company loyalty.



Redefining presenteeism in the workplace

Matt Jenkins argues that there are many reasons why people feel they can’t bring their “real self” to the workplace, which affects their productivity and retention of talent.
Many are familiar with the phrase “”Presenteeism‘As a person who gets a job even if he is ill. From coughs and colds to burnout and illness, people who go to work are less engaged and can be distracting.With vitality Reported by the BBC in June of this year Eighty-three percent of workers reported that presenteeism was present in the workplace. The quarter says it has deteriorated over the past year. There is no doubt that presenteeism is becoming an increasing threat to businesses around the world. However, there is a whole new category of presenteeism that needs to be considered. The idea is that an individual feels that he or she cannot bring his or her true self into the workplace, such as an extroverted or introverted personality, a sexual orientation, or a true expression of race or culture.

Hidden employee
Last year’s report from the Bureau of Higher Education Statistics (Hesa) found that African-American and Caribbean-black graduates were 6.3 points and 7.9 percent less likely to be satisfied with their work than white graduates.This is in addition to CIPD study found that LGBT + employees are more likely to experience workplace conflicts It’s more harassing than heterosexual or cisgender opponents.

Before Covid-19, there was a commonly held understanding of what it meant to be ‘present’ at work – it typically meant daily attendance at a particular office building. The term presenteeism was coined to describe the phenomenon at its extreme, and most work activities were based on co-location in a physical space. In fact, most forms of career advancement were generally considered to depend entirely on physical presence in the workplace for a regimented period of time.

However, since Covid-19 accelerated pre-existing trends towards more remote and flexible working, the concept of being ‘present’ at work has shifted. The pandemic eroded the concept that presence relies on physical co-location because for the past 18 months employees have had no choice but to be ‘digitally present’ as they work more flexibly across a range of settings, including their home.

The flexibility of work has not only impacted the space we work in, but also time. ‘Presence’ was once synonymous only with synchronous work, in which people work together on things at the same time (usually at a single office location). Now it is also an aspect of asynchronous work, in which work doesn’t happen at the same time for everyone and the cloud is the key location.

The workplace of the future

It is increasingly becoming clear that this redefinition of presence asks new questions of the office building. It can no longer be a dumb and unresponsive container for work activities carried out synchronously by a workforce that is physically attendant on a consistent and unchanging basis. In the post-pandemic era; it must become a smart and connected entity that can curate and manage the interactions of an office population whose presence will fluctuate with demand and reflect more unpredictable working patterns.

The pandemic has raised several debates in corporate real estate teams about the purpose of the office. While there is no single answer to this conundrum, the universal response in that the corporate office building will remain of critical importance as a hub to build culture and generate social capital, to seed innovation and train staff. But it will no longer be the only channel for work and it will no longer require daily attendance. In what some commentators have described as ‘omni-channel working,’ employees will work in the future via multiple channels. The task of the office building will be to become a ‘destination of choice’ that brings the right people together at the right time with the right tools for certain face-to-face activities.

The future-ready connected office

If ‘presence’ in the workplace is no longer a one-dimensional idea, but an increasingly multi-faceted one, then a stable, effective and unobtrusive digital infrastructure is needed to underpin all the emerging considerations around hybrid ways of working. Software and systems architecture need to seamlessly plug into the physical workplace and connect to other systems to work effectively and seamlessly to create the most flexible and collaborative work experience. Smart systems should be modular and scalable, so that companies can test the principles of the connected office at a basic level and be future-ready to scale up. In this context, the use of LED connected lighting with embedded IoT (Internet of Things) sensors makes a lot of sense from an operational and design perspective.

Academic research in the field of environmental psychology suggests that the continuing endurance of the office building is because it enables us to invent, collaborate, and learn together most effectively. There are fundamental psychological reasons why we need to be physically co-located to support creativity and innovation. As researchers Carlo Ratti and Matthew Claudel predicted in the Harvard Business Review in 2016: ‘Human aggregation, friction, and the interaction of our minds are vital aspects of work, especially in the creative industries. And that is why the quality of the physical workplace is becoming more crucial than ever.’

After the pandemic, the quality of the physical workplace will increasingly include smart systems and software to connect the infrastructure as part of a collaborative ecosystem. A shift in what it means to be present at work has seen to that



A new role for business leaders: Moral integrator

Claire was looking forward to the long holiday weekend. After two brutal weeks of late nights and early mornings getting ready for a new product launch, dealing with supplier disruptions in China, and managing a sudden labor shortage in Germany, the Fortune 500 CEO was ready to catch her breath and spend some quality time with her family. The plan was to leave first thing Saturday morning to beat the traffic headed to the shore. Instead of the alarm, though, Claire awoke to her cellphone buzzing. It was her company’s general counsel. The night before, one of the company’s top executives had been recorded drunkenly berating a waiter in racist and homophobic terms. Posted to TikTok within minutes, the video had already amassed more than 2.5 million views and was spreading like wildfire across Twitter and Facebook. Social media commentators were demanding action, institutional investors were calling, and requests for comment were flooding in from major news outlets. “Claire, how do you want to handle this?” asked the lawyer on the other end of the line.

In the past, few executives might have considered addressing social issues as part of their job description. Now, in an era when a single tweet can obliterate US$4 billion of a company’s value, it’s become even more important for leaders to understand how to negotiate this sensitive territory: in fact, it’s a business imperative. Executives need to know how to make sense of and engage with these issues so they can simultaneously deliver business results that satisfy shareholders, build trust with their employees, and meet the expectation many have that organizations are responsible for driving more equitable outcomes for society.

And the issues on the table are expanding rapidly. We saw this when North Carolina passed a bill in 2016 banning transgender people from using bathrooms in public buildings that did not correspond with their birth sex. Payments firm PayPal responded by curtailing its investments in the state, and performers canceled concerts and events. Amy Cooper, an employee of financial-services firm Franklin Templeton, was summarily dismissed by the company in 2020 after social media channels exploded with outrage over a viral video of her racially charged altercation with a Black bird-watcher in New York’s Central Park. More recently, when state legislatures proposed laws to restrict voting rights in Georgia, locally headquartered companies Delta Air Lines and Coca-Cola eventually came out against the move, following heated public debates. Underlying these demands is the notion that businesses have certain moral and ethical obligations to the public.

More PwC insights

Ten Years to Midnight
Increasingly, ordinary people, customers, employees, suppliers, and even social media influencers expect leaders to speak out and act ethically, and immediately, when it comes to issues of justice and equity in their organizations—and in society at large. These emerging leadership challenges cannot be delegated or outsourced if companies are to build and retain stakeholder trust. And they most certainly weren’t on the radar when most of today’s executives were in business school or working their way up the corporate ladder. No, these new challenges require a fundamental shift in how business leaders understand and practice ethical leadership.

The present conceptualization of ethical leadership considers leaders as moral individuals within their organization (and increasingly in society). But it does not address how to bridge the gap between internal and external stakeholders’ expectations. The negotiation of this complex set of relationships requires the integration of what might appear to be competing codes and values: the fiduciary responsibility to maximize investment returns versus the moral obligation to fulfill the organization’s stated purpose and contribute positively to the external world. It’s a difficult balancing act. For example, retrofitting manufacturing plants to cut carbon emissions in support of environmental sustainability goals may be the right thing to do. But it can cost a company hundreds of millions of dollars in upgrades and lost productivity, negatively affect quarterly earnings, erode the balance sheet, and depress share price.

CEOs, rather than being heroes or charismatic leaders, have to become moral integrators: people who recognize this tension and have the self-awareness to use collaboration and listening skills to navigate a world in which accountability is defined in different ways by different audiences.

Defining ethical leadership
Morals are an individual’s standards for right behavior. Ethics are the codification of individuals’ morals that inform the decisions they make and the actions they take. For instance, a person who believes institutionally raising animals for food is morally wrong may choose to adopt an ethic of veganism.

CEOs, rather than being heroes or charismatic leaders, have to become moral integrators: people who have the self-awareness to navigate a world in which accountability is defined in different ways.

So, what is ethical leadership, and where does moral integration fit in? Ethical leadership came into its own starting in the early 2000s, largely in response to corporate scandals such as that at Enron, the high-profile energy company that collapsed owing to fraud. Historically, the academic literature has defined ethical leaders as both “moral persons,” meaning that they themselves act in a moral fashion, and “moral managers,” meaning that they foster an environment that inspires or compels others to behave morally.

This definition has since been enhanced by introducing the dimension of moral entrepreneurship, whereby leaders innovate new norms of behavior that contribute to society’s moral development and build stakeholder trust. Consider the CEO of Seattle-based Gravity Payments, Dan Price, who in 2015 instituted a $70,000 minimum salary among his employees, or the menstrual hygiene company that includes people of diverse gender expressions in its advertising rather than only cisgender (people whose sense of identity corresponds with their birth sex) women.

The operational and financial benefits of ethical leadership are significant and demonstrable. Studies show that ethical leadership improves the bottom line and produces returns. It directly combats corporate wrongdoing, such as financial fraud. There’s a link between ethical leaders and positive employee performance. When employees trust their leaders to act ethically, they are more willing to speak up when they see something wrong. The employees of ethical leaders tend to be more satisfied with their jobs and more willing to go the extra mile. In social psychology, that’s called organizational citizen behavior (OCB). OCB describes discretionary actions on the part of employees that are outside the formal performance management and compensation systems and beneficial (or intended to be beneficial) to the organization. For instance, OCB is demonstrated by that salaried employee who stays late and works over the weekend to help others meet a pressing deadline, or the one who volunteers to organize office-wide social events and brings homemade treats for team members’ birthdays. Ethical leaders increase OCB, and studies have demonstrated that OCB is a contributing factor to enhanced firm performance.

Two case studies
As part of my doctoral studies, I analyzed how organizations applied ethical leadership in response to publicized incidents of anti-Black racism involving their employees. The goal was to test the idea for the role of moral integrator. I focused on two cases that took place in the United States in the last three years within publicly traded companies. The cases followed the same basic pattern: a casual observer’s smartphone video of an employee demonstrating racist behavior went viral; social media users quickly identified the employee’s company and flooded its social media accounts with demands for an organizational response.

In one case, the event occurred in the workplace; in the other, it transpired outside the office, but the location did not appear to make a difference in how the public reacted. In both cases, the companies responded to the outcry with a mix of statements on social media, press releases, and traditional news interviews with corporate executives detailing the steps the company was taking to address the situation.

The employee in one of the cases was terminated as soon as the video went viral. In a video interview with a business news outlet, the company’s CEO discussed the decision to immediately fire the employee in terms of aligning management’s actions with the organization’s stated values, claiming “zero tolerance for any kind of racism.” Journalists questioned the CEO’s portrayal of the company’s ethos, noting that former executives and current board members had financially supported political candidates with ties to white nationalism and that the company’s track record of hiring and promoting underrepresented groups was abysmal.

In an open letter on the company’s website, the CEO repeated the importance of diversity and inclusion (D&I) to her personally and to the company, noting that D&I directly contributed to delivering superior service to clients and returns for investors. However, none of the company’s public quarterly or annual reports bore any mention of D&I. The topic was also absent from the two earnings calls following the event. Neither the company’s leaders nor the analysts raised it.

The response in this first case exemplified a lack of moral integration by the organization’s leaders. Although the CEO made the expected remarks in the media about the incident and about the company’s values, and the company acted quickly to discipline the employee, when it came to communicating with investors and proactively taking a stand on the issue of racism, the executives were silent. The message conveyed was that the company outwardly presented an image of caring about D&I but inwardly considered it irrelevant to investors. In other words, talk of anti-racism was a show for the public rather than a topic for the boardroom. The company’s response did not move the dial or signal that this was a watershed moment. To a degree, it came from a standard tool kit. Firing an employee for behavior that violates a company’s code of conduct is an established human resources practice.

Public reaction to the company’s handling of this incident was mixed. Members of the business press heaped praise on the CEO for being so passionate about D&I. Social media commentators lamented the lack of tangible outcomes, noting that firing a single employee and returning to business as usual did not address systemic issues. Ultimately, the incident and the company’s response did not appear to hurt earnings or share price. The executives lived up to their fiduciary responsibility to investors but not to the expectations of some stakeholders.

In the second case I examined, the executives approached their response differently. The employee was not terminated as a result of the incident. Rather than focusing on the employee, the CEO and other leaders concentrated on the broader issue of racism in business and society. They framed the event as management’s failure to properly train and educate employees about unconscious racial bias. “This is on me and my team,” said the CEO. Some cable news journalists questioned whether this response from the company would make it a target for activists looking to create trouble for prominent brands. One interviewer seemed to imply that the problem was the recording and sharing of the event rather than the incident itself. The executives dismissed this notion. Instead, they acknowledged that they could not eradicate racism because it was a systemic issue in society—but they could address it within their company. And they transparently put forth a plan to start driving change there. Moreover, they made their training curriculum freely available online for other organizations to use.

The incident and the cost the company incurred in responding to it were proactively discussed by the executives on the two earnings calls following the event and mentioned in the quarterly and annual reports. Most importantly, these executives were humble. They met with the individuals who were harmed in the incident and apologized. They also listened to concerns from community groups and publicly shared what they learned. The company’s earnings and stock price rose following the incident, and the company earned praise from stakeholders across the board.

In both cases, the executives were trying to perform a delicate operation of integrating their personal ethics with both the expectations of organizational stakeholders and their fiduciary responsibility to shareholders. These goals may not always seem to be aligned because of the costs involved in delivering to stakeholders in the short term. Companies know they must build and maintain trust with societal stakeholders by acting in accordance with evolving societal norms for ethical conduct. The recent focus on environmental, social, and corporate governance (ESG) programs and reporting reflects the awareness of this imperative among investors and analysts.

How to incorporate moral integration
How can CEOs both head off incidents that will spark a backlash and send messages that all stakeholders will accept?

In the two cases analyzed here, certain executives stood out because they simultaneously managed stakeholder and shareholder expectations, particularly regarding the ability of businesses to bring about social change in their organizations; and they listened to stakeholders and shareholders with discernment. They engaged in difficult conversations with individuals who had been harmed by the events involving their employees, and publicly acknowledged, with humility, the challenges their businesses faced.

They reframed the issue of corporate participation in efforts to promote social welfare as investments that benefited the business as well as society, not purely as an expense. For example, the CEO in the second case explained that the company was investing in its culture to directly enhance customer experience and said that this would drive revenue and market share—key contributors to share value. The CEO put the company’s actions into words that linked ethical leadership practices to fiduciary responsibilities in terms investors understood and could appreciate.

One way to emulate this approach is to learn how to have the right kinds of conversations. This is where coaching can help. Dialogue should not be performative, appropriated by corporations solely for the self-serving goal of enhancing organizational efficacy. Coaches can support organizational leaders in practicing ethical leadership by helping them make sense of these complex situations and then, through dialogue, creating lively exchanges and mutual understanding between groups with seemingly competing priorities.

Another element to encourage is heightened self-awareness. Self-awareness prepares leaders to better trust their instincts and act in alignment with their values. Both elements are critical to the practice of ethical leadership. In the second case study above, the self-aware leader instinctively acted with humility and tried to address the systemic cause of the problem: racism in society.

Self-awareness also improves resilience. The surest way to cause people to burn out is to make them do something for money they believe to be wrong. To engage in more effective and productive dialogue, leaders will need to develop a strong sense of how their words and actions affect others. Among the many ways to cultivate self-awareness, mindfulness is one of the most powerful. Mindfulness is often trivialized, despite neuroscientific research demonstrating its value.

Every day, executives are facing events and realities that require moral integration: viral videos of racist language from employees, pay equity concerns, sustainability targets, and ransomware demands, to name a few. They need the ability to operate beyond existing leadership practices. They need to understand how to connect in more authentic ways with stakeholders without compromising their integrity. As moral integrators, they can help influence their shareholders to accept initiatives aimed at advancing social justice by translating their actions into terms compatible with their fiduciary relationship. Similarly, organizational leaders can work with stakeholders to understand their concerns and desires for change and identify approaches for implementing solutions. Ultimately, these approaches can deliver results that build trust in society and produce sustainable shareholder value.



The Power of Sign Language to Create a More Connected and Inclusive World

Like most college and university presidents, I find this fall to be an especially promising time as our schools have resumed face-to-face instruction across the country. We no longer take for granted the power of learning in the physical presence of others. While learning can be effectively achieved virtually, after the hiatus of face-to-face learning for many of us over the past 18 months, we enter this new academic year with a deeper and more profound appreciation for the physical presence of our communities. Language is central to all of this.

At Gallaudet, our reunion this fall on campus is especially poignant and perhaps more deeply cherished. For our linguistic minority that uses and learns through both American Sign Language (ASL) and reading and writing English (bilingual education), being back on campus means restoring our 3D visual language and learning experience and our visual sign language vibrancy. When the Covid-19 pandemic hit, we seamlessly shifted our entire educational mission into the cloud, into the digital virtual world, including our pre-K-12 educational programs. However, a majority of our students left campus to reside in predominantly spoken language environments and maintained their lifeline to the signing visual experience through video screens. Once the screen is turned off, so too, is their access to the visually vibrant signing campus. While we were able to replicate much of our sign language vibrancy online, we lost the 3D and physical vibe that we achieve when we gather and socialize, whether it’s intentional and planned or just incidental meetings in the halls or on our campus grounds.

Access to language and communication is a fundamental human right, one that all too often is denied to deaf, hard of hearing and deafblind people. Only one to two percent of deaf children worldwide have access to education in sign language. For centuries, sign and spoken language have been set up as rivals inchild development, language planning and deaf education, presenting parents with a stark binary option, pick either spoken language or sign language, denying too many children the full range of options to support their language, brain growth andlifelong well-being. Consequently, policies and practices have missed the opportunity to support families and children,embracing the full possibilities that can be achieved if every child — not only deaf, hard of hearing and deafblind children — receives exposure to sign and spoken languages. Sign language is not only beneficial for those born deaf. Most adults will suffer from late hearing loss after the age of 55. Knowledge of sign language, far more than most people realize, is a universal imperative.

At Gallaudet in 1960, a team of researchers proved that ASL was a language in its own right. Today, on our campus and in the Gallaudet neighborhood, you see the power and vibrancy of sign language everyday with both hearing and deaf people. Many of the nearby businesses have signing employees, as well as visuocentric menus and point-of-sale terminals. On H Street there is a signing Starbucks, a deaf-friendly Chase branch, and Mozzeria, a deaf-founded and deaf-staffed Neapolitan pizza restaurant. Just a few blocks away is the Apple Store at Carnegie Library with nearly two dozen deaf employees. We are seeing the power of how American Sign Language strengthens our community and brings us together in new and inclusive ways. Late deafened people and their families can now find settings where they can naturally immerse themselves in sign language to build a more inclusive family experience for everyone.

Our sign language economy in the United States is big business. It brings economic value to our cities and our neighborhoods. Our local and state bilingual education programs create thousands of jobs for deaf and hearing people who are bilingual. Colleges and universities across the nation generate more than$43 million in revenue from teaching ASL, with Gallaudet training most teachers for these programs through our Master of Arts in Sign Language Education program. Gallaudet is proud of the fact that our university and our alumni have played a major role in building a sign language economy in the U.S. now worth an estimated $2 billion to $3 billion.

There are many misconceptions surrounding sign languages. Just like there is no universal spoken language, sign language is not universal. There are hundreds of sign languages and dialects used throughout the world, including ASL, Black ASL, and protactile sign languages used by deafblind people

The human experience and research affirm that the brain does not prioritize spoken language over sign language. Science has shown that the brain recognizes sign languages and spoken languages equally. Science also has shown the benefits or “gain” of learning visual language on brain development, including enhanced reading skills and comprehension, improved complex brain functioning especially with math and music, even protection against diseases like Alzheimer’s. Importantly, research on how human brains produce language on the eyes and hands as effectively as through the ears and mouth is changing our understanding of the impact of visual learning and visual language on the development of the brain and children.

Sign languages are currently enjoying a moment in the spotlight, from the myriad of deaf actors using sign language in recent movies such as CODA and television shows such as New Amsterdam and This Close, to the use of certified deaf interpreters at recent COVID government briefings. All of this is welcomed, but these must not just be fleeting moments that fade once the cool factor wears off, an all too familiar experience for the deaf community. Sign language should be respected, embraced, valued the same as any other language each and every day.

More than ever, as Gallaudet has returned to campus and the classroom, I contemplate the power and vibrancy of sign language and its integral role not only in our students’ lifelong success but also in the creation of a more inclusive and connected world. As it has for 157 years, our university remains steadfast in its mission to expand bilingual learning opportunities across our students’ lifespan. By doing so, Gallaudet will continue to help the broader world more fully recognize, respect and embrace the value of deaf, hard of hearing, and deafblind people and their contributions to our world.

But Gallaudet and the broader deaf community cannot do this alone. Our world needs a sign language mind shift, a profound societal awakening that access to any language, signed or spoken, is ultimately about the fundamental right to human connection – connection that we all rightly expect, need and enjoy – connection that is so central to our life and liberty.

Fittingly, the theme of this year’s International Day of Sign Languages was “We Sign for Human Rights.” I invite all of you to be our partners as we grow the signing ecosystem and cultivate opportunities in the local, national, and global economies. What can you do? Befriend your deaf, hard of hearing and deafblind neighbors and colleagues, take ASL classes, support deaf organizations and businesses, hire deaf talent, and immerse yourself in the vibrant signing culture close to where you live and work. We all will be enlightened through our shared experiences and the far more connected and inclusive world that we create together.



How Entrepreneurs Solve the Big Fish vs. Big Pond Dilemma

ollaboration with a partner is not strictly a two-way affair; instead, prospective partners take the entire competitive landscape into account when forming ties.

In the movie Jerry Maguire, a sports agent played by Tom Cruise is fired from his top agency after openly criticising its impersonal approach. He is forced to go it alone, but all his clients desert him, preferring to continue to be represented by a large, established organisation. That is, all except American footballer Rod Tidwell (played by Cuba Gooding Jr), who feels his career could use more personalised attention.

While movie-goers know that, indeed, things end well for Tidwell, an important question remains: When striking a partnership, is it better to be a big fish in a small pond, or a small fish in a big pond? In a paper published in the Academy of Management Journal, my co-authors* and I looked at the particular case of developers and publishers of PlayStation2 (PS2) video games, at a time when self-publishing of titles was not yet an option and developer-publisher ties were necessary to commercialise a game. We found that the level of experience of developers and the relative uncertainty they faced in terms of getting personalised attention from a publisher were driving much of their decision to seek a certain “pond” size.

Two conflicting goals requiring a trade-off

Akin to the book industry with its authors and publishing houses, the video game industry involves developers that propose game concepts and initial development, and publishers that provide late-stage development and access to markets. Out of the 163 PS2 games which have sold more than 1 million units, only 30 were published directly by Sony, the manufacturer of the console.

When partnering up, developers typically seek two things. On the one hand, they want a close collaboration in order to develop the very best product there is. In an extremely crowded video game market, an average product may essentially be a “dead fish”, so to speak. (Over 3,800 game titles have been released for the PS2.) On the other hand, developers would also like to secure the largest market access. After all, how sad if no one ever hears about their newly launched PS2 game.

The problem is that meeting both goals to the highest degree is unrealistically difficult. Large publishers with strong connections to retailers and which are able to organise vast launch campaigns often attract many high-calibre partners. As such, a partner may not receive a lot of personalised attention. Especially if many other, stronger developers work with the same publisher. A trade-off is usually necessary.

We collected data on 367 developers of PS2 games and 170 publishers between 2000 and 2009, the time period when console games were most popular. The majority of our sample firms were based in the three countries that dominated the industry: Japan, the United States and the United Kingdom. Our data collection strategy enabled us to build a comprehensive dataset on the activities of the mostly private developers and publishers in the industry.

We supplemented our data analysis with two waves of in-depth interviews. We found that younger or newer entrepreneurs focused on getting development help and worried less about reaching the largest number of consumers. This point was particularly salient for early-stage developers. As one of them told us: “When you’re innovating … there’s always some snag and always some complication that you did not foresee. It is crucial than [an established firm] is going to support you.”

Keeping an eye on the other horses in the race

In addition, the more competitive the market – i.e. the more developers are out there competing for publisher attention – the more a novice entrepreneur might be concerned about getting the proper level of attention that will ensure product differentiation. An interviewee said: “You have to worry about the competitive set that the publisher supports. The publisher may have great capability in your title because they also publish your major competitor. Then you have to ask yourself, is it going to lead them to prioritise your project lower.”

After all, entering a collaboration is only the first step. Securing the desired resources from the partner/publisher is not always guaranteed. Established firms in technology industries may sign more developers than they can eventually support, a fact that is not lost on these entrepreneurs. The number and the quality of the “other horses in the race” create uncertainty – and a definite threat – for developers. As a matter of fact, our data showed that when a developer ranked lower than average (in terms of the quality of its previously published games), it was 26 percent more likely to have its projects cancelled than its higher-ranked peers.

In all, experienced entrepreneurs who didn’t expect to need as much support based on their track record were willing to give up almost four times as much development help as inexperienced developers to secure better market access. Of course, publishers do not wait around to be chosen. Naturally, established publishers with high market access also prefer to partner with experienced developers, reducing their risk of needing to toil over duds.

Collaboration is more dynamic than it may seem at first glance

Although our dataset concerns the video game industry, our results apply to other types of entrepreneurs who need to form collaborations, partnerships or other types of ties to go to market. These include content creators of any kind partnering with platforms or other market intermediaries that may help refine their products. Biotechnology entrepreneurs partnering with pharmaceutical firms to hone their products and gain market access are another great example.

In fact, we all face the big fish/big pond dilemma more often than we realise. When we take a job in a famous company, we accept the idea that we are (in all likelihood) going to be just one of the many very smart people working there. Standing out may prove difficult. Conversely, if we choose to work for a new start-up, we may rise rapidly, but our opportunity to shine outside the firm (through speaking engagements or media requests, for instance) may remain limited. In our personal lives, if we choose to befriend a very popular person, we may have to fight for their time and attention.

Any sort of collaboration entails a trade-off between our status, the status of the partners we have in mind, and the status of the other people interested in partnering with them. The process is a lot more dynamic than it seems. Depending on the competitive landscape, you may want your very own Jerry Maguire.



How To Be A Good Internal Consultant

As an internal consultant and a member of an internal consulting team (although “internal consultant” or “internal consulting” is not in our “official” job titles), my colleagues and I are often called on to lead, support, and offer coaching, consultation, or facilitation services on wide-ranging areas, projects, and initiatives including culture, change management, conflict management, leadership development, organizational development, learning & development, onboarding, and so much more. Indeed, now more than ever, today’s HR professionals play the role of internal consultants (Miller, 2016).

The Association of Internal Management Consultants (AIMC) says that an internal consultant provides various client support services within the enterprise. They may be in a variety of areas (e.g., project management, quality management, human resources, information technology, training & development, finance, supply chain management, process improvement, etc.).

According to Phillips, Trotter, and Phillips (2015), “The rapid rate of change coupled with heightened competition on a global basis is increasing the need for companies and public sector organizations to develop effective internal consulting capabilities” (p. 3).

Important competencies to be a successful internal consultant (Phillips, Trotter, & Phillips, 2015) include communication skills, feedback skills, problem-solving & analytical skills, and organizational skills. Additionally, several core consulting skills (AIMC, 2017) are needed, such as business acumen, business process optimization, change management, coaching & consulting skills, and project management.

If you want a company to value you as an indispensable internal consultant — especially in the human resources, talent management, and leadership development space — here are a few tips I’d like to share based on my work and experience as an internal consultant.

First, it doesn’t matter how smart or knowledgeable you are or how much experience you have or bring. If you want to excel as an internal consultant and have top corporate decision-makers listen to you, you’ll need to master the art of influence & persuasion — how to sell your ideas and convince leaders to go along with you. Leaders are short on time and attention. You must master the ability to be concise, to-the-point, and ensure that your timing is right. For instance, if you are advocating for a specific program or agenda, but it does not align with your organizations’ goals or senior leaders’ mindsets, it will be very unlikely your proposal will ever have a chance of getting off the ground. The ability to both gain senior leadership buy-in and support and navigate an organization’s hierarchy, politics, and culture is absolutely critical to an internal consultant’s success (Zentis, 2018).

Second, learn to be interpersonally savvy because it is “an essential part of getting things done within organization” (Barnfield & Lombardo, 2014, p. 235). “Interpersonal savvy helps you read and address relationships appropriately and at the right time” (Scisco, Biech, & Hallenbeck, 2017, p. 261). I have seen individuals with graduate education and degrees (i.e., knowledge) be terribly ineffective at internal consulting because they were unable or unwilling to move out of their comfort zone (i.e., relying solely or mostly on knowledge or technical skills, rather than being savvy enough to read the situation and the relationship and understand what others need and respond accordingly).

Third, a positive attitude goes a very long way in helping you gain social capital, as well as getting you to the table of these decision makers. Regardless of how smart, talented, or experienced you are, if you have a bad attitude and cannot get along with others, you will struggle to get senior executives to listen to you. They may accept your work or ideas but will never see you as a leader or a person with the potential to become one. You have to play nicely with others. Even if you are the resident “genius” and you know how to do everything, if your attitude sucks, no one will care what you have to say, even if you’re right.

Earlier, I shared important competencies needed to be a successful internal consultant. These included Communication Skills, Feedback Skills, Problem-Solving & Analytical Skills, Organizational Skills, Business Acumen, Business Process Optimization, Change Management, Coaching & Consulting Skills, and Project Management.

Here are 8 competencies (some of these will be identical, similar to, or complement the ones previously outlined, while others will be new and different) you can incorporate into your repertoire to help become an effective internal consultant:

From CCL Compass (Scisco, Biech, & Hallenbeck, 2017):

  1. Communication (p. 9) – “Listen, convey your ideas and emotions with clarity and authenticity, and adapt your personal speaking as needed for the situation and audience to foster an environment of trust.”
  2. Interpersonal Savvy (p. 261) – “You need interpersonal skills to recognize and assess what others need. These skills involve not only listening to others, but also include noticing social cues that communicate how others are thinking and feeling, even if they don’t say so outright.”
  3. Influence (p. 17) – “Your greatest leadership asset is your ability to understand and persuade others. Influential leaders know how to get others to work with them, whether or not formal authority exists.”
  4. Tolerating Ambiguity (p. 401) – “[I]n today’s business environment, ambiguity is pervasive and affects leaders at all organizational levels. . . . Learn to handle ambiguity comfortably and confidently and learn to anticipate situations rather than simply react to or retreat from them. Make peace with ambiguity and gain greater control over how you handle key decisions in daily situations and over your career.”

From Awaken, Align, Accelerate (Nelson & Ortmeier, 2011):

  1. Business Acumen (p. 159) – A leader with strong business acumen understands the global environment, business model, and key drivers of the organization, and leverages this understanding to recommend alternatives and measure performance.
  2. Building Collaboration (p. 285) – A collaborative leader participates with and involves others, promotes cooperation, builds partnerships, and resolves conflicts.
  3. Creating Alignment (p. 57) – An effective change leader creates alignment by ensuring the structure, systems, people, and processes are aligned in support of organizational goals.

From Bernholz and Teng’s Harvard Business Review article (2015):

  1. Be Entrepreneurial & “Be Scrappy” – In Bernholz and Teng’s article, in which they offered recommendations on how to build an in-house consulting team, one of their suggestions is “be scrappy” and adopt an entrepreneurial mindset. At EMC Information Infrastructure (EMC II, which has since been acquired by Dell), an information technology, storage & protection company, Bernholz (now VP, Head of Corporate Strategy at Adobe) and Teng (now VP of Global Business Transformation at Commvault) knew they didn’t have the luxury of having extensive support staff that external firms often enjoyed. So they made up for the staffing shortfall “by assigning all [internal EMC] consultants to an “office development” team, such as recruiting, training and onboarding, knowledge management, or social committee. Though these require time commitment beyond project-work, they offer team members the opportunity to shape the group’s operations and culture, instilling an entrepreneurial mindset among [internal EMC’s] consultants.”

Takeaway: Here’s my advice to those who wish to be outstanding internal consultants to organizations. To increase your chances of success: (1) Take a few steps back (figuratively) to really understand the issue or problem and absorb (like a sponge) everything you see, hear, and experience; (2) Build and maintain solid long-term relationships throughout the company; and (3) Work to connect the dots by thinking about and asking these questions: (a) “Why has this issue been a recurring one?” (b) “How many people or departments have an influence over this or play a key role?” (c) “Who truly holds the decision-making power and who are the influencers in the organization?”, and (d) “If others (inside & outside the company) have come up with a solution, why has it not worked?” By talking and listening to others, you will be in a great position to better know and understand the organization and the industry in which it sits. Finally, learn to get along and work well with others and be nice. If you are a jerk, you will have a very hard time providing internal consulting services.



Five actions to help your organization leap from survivor to thriver

A new generation of leading companies emerging from the pandemic crisis will operate by the rules of a new S-curve of growth.
To innovate at scale, organizations can take a future-back approach by using future scenarios to create a multi-horizon strategic roadmap.
Using data to understand the customer and moving from supply chains to supply networks will help companies innovate the unique experiences customers demand.
Since World War II, the global economy has followed an extended S-curve of growth. The foundation of this growth has primarily rested on the traditional value drivers of scope, scale and efficiency to measure performance and value.

However, within the last 10 years, we’ve begun to see a shift, both with the backlash against companies that ignore their systemic impacts on the world, and with the explosive rise of digitally-driven, hypergrowth “unicorn” companies that have exponentially raised expectations around the consumer experience and propelled valuations to new heights.

We expect another disruptive generation of leading companies to emerge from the current pandemic crisis, accelerating existing trends and creating new ones. They will operate by the rules of a new S-curve, where innovation timelines compress and ideation, prototyping, piloting and commercialization will happen in rapid cycles at global scale.

Examples of companies that leaped onto the new S-curve during the pandemic include a healthcare enterprise software company developing a video-based medical consultation service in 48 hours for healthcare workers in the UK, an African taxi start-up becoming a delivery service, and a Canadian biotech company that used its AI platform to identify drugs already FDA approved that had the potential to treat COVID-19.

These and other innovative companies have left behind the traditional drivers of scope, scale and efficiency in favor of long-term value creation to meet the dynamic demands of their customers or broader society. In following the path toward long-term value, organizations will need to build their performance using new transformational value drivers that put humans at the center of purpose and strategy, deploy technology at the speed where exponential benefits accrue, and innovate at scale to be at the forefront of reshaping industries and customer expectations.

innovation infograph
The magic of the next S-curve showcases solving challenges with creative approaches
Even before the pandemic, customer behaviors and preferences were shifting toward hyper-personalized, predictive and adaptive customer experiences. The pandemic, which has kept many people at home, has rapidly escalated these expectations. Customers want the companies they interact with to know who they are, what they want and how to deliver products and services that are of high value to their lives.

Companies that use data to gain a deep understanding of their customers and provide unique experiences — whether it’s individualized cancer care, custom-designed and 3D printed athletic shoes that provide a perfect fit or furniture that is ergonomically designed to relieve a customer’s specific pressure points — will exponentially accelerate along the next S-curve of growth.

To innovate at the speed and scale they’ll need for success, companies will have to transform strategically, digitally and operationally.

Companies that use data to gain a deep understanding of their customers and provide unique experiences will exponentially accelerate along the next S-curve of growth.

How EY can help
Strategy consulting
EY-Parthenon professionals recognize that CEOs and business leaders are tasked with achieving maximum value for their organizations’ stakeholders in this transformative age. We challenge assumptions to design and deliver strategies that help improve profitability and long-term value.

Read more
A future-back approach sets the strategy for innovating at scale
Innovating at scale along this new growth trajectory requires companies to take a future-back approach to strategic planning, as exponential value creators have done in previous times of crisis and change. Leaders of these companies look into the distant future and consider whether their business will be as relevant then as it is now. They then use their purpose to explore their opportunities and their vision to work future-back scenarios that make sure they are following a path where the priorities and actions of today are positioning them on a relevant and exponential trajectory for 15 or 20 years down the road.

With future scenarios as a starting point, companies can then create a multi-horizon strategic map that charts a course from the future back to today. The latest EY Megatrends report is a think-tank research report on global futures and highlights five steps for developing a future-back strategy using megatrends as a foundation. The concept of future-back planning results in an ability to break free from past assumptions, explore megatrends that will change the world and identify weak signals beginning to reveal the future. From there, organizations can use that understanding, today, to develop a better strategic investment and transformation plans.

Future-back planning provides an opportunity to break free from past assumptions, explore megatrends that will change the world and identify weak signals beginning to reveal the future. Organizations can use that understanding, today, to develop a better strategic investment and transformation plans.

Data will be the differentiator between products and unique experiences
Technologically, companies looking to make the leap from middle of the pack to exponential value creators, will need to more effectively harness the reams of data they are already collecting and generate vast amounts beyond what we collect today.

In a recent EY study, 83% of digital transformation leaders understood the value their companies could gain from leveraging data and analytics insights to speed innovation. Even 70% of digital transformation laggards see the same value.

Understanding the value data can bring
of digital transformation leaders use data to help them innovate faster.

To be successful, organizational leaders need to see data as an asset worth investing in. Further, companies will want to act on the following three innovation imperatives, as outlined in How data can help you innovate when change is constant:

Assemble the right teams that have experience across strategic change, design thinking, data science and industry knowledge. They’ll be able to ask the right questions to get the right results.
Develop a human-centered innovation business model, operating model, and culture that embraces and drives change. Using data to augment the capabilities and experiences for people in innovative new ways is the key to realized value.
Deliver insights and results fast and have a clear plan for industrialization. Analytics sprints can help teams iterate through business questions, starting simply and becoming increasingly complex to support new innovations that can be embedded at scale.
Of course, any actions companies take to strengthen their data and analytics, and artificial intelligence capabilities will need to tie back to the future-back strategy the company has set.

Customer expectations propel operational value chains into an autonomous era
Operationally, value chains will need to evolve to keep pace with making innovations tangible and real in terms of products and services for customers. For years, companies have relied predominantly on efficient, just-in-time supply chains that mass produce products to ship in bulk to customers. In delivering hyper-personalized experiences, companies will need to move toward flexible, resilient supply networks that are highly responsive to local needs, and flexible enough to reconfigure and deliver new products and services quickly.

In a networked era, supply chains will be data-driven and allow for end-to-end visibility, hyper personalization and real-time communication. This will allow companies to manufacture uniquely designed, bespoke products at scale. Emerging technologies also will play a critical role in disruptive innovation by helping companies to make real-time decisions and integrate data to source, make, sell and deliver their products.

In an autonomous era, companies will produce products at or nearer to the source of consumption. In this new autonomous reality, items would be available to customers on-demand and in real-time by accessing the flow of intellectual property and production when needed and producing products in seconds.

If the goal is to deliver hyper-personalized experiences, companies will need to move toward resilient supply networks that are highly responsive to local needs, and flexible enough to reconfigure and deliver new products and services quickly.

Along the new S-curve, the beyond is closer than we think
Along the new S-curve of growth, innovating at scale will require companies to place humans at the center of their customer journey, develop a future-back strategy, harness their customer data to deliver unique experiences and turn their supply chains into networked then autonomous supply networks. By understanding individual customer needs and delivering at scale in real time, companies can find themselves leading the next generation of post-pandemic disruptors into a beyond that is closer than we think.


The Explosive Growth In Coaching: One Of The Biggest Trends In Business

This week BetterUp announced another $300M round of funding, valuing the company at $4.7 Billion. Recurring revenues are already over $100 Million this year more than doubling year over year. Vendors like SpringHealth (Unicorn on the therapy side of coaching), CoachHub (a fast follower to BetterUp), Torch (coaching integrated into L&D), and others are now riding this wave.

As Alexi Robichaux (CEO) puts it, the world of benefits, learning, and employee development have merged. And I really have to agree. And the “digital health” industry itself has received more than $20 Billion this year, showing how explosive this new combination can be.

If you think about it as a CEO, the connection is obvious. We want our employees to feel healthy, energetic, engaged, and ready. Our Employee Experience research points this out in detail: all these benefits programs come together.

Later this month we’re going to be launching a massive study on this market, one we call The Healthy Organization. And what you’re going to see is that wellbeing programs, coaching, development, and leadership coaching are all connected together. In fact the one silver lining of the pandemic is that it taught us all a big lesson: if you don’t focus on the “whole person” at work, all these individual HR programs don’t add up.

Consider what Alexi tells me about his clients (Chevron, for example). Before the use of coaching, managers had sporadic leadership development training and many of them just struggle to learn to lead. Remote workers and staff members try to “learn to deal with stress” on their own. The wellbeing strategy is clear at the CEO level, but the head of compensation and benefits often sees these as “programs” and measures results through utilization.

BetterUp, which integrates development, coaching, assessment, and career growth, ties all this together. So this massive spending on “benefits” (which sits in the comp department) and the similarly massive investment in training (which sits in L&D) can now come together.

Chevron: Precision Development At Scale

I’ve interviewed Chevron in detail and the impact of BetterUp is amazing. Let me share some details here.

Since the start of the program in July of 2020, more than 1,200 Chevron leaders received personalized development. The Net-Promoter score of the experience is +65 (my last study of corporate L&D found that the L&D function itself has a negative net-promoter score), and 94% of these leaders say “coaching makes them more effective at their job.”

And it gets even better. Through a new offering called Coaching Circles, Chevron leaders can come together in small global groups to discuss and learn through expert facilitated discussions. These programs have now reached more than 3,000 Chevron leaders in 15 languages.

Other benefits from leaders (analyzed through self-reflection and assessment) at Chevron include a 15% increase in employee recognition, 12% improvement in business alignment, 13% improvement in problem-solving, and 16% improvement in strategic planning.

And in the case of Chevron, this initiative has helped the company transform and improve its entire performance management process. As the energy industry goes through massive change, this benefit alone more than cost-justifies the investment.

Where Is All This Going?

As you’ll read about in our upcoming Healthy Company research, Wellbeing at Work has come a long way. Going back to the Cadbury employee health and living facilities in the 1800s, today companies want to provide an end-to-end “healthy experience” for employees.

This brings together the disciplines of employee engagement, development, job design, and coaching into one integrated view. Add a dose of technology, and you get AI-enabled coaching, “whole-person” assessment, and a myriad of digital health programs added on. It’s a new whole-person focus for employees, and this brings the entire function of HR together. All in the flow of work.

And the vendor market comes together too. Vendors like BetterUp, which focuses on the whole employee “system,” will transform the way we think about corporate training, wellbeing, and leadership.

As I’ve told people many times, if there’s one thing we’ve learned from the pandemic, it’s about the “unquenchable power of the human spirit.” When we give people the right support and a safe environment, they do amazing things for your company.

Start thinking about all your HR programs as investments in the “whole person” at work. It will pay off many times over.



Data Drop: Touchless Greetings, the Death of the Open Office and the Impact of Class on Collaboration

Returning to work was always going to churn up a mixed bag of feelings among employees and HR vendors are looking to get a sense of what those feelings are. Combine it with the ongoing wave of resignations, increased automation in the workplace and what you’ve got is a recipe for data telling you the story of how people are reacting to it.

As usual, my inbox is full of the latest studies and surveys being conducted by HR vendors, researchers and employers of all sizes. In today’s data drop, we’re going to take a closer look at how employees are coping with all these factors and what they aren’t looking forward to about going back to work.

No Touching
Remember the days of handshakes? Well your memory might be the only place they exist moving forward. After COVID-19, it’s only natural that a heightened awareness of contamination and swapping germs will be more commonplace. As employees return to work, employers are finding ways to give people more distance from each other or more opportunities to sanitize themselves and their environment.

When it comes to greeting each other, a Qualtrics study reveals that more than a third of employees say they’ll be using touchless greetings with colleagues, such as a wave or a friendly nod.

You might be tempted to think: what’s the big deal? It is after all, it’s just a greeting among people you already know. But the fact is, many employees have anxiety about the awkwardness of social situations and following proper etiquette when returning to the office. And for many of these people, this will be the first time they have met colleagues face-to-face. Around 57% of people surveyed said they would be meeting some colleagues for the first time when returning to the office.

While it may seem a small thing, this might be a good time to establish some norms around social etiquette, at least in the short term future while so much uncertainty swirls around COVID variants and how to ensure people are vaccinated.

Give Me My Space
As long as we’re talking about vaccinations, the folks over at interior design and architecture blog Homedit conducted a survey that revealed some concerns people have about the new workspaces they’ll be coming back to.

There were two really notable points to come out of it though. The first, was that 72% of employees feel that their employer should require some kind of proof of vaccination in order for someone to return to work. The data illustrates what many an HR professional knows to be true; the level of anxiety around COVID-19 has only eased somewhat following vaccine rollouts.

READ: Employee Experience Remains a Priority as Work Models Shift Post Pandemic

The second only illustrates their anxiety about being around each other further, with 83% of respondents saying they would prefer any other office layout than an open one. And science may have finally given us more of an understanding as to why that is.

A study released in June from the Journal of Management & Organization show that open office plans have a negative impact on employees. Specifically, it studied the impact of open office noise on cognitive performance, physiological stress and mood, monitoring things like heart rate, facial expressions and skin conductivity. The findings show a causal relationship between open office noise and physiological stress. People tended to sweat more and facial expressions show signs of tension.

After a year of people finding new levels of productivity and comfort working at home, plunging them back into any office environment could have negative impacts. If you’re absolutely certain returning employees to an office is what you want to do, you might want to consider ways to help them find spaces that ease stress levels. If you don’t, keep in mind that more than half of employees around the world are willing to find a new job if their employer eliminates the option to work from home at least part of the time.

Class Collaborators
Collaboration is a key component of a dynamic workplace these days and something that you find everyone from floor manager to C-suite executives talking about. It’s a skill that pops up in just about every job description these days and employers spend a great deal of time figuring out ways to facilitate and encourage collaboration.

Research published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology suggests that what drives someone to collaborate may not simply be their personality type, but their life experience, particularly as it relates to class. The study looked at groups of people from varying classes performing interdependent team work. What they discovered is that groups from lower social class backgrounds had conversations that were more wide-ranging, active and balanced than their middle and upper-class counterparts, something key to high team performance.

As the study notes, these people often fail to stand out as individual star performers in a divide and conquer approach to work, but when working as part of a collective are extremely effective.

Previous studies have revealed that in most collaborative environments, 3-5% of the employees involved were contributing 20-35% of the value add. Perhaps future research will draw a link between the two, but in any case, when looking at building teams that diverse in both culture and style, class may play a bigger part than you ever imagined.

Returning to work was always going to churn up a mixed bag of feelings among employees and HR vendors are looking to get a sense of what those feelings are. Combine it with the ongoing wave of resignations, increased automation in the workplace and what you’ve got is a recipe for data telling you the story of how people are reacting to it.

As usual, my inbox is full of the latest studies and surveys being conducted by HR vendors, researchers and employers of all sizes. In today’s data drop, we’re going to take a closer look at how employees are coping with all these factors and what they aren’t looking forward to about going back to work.

No Touching
Remember the days of handshakes? Well your memory might be the only place they exist moving forward. After COVID-19, it’s only natural that a heightened awareness of contamination and swapping germs will be more commonplace. As employees return to work, employers are finding ways to give people more distance from each other or more opportunities to sanitize themselves and their environment.

When it comes to greeting each other, a Qualtrics study reveals that more than a third of employees say they’ll be using touchless greetings with colleagues, such as a wave or a friendly nod.

You might be tempted to think: what’s the big deal? It is after all, it’s just a greeting among people you already know. But the fact is, many employees have anxiety about the awkwardness of social situations and following proper etiquette when returning to the office. And for many of these people, this will be the first time they have met colleagues face-to-face. Around 57% of people surveyed said they would be meeting some colleagues for the first time when returning to the office.

While it may seem a small thing, this might be a good time to establish some norms around social etiquette, at least in the short term future while so much uncertainty swirls around COVID variants and how to ensure people are vaccinated.

Give Me My Space
As long as we’re talking about vaccinations, the folks over at interior design and architecture blog Homedit conducted a survey that revealed some concerns people have about the new workspaces they’ll be coming back to.

There were two really notable points to come out of it though. The first, was that 72% of employees feel that their employer should require some kind of proof of vaccination in order for someone to return to work. The data illustrates what many an HR professional knows to be true; the level of anxiety around COVID-19 has only eased somewhat following vaccine rollouts.

READ: Employee Experience Remains a Priority as Work Models Shift Post Pandemic

The second only illustrates their anxiety about being around each other further, with 83% of respondents saying they would prefer any other office layout than an open one. And science may have finally given us more of an understanding as to why that is.

A study released in June from the Journal of Management & Organization show that open office plans have a negative impact on employees. Specifically, it studied the impact of open office noise on cognitive performance, physiological stress and mood, monitoring things like heart rate, facial expressions and skin conductivity. The findings show a causal relationship between open office noise and physiological stress. People tended to sweat more and facial expressions show signs of tension.

After a year of people finding new levels of productivity and comfort working at home, plunging them back into any office environment could have negative impacts. If you’re absolutely certain returning employees to an office is what you want to do, you might want to consider ways to help them find spaces that ease stress levels. If you don’t, keep in mind that more than half of employees around the world are willing to find a new job if their employer eliminates the option to work from home at least part of the time.

Class Collaborators
Collaboration is a key component of a dynamic workplace these days and something that you find everyone from floor manager to C-suite executives talking about. It’s a skill that pops up in just about every job description these days and employers spend a great deal of time figuring out ways to facilitate and encourage collaboration.

Research published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology suggests that what drives someone to collaborate may not simply be their personality type, but their life experience, particularly as it relates to class. The study looked at groups of people from varying classes performing interdependent team work. What they discovered is that groups from lower social class backgrounds had conversations that were more wide ranging, active and balanced than their middle and upper class counterparts, something key to high team performance.

As the study notes, these people often fail to stand out as individual star performers in a divide and conquer approach to work, but when working as part of a collective are extremely effective.

Previous studies have revealed that in most collaborative environments, 3-5% of the employees involved were contributing 20-35% of the value add. Perhaps future research will draw a link between the two, but in any case, when looking at building teams that diverse in both culture and style, class may play a bigger part than you ever imagined.



Five things freelancers must know about GST

The outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the adoption of technology and transformed the gig economy. Owing to the mounting uncertainty, people have switched over to freelancing. At present, India has the largest freelance workforce after the US.

A freelancer is a person who works independently and earns an income on a per-job or per-task basis. It could also be contractual, usually for short-term work. Freelancers work on multiple projects simultaneously for different clients. A freelancer is not an employee of any organisation and hence is not on pay-roll or entitled to any company benefits or perks.

Under the current Goods and Services Tax (GST) laws, any person supplying taxable services must be registered at the start from where they are providing such services. GST rate, as applicable to any other service provider (which is typically 18%), would also apply to such freelancers, based on the nature of services being provided.

GST affecting income
For registered freelancers, GST liability which is required to be deposited by them with the government is usually collected from the service recipient. This is over and above the value of services rendered by freelancers. While the same may result in slight working capital/cash flow issues with the time difference in payment to department viz-a-viz collection of their payments from customers, however, there would not be any other impact on freelancer’s income. This holds true in most cases unless the customers do not agree to pay GST over and above their value of service i.e. when the value of services are contractually agreed to be inclusive of GST.

In addition to the same, freelancers may be eligible to claim an input tax credit of GST paid to suppliers/vendors on procurement of goods or services, which are used in their freelancing business, subject to conditions. Hence, typically GST is not a cost to them if applicable.

For an unregistered freelancer, while there would not be any liability to pay GST, any GST paid on procurements to vendors would be a cost as they would not be eligible to claim input credit for the same. Accordingly, in such cases, the same would have an impact resulting in an upward increase in the overall cost of services rendered by freelancers to their customers.

Voluntary GST registration
When a person is not mandatorily required to obtain registration under GST law (usually when it does not cross the threshold limit), they can register by choice even if the turnover is less than the prescribed threshold.

If a freelancer obtains voluntary GST registration, they will have to abide by the provisions of the GST law. Also, they would be required to undertake all the related compliances and pay the applicable GST. However, obtaining voluntary registration may increase the overall compliance burden. This is seen as a preferred option while dealing with B2B customers, as they usually deal with registered persons. Obtaining GST registration would also help to reduce the input GST costs which a person may incur on procurements which would then be available as credit to such freelancers.

Services on online marketplaces
GST is generally applicable in both scenarios, i.e., where services are provided via online marketplaces like Upwork, Freelancer, etc. or directly to clients. The liability to collect/ deposit the same with the IT department would remain with the ultimate service provider in both scenarios, as per criteria mentioned earlier.

In addition to the same, in case of online marketplaces like Upwork, Freelancer etc., an analysis may be required to examine if the same would qualify as an ‘e-commerce operator’ under GST law. In such a case, additional GST compliances would have to be undertaken by such online marketplaces. Online marketplaces qualifying as e-commerce operators, would also be required to collect TCS @ 1% from persons, including freelancers who are supplying their goods and services through their electronic platform. Credit for such TCS would be available to such persons, subject to conditions.

In addition, depending on the exact nature of services being provided through online marketplaces, GST implications would have to be determined from such service providers.

Filing returns
Freelancers are required to comply with the prescribed compliances like other registered GST assessees. They would be required to undertake filing of monthly/quarterly (depending on turnover) returns, i.e., return of outward supplies (GSTR-1) and summary return for outward and inward supplies (GSTR-3B). In addition, annual compliance in the form of GSTR-9 is also required to be undertaken depending on the prescribed turnover.

In case the freelancer’s turnover exceeds INR 5 crore, annual reconciliation statement in the form of GSTR-9C is also required to be filed. Multiple penalties for non-compliances (registration, documents, invoices, etc.) of various provisions have been provided under the law, however, in case of delay in filing of monthly/quarterly returns, a late fee of INR 50 per day per return has been prescribed.

GST registration benefits

One may argue that obtaining GST registration would result in additional compliance burden on small service providers like freelancers, however, it may be noted that GST has provided a very simplified compliance process for taxpayers.

There are various benefits in obtaining GST registration such as availability of GST credit for tax paid on procurements, which in case of unregistered freelancers would be a cost. Same can also be utilized for discharging output GST liability of services, by the freelancer, thereby passing minimal burden on the end consumer.

Further, obtaining GST registration also helps service recipients gain more trust and deal more transparently with freelancers. Even the government encourages larger businesses to deal with GST compliant service providers.



The Politics of Influence in Top Management Team Meetings

Interactions between the chief executive and other members of the top management team appear to follow distinct scripts. Managers who take note can boost their standing or stay out of harm’s way.

Top management teams (TMT) have been studied since at least the 1980s for insights into how chief executives and their deputies make the strategic decisions that can make or break organisations. But little is known about what exactly happens in the decision-making process, which more often than not is steeped in politics and power play. This article is about a ground-breaking study we conducted that filmed and analysed verbal and non-verbal exchanges in TMT meetings as they happened.

Our findings, published in a new paper, suggest that, contrary to previous research that highlighted the influence of stable, longstanding alliances in organisations, coalition-building in TMTs can also be in the moment and fluid. By forming even temporary coalitions with other TMT members and deploying simple influencing behaviours, senior managers can persuade the CEO to take their side and sway key decisions.

Reading the room right

We studied two TMTs similar in size, gender composition and other key dimensions. TMT A belonged to a medium-sized computer game company based in Canada while the other, TMT B, was the top team of a business services company with global operations.

For each team, we videotaped their meetings and examined them in minute detail, from emotional tone, body posture, hand gestures to eye contact. We also interviewed each of the team members after the meetings.

Five kinds of CEO-TMT member interaction patterns emerged, which we outline below.


In the most amicable of the interaction patterns, the CEO and other TMT members see eye to eye right from the start.

What would be a wise strategy in this environment? Build on this congenial atmosphere by employing the rational argument and drawing others into the conversation.


This is when the CEO disagrees with the rest of the team at the beginning, and the team resolve their differences through a constructive discussion during the meeting. Our findings show that managers can gain legitimacy by appealing to a higher authority and, again, by using rational argument to great effect.


This is a scenario in which the CEO retreats to the background as an observer, while two team members debate an issue.

Duelling managers can bolster their case by declaring ownership (“this is my project”) and drawing on one’s experience and knowledge (“I know my team better than anyone else”). The spectating leader might be wise to delay a decision while emotions cool, as the CEOs in our study did.


This is when a disagreement between the CEO and a team member triggers an adversarial dynamic at the start of a strategic issue discussion. There is a risk the decision-making process becomes polarised.

Here, participants need to be politically savvy. They can seek support, build a coalition by directly appealing or looking at colleagues, and draw on the credibility and agenda of others. A CEO could check to see if there’s scope for an upward appeal (“the founder needs this to be done before the end of next month”).


This pattern evolves when the CEO and a TMT member are in opposition: The former challenges and undermines the latter while other members simply look on.

For those who find themselves in an undermined position, dismissed and ostracised by the team, the best chance of surviving is to duck, retreat and fight another day. In our study, one executive chose to derail the discussion, and another turned the conversation to another topic. Another magnified the risk of the rival proposal.

Playing your cards right

Importantly, we found that more than one constellation could form in a single meeting. Team members can be congruous or cooperative when they discuss one issue and adversarial or undermining another. This suggests that the TMT decision-making process is more dynamic and nuanced than shown by previous research.

How you use influencing behaviours matters. For example, we observed rational argument in all five constellations albeit with very different delivery – relaxed incongruous, emphatically with plenty of hand gestures in cooperative, and calm and authoritative in undermining. Each led to different outcomes. Thus, tone of voice and body language can be very effective influence mechanisms.

Finally, cultures also play a part. In East Asia, for example, leadership styles tend to be more hierarchical, providing fertile soil for undermining and adversarial situations, although the general patterns hold.

TMTs are contested spaces characterised by conflicts, alliances and negotiated orders. When collaboration fails to resolve differences, our study shows that executives with deft political skills are likely to prevail. In other words, those who can relate well and demonstrate situationally appropriate behaviour in a manner that inspires confidence and trust will get their way.

Our findings offer tips that could help senior managers navigate the patterns of interaction we observed. A reliable guide to reading the situation and deciding what actions to take is to ask yourself: Am I aligned with the leader? Am I aligned with my peers? How much energy do they have about the issue? Then play your hand accordingly.



Do you really want that promotion?

If you are good at your job, all sorts of push-pull forces within your organization—and society at large—will propel you into bigger roles with more responsibilities, including managing people for the first time or taking on larger teams.

And many people understandably want those bigger jobs, and the reasons go beyond the pay bump that often comes with promotions. It’s called a career ladder for a reason: it’s something to climb. As human beings, we are wired to strive for greater status, and all the markers that come with it: titles, more pay, and a better office (at least, back in the day when people had offices). Social media platforms amplify that dynamic because we share our titles with the world.

Within organizations, there can also be an assumption that all high-performers want to move higher. So, as managers assess and develop talent to be future leaders, the default belief at many companies is that people will want to move up—a point that I hadn’t quite appreciated until I interviewed Shawna Erdmann, the senior vice president of learning at Comcast, the telecommunications multinational based in Philadelphia.

“Often the leaders of a company, including boards and HR, will pick and choose among upcoming executives for promotions, but no one ever has a conversation with that individual to ask them, ‘What do you want to do? What are your ambitions? What do you see as your goals or your next steps?’” she said. “So often we miss that critical piece and then we wonder why, when we elevate someone, they might not do as well as we expected. But nobody ever asked them, ‘Do you really want that job?’ Maybe they were just super happy making a difference at their particular level, and they didn’t have the ambition to do the next thing. We need to get better at having those conversations.”

Listening up
The crises of the last 18 months have led to profound shifts in our perception of the role of organizations in society, the nature of work itself (how and where it gets done), and the qualities that matter most in leaders now. This period of disruption has also led many people to reconsider what they want to do and where they want to live. And so, with all these fundamental career questions being put on the table, I would argue that we should add one more: do people really want the promotions that everyone assumes they want?

Yes, I get that it might seem like trying to fight gravity. The reward systems we have in place are structured to create a powerful upward pull. But once the thrill of the new title and pay bump wears off, a lot of people find themselves in roles that they may not like or be suited for. It’s a fact of life that many people think they want a particular job until they actually get that job.

The reward systems create a powerful upward pull. But once the thrill of a new title and pay bump wears off, a lot of people find themselves in roles they may not like or be suited for.

It’s a point that Kasper Rørsted, the CEO of Adidas, made to me when I interviewed him back when he was CEO of the German chemicals company Henkel. During our conversation, I asked him what advice he would give to someone who was about to become CEO for the first time. His answer is just as relevant for anybody looking to move into any higher position because every senior position brings new demands and difficulties.

“I would ask them the question, ‘Do you really want the job?’” Rørsted said. “It’s such a demanding job. On the outside, it looks very shiny. But there’s a lot of hard work. You get paid to do all the uncomfortable things. You don’t get paid to go play golf in Savannah. It’s not just glamour. I’m not saying it’s hardship, but are they able to live with it? So that’s the first one—‘Is it really what you want?’”

The question is a personal one for me. Over my 30-year journalism career, before I moved into consulting four years ago, I twice turned down an offer to run a big newsroom department. I was the number two in the department, and so the assumption was that I would want the job. But in working closely with my boss, I had exposure to what his job entailed, and I knew that much of it didn’t suit my strengths or personality. And I wanted to keep doing what I enjoyed most as an editor, which was working with reporters to do great journalism. Did I pay a penalty in terms of my trajectory there? No doubt. Do I regret it? Not for a second.

The “up or out” culture that started in many fields such as law and academia—the pressure to achieve a certain rank within a certain period of time or else—has become a bedrock notion of many companies. But some CEOs I’ve interviewed over the years have applied fresh thinking to compensation and hierarchies so that talented individual contributors feel rewarded without the usual pressure to move into bigger management jobs. They include Selina Lo, who was then CEO of Ruckus Wireless, a provider of wireless networking equipment based in Sunnyvale, California.

“In my company, there is a rule that all new managers need to know: that it’s not a given that their people [under them] will be paid less than they are,” Lo told me in our interview. “That’s part of becoming a manager—that you really have to enjoy enabling people. I want people who are good managers to be managers. I don’t want people to become managers just because they feel they need to.” And she wanted people who are not manager material but have other skills to get the monetary rewards for doing their jobs well.

Think of it as the Peter Principle in reverse: rather than rising to their “maximum level of incompetence,” according to the famous maxim that describes how ambitious employees often trip themselves up by taking jobs they are unqualified for, people may realize they don’t want a particular job because it doesn’t match their skills or career goals.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for ambition. But for those considering promotions or HR leaders managing talent pipelines, the ambition should not be blind. It’s time people start asking the question more often: do you really want that job?


Six Strategies for Building Socially Responsible and Profitable Companies

A dozen years ago, Harvard Business School Professor George Serafeim wondered why some companies operated with an eye toward the greater good, while most did not.

Back then, he always got the same response: Corporate leaders thought social and environmental practices were “soft,” little more than a drag on business. When he told colleagues about his interest in researching companies focused on corporate social responsibility, some expressed skepticism because there were so few to study.

Serafeim says that era of business is already history. The result of his curiosity—his book Purpose and Profit: How Business Can Lift Up the World—delves into the cutting-edge research those early questions spawned. The key findings can help business leaders understand how the world is changing—bringing corporate purpose to the fore—and how their organizations could produce better environmental and social outcomes while designing profitable and therefore scalable solutions.

In the book, Serafeim details six major ways that companies can adjust to the changing landscape. His book tells the stories of individuals, at every stage of their career, pursuing entrepreneurial and managerial efforts to make a difference in a way that makes them fulfill their own personal purpose.

Serafeim is the Charles M. Williams Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School, where he co-leads the school’s Impact-Weighted Accounts Project, and the Sustainability and Climate Impact AI Lab as part of the school’s new Digital, Data and Design (D3) Institute.

‘Not an isolated phenomenon’
Businesses have always impacted the world, beyond the economy and financial system. What has changed is that corporations now pay attention to their social role.

The shift he describes has rapidly emerged as a result of several converging factors. Reams of analytic data are now available, so customers and investors have more ways than ever of evaluating companies—and many now expect businesses to be as green, ethical, and transparent as possible. Social media has also given consumers a greater voice. Climate change has made everyone aware of humanity’s effects on life and the planet. And corporations have placed a growing emphasis on so-called “human capital,” rather than traditional financial capital.

“A new generation of leaders is growing up who believe this is not just nice to have,” Serafeim says. “It is the way to attract talent and develop solutions.”

Serafeim still encounters executives who hesitate to set clear and ambitious targets to improve the way their organizations impact the environment, its employees, and its customers. As he writes in the book, “They knew the world had changed. They just did not know quite what to do about it.”

Alignment and execution
Serafeim says the “purpose plus profit” model rests on two pillars: Alignment, by which opportunity is created, and execution, the plan a company implements in its purpose-driven initiatives.

He identifies six ways that companies can pursue these goals:

  1. Create a new model or market. Warby Parker introduced social-responsibility practices to the eyeglass market, where little in the way of social awareness existed previously. For every pair of glasses the company sells, it donates a pair to people who can’t afford them and for those with less access to glasses.
  2. Transform the business. The former DONG Energy of Denmark is a coal, oil, and gas producer that has renamed itself Ørsted and has turned its focus to wind power.
  3. Pursue pure-play alignment. This involves shifting to a new venture, rather than transforming an existing business. Cultivo of Mexico uses satellite imagery to locate distressed farmland for restoration. When land is restored, Cultivo sells carbon credits, and some of that money is returned to the farmers who improve the land.
  4. Offer a substitute product. Ball Corporation, once known for its glass canning jars, is competing to phase out its plastic bottles in favor of recyclable aluminum.
  5. Focus on operational efficiencies. The chemical giant Dow is investing in industrial safety and environmentally friendly construction, such as building brine-well embankments from local stone and vegetation, rather than using concrete.
  6. Recognize an added value. The utility company NextEra Energy—originally Florida Power and Light—has increasingly focused on renewable energy production, while the utility AES has moved into solar development and battery storage.

In the Boston area, Serafeim gives a nod to the 3D-printing startup Seurat Technologies, which “does much more with less,” reducing carbon emissions for its customers along the way.

“I get excited about these kinds of companies,” Serafeim says.

Actions speak louder than words
While many industries promote green values, some may just be paying lip service. “To be truly impactful, that is not easy to do. It requires a transformation, and not everyone will do that,” Serafeim says.

Legacy industries such as transportation and auto manufacturers, in particular, are under threat of disruption, he notes. “Many companies are struggling to adapt in the face of change,” he says. “This requires convincing your workforce to do something different, and it’s hard for all of us humans to change.”

He urges companies not to abandon their purpose when times get tough. Despite disruptions, such as intensifying natural disasters, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and the looming possibility of a global recession, Serafeim tells leaders to stick by their principles.

“Even though events will happen, the underlying idea that we need to measure, value, and drive improvements in corporate social and environmental impact is here to stay,” he says. “Ten or 20 years from now, we’ll take that for granted. We’ll say, ‘Oh, there was a world where that wasn’t the case?””


How To Use Technology to Measure 4-Day Workweek Success

Is the four-day workweek radical or obvious? That’s what we wanted to find out. Could we get the same amount of work done in fewer days? And what impact would it have on our team? With these questions in mind, we began our four-day workweek experiment in January this year, testing a condensed Monday to Thursday schedule for three months. We were among a very small wave of companies daring to challenge the norm, yet it’s hard to believe it’s taken this long. The world has changed drastically since FDR effectively formalized the 40-hour workweek into law with The Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938. Logic would suggest that the workweek should change, too. We believed the experiment would work, but we needed to collect both qualitative and quantitative data to understand the impact of cutting down from five days to four. We leveraged technology solutions to make sense of the data and reveal indicators of work, focus, collaboration, and process. Before starting our experiment, we held an internal hackathon for our teams to engage in cross-functional brainstorming. Together, we developed our definition of success, with each team establishing its own metrics and protocols. We shared these criteria with an organizational research scientist to develop survey questions to measure success throughout the experiment. Did we hit our roadmap goals? Was it easier to get work done? What was the impact on our effectiveness metrics: pull request (PR) activity, Deep Work, time spent in meetings, interruptions, and always-on behavior. These were just some questions we asked to determine four-day workweek success. How We Measured the Qualitative Impact It was relatively easy to collect employee feedback through pulse surveys as well as 1:1s, all-hands, and informal conversations. And we used this qualitative data to measure team happiness and productivity before, during, and after the experiment. Our pre-implementation survey gave us a baseline to measure against, and we continued to collect monthly feedback with short mid-month pulse surveys in Slack to check in quickly. Ultimately, a post-experiment survey provided our final look into how our employees felt about the four-day workweek. Unsurprisingly, the results were extremely positive. Employees reported feeling more productive and satisfied with work. They had more time to exercise, focus on professional development, and tackle personal responsibilities. And many still worked on a Friday at some point, though typically no more than a few hours. For the most part, we expected these results — who doesn’t want a shorter workweek? But we didn’t want to rely solely on qualitative data. Employee feedback alone wasn’t enough to truly discover if the experiment was a success. Instead, we wanted to determine the quantitative impact of the four-day workweek on productivity, which is much more difficult to measure. See More: 8 Strategies To Help Employees Adapt to New Technology in the Workplace How We Measured the Quantitative Impact We relied on hard data to measure the quantitative impact, using our own software technology to track PR activity, Deep Work, time spent in meetings, interruptions, and always-on behavior. With this quantitative data in hand following our three-month experiment, we were able to better assess the impact of a shorter week on dev team productivity. These insights, paired with the qualitative feedback from our employees, gave us the confidence we needed to make a final decision on whether to continue the four-day workweek. So what did the quantitative data tell us? Despite having fewer days to complete our work, product delivery volume actually increased. Our dev team used digital analytics tools to track sprint progress and PR workflows, looking at the overall number of tickets completed and their estimated complexity. Both went up during the experiment, meaning we got more done and worked on more high-impact projects. We also onboarded more customers than any other quarter to date. These results aren’t all that surprising when you look at our other findings from the experiment. We pulled from the tools our people use most — Jira, Slack, calendars, and more — to establish effectiveness metrics for our teams. Each data point told us something, and only by weaving it all together through a single insights solution were we able to tell the entire story. The first of these metrics was Deep Work, which we defined as two or more hours of uninterrupted work time. We used machine learning to analyze working patterns, calendar trends, and activity time, helping us quantify available focus time throughout the experiment. Overall, Deep Work either increased or stayed the same across our teams, the result of our efforts to actively protect that time. One way we protected Deep Work was by rethinking our meeting culture. We established guidelines to help our teams shorten and consolidate meetings, removing those that weren’t providing real value. We then used the insights solution to analyze high-level details around meeting duration, titles, and the number of participants, helping identify meeting distribution among individuals and teams. The data showed that our meeting hours and average length either decreased or stayed the same throughout the experiment. We also measured data around Slack interruptions, which cut into Deep Work time. We quantified the impact of each interruption based on the speed and brevity of the response. The results showed an increase in interruptions for our dev team, likely due to this increase in Deep Work time, as there were more opportunities to be interrupted. Finally, we looked at how often our people worked overtime or on weekends. These “always-on” metrics helped us determine if our developers had to work beyond their normal eight-hour workdays to make up for the shortened week. Even without Friday work, we did not see a statistically significant change in always-on scores, suggesting our people got the same amount of work done in fewer days. In the end, we had collected enough metrics to make a data-based decision on if we would continue with the four-day workweek. Did the Four-day Workweek Work? We not only met and even exceeded our product delivery goals but also took significant steps in preventing team burnout. Based on these results, 100% of our employees wanted to continue the condensed workweek, and we decided to extend the experiment through the end of the year. If at any point, the four-day workweek stops supporting our business goals or we can no longer be responsive to customers, we will pivot fast. I don’t see that happening, but we must be mindful of the possibility and prepared to change course. We must constantly push ourselves to think about how we can work more effectively, especially with fewer days to do so. For now, the four-day workweek is working for our team, but that doesn’t mean it will work for everyone. You must have a culture of trust — of outcomes, not hours. When you trust your people to bring their full selves to work and get things done, they will. And they’ll do it in four days.


The Hot Labor Market Has Almost Become A Crisis

Unbelievable. After four months of worries about a recession and a steady increase in interest rates, today the BLS reported that 528,000 jobs were created and the unemployment rate dropped to 3.5%. This is the lowest it has been since 1969, a year when I was in middle school.

And at the same time more and more jobs are being created, the GDP itself is slowing. What does this mean? Well, economists keep getting it wrong – it’s actually quite simple. The economy is shifting from goods to services, with an ever-increasing need for people.

As I discuss in the video below, we’ve automated many things in the business world, but technology never stops. The whole idea that a computer or AI system will “replace people” is silly. As soon as you build it something else comes along, so if you don’t have people to monitor it, evolve it, and adapt it, the technology simply becomes less valuable.

This is why companies like Google, Apple, Amazon, and Microsoft keep hiring. Technology itself is a people-centric business, and now that we can work from anywhere, the talent model for every company is global.

Why do I say this is a crisis? Because, quite simply, we cannot “manufacture more people” in a flash. We can solve the global supply chain problem by building a factory, buying a ship, or scaling up a distribution center. People don’t work that way. We need to educate them, train them, and coach them to perform at work. And as all the data now shows, when you “push” people too hard, they just quit, check out, or change careers.

I won’t repeat all the research we’ve been discussing, but many studies now prove that almost a third of the workforce will change employers this year and more than 40% of these job-hoppers will change industry. So regardless of these layoffs, you’re seeing in over-inflated tech companies, virtually every company is struggling to hire, retain, and grow their people.

There are lots of underlying causes for this: the low fertility rate, the early retirement of baby boomers, and the frustratingly difficult work experience many people have in retail, transportation, hospitality, and other industries. And of course, people feel underpaid when inflation goes up, and most employees feel overworked. (81% feel they are burned out.)

My point is not to repeat what you probably already know, but rather to tell you that this problem is not going away. This shift to “service-centric” industries is a big and long-lasting effect, and it drives the message that every company, regardless of industry or size, is now in the people and talent business.

Next week we are launching a fascinating new look at the corporate training industry and you’ll see how much it is impacted by this issue, and in September we launch our Global Workforce Intelligence research and you’ll see all this data in detail.

The big message for CEOs and CHROs, however, is that you have to think about your company differently. No longer can you just “recruit” your way out of this problem. We need what we call “systemic HR” strategies and totally integrated HR operating models that bring together the four R’s: Recruit, Retain, Reskill, and Redesign, all in one integrated way.

We’ll be explaining this more in the coming months, but it’s now clear from all our research that you have to do these things in a new and innovative way. That’s the only way to deal with this existential shortage of labor.

The only real solution, regardless of the direction of the economy, is to treat people as an asset. As I describe it in my book, it’s time to “make your company Irresistible,” and all that this implies.

Every company we talk with is now figuring out how to do this, and ultimately this is the solution to the crisis. Stay tuned for more.


Using cognitive diversity to underpin inclusion

This is not just about individual freedoms, it’s about recognising that the diversity of thought can add value to the quality of debate and decision making in teams, groups and organisations.

The importance of cognitive diversity
We’re all well versed in the concept of “male, pale and stale”. Aside from the visual image the phrase conjures, it is also suggestive similarity in thinking. It sends a message to aspiring employees that diversity isn’t valued, and they need to look, think and behave in a certain way to make it to the top.

Yet the dangers of “group think” are well documented. Decisions aren’t interrogated, innovation is stifled, and conflict is avoided. It creates a breeding ground for poor performance, lack of accountability and disengagement.

Exploiting different proclivities

We all have preferred working styles and proclivities, or energy levels for certain tasks. Successful businesses, business leaders and managers, will recognise the importance of making informed business and people decisions that reflect a diverse range of views.

It’s the old adage: ‘if a team of five people all think the same way, then four of them are redundant’.

But recognising and exploiting cognitive diversity is not easy and, when it occurs, often degenerates into unhelpful conflicts that are framed as ‘clashes of personality’ between ‘opinionated people’.

Varying styles should complement each other but they also have the potential to clash. However, it’s the variation in style that is crucial to creating a cognitively rich and diverse workplace which we know makes good business sense – this, together with an understanding of what each person brings to the table is what helps teams and organisations succeed.

Our Organimetric, The GC Index®, describes an individual’s energy for impact, and this energy, in turns, reflects different ways of seeing the world; different ways of thinking about the world.

The GC Index proclivities are:

  • Game Changers, who see possibilities for a transformational future
  • Strategists, who map the future
  • Implementers, who build the future
  • Polishers, who create a future to be proud of and
  • Play Makers, who orchestrate the future.

It’s immediately apparent to see the valuable role each plays when it comes to their contribution to quality debate and decision making.

Game Changers are key to generating creative possibilities that others don’t see. But ideas by themselves ‘don’t win prizes’ in the world of business; they have to be acted upon. Enter the Strategists. They can complement Game Changers by evaluating the strategic relevance of ideas and possibilities and by bringing shape and focus to them that can lead to action. Implementers will then bring energy to delivering the plan with Polishers perfecting outputs and Play Makers facilitating collaboration and teamwork.

The GC Index® framework also highlights the fact that inclusion is not enough! It’s not enough to simply include someone with the hope that their differences will make the difference! People need to be involved in a way that helps them to make the contribution that’s needed. Understanding an individual’s potential contribution, in GC Index terms, provides the basis for that involvement.

Creating an environment for contribution
Understanding individual proclivities then, enables organisations to structure teams and tasks effectively to get the best out of employees. It allows everyone to make a positive impact and contribution. Working to their energy for impact, it sets people up for success and gives them the opportunity to ‘shine’.

Understanding people with reference to their proclivities also provides a common language for understanding and resolving conflict; the essence of robust debate and quality decision making.

Polishers, for example, can become frustrated when quality standards aren’t met. Knowing this can help colleagues to understand and be supportive rather than simply dismiss the individual as a critical or ‘picky’ personality.

And, of course, Polishers are exactly those individuals who are suited to those roles that require a focus upon continuous improvement and the ‘pursuit of excellence’.

Driving the inclusion agenda
Research shows, companies that prioritise true equality are often more financially successful and are viewed as more desirable places to work. McKinsey & Company carried out research that shows a correlation between being in the top quartile for diversity and financial outperformance.

But that does mean understanding what true equality means and actually embracing it, rather than just ticking what we consider to be the right boxes. A central area in DEI is cognitive diversity, one that is often overlooked, but it gives employees the freedom to unleash their true working styles.

By helping employees understand their own proclivities, and that of their colleagues, businesses can create a platform where everyone contributes. Understanding preferred working styles also encourages better working relationships and tolerance. It’s important that employees know their opinion and preferences are valued and respected, and that they don’t have to change their behaviour to receive preferential treatment. Companies that achieve this really thrive, as employees are energised and empowered to work to the best of their abilities.


Recruiting internationally – where to start?

There is much speculation around how the economic trend started, with many experts believing it has been fuelled by the rise of flexible working expectations, cost of living and Brexit – factors which aren’t going to disappear anytime soon.

While The Great Resignation has affected industries across the board, it has hit the tech sector particularly hard. The pandemic accelerated the digital transformation of many businesses which rapidly increased the demand for skilled people who have the capability to develop and create online products and services. This has resulted in an increase in talent commanding higher salaries, more benefits and greater flexibility than some are willing to offer. This is making it difficult for smaller companies in particular to compete – and survive.

At WOLF, we experienced those challenges first hand when we looked to recruit software engineers, where demand in the UK has rocketed. Brexit had already made it difficult for development resource to move across borders into the UK, but Russia’s invasion of Ukraine led to a further loss of resource as Ukrainian talent had to leave the industry and go to war.

So, we turned our attention to the Middle East. We already operated there so it made sense for us to recruit our talent there. In doing so we have learned valuable lessons for international recruitment. The process will depend on the region you look to operate in, but here are five considerations for businesses to acknowledge:

Setting up tax entities
Hiring talent that live and work outside of the UK can present some payroll complexities. The tax requirements will depend on the tax rules of the country the employee lives in – not yours. It sounds complicated but, if the foreign employee has never worked or lived in the UK, then they are not liable for UK taxes. In this instance, the UK company may be required to set up a legal entity in the employee’s country. The process varies depending on where the employees are located and can include registering with local authorities, opening a local bank account, appointing a local director and then setting up the relevant processes such as payroll, contracts etc.

Understand the local talent pool
Understanding local cultures, values and priorities is key when looking abroad for your hires. Cultural nuances can be a crucial factor in how you approach a prospective employee, how you communicate with them and in the longer term, how you work with them. A lack of cultural consideration could cause a misunderstanding that could inadvertently detract a strong candidate away from your company.

Talk the talk
Localising the application process to the first languages of your international recruiting targets is a must. It means job posts will be written correctly and investment in a credible translation service will help you to understand the applications and candidates will be able to communicate with your personnel teams based in the UK.

Research the country’s training opportunities
When looking at where you place your international recruitment efforts, research the training opportunities that are on offer in that market. Your new recruit may need additional training to bring them up to speed with certain systems and processes so it’s worth looking at what requirements you’ll have and whether they are available in the country your employee resides in.

Approach markets where help can be two-way
On the flip side of the recruitment coin, the US tech sector is currently enforcing hiring freezes and a pool of American tech talent is unfortunately facing layoffs. UK businesses that are struggling to find talent at home could look to the States and help those workers remain in the sector. It could also help businesses from a productivity perspective if time differences mean work is being carried out around the clock.

While the UK economy faces continued challenges, the switch to recruiting internationally can open a wealth of opportunity for businesses over here. It may seem daunting, but businesses must look to the ‘why’ – it can open up the company to new markets, offer greater diversity and provide access to a worldwide pool of talent. The world is open so go for it


Three ways to improve employee growth

Offering your employees an opportunity for training and development is essential to your business’s success. You’ll not only grow your organisation, but you’ll improve productivity, decrease employee turnover, and build assets for your business’s future.

Unfortunately, many businesses shrug off training and development. Time is often the biggest hurdle, but it only serves to stagnate the company and drive employees to seek other opportunities. At a time when good talent is hard to find, you can’t afford to neglect the employees you have.

Whether it’s the post-pandemic challenges, increasing consumer demand, or unfilled positions, many organisations struggle to prioritise employee development. If there’s not enough time in the day to do the work you have to do, putting aside hours for ongoing training and learning sessions may seem impossible.

But that’s not good enough. There is a way to balance your responsibilities and put a focus on employee growth, no matter how busy things get. Here’s how.

  1. Why you need employee development
    Smart businesses are putting a lot of time and resources into employee training and development. That should indicate how important it is.

Gaining competitive edge
New businesses are cropping up every day, all competing for the same consumers and their hard-earned dollar. According to a study from the Association for Talent Development (ATD), businesses that put resources toward formal training and development saw a 24% increase in profit margin than their counterparts.

Bridging the skills gap
About 75% of HR professionals cite a shortage of skills in candidates for job openings, making it more difficult to find the right talent to fill vital roles. By investing in your employees, you can bridge this skills gap by preparing your own workforce in the essential skills your business will need as it moves forward. This not only saves you money, but it helps your employees gain the necessary skills to be more desired candidates.

Improving collaboration
If you invest in your employees, you’re giving them the tools to collaborate better and work more effectively with other departments. The benefit for you is a better end product that comes from inspired and creative minds working together.

Boosting employee morale and satisfaction
Employee morale is a significant aspect of productivity. If you put effort into employee development, you’re giving your employees motivation to work harder and reach their goals. They can stay sharp and advance in their careers, whether they stay at your organisation or not.

  1. Strategies for prioritising employee growth

Start with the end in mind
According to Stephen Covey, we should “start with the end in mind” that means in an in-person training scenario, you should consider the end goal first. What are you expecting to gain from employee training and development? Once you have the end goal in mind, you can reverse-engineer the ideal training solutions to make it a reality.

The benefit for you is a better end product that comes from inspired and creative minds working together

If the goal is to improve the close rate for your sales team, you can look for specific sales training that offers one-on-one sessions and group sessions. If you want your department heads to deliver better presentations, then confidence training or presentation training could be helpful.

Without these goals, it would be difficult to determine the appropriate training and development programmes to pursue. And with time and resources strained, it’s important to make your training count.

If the goals aren’t coming to mind, here are some tips to help the process along:

• What skill do you want to see developed in your team?
• For individual employees, what skill is most useful in their current and future roles?
• For a team, what skill would be beneficial to help everyone succeed?

Questions like these give you inspiration to define goals specific to your organisation and employees, then determine the best training programmes for them.

Divide training into short sessions
Employees often struggle to find the time to tackle their workload, let alone devote hours to training. If the training takes multiple days or weeks, they’ll be left with a lot of unfinished work, burnout, and no time to get caught up.

Training doesn’t need to take hours out of the day or weeks on end, however. Dividing training into short, digestible sessions not only helps with the time constraints, but it’s actually the better way to learn and retain new information.

What would training and development look like with shorter periods? For example, is a 10-minute training session from an internal department head something that needs to be in person, or could it be sent in an email for later viewing? Remember, it’s not the time that they put in, but how effectively the information is delivered.

Of course, not every skill can be learned with just a few 10-minute sessions. Consider what skills could be gained in short training sessions, vs. skills that require a half hour or an hour to truly digest. Plan your training to include these short sessions in a strategic development plan.

Outsource training solutions
If employee training and development gives you stress, why not outsource it? Finding a training solution or partner can relieve the time and stress in planning and delivering training. These programs have a strategic approach and previous success, so they’re ready to provide what your employees need.

The best way to start is by identifying the most important skill or biggest pain point in employee training. Then, you can search for training solutions that are designed to build the skills you need the most.

Consider speaking to others in your network to get referrals for partners or training solutions. Learn what worked and what didn’t about the programmes they’ve tried. This will reduce time spent finding the programmes or partners you need.

  1. Prioritise development for business’s future

There’s rarely a day without a challenge in business. Whether it’s customer demands, time constraints, or the ongoing labor shortage, there will always be hurdles to overcome. That doesn’t mean you have to neglect employee training and development, in fact, investing in your employees could help you weather some of the challenges your business faces.


Writing a workplace menopause policy: a guide for HR

As awareness increases of the impact of gender-specific health issues on the workforce, more and more employers are implementing a workplace menopause policy. What should HR professionals consider when writing a menopause policy, how should it be structured and what can it contain?

  1. Set out scope of menopause policy
    More menopause resources
    How to support employees experiencing menopause

Line manager briefing on supporting employees through menopause

The employer can begin their menopause policy by explaining why it is important for individuals experiencing menopausal symptoms to be supported. This could include encouraging:

staff to feel comfortable speaking about how menopause-related symptoms may be affecting them at work; and
line managers to offer support where they can to individuals experiencing adverse menopausal symptoms.
Ideally, this support should be made available to anyone working for the employer, whether that is employees, workers, contractors, volunteers, interns and apprentices.

Example workplace menopause policy: introduction and scope

  1. Explain symptoms of menopause
    The menopause policy can explain when the menopause normally occurs (between the ages of 45 and 55) and how long it typically lasts (from four to eight years).

To help the workforce to understand what impact the menopause can have on an individual, it is a good idea to set out possible symptoms, which include:

hot flushes;
reduced concentration; and
heavy periods.
Example workplace menopause policy: symptoms of menopause

  1. Provide route to ask for menopause support
    The menopause policy should set out what an individual should do if they are finding it difficult to cope at work because of menopausal symptoms.

Typically, the first recommended step should be for the individual to speak to their line manager or, if they are not comfortable doing this, contacting occupational health or the HR department.

Some employers will adopt a tailored adjustments plan for menopausal symptoms where individuals can, if they wish, keep a record of any adjustments agreed to support them.

Example workplace menopause policy: route to ask for menopause support

  1. Provide flexible working options
    Menopause case law
    In Reilly v RT Management Bridgeton Ltd, an employment tribunal held that a line manager’s failure to address an employee’s request to have a sanitary waste disposal bin placed in the staff toilet because she was “the only female of menstruating age who used the toilet” constituted sex discrimination.

The menopause policy can remind staff that eligible employees can request flexible working via the employer’s separate flexible working requests policy.

However, a good employer will also give individuals affected by menopausal symptoms the option to work flexibly on a temporary (rather than permanent) basis.

For example, this could include temporarily working from home, changing start and finish times, or taking more frequent breaks.

Example workplace menopause policy: working flexibly on a temporary basis

  1. Highlight other practical adjustments
    The menopause policy can highlight the range of practical steps that the employer takes to support staff experiencing menopausal symptoms. These include:

alterations to the working environment, such as moving the individual’s workstation to a cooler area or providing them with a fan;
adjustments to the employer’s dress code;
provision for a quiet place to work or relax; and
providing sanitary products in toilet and shower facilities.
Example workplace menopause policy: working environment

  1. Remind staff of sickness absence procedure
    The menopause policy ought to make clear that there is no expectation for individuals to work if they are unwell because of menopausal symptoms.

Staff should be reminded that, if they are unable to work because they are ill, they should follow the procedure set out in the employer’s short-term sickness absence policy.

Example workplace menopause policy: sickness absence procedure

  1. Flag up internal and external assistance available
    Menstruation policy
    Already implemented a menopause policy in your workplace? Consider following this up with the introduction of a menstruation (period) policy to explain the support available to staff affected by menstrual symptoms.

The menopause policy can conclude by highlighting the internal and external help and support that is available.

For instance, internal support might be available through the employer’s employee assistance programme (EAP).

External sources of help include:


Making Sense of Attribution in Online Advertising

While online advertising has grown rapidly, methods to justify marketing spend on digital platforms have yet to catch up.

Since 1994, when the first clickable banner advertisement (ad) by AT&T was placed on HotWired.com, online advertising has spread like wildfire. Every individual who owns a smart phone or a computer is exposed to a daily deluge of advertising messages. With about 5 billion internet users and 4.65 billion active social media users as of April 2022, online advertising is big business. In 2021, digital marketing grew by 35 percent to US$189 billion.

While online advertising has developed rapidly, one key challenge remains: the problem of attribution. How can an advertiser attribute value to marketing activities across different channels and media? Attribution involves assessing the contribution of individual advertiser actions (ad actions) – such as display ads, paid search and direct electronic mailers – to eventual purchase.

The attribution question drives many marketing decisions. And yet, in spite of huge sums invested by advertisers in online ads, methods to justify these “investments” do not have any theoretical justifications. In our study on attribution in online advertising, my co-authors* and I propose a novel attribution metric with desirable properties, and which overcomes the shortcomings of existing heuristics.

What is the question to your answer?

In the online advertising space, marketing executives and advertising agencies make complex decisions on advertising spend, such as allocating budgets across advertising channels and media, as well as optimising tactical decisions for each channel. The contribution, or value of each channel, is an important input to media mix optimisation. It helps build an understanding of the customer journey and helps a company justify its marketing spend.

Commonly used rule-based methods attribute the value generated to the different ad actions on the user’s path to a purchase based on predetermined rules. For instance, last-touch rule attributes all the value generated to the last ad action whereas uniform rule attributes the same value to each ad action. Custom weights attribution is sometimes applied to tailor weights to a series of ad actions.

While these heuristics are easy to implement and understand, they are hardly fair or systematic. Last-touch attribution is akin to the common winner-takes-it-all narrative in soccer, where the player who scores the goal gets the glory. But what about the player who made the final pass, the team effort and interplay of actions that made that goal possible? Can we give credit where it is due, instead of relying on simplistic metrics that do not fully capture the value of each link in the chain?

For instance, it is possible that a user who is inclined to buy a product performs a Google search and clicks on a paid search, leading to a purchase. However, even if the paid search click did not occur, the user, who is in a state of “desire”, might have bought the product by finding the product’s link through organic search, in what is known as the counterfactual scenario. Currently, existing methods do not account for causality or counterfactual effects. Given that a purchase may be driven by external factors or a customer’s pre-condition, attribution methods should take into account the baseline, or the expected outcome if the user had not been exposed to the ad.

Fundamentally, with current attribution methods, the question that is core to justifying advertising spend remains unanswered: To what extent does a specific ad influence the customer’s purchase decision?

A novel attribution metric

Attribution is not unlike assigning credit to individual players in a cooperative game, considering that the value generated by online advertising is the outcome of the cooperative effect of actions taken across channels and media platforms.

Borrowing concepts from cooperative game theory, we propose a novel attribution metric, which we call a counterfactual adjusted Shapley value (CASV). Our method inherits the desirable properties of the traditional Shapley value while overcoming its shortcomings in the online advertising context.

In particular, our method captures causality and accounts for the difference in value when the customer has seen the ad and a hypothetical baseline where the customer has not been exposed to the ad. Unlike rule-based method, value will not be assigned to an ad that has no effect on the customer’s purchase decision. Our method is also fair: two ad actions that have the same effect receive the same value.

With the availability of user data in the online advertising environment, our new attribution metric is computationally viable even for large-scale data set. The massive volume of economic activities taking place in the digital realm has enabled data collection at an unprecedented scale, allowing companies to tap into user data to better understand customer behaviour and improve service quality.

In our study, we showcased the applicability of our method and validated the robustness of the model using real-world data with several million user paths and a few hundred thousand purchases (conversions).

Starting with the customer journey

Where it comes to converting customers, ad actions can have disparate impacts on conversion, depending on where the customer is in the conversion funnel commonly known in marketing literature. Through the lens of the customer journey and with insights from user data, we can better understand customer behaviour based on their “state” – from being unaware of the product to being aware, interested and converted.

Accurately defining the state of the customer is a crucial part of this method. Borrowing concepts from the conversion funnel, we estimate the value generated by each ad action based on the assumption that the customer’s browsing behaviour is Markovian in nature, i.e., we assume that the customer’s history can be succinctly summarised in the current state.

To the advertiser, the state observed serves as the basis for appropriate ad actions and can improve the chances of reaching the desired customer demographics at the right time.

From the right question to the appropriate metric

Having ascertained the “right” question advertisers should be asking, advertisers now need to better understand the metrics we choose to drive the business.

In our approach to attribution, we propose to begin by defining the required properties of the attribution method. Based on this approach, our proposed metric is the only one that satisfies the four desirable properties: efficiency, linearity in value attributed, symmetry across channels with the same behaviour, and attributing zero value to channels that do not contribute. Even if a different set of properties were more appropriate in a different context, the techniques in our study could be applied to derive an appropriate method.

Since metrics define the “rules” of the game in the complex online advertising landscape, defining metrics is an important decision. However, it is not sufficiently questioned. What principles are they based on and what are the implications on others? At the end of the day, developments in attribution are a work in progress and asking the right questions is a good way to start.


AI Could Reveal a More “Human” Understanding of the World

Bias is intrinsic to humans. When we make an error steeped in bias, it is not uncommon to be consoled with “you are only human”. Moreover, we tend to perpetuate our biased view of the world by seeking ideas and opinions that match our own. Individuals and organisations alike are vulnerable to this tendency, whether it’s just reading the news or building an understanding of the markets and applying that to branding, public relations, crisis management, product development and other strategies.

Unfortunately, biased search preferences, exacerbated by biases unknowingly built into AI algorithms that filter search results (see figure 1), obscure the true picture. What does it take to extract meaningful information from the internet in a less biased and yet more holistic way?

Missing the big pictureFrom bits to true insights

Every day, we are inundated by news, opinions, marketing messages and conversations on the internet. A single topic can be described and discussed by diverse voices of society across a multitude of platforms. While information-related content is immediately observable, the richer thinking and intention behind it is often less so. With empathy, we can better understand the perspective of the person or organisation behind the content, and their underlying motivations and emotions. These human-centric insights can enrich our understanding by painting a more accurate picture of the world.

Obviously, it takes more effort to empathise with content providers, especially those with a different perspective, at the scale of the World Wide Web. This is where information technology built around an understanding of human psychology, such as artificial intelligence, plays a critical role.

First, technology can help to overcome bias by enabling a systematic and broadened search at scale to identify relevant information, competing opinions and different perspectives. Second, using the power of association, empathy can be built into the search process by integrating the social, motivational and emotional aspects that surround each topic. This structured approach to web search, known as “associative hyper-search”, makes the collection of cognitive data possible by identifying the motivations and emotions of information providers.

The approach is “associative” since it identifies patterns connecting topics, motivations and emotions. It is also a “hyper-search” technology, relying on scale to reveal common patterns of association.

Uncover humanness though artificial intelligence

My collaborators* and I developed a tool, which we named NEMO (Needs and EMOtions), that dissect the different ways a topic, such as innovation, is talked about. It includes a process to specify a broad search, the software for conducting associative hyper-search, and machine learning to analyse and visualise the results of this search.

How NEMO worksIn the associative hyper-search phase, for any topic of interest, NEMO searches the web for combinations of topic-driven phrases, and words from defined lexicons of emotions and motivations. These data are then converted into word vectors, or unique numbers assigned to describe each combination of themes, emotions and motivations. Machine learning is then used to identify common themes within the topic, and their patterns of association with the various emotions and motivations (see figure 2 above).

To help the user better visualise and interpret the results, the findings are summarised graphically to reveal the importance of topics and subtopics, emotions and motivations, as well as their closeness in affiliation to other topics and subtopics, and their respective emotions and motivations.

For instance, on the topic of good food, themes concerning health, sustainable agriculture and accessibility of quality food might surface, as seen in the US in 2021 (see figure 3 below). Among the themes, the right to (quality) food was the most dominant and was clearly associated with the emotion “apprehension” and the motivation of “self-actualisation”. In contrast, the other themes of health and sustainable agriculture were not only less dominant, but also lower on the motivational hierarchy and less skewed towards “apprehension” or “hope”.

Figure 3: Visualisation of issues and themes in the United States (Feb – May 2021)Connecting content with the primary drivers of human behaviour allows us to better empathise with the diversity of minds behind the content. By introducing empathy in the search process, we can put that content into a human context and gain deeper insight into why the information is expressed the way it is. Ultimately, NEMO is meant to answer: “What is important to the world?” and “How is it evolving?”

A more “whole” world through the lens of empathy

Associative hyper-search is essentially a general technology that brings new possibilities. It offers another view of the world in real time, like a constant window to what the world is thinking.

By revealing the voices of society, it can help companies uncover drivers of corporate reputation, give early warning on social trends or technological disruptions, or identify unmet needs for innovation. For instance, a company might be interested in how its brand is perceived from the viewpoint of sustainability and how this relates to its target customers’ needs and emotions.

Beyond commercial applications, associative hyper-search is akin to the discovery of a global set of stories. These stories provide insights to politicians, social scientists, non-profit organisations and individuals on topics ranging from climate change to political sentiments and human trafficking. The possibilities are endless.

With deeper empathy, we stand to gain new insights that may lead us to question our assumptions, identify gaps in our understanding of the world and help us better frame our decisions (see figure 4 below).

The benefits of a social psychological approach to information search and analysisAs Henry Ford once said, “If there is any one secret of success, it lies in the ability to get the other person’s point of view and see things from that person’s angle as well as from your own.”


Nudging leaders

The value of leadership training can lead to contentious debates. Despite the massive annual spending amounting to more than USD350 billion globally, critics argue that leadership training “fails” as people go back to their old ways, and consider it the “least valued investment to develop leaders”. This criticism stems from leaders’ inability to apply what was learnt from training in the workplace – a phenomenon known as the “transfer problem”.

Is leadership training pointless then? As it turns out, the answer depends on one key ingredient: practice. In an authoritative meta-analysis of 335 leadership training evaluation studies, leadership training was almost certainly effective when it involved practice. Yet, the same data shows about one in four leadership courses does not have an element of practice. Without practice, training risks having very minimal or no effect on the transfer of skills.

Nudges, one of many tools in behavioural science, can be used to encourage practice and overcome the “transfer problem.”

How practice impacts performance
Professional musicians and athletes who undergo rigorous training spend hours practising drills, honing their techniques, and using data to optimise their performance. The end result: the ability to perform at the highest level in highly pressured situations. We recognise the importance of practice in sports and the arts to build habits and muscle memory but find it less obvious to apply the same principles to leadership skills development.

In reality, many of the qualities of high-performing leaders, such as excellent intrapersonal skills, such as building resilience and interpersonal skills like effective communication require similar practice. Through practice, familiarity with an action or thought is established to create new habits over time. The aim of leadership training is to help leaders develop habits so behaviours can be executed naturally and effortlessly. Thus, practice is the bridge between learning and developing new behaviours at work.
Empirical research suggests that exposing leaders to nudges can be an effective way to change leaders’ behaviours

The power of nudges
The struggle with practice is not only remembering to practise, but also overcoming psychological barriers that reduce the likelihood of practising. These barriers include being distracted or preferring to act on convenient behaviours.

Nudges, as proposed by Thaler and Sunstein, are a powerful tool to overcome these barriers by reducing the mental effort required to instigate a behaviour that has yet to become a habit. Nudges are small interventions that sway people in an intended direction without restricting their freedom of choice. An example of a nudge is SMS text reminders to reduce missed doctor appointments.

Empirical research suggests that exposing leaders to nudges can be an effective way to change leaders’ behaviours, rendering nudges a timely addition to leadership training.
One solution is to integrate with leaders’ online calendars to spot the optimal time to deliver personalised nudges to practise micro-skills, which are defined as tiny, actionable skills that make up leadership competencies. The solution transforms business meetings into training grounds where leadership behaviours are turned into habits.

To illustrate, a marketing manager can receive a nudge that encourages her to practise “active listening” in an upcoming “one-to-one” meeting with a team member. The nudge encourages her to focus on her team member and be present.

5 tips to make a good nudge
Not all nudges are equally effective. When developing nudges, it is important to bear in mind the following principles based on the EAST framework and insights from multiple studies:

  1. Make it simple. The nudge should be concise and clear. The behaviours should also be actionable, use micro-skills where leadership skills are broken down into small, manageable actions that make practising easier.
  2. Make it attractive. Nudges should be engaging and able to attract a leader’s attention. Personalising them based on a leader’s training goals makes them attractive. Furthermore, a meta-analysis has shown that incentivisation can also be effective in encouraging behaviour change and increasing the appeal of a nudge.
  3. Embed a social component. Social norming messages or commitments can help sway leaders to practise specific behaviours. Include information on what other managers are doing to encourage leaders to practise. As humans are inherently social beings, knowing that our peers, competitors, or idols exhibit certain behaviours can motivate action.
  4. Find the perfect time. Timing is everything when delivering nudges. Tailoring nudges to specific meetings ensures that nudges are delivered in crucial moments when leaders can practise certain skills. Viewed in this way, a leader’s hectic schedule may increase the number of opportunities to practise.
  5. Change the default environment. According to a recent meta-analysis, the most effective nudges are those that change the default environment to one that encourages the desired behaviour. Similar results were reported from two Nudge Units in the United States. Essentially, leaders would find it more convenient to change their behaviour when the environment requires this behaviour to be present in the first place. Examples include having committee members assigned to the role of devil’s advocate to encourage divergent thinking or asking managers to start promotion meetings from the position that ‘all are ready now’ to reduce bias in performance evaluations.

The era of “knowledge application”
Nudges are one of many tools in behavioural science that can help leaders apply the skills they have learnt at work and overcome the “transfer problem.” Nudges have garnered a lot of attention over the past decade, but they were mainly applied in the public health, finance and environmental domains, and used to influence employees rather than change the behaviour of leaders (e.g., The Behaviour Business or Nudge Management). So much effort has been put into creating learning content on how to develop leadership skills; we should now work on finding other ways to put this into practice and shift our focus from knowledge consumption to knowledge application.