‘Fragmentation frustration’: Too many HR tools can hamper productivity

New research may just have punctured the illusion that more digital tools can only improve workflow and productivity. Adam McCulloch reports

It’s a common sensation. IT has come up with a workflow fix involving a new digital tool. “Well done” we all chime while loudly agreeing that our lives are about to be made easier.

Internally though there’s another feeling. A weariness that we will have to master another piece of software, another password and username format to forget, and a bit more time waiting for the computer to fire up; perhaps we’ll even have to explain to a temp – or at least an absent colleague – how to use it.

And who hasn’t missed an important message because they were monitoring their email, had forgotten to look at Teams, hadn’t fired up Google Chat, misheard the Zoom call, and didn’t have their Slack notifications switched on, having been distracted by a WhatsApp thread?

Now new research from HR tech firm Personio adds weight to these previously shameful feelings and finds that HR itself has been at the epicentre of an eruption of new tools designed to “help” practitioners during the pandemic.

It has found that over a third of employees (37%) report that there are too many different digital tools to use leading to what it calls “fragmentation frustration”.

We’ve all experienced at some point how fragmented data and processes across a multitude of tools can make even the simplest of tasks more time-consuming and distracting for employees” – Hanno Renner, CEO, Personio

But in HR, the situation is worse. Since the onset of the pandemic, 44% of HR decision-makers have seen an increase in the number of digital tools they use for people related tasks leading to a situation where, on average, organisations report using six different tools for people-related tasks and insights alone – rising to eight different tools in large businesses.

Furthermore, among HR decision makers who use multiple tools for people-related tasks and insights, a quarter (25%) recognise that this causes frustration amongst employees, and a further 24% observe that multiple tools slow down processes and cause unnecessary delays.

Personio concedes that “an overload of digital tools designed to boost efficiency could be hindering workers’ productivity” and says it’s time to streamline them, before productivity is hit.

Hanno Renner, CEO at Personio, says, in a curious twist on the usual techie spiel: “While digital tools have been a lifeline for many businesses throughout the pandemic, our research demonstrates that using too many of them risks hampering, rather than boosting, productivity.”

At last you may exclaim: “Here’s a techie who understands!”

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Renner adds: “We’ve all experienced at some point how fragmented data and processes across a multitude of tools can make even the simplest of tasks more time-consuming and distracting for employees. It is therefore vital that we streamline our tools and processes to become more productive as we continue on our path to recovery.”

Personio’s research was based on a survey of 500 HR decision makers and 2,002 workers across the UK and Ireland. As well as digital overload it also highlights the extent to which Covid-19 and the increase in remote working has caused a surge in the use of digital tools in the HR function, particularly.

Angelina Gentili, head of people operations at Personio, says we shouldn’t ditch tools altogether but whittle them down a bit: “With many businesses choosing to work remotely or in a hybrid model in future, it’s critical that they ensure they’re equipped with the digital tools that’ll best enable their people. At this decisive moment, employers and HR leaders need to work with their people to evaluate which tools add value, and where they can simplify systems to bolster productivity and business performance in the long run.”

Further conclusions in the report that may go against the grain in some boardrooms include that “employers aren’t just overestimating how well their organisation has handled the pandemic. They’re overestimating their team’s productivity too.”

It also warns that disloyalty was growing among employees because of a lack of awareness among employers of how their company’s handling of the pandemic has been perceived


How to Identify Your Limiting Beliefs and Get Over Them

if you think back to your earliest childhood memories, it’s likely you remember times when you were fearless, when curiosity took you places you wouldn’t dare go now.

However, as you began to age, you were introduced to an unending list of rules about what you should say, how you should be, and what you should do. These likely resulted in you creating limiting beliefs and perhaps even not realizing your full potential.

While you do have to live by some rules, it’s important that you aren’t holding yourself back from living a full life.

If you feel like you want to attain greater heights but that you’re standing in your own way, then continue reading. This article will explore how you can identify your limiting beliefs and get over them.


A limiting belief is a state of mind, conviction, or belief that you think to be true that limits you in some way.[1] This limiting belief could be about you, your interactions with other people, or with the world and how it works.

Limiting beliefs can have a number of negative effects on you. They could keep you from making good choices, taking new opportunities, or reaching your potential. Ultimately, limiting beliefs can keep you stuck in a negative state of mind and hinder you from living the life you truly desire.

Causes of Limiting Beliefs
Now that you understand what limiting beliefs are, do you know what causes them? Where do they come from and how have they influenced your choices in life?

Some argue that people are not wired to be open-minded, as our inherent biases cause us to only desire positive and agreeable information.

However, there are other things that cause limiting beliefs aside from inherent biases and an inability to be open-minded. Below, you’ll find a few you may resonate with.

Family Beliefs
Growing up, your parents likely had morals and values they tried to instill in you. These often stemmed from their own familial beliefs and ideas about how both you and the world should be. It could be things such as what career paths you should take, how to behave, and how to engage with others.

You can end up forming your own limiting beliefs based on the beliefs they instilled in you. An example would be your parents reinforcing a belief that authority should never be challenged.

As a result, you may believe that unfair treatment from people of authority is something that has to be accepted as opposed to challenged. You may even be unable to recognize this behavior.

Education plays a major role in forming limiting beliefs, too. Whether you’re learning from family, teachers, or friends, they all have an impact on what you adopt as truth. This is because they’re both in a position of authority and constantly sharing information, ideas, and beliefs about how the world works.

When you’re learning from authority figures that you respect, you are even more inclined to conclude that the things they tell you are true.

When you make decisions or have experiences in life, it is common for you to draw conclusions afterward. If, for example, you fall in love and it ends in heartbreak, you might conclude that love always ends in pain.

These sorts of negative experiences, in particular, can strongly shape your limiting beliefs. It’s important to remember that the conclusions you come to after bad experiences happen are only valid temporarily.

How to Identify Your Limiting Beliefs
So, how do you identify limiting beliefs? There are a number of ways you can do so, and most require some personal reflection.

Seeing as they may not be easily identifiable, here are a couple of methods you could try to bring them to the surface.[2]

1. Identify and Write Down Your Beliefs
To identify beliefs that are limiting you, start by writing down your general beliefs.

Write down beliefs about anything you feel strongly about and that influence your daily life. Group them into different categories like finances, family, relationships, or health.

Once you’ve done this, examine which ones are helping you grow and which could be limiting you.

2. Assess Your Behavior
Another approach you can take to identify limiting beliefs would be to assess your behavior.

Think about scenarios where you’ve acted in negative or toxic ways and think about why. If you look closely at your toxic behaviors, you might discover that the underlying cause is limiting beliefs.

For instance, if you find it difficult to speak your mind when someone has offended you, you may possess the limiting belief that conflict is bad. This, in turn, could keep you from having truly intimate relationships as you’re unable to speak your mind and have healthy confrontations.

3. Write Down Areas Where You Feel Challenged
If you’ve noticed that you have recurring challenges in certain areas of your life, this could be indicative of limiting beliefs.

Perhaps you can’t seem to land a well-paid job, or you never have luck when it comes to love. These challenges may simply be the byproduct of erroneous beliefs that you’ve adopted as truths.

As you go through each challenge you write down, also make a note of which of your beliefs pertain to that challenge. So, if you’re always struggling to make enough money, uncover what you think about money and how accessible it is to you.

7 Ways to Overcome Limiting Beliefs
The good thing about limiting beliefs is that you have the power to change them any time. This doesn’t mean that doing so will be an easy process, but commitment and a greater level of self-awareness can make it possible.

The suggestions below could help you successfully overcome any limiting beliefs you have.

1. Organize Your Environment
Believe it or not, your environment can have an effect on your beliefs. Having a well-organized and spacious environment could improve your mental health and encourage positive thinking. When your environment is tidy, it gives you the space to think and gain more clarity.

To create a better environment, get rid of any clutter you may have accumulated at home. You could even go as far as redesigning your space to improve the flow.

You may even consider using feng shui practices.[3] The basic premise is to channel the flow of energy by placing objects in a certain way.

It’s a good way of keeping positive energy flowing through your home and getting rid of negative ones. Hopefully, this will influence your mindset and help you focus on positive thoughts and beliefs.

2. Try Minimalism
Embracing minimalism can help you get rid of false beliefs that are holding you back.

The fundamentals of minimalism are clarity, honesty, and detaching from material things.[4]

For example, if you find that you’re addicted to cluttering your wardrobe with new clothing items, it could be because of limiting beliefs about your physical appearance. An example of such a belief would be “I’m not attractive unless I’m wearing the latest fashion.”

Seeing as minimalism is all about your mindset and resisting peer pressure, it could help you reverse limiting beliefs and embrace a more meaningful lifestyle.

3. Explore More
As mentioned earlier, limiting beliefs can be a result of being closed-minded. To help open your mind, learn to let curiosity lead you. When you give in to curiosity, you’re more likely to explore the world around you and break out of your comfort zone. What this can do is help expand your mind and make you challenge your beliefs.

Curiosity also creates opportunities for you to learn about other people’s beliefs and observe new ideas. Some ways to explore would be to have conversations with people who have different backgrounds than you.

Traveling is another effective method to try as it gives you the chance to engage with different cultures and ways of life.

4. Counseling
If you’re struggling to change your limiting beliefs on your own, you could benefit from the help of a therapist or counselor.

In the event that your limiting beliefs are triggering other conditions like anxiety or depression, you may have even more of a need to seek professional help. This is because counselors and therapists have the resources and knowledge needed to help you overcome challenges and live a more satisfying life. They can also help you trace limiting beliefs and give you the tools you need to get over them, such as cognitive-behavioral therapies supported by gamification.[5]

Technology has made getting counseling and health-related services so much easier.[6] This is because you’re able to download health-related apps and liaise with your therapist or counselor from the comfort of your mobile phone.

There are also mental health trackers that can be used to track anxiety triggers, emotional states, and your progress over time. All of this makes it so that you’re not alone on your journey to eliminating limiting beliefs.

5. Meditation
Beliefs often originate from the thoughts of others that worm their ways into our own, so tackling your own thoughts could help you change negative beliefs.

To have more control over your thoughts, take a few minutes a day to meditate. When you meditate, you free your mind from negative or unwanted thoughts and ideas.

The goal of meditation should be to let thoughts pass through your mind without engaging in them.

Meditation helps you calm your mind and connect with your inner-self. Once you’re able to get past all of the clutter in your head, you can focus on the positive beliefs you want to adopt[7].

Health & Mental Benefits of Meditation
With time, these beliefs could replace the negative ones. Before you know it, your mind will be filled with positive beliefs that help you become the best version of yourself.

6. Personal Development
If you want better beliefs to guide your thinking and choices, you have to work on yourself. This means actively seeking opportunities for development and growth in all aspects of your life.

Self-improvement is important as it can increase self-awareness and help you overcome weaknesses. Since it requires actions, you’re forced to do something about your limiting beliefs as opposed to hoping they’ll magically go away.

Ways to develop yourself include:

Reading books from authors that share the kind of beliefs you hope to have.
Podcasts are also a great way to consume information that could make you better.
Set practical goals so that you can measure your growth.
Journaling can help you monitor your progress, especially when it comes to your thoughts and beliefs.
7. Positive Affirmations
If you struggle with low-self esteem, it can be hard to establish positive beliefs. However, positive affirmations are a great way to help improve your self-esteem. They force you to speak about yourself in a positive way, and hopefully, with time, you’ll begin believing your affirmations.

If you have limiting beliefs about how lovable you are, it could limit your ability to attract loving and kind people into your life.

To help change that belief, you could write down an affirmation that says “I am valuable, amazing, and lovable.” Saying this every day could help build your self-esteem over time

Your positive affirmations should also celebrate your strengths. Use your successes and your strengths to write down affirmations that remind you of just how incredible you are. This could also give you the courage you need to push yourself and achieve more.

Final Thoughts
The world is full of beliefs, and as long as there are different kinds of people, this won’t change. However, you’ve got to figure out which beliefs help you live the life you’ve always dreamed of.

All of the beliefs that keep you from living that life are limiting and ones that you should get rid of. By doing so, you give yourself a chance to create a life that supersedes your expectations.


How to Get Top Line Management to Buy into Soft Skills Training

How often have we heard HR and Leadership Development leaders comment about the lack of line support for their soft skills leadership training programs? There is a way to gain that much-desired support. But, before discussing how to do it, some background is in order.

First, you have to clear both soft and hard skills. Soft skills generally include interpersonal skills and attributes (communicating, listening, motivating, creative thinking, counselling, etc.), leadership behaviors (servant, morality, trust, authenticity, humility, compassion, integrity, etc.), leadership styles (autocratic, democratic, etc.), and management skills (planning, delegating, problem-solving, reviewing performance, interviewing, etc.).

Conversely, hard skills cover the job-related technical, financial, and business skills needed to achieve job success, which evolve from the primary function and the four or five key responsibilities listed in the job description. At the senior- and upper-management levels, they typically include the skills needed to achieve specific financial, operating, and financial business objectives for the department, division, or company.

Rethinking Corporate Learning

Business Realities of Top Line Management
To achieve much greater support from top line management, HR, and LD leaders must fully accept and embrace the following business realities under which they operate:

Investors and the market hold the top line management of any company accountable for achieving certain financial, operating and strategic business objectives over the short and long term. Therefore, meeting or exceeding these business objectives every fiscal year is the top priority of the CEO and line executives. It should be the HR and LD function’s top priority too.
Senior and top line management believe most LD programs, especially those intended for middle management and higher, have failed because they (a) concentrated almost exclusively on soft skills development, (b) excluded any hard skills development which they feel are critical to job success, (c) provided little or no practical business value in relation to the amount of executive time expended on them and (d) refrained from directly dealing with the leader’s real world business objectives and plans for which they are accountable to top management, the CEO, and the board of directors.
Line management executives currently value hard skills much more than soft skills because, in their eyes, they are far more predictive of job success.
Line management executives believe that the hard/soft skills mix for lower management is 25%/75%, for middle management is 50%/50% and for senior and upper management is 75%/25%. Therefore, the subject content for LD programs should reflect those mixes.
The current belief of line management is that even with the proper application of soft skills, such LD programs do not have a material impact on the achievement of their financial, operating, or strategic business objectives for which they are accountable to top management and the board of directors.
Recent surveys from Fortune and McKinsey support this viewpoint. In the former survey, only 10% of CEOs believed their leadership development initiatives had a clear business impact. In the latter survey, only 11% of more than 500 executives agreed that their LD programs achieved the desired business results.
Line management believes that soft skill LD programs are fine for lower management because their problems and solutions are one-dimensional, simple, and relatively easy to solve. However, such programs at the middle or upper management levels are not implemented because the problems are far more multi-dimensional and complex, while their solutions are seldom easy to implement simultaneously with achieving their business objectives.
Most soft skills LD programs are not directly relevant or important in relation to the achievement of a line management business objective.
Unless LD leaders take the above business realities into consideration when designing and writing the subject content of their soft skills LD programs, top line management will likely continue to provide little support for them. Conversely, if such realities are taken into account and used in designing the subject content, top line management support will be greatly improved. Below is an outline of exactly how to do just that.

How to Design an Effective LD Program
In such a program, you must teach the relevant soft and hard skills together within the practical context of the leader’s current business objectives, plans, strategies, challenges, and risks. By doing so, your LD program will provide practical business value to top line management and the HR and LD functions will gain their respect as an equal business partner. Here are the key steps involved:

Uncover the line management’s financial, operating and strategic business objectives for the current fiscal year. It is best to do so just before or right after the start of the fiscal year.
With line management, determine which business objective or two that will require new or improved skills to implement, and therefore new or enhanced learning.
With line management, identify the new hard skills that require new or enhanced learning.
With line management, identify only the relevant soft skills that apply to the implementation of the learning like achieving the business objective.
Design and implement the training program subject content that teaches and intertwines both skills in relation only to the appropriate business objective.
It is important to emphasize that these LD programs should teach leaders how to intertwine the hard and soft skills together, the way they exist in the leader’s real business world. The key point here is that you cannot effectively teach soft leadership skills in a vacuum, devoid of their associated hard skills.

An example would seem appropriate here for a group of general managers who are operating businesses ranging from $50 to $150 million per year. Each one has a business objective to increase sales by 10%, which requires that a new product with enhanced functionality get to market two months ahead of schedule. The relevant hard skills for this program might be to learn the features of the new product’s functionality, to train sales personnel how best to sell those features into the existing or new customer base, to achieve the desired delivery performance through improved project management and to enhance customer service on the new product’s typical service issues. The relevant soft skills for this program might be to build trust among employees in the new product, to achieve better teamwork and coordination between field sales and customer service employees, and to improve remote working effectiveness.

Advantages of Teaching Hard and Soft Skills Together
The company and division’s ability to achieve some of its important business objectives and strategies will be greatly enhanced.
The practical business value of appropriate leadership development programs will be recognized by line management executives as a practical way to help achieve some of their important business objectives to which they are held accountable by the CEO and the board of directors.
By providing practical business value in the appropriate leadership development programs, HR and LD functions will clearly demonstrate their ability to be an equal business partner to their line management peers.
Line management attendees are taught how to implement the relevant soft skills in a practical, real world business setting by applying the relevant soft and hard skills together in an effort to achieve one or more of their important business objectives.
With the improved reputation of some LD programs to appropriately cover the relevant hard skills as they relate to the practical business objectives of the leader’s actual job, line management support for these programs and those that deal solely with soft skills will be greatly enhanced.
By dealing with the appropriate hard skills in relation to the line management leader’s business objectives, the leaders and their superiors will value their time and effort spent on the program as being much more worthwhile than previously existed.
The Case for Improved Training
Though estimates vary somewhat, more than $200 billion annually is spent globally on leadership development. Yet, CEOs and line executives agree that their LD efforts have not been successful in helping them operate their businesses. Since the vast majority of LD programs deal with soft skills improvement, it is fair to conclude that in their eyes they have been unsuccessful, too. Teaching soft skills separately from the associated hard skills, simply hasn’t worked, especially for LD programs designed for middle and upper management. What greater proof is needed to demonstrate that there is a critical need to change the way the subject content for such soft skill LD programs is designed and implemented?

If subject content of these soft skill LD programs is not changed, this historical pattern of top line management seeing little or no practical business value in them is likely to continue and the LD community is doomed to repeat its failed program subject content over and over again.

It is my view that CEOs and line executives will gain a much more favorable view of the company’s HR and LD functions when, and only when, they see that their LD programs for middle to upper management directly helps them to achieve certain specific business objectives that help the company to achieve its improved profitability and strategic success – practical business value. When this happens, their support for similar and other LD programs will improve dramatically. The only meaningful way to do that is to teach the appropriate mix of hard and soft skills together in a workshop setting that pragmatically helps the attendees to achieve some of their actual business objectives within the practical context of their associated real-world plans, challenges, and risks.


Leading under pressure

Pressure is a goad. Whether it arrives in the guise of a burning platform or a project deadline, a strategic goal or a performance target, a high-stakes deal or an aggressive competitor, pressure can help leaders attain new heights of performance and achievement. You know the adage: no pressure, no diamonds.

Too much work, too little time
by Theodore Kinni
The problem with this pithy observation, attributed to 19th-century Scottish essayist Thomas Carlyle, is that it is both true and false. Though pressure can drive outsized results, it can also become an insurmountable obstacle to performance and achievement. It can overwhelm a leader and result in missteps that torpedo companies and careers.

The powerful effects—and vagaries—of pressure were dramatically illustrated during the Tokyo Olympics when gymnast Simone Biles unexpectedly withdrew from the women’s team finals. The extraordinarily talented and seemingly unshakable Biles, who was considered a shoo-in to repeat her 2016 gold medal win in the all-around gymnastics event, cited her mental health. Later, she said that she had been suffering from the “twisties,” a condition that leaves gymnasts disoriented midair and can lead to serious injury. The twisties are thought to be caused by performance pressure and stress, both of which were surely running higher than usual in an Olympics held during a pandemic.

When I mentioned Biles to Dane Jensen, CEO of performance consulting firm Third Factor and author of the new book The Power of Pressure, he suggested that she may have fallen prey to an imbalance in what he calls the pressure equation. Jensen finds that pressure grows more intense across three elements, as the levels of importance (how much something matters), uncertainty (how unclear the outcome is), and volume (how many other demands there are on your time) rise.

Peak pressure moments are riddled with anxiety that leaders need to manage, not ignore.

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“There is a well-accepted and common wisdom that success breeds confidence, and that confidence helps you handle pressure better,” explained Jensen. “My read, without having talked to Simone Biles or knowing exactly what is going on in her head, is that there is a countervailing force to that positive cycle, which is that as you accrue status and visibility, the ‘importance’ piece gets greatly magnified. The stakes expand. They begin to encompass your self-worth and the weight of the 330 million people you are carrying along for the ride.”

Business leaders are subject to this phenomenon, too. As they reach higher levels of the corporate hierarchy, the importance of their decisions and actions grows, and the stakes rise. And like pressure itself, the element of importance is a double-edged sword.

Over the long term, being connected to the importance of whatever you are doing inspires and directs action. As the author Simon Sinek said, “Starting with why” is a powerful motivational force. But Jensen contends that during peak pressure moments, say, a floor exercise at the Olympics or a corporate crisis, “importance can ratchet up to a level that is not healthy and is not a performance enhancer. It is actually something that is a real derailer. [Tesla CEO] Elon Musk is a high-profile guy who has had some fraying during the peak pressure moments but seems to be able to tolerate unbelievable pressure and public scrutiny over the long haul.”

How do you manage importance during these peak pressure moments? The secret is to understand that how you perceive the stakes in any given situation can be controlled. “When you get into peak pressure moments, all you can think about is how important [the stakes are], what you might gain, what you might lose,” said Jensen. “Somewhat counterintuitively, as you approach peak pressure moments, your job shifts from pulling importance close to making sure that you are not carrying it with you into the moment.”

Jensen offers a four-step technique for defusing the stakes in peak pressure moments.

1. Ask yourself what’s not at stake. “What are the things that are going to be there regardless of how the presentation to the board goes?” asked Jensen. “For instance, your family is still going to be waiting for you at home when you get out of this thing an hour from now, regardless of how it goes. That question—what is not at stake?—helps disassemble some of the manufactured importance that we often layer on peak pressure moments.”

2. Avoid the anxiety spiral. Often, leaders exaggerate the stakes in peak pressure moments. “It’s not just the deal that is at stake; it’s [the thought] that if I don’t make the deal, I am going to look like a fraud or like I’m just not good enough to do this,” said Jensen. To counter this tendency, he recommends seeking evidence for the stakes you associate with a challenge, being objective by asking yourself how you would view someone who didn’t succeed in meeting that challenge, and, if you’re still unsure whether a stake is real, giving yourself the benefit of the doubt.

3. Let go of ego-driven stakes. Just as we tend to give leaders too much credit—and blame—for the performance of their companies, so too, do leaders themselves. “You only need to own how you acquit yourself. All the other stuff—share price, revenue, profits—are only partly within your control,” said Jensen. “If it’s only important to your ego, let it go before peak pressure moments.”

4. Gauge what is truly urgent. Manufactured urgency distracts from performance in peak pressure moments. “Urgency is based on the belief that you need to act now, or else,” wrote Jensen in his book. “Ask yourself two questions: 1. What is the worst thing that can happen if I force action now? 2. What is the worst thing that can happen if I delay?” If the answers suggest that a peak pressure moment just feels urgent and could be better dealt with at a later time, give yourself a break and postpone it.

Peak pressure moments are riddled with anxiety that leaders need to manage, not ignore. “Pressure is your friend in these moments. It’s where energy comes from. It’s what gives you the ability to be a better version of yourself,” said Jensen. “The job here is to embrace pressure, and the only way to embrace it is to anticipate the anxiety that comes with it and prepare for it.”


We can’t rebuild the economy without retraining and sustainability

As the British economy continues its gradual reopening, there is growing motivation to ensure that businesses can ‘build back better from the difficulties of pandemic restrictions.

Of course, while the impact of COVID-19 has been devastating, lockdowns have revealed some truths about our economic and societal organisation. Our actions and the effects they have on the environment, as well as inequalities in the labour force, have become more prevalent.

The return to normality should now be taken as an opportunity. Retraining the workforce and pursuing sustainable strategies should be a priority for businesses. Let’s explore why the economy needs investment into sustainable workplaces and staff to successfully escape the looming presence of a recession.

Some jobs won’t come back

There has been a clear shift in the way that people work and where they work. It is unsurprising to hear that some of these changes will be permanent. A survey by the Institute of Directors shows that 74% of businesses intend to maintain the increase of homeworking capabilities.

Businesses must understand the changed perceptions and varied experiences of the labour force, as well as their priorities for secure, ethical, and sustainable employment in the future.

Businesses are ready for a future of remote working, where travel and commuting will be reduced, and automated services will become more prominent in workplaces.

These changes in working behaviour and capability mean that many jobs will not return after the pandemic, even when the economy is fully reopened. Government data shows that 314,000 people were made redundant between July and September in 2020.

Retraining is a vital component for encouraging workers back into the labour force. Businesses must understand the changed perceptions and varied experiences of the labour force, as well as their priorities for secure, ethical, and sustainable employment in the future.

A decisive decade for sustainability

Before the pandemic, there was an increased focus on tackling climate change. Recovering from the past year, protecting jobs and lives from both public health and economic crisis begins by investing in sustainability.

Construction is one area identified as integral to economic recovery, but only through social wellbeing, climate-resilient infrastructure, and sustainable waste strategies can the economy create significant near-term job creation. The need for rapid job creation aligns with the requirement for urgent action on the environment.

By 2030, there could be as many as 694,000 green jobs in England, according to the local government association. These roles will be diverse across industry and occupation, driving businesses to more sustainable production methods and practices.

This can be seen in the construction sector, where sustainable waste management services are ensuring that waste is recycled and reduced through innovative strategies that also incorporate social value into their offering.

This is important, considering that two-thirds of the UK’s waste can be attributed to construction. In retail and wholesale industries, sustainable jobs can also help drive minimisation and circularity, finding alternatives to plastics and ensuring recycling is integral to the design process.

Ultimately, with the climate emergency, green aspects to all jobs are essential when contributing to growing a low carbon economy.

Green businesses with green jobs

There are pre-existing ideas of what constitutes a green job, and what sectors can create them. Even businesses that already have a low environmental impact can benefit from employing sustainable strategies to help promote their brand as well as creating jobs.

Analysis from the Green New Deal UK suggests that all jobs lost to the coronavirus pandemic could be replaced in just two years. However, they emphasise that we must change the notion of green jobs.

Green jobs extend beyond the sphere of clean energy and electric cars. In fact, our carers, teachers, cleaners, and builders all have a role to play in this new circular economy.

From ensuring that waste is minimised and recycled to educating other people about the importance of a clean environment, the economy can be transformed with jobs and services that prioritise sustainability.

In review, green jobs are key to economic recovery, but they can only be created by companies that are willing to grow, adapt, and prioritise sustainability. Investing in the development of existing staff and new recruits into new green roles is vital. All businesses can be green businesses, and all jobs can be green jobs, from care to construction.


Three Dimensions of Leadership Agility

There is one certainty in a VUCA world: The solution that works today may not work tomorrow.

The concept of a VUCA world – one characterized by volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity – used to be just that, an abstract concept.

With the events of 2020, however, VUCA has gone from abstraction to reality, and the very nature of leadership challenges now revolves around:

An accelerated pace of change.
The need for resilience and a strong organizational immune system.
“Wicked” problems and competing demands (e.g. efficiency vs innovation, performance vs human needs).
To navigate the complexity of these challenges, leaders can’t simply rely on their proven strengths and do more of what they’re good at. They need to expand their range and develop a well-rounded repertoire of leadership skills and behaviors.

Because there is one certainty in a VUCA world: The solution that works today may not work tomorrow.

So, like the versatile tennis champion who can hit a powerful serve or finesse a dropshot, leaders will need to be able to toggle between seemingly contradictory competencies. This could mean switching between data-driven analysis and intuition for example, or driving execution and prioritising human connection.

Versatility alone isn’t enough, however; leaders also need agility. Like a master chef who’s trained in a diverse range of skills and techniques, they need to activate their repertoire based on what will produce the desired result.

Having a systematic approach to deploy what you need from your leadership toolkit when you need it equates to leadership agility.

Although there’s no prescriptive formula – agility is about responding to unexpected information and change, after all – you can think of it in three key dimensions: leadership orientation, task function and pacing. Here’s how they might play out.

Oscillating between extremes

As Chief Strategy Officer at BurnBright International, Ozioma Egwuonwu has range, moving with ease between the analytical thinking required for strategic decision making and the emotional intelligence required for human connection.

This is how she describes her approach in working with a consumer packaged goods multinational on its sustainability initiative:

“At the beginning of the innovation process, I’m seeking to understand the overarching context, synthesising an amalgam of stakeholder discussions, foundational research and existing content. Then, as I assess the landscape, I’m listening to the different narratives emerging at the cultural, organisation and customer level.

To do that, it’s important to start from a space of complete openness and availability, to be fully available to whatever is arising, without judgment. Only once you’re done gathering information, do you shift into a more rational thinking mode – to begin to interrogate the data and make connections and choices based on your vision of possibility and desired level of impact.”

There may be tension in shifting between such different modes of operation, Ozioma acknowledges. Leaders will want to default to their strengths and avoid exposing any weakness.

But in the same way that a tennis player can’t rely solely on a powerful serve, a VUCA environment will be less forgiving of rigid adherence to one’s strengths. Leaders need range so they can choose the best approach, not simply the one they’re most comfortable with. The decisive CEO will have to learn how to “not know”; the CTO how to “human”.

Switching context mindfully

The more volatile and uncertain the world, the more leaders need to be present and engaged so they can make thoughtful, intentional decisions. And yet, the dizzying pace of work combined with increasing complexity makes this more challenging than ever.

As co-founder of leadership app bunch.ai, Anthony Reo often has 12-hour days of back-to-back meetings, shifting constantly between different contexts and modes of thinking. It can go from pitching investors and sparring with lawyers on product compliance to analysing user data, interviewing candidates and resolving team conflicts.

His worst days, he says, are when he gets caught up in reactive multitasking – tracking multiple urgent discussions on Slack while participating in a strategy brainstorm on Zoom, for example – which saps his emotional availability and leads to sub-par decision making.

Context-switching, Anthony notes, is different than trying to do more than one task at a time. It is being able to adapt to new situations and hold multiple streams of thought while gaining traction on one task at a time.

To minimise unnecessary task-switching, he takes a systems perspective, making sure he is crystal clear on high-leverage activities and designating specific days for focused thinking time, for example.

At the micro-level, I teach my clients to create more awareness and intentionality in each transition. This can be as literal as changing your physical environment, or simply saying out loud: “Now, I am going to… [answer this email, join this meeting].” Just as you say “I need to take this” when you get a phone call while talking to someone, the verbal cue creates intentionality and focus.

Slowing down to speed up

Brad Stevenson, CEO of Aligned Insight, was working with a global company to integrate diversity, equity and inclusion structures into its strategic planning. There was a real urgency to manifest change, to take action and transform.

Except that when he sat down to discuss the initiative with the head of HR, they asked, “Do you have any idea how much that’s going to cost? If we implement even a small piece of this across our thousands of employees, that’s millions of dollars.”

Cue sound of screeching brakes: What do you do when you recognise that a key functional area of your business is questioning the very premise and budgetary demands of a core organisational strategy?

Leaders who are attached to being decisive and action-oriented might simply steamroll past the question and say: “Well, this is what we’re doing, so let’s talk about the steps for implementation and deadlines and targets.”

But Brad had seen how much value and opportunity is squandered when leaders don’t slow down. A clear example is the high-priced acquisitions that failed miserably because senior executives didn’t address contentious challenges and get buy-in from those responsible for implementation.

So, he’s learned the importance of taking time to connect and build cohesion before trying to push through an agenda, no matter how well meaning. The key, he says, is to recognise when you’re having the “wrong” conversation, to hit pause, change gears and shift into a conversation of engagement.

The accelerated pace of a VUCA world will dramatically magnify the impact of leadership behaviours.

Put the human connection first

As with any leadership development, expanding your range requires more than intellectual understanding; it takes actual practice.

The good news: It doesn’t have to take dramatic effort or 10,000 hours. What I’ve observed with clients is once they know exactly what to do differently, they can – with guided practice and coaching – significantly adapt their behaviours.

For example, if you find yourself gearing up for a conversation with an arsenal of rational arguments, shift your primary focus to curiosity so to understand what the other cares about. Connect first as humans. If you know you have a tendency to jump in and solve others’ problems, lead them through several rounds of inquiry first (“What have you tried?” “What else did you try?”) before stepping in with your suggestions.


Facilitate collaborative breakthrough with these moves

Early in my career as a facilitator of multi-stakeholder collaborations, my colleagues and I led a two-year strategy project for a Fortune 50 logistics company. The company’s established way of doing things was vertical: the CEO managed by giving forceful, detailed directives, which had produced coordination and cohesion that enabled outstanding business success. But the COO thought the company’s situation was dangerous. Globalization and digitization were changing the competitive landscape, and he wanted employees from across the organization to collaborate more horizontally to create innovative responses.
My team worked with the COO and his colleagues to agree on project scope, timeline, and process, and to charter a cross-level, cross-departmental team. The process we designed for the team was more egalitarian and creative than what they were used to. They immersed themselves in the changes in their market by spending time on the front lines of the organization, going on learning journeys to successful organizations in other sectors, and constructing scenarios of possible futures. They participated in workshops that emphasized full engagement on the part of all team members and that included structured exercises designed to generate, develop, and test innovative options.

This transformative process enabled breakthrough by creating a space in which the company’s command-and-control culture—which assumed that the bosses knew best—was suspended. This in turn enabled greater contribution by participants from different departments and from different levels in the hierarchy. The project team cut across the siloed organization, where lines of communication ran up and down rather than from side to side, so the process enabled greater connection. And the company had a steep hierarchy of privilege, with senior people having much greater compensation and agency, so the process also enabled more equitable contribution and connection. By enabling contribution, connection, and equity, our transformative facilitation helped this team come up with and implement a set of initiatives to launch new service offerings and to streamline company operations.

A facilitator enables greater contribution, connection, and equity—and thereby forward movement—by alternating between two types of moves: vertical ones that focus on the unity of the group as a whole and horizontal ones that focus on the plurality of the individual members of the group (see table).

These moves help address five questions that participants and facilitators in all collaborations—regardless of the particulars of the situation—need to work through.

• How do we see our situation? In other words, what is actually happening? This question is about the reality that the group is working together to address. If we can’t understand our reality, we can’t be effective in transforming it.

• How do we define success? What outcomes are we trying to produce through our efforts? If we don’t know what our finish line is, we can’t know whether we’re making progress.

• How will we get from here to there? What is our route from where we are to where we want to be? This question is about the way we will move forward—the approach, process, methodology, and steps.

• How do we decide who does what? What is our approach to coordinating and aligning our efforts? This question is about how we will organize ourselves to collaborate across our differences, without necessarily relying on our usual roles and hierarchies.

• How do we understand our role? What is our responsibility in this situation? This question is about how we each position ourselves with regard to our situation and our collaborative effort to address it.

These questions all arise right from the beginning of every collaboration, but they usually don’t get answered all at once or definitively. Facilitators and participants need to deal with them repeatedly and iteratively over the duration of the collaboration, whether that is days or decades.

Vertical facilitation Horizontal facilitation
Primary focus The good of the whole of the group (group is singular) The good of each member of the group (group is plural)
Strategy for moving forward together Pushing from the top down (compelling)
Relying on expertise and authority Pushing from the bottom up (asserting)
Relying on participants choosing what they will do
Organizing principle Hierarchy of the higher over the lower and the larger over the smaller Equality
Upsides Coordination and cohesion Autonomy and variety
Downsides Rigidity and domination Fragmentation and gridlock
Examples Corporate planning exercise
Policy formation process Team training
Community dialogue
Multi-stakeholder alliance
How transformative facilitation works
Vertical facilitation is common and seductive because it offers straightforward and familiar answers to these five questions. In this approach, both the participants and the facilitator typically give confident, superior, controlling answers to the five questions (i.e., they identify one way to reach their goals). In horizontal facilitation, by contrast, participants typically give defiant, defensive, autonomous answers, and the facilitator supports this autonomy (i.e., each participant will find their own way to reach their goals).

The vertical and horizontal approaches answer the five collaboration questions in opposite ways. In transformative facilitation, the facilitator helps the participants alternate between the two approaches. This is how the group gets the best of both, avoids the worst, and moves forward together.

Here’s how it works, in the context of each of the five questions that are at the core of all collaborative efforts.

How do we see our situation? Often, when collaborating, each of the participants and the facilitator starts off with a confident vertical perspective: “I have the right answer.” Each person thinks, “If only the others would agree with me, then the group would be able to move forward together more quickly and easily.” But when members of the group take this position too far or hold it for too long and start to get stuck in rigid certainty, the facilitator needs to help them explore other points of view, a collaboration move I call inquiring. Doing this helps the group invite different ideas and therefore gain a horizontal perspective. When participants are pounding the table, certain that they have the right answer, the facilitator can start by encouraging them to add “In my opinion” to the beginning of their sentences. This sentence stub opens the door to inquiry: to participants asking, of one another and of themselves, “Where—from what experience or data—does this thinking come from?”

A facilitator enables greater contribution, connection, and equity—and thereby forward movement—by alternating between vertical and horizontal moves.

Participants can also take a horizontal perspective when collaborating: “We each have our own answer.” Taking this approach too far and for too long, however, is also problematic and can lead to cacophony and indecision. In this case, the facilitator needs to help the participants advocate for the point of view they think is correct, so they can try to convince others and as a result move toward the clarity and decisiveness of vertical unity.

The facilitator moves between advocating and inquiring, and in doing so encourages the group to do the same. Through this cycling, the group and the facilitator gradually and iteratively clarify their understanding of where they are and what this implies for what they need to do next.

How do we define success? The vertical perspective on this question is “We need to agree.” But when collaborators get stuck on this demand for the conclusion, the facilitator needs to help them keep moving by asking, “What is your next step?” One of my most important learnings as a facilitator has been that in order for people to move forward together, the agreement is not required as often or on as many matters as most people think.

It’s also possible, though, for participants to go too far with the unfocused horizontal: “We each just need to make progress.” When this happens, the facilitator needs to help the group pause to work out what outcomes they can agree to focus on by asking, “What do we agree on?”

In doing this cycling between advancing and concluding, the facilitator is working with a key tool of facilitation: the pace and timing of the process. And by supporting the group in this way, the facilitator can help the group clarify their understanding of where they want to go.

How will we get from here to there? Often, each participant in collaboration and the facilitator think they know the way to get where they want to go. This is a vertical mindset. But just as with the other questions involved in collaborating, a group can get stuck here. The facilitator needs to help participants experiment with pathways to their goals by asking, “What other options do we have?”

Later, when the participants start to get stuck in the horizontal view—“We will each just find our way as we go”—the facilitator can help them map a common way forward by nudging them to agree on a plan of action for the group.

Sometimes the facilitator needs to persist with the planned process for the work of the group, and the group needs to persist with its planned course of action to address the problematic situation. Sometimes they both need to pivot to deal with what is actually happening, which is different from what they had planned. By cycling between mapping and discovering, the group and the facilitator slowly clarify their way forward.

How do we decide who does what? The facilitator helps the participants work with the fourth question by encouraging them to alternate between directing (like the director of an orchestra or band) and accompanying (like an accompanist playing piano or drums). A vertical perspective—“Our leaders decide”—can be the group’s initial position on how to decide who does what. But this can lead to ineffective bossiness. The facilitator needs to encourage each participant to claim responsibility for their own actions.

However, when the participants start to get stuck in their unaligned horizontal actions, the facilitator needs to direct from the front of the group to help people find alignment by suggesting a way forward for the team as a whole.

How do we understand our role? When participants in a collaboration think about their role in the problem they’re trying to solve, they often see themselves in a vertical position, standing outside the problem, looking in, and being there to fix what’s wrong. But this feeling of cold remoteness from the problem can make it hard for the group to come up with solutions that reflect an understanding of the needs and capacities of the stakeholders involved. So the facilitator needs to help participants consider how they are part of the problem and therefore have the leverage to be part of the solution—by asking them to consider their own role in and responsibility for what is going on.

But if the participants start to get stuck in a self-centered and myopic horizontal view, positioning themselves inside the problem and focusing on putting their own house in order, the facilitator needs to help them get a clearer, less partisan perspective on what is happening.

Sometimes facilitators also need to stand outside the collaborative process to get a clearer perspective on what is happening, and sometimes they need to stand inside it to recognize the ways in which they are themselves part of the problem and therefore have the leverage to be part of the solution.

Transformative facilitation, transformative outcomes
Every group that is collaborating needs to work through the five basic questions—not just once at the beginning of the collaboration, but multiple times, iteratively, as the collaboration unfolds. The facilitator, therefore, needs to make the alternating horizontal and vertical moves over and over. Facilitating in this transformative way can help groups break down barriers to contribution, connection, and equity, and thus move forward together on their most important and daunting challenges.


We All Want to Be Good – Then Life Happens

Say you’re in sales and your boss offers you, privately, to choose between two accounts. Both clients have the same commission potential, but one of them has an unpleasant reputation. Will you hesitate before choosing the nicer client and letting your colleague deal with the other one?

More people than you might think would rather avoid making the obviously selfish decision in this kind of situation. So, if their boss offers to flip a coin, they are likely to do so. But should the coin fall on the “wrong” side, they are also likely to disregard the toss and ultimately assign themselves the nicer client. After all, the boss said that they could choose.

In essence, this is what Dale Miller of Stanford and I show in our recent paper, “A dynamic perspective on moral choice: Revisiting moral hypocrisy”. When people flip a coin (out of fairness), it is not with the intention of disregarding the outcome if it disadvantages them. They are sincerely hoping to get the better deal through luck, thus avoiding any damage to their self-regard. But if Lady Luck isn’t on their side, only then do they revise their decision, using the justification that flipping the coin was optional in the first place. It is a two-step process.

Fairness carries a weight

Acting fairly or doing good deeds for others often comes with a cost. For instance, you may need to expend time, money or effort. But acting selfishly is not cost-free either – the bill comes due when you look at yourself in the mirror. For many people, this creates a painful dilemma. My co-author and I ran four studies to examine how people deal with it.

In our first study, survey participants considered four possible ways of assigning the most advantageous of two tasks: assigning it to oneself or to someone else, or obtaining – or losing it – through chance (a coin toss). Getting the better deal via flipping a coin was perceived as the happiest possible outcome. On a scale of 7, participants rated it 5.91, higher than just assigning it to oneself (5.24). The least happy outcome was to lose the better deal based on a toss (3.58). If the other party is to get the better deal, it might as well be your own doing – at least you could feel good about being such a kind person.

Doing the right thing

Our second study showed that 62 per cent of people chose to flip a coin to assign a better task even when they were told that the decision would be final. After being reminded that a coin toss was considered the fairest practice, 495 participants out of 804 chose to let an automated randomiser decide whether they – or someone else – would get assigned a task that came with a potential US$10 bonus (as opposed to a task without the possibility of a bonus). The take-away: A substantially large proportion of people value fairness enough that they are willing to risk losing the most attractive of two options.

In the third study, we showed that ignoring the outcome of the toss and assigning to oneself the pleasant task was viewed as more justifiable when the coin flip was optional as opposed to mandatory. This suggests that people think the defence that “I could have picked the self-interested outcome for myself from the start” is a reasonable one.

The last study allowed us to show to what extent people will try to hang on to principles of fairness. Participants could either click a button to use a randomiser, or another button to skip the randomiser and assign themselves the task. Many participants (54 percent) clicked on the randomiser, even though they could just assign themselves the better task.

When the randomiser did not favour them, the majority moved on to assign the tasks, ostensibly according to the randomiser’s outcome. About half of these people were honest, assigning the other participant the positive task, whereas half were dishonest, assigning themselves the less onerous task.

Our contention is that the latter half – those who morally capitulated and assigned themselves the positive task – started out with the best of intentions. They expected to follow the toss outcome. But once they were faced with the negative result, they justified their change of tack by saying, “I could have just assigned myself the positive task anyway.” This way, they were able to justify prioritising their self-interest.

As evidence of the two-step process, we examined whether, when given the chance, people would actually “undo” their decision to use the randomiser after seeing a negative outcome. We saw that indeed, when placed in such a situation, some participants ‘unclicked the randomizer, as if they had never seen its result, to begin with, then assigned themselves the positive task as if that had been their intention all along. We confirmed that this was not just due to carelessness or mis-clicking, as those who received the positive outcome were much less likely to un-click; they instead followed the random outcome and assigned themselves the positive task, probably thinking that they would have done the fair thing if the randomiser had gone the other way.

The importance of accountability

When people act selfishly after professing their commitment to fairness, we tend to think that they are moral hypocrites. We assume that they knew all along that they would favour their self-interest and that they just paid lip service to notions of fairness. In reality, they may have been sincere.

Self-interest eventually prevails, once it becomes impossible to both have one’s cake (acting in one’s best interest) and eat it too (avoiding shame and guilt). In other words, people stay moral – until they cannot. They overestimate their ability to follow the flip’s outcome.

However, the dilemma at hand allows for a variety of responses. While a minority of people (dubbed the selfish) chose the best task for themselves outright, some people (called altruists) immediately assigned the positive task to the other person. Some people (the fair do-ers, or morally trapped) flipped the coin and honestly followed the outcome, whether it disadvantaged them or not. Of interest to us were people who set out to follow the coin toss, but ultimately changed their minds. Half of them – the lucky ones – got the positive outcome and could follow their self-interest guilt-free. But the other half – dynamic moral shifters – flipped the coin but ultimately gave in to their self-interest, once they found a justification.

The practical implication is that people, as a rule, do want to achieve a fair outcome. But whether they implement it often depends on how accountable they are. So, if a company starts a prosocial behaviour – say recycling – but suddenly stops, it may be because some external factor, like an increase in costs, tipped the balance. If the company does not hold itself accountable, it may just relent, even on its best intentions.

Ultimately, most decision-makers set out with better intentions than you might think. But someone needs to hold them accountable when the going gets tough.


Fixing Your Job Architecture: A New Business Imperative

One of the most devilish problems in business is building and maintaining your job architecture. While it may sound geeky, it’s very important and it is much harder than you think.

Consider the enormous transformations taking place in the economy. Every job is being automated, enhanced, and changed by technology. Companies are moving into new business models, people are working in agile teams, and more and more people work at home with less direct supervision. How do you design your entire lattice of jobs so they make sense, they’re efficient, and they’re all up to date?

And when you recruit, promote, or move people from role to role – how do you define the job requirements, the skills needed, the levels, and the pay? These are big strategic questions and great companies do this well.

Well in this day of global transformation (25% of Americans changed careers this last year), this topic has taken on epic importance. CHROs and CIOs are redefining their job architectures everywhere, and every line manager and HR technologist is dealing with this on a daily basis. The core problem comes down to Organization Design, an area we are studying now (join us here). But for this article let me explain what’s going on.

First, your job architecture has to be clear and simple.

Companies are like your drawers at home: they get more cluttered over time. Every time a manager hires someone he or she creates a “job” and puts on a bunch of responsibilities they need. Over time your company has 20 different job titles which all equate to “analyst,” or eleven different “marketing managers,” dozens of “project managers,” and more.

I remember talking with Yelp about this in their engineering department, which of course has database engineers (back-end), application developers (mid-tier), front-end developers (user interface), designers, and even “full-stack” engineers (who know the whole stack). They gave up trying to make sense of all this and they call every engineer an “Engineer.” They have levels and responsibilities, but the job titles are totally fungible. This lets them move people around without all these headaches.

If you don’t simplify the architecture you end up with tons of problems:

Too many people doing the same thing in different places (BNY Mellon just consolidated 3,000 positions into streamlined families and found 7-15 job titles doing the same thing all over the IT and operations teams)
Inability to move people around (roles are not clear so people cant figure out what a job really is)
Difficulty creating a global skills inventory (who can tell what people know when everyone has their own personal job title?)
Challenges with pay equity and job mobility. One tech company told me their talent mobility is stalled because “nobody will take a new position unless they get a promotion.” They had 65 different levels in the company (and have now moved down to about 20).
Second, you have to consolidate positions into “Guilds” or “Professional Groups.”

Roles like engineering, marketing, sales, and even HR have “professional capabilities” and these capabilities should be clearly defined and owned by a “capability leader” in the company. This person used to be the “VP of Engineering” but you can make it whoever you want. The purpose of this role is to keep track of the skills and technologies people really need, and then make sure all the “circles” of people in that functional area (who may report to other groups) know where they fit in the career model.

Marketing is a great example. There used to be “direct mail marketing” and “lead gen” and “email marketing” and “social media marketing.” Now there’s “growth marketing” and “demand gen” and “marketing ops” and “marketing analytics.” These new job titles reflect major changes and maturity of the function as well as new technologies in the market. If someone doesn’t look at these changes you may have one business unit with old titles and another with new ones. And of course, you can’t standardize process, tools, development, or job sharing.

The Guild “leader” is a very important role. This is typically a seasoned expert or professional who knows the function and can sponsor skills and career programs in the domain. We call these “Capability Academies” and I still think they’re one of the most important trends in HR. (Read more about Guilds here.)

Third, you need an AI and data platform to stay current.

This week Eightfold.ai announced its Job Intelligence Engine, a toolset and real-time data system that lets you look at all the jobs in the world for a given function and figure out who, in your company, is doing the same thing under different job titles. The Eightfold engine is pretty amazing. BNY Mellon, for example, has consolidated 3,000 IT and operations jobs in only 6-8 weeks using this system and is now planning on consolidating and rationalizing all 31,000 such jobs by year-end. The typical ERP systems like Workday, Oracle, and SAP really don’t have tools for this, so they leave it up to you. (Companies like SkyHive are also doing this.)

Another source of information may be EMSI/BurningGlass or the IBM Talent Frameworks. These are less “intelligent” systems but they can give you good job architectures to learn from, and then you can see what you’re missing in your system.

Finally, you need a leader, team, and process to do this well.

Adapting your job architecture is not a “one-time thing” – it’s a new way of running your company.

At Verizon, for example, the company has retail, business to business, media, and internal operations. The company is going through a job architecture simplification project now, but it may never end. Every time Verizon acquires a company or moves into a new industry they have to do it again, so they need a “functional team” that refreshes the job architecture on a regular basis, assigns “circle owners” to own each functional area, and a series of “capability academies” to make sure each functional area stays current on skills, technologies, and careers.

Capital One created its Cloud Academy years ago and the CIO led the effort. That initial focus created an entire focus on capability models, skills, and career experiences in cloud engineering. Allstate does this in various actuary and other core functions. And companies like Lockheed Martin view it as an annual strategic process. At least once every year the company should look at its jobs and skills and make sure things are up to date.

We have been doing this in HR, by the way, and the impact can be tremendous. We have identified trending skills in HR, clusters of skills, and new roles being created, and we call this “The Anthropology of HR.”

Since we are essentially a “Guild,” we have the ability to learn about new technologies, understand hybrid roles, and understand the nature of jobs. (Visit our Global HR Capability Project to learn more). You can do this too.

The Job Architecture team should have authority and power: this is not an administrative job. Job architecture impacts everything: recruiters will test the system as they search for candidates and see new job titles in the market. The compensation team will want data on job levels and new hybrid job roles that impact your design. L&D teams will use the job architecture for onboarding, development, and career planning. And every manager needs this information so they can efficiently set up their teams and then hire, manage, and reward people.

Stuart Logan, who leads this effort at BNY Mellon, has evolved their process and learned how to go from months to weeks in the process of job architecture simplification. Stuart is a senior HR leader with experience running the HR business partner function for operations, so he has the HR, tech, and data experience to pull this off. I think this kind of senior role, the “Job Architect” or “Head of Skills Architecture” is going to be essential in the future.

And let me conclude with one final point. This is an opportunity for innovation too.

While you may want to be “industry-standard” in your roles and jobs, this is actually an opportunity to push the envelope. If you’re a Consumer Goods company, for example, you may want to organize your entire go-to-market business around customer age or demographic. This strategy, which might disrupt your competition, could create a new family of jobs. (ie. Gen X Marketing Lead, for example). So job architecture impacts organization design, which is directly related to your entire business strategy.


Connecting The Disconnected: Overcoming The Hybrid Work Dilemma

In the early months of the global pandemic, working from home and starved for physical interaction, employees at multinational companies around the world reported something surprising: increased job satisfaction, as measured by employee Net Promoter Score℠. As Zoom transported them into the living rooms of bosses, clients, and colleagues, employees felt more connected. They bonded over the surprise appearance of pets and children. They empathized with one another. The effect was most dramatic in China, where 46% of employees surveyed by Bain & Company between late April and May of 2020 reported increased satisfaction, but the trend was notable in the US and across European economies as well.

Now, well into Covid-19 year two, with no clear return to normal in sight, it is time to think about how we retain—and in many cases rebuild—that initial sense of unity. Job satisfaction appears to be dropping now, with one recent study finding that more than half of US employees are considering a job change this year. How employers fare during this period of “Great Resignation” will depend in part on how they cultivate the connection all humans need.

The more connected employees feel, the stronger their company performs. In our recent Harvard Business Review article, “How Good is your Company at Change?” my coauthor, Kevin Murphy, and I summarize the nine most important components of an organization’s ability to change. High change power correlates with better financial outcomes, company culture, and employee engagement. While all nine components are important, the element of connection has the greatest correlation with overall change power. It is also a topic that comes up repeatedly in discussions with executives. Many of them have ambitious, transformational goals for their businesses, but without the engagement, commitment, and energy of their people, they know change will sputter.

Bain & Company research has found that organizations on the whole fail to adequately address their people’s need to be heard, informed, and connected during times of transition. Only 22% of frontline employees report feeling connected to others. How, executives ask, can we improve that in today’s hybrid and uncertain environment?

I give three answers, all building upon classic approaches but with important new twists, updated for today’s environment.

1. Omnichannel communication cascades
An old idea now enjoying renewed life, communication cascades aim to quickly get critical information to the staff closest to customers in order to help them make better informed decisions. First, management makes sure the company’s strategic priorities are well understood, including what makes them priorities and what benefit they will bring to individual staffers.

To really involve people at all levels and get the messages through, an omnichannel approach is critical, utilizing not only one-way channels like company social media platforms, town hall meetings, video broadcasts, and newsletters, but also in two-way dialogue. Everyone should hear from a trusted supervisor and be given the chance to ask questions and share their thoughts. A cascade that leaves employees feeling heard, valued, and included has a strong chance of unlocking the discretionary energy and creativity of employees.

Within my own firm of Bain & Company, keeping 1,000-plus leaders around the world feeling engaged and empowered in a partner-owned enterprise is no small feat. Then there are the 13,000-plus employees spread across more than 60 offices and 38 countries. To connect us all and communicate important changes, we use a multitude of channels, from live, virtual town halls to internal newsletters to social media platforms. Two-way dialogue is coordinated via geographies and practice specialties in dynamic workshop formats that solicit feedback, collect ideas, and foster commitment and action. We have employed change ambassador networks of different sorts to listen to what’s really happening on the ground, and then assess what we learn both quantitatively and qualitatively. All of this engagement planning is done with specific populations in mind, to make sure we are addressing the unique concerns and needs of different groups of people, from newly hired first-year consultants to senior experts in every segment of our business. It often feels like a Herculean effort, but it’s absolutely critical to harnessing the full power of our people.

2. Networks of change agents
The notion of creating some kind of network of ambassadors to help support organizational change is also a classic, something Kevin and I have done in our consulting work for years. Recently, the power of networks has only grown, to the point where it can even eclipse traditional management hierarchies for creating a feeling of connection during periods of change. Digital tools can improve our ability to identify and mobilize corporate networks. Tracking patterns in email and meetings is one form of workforce analytics that can show how connected a given employee is. There are also more direct collaboration tools, like OrgMapper, that specifically track influencers in an organization. Additional collaboration platforms such as Trello, Slack, and Microsoft Teams can then help these networkers communicate quickly and effectively across geographic boundaries.

A company in the US that went through a large-scale business transformation used such a network of more than 100 change agents, a first for the company. Selected by leaders based on their credibility, energy, enthusiasm, and reputation for being candid and objective, these change agents’ strengths included an ability to synthesize and present complex ideas and a deep understanding of the organization. Every two weeks, this diverse group—drawn from different functions, teams, levels of the organization, tenure, and genders—filled out a short change pulse survey to give management a sense of how the organization was doing and then met a few days later to discuss concerns and share ideas on how to do better.

Because they were close to the front line, this group could help ensure change took hold, acting as the eyes and ears within their teams, warning management when the organization was rolling out more than coworkers could absorb or the rationale behind the changes was not being made clear. Understanding that there would be some resistance to their planned changes, as there always is, management felt the network could help them move through the disruption and initial resistance as quickly as possible and begin to build commitment to a transformation they believe will make it possible for the company to thrive in the future.

3. Working “middle out”
Many a traditional communication plan has gone straight from the boardroom to the front line, disenfranchising middle managers just when they are most needed. Smartly engaging key influencers in this stratum of management can accelerate change. In Japan’s traditional, lifetime employment model, for example, the middle has tremendous power. I moved to Tokyo recently and not long after had the opportunity to meet with a senior executive of a large Japanese company. During our conversation, he lamented senior management frustration with what he described as a clay layer in the organization, through which it was nearly impossible to push any meaningful change. Unable to go around these midlevel employees, or fire them, management has to work with them. A first step in converting these workers from liability to asset: engaging them and giving them a meaningful stake in creating a cultural transformation of the business.

Finding the influencers and empowering them, helping them become better, more committed change leaders by sharpening their capabilities with coaching and training, helps build connection and improves the chances change will truly take hold. It makes these influencers part of the solution.

For organizations seeking to increase their power to change, building connectivity is an important place to start. Two-way omnichannel communication that cultivates networks of change agents, particularly in the critical middle, will help. In today’s fast-changing work environment, connection and changeability are more essential than ever.