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, 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.