Reflecting Edgar Schein’s ideas

This is a powerful review by MIT of five of Edgar Schein’s most enduring ideas:

1. Coercive persuasion

2. Career anchors and dynamics

3. Organization culture

4. Humble inquiry and leadership

5. Organization change

His work on culture is still relevant as people continue to zero-in on visible artifacts & symbols, rather than explore underlying assumptions. He also examined the way culture, leadership, and organizational transformation intersect.

Another major contribution (certainly in my area) is in process consulting, where he called out the importance of shifting from a “doctor-patient” relationship to one based on active and collaborative enquiry and group problem solving.

What an amazing body of work.

Here’s the link: “5 enduring management ideas from MIT Sloan’s Edgar Schein | MIT Sloan”

https://mitsloan.mit.edu/ideas-made-to-matter/5-enduring-management-ideas-mit-sloans-edgar-schein?utm_source=mitsloantwitter&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=schein

#Leadership #OrganizationalCulture #EmployeeExperience

EX Newsletter – Autumn 2022

@nickl4

Here’s the autumn edition of my newsletter. The days shorten, the temperature drops, the heating bills go up, and I’m a bit worried the content here won’t cheer you up. 🙁


Two excellent articles have analysed data from social networks to measure employee experience. First up, Don and Charles Sull have mined Glassdoor to identify what leads to toxic work cultures. Their answer: bad leadership and poor work design. Second, a bunch of folks from MIT, Harvard and Stanford have explored LinkedIn connections to understand the effects of strong and weak ties on job mobility. Both are examples of analysing “passive data” in order to understand behaviour through networks (an area of growing interest).

https://sloanreview.mit.edu/article/how-to-fix-a-toxic-culture/

https://mitsloan.mit.edu/press/a-team-mit-harvard-and-stanford-scientists-finds-weaker-ties-are-more-beneficial-job-seekers-linkedin


Talking of social connections, when I started doing research into engagement (all those years ago!) I never expected that isolation and loneliness would emerge as a key theme. But it is. In the UK, one-in-five employees feel lonely at work. Importantly, only one-in-ten would ever tell their manager about it. This article by Rachel Botsman (one of my favourite writers) is to the point.

https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/why-loneliness-work-something-we-should-talking-rachel-botsman/


Maybe what’s needed is more compassionate leadership. To that end, this paper by Mark Mortensen and Heidi Gardner looks at how leaders can show compassion without compromising on performance; in their words “being kind and high-performing”.

https://knowledge.insead.edu/leadership-organisations/how-show-compassion-without-compromising-performance


When it comes to changing culture, I found this article by Roger Martin very insightful. “Culture change depends on micro-interventions: small adjustments to the structure, dynamics, or framing of interpersonal interactions, applied consistently over time.” That’s something I agree with – lots of incremental changes that can add up to something big, even transformative.

https://www.strategy-business.com/blog/When-it-comes-to-changing-culture-think-small


I’ve been out and about presenting at conferences recently. It’s great to meet people in person. I’ve been talking about using analytics to better support employees in a cost of living crisis. I’ve also discussed wellbeing and the need to focus on organisational health and resilience. (Someone called this “the state of the world according to Nick” presentation, which I think is fair as I cover a lot of ground, from geopolitics to neuroscience!) Links to my slides from both these presentations are below.

People Analytics and the Cost of Living Crisis

Wellbeing and Resilient Agility


As always, let me know what you make of these articles, and feel free to share this newsletter with other colleagues and contacts:

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If by some horrendous luck you received this newsletter by both email and from Substack, just let me know and I will remove you from one or the other.

Take care and best wishes,

Nick

EX Newsletter Autumn 2021

@nickl4

Here is the autumn edition of my EX Newsletter.

Over the last few months, we have been doing a lot of work on the connection between culture and EX, and that’s reflected in the content below. Both topics are top of mind for many leaders I’m working with. I think this is because there are just so many things happening that are impacting trust at work – witness “The Great Resignation” – that it’s important to reflect on key principles about purpose and alignment.

John Kotter’s new book Change is one of my favourites of the year and I highly recommend it. He incorporates research from neuroscience with his long-standing focus on organisational culture and change. This article is a useful summary of his approach: https://sloanreview.mit.edu/article/overcoming-obstacles-to-successful-culture-change/

I like this idea of “a people-centered operating system” from Vivek Sharma, with a focus on goal setting, learning, and culture. In this short article, he argues that the future of work is really about the future of talent, which is something I strongly agree with: https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/376749

I am very interested in new and different sources of EX data, so Culture X’s research into Glassdoor reviews is something I’ve been following closely. This is another great article from them, which highlights the fundamental importance of respect and leadership: https://sloanreview.mit.edu/article/10-things-your-corporate-culture-needs-to-get-right/#EmployeeExperience

My colleague John Bremen has written a series of terrific articles on human capital issues and I really enjoyed this one on “workplace dignity”. He talks about dignity at work, dignity in work, and dignity from work: https://www.willistowerswatson.com/en-GB/Insights/2021/09/reducing-talent-risk-through-workplace-dignity

I hope you find these articles useful; let me know!

Nick

Five reasons why there’s so much interest in employee experience

The Global Talent Trends report by LinkedIn is one of many studies to show that HR and business leaders are making a priority of employee experience (EX).

Elsewhere, I have defined what I mean by EX and argued that it’s more than a fad. Looking beyond the buzz, there are key reasons why EX has become a serious focus for leaders:

  1. It is widely accepted that employee experience matters for business performance. Even if you haven’t analysed your own people and business data, most leaders can see that employee experience is important in delivering great customer experiences, especially in a digital world. At an operational level, if the tools and systems that you use internally are clunky and time-consuming, there will be a knock-on effect for customers in terms of agility and service. Businesses increasingly compete on the basis of the experiences they deliver to customers. This means that collaboration, simplification and end-to-end thinking become even more critical capabilities.
  2. Leaders are aware of the risks of not understanding employee experience. You can argue that Boeing is the latest in a long line of companies to get into trouble by not understanding the experience of key workers. Boeing’s leaders were apparently blind to the fact that staff were so critical of arrangements for the 737 Max. Another recent example is the fashion retailer Ted Baker. The company suffered serious damage to its reputation when incidents of “forced hugging” were exposed publicly in the rise of the #MeToo movement. Listening to employees needs to be a leadership focus even (or perhaps especially) during moments of crisis, such as the financial crash and the current pandemic. These are times when your values are tested. For Tracy Maylett and Matthew Wride, these are key “moments of truth” for EX and trust.
  3. Partly in response, EX is getting board-level and external attention. In the UK, for example, the Corporate Governance Code has brought in a higher level of employee involvement and a focus on internal culture. Many companies have doubled-down on employee listening as a result; making sure they can demonstrate that employee input is given greater prominence. Related to this is a broader focus on corporate sustainability that emphasises the perspectives of all stakeholders, including employees. Investors also have an appetite for better workforce reporting and greater transparency. This interest is only going to grow, given that intangibles such as human capital increasingly drive value in a knowledge- or experience-based economy. One-in-three large companies already use people metrics in executive pay design; the most common metrics are EX-related (culture and engagement).
  4. Another important reason for focusing on EX is because inclusion and diversity is under the spotlight. In the UK, for example, where progress on I&D has been slow, large companies have to report gender pay gaps (and perhaps in the future BAME pay gaps as well). These pay gaps arise because of long-term and persistent trends. Traditional approaches only provide crude insights into these trends. An EX lens can be far more useful in terms of understanding problems and finding solutions. This often involves more continuous listening, focused on key cohorts and networks, especially at critical moments.
  5. One underlying or structural reason for making a priority of EX is the widespread impact of digital transformation on work, jobs and organisations. The speed of digital transformation has accelerated during the coronavirus crisis, by necessity, but it is a longer-term and ongoing force for change. To operate a successful digital business requires a focus on culture and behaviour as well as systems. Effective digital processes depend on collaboration and end-to-end thinking. In turn, this requires a change in leadership mindset, away from hierarchy and control towards involvement and transparency. This is a big shift for many organisations and for many leaders. By focusing on EX, you can build trust and help establish sustainable change.

You can add other reasons to this list. They may include things like generational changes in the workforce and changing expectations regarding personalisation and feedback.

What strikes me is that, in my 20 years’ of working in employee insights, I haven’t seen as much interest as there is now in measuring and activating employee experience.

Because of this, however, it’s especially important to be mindful about your overall approach and how it should evolve. This will include, for example, your overall listening strategy, the data you have available for integrated analytics, your level of EX maturity, the degree of trust that exists in your organisation, and your change leadership capability.

Given that EX has become such a priority, you need to think strategically and systemically about it. In particular, you need to prioritise the areas where employee experience can answer the most critical questions and provide the greatest business value.

Let me know your thoughts on this and any other reasons that you would add to the list.

Feel free to also contact me here or on Twitter @nickl4.

You can read more about EX Leadership here as well.

Tags: #EmployeeExperience #EmployeeEngagement #PeopleAnalytics

This article was first published on LinkedIn on May 12, 2020.

Leadership and culture in the future of work

My news feed is full of articles on the Future of Work (“FoW”). A number of trends are converging so that it feels like we are on the cusp of big changes in the workplace. Some of those trends include:

  • Increasing use of contingent workers and talent exchanges like Work Market.
  • A more diverse workforce, meaning, for example, that teams comprise people with widely different experiences.
  • Employees who have grown up with social media and who have consumer-type expectations of their experience at work.
  • A workforce that is geographically dispersed and reliant on social media rather than face-to-face interaction.
  • Jobs that are far more technology-dependent, with routine tasks automated by artificial intelligence or robots.
  • Demand for new skills, such as those required to make sense of the huge volume of data that our on-line participation leaves behind.

Within this shifting mix, many people are wondering what it all means. In practice, “disruption” is an over-used term and transformation will be incremental. But it’s clear that there are new challenges and also opportunities for those companies that are able to seize them.

One area I am interested in is what the future of work means for leadership and culture. This can sometimes be low down on the to-do list in FoW articles, as it relates to something that is generally hard, ongoing, sustained effort. Some writers have even speculated that in the future there should be less focus on culture as attention shifts to the work itself. But I believe the leadership challenge is to glue together the shifting workforce into a community of shared interests and this is as important as ever because people want meaning from their work.

Some of the emerging priorities for this are already clear and are being explored by my clients:

  1. Focus on employee experience. This means identifying the key interactions that employees have with the organisation and then applying design thinking to improve engagement and performance. It is a joined-up approach to jobs, teams, rewards and the way people work. It includes understanding employee journeys and maximising the value of key episodes. It also means improving the digital tools employees use and reviewing the physical workspace in order to increase collaboration and productivity.
  2. Adopt a comprehensive listening strategy. This means deploying a mix of consumer-style approaches, including pulse surveys and social media analytics. An important part of the mix is also supporting managers to have dialogue and conversation, rather than only managing from their desktop “cockpit”.1 It also means shaping the physical workspace so that it is easy for face-to-face conversation to occur.
  3. Create a strong identity through shared experiences. Although artefacts and rituals are changing (workspaces, flex working, mobile tools, dress code, etc.), the fundamentals of culture building remain the same: role modelling, strong values, clear purpose. Increasingly, shared experiences are digital. These provide the opportunity to engage a broad group at the same point in time. However, breaches of trust are also more public, which highlights the importance of authenticity and consistency.
  4. Reinforce meaning and purpose through feedback. Technology makes it far easier to provide useful, regular feedback, not only from colleagues, but also from customers and partners. In fact, it is vital to provide customer feedback and to align employee and customer experiences. The critical “cog” in using feedback remains the team leader. So selecting and developing front-line managers who are able to build line of sight and help people understand the contribution they make is key.

Because change is incremental, the FoW is not as far off as it might feel, so it’s important to build preparedness now. But there is an additional challenge, namely who will be your most effective leaders in the future of work? In our recent Global Workforce Study only 39% of people said their organisation is doing a good job of developing future leaders.2 It’s quite likely that your current definition of leadership reflects your old hierarchy and old ways of working. Leading people in a flatter, networked organisation requires a different set of skills.3 Understanding the behaviours needed for your future success, and incorporating those into your assessment and development programmes now, is one of the most critical components to get right.

References:

  1. Sherry Turkle “Reclaiming Conversation” (Penguin Books, 2015)
  2. Willis Towers Watson “Employers look to modernize the employee value proposition” (2016)
  3. Ravin Jesuthasan and Marie S. Holmstrom “As Work Changes, Leadership Development Has to Keep Up” (HBR, 2016)

Tags: #Leadership #Culture #FutureOfWork

This article was first published on LinkedIn on April 20, 2017

Simplifying the work

In many companies people are frustrated. They feel they’re running hard and putting in a lot of effort, but they’re not making much of an impact, and this is often due to the difficulty of getting work done.

Yves Morieux has pointed out that the twin problems of stagnant productivity and low employee engagement share the same root cause, the increasing complicatedness of work and the growth of bureaucracy. Fighting complexity, according to Morieux, is the number one battle for all business leaders.

Yves is not alone in worrying about this. Gary Hamel is appalled at the damage being done to the global economy by bureaucratisation. He argues there is a 3 trillion dollar wealth-creating opportunity in tackling bureaucracy, and pleads with business leaders to get to grips with it.

These are some of the issues Hamel identifies:

  • Policies and processes sapping individual initiative
  • Sign-offs slowing decision making
  • Boundaries creating silos, matrix structures blurring accountability
  • Time and energy consumed by unhelpful reporting and pointless meetings

In my experience, the single most effective way of tackling these challenges is to involve employees in simplifying the work. This is what we do when we run employee surveys. We provide a critical feedback loop and involve people in the solutions. Key topics we explore are things like: Does everyone have a clear line of sight to the customer? What’s stopping more effective cooperation? When people believe something can be done better and differently, do they speak up about it? Are people able to sustain the level of personal energy they need in order to have an impact?

These are some important things to watch out for when simplifying work:

  • Managers need to know that one of their key tasks is to get stuff out of the way, so their teams can work effectively
  • Financial and operational information should be transparent and widely shared
  • Managers have a role in helping their teams understand how the business works and their contribution
  • Feedback is critical and this means listening to employees and encouraging dialogue
  • You need to reward people who do a good job of simplifying work and share their success stories widely

Hamel believes we need “a revolution of the mind” in order to go to war with bureaucracy. And in this there is also a critical role for people analytics. This is because, as new ways of working are tested and piloted, you need good people analytics to understand the impact of such “hacks” on engagement, productivity and other outcomes in order to build the business case and to direct the next iteration of changes.

It really bugs me when unnecessary things get in the way of my work, so this is one mission I am proud to play a part in.

References:

Tags: #HighPerformance #OrganizationalEffectiveness #Bureaucracy

This article was first published on LinkedIn on April 25, 2016