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Why the 9 Box Grid is outdated and could be sabotaging your People Strategy.

In my past life, I used the 9 Box Grid. Like many HR professionals, I believed what I was told about the tool.  All the “best” organisations used it.  It was an essential part of the toolkit.  I rolled it out every year and worked hard to get managers to populate it.  Spent ages chasing managers to enter their data and then even more time trying to get managers to spread their people amongst the boxes, rather than cluster in the top right-hand corner.  It was exhausting.  Even then, I wondered if there was a better alternative to the 9-box grid.   Originally designed in the early 1970s, the GE–McKinsey 9 box grid was a systematic approach for the decentralised corporation to determine which business unit to invest its cash.  Considering business units against two factors – the attractiveness of the relevant industry and the unit’s competitive strength within that industry.  The model quickly transferred to other areas, and HR professionals started to use the grid to identify employee growth potential based on current performance scores.   Here we are some 50 years later still using a tool – that was never originally designed for succession planning or employee development.  So what’s the problem with continuing to use this approach, and why could it be sabotaging the rest of your People Strategy?     Oversimplification of Performance and Potential The 9-Box Grid categorises employees based on someone’s perception of their performance and potential, labelling them as high potentials, solid contributors, or low performers. This oversimplified approach doesn’t recognise the complexity of an individual’s abilities and growth trajectory. It ignores nuances such as specific skill sets, diversity of experiences, and the potential for rapid development. Relying solely on a two-dimensional grid can lead to wrong assessments and overlook hidden talents within the organisation.   Lack of Context and Individualisation Each employee’s journey and circumstances are unique, and the 9-Box Grid fails to consider this critical aspect. It doesn’t account for external factors like market conditions, industry disruptions, or personal circumstances that may impact an employee’s performance or potential. Additionally, it overlooks the importance of tailoring development plans and career paths to individual needs, aspirations, and strengths. A one-size-fits-all approach can hinder employee engagement and limit the organisation’s ability to unlock untapped potential.   Bias and Subjectivity The 9-Box Grid relies heavily on subjective assessments, which can introduce unconscious biases into the succession planning process. Human bias, whether based on personal preferences, demographic factors, or past experiences, can inadvertently influence employee ratings. This can lead to an unequal distribution of opportunities and hinder the organisation’s ability to build a diverse and inclusive leadership pipeline. Overcoming bias requires more robust evaluation methods and a commitment to fair and unbiased decision-making.   Inflexibility and Lack of Agility The 9-Box Grid provides a static snapshot at a given point in time and ignores the dynamic nature of talent development. Employees evolve, learn, and acquire new skills over time, challenging the static nature of the grid. Succession planning should be an ongoing process that adapts to changing business needs and individual growth trajectories. Relying solely on the 9-Box Grid can limit the organisation’s ability to respond flexibly to emerging opportunities or address unforeseen talent gaps.   Lack of follow-up action The 9 Box Grid compels organisations to categorise employees.  But after being categorised, how does the 9-box grid support development?  It doesn’t.  Simply knowing what we perceive about an employee’s performance or potential does nothing to help us identify the development needed by employees.  We’ve categorised people across functions and jobs and lost the individual needs of each of those employees.  My personal experience of using the 9-box grid was that after spending the energy to populate it, there was little energy or interest left for the development of the people they’ve just categorised!    So, what do you do to overcome these limitations and improve your succession planning efforts?   Embrace Holistic Assessments: Move beyond a two-dimensional grid and adopt a more comprehensive approach considering a broader range of factors, such as skills, competencies, experiences, and aspirations. Data-Driven Decision-Making: Leverage objective data and multiple sources of feedback to inform succession decisions, reducing the impact of bias and subjectivity. Individual Development Plans: Tailor development plans to meet each employee’s unique needs, aspirations, and strengths based on a belief that EVERYONE is talented. Regular Review and Adaptation: Implement an ongoing review process that enables agility and responsiveness to changes in the organisation’s needs and employees’ development.   Succession planning is important for an organisation’s long-term success – isn’t it time for us People Proesionels to offer our businesses a more modern and agile approach that builds robust and diverse talent pipelines and leverages the full potential of their employees?  

What is quiet hiring, and why should we be doing it?

After quiet quitting, “quiet hiring” is the new workplace buzzword to be aware of.  Quiet hiring has been around for a long time, traditionally referred to as Internal Talent Mobility.  But that phrase conjures up an old model of planning career moves which was slow, opaque, subjective and out of date.  In this blog, I’ll explain What is quiet hiring and why should we be doing it if you want to retain talented people and quickly rebalance workloads from areas that see decreased demand to others with an increased need.   What is Quiet Hiring? At its simplest, quiet hiring is upskilling current employees and moving them to new roles or focus areas, either on a temporary or permanent basis.  Notice this isn’t only new roles in different departments or teams within the organisation.  This also includes temporary project opportunities, job shadowing, job rotations and even experimentation.   Quiet Hiring has become more prominent as organisations need to increasingly respond to new or evolving business needs quickly and easily, and it was ranked among the “top nine work trends for 2023” by Gartner.     Being able to quickly adapt has become more important to organisations as they’re rapidly moving from a period of growth and expansion following the global pandemic, to a “re-balance” with talks about potential recession and stagnation.  Organisations are nervous about the future, and headcount budgets are being constrained so organisations turn to quiet hiring to fill skill gaps and save resources.   A win-lose result? Some headlines talk about people being made to take on extra responsibilities without additional rewards as their colleagues leave.  Frankly, if that’s your approach to quiet hiring you’re on a path to poor performance, attrition and reduced business results just when you need all three to compete and grow.   Forward-looking organisations are identifying where talent is most needed and redeploying in-house talent towards the organisation’s new goals, offering employees a boost to their career aspirations by either growing their skills or learning new ones.   Ceridian’s 2023 Pulse of Talent survey found employees were particularly interested in internal mobility.  Nearly half (49%) of respondents said they would like to contribute their skills to new projects from within their current role, and 43% expressed an interest in moving into a new role in a different team. A further 35% said they would like to change career paths within the company.    But I accept there is a fine line between enabling individuals to grow and advance their career aspirations and forcing people to take on additional work.  If you want to embrace quiet hiring and a modern approach to Internal Talent Mobility, here’s my 3 step approach to getting it right AND growing your organisation.   Step 1.  Understand skills, competencies and aspirations.  There are two sides to this step: Understanding the organisation’s business strategy (aspirations) and what skills, competencies and behaviours are needed to deliver that strategy.  With 51% of Gen Z employees saying that their education has not prepared them to enter the workforce, and the rapid pace of change seen by the Fourth Industrial Revolution, knowing the future skills your organisation needs will be critical.   But as organisations are full of people, you also need to understand their current skills, competencies and aspirations.  Knowing the skills and competencies already in existence gives you your starting point.  Objectively measuring the skills base already in your organisation opens up an readily available talent pipeline, and understanding your employees’ aspirations helps you tap into their motivations, needs and wants.   Only then do you know what you need, know what you’ve got and know how to fuel the motivation and engagement of your people.   Step 2.  Grow skills, competencies and behaviours  Many organisations focus on this because it is relatively easy to provide learning and development opportunities.  But having completed step one, your learning and development should be targeted to grow your people’s skills and competencies to satisfy their aspirations and your organisation’s strategic needs.  According to a study conducted by Degreed, 46% of the responding professionals agreed they are more likely to leave their company if they do not see a commitment to upskilling and reskilling   By doing this, you can focus your (limited) budget on the areas that matter the most to the organisation and the individuals.  With the democratisation of learning being a reality, and responding to the employee voice a necessity; balancing the needs of the organisation with employee aspirations is possible and necessary.     To balance individual and organisational needs, we need to shift mindsets about learning and development away from an event to an activity available anytime, any place, anywhere. Where information is accessible to all employees and the process of learning is accessible to all employees.   Step 3  Connect people to jobs, opportunities and projects Traditionally, this would involve a permanent job move, or maybe a secondment.  This takes time and is not flexible.  To do Quiet Hiring well, think broader.  Work is not always a job.  It could be a project that’s carried out without a job change. In a different department or function.  Or a secondment?  Or simply a new task or process.      Going back to what you learnt about people’s aspirations in step 1, adding in the development carried out in step 2 – you’re now in a better position to systematically match people to work as the need arises.  This is where you can build agile talent pipelines based on skills, competencies AND aspirations – breaking through the functional silos and knowing those people are motivated to do that work. With that addition of motivation aligned with their aspirations, you’ll get more energy, commitment and even risk-taking.    Technology can support this final step – holding details of people’s skills, competencies and aspirations and even matching people to work as it arises.  But this also means a culture and Leadership mindset that it’s OK for employees to actively consider and evaluate opportunities. And remove the stigma

Can you be too much of an authentic leader

Can you be too much of an authentic leader?   I recently ran a Women’s Leadership Development programme, and we talked about the power of being your authentic self to be a better leader.  When we can be ourselves we are less stressed and worried about things, we make better decisions, listen better and generally understand people and situations.  In this same programme, we also discussed whether you can be too much of an authentic leader, and how does that fit comfortably with professionalism?  Here are my suggestions for solving that puzzle, and finding your happy medium to be both.   What do we mean by Authenticity? My suggestion is that Authenticity is the notion of ‘true self’ – I know who I am and have a consistent way of operating. Authentic Leaders understand their biggest leadership attributes, accurately reflect aspects of their inner selves, and exercise control over the expression of their authentic selves.   People want to be led by someone “real”. Take a look at some recent political leaders across the world.  Although their behaviours may be (potentially) divisive, what their supporters see in those leaders is a real, authentic person.  Authentic leaders develop trust through honest relationships and promote openness through a consistent way of operating; creating a psychologically safe environment through consistent behaviour and responses that other people can start to predict or anticipate.     The Authenticity and Professionalism Dilemma Going back to my recent leadership programme, what became apparent was how people perceived authenticity and professionalism, with too much authenticity leading to unprofessional behaviour.  It could be seen as a single dimension like this:   High = unprofessional ——————————————————————————————- Low = professional Authentic Behaviour   We sometimes confuse Authenticity and Professionalism and believe they are two ends of the same dimension, and the challenge I heard was “How can I be authentic and still be professional, there’s no way I can be myself and be taken seriously in work?”   This is a misconception.  Professionalism and Authenticity are two different traits.  The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines professionalism as “the conduct, aims, or qualities that characterize or mark a profession or a professional person”.  That’s not the same as being authentic which the same dictionary defines as “ true to one’s own personality, spirit, or character”. View authenticity and professionalism, not as a single dimension but as two paradoxical traits that when used together give the person a greater range of behaviours to be more effective.  Those people who are both authentic and professional at the same time can develop the most respect from other people as they are believable (true to themselves) and credible (exhibiting professionalism) at the same time.   Knowing when to dial up, or dial down your authentic self Increasingly these days, we need to be agile and adaptable. In my own work, I need to find ways to relate to and influence different people.  But I can’t be someone I’m not, and still be successful.  Great leaders consider personality traits to reveal to whom and when; dialling up certain traits and dialling down others, whilst still being authentic.  A bit like a chameleon, capable of adapting to the demands of the situations they’re in, without losing their identities in the process.   This means considering these three elements –    yourself, your values, beliefs and natural tendencies The needs of other people, stakeholders, employees or shareholders The culture and context of the organisation you’re in   Herminia Ibarra calls this being “adaptively authentic”,  – I call it releasing different sides of your personality to different audiences.  This is important because as the pace of change affects careers and increases the volume and complexity of organisational change, what led to an individual’s success in the past may not lead to their success in the future.     Authenticity and Personal Growth As careers change and people move through leadership roles, they need to move out of their comfort zones and the authentic self has to amend and change.  This doesn’t mean we are being inauthentic – we are simply learning and growing.     Holding a rigid self-image could mean stagnating, staying put and struggling to change.  Leading to behaviours that include expressing what you really think and feel, even if it runs counter to situational demands.  Psychologist Mark Snyder, of the University of Minnesota, called these “true-to-selfers”.  The danger of thinking of authenticity like this is you could stick with comfortable behaviour, which limits your effectiveness in new requirements and could prevent you from growing and gaining insight and experience.   This can be hard to square with authenticity and that’s when you can be too much of an authentic leader. To avoid this, make sure to include learning from diverse role models, and feel comfortable to experiment. This is not imitating or faking it, but learning from others and moulding these to become your own.   The original question was can you be too much of an authentic leader?  The challenge of great leadership is managing your authenticity, paradoxical though it can sound!  Back to my Women In Leadership programme – we concluded that the key lies in finding the right balance. Authenticity is important, but it needs to be tempered with self-awareness, emotional intelligence, and an understanding of the organisational context. It’s important to consider the potential impact of your actions and strike a balance between being authentic and maintaining the necessary professionalism and effectiveness as a leader.   Did you enjoy this blog?  You might also be interested in my other ideas and suggestions.  Take a look at my other blogs on my website.  You’ll find thought leadership on topics like leadership, talent development, personal development and the future of work.  

“We’re too busy” – why people don’t attend training and what to do about it

“We’re too busy” – why people don’t attend training and what to do about it!   We know that people are primed to learn. We are learning machines from the day we are born to the day we die! Humans have an innate curiosity and desire to explore their environment. Sometimes at work, we seem to lose that curiosity. Despite doing our best to design development that we think is interesting, relevant, and wanted by our employees – people don’t attend training.     Yet weeks later, you hear people saying how much they want development opportunities to enhance their skills and stay current with changes.  If your organisation struggles to get people to take advantage of development opportunities, it’s time to understand why.    Here are my top five reasons why people don’t attend training and what to do about it!   Start with the end in mind.  Are you clear on what you’re trying to achieve through your learning and development offerings?  If your purpose or goal is to deliver outstanding training courses -these days, that’s not enough.  Be clear on what you want your training and development interventions to deliver.  For me, it’s “to change people’s behaviour and build new habits”.  This focuses me to think about ways I can do this.  No longer am I designing and delivering training.  Now I’m thinking about how I influence behaviour and create a safe environment for people to try new things.     So what are your goals for your learning and development function?  Have you clearly articulated what you want your team or function, or simply your services – to deliver?   Think about the learning model you use.  Traditionally learning and development departments designed and delivered training courses.  These were often events, based on quality training needs analysis, designed to fill a skills gap or need.  Dominated by workshops, pre-pandemic often face-to-face; and post-pandemic online or hybrid.  But fundamentally the same.  Events where we delivered training.   These days, people (and our employees) are consumers with high expectations of products and services brought about by the “Google or YouTube” effect.  They don’t want to wait for planned events, and sit through lots of content they’re not interested in.  As a response, update your learning model to include things like social learning, coaching, mentoring, communities of practice or job aids.  Accessible when people want them.  In bite-sized chunks.  Responding to their specific needs.  Think about “learning in the flow of work”  Coined by Josh Bersin, to describe accessing, quickly and easily, an answer or a short piece of learning content while you’re working.     Think like a human.  Ask yourself, what REALLY motivates people to learn?  Learning that’s relevant to personal interests will spark people’s attention.  They’ll be more likely to listen, take part and be interested.  And when people feel safe – psychologically safe – they’ll be more open to hearing different perspectives.  Different perspectives could be another word for learning something new.  Being in a safe environment also increases the speed of learning and helps transfer it to the workplace.  We shouldn’t underestimate how important the environment is in the learning process.  It’s more than just being nice or friendly.  It’s creating a psychologically safe environment.   Then here’s the last challenge- self-initiated learning is most lasting and pervasive.  Traditionally we’ve focused our effort on creating great workshops.  But what if we focused more time on helping people understand what they want to learn?  Helping them comfortably pinpoint what success looks like for them, what could change, and so, what they want to learn.  How could this affect their motivation to learn?   Move on from 70 20 10 and embrace 40 20 40!  Building on the idea of flipped learning where workshop-based learning is inverted so people are introduced to learning materials before a workshop (the first 40% of learning).  Leaving workshop time to deepen understanding through facilitated discussion with peers, problem-solving activities and skills practice time – (20% of learning).  Then the final, and most important piece, (40%) of learning on the job through application.  We can support this final 40% with coaching, action learning sets or simple review and check-in learning cafes.     One of the core objectives of this approach is to move delegates away from passive learning and towards active learning where individuals engage in collaborative activity, peer learning and problem-based learning.   Shift our mindsets from being a Trainer – to being a Facilitator.  A facilitator coaches and empowers delegates to take control of their learning; exploring and understanding the applicability of theories, not simply learning them.  Facilitators build far more experiential learning into their programmes by “learning through reflection on doing”.   A typical workshop that’s being facilitated has minimum input pieces and maximum pair or group discussions about key concepts; helping the individual make sense of the learning in the context of their real world. Facilitating includes opportunities for reflection and capturing thoughts – all shown to deliver greater retention of the learning and a higher likelihood that the learning will be implemented.   So will this guarantee to solve the problem of “why people don’t attend training?”  I’m afraid I can’t guarantee that!  But these steps will take you a significant way towards creating Brain Friendly learning; a psychologically safe learning environment and learning and development that’s more relevant and timely.  And that takes you closer to competing with the Google and YouTube effect – and more likely to boost attendance at your next learning event.     Rhiannon Stafford is a Talent & Organisational Development Consultant and Associate at Hoxby. 

Leadership is a paradox – Why we need to move from an “either/or” to a “both/and” view of Leadership.

Does this sound familiar?      “You have to provide an efficient, yet personalised level of service to clients” “Manage the short term budget, but still deliver against long term goals” “Take time to stop and think, yet keep up with the pace of change” “Give your teams autonomy, yet also monitor their performance”   Are these dilemmas that defy common sense and business acumen? They can be overwhelming, difficult to understand, complex, and seemingly impossible to address.  Yet for many managers these days conflicting demands and either/or tensions are the norm, and they don’t get resolved by tackling one demand at a time, or by making a “final ” decision.   This is where the concept of Paradox theory comes in.  It’s about understanding that demands, goals and expectations are dynamic, complex and interconnected. Thriving in such an environment means we need to engage in (seemingly) contradictory behaviours.  Human beings can find paradoxes uncomfortable because they can create uncertainty and ambiguity and we naturally want a clear plan ahead.   Introducing Leadership Paradox theory. This isn’t new, it’s been written about many times over the years, but in an increasingly complex and competitive environment, it’s gathering pace.  To start off – a paradox is two ideas that may appear contradictory but are in fact both true.  (think AND not OR).     As parents we’re encouraged to be “cruel to be kind”, or use “tough love” – to bring up children who are balanced, knowing they are loved and cared for, but with manners, discipline and boundaries.  The same can be said for leadership.   When we apply this to leadership, we’re talking about an approach that allows:   control AND empowerment Task focus AND relationship focus competition AND collaboration   Imagine an organisation without clear direction from managers, without clear performance expectations or work standards; but with managers who are caring and compassionate.  What would happen?  It may be a happy environment to work in, but would work really get done on time and to standard?   On the other hand, imagine an organisation with clear direction from managers, clear performance expectations and work standards; but with managers who are not caring or compassionate.  Work may get done on time and to standard but people will probably lack proactiveness, initiative and care for the client/customer if they don’t feel the same from their managers.   Developing a skill set that allows us to build supportive and compassionate relationships with our teams, yet also providing direction, clarity and control is the answer.  Together they create a force much greater than the individual capabilities on their own could create because the Leader is capable of drawing on a wide range of responses, naturally and appropriately.     Here’s an example.  If we think of a Leadership skill as being “the ability to manage rapport and empathy when managing the performance of others”.  The two leadership capabilities or traits needed here are:   Ensuring performance and conduct standards Expressing positive feelings and affinity towards others   Consider what these two skills look like on a graph rather than opposite ends of the spectrum. If a Leader learns how to “enforce” – ensures performance and conduct standards are met whilst ALSO being warm and empathetic; the result is Compassionate Enforcing, the tendency to enforce necessary rules with compassion.  Without warmth and empathy, Leaders can be Harsh – good at enforcing rules without giving sufficient emphasis to building rapport or being empathetic. Without Enforcing, Leaders can be permissive – the tendency to be warm and empathetic without sufficiently enforcing rules or or holding others accountable. Without either of these skills Leaders can lack the ability to get other people to work to standards and time, and avoid building rapport or being empathetic – the worst of both worlds!   This is easier said than done simply because of the mindset we’ve adopted. Thankfully we know that Command and Control Leadership doesn’t work!  We know that Leaders don’t need to make all the decisions.  In fact we’re also talking more about the value of Empowerment, Compassion, Kindness – all in the context of being an engaging leader.  But we must interpret that as adding those Human traits to our leadership toolkit rather than substituting one for the other.   To lead successfully in this remote or hybrid working environment we need a new set of Leadership skills – not to throw the baby out with the bathwater – but to add into our existing toolkits.  Try seeing what a slight reframe in your belief about Leadership Skills could bring you – how about responding with flexibility under pressure and more creativity in the face of seemingly insoluble problems?  That’s a great place to start.   If you’re facing a dilemma with your Leadership Teams right now – you need to respond to changing customer expectations, market conditions and economic climates – try to reframe Leadership as a paradox.  Suddenly this can help your Leaders respond with flexibility under pressure and more creativity in the face of seemingly insoluble problems. Then developing your Managers to be paradoxical leaders may just be the solution you need.  

5 reasons why Career Ladders don’t have a place in your talent management strategy.

In the past, we talked about career paths as a ladder. People start at the bottom and work their way up through the ranks, with each promotion representing a step on the ladder towards success. However, as business, society and employee expectations have evolved, so too has the concept of a career path.  And if we really want to build engagement, performance and retention, this is why I think Career Ladders don’t have a place in your talent management strategy.   The corporate career ladder has shaped career frameworks for the past thirty years (at least).  The underlying belief was that people should progress through different jobs, to gain experience, and gradually move into more senior roles.  HR professionals even “mapped out” career paths, identifying jobs and the order in which people needed to move through those jobs.  That very neatly aligned with Competency Frameworks which told you the competencies to develop in order to move into those jobs.  Neat, Tidy and well-controlled…..   But the world of work has changed:   Organisational structures are, on average, 25% flatter than they were 20 years ago. Workers are less bound to physical locations or set hours.  And the work itself is less routine – project work has increased 40-fold over the past 20 years   If Career Ladders don’t have a place in your talent management strategy, then what instead?   A career lattice is a more fluid approach to career development, where individuals have the opportunity to move both laterally and vertically. This means that rather than moving up one specific path, people have the option to gain new experiences and skills through a variety of different roles, allowing for a more diverse and flexible career.  And it’s this career lattice that should replace the career ladder in your talent management strategy!   If your career framework is built on the assumption that people should move between jobs to gain experience and skills, then you need to change it (sorry…. not sorry).     Here are 5 reasons why we need to break away from this traditional thinking and really embrace lattice career frameworks:   The ladder’s “one-size-fits-all” approach assumes employees are more alike than different and want and need similar things.  These days people want a career that allows them to have some level of autonomy and control over their work, including the ability to make decisions independently, control their schedule, or work in a way that aligns with their personal preferences.  People also want work that feels meaningful and provides a sense of purpose. This could be through working in a field that aligns with their personal values, helping others, or contributing to a larger cause.     The traditional career ladder often only allowed for upward mobility within a narrow range of roles and responsibilities.   The modern workforce constantly evolves, meaning less job security and stability, making it difficult for employees to plan and climb a traditional career ladder.  In short, the roles that feature on your traditional career paths may not be available in the near future; they may become obsolete or change so much.   The pace of technological change and the emergence of new industries means people need to develop a wider range of skills.  The traditional career ladder may not provide the opportunities for skill development that many employees need to stay competitive in the modern world.  Rather than being limited to a narrow set of skills, a lattice approach offers individuals the chance to learn and grow in a variety of different areas. This can help them become more well-rounded and versatile employees, which can lead to increased opportunities for advancement and career satisfaction.   Increasingly organisations have become more matrixed in their design – flattening hierarchies and breaking down silos that had historically been led by functional leaders.  The skills that make people successful in a matrix organisation include broad enterprise thinking and the ability to collaborate cross-functionally.  Career paths – and indeed the broader talent system – designed to give people that enterprise experience must include horizontal and cross-functional opportunities.  In this knowledge economy, performance is less about what you deliver, and more about how you get things done through your network and enterprise knowledge.   A traditional career ladder focused on specific jobs to gain experience in your functional area of expertise.  These days spending years waiting for promotion after promotion within a company is something people don’t have the time for.  But with a lattice mindset, opportunities to make an impact come in the form of projects, secondments, or short-term opportunities.  Everything moves at such speed, employees’ expectations of growth, impact and opportunity have shifted and waiting for a “proper job” is just too slow.  Let’s face it, people are also not afraid to leave and start again if they are bored or feel misaligned with the company’s purpose or culture.     However, there are some challenges associated with a career lattice as well. For one, it can be more difficult to track progress and advancement, as there may not be a clear “ladder” to climb. This can make it harder to set goals and measure success. Additionally, it can be challenging to balance the desire for growth and development with the need for stability and consistency.   These days there is no single route to success. Instead, people want a more personalised approach to careers, where they can focus on their strengths, passions, and areas of interest, increasing the likelihood of personal fulfilment and Meaning from work.  Traditional Career Ladders don’t have a place in your talent management strategy any more.  Whereas a lattice approach acknowledges there are many different types of success, and that success can look different to different people.  A more inclusive approach for all employees,  even if they don’t fit neatly into a traditional career path. 

Why restructuring alone won’t improve performance and what to do instead.

Despite 2023 being only weeks old, nearly 15,000 jobs have been lost in the retail sector so far in 2023.  Figures released by the Centre for Retail Research (CRR) show that the majority of job losses were due to cost-reducing programmes and restructuring operations. Consulting firms McKinsey and KPMG have reported job cuts this month, and Ford have announced job cuts and a major restructuring programme across their European businesses.  It seems that restructuring and organisational transformation programmes are picking up to improve performance and efficiency.   But changing an organisation’s structure and people’s roles and responsibilities alone is not enough to improve performance.  Productivity, efficiency and performance is more about HOW people work together, rather than WHAT they do.  In this blog, I’ll explore why restructuring alone won’t improve performance and what to do instead.  So as well as considering the knuts and bolts of the restructure, here are four other areas HR professionals also need to address for the performance and productivity to come!   Create a Clear Direction or Vision   Restructuring creates confusion, uncertainty and even fear.  Employees who are unsure about the direction of the organisation are less engaged, less motivated and less productive. During a time when engagement, bravery and a desire to step into the unknown is most needed – a sense of instability and lack of trust in leadership can prevail.     Instead, organisations should focus on developing a clear strategy and vision for the NEW organisation post restructuring, and communicate this effectively to people. This can help to create a sense of purpose and direction, and provide people with a roadmap for achieving organisational goals.    Create certainty around roles and responsibilities   We know from the work of David Rock that human beings need certainty and autonomy to feel psychologically safe and do great work.  By its very nature, a restructure changes people’s jobs and responsibilities, increases uncertainty and often means people have less autonomy as they wait for the dust to settle.    As soon as possible, provide this clarity to people.  This is more than just a job description, this is more akin to Reboarding someone – the concept of Onboarding for existing employees.  For the individual their understanding of “how I get things done around here” has gone; just like a new joiner to your organisation.  And we know that new joiners need more than just training for skills development.  Consider how your people will understand what their new role entails, who their stakeholders are and how they work collaboratively to achieve theirs, their teams and the organisation’s vision.    Rebuild trust and rapport with colleagues   Yes – I am assuming that trust and rapport is not there post reorganisation.  People are more likely to have new colleagues, new responsibilities, and new ways of working.  In this Knowledge Economy work gets done through relationships, no single person is responsible for delivering the customer/client’s solution.  It’s always a combination of several people’s input and a variety of different skills and capabilities.  Often meaning a multi functional team effort.     If we manage those multi-functional teams in their functional silos (which traditional organisation structures revolve around) then we have to work harder to build connections of trust between those functions.  And following an emotional experience of a restructure, people are likely to feel unsafe and hunker down into their own safe spaces and groups.     It takes effort and focus to build these trusted connections and make work flow once again.  Build skills such as listening to understand, being curious, and empathy.  All critical for building trust and rapport between people.    Help people learn about their unique skills and capabilities (and how to apply them)   We know that people do their best work when they use their strengths, skills and capabilities.  They are more likely to enjoy their work, perform better and go the extra mile – they find their work more intrinsically motivating.  But many people struggle to describe their strengths and skills – it can take a lot of insight and self awareness to do this.  But by helping people Know themselves better, we increase self awareness, emotional intelligence and self worth – we help them understand their authentic self.   That produces insight – that light bulb moment inside our heads when things fall into place.     Post restructure, when the future is unclear, roles and responsibilities are unclear and trust is low – knowing your unique skills and capabilities and how you can make a difference, can start to bring some certainty.  Think about the SCARF model – if certainty is low, autonomy is still difficult, fairness is challenging; providing Status through affirming skills and capabilities and Relatedness through building relationships can help increase psychological safety.   Work carried out by Dan Cable and his team found that shaping onboarding activities around the individual, had beneficial effects on employees’ attitudes at work, such as their engagement and job satisfaction, and also reduced turnover and enhanced performance.  The same can be applied when people move into a new role post restructure.  Shape work specific activities around the individual’s skills and capabilities, could produce similar results.   So to summarise, restructuring alone won’t improve performance. While restructuring can be an effective way to improve performance and efficiency, it must be accompanied by measures to support people and teams. You can take steps such as providing clear direction, creating certainty around roles and responsibilities, focusing on trust between colleagues and aligning people to work that uses their skills and capabilities.  If you don’t do this, then you’ll miss much of the return on investment spent on the original restructure.  Remember – we don’t refer to the fourth industrial as being people powered for nothing.

Why Goal setting can really make a difference to your satisfaction, self belief and performance.

At this time of the year many of us are turning our attention to our goals for next year.  Whether this is in work, life or sport.  Goals are everywhere.  But can goal setting really make a difference to your satisfaction, self belief and performance?  Or is it just a process that organisations and coaches make us go through to prove?  Is goal setting still relevant in our VUCA work?     “If you don’t know where you’re going, you might not get there.” Yogi Berra (baseball legend)   “What gets measured gets managed”  Peter Drucker    “A goal is not always meant to be reached; it often serves simply as something to aim at.” –Bruce Lee   I believe that goal setting CAN BE a powerful process for thinking about your ideal future, and for motivating yourself to turn your vision of this future into reality.  If we ditch some of our traditional thoughts about goal setting.  For goal setting to really make a difference to your satisfaction, self belief and performance we need to remember that we are human beings and not corporate robots.     You’ll be familiar with the concepts of Intrinsic and Extrinsic motivation, and we know that both extrinsic motivation and intrinsic motivation drive human behaviour.  If the idea behind goal setting is to encourage a particular behaviour – the behaviour needed to achieve a certain outcome – then we need to consider both intrinsic and extrinsic motivators when setting goals.  So here’s my suggested approach:   Start with the outcome. This is where we tap into our intrinsic motivation by describing what the future will be like once we’ve achieved this goal.  We need a long-term vision before we can focus and achieve short-term focused objectives.  Think about Simon Sinek’s Golden Circles.  But don’t just define it.  Go a little deeper by describing that outcome – think visuals, descriptions, audios.  Whatever is important to you, your needs, wants and aspirations.  This is how we tap into our intrinsic motivations and find a meaning in our actions.   And how does this affect satisfaction or self belief?  Research suggests that positively considering a future outcome may improve psychological health more generally.  Some techniques used in cognitive behavioral therapy, for example, involve correcting how people think about the future.     There’s also a 10-week program called “Future Directed Therapy” that encourages participants to spend less time dwelling on the past or on current struggles. Instead, they are asked to spend more time thinking about what they want from the future, AND developing skills to reach those future goals.     So being excited by the outcome is important, it’s just as important to draw a contrast between our desired outcome, and our current reality because this allows us to see barriers that must be overcome.  Which leads us to the second part…..   Identity the steps along the way We’ve excited our brains and tapped into our intrinsic motivation and now we need to identify what we need to do in order to achieve that outcome.  Think of these as the milestones, or steps along your journey to achieve your desired outcome.  Breaking down that big exciting outcome goal into smaller acheivements that, when added up, combine into the big outcome.   Make sure the steps you identify are within your control.  Not all of those steps will be actions either.  Natirally there will be actions that need completing but there’s also skills and capabilities needed to reach those future goals.  We all need skills and capabilities as well as will power – even more important with particularly difficult or onerous tasks, because your reserves of willpower can quickly become depleted.     The best way to define these are as bite sized so they are more achievable.  As you achieve one action, you get a hit of dopamine release which gives you a positive feeling and you want to do more.  AND, because of the outcome you’ve spent time articulating to your brain, we more likely to be motivated to take the steps necessary to achieve these actions.  Increasing your satisfaction, self belief and performance in a virtuous circle.  And to keep this virtuous circle of satisfaction, self belief and performance going, finally we need an element of reflection….   Give yourself time to reflect and celebrate Neuroscience tells us our brains have an overarching desire to minimise threat and maximise reward; but threat responses are stronger, more immediate and harder to displace, so how about providing more reward situations for our brains?  When we are in a reward state we’re more likely to think creatively, keep engaged, work well and make informed decisions.  The opposite is true when we experience a threat state.   Building in time to review your progress towards your goals, celebrating your achievements and recognising work done well will trigger reward states.  Research shows that we can offset threat responses that inevitably happens from tine to time, by reminding ourselves of positive (reward) situations thereby quieting down our threat response.     Regular and robust reviews of progress can help us respond in a balanced way to set backs, and make a difference to your satisfaction, self belief and performance.   So here’s my challenge to conventional thinking – SMART or SMARTER goals are not intrinsically motivating! By wording a goal to be:   Specific Measurable Action-oriented/Achievable/Assignable Realistic/Relevant Timely/Time bound   You’re not engaging your intrinsic motivation and I’ve yet to meet someone who finds this approach rewarding or extrinsically motivating either! Indeed it’s usually the opposite.  By the time you’ve descbribed your goals in a way that doesn’t come naturally, you’ve lost your motivation from being told to re-wrtite it many times! So ditch that traditional approach and try some brain friendly goal setting techniques this year.  We are human beings and playing to our humanness when goal setting can really make a difference to your satisfaction, self belief and performance.

Why coaching could be your secret weapon in your engagement strategy

It goes without saying, employee engagement affects individual, team and organisational performance.  If you need the evidence to convince you, start by looking here.  The challenge for almost every organisation is how to genuinely engage their employees.  I see lots of activity in organisations under the banner of “employee engagement” or “employee experience”, but without enough thought put into whether these actions actually affect employee engagement.     The 2022 Gallup State of the Global Workplace report found that only 21% of employees are engaged at work. So isn’t it time that we took a different approach to “engagement” plans, strategies and activities.     What really drives engagement is not the extrinsic motivators such as pay, benefits or gifts or parties.  It’s intrinsic motivation – think about Dan Pink’s autonomy, mastery, and purpose.  So what can you do?  How can you dial up engagement levels – true engagement levels?  My suggestion is to develop your leaders to be better listeners, coaches and collaborators…..   When executed properly, coaching provides greater intrinsic motivation.  According to McKinsey, when employees find greater intrinsic motivation, they are 32% more committed to their work and 46% more satisfied with their jobs.   First let’s understand what coaching really is. At its simplest, coaching is helping people learn, rather than teaching or telling them. A coach is not a subject expert, but rather focuses on helping the individual improve their game by encouraging them to think broadly about potential approaches/techniques/tools.  So coaches don’t tell you what to do – they help people solve their own problems and improve their own performance.   Let’s pause here for a minute.  Coaching is not always appropriate.  Given coaching is about helping people solve problems, this is only appropriate when there is not a definitive answer or approach.  Sometimes there is one, and only one, solution.  Coaching is not needed here – teaching is needed.  This is the answer, please use this one.  But in this VUCA world, there are lots of times when there is not a clear answer -and the problem with relying on telling people what to do is that it does not guarantee people will do what you ask!  And that’s the nub of things.  People do not do what they are told to do.     Why?  Because even if they are paid well, have great benefits, lots of social activities and access to comprehensive wellbeing support.  If human beings don’t have opportunities to think for themselves, apply their knowledge and skills and draw their own conclusions – they will eventually be disengaged.     The NeuroLeadership Institute calls this an “Insight” – the phenomenon of unexpectedly solving a complex problem.  Think of insights as the “Eureka!” moment – when a story falls into place and when we see relationships and patterns we were previously unaware of.   Fundamentally, this is what coaching does. Coaching is the technique of helping people have their own Eureka moment.  Research shows that people are more likely to remember an idea they have generated themselves and feel engaged when they seek out answers themselves rather than just being given a solution.  This is where the intrinsic motivation comes in – doing things because it’s internally rewarding.  Having an “Insight” is also accompanied by action and a desire to achieve an outcome.  So not only are people motivated, they are also motivated to act and put that idea into action.     The final bonus?  When you have your own Insight about solving a problem you’re more likely to apply that idea/knowledge/skill to similar situations in the future. Not a one off solution, but a longer term change in behaviour – in other words, inspiring the self-directed willingness to try new things and make new discoveries.    So what, I hear you say.   According to research by Gartner for HR to identify organisation’s priorities and challenges for 2023, the largest share of respondents identified “leader and manager effectiveness”; with change management and  employee experience also featuring in the top 5. Can you see how coaching could address all three of these areas?  Coaching for critical leaders whose behaviour is influential on others around them.  But also increasing the coaching capabilities of all leaders in your organisation.   At Blue Grape, we do both – leadership and executive coaching, AND programmes to develop managers to be better coaches.  There’s a difference between the two – and certainly managers do not need to be certified coaches.  But they do need a coaching leadership style in their leadership toolkit, and it’s that different approach to our development programmes that sets us apart from other organisations.     If you’re like the many other organisations who’ve seen their engagement levels stall since the Pandemic ( 2022 Gallup State of the Global Workplace), could coaching be your secret weapon in your engagement strategy?  If you think so, give us a call and let’s talk about how we can help you…..  

Top 5 Leadership Capabilities for a Post Pandemic world

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Organisations are now developing Leadership capabilities for a post pandemic world.  The COVID-19 pandemic remains among the top three concerns across all industry leaders around the world.  We have moved to a different phase of the pandemic and CEOs are switching their attention to recovery and growth, rather than survival.  Recovery and growth will be in a different world with different challenges.  The Great Resignation is set to continue this year.  Hybrid or remote working is set to stay.  A world of constant change.  Outcomes are hard to foresee.  In this context CEOs are challenging their CPOs to develop Leadership capabilities for a post pandemic world.  To help you get ahead of this, here are my top 5 recommendations:   Agility According to Cambridge Dictionary, agility refers to “the ability to move your body quickly and easily.”  The same can be applied to Leaders – the ability to maintain orderliness, performance and quality in the context of constant change.  This needs to start with leaders’ own mindset.  They need to be sufficiently self confident and self aware to see change as positive, and not a threat to them.  Able to park their egos and emotions, move away from systems or processes that they may have a vested interest in.  Yet also value organisation and quality enough to know how to instil orderliness whilst also being flexible.   Comfortable with ambiguity and uncertainty This goes hand in hand with agility.  To be agile you also need to feel comfortable with uncertainty and ambiguity.  Ambiguity is hard because we’re conditioned to give answers and we like fixing things for people there and then. The traditional approaches no longer work as technology, society’s expectations and environmental concerns have become increasingly complex.  Leaders no longer have all the solutions, and that’s not their role any more.  Being comfortable with ambiguity involves setting aside your own judgements and questioning your assumptions.  Making the most appropriate decision possible, rather than the BEST decision.  This is a vulnerable place for leaders to be, and a new skill to be learnt.     Able to build trust and credibility. This involves being transparent and authentic, both in what you say and do. Research carried out by Eric Berne found that as people shared their attitudes, beliefs, feelings and emotions in their communications their levels of trust increased, until people reached intimacy or rapport where they were completely comfortable with each other and fully trust each other.    Understanding of people’s needs as individuals Being able to understand other people’s needs is also known as Social Cognition.  Good social cognition helps us understand people’s beliefs, feelings, experiences and intentions which in turn allows us to empathise and see things from another point of view.  This is the key to creating an engaging work environment.  Only then can we place employees in roles that are engaging and understand individual employee’s expectations and the degree to which they are met.  Leading employees wholeheartedly giving discretionary effort to help the company succeed.   The ability to build inclusive and connected hybrid teams Hybrid working changes the dynamics of working relationships.  It takes a different effort to coordinate with remote teammates, effort that we’re not used to.  Remote teammates can get left out of small exchanges and minor decisions made by office based teammates.  Over time this can become the norm and escalate leaving people out of bigger conversations and more important decisions. This could also lead to a “core class” who feel they’re central to the organisation,  and a “peripheral class” who feel disconnected from the work and organisation.  Leaders need help to recognise the signs and take steps to avoid this happening.  Empathy, listening and the ability to read between the lines are all skills needed here.   The ability to Learn, Unlearn and Relearn The futurist Alvin Toffler wrote: “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.”  Leaders need a sense of their own strengths and weaknesses and want to develop themselves.  They need to accept themselves (I’m OK the way I am) while at the same time trying to improve themselves.  Often referred to as a Growth Mindset. Leaders can assume that they’ve done the learning they’ve needed because of their level in the organisation.  In the past that might have been the case, but these days successful Leaders continually learn and adapt to never-ending shifts in job requirements and newly emerging skills.   Remember, the COVID-19 pandemic remains among the top three concerns across all industry leaders around the world meaning now is the time to develop Leadership capabilities for a post pandemic world.  As People Professionals we have a huge role to play here. Organisations are made up of people.  So whenever we talk about “the organisation” we’re really talking about a bunch of people, and Leaders influence that organisation in a big way.  The best systems, processes and products won’t get you anywhere without the Leadership creating the culture and employee experience that brings those pieces alive.

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