HR Transformer Blog


What Makes Work Meaningful?

Meaningful Work Glass Bead Consulting

 

Thirty seven percent of British workers think their jobs are meaningless, according to a YouGov survey, which is a really shocking statistic if you think about it.

In my article, The Campaign for Meaningful Work, I shared some thoughts on the ‘why of work’ and the flaws with our past initiatives around improving employee engagement.  In the absence of a strong causal link between engagement and productivity, my ‘hunch’ was that ‘meaningful work’ is important for our own personal sanity and well-being.

So the question for leaders in organisations and the HR community, is,

How can organisations provide work that is meaningful?

There are different ways of responding to this question and one source of evidence is to look at the scientific research.

I recently met up with Katie Bailey, Professor of Management at the University of Sussex to discuss her research on Meaningful Work.   A quick review of the scientific literature shows that there is surprisingly little research which explores where and how people find their work meaningful. 

As part of the research the team interviewed 135 people working in 10 very different occupations (retail assistants, solicitors, nurses, soldiers, stonemasons, street sweepers, entrepreneurs, priests, artists, writers and academics).  The group was asked to tell stories about incidents or times when they found their work to be meaningful.  

According to Katie, “the overwhelming majority of people seem to find meaning in at least some aspect of their job. In fact, 86% of people said that their jobs were meaningful”.

The team found that there were patterns of work from their research which they categorised as five qualities of meaningful work.

Five Qualities of Meaningful Work

Self-Transcendent, or working for a higher goal

People are more likely to view work as meaningful when it mattered to others more than just to themselves.   From the interviews, an example is the garbage collector who found work meaningful at ‘tipping point’ at the end of the day when refuse was sent to recycling.  This individual could see his work contributed to a clean environment for his grandchildren.

Poignant

Meaningfulness is not always a positive experience.  We don’t walk around in a euphoric state all day at work. For example nurses use their skills to ease the passing of patients at the end of their lives.

Episodic

Meaning can come and go during the working life, rather than an everyday occurrence.  For example, the lecturer “feels like a rock star” after delivering a good lecture, or the stonemasons leaving their mark into a stone that might be discovered in hundreds or years.

Reflective

Meaningfulness was rarely experienced in the moment, but rather in retrospect and on reflection when people were able to see their completed work and make connections between their achievements and a wider sense of life meaning. One academic talked about research he had done for many years that seemed fairly meaningless at the time, but 20 years later provided the technological solution for touch-screen technology.

Personal

Work that is meaningful, on the other hand, is often understood by people not just in the context of their work but also in the wider context of their personal life experiences.  An example was an entrepreneur’s motivation to start her own business included the desire to make her grandfather proud.

So, what insights can we elicit from this research?

First, it emerged that the individual feels that they have done a good job and therefore experience a sense of achievement or pride. No one said to us, “Hey, I did a really poor job today, but it meant a lot to me.”  For example, the street cleaners talked of looking back along the street they had just cleaned and feeling they had made an important contribution to the neighbourhood. The stone masons explained that they found their work meaningful when they had successfully completed an intricate carving.

Secondly, in most cases it was important that the individual could see they had contributed to their team, other individuals, or a wider cause. Some talked of the importance of a sense of camaraderie or belonging, others talked of times they felt recognised or valued by clients or the public. For instance, the retail workers talked of helping vulnerable elderly customers.

Finally, the times when people found their work meaningful were often intensely personal.  One entrepreneur had started her bakery business to make her grandfather proud of her. A hesitant author was emboldened to embrace her craft following a chance encounter with another customer in a stationery shop who assumed she was a writer. A soldier talked of the importance of her family being present at a dinner held to celebrate her military service.

Over the years I have shared my ideas about making work more meaningful, including linking the work to something bigger, empower people to organise their own work and ditching that annual engagement survey. 

If you really want to understand what employees think about their job, then ask them.  “Feedback is the killer app” for management, as Josh Bersin says.  New technology makes this possible whether using pulse tools or analysing responses to open questions such as Workometry.

For those who are involved in designing new organisations, managing teams or implementing digital transformation initiatives, then understanding which features  makes work meaningful for people is important.  Hopefully we will see more workers finding meaning in their work in the future.  I am looking forward to seeing how this fascinating research area develops.

Reference

What Makes Work Meaningful — Or Meaningless   Bailey, C. & Madden, A. 2016 ‘What makes Work Meaningful – or Meaningless’.  MIT Sloan Management Review, 57(4): 53-61

Make sure you don’t miss out by signing up for our articles direct to your inbox.

Visualising Relationships at Work

Owen Analytics ONA

We know that successful team dynamics is critical in building organisations, however many of our HR and people management processes are still designed around the individual.

We have embedded ‘institutionalised silos’ such as performance management, employee engagement, induction and  training, that are all geared up to individual performance, but focus much less so on the impact on their team or organisation.

According to Deloitte, 88% of respondents of a global HR survey, believe building the organisation of the future is an important issue.  This is sweet music to my ears, after years of fumbling around the employee engagement survey wilderness, we can start looking at the bigger picture and organisation structures, and ask questions like:

  • How does team cohesion impact performance?
  • Is there a relationship between team collaboration and attrition?
  • Does increased collaboration impact output?
  • Does a hierarchical structure impact retention?
  • Who are the most influential people in our organisation?
  • Can we see what good leadership looks like?
  • Can we detect bottlenecks in an organisation?
  • Which individual are at risk of leaving the organisation?
  • Can we detect ‘silos’ in our company? (the answer is always yes to that one!)

 

What is very surprising is how little analysis and research is done into how our teams operate.  One way to gain a better understanding on these questions is Organisational Network Analysis (ONA).  One method is for employees to complete quick pulse surveys which combine “ME” questions (My opinions count) and “WE” questions (I would like to appreciate the following individuals for helping me in my day-to-day work).  Open feedback questions are also interspersed to understand sentiment and key issues.

The end result is a visual representation of your team dynamics - the example in the image above, is an ONA diagram from OWEN Analytics and was used to understand team dynamics in a pharmaceutical organisation.

In my article on the use of wearables and emerging technologies in the workplace, I highlighted that The Quantified Workplace will be introduced, but only at the speed of employee trust.  Looking at relationship patterns might also give insights into understanding trust.

This type of approach throws up some interesting insights.

Research by Rob Cross, a leading researcher in ONA, found that highly connected people are among the least engaged in a company. So your most valued staff, those go-to people, are often hidden, underappreciated and sometimes over-worked.

Mark Bolino of the University of Oklahoma points to a hidden cost of collaboration. Some employees are such enthusiastic collaborators that they are asked to weigh in on every issue. But it does not take long for top collaborators to become bottlenecks: nothing happens until they have had their say—and they have their say on lots of subjects that are outside their competence.

In most cases, 20% to 35% of value-added collaborations come from only 3% to 5% of employees according to research by Rob Cross, Reb Rebele and Adam M.Grant, covered in their article in Harvard Business Review, “Collaborative Overload”.

If we go back to the questions on what causes collaboration, effective teams and higher productivity, then ONA can play a big part in helping us understand what is going on in our organisations. 

Our people management practices are rapidly changing as we move to a world with collaborative teams working with different employment terms in different countries. ONA is a technique that people analysts can add to their tool-kit and help us to uncover the hidden dynamics of team effectiveness rather than the obsession with individual achievements. 

By being able to visualise teams relationships we can begin to build a strong foundation for organisations of the future based on a deeper understanding of effective teams. I am looking forward to sharing more case-studies and success stories at PA World over the coming years.  

(This was a guest article on the Tucana Blog)

Make sure you don’t miss out by signing up for our articles direct to your inbox.

How Will Blockchain Impact HR?

Blockchain Glass Bead Consulting

Of all the emerging technologies, blockchain is the least exciting as a technology, but potentially the most impactful on society.  Blockchain doesn’t converse with you, it won’t 3D print your house or cut out your kidney stones with precision while the surgeon has a cup of tea. In terms of technology, it is about as exciting as relational databases.

When you think of blockchain, you might think of Bitcoin.  Bitcoin is a cryptocurrency that requires a maths degree to buy and ownership of a laptop that never crashes. Yet Bitcoin is just one of many different cryptocurrencies that uses blockchain as its core technology.  And blockchain technology is also being used outside of financial services.

What Is Blockchain and what is it’s value?

Simply put, a blockchain is a decentralised database shared among a network of computers, all of which must approve an exchange before it can be recorded. Typically if we want to send someone some money, we would need a third party, like a bank to verify the exchange.  The advantage of blockchain is that it stores an indelible ledger of all previous transactions in a string of ‘blocks’, meaning we know who owns what and who can send what to whom.

Individuals and organisations can use blockchain to:

  • Exchange digital assets without friction – a central ledger is no longer required which is why there is so much excitement in financial services. Transactions between people can happen nearly instantly without any third party.
  • Execute smart contracts – documents can be stored electronically, and be verified as authentic. So we have unbreakable contracts.
  • Store digital records – you can have an electronic ID and all sorts of information associated with it, your verified electronic profile.

 

[caption id="attachment_4519" align="aligncenter" width="300"]How a blockchain works - FT

How a blockchain works - FT[/caption]

To understand more about how blockchain works I recommend this great TED talk from Don Tapscott, “How the blockchain is changing money and business.”

What are the real life uses of a blockchain?

In an era where trust has been eroded in our institutions, politicians and even fellow citizens, anything that can strengthen trust should be viewed positively.  In my article, The Quantified Workplace: Technology vs Trust, I commented that potentially intrusive technology will be introduced in the workplace, but only at the speed of employee trust.

Given its practical attributes of storing digital records, executing smart contracts and as an efficient exchange, there are many real-life uses and experiments. This ranges from fixing broken business models e.g. Intellectual property in music to the more personal, recapturing our identities, so the ‘virtual you’ is actually owned by you.

There are also examples of blockchain systems being developed to solve problems such as human trafficking, tracking blood diamonds and as a land register.

“Blockchains automate away at the centre. Instead of putting the taxi driver out of a job, blockchain puts Uber out of a job and lets the taxi drivers work with the customer.” Vitalik Buterin, founder of blockchain platform Ethereum

As Don and Alex Tapscott argue in their book, Blockchain Revolution, blockchain could be the great economic leveller – a tool to strip out the middlemen from our economy and reward the makers and doers who truly create value.    So there is definitely a group of political enthusiasts who see blockchain as transforming society.

What’s the potential impact of blockchain on HR and people management?

Given the practical attributes of blockchain promising to cut out middle-men and provide unbreakable contract, what might be the impact on people management, organisations and work?

In Japan blockchain technology is being developed to create a prototype resume authentication database for job hunters with the aim of increasing transparency and in turn address fraudulent credentials.

With a resume authentication database, the verification of official certificates and contracts, which have until now been typically done on paper, could be carried out using the blockchain database” said Osamu Yonetani, CTO of Recruit Technologies.

Imagine having all your employment related details associated with your electronic signature in one block :- security access, insurance, payroll, expenses, work performance, employment history, psychometrics etc.  The employment contracting process would effectively be redundant.  You could work almost immediately, with quick payment.  The role of the recruiter will not be needed, but that’s the least of the disruption.  This raises questions about the nature of the employment contract and the ‘job’ itself. Most of us will then be in the gig economy, enabled by transparent contract and payment mechanisms.

Chronobank.io, an Australian short-term work platform, is developing a Blockchain-based financial system for freelancers or contractors to obtain work and pay them in their own “labour-hour” token. They aim to disrupt the HR, finance and recruitment industries with their upcoming platform.  I spoke with Sergei Sergienko CEO ChronoBank, who told me “Our goal is to make a difference in the way people find work and get rewarded for their labour, doing it decentralised and without the involvement of traditional financial institutions.”  This is potentially transformative, and Sergei’s message to HR leaders was this change will happen, so find out more and work to develop this next wave for your organisation.

As Gary Hamel has said, “our management structures are not suited for a digital age”   In some cases, blockchain software will eliminate the need for many management functions.

Which brings us back to the original question, what’s the potential impact of blockchain on HR and people management?

Blockchain could fundamentally change how we manage people and HR, then the impact on HR is an irrelevant question if some of these predictions come true as we will have moved to very different economic models.

I am looking forward to seeing how this develops, and in our field, and maybe seeing some #disruptHR start-ups pitching blockchain solutions at future HR Tech World conferences.  Be great to hear from anyone out there developing blockchain models and technology in HR.

(This was a guest post on the HRN Blog)

Make sure you don’t miss out by signing up for our articles direct to your inbox.

Managing Attrition - Are You Looking Backwards or Forwards?

Glass Bead Consulting - Attrition

How do you manage attrition?

Most companies will review last month’s attrition figures, long after the star employees have had their farewell leaving do. This is the equivalent to looking behind in the rear-view mirror, whilst travelling at speed - you may know what’s behind you but it’s too late to do anything about it.   Or do you look forward, anticipating trends of employee flight risk and making small adjustments as you travel down the road?  After all, if you can see the possible obstacle ahead you have a better chance to avoid it.

As wages continue to rise, we see more employees dipping their toes in the welcoming water of the job market.  Keeping our best employees with us on our journey is going to be hard and managing the cost of unwanted employee turnover is going to be even harder.

Marc Andreessen, co-founder of Netscape and early Facebook investor, has said,

“Five great programmers can completely outperform 1,000 mediocre programmers.”

So how do we quantify the cost of losing our best employee? 

The calculation for the cost of losing an employee varies from one organisation to another, but typically includes hiring, on-boarding, training and ramp-up time to peak productivity. Other costs that need to be factored are loss of morale due to high turnover, higher business error rates, and a possible impact on a company’s culture and customer reputation.

Deloitte estimate the cost of losing an employee can range up to two times the employee’s annual salary.  Given the significant financial impact, it is surprising that 40.7% of UK organisations do not measure the cost of attrition, according to XpertHR.

This prompts some basic questions organisations should be asking about attrition such as:

  • Do you have a good idea of what your attrition levels will be over the next few quarters?
  • Do you calculate the probability and the impact of losing an employee?
  • Do you know the actual cost of attrition in your business?
  • Can you prove which factors cause unwanted attrition in your organisation?
  • Do you know which interventions are more likely to keep the higher performers (the five great programmers) and let the laggards leave?

Looking at attrition in the rear-view mirror

Many HR teams measure who has left the company in the last period, in which division, and what type of role as a way of broadly measuring attrition.  However, looking in the rear-view mirror only describes what’s behind us, it doesn’t tell us what is coming up, which makes it harder to prepare for unexpected change.   By the time we have realised it is too late.

Looking forward using predictive analytics

What we really need is to manage attrition more proactively by understanding who is more likely to leave and what the impact of them leaving would be on the business.  In a smallish company this is straightforward, but where you have larger teams, spans of control and distributed teams this becomes much more difficult.

Credit Suisse found that a one-point reduction in regretted attrition saved the bank $75 million to $100 million a year.  So building an attrition prediction model is one way for HR to make a substantial impact on the bottom-line.  See “The Algorithm that tells the boss who might quit”.

For those interested in more People Analytic case studies, including attrition, go to David Green’s excellent summary “20 People Analytics Case Studies

Using an evidence-based approach, we need to critically assess different sources of evidence.  Building your own predictive model is one way of building up a reasonably strong source of organisational evidence.  It is also worth reviewing the scientific research as another source of evidence, see this meta-analysis for example and reference below.  

Tej Mehta from Owen Analytics, explains the benefits of using predictive analytics,

“A typical approach will brainstorm all the potential factors that might cause an individual to leave. These are then used as inputs into machine learning algorithms that can predict flight risk with a high degree of accuracy which is often over 80%.”

The attrition landscape needs to be revisited if organisations are to remain competitive as they make their respective journeys.  Predictive analytics can be a step change for the HR community, at the very least providing some useful dashboard controls to enable better decision making.

I hope this article has given you some useful ideas and maybe some inspiration.  As always I would be interested in hearing about your examples using predictive analytics to better manage retention and attrition.    In response to our clients’ request to provide this service, are delighted to announce that we have launched a new service “Managing Attrition using Predictive Analytics”.

Some other useful resources to improve attrition management

Why Do Workers Quit? The Factors That Predict Employee Turnover (19 page PDF from Glassdoor)

Turnover: Predicting Attrition - A great free training resources from University of Pennsylvania | Coursera

Whether your company has 500 or 120,000 employees, there are many things you can do to improve retention and manage attrition, see Managing attrition using simple analytics

Meta-Analytic Review of Employee Turnover as a Predictor of Firm Performance (2011)    Julie I. Hancock, David G. Allen, Frank A. Bosco, Karen R. McDaniel, Charles A. Pierce

 

Make sure you don’t miss out by signing up for our articles direct to your inbox.

Consulting Tools and Resources
Get in Touch with Glass Bead Consulting
About The BLog


Featured in Alltop