For those of working age, with medical vulnerabilities, the Covid-19 pandemic has brought to the surface the stark reality of injustices within some organisations. This is especially true for those of working age with hidden disabilities and long-term conditions: ‘invisible’ conditions tend to illicit unreal…
Announcing the opening of the conference, the Chair Dr. Alex Forsythe summed up the theme of the conference: Lessons Learnt from Covid..
The 2021 conference team faced the same challenges as the 2020 team. It had been hoped that with the introduction of the vaccine there might have been a remote possibility that a Live Conference might have been possible, but the conference committee decided that the risks were too great. Every ABP conference has its own challenges but the 2021 conference had at least the benefit of building on the previous year and it used this experience wisely: with imagination, use of technology, and grit and determination, the team has managed to pull off a conference which exceeded all expectations in terms of quality of speakers, record attendance figures and speakers and attendees from abroad. The conference used the platform HOPIN: even online networking was very efficiently set up and attendees managed to use to good effect the functionality which the platform provided. It had been decided however, to postpone the awards until January 2022 as it was felt that it should be run as a face to face event in order to create maximum impact.
The conference was run as a series of plenary speaker sessions, along with four parallel streams which provided the opportunity to explore topics of more specialised interest
Professor Forsythe invited us in her opening address as Business Psychologists to challenge “lazy thinking”, and used the example of the NHS which had over many months performed superhuman wonders but which received our gratitude in the form of a weekly “applause”, which did not really resonate with NHS staff: it enabled us in a lazy way to make us feel better. Business Psychology is about professional observation and then applying critical thinking and psychological knowledge to people problems. It can take a critical role in leading us forward in this aspect of improving organisational effectiveness. But it needs to create greater awareness of its benefits to organisations and the wider community. This conference plays a crucial role in helping to achieve this.
Breaking with the tradition of the previous six years, the conference was run without the awards. The awards ceremony is postponed until January because, as restrictions are being gradually lifted, it can be run as a face to face event with the traditional black tie dinner.
A particular feature of this year’s conference was that it was spread over one week, with parallel speaker sessions taking place over four streams with the content focused on four groups of breakout sessions: these were themed into wellbeing, diversity, purpose and connectivity. The Q&A was handled very competently through a member of the conference team who took it in turns to chair a session and monitor the chatbox. Whatever the interest, here there was something for everyone, a unique learning experience combined with an opportunity to network on a one to one basis during breaks through the HOPIN platform. . In short it was compulsive experience which was vibrant and energizing, and was made possible as a result of the excellent administrative and technical support from the team.
The conference welcomed a series of speakers who delivered some stimulating and challenging presentations of high quality which encouraged us to reflect on the challenges of the recent past while at the same time looking forward, understanding how Business Psychology makes a contribution in such diverse ways and how services will evolve in the future. This is an exciting time with barriers between traditional disciplines such as Management Consulting, HR, coaching and psychology fraying at the edges and there are new opportunities to be grasped with the harnessing of technology as an enabler. This note covers the following keynotes who presented but there were some excellent presentations in the parallel streams given by speakers who will be only too happy to share their presentations with delegates on request.
Claire de Carteret, EMEA Regional Director for Business and Learning Solutions at Gallup
Workplace Wellbeing and Lessons we can learn from the Impact of the Covid-19 Pandemic.
As we emerge from the pandemic, we are gathering increasing amounts of data. However, we need to learn how to use it, argued Claire de Carteret in her Key note presentation. We have our own “striving” scales or ladders which are “self-anchoring”, but in order for this information to be useful we need to work out where we are on the ladder today. We then have to look forward with optimism and try to anicipate where we will be in 5 year’s time.
However, the picture is not positive. Using an array of stats, Claire illustrated that globally, in broad terms, only 20% of people are fully engaged in their work, with 21% of females and only 18% of men fully engaged, with managers having a disproportionate impact on these figures: engagement has declined during the pandemic by 10%.
• What gets measured gets managed
• Managers are so impactful: we need managers to be better communcators and connectors. Where managers are poor, we have an obligation to move these out of their roles.
• Conversations matter and are effective: try to reduce bias
• In the argument about small vs large business, size of the business is not as important as the size of workgroups.
• Over the next five years we should focus on building strengths, and identifying goals which all can share.
Wayne Hemingway, MBE, was the Founder of the internationally acclaimed fashion label “Red or Dead”, and Principal of Hemingway Design. He holds a string of honours and academic posts..
Wayne’s message was that we are in a world of constant change and we have to learn to adapt and develop a sense of purpose. The retail sector is one which has been slow to adapt and the current state of our high streets is testament to this. The Guardian arrived at the slogan “The Town Centre is dead – long live the Town Centre”. What it meant was that town centres are not in terminal decline, they are in a period of transition.
Although there has been huge growth in internet sales, estimated to be 20% of sales at retail, the problem with retail is that, using the examples of Top Shop and Debenhams, it has lost its purpose. As a result charity sector turnover is up by 7%. Markets have moved on: Millennials have a greater sense of purpose and are more likely to know what they want, and the charity sector is up by 7% We should see the present as a time of opportunity where space is being created for new businesses to prosper.
In a presentation based on the title of his book entitled “The promises of Giants – How you can fill the Leadership Void” John Amaechi, OBE, debunked clichés: looking at the effects of the Pandemic, there is no such thing as a permanent new normal, putting increasing strain on leaders to perform. Born in Boston USA John has spent half his career as a professional basketball player in the National Basketball Association and many other countries. He was awarded an OBE for services to sport and the community and is a New York Times bestseller author. Trained as a psychologist John now helps organisations to develop connected leaders and improve performance.
Expectations have changed, we have to have better communications, and storytelling is an essential part of this, and leaders have to demonstrate more “vulnerability” to illustrate their willingness to engage with others and show more empathy. He emphasised that “Disclosure” should not be for the benefit of the psychologist: it should be part of the process of exploring the “Soul in the Dark”, developing a greater understanding of ourselves and our relationships with others.
He illustrated how we might be able to achieve this ourselves.in practice. The process is straightforward: starting with descriptors about ourselves, we then strip away the obvious and then start again and focus on building up a picture of ourselves. Remarkably he has found the process highly effective and it can have the result of building confidence and improving relationships. As psychologists we are seen by clients as “Powerful”: we need to be able to exercise that power effectively but it can only be done effectively when we have a better understanding of ourselves and the developing “natural” relationship with the client.
Nathalie Nahai, Author, Speaker and Host of “the Hive Podcast”
Going Virtual and The Psychology of Online Persuasion
As we are all aware, there have been many changes in the way we communicate with others. Clearly we know that it is virtual and remote: however what is less well considered is the fact that it is “asynchronous”, meaning that there is a delay in response. This is important because it results in a desire for human connection, and greater emphasis on meaningful exchange. In this content rich presentation, Nathalie Hahai treated us to a “behind the scenes” view of how consumer organisations use these communications techniques to engage with us and how we can use these to improve our own communications with others. .
Despite an exponential increase in our knowledge of how communications can influence us, evidence suggests that our levels of understanding are poor and where relationships are based on remote communication, in order to be effective, some key pillars need to be present to support. These are
• Trust. It makes you feel safe, understood, enabled and supported, and you know what you are getting, and there is transparency. However, trust can be broken: it must be backed up by empathy, and a willingness and ability to make an effective backing down apology should it be required
– Recognition of the empathy gap. This must be accompanied by language that fosters trust and understanding.
– Use active listening. This involves asking open questions, taking a non-judgmental attitude, not “topping the story”, supporting non-verbal feedback and listening and paraphrasing.
– Ensuring the right impact, which means increasingly using nuanced or nudging behaviour,
• Authenticity and bridging the empathy gap, A better quality of message can be achieved by considering receptivity,
– Appropriate actions when crisis occurs. Nathalie use the famous example of the KFC advertisement with the rejigged letters which created humour and diversion during the chicken shortage crisis
– Resonant communication requires identifying areas of commonality
• Homophily. A homophilous source is more likely to appear trustworthy, credible and reliable and effectiveness of the message will be greater. There are four key areas which consumer organisations use in communications with target groups which they try to mirror in homophily
– Who are the target groups?
– What do they need and why do they need your product?
– How are they feeling (anxious, stressed)
– What emotional/ practical support or intervention do they need now?
• Values. Consumers are drawn to brands when they reflect their values, but they must avoid the trap of “virtue-signalling” so the brand has to display “integrity”. Integrity can be an unwavering commitment to certain moral principles (justice, fairness, honesty), or an adherence to your own set of values and ethics. .
Nathalie used a Ben and Jerry’s case study to bring together some elements of a successful campaign. She summarised this in the four C’s
– Commitment to moral principles
– Congruent, using online feedback to encourage people to focus on specific and related topics
– Consistent in actions, so that the message links and aligns to the brand values
– Coherent, reflecting the views of others, and crucially, doing it early and before it becomes popular
Nathalie finally mentioned Social Identity Theory, now much used by political parties, where we
– View ourselves as belonging to a group of similar individuals
– Base part of our personal identity on membership to group
– Opinions of group members are worth more than those of a different group
• If you understand your consumers, you can create content that reflects their values and builds trust and moves them to action
• Whatever your goal, you have to understand the principles, biases and motivations that drive your consumers
1. We have to build trust
2. Empathy: Bridge the empathy gap by being sensitive, responsive and using active listening
3. Homophily: mirror your audience
4. Use the 4 C’s
5. Don’t forget Social Identity, which defines what you stand for.
Catherine de la Poer, Chief Growth Officer, Sheridan Resolutions
Why every digital transformation programme needs a business psychologist?
In this absorbing presentation from Catherine de la Poer, we were told that as many as 70% of digital transformation programmes fail because they are not accompanied by any coherent vision and they lack social or environmental purpose. Quoting Margaret Wheatley, transformation expert and coach. “There is no Power for Change greater than a community discovering what it cares about”. Many organisations don’t understand the purpose and haven’t developed the vision for the transformation.
Key reasons for failure include
– Change fatigue, as a result of constant evolution which many find hard to assimilate
– Having to cope with the fallout from Covid
– Identifying which parts of the organisation are affected, the transformation could affect other operations outside the organisation.
– Not seeing transformation as a holistic process
– A lack of a sense of Purpose
– Inadequate use of Networks
– An unwillingness to experiment and empower others
Numerous other reasons exist, but the vast majority of these are people orientated and failure has resulted from communications failures, inadequate planning and the involvement of those having to operate the new system once completed. These include
• The people involved in and responsible for delivering the transformation process have not been properly consulted
• People need to be involved in the journey from uncertainty to opportunity and reframing the collective experience of change, both at an individual and organisational level
• Organisations and people need to build resilience. People and organisations need to move to a place where they embrace change and “love” uncertainty. This will build adaptability and agility.
• Trust is an integral part. Mistrust can sap energy and prevent a programme from moving forward because people are second-guessing what is to happen.
• Organisations need to embrace Emotional Intelligence. This also links with resilience and adaptability
• In engaging with people, you are giving them choice, inclusivity and feedback. On top of this offer them a degree of responsibility and autonomy
• Offer to give people coaching. A coaching programme adds value to the organisation: private equity is increasingly looking to coaching as part of its criteria for investing
• Invest in wellbeing and regard it as a service.
• Align the beliefs emotions and values of employees with those of the organisation
• Reimage beliefs and values in the context of social norms
• Building confidence through “Psychological Safety” which is increasingly linked to positive commercial outcomes.
How can organisations avoid the pitfalls during transformation? Inter alia, they can
– Building Strong cultures. What are true motivators in the organisations?
– Recognise that, while intense competition will always exist, the 21st century organisation is moving away from brutal competition to collaboration with competitors in defined areas. This is even happening with aggressive technology companies.
– Have confidence in human ability to deliver
– Give people autonomy, then get the best out of people
– Collaborate and socialise
– Agile and hybrid working
– Address workloads, Mental health and managing stress
In conclusion, the one single takeaway and piece of advice given by a seasoned transformation consultant in the technology sector was to always “overcommunicate” with staff in order to ensure that the incidences of second guessing what others are doing are minimised.
Pauline Miller, Chief Equity Officer, Dentsu
Surviving the Pandemic
With experience in HR roles in the insurance and communications sector, Pauline Miller is well qualified to discuss Diversity and Inclusion in the context of her work. The onset of the pandemic necessitated isolation and remote ways of working, and accelerated a programme of wellbeing initiatives. Flexibility in work patterns allowed for flexible working and a level playing field with a new normal being gradually established, Then came the George Floyd incident which had a seismic effect and reached a global audience.
This was a catalyst for individuals and organisations to react quickly and discussed action. Forward thinking organisations invested in community programmes but it was the investment in hybrid working which really made an impact: those embracing this will be the winners in terms of output and productivity. Companies are now being judged post pandemic on how successfully they adapted: some are just not adapting as attrition levels are increasing but those with well managed remote working are witnessing significant benefits. For example Dentsu employees benefit from
• Setting up a business environment at home
• Saving on journey and travel
• Employees are spending more time nearer families
• The opportunity to recalibrate values
What is encouraging is that it is people changing the narrative and are establishing their own “New Normal”. This is driven by four principles:
1. Employees are driven by purpose. However, they are beginning to ask whether organisations align with this. The result can be detachment and lack of engagement
2. Flexibility at work. This has made an important contribution to work/life balance, and simplified carer responsibilities. But some people in smaller properties have concern about infection spread and how to get work done in disruptive environments. Some have returned to the office and reported that it has actually improved their wellbeing, but many are lost in empty buildings and are disorientated y hybrid working. While it is right that people should be able to choose a location from which to work, a work culture needs to be established and monitored, so that “presenteeism” does not lead to a higher tier of hierarchy.
3. Wellbeing. Some people are facing long term mental health challenges and it is incumbent on managers to ensure that work burdens doe become excessive. This is a long term challenge which work teams are monitoring.
4. Women and minorities face ongoing issues over cover at home and the implications for career progression when important meetings and training sessions are missed due to other daytime commitments. Government has held back on legislation but although some managers adjust and flex, organisations should have an obligation to pay more attention to difficulties faced by women and minority groups.
On the subject of D&I, evidence suggests however that imposition does not work and neither does general awareness training. See https://hbr.org/2016/07/why-diversity-programs-fail It is important that any initiative needs to be specific to the appropriate industry and is presented in such a way that it is linked to business outcomes, but Pauline recommended some specific actions to address D&I:
• If there are voices with strong views, these must be brought to the forefront of the discussion
• If there are personal issues, try to make them relevant to the discussion
• Take proof points seriously, take into consideration and set the dial appropriately
• Unconscious bias – awareness is only a first step: how and where does it impact the discussion?
• Process. Ensure that there are fair policies and processes in project allocations. This can improve relations and reduce stress and mental health problems at work
• Meeting agendas are very important and can be a source of unintended bias
• Quotas should be avoided but talent should be sourced, followed by appropriate training and investment
• There will be different outcomes for different people – celebrate these differences
Equitable solutions are suggested:
• Use opportunities to showcase work of each employee and involve management in support.
• Have purposeful conversations
• Encourage relationship building especially in young people who have difficulties at home and are working from home. Many managers and senior staff are unaware of the implications of such difficulties
• Have a system of making equipment, e.g. laptops, to support colleagues at home
• Ensure there is an appropriate way of measuring impact during home working.
Bailey Bell, Managing Psychologist, Pearn Kandola
Racism at Work: How to be an active Bystander
The final keynote was given by Bailey Bell who has a role within Pearn Kandola which covers the range of activities from working in the recruitment process, to helping recruits integrate into the organisation, and also with client organisations and assisting in their own assimilation programmes.
A common thread amongst racism where it exists is that it creeps in and then remains unchecked. But when do we need to challenge and how can we be an active bystander? The structure of the organisation needs to be clear such that people feel they can challenge, and it is sufficiently meritocratic.
Why is it important to challenge? Primarily because racism thrives on Normalisation and the power of social norms. By setting or resetting these norms, we can define our position, in much the same way as we might modify towel use in hotel rooms when reminded, in order to minimise energy use, or refrain from drinking and driving when peers see it as unacceptable. The principle can be extended to the norms in regard to racist behaviour.
Research by senior partner Binna Kandola found that out of a focus group of 1500 people in a modern workplace, 14% of whites indicated that they had experienced racist behaviour in some form, this figure jumping to 42% for Asians and 60% for Black people. Of these 59% considered that others had made assumptions about their ability based on stereotypes, 46% considered they had been treated differently, 29% had been excluded from social events and 20% had suffered abuse because of race,
When acts of racism take place, the majority of witnesses do nothing, for fear of lack of authority, or of impact bias, fearful of consequences from an undercurrent of norms. The real reasons for lack of challenge were mainly that they didn’t think it was serious enough or they feared the consequences, but confronting the perpetrator was the action most likely to lead to resolution. Bailey however reminded us that actions always have consequences and looked at options:
• Distraction, indirectly intervening by changing the focus of the discussions
• Delegation, informing a third party or reporting to HR. This option is really for those with limited authority
• Delay until intervention had ended. People will be looking to see whether any action has been taken
• Direct challenge, using clear statements and clear intervention
A tool for intervention looks at default styles using a continuum, from the subtle/ facilitative to direct/confrontational. By considering our responses we can modify our approach to intervention and the setting of Norms but the point of this model is that we all have options which need to be weighed up so that we can on the one hand feel comfortable with interventions and on the other we make the appropriate intervention depending on the impact we wish to make.
Finally, we should constantly challenge ourselves to ask whether we are actually doing enough, both personally and through our teams, to make the appropriate interventions and resetting of the norms.in our organisations .
In conclusion, the Conference has proved yet again that Business Psychology is centre stage in the improvement of organisational effectiveness, through the application of psychology and its strong links to other disciplines in the workplace such as Behavioural Economics. The conference has shown that the industry can rightly celebrate its achievements. We look forward to welcoming our community to the next major conference in 2022. In the meantime the ABP as a professional association continues to grow, offering remarkable value through its workshops and training events and its certification programme.