How would you describe what you do? After nearly six years as the Head of Organisational and Leadership Development for a FTSE 100 business I’ve returned to my old consultancy firm. As such I am now freer to focus on what I adore doing -…
Theme: 20 Years of the ABP: Looking back and Thinking Forward
Announcing the opening of the conference, the Chair Ben Williams summed up the theme of the conference: Looking Back and Thinking Forward..
The 2020 conference team faced seemingly insurmountable challenges. Looking into the abyss in March, it was even questionable whether the conference would ever take place. However, 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 global reach with speakers and attendees from as far afield as Germany, the Middle East and the US. Even online networking was very efficiently set up and managed. Even though we had to pour our own DIY champagne the awards ceremony still managed to proceed with incredible fizz. Congratulations to everyone who put the conference together under such difficult circumstances, but especially to Gonzalo Lopez, who was anchor at every session, always there to resolve technical glitches, and at the same time managing to keep an amazing relaxed and confident public presence.
Preamble: This is the sixth year that the conference and awards have been rolled into one event. Instead of the roundtable format of previous years, delegates could see the presentations from shortlisted submissions in between conference sessions.
A particular feature of this year’s conference was that it was spread over two weeks, there was no streaming of sessions, and all the sessions were repeated in the evening, which meant that delegates could visit every session and see the repeats when shown. 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 unrivalled opportunity to network. In short it was compulsive viewing which took over for two weeks.
The ABP is grateful to the following sponsors and supporters for their generous support:
- Apter Developments, Suppliers of a wide range of Business Psychology Solutions
- Lumina Learning, for personalized selection and development solutions
- CommsMultilingual, Suppliers of translation and adaptation services
- Oxygen Insurance, a leading supplier of insurance to small companies
- Talent Grader, A specialist Talent Management partner for organizations
Additional advertising from Executive VA and ResPeo.
The conference welcomed a series of speakers who delivered some stimulating and challenging presentations of high quality which encouraged us to think critically about how business psychology has developed and the key developments which force us to consider how we look forward and anticipate how services will be delivered 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..
Prof Sir Cary Cooper, Robertson Cooper
Mental Health in the Workplace
5th October 2020
Once of the most underlying causes of poor productivity in the workplace is mental health and wellbeing, yet we have still to face up to the issue, despite overwhelming evidence that it is an drain on the country’s resources, argued Prof Sir Cary Cooper at the opening keynote of the 2020 ABP conference held online.
The OECD estimated pre-Covid that mental health in the workplace was costing 26.8 million working per year representing 4.5% of the nation’s GDP. The cause of the drain on the nation’s resources dwarfs all other issues: absenteeism as a result of mental health costs UK employers every year £8.4 billion involving 32.4% of the workforce. He quoted a raft of further statistics covering presenteeism, engagement in work and poor performance. The UK ranked 17th out of 20 major economies according to OECD and Covid is affecting morale with 63% of the workforce concerned about possible redundancy.
Changes in working practices are fast evolving and the following need to be addressed:
- Flexible working
- The need or otherwise to be present at a place of work.
- Building relationships with work colleagues and others
- Career development and management
- Work/Life balance
All these have a big impact on Mental Health which at levels different levels.
Primary: Actions to help with overt stressors such as line manager relationships
Secondary: Helping people with location and job content: delivering training.
Tertiary: Emergency help when they have personal and relationship
issues in the workplace.
In conclusion, organisations have been faced with an unprecedented challenge to their traditional business models. Finding appropriate models to suit their sectors, staff and employees to ensure motivation and wellbeing is an urgent issue which affects productivity and even viability.
ABP Conference Panel Discussion
5th October 2020
Eliane Algaard – Operations Director, SSE
Jeremy Campbell – Former Chief People Officer, Ceridien
David Hawkins – Author
Chaired by Nicky Thompson
A fascinating and varied discussion was held on effective collaboration and the drivers behind improvements in workplace engagement.
Steven Abrahams opened the discussion citing an emphasis on trust and adaptability, followed by Jeremy Campbell, who felt that true collaboration results from a formal relationship with a governance model, a proper policy on how people interconnect in the organisation, and an environment where challenge is encouraged without retribution. Elaine Algaard observed that good collaboration resulted from a culture which tolerated and transcended disagreement and where a framework of rules was in place so that decisions can be made quickly. David Hawkins’ priority was for faster decision making, fewer meetings and a culture of tolerance fostering innovation. Collaboration is a natural activity, when it doesn’t happen it is because of barriers and poor communication.
Where is the Gold Standard in collaboration and what defines its success?
- Quite simply, reaching high standards of performance, following freeing up to perform, allied to good governance.
- Free thinking triggering positive creative energies.
- Concentrating on one goal and achieving it through focus. This could be maximising benefits to customers or improvement in health and safety by local empowerment of employees
In conclusion all speakers agreed that collaboration is the delicate activity of managing a fluctuating tension between appropriate levels of autonomy and control, achieving balance and being comfortable with the infrastructure such that it “feels the right way” to achieve objectives. .
Scarlett and Grey
Managing Change in the Workplace
6th October 2020
Leading through change requires consideration of a view through the lens of recent developments in our knowledge of Neuroscience, was the main theme of Hillary Scarlett’s ABP conference presentation. The session looked at fundamentals about our brain and why it finds change so hard to accept.
This is illustrated by the test involving taxi and bus drivers, which showed that the Hippocampus in cab drivers grows at a faster rate because of the need for greater brain agility.
While we think we understand which parts of the brain are used, neuroscience is very much in its infancy: however we now understand more about the “plasticity” of the brain which permits sectional adaptability and growth when using creativity and memory. This is illustrated by the test involving taxi and bus drivers, which showed that the Hippocampus in cab drivers grows at a faster rate because of the need for greater brain agility.
- The one area of the brain which has changed significantly is the Prefrontal Cortex which regulates analytical/memory and emotional functions.
- The brain filters information in different ways, even in the face of what we might consider to be clear evidence, such as colour identification.
- The brain always likes to be right: we think we see reality. However, different people hear different messages and we all need to learn more humility in communication.
- The brain is highly attuned to fair treatment and certainty as opposed to ambiguity. It wants to know that someone cares.
So what has this to do with change? When we see change associated with ambiguity it is seen as a distraction, a threat, and can result in affecting relationships at work and performance decline. We lose concentration and become unpredictable and use filters.
Summing up, Hilary advised
- Provide certainty in relationships with others. We all want some autonomy but during the pandemic it is in surplus, so Zoom regularly with colleagues
- Most importantly, enable people to reach their own insights about changes by giving them time to process relevant information for themselves.
Chief Executive, Arctic Shores
6th October 2020
We do not do enough in 2020 to embrace available technology and we should be doing more to build in the use of technology into the practice of Business Psychology, argued Robert Newry of Arctic Shores, purveyors of the use of gamification solutions and other technologies in assessment. Their business is about determining candidate potential by using the latest technologies in the application of science in human behaviour. Using the model of input -> model -> prediction, the challenge for the industry is to remain at the forefront of prediction. Is the model a human, computer, data scientist? Or all of these?
Robert hypothesised that
Technology and Data Science + Psychology and Neuroscience = People Science.
Or does it? Most of the brain activity and its cause of human behaviour is still a mystery: what is missing from the equation is a black box of uncertainty but this is important because it can have diverse impacts on Society, which can be negative when misused. We need to be clear about how we define and set standards in the use of technology.
This is where the ABP can make a big contribution. Wood et al (2019) concluded that applications of technology are far ahead of academia and have set a challenge for criteria definition and then validity. However, it is notoriously difficult for commercial organisations to obtain accurate data because of GDPR regulations. A Gold Standard for the use of appropriate technologies is therefore difficult to achieve.
In conclusion, the following needs to happen:
- Bring data scientists, neuroscientists and broader subject matter experts together to work on Standards
- Discussion groups to urgently discuss advances in technology. Technology should be embraced not ignored. AI driven assessments and counselling using neuroscience already exist.
- Encourage new advances by establishing appropriate criteria and facilitating validity studies
- Broaden the base of Best Practice. E.g. Business Psychology is in a good position to assist HR
- Training in technology. Training through e-learning can be made more engaging and effective
- Find new ways of accelerating take up and accommodating a wide range of performers. Older people are not necessarily against use of technology but they may be slower in familiarisation and use of inputs. They need more user friendly interfaces and the opportunity to practise in a safe space. In short make it easy for them.
- Use subject matter expertise (e.g. Business Psychology) to improve the relevant elements of data science and to establish a future set of requirements as part of a People Science programme.
Gurnek Bains, Chief Executive, Global Futures
7th October 2020
Why do we need a purpose, was the main question posed by and answered powerfully and articulately by Gurnek Bains, formerly of YSC, in his presentation. This can be addressed by asking in effect three questions:
- Organisational Purpose. How can organisations define their purpose to ensure that they operate with leadership which is rooted, invigorated and credible? It has primarily to be invigorating in a way which draws on core values of innovation, ethics and practices which encourage challenge and experimentation, have an existential rationale and a metrics purpose. He cited John Lewis and Sony Corporation as examples.
- Personal Purpose. Interrogating yourself and asking “Why do you do what you do?”, you should reflect on your
- Signature Strength: How do you get leverage from your investment in your purpose?
- Leadership Impact: What are you going to do to have the greatest impact?
The link from Personal to Organisational Purpose can be represented by a Venn Diagram with the focus being on the intersection between the three criteria: Personal, Organisational and “What the Customers Want”. If the reason for the intersection is clear, as in the case of the Body Shop, then the organisation is clearly rooted and invigorating. This is where the activist brand can be seen to link to “individual journeys”
- Results and Performance. A helpful tool is to map tasks/responsibilities to daily priorities, trying to locate the sweet spot on a table of Purpose against Performance. You then need to help others flourish through taking time to work through the purpose with the team, defining personal purposes and then taking time to review. Use specificity to develop a culture of authenticity.
- Business Psychologists are scientists as well as psychologists. Clients expect rigour and evidenced based approaches
- Is the heart more important than the head or vice versa? One can feed into the other or vice versa but both are equally important.
Amaechi Performance Systems Ltd.
Leadership and Productivity
8th October 2020
Having spent 15 years advising organisations on leadership styles, recruitment and talent management issues, John Amaechi treated ABP members to some crystal clear thinking based on his vast experience and which could be distilled down to one key message: Values and Culture are important but, whatever else is good and however good it is, these are defined by the worst and most inconsistent standards and behaviour tolerated by the organisation.
John spent 15 years in professional sport and has an acute sense of effective leadership. Corporate leadership is not fit for purpose: it was not good enough but tolerated up to 5 months ago. Now it needs a radical overhaul. The world has become radically different with people having to adapt to flexible workspaces and working, use of gig and contingent workers and increased use of digital infrastructure. This necessitates a reform of current skills assessment and learning capacity.
People want authentic connection not necessarily friendship, and will be prepared to go the extra mile when noticed. But in return they want the “Fab 5 Characteristics”:
Trust, Transparency, Psychological Safety, Communication and Agency, which provides them with a sense of autonomy and control.
This is a big ask for leaders, who on the face of it have the Herculean task of delivering all these through multiple platforms. The challenge for leaders will be to establish the appropriate structures to maximise motivation for performance and to buy into the mantra that “Pursuing Values is not a Hobby”.
Sylvana Storey – Change Management Provocateur
Diversity, Equality and Inclusion
The purpose of the session was to take a wide ranging review of DE&I in the context of behaviours and practices and to look at where it sits in the priorities of organisations. Diversity is on the public stage: this is largely due to gender equality legislation and some high profile court cases mainly promoted by white women. But much remains to be achieved through attitude changes, bias reduction and talent management.
Sylvana coined the term;
Diversity is a “Stat”. This equates to representation.
Equality is an “Act”: the means to achieve equality and provide support
Inclusion is “Impact”. Once in the fold how are they involved?
Diversity should be a holistic process. However DE&I normally only applies to one aspect – gender but there are individuals who fall into the concept named ‘double jeopardy’ or ‘intersectionality’. An example is the Duchess of Sussex at the hands of the press which is dominated by White males who consistently assert their privileged perspective, employ micro-aggressions and ‘gaslight’ to the extent that the Duchess began to doubt her own abilities and value. This is a leadership issue which is responsible for a subtle process which results in a “grinding down”.
How can change be effected?
- Through structures and systems such as recruitment
- Proper scrutiny of diversity stats
- Encouraging innovation and creativity in DEI.
- Unconscious bias is often seen as a quick fix. Focus should be on implicit bias Unfortunately other DEI approaches are often viewed as an expensive luxury. Most organisations want it for free yet these same organizations are happy to pay£1m to consulting firms for strategic advice.
Dr. Storey concluded her presentation with some lived experiences of the workplace. These ranged from being “not suitable because she had not been to Oxbridge” and “Too Black” and “Too Intellectual”. Organisations are changing but the pace of change needs to accelerate to keep up with changes in society to reflect the general make up of the workforce.
Nancy Doyle / The Genius Within
Inclusion is a moral, social and economic imperative was the message of Nancy Doyle of the Genius Within. We all lose when human potential is squandered. We need systemic inclusion for all and more nuanced approaches to identifying those with genuine disabilities but which do not fit into the traditional “tick boxes”. Despite recent initiatives, there is a stubborn reluctance to try to understand the real issues and drivers behind continuing mass exclusion of capable people from the workforce.
From a range of skills identified by Business Psychologists, neurominorities exhibit what can be termed “Spiky” profiles, as demonstrated on a graph of IQ against a range of cognitive abilities. Everyone is neurodiverse, but whereas the majority of the population exhibit profiles within 1 Standard Deviation of normal, neurominorities, such as those with dyslexia, dyspraxia and autism, demonstrate statistically significant extremes of competence and deficiency.
Unfortunately some organisations “topslice” for narrowly defined functional roles without seeing the need to have greater awareness of the considerable strengths exhibited by people with extreme neurodiversity. At the same time they avoid others when they could be tapping into a huge wealth of talented people who are quick to learn in a well supported environment. When in work, making repeated abortive attempts to concentrate on addressing areas of weaknesses and/or waiting for people to fail can have the effect of unpicking all kinds of conflicts which can have serious repercussions which can be costly.
In conclusion, making the most out of neurodiversity requires understanding, imagination, training and support, but the rewards can be considerable as neurodiverse colleagues can be loyal and very productive.
Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning and Business Psychology
Whatever your perception of AI/ML, It is making such a huge impact on every area of work that Business Psychologists have learn to live with it and somehow embrace it,
ML is already ubiquitous and is a catalyst for change. Examples are Netflix and Spotify which can not only produce selections of entertainment but can predict your preference. Every industry is affected by it. However, the one attracting the most investment is medical and life sciences. The impact on jobs and people is comprehensive, covering disaggregation, new know-how, and where redundancy has not yet happened, concerns about future automation such as
- Automation of White Collar worker jobs
- Career paths being disrupted with new roles being created
- Uncertainty over talent management and retention more difficult
- Reinvented metrics
- Additional layers of complexity in change management
- Industries threatened by AI competitors emerging
No one can look into a crystal ball. We have to make assumptions as to what the impact will be but doing nothing is definitely not an option. However, an important consideration is that Prediction is not Calculation Technology so it therefore follows that BPs have an opportunity to utilise transactional processes and available data and use their expertise to add considerable value.
Looking forward Business Psychologists need to consider what the role of the ABP should be in shaping the industry and looking after the interests of its members. This discussion needs to take place urgently.
Donald Taylor / Learning Technologies
Learning and Development Technologies
12th October 2020
L&D is at the forefront of changes resulting from technological change and is well positioned to take advantage of the opportunity for greater investment in coaching and training. In 1975 80% of the economy was in the manufacturing service sector for narrowly defined roles different training needs and requirements and which urgently needs innovative solutions.
Donald raised three main issues facing L&D providers:
- Just as railway technology shaped our environment in 19th Century, L&D is proving to be a critical element in how we shape and adapt to work in 21st Century. As most organisations have to work to meet emerging technologies and skills shortages, L&D suppliers have to adapt to meet ever diverse needs. Anticipation of new trends is critical.
- Kinds of offering. L&D suppliers have to adapt to meet ever diverse needs. Anticipation of new trends is critical. There are about 15 different headline kinds of delivery, but the main ones all involve a wide range of data, in shaping programmes, targeting needs and in programme content.
- Linking training to performance. Training always will be a cost but by directly linking it to improvements in operational performance, it becomes a tangible financial benefit
AI is facilitating new technology which in turn is driving L&D towards increased personalisation. The challenge now is for suppliers to convince traditionally minded training managers of the increased effectiveness of the new approach.
Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, UCL
12th October 2020
The origin of talent management practice as we know it today dates back to 1997 when McKinsey promoted the idea of there being a shortage and therefore “A War for Talent”. The idea was that we should spend more time nurturing, harnessing and developing talent, which had on balance a much greater impact on corporate performance than honing a business strategy.
The problem is that we don’t promote talent in higher levels of management. Incompetent men all too frequently get to the top. Attempts at equality have not favoured women.
Unfortunately masculine traits prevail: interrupting and speaking when they have nothing to say, as a means of preventing others from coming in and appearing overconfident, is all too frequent. Plato hypothesised that “only those who don’t seek power should be allowed to hold it”.
There are three pervasive myths
- Confidence is an essential leadership quality. An appropriate level of confidence should be balanced by competence. When leaders are analysed, if they are faced with two alternatives, accurate feedback or what they want it to reflect, they choose the latter and that men are worse than women in this test. We should focus on the right traits, competence and authenticity.
- Leaders should be charismatic. The problem is that when they are, they often hate criticism from others. The result is often failure. We should focus on genuine talent rather than charisma.
- Narcisism is a good leadership trait but we are seduced by their promise of instant solutions. The trouble is that narcissists can’t compromise, attract other narcissists and it is only a matter of time before a serious clash results. It is a fact that women make better managers than men. They are stronger on integrity, empathy, adaptable and being humble when necessary. Unfortunately white middle-aged men who have big voices create impression. Even though it would not be perfect, we would do better to select our leaders on the basis of a selection algorithm.
In summary what we is needed is a greater use of analysis and data, and business psychologists are ideally equipped to provide the expertise in the analysis of information and to blend this with the need for understanding of the industry and soft skills required.
Is ageing positive or negative and how can the elderly be most appropriately accommodated to maximise quality of life?, was the subject of a presentation by Rob Charlton, architect and director of Space Group.
The challenge now is that as people live longer they now need a wider range of support services. In 1850 the average life expectancy for men and women was 41 and 53 respectively; by 2020 this had increased to 79.9 and 83.6 respectively. This has been largely achieved by improvement in health facilities, additional support for the elderly, more understanding about nutrition and availability of drugs which reduce the range of common illnesses.
Rob proceeded to discuss retirement expectations and facilities for their vacations and retirement, where the preferred location is in “false” engineered retirement villages in gated communities in the US and Canada where it works well because of the climate and because it is acceptable to live exclusively with other elderly people. In the UK the expectation is to live in mixed communities and open localities.
He gave a description of a development at Brunton Park in Newcastle which had a range of facilities, including adaptations for younger people who wished to work flexibly while at the same time providing appropriate family accommodation and facilities.
What sets this experiment in retirement apart is that it addresses a key development in 21st century living: a natural environment for flexible working which enables the opportunity for maximum support for young and elderly alike. The environment works around the needs of the family, not the other way round. The Brunton Park project has been acknowledged not just at a national but also at a European level as an environmentally sustainable experiment which combines modern living requirements with reducing carbon emissions.
Dr. Dimitiros Tsivrikos
Having worked as a broadcaster, trainer and educator and broadcaster. Dr. Tsivrikos has spent much of his career researching the use behavioural science to uncover underlying factors during the exercising of choice and preference.
Whereas marketing is concerned with the data of purchasing habits, consumer psychology is concerned with the relatively new science of exploring the emotional considerations behind the reasons for purchase or resistance to purchasing because it is seen as a bad investment. On a wider level, consumer psychology can be used as a means to nudge the behaviour of employees in a particular direction: consumer psychology can be seen in this context as the DNA of behaviour. It analyses human behaviour, their sensitivities and their reasons for choice.
Covid has had an impact on our purchasing behaviours. Two new concepts are emerging: new ideas and techniques for meeting expectations. Business Psychologists are excellently placed to use their experience and global level of knowledge to elaborate and advise on capitalisation of these concepts.
What should consumer psychologists be drawing attention to?
- Group highlighting theory, concerning “connectors” and “influencers”
- Human sensors/cross modal experiences. This establishes key connectors and how we communicate. The challenge is to establish some consistency in how we capture the basic data.
- Individual aspirations and perceptions.
- Key concepts. Consumer psychology looks at language and visual representation and how we use it to consume information. Social media has caused a shift in how we assimilate this.
- Memory, attention and recall. Packaging of material has to relate to own experiences but what is important here is that “legacy materials” need to be exploited and link to the message flagged to the consumer.
- Experience, involvement and discovery. This relates to “tactility” and UX (user experience), in other words, how people experience comms activity and the range of channels used to carry the message.
- Emotion, feelings, affect. These can only be used as predictors rather than outcomes. Emotions are well used in the correct circumstances but generally they are used excessively.
Consumer psychology is a journey/process. It is not entirely rational and operates on four principles:
- People do behave in rational ways
- The brain is unpredictable and behaves subject to Kahneman’s System 1 and System 2 ways of thinking
- Subconscious drivers. These motivate consumers’ decision making. These link back to social structures and how people demonstrate emotional attachments.
- Exploring unconscious territory. Unexplained reasons direct people to make purchases. This whole area of cognitive behaviour is a relatively new science and offers exciting possibilities for research.
In summary, we should measure perceptions while having regard to reality, uncover true underlying factors, establish where the connectors are and why they work, and be bold with your search for an appropriate tool: see the study of consumer psychology as a search through a large and comprehensive toolbox.
Dr. Stewart Desson, Lumina Learning
14th October 2020
Did Covid-19 change who we are ?
4414 people completed a 20-30 minute questionnaire from all over the world, with unique objective of a full analysis of how Covid-19 had affected work, our attitude to it and our health and wellbeing. In fact Stewart proposed that it has changed who we are, as evidenced by the context in which we live and work, our thoughts, our feelings/emotions, our everyday behaviour and our response to stress. There were two key objectives behind the presentation:
- To determine how people have been impacted
- To share the extensive research data
The content of the research covered:
- Experience of COVID-19, Emotionally, Physically, Risk taking, Critical Life events
- Impact on working life, Remote working, Connection at work, Technology, Socio-demographic variables e.g. Income
- Psychological measures of: Adaptive Big Five Personality traits (Desson, Benton & Golding, 2014), Maladaptive Big Five Personality traits (Desson, 2017), Positivity Scale (Caprara, Alessandri, Eisenberg, Kupfer, Steca, Caprara, Yamaguchi, Fukuzawa & Abela, 2012), Emotional Intelligence (Desson, Ensor & Cannon, 2018), Adaptability and Resilience at work (Zacher & Frese, 2011)
- General state of health including Risks to Mental Health (Goldberg & Williams, 1988)
The sample included a majority of employed people: 71% employed, 9% self employed with high levels of educational attainment (82% had a degree). It covered mainly those in office work, corporations, banking, technology companies and universities but remarkably it covered responses from over 40 countries.
Stewart gave two examples of his own organisation, where two colleagues had changed significantly under prevailing circumstances. One, highly discipline driven, had taught herself to develop more adaptability and “big picture thinking”. Another, not naturally a people person, found himself trying more to collaborate, working hard on empathy especially with clients. What was particularly interesting was the extent to which these changes derived from over-extended behaviours, which in turn derived from forced behaviour changes and prevailing circumstances.
The hypotheses which have been tested as a result of this research are that
H1: There has been a statistically significant increase in mental health risk during the pandemic. Inconclusive
H2: There has been a statistically significant increase in vigilance (Neuroticism) during the pandemic. Strong Evidence
H3: There has been a statistically significant increase in feelings of anxiety (Neuroticism) during the pandemic Strong Evidence
H4: There has been a statistically significant decrease in sociability (Extraversion) during the pandemic: Strong indications
H5: There has been a statistically significant increase in reflection (Introversion) during the pandemic: Strong evidence
H6: People with a high introverted preference are more likely to want to work remotely compared to people with a high extraverted preference: Inconclusive but probably not true.
In conclusion, optimism and building of resilience had a positive effect on productivity and was an antidote to the common problem of anxiety when working remotely with the threat of Covid. Additionally, although the data concerning the overall effect of Covid on mental health is inconclusive, organisations need to work harder to address mental health issues.
Jen Martin / Mark Hammond
14th October 2020
“Gone are the micromoment conversations in the office and around the coffee machine, the quick questions, the fostering of connections and use of face to face engagement to get fuller commitment from employees”, was the vision thrown to the ABP conference by Jen Martin and Mark Hammond of the Hive, as a means of introducing the challenge of how to improve employee engagement. “Hard, tough, uncomfortable conversations embracing discomforts, however, provide the basis for teams to thrive”.
What lies behind the veracity or otherwise of these quotes is however the extent to which employees are prepared to empathise and show vulnerability, Vulnerability leads to trust and in turn engagement. The common misconception is that a display of vulnerability is a weakness: the reality is that it is the ones who are unwilling to accept this who threaten engagement and team performance and stifle innovation.
The ‘Forming, Storming, Norming, Performing’ theory is an elegant and helpful explanation of team development and behaviour, developed by Tuckman as far back as the 1960’s but is still useful today. It shows how team performance can evolve as trust, authenticity and levels of engagement improve.
Trust is low when there is
- Little listening to others
- Low levels of curiosity
- Little or real questioning to clarify/understand
- Little interpersonal sharing
- Conversations take place in third person
- Layering of topics – no build up from previous points
- Tumbleweed moments – no acknowledgement
- Lots of corporate speak (resulting from hiding and lack of clarity)
- Low agility and resilience (locked into a particular position)
- Low levels of thought diversity / inclusion
- Group is leader dependent
How do we bring these concepts to reality?
- Transfer to high performing culture through engagement.
- Build trust through personal stories. These provide life experiences to which teams can relate. An example is a senior team member who had suffered organisational politics for years, but by relating some intimate family tragedy, the team was brought together and productivity improved.
- Relating experiences works very powerfully. It can be a hard conversation initially but longer term it redefines engagement
In summary, there is clearly much more to trust than vulnerability: however, this area is a vastly underappreciated component of the employee engagement jigsaw. There is plenty of scope for further research.
Sarah Mason – Foxtons
Effective Change Management
15th October 2020
Change management has suffered over the years from a wide variety of standards, but with a growth in evidence-based practice and more understanding of what makes successful change management sustainable, we now have higher levels a=of transparency and greater chances of success.
Sarah highlighted several myths which should be dispelled
- Follow the Change Curve
- Resistance is bad. There may be sound reasons for some resistance and these should be considered
- 70% of change projects fail. This statement has no factual basis
- Listen to the Gurus. They are too general to be of much specific use.
- Rely on Gantt or progress charts. These take no account of the difficulty in the inherent need for behavioural change in implementation and sustainability
- Everyone hates change. What they hate is having it imposed upon them without consultation.
- One size fits all. Change projects should be adapted to suit circumstances and particularly the change “Entry Points” which will always vary from one project to the next. Don’t base a project wholly on a previous successful one.
Some good work has been done by the Open University which focuses on the distinction between rapid discrete change and slower incremental change, on a continuum. A planned approach is necessary to ensure that a reasonable balance is achieved but it is impossible get it right. Is it a crisis led or a facilitated project? Is it economy or science led? A guide through the decision making process might attempt to distinguish it between a “difficult” and a “messy” project.
Organisational culture is important, but the kind of organisation has to be considered, whether it is command and control or a flatter structure where an emergent solution may be preferable. AI has also highlighted the importance of language and communication in change.
15th October 2020
A visit to the supermarket presents us with a vast array of choice but are choices always a good thing, asked Barry Schwartz? Do all these choices provide an overall benefit?
The following syllogism helps to build the argument that more freedom constitutes
more welfare (well-being) and that to increase freedom we need to increase choice, which leads us to assume that more choices always increases welfare. But behavioural economics flags up a large paradox, But most of us would be happy to have two cereal choices instead of three: so we are not better off with the third. Except that someone else might prefer the third and be better off. It therefore follows that we are all better off. Or does it?
Too much of a good thing results in
- Choice overload and paralysis, but critically
- Choice overload resulting in dissatisfaction with even good decisions.
- Regret and anticipated regret: ie regret with the whole process. And the more regret the more dissatisfaction
- Concern over missed opportunities when there is a superperfect option, passing up on an opportunity for Y by going for X.
More and more choice results in imperfect rationality. Sunstein and Thaler (Nudge 2008) proposed that there should be a “Libertarian Paternalism”, where imperfect decisions are the best options to satisfy us. A wonderful example involves organ donation for which 98% of populations approve. In Austria 98% have agreed to organ donation, yet in the UK the figure is a staggeringly low 17%. The difference is that in UK you have to sign a form. People gravitate to the default outcome especially as it involves doing nothing. We have the situation where even if people strongly approve, they do nothing.
The answer has to be a balance between “Maximising” and “Satisfying”, or “Satisficing”.
Barry used a graph of subjective state vs no of choices, overlaying a “feeling good about choices” on top of “feeling bad about choices”, and then aggregating them, to illustrate the point that there was a choice maximisation point beyond which we feel more miserable and dissatisfied. Going for “Good Enough” is always “Good enough”. The trick is to find the amount of freedom of choice which doesn’t paralyse.
Another consideration is Utility, looking at Expected Utility Theory and Rational Choice Theory. These compare relevant features of each alternative and rational choosers. The uncertainty is expressed as :
Expected Utility = value of each option x probability that value can be achieved.
He then used the Kahneman 2 System model to illustrate how the 2 systems can have interesting consequences for skills and behaviour. For example,
- Egocentrisms. These can determine characteristics such as selfishness and generosity in different situations
- The curse of knowledge and ability to impart that knowledge The greatest skill is to be aware of and overcome and curse of knowledge.
- Implicit bias. This is caused by the automatic system: attitudes are caused by intuitive bias. We need to develop skills to moderate the tendency towards impulsive attitudes. (Jennifer Eberhardt has an excellent TED talk)
- Prospect Theory. This addresses another interpretation of choice, which through a comparison of utility against gains and losses, highlights that we can move the reference point from neutral such that losses have more impact on us than gains. In general, however, we have a higher premium on security which establishes our reference point.
In conclusion, “Satisficing” is “Good Enough”. It rarely pays to search for the best and sometimes it is not even worth the effort to start.
Prof Stephen Palmer
16th October 2020
Application of Coaching and Coaching Psychology in the Covid-19 Era
Levels of transition. The Covid-19 pandemic is almost unique in modern history in that it has such widespread impact, it has touched us all, our people, organisations, communities, our country and has global implications. With all the restrictions we need to self manage and become more self sufficient and resilient. The INSIGHT model developed by Palmer and Panchal (2011) provides a useful context in which to look at this more closely from a coaching perspective.
I ncrease – self knowledge
N ormalise – transitions
S upport – be positive to increase your ability to cope
I ntegrate – the past, present and future
G ive – using time and space
H ighlight – and consider the broader context and make the time to reflect it
T ailored solutions – using positive constructive steps
In addition to reflection, coaching should be about influences and then taking away some key themes and having an action plan. In his book from 2011 Stephen concluded that life is a transition with a general perspective. INSIGHT builds on this theme and with analysis concludes that life is the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle which need to be linked for maximum satisfaction and effectiveness.
Insight was developed as a Guide for Coaching Psychologists, taking the theory and putting it into practice. It helps to normalise, provide focus, articulates the value of social support, taking into account cultural and social expectations during transition, then leading to the real purpose of coaching which is solution focused, action planning and goal setting.
A practical application is the current Covid context, where it can help with practical tips in areas such as upskilling, setting of boundaries, transitioning into a new context. It then allows for reflection, recognising achievements: what worked and what went well? The article by Palmer et al (2020) which addresses wellbeing from an observational angle provided the background to their conference presentation.
In conclusion, what is the future of Coaching Psychology? The key development will be increased use of virtual coaching. There will be a greater balance towards self help and reading in conjunction with the online activity. The main challenges will be
- suitability and quality of the apps which are currently unproven and need testing
- group coaching in organisations, the success of which will depend on the leadership and commitment from organisations.
- Establishing and maintaining appropriate boundaries
16th October 2020
Describing himself as the “Crossing Guard” or School Lollipop man at the intersection of psychology and business, Chip Conley has had a successful business career in the catering and leisure industries, and combined this with a fascination for the successful application of psychological techniques in business as a means of driving success.
Producing a book entitled “PEAK, How Great Companies get their Mojo from Maslow”, he explores how positive psychology have helped organisations prosper and uses his own experiences through a lens to articulate key findings from his varied career as an entrepreneur.
A believer in Goldberg’s Karmic Capitalism, he uses the concept of Empowerment along with Maslow’s model as a means of achieving financial independence and organisational goals. The most neglected resource in business is humans. Businesses are built on human capital. He has developed a theme and virtuous circle model which revolves around:
- Unique corporate culture
- Enthusiastic staff
- Strong customer loyalty
- Profitable sustainable business, which feeds back to the corporate culture
By slightly simplifying Maslow’s model, while keeping the essential elements, he used this as a basis for application in his company, with three different versions focusing on customer, employees and investors. He found that he could engender loyalty far beyond what he could have imagined, by addressing different sets of needs in different ways, so coining the term “Psychohygiene”. His work in this area won him the honour of “2nd Best Place to Work” in San Francisco, resulting in the invitation to do a TED talk. Although this incident demonstrated connectedness, it also demonstrated another important point which is that one set of needs which apply to one set of employees is different to the needs of another group .
He then went on describe a set of customer needs in a leisure industry situation, citing service and image. The key point is that you should try to tap into an “unrecognised need”.
Citing the need for genuine employee engagement and authentic leadership, Chip opined that CEO should be Chief Emotions Officer. Anxieties feed emotions: anxiety = uncertainty x powerlessness. All employees have jobs that matter and the job of management should be to reduce the uncertainty of employees and avoid poor communications and a bunker mentality.
In conclusion, using Maslow, we’ll never be able to self-actualise as long as we never even meet the first level of the needs hierarchy. Focus on the set of needs appropriate to the group, its individuals and their level of need.
As in previous years, the standard of the entries for the awards was high and it was challenging to decide on winners in each category. Each finalist was given the opportunity to present their project We were privileged to benefit again from eminent people in our industry who judged the awards. The winners of each of the 2020 categories were:
Excellence in using Innovative Technology: Schroders AON
Video interviewing supported by live scoring with AI correlation
Excellence in assessment; Maya Mistry, Saville Assessment with Willis Towers Watson
Rigour and Validity in addition to candidate experience
Excellence in Change Management: Belinda Board, Natural England with PeopleWise.
Creation of Shared Leadership Charter, building on a sense of purposes and measuring critical behaviours
Excellence in Diversity and Inclusions Phil Wilson, Civil Service Fast Stream and Talent Team
Ground breaking work in Social Mobility. With 40% of interns conversion to Graduate Programme
Excellence in Engagement and Employee Experience: Emma Smith and Nicole Rossiter, ARUP
Building Trust and safer operations with Heathrow Baggage Handlers
Excellence in Health and Wellbeing: Mandy Flanagan, NatWest
Use of behavioural science as a Change Model during Covid, connecting colleagues across teams
Excellence in using psychology for Social Impact: Victoria Roe, Work Psychology Group
Making Training Fairer for All at General Medical Council. Identification of 10 success factors at operational level.
Excellence in Learning and Development: Nicole Rossiter/Arup in conjunction with London Underground Developing Trust amongst Managers and shifting habits to meet operational challenges
and the Chair’s choice for Excellence in Business Psychology
Excellence in Health and Wellbeing: Mandy Flanagan, NatWest
Use of behavioural science as a Change Model during Covid, connecting colleagues across teams
Other awards were made to
- Professor Stephen Benton, formerly of University of Westminster, who introduced the first Business Psychology MSc programme in 1998. Proposed by Dr, Stewart Desson
- Clodagh O’Reilly, a previous ABP chair who introduced the first awards ceremony in 2013.
Volunteer of the Year
- Emma Jennings for her energy and ability to contribute as well as she has on the conference team.
Board Member of the Year
- Gonzalo Lopez for his fantastic running of our first ever and hugely successful virtual conference.
In conclusion, the Conference has proved yet again that Business Psychology is centre stage and a dynamic force in the improvement of organisational effectiveness, through the application of psychology and its strong links with other sectors. The conference has shown that the industry can rightly celebrate its achievements, despite enforced constraints in 2020. We look forward to welcoming our community to the next major conference in 2021. In the meantime the ABP as a professional association continues to grow, offering a wide variety of benefits through its workshops, training events and certification programme.