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Diversity of Thought: An Introduction

What does diversity of thought mean, how do we encourage it and how can it positively impact your business?

We were delighted to be invited to speak at a client’s Diversity Month in March. Built around International Women’s Day there was a wide range of events looking at diversity and inclusion, unconscious bias and people’s leadership journeys.

We were invited for the finale event: Diversity of Thought

The idea behind this event was simple: how do we encourage people to think of diversity not just in terms of ethical and fair focus in recruitment and development, but also as a personal focus on achieving greater innovation and results?

When people quote studies showing that teams and business boards with greater diversity make more money or achieve better results, this is not some magical effect of having more women or different ethnicities involved: it is the result of different ways of thinking.

Why is Diversity Good?

Based on our gender, ethnicity, genetics, upbringing, education and so many other factors, our brains are wired in different ways. You know when you’re working with someone and you wonder how on earth they have come to x conclusion or gone about that task in x way – you never would have thought or done it that way (and you probably believe your way is better!)

That’s the thing with different brain patterns: we like our own because we only know our own ways of thinking and working. Everyone who thinks differently – more often than not we think of as wrong, misguided or weird. Yet there are great benefits to challenging our comfortable ways of working: we might find a better way.

We can harness these benefits by challenging ourselves to think differently, engaging people we would not usually go to for advice and encouraging disagreement. Let’s face it, it is easier to work with people who think like we do, agree with us, come up with similar ideas and we achieve consensus far quicker.

But what if consensus was not the goal? What if achieving something brilliant were the goal – and we might not always agree but we could make decisions and take concerns into account? Trying new things, making mistakes, learning fast and trying again. If you want to achieve something different then try thinking differently and engaging with different people.

Challenging your Thinking

One of the greatest ways to find new ideas for yourself is to simply notice and increase your awareness of the way you do something. Take something that comes up a lot in your day job, maybe the way you run meetings, make decisions or solve problems.

You will not usually take time to think about how you do that particular thing, because you do it all the time, maybe many times per day. But taking time to stop and consider the way you do something can help you challenge that approach and consider other approaches. Try out these questions as you consider your way of working:

Which Questions Do You Find Helpful?

How would someone more extroverted than me go about this? Someone who relied on thinking out loud and involving other people?

How would someone more introverted than me go about this? Someone who took time to process their thoughts alone and then came to a conclusion?

What would a more logical, structured, fact-based approach look like?

What would a more intuitive, spontaneous, gut-feel-based approach look like?

As you consider how other people might go about your task, you will most likely find you don’t like most of the ideas that come up, but look out for the golden nugget of an idea: something you could tweak in your approach that might give you a better outcome.

In our next instalment on this subject we look at how you can engage others who have different ways of thinking, and embrace the disagreement that will follow, to achieve better results.

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The generational divide just got a lot more complicated…

Just as we begin to understand how we integrate millennials into our workforce (see our tips here and here) a new generation of young people, eager and ready to join the world of work is beginning to present itself at interviews and job fairs.

Are Centennials that different from the generation before them?

Centennials are about 2 billion strong worldwide and represent close to 26% of the worldwide population, and importantly – are the most ethnically and racially diverse generation in our history.  And whilst most of them are still tapping the Bank of Mum & Dad for pocket money, they already have £5.1 Billion in annual spending power (in the UK)…

As a rough guide, Centennials reached eighteen in about 2016, so most are well through college this year and are beginning to think about their future careers. This presents an exciting opportunity for brands and employers seeking to connect with them.  But there are a few things to be mindful of when reaching out to this young cohort.

Do you remember the challenges of being a teenager?  Exactly. 

These challenges haven’t gone away per se, the context of those challenges remains the same, even if the content has changed slightly.  Acknowledging and understanding these significant life changes can help in better preparing you for your first contact with Centennials in the workplace.

A key difference between Millennials and Centennials is technology – both generations are tech savvy, but Centennials acknowledge the ill effects of technology, too.  A study by agency Sparks & Honey found that Centennials are aware that their screen time may be excessive, and nearly 59 percent of them admit to spending too much time online – the way they use tech is changing too…

“With millennials, we’d started dumbing down content from 60 seconds to 30 seconds to 15 seconds and then 10-second snaps, six-second Vines and 140-character tweets,” said Gayle Troberman, CMO at iHeart Media. “With this generation, we’re telling clients to flip that model and make storytelling longer and more engaging.”

Here you can find more on personal engagement and storytelling

Another quality that characterises Centennials is their commitment to open-mindedness, inclusivity, and tolerance. This often expresses itself in an attitude of “oh you do, do you.”  A statement without judgement or pre-conception, but almost a blasé acceptance of difference.

On the one hand this represents a fantastic opportunity for the HR profession.  Imagine a demographic within your workforce actively pushing for inclusion and equal representation for all – not simply because it’s the ‘right thing’ to do, but because inclusion is part of their world view and an inherent value.  How can we use this enthusiasm?

However, on the other hand… We’ll have to improve the quality and the transparency with which we communicate business decisions to this group.  This will be especially challenging for businesses that work in traditional functions or find themselves spread across subsidiaries.  And we can’t emphasise enough the importance of communication here – and lots of it.

Both generations opt for flexibility on the job but above all Centennials, like their Millennial counterparts, value constant communication with their managers.  Both generations will have grown up with the ability to give and receive feedback instantly, frequently and whilst mobile. They don’t simply want a star or thumbs up on a yearly rating form, they want to see constructive feedback.

If a manager is unable to give them this guidance and coaching – in real time remember – then the manager is no better than a troll on YouTube…

And finally (for now!) perhaps the most interesting difference to be emerging between Millennials and Centennials…  Millennials seek freedom to develop their work and personal projects; they are innovative, question authority and are experts at using technological tools and social networks.

Centennials are beginning to exhibit characteristics of loyalty, creativity, and favoring financial security from their employer.

But in stark contrast, Centennials are beginning to exhibit characteristics of loyalty, creativity, and favoring financial security from their employer.  The HR profession has spent many years working with generations who exhibit some if not all those characteristics. Whilst that doesn’t mean engaging with Centennials will be easy, we will have done the ground work and with a little preparation – the introduction of this new generation won’t come as such a shock to our business.

To find out a little more on Centennials, the awesome folk over at Kantar Futures have put together a little infographic

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Dysfunctional Teams

Trust in the work place, just how critical is it to team building?

Many moons ago, we explored the concept of trust in the work place – and in recent weeks we’ve had cause to dust off and brush up on one of our favourite models of team effectiveness, which also raised the issue of the trust in the workplace, developed by Patrick Lencioni.

According to Lencioni, all teams have the potential to be dysfunctional, so to improve the functioning of a team, we need to understand the type and level of dysfunction that they exhibit.  Lencioni suggested 5 dysfunctions of a team:

  • Absence of Trust
  • Fear of Conflict
  • Lack of Commitment
  • Avoidance of Accountability
  • Inattention to Results

As the title of our article suggests, trust is the key element of this model – focus your efforts here and you’ll naturally improve the other four.  We’ve found a little graphic, with trust at the bottom to demonstrate its foundational role.

Lencioni's Pyramid

Trust evaporates when team members are not genuinely open with one another about their mistakes, weaknesses or need for help.  It’s impossible to build a foundation for trust without this authenticity and vulnerability.

“It’s not enough to keep your word; others have to be aware that you are doing it. And here is where it gets sticky. Like beauty, behavioural integrity is in the eye of the beholder. Consistently keeping promises and living by your stated principles are difficult tasks. Being seen as consistently doing these things is harder still.”

– Professor Tony Simons, Cornell University Professor of Management & Organisational Behaviour

So how do you go about building trust through authenticity and vulnerability in the workplace – isn’t that a little scary in fact?

In this instance, we think it’s a good thing that trust isn’t simply a switch that be thrown from on to off.  It’s not something that can simply happen overnight.  It takes time and repeated examples of the same behaviour/skill/outcome for us to build trust, but there are a few key concepts we can build on to get there quicker.

We’ll look at integrity, inclusion and humility here, but if you’d like to know more there are a couple of reads we recommend.  Ken Blanchard’s Trust Works: Building Lasting Relationships is a great foundational book, but if you’re in a rush Diana Gabriels’s 4 Components may be of more interest.

Who watches the watchers?  Building Integrity.

Whether we like it or not, we’re being watched. Our everyday words and deeds are simply there for everyone to see, so we need to be mindful of our actions and our words to ensure they’re building a coherent picture of our behavioural integrity.

Take the Blame and Share the Credit.  Humility.

Nothing breaks trust like a manager or colleague, who at the first sign of something going wrong, points the finger at others.  Who wants that person in their team?

So by contrast, someone keen to build trust will assume responsibility for mistakes, offering to learn from the situation and support others to avoid similar mistakes in the future.  Showing this level of humility repeatedly, will foster trust far earlier and better than the finger pointer.

Know it, but not all of it.  Inclusion.

Being good at what you do is a key component of building trust.  After all, how many people who are a terrible at doing X do you trust to do X?


But it’s important to position your skill and knowledge with a little humility and to acknowledge you might not know it all.  Learning when to ask questions and showing an interest in learning more is a great way to allow others to feel they’re involved in your development.  Inclusion, like intimacy is a key foundation to trust.

As Professor Tony Simons has hinted at, trust is a wonderfully fluid concept that we each experience and exhibit in different ways. There are however, several behavioural steps that we can take to foster and nurture trust within a group of people.

A critical step is to be the first person to be vulnerable. Nobody else will feel safe owning up to mistakes and taking about things they find difficult unless someone starts that trend. How about you? What could you do today or tomorrow to show a bit of your human vulnerability to the team?

If you want to read more on this subject, there’s a great deal of overlap between building trust with colleagues and building trust with clients.  We’ve written more on the latter here…

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What are the Implications of Best?

implicationsWhat do we do with this new found information?

Having set out to explore the shared meaning of being at one’s best at work* and developed a confident framework to describe it, let’s consider the implications of the this new understanding.

We’ll take a look at a number of workplace applications we can put this framework to work in.  Knowing that being at one’s best involves both positive subjective states and positive behavioural patterns, the workplace environment needs to acknowledge and address both of these aspects of the individual.

Our research* into positive workplaces identified a range of characteristics that are linked to the framework and are reflected in the frameworks themes yet there was no clear definition of a positive workplace.  So perhaps the framework could help to provide some structure to that definition?

One where people feel positive about their job, themselves and their colleagues and they are demonstrating behaviours related to achieving, supporting and interacting?

Totem Lollipops

Organisations wishing to develop a positive workplace will therefore need to attend to the structure of the work and the relationships surrounding it.  They will need to ensure that the work is structured in a way that provides opportunity for individuals to demonstrate the positive behavioural patterns of the framework.

Whilst achieving the goals of the work and organisation are often the rationale for the workplace structures, in order to develop a positive workplace there also needs to be more interaction between individuals and opportunities for them to be able to support each other in developing the goals.

Creating interaction with ‘customers’ is perhaps more difficult in back office environments however even in these circumstances internal colleagues are benefiting from the work completed so could be seen as internal customers.  There’s a clear rationale for greater interaction and communication within teams and between teams.

There are also implications for people management practices.  The framework highlights the importance of both behaviours and subjective states.  People management practices often focus on the output of the individual – their achievements.   Competency assessments of individuals focus on the achievements through behaviours.  Whilst achieving behaviours are a key element of being at one’s best in work they remain just a single part of the framework.

Jelly Bean Diversity

Acknowledging the importance of supporting and interacting behaviours are also vital alongside attending to the personal subjective states of individuals.  If these become part of the recognised and prioritised actions of the workforce then there is likely to be less silo working and more collaboration.   The additional focus on attending to individual’s subjective states is likely to demand even more interpersonal skill from managers.

The support they will require in being able to handle the complexities of emotions in the workplace also becomes important.  The framework however could act as a diagnostic for when individuals are not at their best and this will help to prioritise appropriate interventions.

Whilst the organisation and managers need to encourage a positive workplace by attending to both subjective states and behavioural patterns, the responsibility for being at one’s best however must also lie with the individuals.

Personal awareness and development needs to attend to both subjective states and behaviours.   By structuring learning and development interventions to provide insight and development in terms of the subjective states and the behavioural patterns of the framework, greater improvements to the workplace and to performance are likely to be seen.

How organisations plan and recruit for future needs is also impacted.  Traditional competency assessments purely focus upon the achievements whereas the supporting and interacting behaviours are also necessary to evidence.  Investigating the subjective states of individuals will also give an indication of how likely one is to see the individual at their best.

The understanding of being at one’s best that the  framework provides has clear implications for individuals and organisations.  Understanding is the starting point, what is done with that understanding is likely to make the difference between simply being “OK” at work and being at one’s best in work.


(*Addicott 2015)

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LMS Conference Speaking Session

speechWhen people say ‘we are at our best*’ do we have a notional understanding of what that means?

It’s certainly an easier term to use in discussions with non-academics than the more lofty concepts of engagement, potential, performance and commitment.  In fact, we recently had to qualify our research* in front of a panel of academics – what a fascinating challenge!

Here are some snippets from our day:

Do we have a shared meaning of what it means to be at your best or are we all thinking about different things?

Our research* uses an iterative process to explore whether we have a shared meaning of what it means to be at your best in work and this presentation provides the results from the initial stages of that research process.

The research takes a social constructionist approach where meaning comes into existence in and out of the interaction with the world and as such demanded a predominantly qualitative and interpretive design.  Starting with a literature review, an overlap in the definitions and descriptions of the concepts of engagement, performance (including high potential) and commitment were identified so the question arose – does being at your best reside in the overlap of these concepts?

To examine this further interviews and questionnaires with staff in three retail stores (within the same organisation) took place: the highest performing store; the store with the highest staff engagement survey results; and the store with the longest serving staff.

Totem Lollipops

Interpretive Phenomenological Analysis (IPA) provided the framework for the analysis of results.  Using Nvivo software, themes within the interview transcripts were coded and interrogated to ensure each theme was distinct.  Results were compared with questionnaire data, other research evidence and were shared with participants to ensure they remained meaningful and appropriate. The themes formed the basis of a tentative framework to describe the shared meaning of being at one’s best.

The question remained as to whether findings were specific to the organisation or relevant to other contexts.  Further investigations have taken place to explore whether the findings are context bound or indeed relevant elsewhere.  Initial analysis suggests there are clear consistencies with the tentative framework of being at one’s best and will be subject for future presentations.

The consistency in the themes and descriptions of experiences within the three retail stores provided the basis of the tentative framework, involving: internal elements – the emotions we feel when we are at our best; and external elements – the behaviours we display when we are at our best.  This high level of consistency and the support from wider research provides some support for the notion that being at one’s best may reside in that overlap of concepts and a tentative framework describing the shared meaning of being at one’s best.

A clearer understanding of what it means to be at our best in work could have far reaching implications – for individuals aiming to develop and for organisations looking to provide an environment and support for those individuals.  The research* process may also have implications for future explorations of shared meanings.


(*Addicott 2015)

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Our Research Journey

steppingstonesA step by step guide to our research process…

Our research into ‘Best’ began with a positive psychology approach focusing (naturally) on the positive, what is working and why are employees staying in their jobs, rather than on negative issues such as employee turnover.*

In 2000, Seligman put forward the idea that psychology suffers from a “preoccupation only with repairing the worst things in life” and neglects to build on positive qualities.

He suggests that by also focusing on the conditions that support well-being, contentment and happiness, psychology will learn to “build the factors that allow individuals, communities, and societies to flourish”.  We couldn’t agree more!

Our research aimed to further study the idea of ‘best at work’ but in the context of a few different work environments to make sure we were on to something.  The context was slightly different in terms of the industry but also in terms of the definition of what ‘best’ looks like.

We started with an initial case study in a well know department store.  They have great Christmas adverts…

Totem Lollipops

We visited 3 different stores: The one with the highest performance, the one with the highest levels of employee engagement (staff survey) and the one with the longest serving staff.  We spent two fascinating days in each, observing and talking with staff and in total interviewed 42 staff across the sites – using appreciative inquiry questions.

We also asked members of the stores to complete a questionnaire – a learning point for us here – it was very long and I didn’t get a huge response.  But after interviewing, we used Nvivo to code the themes.  We had assigned the themes on internal characteristics and behavioural expression.  You can check out the background to that choice here.

Having coded these themes in terms of internal characteristics and behaviours, we did a cluster analysis and found consistent elements of

  • Developing
  • Challenging
  • Focusing
  • Passionate

across each store.  These elements are beginning to appear in additional studies we have conducted in different working environments too.  Rather exciting is that that perhaps we are getting closer to describing what best is like within these stores!

The so what, or Pow factor of this research seems to be indicating that the following are key to being at your Best*:

In terms of the internal characteristics – I have passion and pride and I am confident that I am contributing were two of the most common themes. And in terms of behaviours the most common was I take ownership for delivery.

One little surprise that came up from the research was actually from a conversation starter activity.  We gave our test subjects a sheet of words and asked them to highlight which were important to them personally.  We then asked them which were fed or supported by their work.  An average of 93% of the words highlighted were also supported by their work.

One interpretation here is that there is potentially some sort of values connection exists for these individuals.

This throws up a whole lot more questions for us to consider, as there are particular implications for business as well as for coaching and development practitioners.

We’re getting closer to having a confident framework to describe a shared meaning of being at one’s best in work.  And the next step for us is to illustrate the implications of this framework in terms of providing greater definition to the notion of positive workplaces and the application to work structure, people management practices, personal development, learning and development interventions and recruitment and succession planning.

We just need to remember to take it one step at a time!


(*Addicott 2015)

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70 20 10 Further Research

702010 TotemWhat could 70:20:10 mean in practice if we pushed the boundaries?

As more organisations look to review their learning strategies according to the principles behind the model, there has been a corresponding push from some parts of the L&D community for further evidence to support the principles of 70:20:10 in practice.

In response, Towards Maturity have produced new data which claims to look at the actions behind the numbers and the resulting impact on performance.  We’ll review their work in a little more detail below.


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An Academic View of Best

viewDigging in to other research on Best

A slightly different tone for this post, we’ve had our academic heads on all week!  In the hopes of keeping this research update brief we’re just going to highlight a couple of pieces of research that have particularly influenced our thinking.

Initially we were quite overwhelmed by the range of subject matter that appears to link to when people are their best in work.  Of course one of the consistent things is the output or performance.  So here we share our reading list for the past few days.

What we have found interesting in our recent research is that there are elements of Internal Characteristics and Behaviours that are described within definitions and models.

In terms of the performance literature, behaviour is often described in terms of output or financial implications of performance

Griffen et al (2007) proposed a very helpful framework of performance in changing environments:

They suggested three key areas were involved:

  • Proficiency
  • Adaptivity
  • Proactivity

Another element of performing is that of stretch – or developing and growing to one’s Potential.

The Corporate Leadership Council conducted a review of the literature in this area and concluded three consistent areas for potential:

  • Ability
  • Aspiration
  • Engagement 

Here we can see something Internal, certainly in terms of aspiration and something Behavioural (in terms of their ability).

Totem Gummi Bears

Bakker and Demerouti’s Job Demands-Resources Model of Engagement highlights the role of Internal characteristics of Self Efficacy, Resilience, Optimism and Hope.  In this model there are also Behavioural characteristics of engagement as vigor, dedication and absorption.   Whilst Ferndale’s engagement review highlighted the difference between state engagement (the Internal)  and behavioural engagement.

In terms of the final area of Commitment, we have a range of researchers to draw on including Swailes Organisational Citizenship Behaviours.

An finally, an interesting paper by Meyer et al.  Here they suggest that commitment is one component of motivation which involves Internal characteristics often demonstrated in Behaviours.

What we’re currently thinking is that being at one’s best lies in the overlap of these concepts, so this is where we’re starting to conduct our research approach.

Does Best lie here?


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People at their Best

bestWhat do we really mean by People at their Best?

“When are you at your best?” It’s a question that often comes up in coaching.  So often it’s suspicious!

We find that the question helps to understand the behaviours and the feelings that individuals are experiencing and where the gaps might be in their current situation.

The goal of many of our development interventions is often stated as simply wanting to get the best from people.  But what does that mean?

Could a shared understanding of being at your best in work lead to faster identification of issues to resolve and more focused development interventions, whatever they may be?

As business psychologists, we like to keep up to date with the latest research and understand what can benefit our clients.   One of the areas that we have seen have great impact is the notion of working to strengths – first understanding them and then working out how to make the most of them.*

Jelly Bean Diversity

Certainly for Totem, understanding what each of us does well and gets a kick out of doing has really helped us allocate work more effectively and be more productive.  Yet there are still days when we’re not necessarily at our individual best – we all have those days, when we are distracted or just ‘not in the zone’.

Unpicking what we mean by being at our best will help us to quickly remedy distractions or other limitations.  This will be useful on an individual basis, in coaching or in designing development interventions for clients.

Our research* started with two questions – one that we ask our coaching clients quite regularly and one that is asked of us quite regularly:

When are you at your best?

How do I get the best from my people?

The consistency of the language and descriptions people use in describing best made us question if there is something underlying that – a shared meaning of what being at your best when at work encompasses.

If we can clarity and understand what we mean by being at your best – it becomes an accessible tool for management conversations and prioritising organisation’s development investments.

Keep checking back on our research, because we really feel this concept has got legs and we’re curious to see where it leads.


(*Addicott 2015)

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