Disruptive Technologies and Intelligence: Business Opportunity or Threat?

Join us for an exclusive joint event with BSI (British Standards Institution), on Wednesday 11 October, 12.00 – 17.10, where we will explore the challenges of working smart with disruptive technologies and intelligence.

In this masterclass, Dr Peter Bloom will share insights into his new innovative Research into Employment, Empowerment and Futures group (REEF) – the first of its kind in the world to focus on the future of empowerment in the age of robotics. Peter will ask how can the rapid technological advances in computing, robotics and communications that are revolutionising work and life, be empowering, rather than dis-empowering, for people and organisations?

BSI, Internet of Things (IoT) Business Development Director, David Mudd, will share his knowledge and perspective on the rapid technological advances in IoT devices and how IoT technology can transform businesses, in terms of organisational performance and customer experience; also the pitfalls, from minor operational inconveniences to huge potential liabilities and brand damage, and how to avoid them.

Places are limited. To book and for further information, please visit The Open University Business School website.

Skills Shortage Looming

Around the world, governments are predicting serious employment challenges relating to a pending shortage of key skills. The UK Commission for Education and Skills (UKCES) contributes to policy and research on employment and in its report, Working Futures 2012-2022, predicts that by 2022, two million vacancies requiring higher level skills will arise.

In another recently published report, The Employer Skills Survey, UKCES estimates that 20% of all vacancies arise when employers cannot find people with the skills and qualifications they need yet almost half of all businesses surveyed say they have employees with skills and qualifications that are not being fully used at work. Just as the business context moves on, so do the skills necessary to meet them. And where people have skills but are underutilised, they too move on.

There are predicted consequences and implications of this impending shortage including:

  • heavier workload for other staff required to cover the gap
  • increased operating costs
  • difficulties in meeting quality standards
  • greater difficulty in introducing new working practices

What can be done to address this and how does it impact on HR, L&D departments and the companies and institutions that design and deliver development programmes for them?

Perhaps predictably, over three-quarters of those employers who identified a skills gap are trying to overcome them by increasing their investment in training, greater staff supervision and development on the job and more regular and better connected appraisal activity. Yet a quarter have not yet acknowledged any danger.

What Needs to Change?
The increasing alignment in many organisations between strategic business priorities and investment in L&D will, among other things, help to avert a major skills shortage.

Increasingly L&D professionals are more closely aligned to business strategy generally and more so with HR systems and processes. This enables them to identify and make a more powerful case for investing in the skills and knowledge to sustain their organisations through turbulent times.

Many other changes are also taking place reflecting a more strategic approach to L&D:

  1. Greater emphasis is being placed on the measurement and analysis of the inputs and outcomes of development interventions.
  2. L&D departments are working more closely with line managers to upskill them in how to identify their training needs, create L&D plans and follow up programmes to embed learning.
  3. Investment in management training is supporting talent development and retention, while upskilling and encouraging more facilitative approaches amongst more experienced managers.
  4. This stronger dialogue with managers helps to align future programmes with anticipated skills gaps.
  5. More robust and objective evaluation of existing programmes is being undertaken to establish which offer value for money and added value to the business. Those that don’t may need rework; those that do may need to be carefully protected even when budgets need to be cut.
  6. Clearer longer term succession planning and better identification of those employees that could fill vacancies with some training and support. Good induction and follow-up programmes that help to ensure that new employees have training plans in place to get up and running as soon as possible and development plans for the future.
  7. Seek ways to enhance the efficiency of programmes. For example could a more blended learning approach with a significant work based element make learning more accessible and readily applicable. Linking programmes to live priorities not only provides a rich seam of data about the impact on the business but is often seen as win-win by participants and managers and a more efficient use of precious time.

This content originally featured on HR Magazine, an online HR publication for people-focused, forward-thinking, business leaders who want insight into, and examples of, business-contextualised HR to develop high-performing organisations.

Today’s learning landscape – how L&D is supporting democratisation, creativity & innovation, leadership & change

Sue Parr

Guest blogger: Sue Parr, Head of Executive Education at The Open University Business School looks at the business challenges behind the buzzwords.

This content first appeared on HR Magazine, an online HR publication for people-focused, forward-thinking, business leaders who want insight into, and examples of, business-contextualised HR to develop high-performing organisations.

Many managers are recognising that they have to adapt to new ways of working to meet the expectations of their employers and their employees.  New behaviours and ways of working are being driven by changes all around them, but what changes can be supported through developing capability and skillsets?

Complexity: Today’s managers contend with the complexity created by the many different perspectives of a multi- cultural, cross- functional, often geographically dispersed workforce spanning as many as three generations. In fact, there are more generations in our workforce than at any other time as those previously of retirement age extend their working lives.

For example, in areas of manufacturing companies who are increasingly aware of the benefits of sharing best practice and collaborating to drive innovation, in surprising ways, but ultimately to the benefit of all.  Commercial sensitivity is being nuanced and boundaries pushed.

Creativity and innovation: We’re not talking about being good with colour here!  We are talking about turning problems around, not going for same old safe solutions because ‘this is the way we’ve always done it ’. Organisations need their people thinking more broadly.  For managers who had stages 1, 2 and 3 of their career in a technically specific function, creative practice techniques can start to get them thinking more holistically about their whole organisation, the needs of their current market and exploring opportunities in new markets.  Although these tools and techniques can be learnt, but the prospect can be daunting for those who have bought in to a self-image of not ‘being’ creative.

Change: The themes of leadership and change have always been high on the management agenda but the focus of these has changed. As organisations recognise increasingly that what is needed to stay competitive is to be more responsive, agile and comfortable with increasing ambiguity, they are investing in their middle managers. As a result there has been a democratisation of management and responsibility. Where once the focus of executive education was on the most senior of senior teams, today’s companies recognise the need for developing leadership excellence at every level.

Connection not Control: The traditional workplace had a top down structure, hierarchies where orders were given and carried out. As more organisations use project teams spread across locations, remotely connected, the skills of influencing become much more important. Managers need to learn how to influence people to achieve outcomes where they don’t have direct authority or control.

Career Development: As the economy gets back on track the scales are tipping and businesses need to make the effort to retain good people. L&D has a proven track record as a powerful retention tool. Generation Y workers are much more likely to move onto new jobs quickly. Restless for new experiences, employees need to see a development pathway within their organisation or they will be tempted to move on. A structured, embedded talent management programme can help employees visualise their personal growth plan.

But on top of this, the managers on-the-ground, are expected to satisfy this quest for knowledge, development and progression. Coaching is a skill that can meet many of these needs, but how much should, or can, individual managers be ‘expected’ to fulfil this role?

(l&d) Centricity: Increasingly HR departments are embedding elements of leadership in learning and development right from the start of employees’ careers. Advanced organisations are incorporating leadership development and L&D at the centre of their organisational strategy. The leaders of these organisations act as ambassadors for this approach, realising that when L&D becomes a part of the DNA of a company it is much more successful.

We worked with a large UK-based retailer who wanted to change the whole way people accessed L&D and highlighting at every career stage, why it’s important. This cultural shift led to a company-wide holistic approach that supported the company’s strategy and goals.

(bite size) Content There is a definite shift towards a blended learning approach to executive development. Rather than taking people out of their workplace for long periods of time, face-to-face delivery is being supported by shorter chunks of online learning and interaction.

In the past executive education frequently included an online facility – a library of content. However this approach often wasn’t successful.  People simply didn’t use the library.  Now online is used to prepare for, and follow-on from, face-to-face learning.It’s all about making people more responsible for their own development, learning at their own pace and accessing information when they need it.

The virtual academy, or online campus, gives people the opportunity to access the content they need.  This can be particularly helpful for senior managers who are often expected to have achieved “sage status” or business “omniscience”.  The virtual academy provides a safe environment for them to fill in the gaps in their knowledge.

Overall, managers are expected to have a much broader repertoire of skills, often earlier in their careers: effective management will require highly developed communication and interpersonal skills, capability building though coaching and mentoring, problem solving through creativity, networking through social media savvy.  The pace of change is heady and the combination of developing hard and soft skills at all levels to enable individuals and organisations to adapt and thrive requires a commitment to professional development for a career-lifetime; both from the employee and the employer.

4 ways to build trust: A billion ways to lose it.

Richard Byford
Guest blogger: Richard Byford, Open University Business School MBA alumnus and Director of Stablebridge Ltd, a company specialising in business resilience and repairing broken business relationships.

It used to be that you could build your reputation or brand simply by spending money on advertising and clever PR. As long as your name didn’t make it into a scandal story on the television or newspapers, you could buy a reputation as easily as writing a cheque.

Now, however, everybody with an Internet connection is waiting to take a poke at you for no other reason than that you have annoyed them. Last week I spent an interesting day at the Open University Business School’s Business Perspectives ‘The Power of Trust’ event, learning how trust is won and lost in a world where you can be demonised by a single tweet. It was a good day to pull together all my thinking about the subject:

1. Be capable

People trust people and brands who consistently deliver what is expected. Don’t promise a product that doesn’t do what it says on the tin. Don’t promise services you can’t deliver. Meet or exceed peoples’ expectations.

2. Be benevolent

It is not enough to ‘do no evil’; you need to actively do good. People will only trust you if they know that you are acting in their interests. No amount of words will compensate for being caught doing something bad. Make sure your staff fully understand that you expect them to ‘do good’ as well. Align your reward systems to ‘doing good’ as well as meeting KPIs.

3. Be authentic

Have integrity. Know what your values are, propagate them through your organisation and make sure that everybody sticks to them – even when nobody is watching. Integrity is all about living your values. Making values explicit is a key trait of leadership.

4. Be fair

Be consistent and predictable in your dealings with everybody. Align your processes and procedures so that everybody knows where they stand all the time. Set peoples’ expectations and stick to the plan. People will trust you if they understand that justice and consistency is built into all your systems.



Best Practices for Creating the Culture of Trust in Your Organisation

Ahmed BahwaGuest blogger: Ahmed Bahwa, Senior HR Manager, Al Bakio International.

This content first appeared on HRZone, an online HR publication dedicated to bringing science, opinion, analysis and insight to bear on the rapidly-developing HR function.

Culture plays the role of cement in binding the members of a group together. If cement is not good it malfunctions and affects the bond that exists between the members of a group. If the element of trust misses from culture then mistrust creeps in. Mistrust weakens the relationship among the members of a group. Furthermore, it becomes difficult to achieve a common goal in the presence of mistrust. Now look at mistrust in the context of an organisation. It weakens relationship among the members of an organisation. Employees feel vulnerable as they are always suspected. Workers do not give their best that affects production, services and sales. Organisational profits decrease. Issues of workforce engagement arise and employee turnover increases. Chances of cheating and deceit within organisation increase. Different studies have revealed that almost 60-65% employees of companies do not trust their leaders. Reason is absence of the culture of trust within organisations. Obscure agendas, concealing organisational aims & goals, dishonest and unbiased leadership, tax evasions, employee benefit cuts, lack of readiness at the part of organisational leadership to hear employee feedback, unclear performance goals and hidden employee performance measuring scales are some of the major reasons for the culture of mistrust in organisations.

After facing the consequences of the culture of mistrust now organisations are realising the importance of trust. Therefore, all around the world companies are trying to make cultural changes in this regard. But cultural change is not as easy as it sounds. It takes time, commitment and efforts to replace the culture of mistrust with the culture of trust. The following practices are helpful in building the environment of trust:

  1. Study the actual reasons of mistrust and learn about the damages it is causing.
  2. Always have clear aims & goals in front of you that what do you want to achieve by having the culture of trust in your organisation.
  3. Create a clear program in this regard. Have workers on board during the course of crafting it.
  4. Set performance measures to gauge the performance of the program. Satisfied workforce, low employee turnover and increased profitability can be some of the performance measures in this respect.
  5. Leadership must take the first step in this regard by being as role model. Cultural change travels fast from top to bottom.
  6. Leaders should reduce the say-do gap.
  7. Fulfil promises that are being made with the workforce.
  8. Make your workforce understand the importance of trust. Offer training and courses in this regard.
  9. Not just in their professional lives leaders must try to be honest in their personal matters as well.
  10. Bring in transparency in terms of organisational process, decision making, goals’ communication and financial matters.
  11. Do not over estimate your employees always assign those goals to them that they can achieve.
  12. In case of failure be polite and generous.
  13. Always separate dirty fish from the rest in order to avoid setbacks.
  14. Remember in many cases mistrust spreads due to unclear and biased programs of performance management in organisations. Create a clear and fair system in this regard and award rewards on the basis of performance.
  15. Tell inspiring stories to your workforce in regard of trust.

If an organisation is making cultural changes in terms of trust it does not mean that its leaders close their eyes and start trusting everything they hear, they must always keep their eyes open to avoid any setbacks. Keep it in mind that it takes time to clear the poison of mistrust from the environment of an organisation, thus be patience. Environment of trust takes time to grow. Leadership of an organisation plays the most important role in it.


The Power of Trust Masterclass

Have you read our latest blogs on trust? Do you want to find out more about why trust is key to long term competitive advantage and learn how to repair and build trust? You can understand its dynamics in your own organisation and continue the discussion at the next Business Perspective Masterclass on The Power of Trust in London on Thursday 22 May 2014. Join a host of experts from industry and academia.

Further information on the programme and details on how to register are available on our website.

Paradise Lost? Trust and big business

Karen DruryGuest blogger: Karen Drury, Consultant, fe3 consulting.
This content first appeared on HRZone, an online HR publication dedicated to bringing science, opinion, analysis and insight to bear on the rapidly-developing HR function.
Trust, like love, makes the world go round. Academic writers and practitioners alike believe that it has significant benefits.

Trust can lower costs, as it removes the need for significant monitoring and controls.  It encourages customers to return and can give companies ‘the benefit of the doubt’ – and often precious additional time – when they make mistakes.  In the workplace, trust can make for a more co-operative workplace, leading to more altruistic behaviour, not to mention an attachment to the company itself.

Trust Image

There are a lot of claims for the impact of trust in the workplace, not many of which are unequivocally supported by hard data, but studies have shown an association between trust and increased effectiveness, lower turnover and – that Holy Grail of organisational effort – successful change management.

The subject is currently at the forefront of the UK psyche.  In recent years, we have had the parliamentary expenses scandal and the ‘sexed’ up dossier that led to war. We have seen the police changing witness statements to the Hillsborough disaster, financial institutions fixing the Libor rate, and members of the Metropolitan Police Service accused of fabricating evidence to force the resignation of a democratically elected politician.  This doesn’t even touch the sex scandals to come out of the Catholic Church in recent years, or the furore of pharmaceutical companies accused of marketing products illegally, or the newspapers hacking phones.

The key institutions of society – church, politicians, business and the police – have all played their part, their actions chipping away at the fragile structure of trust.

The Edelman Trust Barometer, a global study through 26 countries and which surveys more than 30,000 people, provides some evidence of this conclusion.  Although trust as an aggregated concept is apparently on the rise globally, it’s not that surprising that only slightly more than half of the respondents trust business and the media, and less than half trust in government.   Perhaps more interestingly, business is not trusted because it is seen as corrupt, supported by ill-conceived incentives which drive corrupt behaviour.  Governments, on the other hand, are not trusted because they are perceived as incompetent.

This echoes one of the (many) academic definitions I have come across – which considers the elements of trust to be benevolence (or concern for others), integrity (a form of morality) and competence – or being capable of doing something.

So according to the theory, the Government is seen to lack competence and business is seen to lack integrity, so trust is, if not impossible, highly unlikely.

A recent mindstretch® event, held with Lansons Communication, pulled together senior leaders from a range of organisations, including some of the financial big-hitters.  Their response from a corporate perspective was that yes, of course, trust is essential to organisations and for many, it’s absent.  Ask about their perceptions as consumers and customers and the picture becomes a bit more complicated.

While few people might put their trust in the institution or company, many who have personal contact with the organisation feel differently. So although you might not trust the bank, you would certainly place trust in your personal banking manager.  And because of that relationship, you’re unlikely to move banks, regardless of reprehensible behaviour elsewhere in the organisation.

Many academics believe that trust comes from social interaction – face to face, phone, or through correspondence or email. This seems intuitively sensible and it might lead you to wonder why banks are cutting back on so many front line staff.

This interaction has to be natural, according to our mindstretch(R) participants; and those representing the organisation have to be able to help you.  This brings us right back to the need for competency to develop trust.  Someone speaking to a script is enough to engender scepticism in the most generous of customers, because most of us can spot a practiced line at a hundred paces.  This is where you might assume that the person speaking on behalf of the company doesn’t really have your interests at heart because the script was written by the organisation – thus showing a lack of benevolence, essential for a trusting relationship.  Ironically, scripts also demonstrate a fundamental lack of faith between the organisation and their staff – they can’t be trusted to even speak their own words.

The shining exception to this is of course, First Direct, who at least TELL you when they’re about to go on script – but otherwise, their customer service staff are exemplars of what you really need to develop trust between customers and companies – real human beings.

This positive, human interaction might also help when things go wrong. One of our participants told a story about a department store who got things very badly wrong – but said that she remained a loyal customer because the organisation was “so nice”. As a First Direct customer, I feel rather like that myself.

However, when we get to the online environment, this fairly intuitive state of affairs seems to fall apart.  For here we have an environment where none of the verbal or visual cues on which we would judge someone’s trustworthiness are available to us – there is no personal interaction.  But millions of us will place huge amounts of trust and money in online retailer Amazon without thinking twice.  When you envisage the emotional investment in an occasion like Christmas, the delivery of a particular item to a family member or loved on, the very idea of entrusting that to a faceless, wordless transaction on a computer seems absurd. Yet we do it, year after year.  And here, the compensating factor is delivery – or competency. It’s no hassle to order, no hassle to return, and there’s a series of emails which manage your expectations at every stage of the purchase.

Looking at how trust is created in organisations between management and employees, the literature indicates that communication is crucial.  It is a major element of creating perceptions of procedural justice, which reflects perceptions of the fairness of how decisions have been reached. Procedural justice relies heavily on communication both outwards from the firm, and back to the firm in the feedback of employees, or their voice.

If you believe that trust is based on beliefs about the other party, then it’s obvious that those perceptions can be shaped through information.  The quality of communication by an organisation or manager – that is, that information is useful, relevant and timely – can have a positive impact on how trustworthy employees believe their organisation is.  Yet I’m constantly surprised at the low priority given to communication by senior leaders.  Many do not believe this is a management responsibility, they think it’s too time-consuming and leave it to someone else – either the internal communication department, or HR.  Yet their very lack of effort here could be undermining trust between the organisation and its employees because it undermines perceptions of organisational justice.

As for consumers – I wonder if we get the organisations we deserve.

For example, I wouldn’t leave my bank unless it really did something appalling to me. It may be that the financial sector is particular in this – it is easier to buy groceries elsewhere,  if one of the major supermarkets treated you badly, less easy to swap bank accounts, where standing orders and direct debits are woven through our lives like a very sticky spider’s web.

But really – do we have such low expectations of our financial institutions – banks in particular – that it would take something MAJOR to happen before we’d move? Perhaps we ought to be more demanding.  Customer inertia cannot be helpful when we simultaneously suck our teeth when misdemeanours come to light and tut disapprovingly.  If we are unhappy with the way in which business acts, then as customers we too need to act.  Being “good” in business needs to have both reward and consequence.  I’m not sure it does at the moment.

The neuroscience of trust and how it can improve your engagement results

Jan Hills

Guest blogger: Jan Hills, Partner, Head Heart + Brain.

This content first appeared on HRZone, an online HR publication dedicated to bringing science, opinion, analysis and insight to bear on the rapidly-developing HR function.

A while ago I was working with a leadership team who got into a debate about trust. The team was split with the senior leader insisting their role was to mitigate risks by putting in place policies and policing people to ensure the company was safe. His starting premise was people are not trustworthy, if they can they will cheat the company. Others in the team held a different view which can be summed up as ‘if you trust people they will respond honestly’. This debate got me thinking about the neuroscience of trust and how our starting point impacts the levels of trust we obtain in practice. Given trust is a core component of employee engagement, according to many studies, including the Edelman Trust Barometer, the levels of engagement possible in the company will be dependent on the level of trust. So what has neuroscience got to add to our understanding of trust and engagement? You can see a brief video on the neuroscience of engagement here.

Trust Image

HR is often the developers of policy and custodians of the cultural norms that promote or inhibit trust. Understanding how trust works at a biological level and the science about what creates trust is an important element in guiding policy and advising leaders. Here are some of the key components about trust through a neuro-scientific lens.

The moral scientist

Much of the work on trust has been carried out by Paul J. Zak who is a neuro-economist at Claremont Graduate University in Southern California, you can see his TED video talking about his work here.  Zak has found that countries with high trust levels are also the most economically successful. There may be a hint here for business leaders and HR too! There is some direct evidence that levels of trust correlate to business success. Data from a study of organisations indicates that the relationships that link individual and organisational values to outcomes are explained primarily by the trust employees have in the company and colleagues.

The trust molecule

Zak started out looking at morality and thought that oxytocin might be an element in morality. He focused on trust as a more tangible element to study. He and his colleagues carried out research to understand how the human brain determines when to trust someone and when not to trust someone. Participants took part in the Trust Game designed to study individuals’ propensity to be trusting and to be trustworthy. In his experiment participants’ oxytocin levels were monitored throughout the study. The researchers found that when participants felt they were trusted, their brains responded by producing oxytocin. When participants were shown increased levels of trust their brain produced even more oxytocin. Most significant however, was the finding that the rise in oxytocin levels resulted in participant’s behaviour being more trustworthy. The researchers conclude that people who feel trusted become more trustworthy as a result of increased oxytocin levels in their brains! Zak calls oxytocin the trust molecule.

There are differences in brain activity depending on whether people trust conditionally or unconditionally. If people trust each other based on certain conditions being met, like delivering a project on time or keeping commitments, the brain’s reward centres the VTA ( vental tegmental area) activates. Unconditional trust activates the septal area.

Experimenters also found that changes in oxytocin related to levels of empathy and that the changes in oxytocin predicted people’s feelings of empathy. Zak believes it is empathy which makes us connect to others; connection to others triggers moral behaviour an element of which is to be trusted.  We want to help people, this makes us feel good about them and so we act well towards them. This is not new – Adam Smith said in 1759 in his book the Theory of Moral Sentiments that we are social beings and therefore share the emotions of others, if we do something to make someone happy we share those emotions too. Neuroscience has now shown that Smith was right.

The dark side

But what about when people feel distrust? Zak and his team discovered that when male participants are distrusted it causes a rise in the levels of a hormone called dihydrotestosterone (DHT). Increased levels of DHT increase the desire for physical confrontation in stressful social circumstances. This suggests that men have an aggressive reaction to being distrusted.  And women? Women are what Zak’s calls “cooler responders” although this is not yet fully understood or verified.

But some very recent research has found a darker side to oxytocin, and one that leaders and HR need to be cognisant off. The research from North Western  University in the USA found that it can increase emotional pain. Oxytocin seems to be the reason stressful social situations, like having a bullying boss or extreme stress in a team, have an impact long after they occur and can trigger fear and anxiety long past the event. This is because the hormone strengthens the social memory in a specific region of the brain

If a social experience is stressful or negative it activates a part of the brain called the lateral septum, the pathway or route oxytocin uses to amplify fear and anxiety and that intensifies the memory and makes people susceptible to feeling fear in stressful situations in the future. Hopefully, oxytocin also intensifies positive social memories and, therefore, increases feelings of well-being, but that research has not been done yet.

We have written before about the role of threat and fear and its impact on brain functioning. High levels of trust are associated with decreased amygdala activity and low fear. When there is a breach of trust the brain’s conflict detector the ACC activates the amygdala. Trust and fear are inversely related; fear activates the amygdala and trust decreases activation. Trust therefore frees up the brain for other activities like creativity and planning and decision making.

The implications for engagement

If HR wants to increase trust in the workplace the best place to start is at home!  By being trustworthy and by trusting people more. There is evidence that this works at both a conscious and an unconscious level. At a conscious level; people want to honour your trust in them, at an unconscious level the research above suggests it also works on a deeper, neurological bases. This has the potential to create a snowball effect on trust. Showing people that you trust them rises the oxytocin levels in their brains and that makes them potentially more trustworthy. They then also show more trust in you and that in turn raises your oxytocin levels, causing you to be more trustworthy and to show more trust in them. One method recommended by Edelman for doing this is storytelling. You can learn more about the science of storytelling in our HRZone article and how to construct a powerful story in our HR tips. HR departments or professionals who show constant distrust can trigger the reverse snowball and thus negative responses. At best people will follow the norms. At worst they could respond aggressively and will definitely not be engaged!

And the leadership team I was working with? Well it is work in progress but education is a powerful thing!