Much of this month’s content is contributed by one of my clients, Fraser McCallum. Fraser has a background in molecular pharmacology but has been working in pharmacovigilance, the science of monitoring the safety of medicines, for more than 20 years. Over the last few years, in discussion with many of his colleagues, he has dreamt of a future paradigm for pharmacovigilance, one powered by artificial intelligence. He is now Business Lead for Voyager, a program to deliver just such a future.
In this article, he looks into his crystal ball to explore the impact of artificial intelligence on the world of work.
Last month, we talked about Being your authentic self. In short, it’s about being who you are and being comfortable with that.
Authenticity can apply to organisations as well as individuals, particularly as we move further towards a world that’s run by technology. The danger is that the workplace becomes an impersonal environment that ignores the emotional and social needs we have as human beings.
How can you create a culture that embraces technology and enables people to be their authentic selves? This month’s article comprises two complementary ideas about how to be an authentic organisation.
What is authenticity?
Authenticity is the daily practice of letting go of who we think we’re supposed to be and embracing who we are.
Here’s my definition:
- Being honest with yourself about who you are
- Accepting and loving who you are
- Bringing all of who you are to your work and relationships, and accepting the vulnerability you may feel with that
If you can do all those things with confidence and humility, you’ll find that many people will respond positively to you.
This article explains more.
Research shows that when employees feel their work is meaningful and they are valued and supported, they tend to have higher wellbeing levels, be more committed to their organisation’s goals, and perform better too.
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, wellbeing is defined as “the state of being comfortable, healthy, or happy.” In this article, we are assuming a broader definition, such as the one drafted by the New Economics Foundation: “how people feel and how they function, both on a personal and a social level, and how they evaluate their lives as a whole.”
There is clear evidence that shows a link between stress and cardio-vascular disease. Meanwhile, a poor diet full of sugar and fat suppresses your immune system. It’s also known that exercise promotes physical health and helps you get a good night’s sleep, which is a key factor in personal wellbeing. Organisations should aim to support both physical and mental wellbeing (traditionally the focus has been more on physical health, but visibility of the effect poor mental health is now increasing and starting to gain much-needed attention – see more on this at the end of this article).
When the well’s dry, we know the worth of the water.”
This month’s article was inspired by an incident that occurred recently, and a conversation with a client that followed. Here’s what happened.
A couple of weeks ago, I took my teenage daughter for her usual horse-riding lesson. It was a cold morning and I would be sitting outside watching, so I grabbed the first hat and scarf I found in the cupboard as I left the house.
At this, she complained: “Oh Muuuum, for once can you look normal and cool instead of old-fashioned?”
I laughed – frankly, nowadays my very existence is embarrassing to her!
Later, I shared this story with a client who said: “My daughter is the same with me. When we’re out clothes shopping, she insists on telling me what I ought to wear.”
We both like to think we dress in a modern way, but it occurred to us that maybe we’ve become stuck in our minds about what to wear. We used to be curious about what was in fashion, but somewhere along the way, we’ve lost that curiosity. Perhaps fashion isn’t important (unless you’re Karl Lagerfeld…) but a curious mindset is.
In a world where agility is demanded, we have to be reactive and adaptive. Being agile means we don’t have to be perfect, but long-term plans are less concrete. Things can feel chaotic and out of control, and (depending on your personality/preferences), this can feel stressful.
In addition, according to research by Columbia University, busy-ness is a malady of our age, particularly in the US. Being too busy links to social status because it makes other people think you are sought after and in demand. This contrasts with 100 years ago, when social status was linked to leisure time. But maybe this needs to shift again! We are moving out of the knowledge economy where we are rewarded based on what we know – knowledge is not so sacred now it’s all on the internet.
So how can you look after yourself and focus, plan and be productive in this new world?
In the agile project management framework, a ‘scrum’ is where a cross-functional team comes together for a short time, to plan and build (iterating as they go) until the project is finished. The name is based on the rugby scrum where teammates huddle together to talk tactics and plan their moves, and connects to my recent article How to design an agile organisation.
The advice below refers to project management in its broadest sense – you could apply it to a traditional project, or when a team comes together to look at potential business opportunities or to take a deep dive into another topic.
It’s best used when a small team (say, up to seven people) works on a project full-time. The scrum team would probably be in place for up to six months, so they can go in, blitz it, and get out. Any longer, and a more typical day-to-day operational team approach would apply.
“You can’t be agile when you’re knee-deep in mud.”
Organisation design is evolving, and traditional hierarchical models are no longer sufficient on their own.
This article links to last month’s topic How to design an agile organisation; however, the format is a little different. This time, I’ve interviewed Nicholas Creswell, who leads talent and development for the global technology organisation at Thomson Reuters (TR). We met at an event where he explained how internal networks can make your organisation more effective.
After the Q&A with Nicholas are some practical tips you can apply in your own organisation.
In today’s complex, interconnected and rapidly changing environment, it is more important than ever that organisations can respond quickly whilst still achieving efficiencies of scale. A key enabler of this is having the right organisational design, and recognising that the design of yesterday (designed for efficiency and assuming predictable patterns) will no longer work in the digital age, where agility and speed of response is key.
Matrix working – please click to enlarge the image
All your practices need to combine in the service of cohesively driving the business strategy in this environment, and good organisational design does this by taking into account:
- People practices
Nowadays, whilst hierarchy is still present, organisations also model matrix working, cross-functional working and flexible teams. Flexible teams, in particular, are key to enabling the agility required to compete – coming quickly together and then disbanding quickly.
In addition, I am seeing communities being formed to drive specific agendas and influence their organisation’s culture (e.g. employee wellbeing; building a reputation for innovation; creating a feeling of community at one site where there are disparate functions). This is typically done at site level, but could also be done at functional level.
What this means to you as a leader
When there’s a need to discuss important and complex issues, most people try to meet face to face. Especially with a global team, it’s a really important part of maintaining relationships and commitment to the team and your objectives.
Face-to-face meetings typically get better results, especially when you need to work on something complicated, build commitment to an outcome or to each other, or co-create something such as a vision or mission statement. This is because we’re social creatures – we’re human beings, not human doings! It’s much easier to pick up on each other’s cues and get into the flow when we’re face to face.
However, it’s not always practical for everyone to get together in the same place at the same time. Thanks to technological advances, it is now possible to use video for team meetings, with group conference calls as the next best thing. On those occasions, you might turn to virtual facilitation instead.