Agility and innovation have to be a priority for companies to survive in today’s dynamic environment.

Ground-breaking discoveries often result from challenging established ways of thinking or doing, but people generally feel that to fit in, they need to conform.

Companies need to nurture their rebels and encourage innovative thinking.

In her ground-breaking research, Francesca Gino found that making space for a form of rebelling that challenges existing norms led to innovation and higher productivity. She has called this form of rebellion “Constructive Nonconformity1.

Companies can create space for Constructive Nonconformity:

Embrace constructive dissent
Conformity is common because it is rewarded when conflicts and differences are often seen as problems. However, different ideas and perspectives are crucial for innovation. To welcome and encourage constructive dissent, create a safe space where you invite criticism and constant communication by embracing the ‘why?‘ and ‘what if?‘.

Give employees opportunities to be authentic
Studies show that those who are able to show up authentically at work are on average more engaged 2. Employees who feel safe to express their ideas and working styles will feel comfortable challenging decisions and practices they may disagree with.

Reward innovative thinking
Creating a culture of innovative thinking is about empowering people to take risks and drive change. To enable this, celebrate discoveries but also embrace failures as learning opportunities rather than judging them.

Create opportunities to innovate
People feel motivated to perform well and innovate when their work involves challenges and they feel mentally energised. One way of doing this is by having “innovation challenges” to provide people with opportunities to work on projects and indulge in creative problem solving.

Cultivating constructive rebellion allows companies to prosper. Companies should look at designing cultures that have a balance of structure and freedom that enables people to do their best work. This will increase and support engagement, productivity, and innovation while ensuring agility in a competitive world.

1 Gino, F. (2016, October 24). Let Your Workers Rebel. Harvard Business Review.
2 Cable, D.M. & Kay, V.S., (2012). Striving for Self-Verification during Organizational Entry.
Academy of Management Journal, 55(2), pp.360–380.

We are all wired to make automatic assumptions about people.

Biases are a natural part of our thinking. These mental shortcuts are necessary for human survival as it helps us sort through infinite information to make quick decisions. Sadly, the same process can also lead to flawed judgements and actions.

Biases pose big challenges on our mission to build an inclusive company culture. A 2017 study showed that those who perceived biased judgements either towards them or their colleagues were twice as likely to not feel proud of working for their company, three times as likely to think of leaving within the year, and four times as likely to report feeling alienated at work(1).

While it is impossible to eliminate all of our biases, there are some ways our biases can be managed to limit their damaging effects.

Acknowledge your biases:
Acknowledging that we all have biases is the first step towards working on them. Ask yourself “What biases might I have?”, “What impact does this have on how I act and what do I do about it?”. One-to-one coaching is an effective way to build awareness of our biases and blind spots. Through constant dialogue and accountability, it can challenge us to overcome counterproductive patterns of thinking and acting.

Be curious:
Challenge assumptions and biases by nurturing a sense of curiosity. Being curious pushes us to question our fixed mindsets and assumptions, and become aware of our own privileges. This helps us cultivate deeper connections with people by asking insightful questions, truly listening to responses and building relationships.

Communicate effectively:
Despite our best intentions, our messages can get misinterpreted. Part of successful communication is being able to adapt our style in order to get our point across while still maintaining positive relationships. Practicing inclusive language can help communicate more effectively and sensitively.

Use gender neutral language as much as possible, such as switching from words like “chairman” to “chairperson”, and address people with their right pronouns. These are a few ways we can ensure we don’t use words or phrases that communicate stereotypes.

Seek exposure:
Seeking out people who are from different backgrounds to us or our close circle can help expand our outlook. The more we expose ourselves to different perspectives, the more we can educate ourselves about the world around us.

By working on broadening our mindsets, drawing well thought out conclusions from existing facts and norms as well as constantly questioning how we and others around us make decisions, we can contribute to an inclusive work culture in which diversity can thrive.

(1) Hewlett, S., Rashid, R. and Sherbin, L., 2017. When Employees Think the Boss Is Unfair, They’re More Likely to Disengage and Leave. [online] Harvard Business Review.

The “new normal” at work is transitioning to a hybrid set-up.

Gallup’s research shows that nearly 65% of US workers who worked remotely during the pandemic would like to continue to do so. This poses challenges that need to be accounted for.

The differences in physical and virtual locations can contribute to unequal access to information and resources, as well as differences in opportunities to interact face-to-face with colleagues. This can result in some people receiving more recognition than others, as well as creating feelings of exclusion.

There are steps companies can take to successfully establish a hybrid work culture that is sustainable long-term:

Commit to fairness
Research by MIT shows that there is a negative impact on performance evaluations, appraisals and promotion opportunities for remote workers compared to their colleagues who work in the office(1). This happens due to passive facetime – crediting people more on the basis of being seen at work, rather than their actual performance. To ensure fair evaluations, define clear KPIs that account for these differences in visibility.

Making the performance evaluation process as data driven as possible can also help reduce the risk of biases cropping up while assessing performance.

Focus on a shared purpose
Focusing on a shared vision and goals ensures alignment and engagement. Bring teams together for strategic planning sessions. Reinstate and clarify how everyone’s skills and responsibilities uniquely tie to the long-term vision and goals of the company.

Foster connectivity
Things that once drove informal office cultures such as casual and friendly chats around communal areas, should be reformatted to encourage a connection between remote and in-person teams. This could mean replacing coffee breaks with virtual team chats or celebrating milestones and achievements that allow team members to form social bonds.

Rethink psychological safety
Psychological safety has been a strong predictor of team effectiveness. The hybrid work environment can give way to biases and judgments around where and how people prefer to work. Be understanding and supportive of people’s working styles and preferences, as well as frequently checking in and communicating with them. This creates an inclusive, safe and trusting environment.

Prioritise professional development
Commit to developing your teams and help them be more agile and resilient in the face of dynamic changes. Professional coaching is one way to do this. The personalised nature of one-to-one coaching takes into account employees’ unique experiences and recognises their strengths. This helps them feel truly engaged, empowered and supports their wellbeing.

Companies need to be responsive to the changing work landscape, and commit to a fair and inclusive workplace culture in order to be successful. This will drive and sustain performance, engagement and ensure agility.

(1) Elsbach, K. and Newberry, S., 2021. Why Showing Your Face at Work Matters. [online] MIT Sloan Management Review.

How can you achieve peak performance? The answer is in your ability to reach a “Deep Work” state.

The concept of “Deep Work”, sometimes also referred to as the “flow” state, was introduced by Georgetown professor Cal Newport in 2016(1). Deep Work is about getting into a state where you can reach peak performance levels to deliver your best work, in the least amount of time.

To get to this state, it is important to create a distraction-free environment. This can seem unrealistic given the busy world we live in and constant distractions we are exposed to, but getting to a Deep Work state can be developed through practicing techniques that sharpen your concentration.

Identify your “peak” time of day
Each person has a period during the day when they are most productive. According to research 10% of people feel they do their best work in the morning, and 20% at night(2). Know what your peak time of day is and do the work that is most demanding during that time.

Set some time aside
Deep Work is not about working tediously long hours, but rather making your working hours more effective and productive. Pick a period for your Deep Work session and set an alarm to mark its end. Hours of relentless focus and effort can be demotivating and, quite frankly, exhausting.

Set objectives
Research shows we lose 20% of our productivity when we keep switching context(3). Identifying the desired outcomes of your Deep Work sessions can help bring clarity and focus to ensure that the time spent is productive. This also helps focus on only the specific tasks we need to complete and avoids jumping between different tasks and projects.

Have a location for your Deep Work
Having a specific location only for focused work can help. If you work remotely, try a different room for different tasks. If you work in the office, you should find your go-to distraction free area for when you want maximum concentration. Let your colleagues know this too so you can avoid being interrupted!

Minimise interruptions
You should have all the materials necessary at hand for your Deep Work session. Before starting, put away anything that may interrupt you, such as your phone or your pet. The latter may be a bit trickier of course! Make sure that you are well hydrated, fed, and have had your bathroom break.

In an increasingly competitive world, Deep Work is like a super-power that helps us focus our attention to make the best use of our time and productivity. Making Deep Work an integral part of our day-to-day professional activities can help us produce outstanding work that adds value by unleashing our intelligence and creativity.

1. Newport, C., Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World, 2016, (1st ed.). Grand Central Publishing.
2. Geddes, L., First physical evidence of why you’re an owl or a lark, 2013, New Scientist, 220 (2937).
3. Weinberg, G. M., Quality Software Management: Systems Thinking, 1991, Dorset House.

High performing companies have deep rooted feedback cultures.

43% of highly engaged employees receive feedback at least once a week, as opposed to 18% of disengaged employees.

While a large number of initiatives have focused on empowering managers to give feedback, it is equally – if not more – important that employees ask for feedback. Yanagizawa et.al (2008) found that employees who regularly seek feedback achieve more goals and adapt more easily to their work environment.

Here are a few ways to help build a healthy feedback culture:

Build trust:
People feel psychological safety when they can speak up and share ideas and concerns without fear of repercussions. Employees tend to ask for help and take risks when they feel safe to do so. Managers should avoid micromanaging and inspire employees to take initiatives – earn their trust by trusting them.

Lead by example:
To normalise feedback, managers should themselves seek feedback from their more junior teammates, and actively apply the learnings. This also helps show team members that their opinions are truly valued.

One-on-one check ins:
Employees may be nervous to seek feedback in public. Creating opportunities for more private interactions, such as one-on-one check-ins, can encourage team members to ask for help and feedback.

Make communication continuous:
Free flowing communication channels are conducive to a feedback-friendly culture and reduce the perceived formality around feedback. They also help build high quality relationships across the company. Opening up lines of communication ensures that employees have opportunities to exchange information with each other – especially in today’s increasingly virtual/remote environment.

Focus on Learning:
When it comes to defining “success”, companies should also focus on learning opportunities instead of solely looking at performance. When there is a focus on learning, employees are driven towards improving their skills and knowledge and, as a result, seek feedback more often. To encourage this, companies should highlight that failures are important for learning opportunities and growth.

Talk about strengths:
We learn and grow when people focus on our strengths. Instead of always making it about what an employee could improve on, or be better at, managers should also acknowledge what they do well, and celebrate their strengths and successes.

A feedback culture encourages positive behavioural change in employees and empowers them to take charge of their own learning and development. This helps excel at work and in life.

Gen Z constitutes 24% of the US workforce.

Unsurprisingly, they have different needs and aspirations than their managers. They grew up in a digital world, experienced the great recession as children, and entered the workforce mostly as remote workers. This has had an impact on their working styles, career aspirations and core values.

More than their predecessors, Gen Z values independence and ownership at work. This makes them more likely to voice opinions, suggest initiatives and take concrete steps to achieve their goals. They also look to work at companies that are aligned with a larger purpose and social impact beyond just work.

To attract and engage Gen Z, companies need to be thoughtful about their approach. Here are a few things that can help:

Make it flexible
84% of Gen Z employees identify work-life balance as a top priority. An EY survey found that 50% of Gen Z mentioned flexible working is important to them. One way to address this is to allow discretion over where work is conducted. To make this work, companies have to adopt transparent policies and set clear expectations.

Deepen DE&I
Gen Z is possibly the most diverse generation of all. 48% of Gen Z in the US identify as non-white. Approximately 77% of Gen Z stated that a company’s level of diversity affects their decision to work there. Gen Z employees are more engaged when the company aligns with their values, such as having diverse representation within teams and focussing on fostering an inclusive culture.

Plan for their professional development
Gallup research identifies development opportunities as one of the most important factors that makes younger employees decide to stay at their company. Statistics by SHRM show that 62% of Gen Z prefer to customise their own development and career path.

Professional coaching supports Gen Z in their personal development and allows them to supercharge their careers. The self-directed and personalised nature of coaching helps to develop key capabilities to have a positive impact through their work.

Revive your online presence
Gen Z are digital natives who grew up in the age of social media and smartphones. To attract Gen Z, companies should focus on increasing their online visibility. Being innovative with your social media presence and diversifying channels to reach potential employees can be impactful in being visible to, and sparking an interest amongst the Gen Z candidates.

Companies can greatly benefit from fostering generational diversity. To attract and retain Gen Z, the work environment has to be supportive and allow them to develop both as professionals and individuals.

Wellbeing at work is a hot topic for both employees and employers.

While wellbeing encompasses the elements of having time for a life outside of work (work-life balance), as well as a state of physical health and energy (wellness), it also involves broader dimensions of a holistic and thriving life.

Gallup found that there are five elements of wellbeing for a successful life:

Career
Liking what we do and being motivated to achieve our goals.

Social
Having supportive relationships.

Financial
Having a secure and stress-free economic life.

Physical
Good health and energy to get things done.

Community
Feeling safe and having pride in our community.

A focus on wellbeing supports both individual and company goals. Having a sense of wellbeing means individuals build better relationships with their colleagues and ensures they have the mental capacity to work on complex tasks. A study by HERO and Mercer revealed that companies with a comprehensive wellbeing program outperformed the S&P 500 Index in 16 out of 24 quarters.

Professional coaching is a powerful way to support employee wellbeing in the following ways:

Aligning values
Research shows that shared values between the individual and their company results in greater commitment, feelings of success and self-confidence. These feelings can act as a buffer to stress and burnout, increasing overall satisfaction and wellbeing at work.

By engaging with a coach, people are able to identify areas where their values align closely with the work that they do, which parts of their job mean the most to them, and where their strengths lie. This enables individuals to find their work motivating and meaningful. These positive effects are not just confined to the workplace, but also impact other aspects of their life.

Building new skills
Engaging in personal development helps performance by increasing confidence and self-awareness. Performing well increases the feeling of belonging, purpose and accomplishment that contributes to wellbeing.

Becoming a better communicator
Personal wellbeing is closely tied to the strengths of a person’s interpersonal relationships. In general, people who communicate effectively tend to experience greater wellbeing.

Coaching can help improve communication skills with any type of audience, which in turn improves interpersonal relationships with colleagues.

Building resilience
Resilience is a personal resource that protects from stress and potential burnout. Coaching focuses on building awareness by challenging limiting beliefs, setting realistic goals and finding ways to meet them, to help adopt more positive ways of thinking and working.

With the challenging year that has just gone by, and the uncertainties we continue to live in today, many employees are going through heightened stress, isolation and anxiety. How employers and managers respond to this, makes a big difference in how people show up to work, as well as their engagement and productivity.

The work environment post pandemic is becoming increasingly likely to be a hybrid between remote and office working.

In a recent PwC survey on remote working, less than one in five employees say that they would like to go back to the office as it was pre-pandemic. In addition, Gallup’s research shows that nearly 65% of US workers who worked remotely during the pandemic would like to continue to do so.

While remote work has its challenges, the advantages seem to have certainly surpassed its shortcomings. Perhaps the most important shift has been in people’s expectations of what work means to them. The blurred lines between work and personal life have also highlighted the growing importance of how work influences wellbeing.  

There are a few ways organisations and leaders can make a hybrid work environment a success:

Set clear expectations
In order to navigate this successfully, managers need to set clear and fair expectations about when people are expected to show up, either individually or as a group.

For example, when on-site presence is required or favoured, and when it is not, who gets access to what information and who needs to be in on certain decisions. Managers need to be honest with their own expectations too. When people are not expected to be in the office, managers need to ensure that team meetings are conducted uniformly on the same communication platform (such as zoom) even when part of the team is in the office.

Be fair
Building a culture of fairness in a hybrid work environment can be tricky. Remote employees may feel that their colleagues in the office have more opportunities to learn about what is happening in the organisation, and have an unfair advantage when it comes to being recognised and rewarded.

Managers need to be sensitive and inclusive about how they treat people. Blocking out time for one-on-one check-ins with all team members, regardless of where they are, is important to ensure fairness.

Make it fun
Many people miss the informal team bonding sessions, fun conversations and water-cooler time of the pre-pandemic work life. Find ways to bring back some fun and playfulness at work.

Set out times where there is no agenda, and teams can come together remotely to talk about their lives and interests outside of work. It is also important to make sure that these activities are open to all, regardless of their location. This helps people feel connected and have a sense of belonging, which enables them to be themselves at work.

Organisations should think of how they can leverage the learnings and experiences of remote work to intentionally plan for the future of work. The steps taken today will guide how work will be carried out in the future.

As organisations settle into new norms, they need to anticipate the shift in people’s expectations and priorities and consider how to adjust. This will be paramount to building a healthy and successful work culture.

When we think of a leader, we usually think of a CEO, founder, political or religious figure.

These are all familiar images of what we think constitutes a “leader”, but they reflect roles instead of behaviours. Leadership doesn’t start when we acquire a certain position; it starts when we have the ability to influence, deal with challenges effectively and stay ahead of the curve.

Anyone with the right mindset can be a leader.

Leadership development programs fail when they overlook the fundamental role of mindset, and that leadership can come from anywhere and not only the top. Mindset is how we see ourselves in our professional and personal life, it’s what we believe about who we are.

When we start to shift our mindset to that of a leader, we start to behave, and be seen, as a leader.

Organisations and senior management can expand their impact when they inspire others to think and act as leaders. An important first step is to cultivate a “leadership mindset” within your team.

Here is how you can work towards this:

1. Embrace discomfort
Korn Ferry’s 2018 study on thought leadership and mindset shows that those who have a “specialist mindset” and believe that their success largely depends on their technical expertise, have narrow career paths and hit a plateau early on in their careers.

In contrast, those who believe that their success depends more on functional and social skills, tend to be more open to a wider range of opportunities, and reach senior roles more frequently.

Allow your people to work outside their expertise and experiment with new roles and skills to help develop changes in their mindset. For instance, organisations can encourage employees to take short assignments in new functions, where they don’t rely on prior experience.

They can pick up new skills and understand that they don’t necessarily have to rely on their core expertise to contribute effectively.

2. Create opportunities for cross-team interactions
A critical part of developing new mindsets is to give people opportunities to work with different teams and find role models outside of their current professional circle.

This can be done by opening up virtual communication channels for team bonding and discussion opportunities. When employees are given the opportunity to share their ideas and perspectives, they feel like a valued and empowered part of their organisation.

3. Delegate to develop
Managers often end up delegating tasks and responsibilities to their employees to help reduce their own work-load. This can lead to missed opportunities to truly strengthen and empower your teams and employees. Instead, delegate tasks and responsibilities to grow and strengthen the capabilities of your employees.

This might be difficult at first for those who are used to overseeing everything, but trust in the abilities of your colleagues and you will benefit from the power of teamwork!

4. Commit to a coaching culture
Helping employees create a positive narrative about themselves is essential to develop a leadership mindset. A coach can help employees find meaning in their work. Research by Theeboom et.al. (2013) shows that coaching can boost critical leadership capabilities by 20-30%. Coaching is personalised to every employee’s unique needs.

By listening, asking questions and creating accountability, coaches empower employees to take ownership, make effective decisions and use their strengths to make successful contributions at work.

We can empower individuals and teams to achieve great things. Shared leadership allows people to work together on a common ground for a common goal. True leadership is multidimensional, and anyone who is committed to making a positive difference, irrespective of their role, is a leader.

The covid crisis has magnified many of the challenges that women face in their career.

If not done well, the “future of work” that is expected to adopt a healthier working from home culture in some shape or form will increase the gender gap instead of helping to bridge it.

Did having both parents at home help balance household responsibilities? Unfortunately not. According to McKinsey’s 2020 Diversity and Inclusion report, mothers are still more than three times more likely than fathers to be responsible for most of the housework and caregiving. Since covid hit, nearly 1 in 4 women are thinking of either trading their current professional role for a less senior one, or quitting.

Companies risk either losing their female talent or not benefitting from its full potential. We can take a few simple steps to help remedy the deepening of gender imbalance.

“Face time” opportunities

Ensure that everyone has the same “face time” opportunities. Flexible working and working from home are expected to be the norm in most organisations. While this is important for talent retention, it may put some at a disadvantage.

Since women take on more household responsibilities than men, they end up taking advantage of the flexible working options more than male colleagues.

The risk is that men may spend more time at the office and get more informal communication opportunities that help further their careers. A solution for this is that companies can set times when all team members are in the office.

Give women a seat at the virtual table

With the pressure to make effective decisions, it can be convenient to huddle up with just a few team members, at the last minute. This may leave women unexpectedly left out of important team discussions as these meetings are scheduled last minute or women are not on premise when these occur.

As meetings are now largely virtual, teams should make extra effort to ensure more inclusive participation and seek input from those who’ve spoken less. These simple and everyday behaviours show dedication to building an inclusive culture.

Minimise biases

For a long time, women have been dealing with biases and stereotypes at work. This has been amplified during the covid crisis and remote working.

For instance, there are false perceptions that mothers cannot be as focused at work, due to childcare responsibilities, compared to fathers. Employers need to implement initiatives that help address these biases.

Professional coaching can be especially helpful. It can help people work through their biases, which prevent them from acknowledging women’s contribution and treating them fairly.

Create opportunities for women to return to work

According to the National Women’s Law Centre, nearly 2.2 million women have left the workforce during the pandemic in the US alone. This can lead to a serious shortage of female talent in the post-pandemic world. Companies should initiate returnship programs to encourage women to re-enter the workforce after some time away.

Given the unique dynamics women deal with, emphasised by a remote world, the commitment to gender diversity and inclusion is now more important than ever before.

If we don’t act now, we could end up alienating a vital part of our workforce. Building a more flexible and empathetic workplace is everyone’s responsibility.

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