COVID Accelerates Everything: Including Change Fatigue

How can our organisations cope with a coming tsunami of burnt out workers? The signs are all there that the transition to hybrid/remote working is not as painless as the Zoom and Teams enthusiasts are making out.

How can our organisations cope with a coming tsunami of burnt out workers? The signs are all there that the transition to hybrid/remote working is not as painless as the Zoom and Teams enthusiasts are making out.

Just under half of managers believe their employees may be at a higher risk of ‘burnout’ due to changing work patterns. ‘Burning the Candle: Strategies to Combat Workplace Burnout’ found that 47% of managers fear their employees may suffer from ‘burnout’ due to the challenges COVID-19 has brought.

Despite 35% saying they have been more productive whilst remote working, 87% have felt more pressure to keep productivity levels high to prove the case to their employers to allow remote working to continue.

Separately, in a survey by Perkbox, more than half (58%) of employees said changes to the furlough scheme and future uncertainty over the world of work had negatively affected their mental health, leaving them with rising levels of stress and anxiety. 46% said they had felt disconnected from their team and business over the past month.  Only 15% had experienced no negative effects on their wellbeing in the past month.

Ouch.

Admittedly these are the early days where we are still pushing through the pain barrier – but it does seem that we are seeing the rise of a kind of e-presenteeism with the assumption that remote work means always available. Why is it that employees feel the need to prove their worth to employers by going above and beyond working hours?

For me there are a few factors at play here:

Managing Through Uncertainty

COVID-19 is a complex problem in a complex system and we haven’t done the best job of training middle managers about complexity and uncertainty. A lot of people are unsure about their future right now and one of the ways people deal with stress and uncertainty is to make themselves busy. Busy is the new status quo. Ask anyone how work is during COVID and I pretty much guarantee the reply will be “really busy”.

The problem is that busyness isn’t productive. And it makes everyone else busier.

Instead of fuelling a culture of busyness we need to encourage leaders to make sense of our complex situation by acknowledging the complexity, admitting we don’t have all the answers, and reflecting collectively.

Being A Digital Leader Has Never Been More Urgent

Five years ago I posed a series of questions for prospective digital leaders.

  • Do you actively listen and respond to what internal and external communities are saying?
  • Do you use digital technologies to source new ideas for your organisation or team?
  • Do you put opinions out there rather than press releases? Are you known for provoking debate?
  • Do people you’ve never met come to you for advice on the strength of your online presence?
  • Do people tell you they value the resources and information you share?

Arguably we have failed to prepare our leaders – which is why people are mistaking two hour Zoom meetings for collaboration. COVID has accelerated them into a future they were wholly unprepared for.

As Matt Ballantine writes “We urgently need to do something about how we meet. I have a hunch that most meetings were rubbish before lockdown, but that the side conversations and sense of being with others that happened alongside the business of the meeting made them valuable. Zoom and Teams has stripped most of that side benefit away, so we are just left with the useless meeting. We’ve lifted and shifted office working practice into digital tools, and it’s left us wanting.”

I like Zoom and Teams – but they are not digital transformation. If you think you’ve mastered digital leadership by being able to change your Teams background you’re sadly mistaken.

Understanding that digital leadership is now just leadership is an urgent requirement.

THE ONSET OF Chronic Change Fatigue

Many people had change fatigue before COVID, but post-pandemic we need to review how many things we can conceivably handle at any one time.

No organisation, large or small, can manage more than five or six goals and priorities without becoming unfocused and ineffective.The best organisations don’t try and do everything. They focus on a few differentiating capabilities. Doing less, not more, requires a cultural shift. It involves finding your ‘irreducible core’ of services and then constantly refining and innovating against it.

There’s a window of opportunity here for organisations to pause and reflect before they go full steam ahead with their existing strategies. Otherwise we risk returning to the old normal which most people want to get away from.

And let’s remember that some change is manufactured just to give people things to do rather than being strictly necessary. In the post-normal preserving the things you truly value is more radical than constant tinkering.

Nobody resists necessary change. So the final word has to go to Peter Vander Auwera:


Cover photo by Christian Englmeier on Unsplash

Ending Our Obsession With Leadership

Organisations need to completely rethink what it means to lead. It’s not about one person or even those residing at the top anymore. In today’s world, everyone has to adopt a leadership mindset. We have to think of ourselves as members of a leadership community  — Patty McCord, former chief talent officer, Netflix

Leadership worship – the act of mythologizing those near the top of organisations – is holding us back now more than ever.

When we look to others to make decisions, set the rules or uphold the culture we actively disempower ourselves, levying a huge inefficiency tax upon our organisations.

How much inefficiency? It could be 75% or higher.

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According to a recent report –  the vast majority of employees wish their boss or manager would give them more responsibility, with 83%  wishing ‘leaders’ would ask for their opinion or input more often.

Far from shirking, employees are actually crying out to make more of a contribution at work.

Those kind of numbers suggest enormous amounts of talent, ideas and innovation are being squandered – all in the name of supporting a hierarchical approach to leadership by the few, rather than the many.

It’s not as if those leaders appear to have all the answers anyway. According to the World Economic Forum  86% of people agree that ‘we have a leadership crisis in the world today’ with an alarmingly weak correspondence between power and competency.

Additionally, a series of reports from MIT argues that current leaders lack the mindset needed to bring about the strategic and cultural changes required to lead in the new digital economy.

So you have two things going on:

You don’t have to be an expert in innovation to see that’s a busted model.

But is it our own obsession with leadership that is actually supporting this dysfunction?

As Neil Tamplin has written , in today’s world of work people want to be accountable for their own actions and our leaders can’t possibly know the fullness of every decision they make. In our increasingly uncertain operating environments, this model is setting ourselves up to fail because we choose to avoid vulnerability and uncertainty in favour of comfort.

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Fear of Failure

So what’s stopping us? One reason organisations might not want to include their employees in their decision-making involves our focus on outcomes and a fear of failure.

The more people involved in decisions means the greater the risk of screwing things up – or so the conventional thinking goes. Mark Robinson has argued though that it’s often better to have poor outcomes with a great decision-making process than it is to have good outcomes with a poor decision-making process. His reasoning is that “you need a culture where people aren’t to blame for decisions. What your culture should be about is learning from bad decisions.”

Perhaps we need to lose the language of leadership altogether.

A Google search for leadership traits reveals a tiresome focus on visioning, strategizing and feedback loops – the kind of management bullshit we should have left back in the 1990s.

The real traits that matter such as empathy or self awareness, are key attributes for all human beings , not just for those of us who have a couple of line reports.

You will be hard-pressed nowadays to find a business that does not have some sort of a mentorship or development programme geared towards the leaders of tomorrow or emerging or aspiring leaders.

Hardly any of those self-same businesses will have programmes aimed at developing the ideas of tomorrow or creating the organisation of tomorrow.

It’s all about leaders. 

Arguably we are prioritising the perpetuation of existing systems and structures over meaningful change. Unless we address the root of the system, unless we really address how organisations make decisions and engage people, then we are not changing anything materially.

The new world of work requires us to become less fixated on the leader and more focused on leveraging the community at every level of our organisations.

Breeding the idea of the leader as superhero is getting us nowhere fast.

As we begin a new year the most radical thing you could do is rip up your plans for leadership development – and concentrate instead on how you can democratise innovation for the 80% rather than the 20%.

 

How To Find And Nurture Digital Readiness

When someone in public service says, ‘I don’t use social media. No one wants to know what I had for breakfast!’ I hear, ‘I don’t have the vaguest interest in understanding how an increasing number of citizens get information or choose to interact.’  – Leah Lockhart

What are we doing about boosting the Digital IQ of our organisations?

As we continue to transform and tilt ever further towards automation, it’s time to question the amount of support we are giving our colleagues.

The latest report from PWC says that confidence in our digital abilities is at an all time low.

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In a global survey of Executives 52% rated their digital IQ as strong. Down from 66% just three years ago.

Our people , it seems, simply can’t keep up with the advances in technology.  So what are we doing wrong?

First of all the scope of “digital” has changed. It used to mean our IT capabilities, then extended to take in social media awareness. Now it’s much more pervasive, touching on strategy, culture, customer and colleague experience.

Employing people with the right digital skills is now non-negotiable.

Yet some organisations are adopting a wait and see tactic:  let the old guard retire and be usurped by a new breed of younger digital natives.

Except that won’t happen.

‘Born digital’ millennials are a figment of our collective imagination. A review paper has concluded that “information-savvy digital natives do not exist.”

Instead we need to focus on seeking out what Pew Research call ‘digital readiness’.

This exhibits itself in two ways:

Digital skills: the skills necessary to adapt to new technology, browse the internet and share content online.

Trust:  people’s beliefs about their capacity to determine the trustworthiness of digital resources and to safeguard personal information.

These two factors express themselves in the third dimension of digital readiness, namely use – the degree and aptitude to which people use digital tools in the course of carrying out their day to day work.

Being digitally ready doesn’t mean having a CEO on Twitter or chasing the latest apps. It means knowing what your personal goals are and what tools to use to achieve them. It means creating new networks and sharing knowledge to benefit your team or organisation.

In the Pew research, only 50% of people describe themselves as very digitally confident. Therefore it follows we all have people in our organisations , from Executives to the frontline, that are falling behind.

Perhaps we need to identify the digital laggards and connect them with the leaders who are often hiding in full view from the organisation. They are often overlooked by traditional Leadership Development programmes which tend to perpetuate a hierarchical model of ‘identifying future leaders’.

In my experience the most digitally ready often operate in ways that are wholly inconsistent with the current operating structure. They take a more radical approach to decision-making, and they don’t recognise a command-and-control model.

We haven’t really discussed the implications of this for our leadership. The new potential of artificial intelligence and robotics poses major new challenges for organisational development.

Really we need a new set of questions:

  • What are the implications of new technologies for leadership at all levels?
  • How will these changes disrupt and impact the business model?
  • What knowledge and skills should be our priority?
  • What do we hold on to from our past? What do we discard?

Just like knowledge has been democratised through social media, leadership will become democratised and ever more flattened. Making the transition from the individualist nature of leadership to a more collective focus won’t be easy.

It requires moving away from thinking that tools and systems can transform us.

It requires moving away from seeing ‘Digital Leadership’ as the preserve of an elite few who we all follow.

Unless we all feel that our Digital IQs are improving – that we are ready for the challenges of an increasingly automated future – we may find we have no place in it.

Resisting the Rush to Technology for Solutions

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Is anyone else getting tired of the talk –  and it is mainly talk – of digital transformation?

The endless rounds of conferences, clubs and lists of so-called digital leaders – all promising a tech utopia.

At a recent event I observed an audience listlessly staring at their iPhones as a speaker described how digital was changing the world.  It certainly has  – no-one was paying him the slightest bit of attention.

The problem I have with digital cheerleading is two fold:

A) The implication that all our problems are ‘solvable’ 

B) The subsequent rush towards technology – as if digital is the only solution.

Organisations are too often focussing on form rather than function , digitising the prosaic and easily achievable (customer portals anyone?) rather than having a fundamental rethink of why they exist. 

As I’ve argued before, transformation is not about the illusion of radical change  – but a reshaping of purpose.

All the work we have been doing at Bromford over the past five years has convinced us of three things:

  1. There are problems in communities but there are even more opportunities. We have learned that our customers and communities have many skills. That even if  they do need ‘help’ they are just as likely to find what they need from a friend or a neighbour as they are from a ‘professional’.
  2. That many of our most challenging issues fall into the category of Wicked Problems like social isolation, health and income inequality. These aren’t amenable to a single organisation, top down instinct to define, analyse, dissect and process.
  3. The challenge is connecting the various players and closing the gaps. Who is connecting the connectors? 

Over the next few months we will be launching a completely re-engineered way of providing our service – an evolution of the Bromford Deal.  

It’s less about Bromford as a single purpose organisation and more of organisation as a platform. Organisation as a super connector.

It’s the result of all the testing , piloting and exploring we’ve been doing over the past few years. The learning from all these pilots has brought us to an overriding conclusion: we can have the most impact with our communities when we truly get to know them and are freed from the shackles of how we used to do things.

Those shackles include silo working, restrictive policies, a reliance on contact centres and customer relationship ‘management’ software. As if customers are there to be ‘managed’ anyway.

Are we just Luddites?  I’d argue not – the principles will be supported by mobile working, collaborative tools and digital networks. However we are resisting putting burdensome technology in the way of relationships.

Digital evangelists too often presume that it will solve all our problems. By doing this we embark on the worst kind of technological solutionism – that risks ignoring the skills, assets and sheer talent that exists in our communities.

Who is connecting the connectors?

Starting now:

We are. 


 

Note: We are recruiting to support this! 

You can see a video of the new approach (perfectly narrated by Lab Manager – Vicky Green). 

Here’s a link to example job profiles of the Head of Locality and Neighbourhood Coach (these are available in different geographical areas – go to main Bromford  recruitment site)

If you’d like any more information or a quick chat, just message me here or via Twitter DM and I’ll connect you to the right people!

Five Questions for Prospective Digital Leaders

Engaged leadership in the digital era means not chasing the latest apps and gadgets. Being an engaged leader in the digital era means knowing what your goals are and what tools to use to achieve them. It also means being brave and bold enough to step into the fray: listen to followers, share yourself with them, and engage them directly in new and amazing ways. – Charlene Li 

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It’s highly unlikely an app is going to save your business. The huge problems across the social sector will not be solved by technology alone.

In our headlong rush to tech for solutions we risk ignoring the root of our problems.

People. Poor service design. Leadership.

Certainly if I look at the work of Bromford Lab over the past year I’d say 90% of the time has been spent exploring non-technology solutions. This would surprise many people who think we spend our time playing with 3D printers and drones. Why is this?

People are fascinated with technology and the possibilities it presents to transform their lives. And they are looking for salvation. The majority of our working lives are fairly humdrum – boring even. Most of us have not escaped the tedium of commuting , of meetings , of email. We dream of a day that technology will come along and make our lives better.

However, technology won’t save us.  We don’t need new websites – we need new cultures.

The breakthrough digital has given us is the opportunity to listen to our organisations and our customers in real time. Never before have we had the opportunity to share ourselves and our thoughts. We’ve never been able to work out loud before.

But – wake up call – it’s a tiny percentage of leaders who are really living a digital lifestyle. There are still relatively few having open debates , showing transparency in public discourse , answering questions online and sharing progress.

I often see comments like “isn’t it great we have so many (insert sector) leaders on Twitter?”. Let me kill that for you. That is NOT , by any measure, a way of gauging leadership. Membership of a network does not imply positive use of it.

Digital leadership is too often taken to mean “people who use digital” rather than “people who use digital to lead”.

As Li points out in her latest book, to be a true digital leader requires a metamorphosis. It requires connecting directly by listening, sharing, and engaging using digital technologies.

Only this new type of leader is going to help us move forward. And they might not be the people at the top of , or even part of , our organisations.

Five questions for prospective digital leaders

  • Do you actively listen and respond to what internal and external communities are saying?
  • Do you use digital technologies to source new ideas for your organisation or team?
  • Do you put opinions out there rather than press releases? Are you known for provoking debate?
  • Do people you’ve never met come to you for advice on the strength of your online presence?
  • Do people tell you they value the resources and information you share?

I’d suggest that if you can answer yes to three of those you would be going in the right direction.

Digital leadership is not gained through position or self proclamation. The network dicates who are its influencers.

Rather than looking for technology to solve problems the digital leader understands that this network is their greatest ally.

And that the true power lies at its centre.

Social conversations: time to move beyond broadcasting

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Man is by nature a social animal; an individual who is unsocial naturally and not accidentally is either beneath our notice or more than human – Aristotle

That’s the intellectual stuff out of the way.

Let’s talk about Instagram and social conversations.

People sharing their passions and interests is what social is all about for me. Whether it’s a love of food , dancing , dogs or a desire to change the world, most of us connect better when we see the person behind the brand.

Far from being a modern phenomenon these passions have been shared between people for thousands of years. The fact we are now sharing them through digital media is a change in the tools available to us – not our human behaviour.

Earlier in the year I went on a trip to Vietnam. I didn’t think I tweeted much but it was enough to prompt the following in Inside Housing – the social housing magazine.

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I thought it was pretty funny and shared it online.

The responses were interesting and split three ways.

Some thought it was amusing. It annoyed others who saw the call for ‘disconnecting’ as missing the point of social.

But some people agreed with it – and suggested I keep my holiday updates to myself. They’d followed me for insights on innovation and customer experience – and now they were getting photographs of my breakfast.

I was initially dismissive of this. I even playfully reminded them that social networks are subscription services – if you don’t like a persons updates you can always switch them off.

Indeed a couple of people took me up on this advice and promptly unfollowed me! This , on reflection, was short sighted of me , it’s important to try to understand the expectations of your community.

In ‘It’s complicated – the social lives of networked teens’ , danah boyd explores changing attitudes to digital identity from the point of view of young people.

The book articulates how teens are becoming increasingly sophisticated in adapting their identity according to the audience they are addressing. Or the audience they imagine they are addressing.

Digital communication is different.

In face-to-face communication we carefully assess the context of the interaction in order to decide how we will act, what we will say, and how we present ourselves.

But social media technologies collapse multiple audiences into single contexts. And every blog you write , every photo you share , every message you tweet can be transported anywhere in the world and interpreted in an infinite number of ways.

This excites many of us and scares others.

A girls message left on Facebook with an intended audience of her close friends is sometimes misunderstood , usually by adults, who have no clue as to how it fits into the context of a larger conversation.

This is why many organisations have such an uneasy relationship with social media. They obsess about how their output has to be “on message” and not be capable of being misinterpreted. They are trying to put a set of rules around social media that simply doesn’t work.

As Mark Schaefer has said – internal process is usually optimised for “campaigns,” not “relationships.”

Rewiring our organisations for building relationships through conversations is one of our great challenges.

Clearly many will struggle to adapt to a more connected culture. This need for digital leadership was discussed last week with Mark Brown and Shirley Ayres. The highlights are in this slide deck.

We are moving beyond broadcasting.

And if social media can lead to social good it requires us to build relationships with others who share our passions and interests . These relationships are no longer restrained by physical location , our immediate peer group, our employers, or our sectors.

We have an opportunity to say this is who I am and this is what I want to achieve. A opportunity of following and being followed by people who believe in your cause.

And that conversation may start with what you had for breakfast. And it might annoy a minority of your followers.

I reckon Aristotle would have loved Instagram , our emerging digital intimacy , and our very social conversations.

 

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