Employee Engagement Misses a Network Perspective

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Almost all of us have had the experience of encountering someone far from home, who, to our surprise, turns out to share a mutual acquaintance with us. This kind of experience occurs with sufficient frequency that our language even provides a cliché to be uttered at the appropriate moment of recognizing mutual acquaintances. We say, “My it’s a small world.” – Stanley Milgram, The Small-World Problem

The Org Chart

As companies have grown in size, it becomes increasingly difficult to fathom in its entirety. The org chart tends to be used as short hand for the subcomponents. There’s department X, Y and Z. But who works in those departments, and what do they do? In very large organizations, it can begin to feel like a very big jigsaw puzzle with sections coming together to form clear images while the rest are grouped into generic piles by color or texture with little understanding of how they fit together.

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Can Serendipity Truly Be Strategy?

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Since 2012, I have been involved in the seemingly contradictory practice of “Designing Serendipity.”  For many, serendipity is simply an inexplicable lucky accident.  Such a view is neither useful nor historically accurate.  Horace Walpole coined the term in 1754 to describe the ‘faculty of making happy and unexpected discoveries by accident.’  It is in this sense that Pedro Medina speaks of Serendipity as a Style of Life and Greg Lindsay of Engineering Serendipity.  This line of thinking is succinctly conveyed by Roman Philosopher Seneca in the saying, “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.”

Take for example the old saying that finding a penny on the ground is good luck.  While the “lucky accident” view of serendipity might see this as foreshadowing good things to come, I would suggest a better interpretation would envision serendipity as strategy.  Someone who is aware of their surroundings is more likely to see the penny as well as other good fortune coming their way than someone that does not keep an eye out for opportunities around them.

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Go Fika Yourself: A Proven Way to Work Better

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Co-authored with Jennifer Gore.

Job-related stress is causing companies hundreds of billions of dollars each year. According to one study, 78 percent of workers put their stress levels at medium to very high, and some of them have missed a day of work (31 percent) or even quit their jobs (40 percent) because of it.

But not in Sweden. And the reason why may be as simple as a cup of coffee.

Swedish culture has a marvelous tradition known as “fika.” While it roughly translates to drinking coffee, it is much more than that. Fika is a scheduled opportunity to slow down to connect and bond with others. As Carl Honoré has said in his TED talk, In Praise of Slowness, “by slowing down at the right moments, people find that they do everything better.” To many in the US this may all sound like a waste of time, but a recent BBC article highlights how this workplace tradition may in part, according to OECD data, contribute to Sweden’s higher productivity than countries known for their long work hours such as the US, Japan and Korea.
Continue Reading via The Huffington Post

A Simple Tool to Help M&A Integration – Randomised Coffee Trials

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By Darko Lovric & Michael Soto, originally published on LinkedIn.

M&A activity is one of the most consequential bets a leader can make in shaping the future of mature organizations. The required commitment of time, resources and reputation for such an undertaking invite careful deliberation and analysis, usually leading to a strong internal and external rationale. And yet, most M&A activity falls far short of its intent (with most surveys claiming between 70% and 90% failure rate), often with serious consequences for both the organization and its leadership.

While biases and short-term interests can create various types of overconfidence, it would be surprising if that were the whole story. Most likely, many M&A decisions that are strategically sound falter at the point of execution.

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‘Collaborative Overload’ – A Response

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There are countless stories of conversations that did not happen, but should have.  Coworkers unknowingly doing duplicate work, as well as seemingly unsolvable challenges whose answer is less than a skip, jump or hop away.  Often times the greatest value a good consultant can provide is to talk with a broader range of the company than is usually involved in such matters and then present these ‘new’ insights to leadership.  An entertaining spin of this is the CBS show Undercover Boss, where owners discover first-hand how far detached they are from different areas of their business, often despite the best of intentions.

It is from this perspective that I wish to respond to Rob Cross, Reb Rebele and Adam Grant’s recent piece in Harvard Business Review, Collaborative Overload.  Over the past couple years, I have had the pleasure of speaking with each and derived significant inspiration and reassurance from their research.  This piece aims to resurrect important points that we share in common but seem to be lost among echoes by readers (e.g. ‘collaboration leads to burnout’, and ‘collaboration curse‘) that have taken their most recent work as a statement that enough is enough when it comes to collaboration.

At the heart of Cross, Rebele and Grant’s piece is the need to more effectively manage teamwork, so much so that they call for the establishment of a Chief Collaboration Officer. !

The Power of Conversation at Work

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Every morning she walked past the reception into the elevator and pressed the button for the 7th floor.  She walked down the long corridor and turned left, at which point she could see her corner office at the end of the hall.  Her days were packed with meetings, until the time came for her to retrace her steps and go home.  This occurred day in and day out, until someone made two rather mundane observations – she had never spoken to the majority of the staff in her division, and this was a problem.

This vignette was inspired by a story shared with me by Alan Arnett, founder of The Exploration Habit.  A suggestion was made that the leader in the vignette make it a priority to stop and talk to someone new each time she was going in or out of the office.  Despite spending her days in meetings, this leader found it hard to approach staff that she had never spoken to.  How would she break the ice?  Would they be nice or just stare blankly? How would she explain why today she stopped to talk to them, after years of just walking past without even a glance or a nod?

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The Art & Science of Network Weaving

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In September 2012, Jon Kingsbury and I sent out an all-staff email to our Nesta colleagues inviting them to participate in an initiative we called Randomised Coffee Trials (RCTs) to encourage staff to speak and connect with co-workers outside their daily routines.

We never expected RCTs to be anything more than a pet project internal to Nesta, otherwise we might have chosen a more intuitive name. To our surprise, over the past three years it has been highlighted in Harvard Business Review[1] and led to initiatives at the National Health Service[2], the United Nations Development Program[3] and the International Federation for the Red Cross and Red Crescent[4] among many other organisations[5].

Continue reading via Nesta, the UK innovation foundation.

To Happy Coincidences and Unexpected Surprises

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There has been an overwhelming response to my last blog about Nesta’s Randomised Coffee Trials, with responses received from various countries, UK government bodies, multilateral organisations, academics, NGOs, small companies and multinational companies.

In this post, I try to pull together some of the highlights from those conversations as well as flesh out some of the characteristics that made RCT successful.

Continue reading via Nesta, the UK innovation foundation

Institutionalising Serendipity via Productive Coffee Breaks

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Inspired by Pedro Medina’s discussion of serendipity*, Nesta’s Randomised Coffee Trials (RCT) initiative responds to Pedro’s dual challenge of appreciating the benefits of serendipity and the need to ‘build new fishing systems**.

Nesta staff that have opted-in are sent a weekly randomised match with another Nesta staff member and the two are invited to grab a coffee together. There are no requirements or obligations regarding the topics discussed, some RCTs are spent entirely on work-related matters, others are entirely personal in nature.

Continue reading via Nesta, the UK innovation foundation

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