At our ReimagineHR summit in London on Thursday, CEB (now Gartner) Principal Executive Advisor Clare Moncrieff led a session on creating a common vision of digitalization for the business and HR. After examining hundreds of trends, our research councils serving chief HR officers and chief information officers have identified six deep shifts in the business environment that will result from digitalization. These shifts should act as the framework for heads of HR to:
- Ensure talent conversations with the line are grounded in business context
- Identify the current talent implications of these shifts, project future implications, and partner with the line and C-suite peers to prioritize and respond to each
- Improve their teams’ business acumen (to underscore the importance of this, 58 percent of HR business partners indicated in one of our surveys that building business acumen was their top development goal in 2017)
(The case studies we link to below are available exclusively to CEB Corporate Leadership Council members)
1) Demand Grows More Personal
As customers seek personalized products that align with their preferences and values as individuals (rather than as segments), companies will rely on digital channels and digital innovations in logistics and customer service to achieve personalization at scale. Customers will continue to expect lower-effort, nonintrusive service.
This could, for example, affect how HR functions look for new talent. Attraction of critical talent now requires differentiated, customized branding and career coaching. Candidates will demand a more effortless, personalized application experience. AT&T approached this shift by creating a more personalized “Experience Weekend” to show the innovation of its brand to campus candidates and make top talent more likely to accept job offers.
Alex Fradera at the British Psychological Society’s Research Digest flags a new study looking at the impact of cooperative workplaces on high-performing employees, which found that “in more cooperative climates, hotshots are actually more likely to get a raw deal”:
Elizabeth Campbell and her colleagues surveyed 350 hair stylists, mainly women, working within a chain of Taiwanese salons. The researchers were interested in how the most successful stylists were treated by their peers: they identified hotshots by asking managers for performance ratings, and then they surveyed all the staff to find out the benefits and threats they saw in each other, and how much criticism and support they received. They also asked stylists about their salon’s working climate by asking them how much they agreed with statements like “there is a high level of cooperation between stylists”. …
The researchers found that hotshots experienced more negative treatment in the form of belittling and criticism when they were surrounded by co-workers who felt threatened. In contrast, hotshots received more help and support if their colleagues saw them as a benefit. The typical high performer had a mixed bag: compared to the typical stylist, they were criticised more, but also received more support. But that support was lacking within salons with more cooperative climates.
This is not the first study to suggest that cooperative workplaces can have a negative impact on standout employees. Last year, management scholars Rob Cross, Reb Rebele, and Adam Grant found that high-performing, highly networked employees tend to get overwhelmed with demands for collaboration, which can ultimately hurt their performance by spreading them too thin.
One of the over-arching talent realities of the last several years is that work has become more collaborative, interconnected, and matrixed. How you work with different people is now one of the most critical differentiators of employee success. In fact, in today’s more collaborative environment we have found more than 40 percent of any individual’s contribution is dictated by the quality of their coworkers. At CEB, we have been able to analyze the profile of employees that are the most successful in this new environment: We call them enterprise contributors, and if you are interested in learning more about them, you can check out our executive guidance on them here.
The increasing importance of collaboration in the new work environment has inspired a fascinating wave of research into how employees’ interactions and relationships with their coworkers can influence their performance. Previous studies have suggested that employees tend to be more productive when seated near colleagues with complementary work styles and that the presence of a few high performers can improve the work of a whole team.
At the Harvard Business Review this week, Jason Corsello and Dylan Minor unveil the findings of their latest study, in which they examined the physical distance between employees to see how that impacted their performance. In other words, does simply sitting in proximity to high-performing neighbors at work make you more productive? Indeed, they find, it does:
Eilene Zimmerman at Quartz flags an interesting new sociological study that examines the value of “fitting in” versus “standing out” in the workplace and concludes that the employees most likely to succeed in the workplace do a little bit of both, in two distinct ways:
[Stanford Graduate School of Business professor Amir Goldberg and his coauthor Sameer Srivastava at the University of California, Berkeley] took a novel approach, examining the language used in corporate emails. … The researchers concluded that employees in the firm can be characterized by their levels of cultural and structural “embeddedness,” after measuring their general cultural assimilation as well as the strength of their attachment to various network cliques. This led the researchers to identify four organizational archetypes: “doubly embedded actors,” “disembedded actors,” “assimilated brokers” and “integrated nonconformists.” Those most likely to get ahead are what they call “assimilated brokers,” meaning people who are high on cultural fit and low on network cliquishness, and their mirror images, the “integrated nonconformists,” meaning people who are part of a tight-knit group but still stand out culturally.
“The assimilated broker is the ultimate networker, the person with friends in marketing, customer service, engineering,” Goldberg says. “She is well-connected across the firm but not really a part of any one group.” Yet she blends in culturally, speaking and dressing the same as everyone else. The integrated nonconformist, on the other hand, has the security and mutual commitment that comes from being part of a clique but has not fully assimilated into the corporate culture.
The “assimilated brokers” Goldberg and Srivastava describe sound a bit like the enterprise contributors our research has identified as the key performers in the new work environment. As the way we work becomes more networked and integrated, employees, especially those in leadership roles, increasingly need to have a holistic understanding of what the entire organization does and build connections and relationships throughout it, not only in their function. The ideal enterprise contributor communicates and collaborates effectively with people and avoids getting isolated in a silo. In this context, it’s easy to see how “assimilated brokers” might thrive.
Lisa Baird, a former principal designer at IDEO, put forth an interesting argument at Fast Company back in May, pointing to the rise of a new breed of freelancer she calls a “comprehensivist”—a multi-skilled knowledge worker who can perform tasks that used to require a team of individuals with specialized skills. Baird sees comprehensivists playing an outsized role in the future of the gig economy:
The rise of comprehensivists in some sectors is coinciding with the broader gig economy trend: multi-skilled knowledge workers are increasingly able to ply their trade to a range of bidders on their own terms. Project-oriented fields like design and journalism have seen this coming for some time, in part because the deadlines they operate on make for easily definable gigs. …
Even industries like law and finance are beginning to fray around the edges, with top talent decamping for gigs. But whether a job is gig-able is now less about field and more about role. After all, someone still has to hire the freelancers. Leadership roles share DNA with their organizations and benefit from the sort of sustained, longitudinal engagement that’s harder to imagine a freelance model being able to accommodate. Still, as more knowledge work goes project-based and the normalcy of 1099 labor grows, the more likely top-shelf multidisciplinary workers are to go it alone. Does this portend a future working world split into B-player company teams and A-player freelancers?
At CEB’s ReimagineHR event in Miami earlier this month, management professor Rob Cross spoke about the growing problem of “collaborative overload,” which we’ve also touched on here: that is, what happens when employees are too interconnected, such that collaboration takes up too much of their time and leaves them scrambling to complete their own solo work. In a follow-up piece this week, Baird revisits the comprehensivist concept in light of how workplace attitudes about collaboration have been shifting, positing that comprehensivism may be arising as a response to collaborative overload, or even heralding the end of the collaborative trend:
In his speech at the Democratic National Convention on Tuesday night, former US president Bill Clinton brought up a number of occasions on which his wife, presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, had taken actions that produced little fanfare but significant (in his telling) positive change. Politics aside, his depiction of her as a tireless crusader who gets too little credit for her achievements speaks to an experience many women have in the workplace every day: being team players, helping others out, and doing the drudge work that gets the job done, but not getting the accolades when the project succeeds.
Some women business leaders have urged their peers to take on leadership more boldly, to claim the credit they deserve, to “lean in” and prove that they can work just as hard (or as competitively) as men—but perhaps what’s really needed, Danielle Teller argues at Quartz, is for organizations to rethink the way they recognize employees’ contributions, to better capture the unsung efforts women often make. She points to the NBA’s use of “hustle stats” as one way to achieve this:
“Lean in!” Sheryl Sandberg says to women. That’s probably excellent advice, if being aggressive, self-aggrandizing, and unafraid to bite off more than you can chew is what it takes to succeed. The problem for many of us, though, is that such a change would require a personality transplant. Even if it were possible to change ourselves so radically, we like being generous team players and mentors. We like being considerate to others and modest about our accomplishments. We think we’re pretty great the way we are, thank you very much. The workplace should think we’re pretty great the way we are too. …
Basketball fans will recall that the Miami Heat’s 2010 lineup—which included the “Big Three” combination of superstars LeBron James, Chris Bosh, and Dwyane Wade—was hyped from the start as an unstoppable force on the court. But while the Big Three would go on to lead that team to two consecutive championships a few years later, there were some bumps in the road to greatness—especially at the beginning, as three star players who had been accustomed to hogging the spotlight and running the show had to learn how to share leadership.
Since then, several studies have looked into the effects of star power in sports and found that when there is too much talent on one team, the big shots often start competing with each other rather than working together for the good of the franchise. Now, new research by Angus Hildreth and Cameron Anderson of the University of California, Berkeley, explores how dynamics of power and leadership affect people’s creativity and ability to collaborate as peers. Discussing their findings in the Harvard Business Review, the researchers write that across several experiments they conducted, “groups of leaders performed worse in part because their members fought over who should have higher status than others in the group”: