Blog Series – Future of Work

When working as an external copywriter, it is essential to make sure you understand both the audience and the brand voice. Working with Weirdly was awesome. Their brand voice perfectly fits my preferred casual style, and I am equally as passionate about their values as they are.

Weirdly is a recruitment company with a difference. They have used technology to systemise over twenty years in the recruitment space, automating filtering of candidates. Their software is a fun and honest chance for applicants and the people hiring them to get to know each other based on uncovering shared values and helping people find roles where they can fly.

The brief was to write a blog series on “Diversity”. As someone that is very interested in diversity in all forms, it was a challenge to find a fresh perspective that matched the voice and had a positive spin.

I chose to concentrate on different aspects of diversity that affect recruitment, and that was culturally relevant at the time of publication.

Originally links to content:

PART ONE – WHERE DO YOU KEEP YOUR TOMATO SAUCE (KETCHUP)

When Leslie Miley (at the time, senior engineering director) questioned the steps being put in place for diversity action at Twitter, the senior VP of engineering responded with “diversity is important, but we can’t lower the bar”.

For Mr Miley, this was a turning point… he also then realised that he was the only African-American in engineering leadership at Twitter, the same company that, some would say, drove the #blacklivesmatter and #ferguson movements.

This was in 2014, and while Twitter (and indeed many other companies) have made some great advances since then, there is still more to be done.

Diversity comes in many flavours and colours… it’s not just gender and ethnicity… but even with obvious markers like gender and ethnicity, most companies are failing. Staying with Twitter for a moment, their own diversity report stated that even though African-Americans and Hispanics made up more than 30% of the active users, their engineering and product management team had less than 5%.In fact, putting aside gender and ethnicity for a moment…

Let’s talk about tomato sauce (or ketchup for our American readers).

Where do you keep your tomato sauce? Is it in the fridge? Or the pantry?

Studies have shown that there is a definite grouping of people who keep their sauce in the fridge, vs those that keep it in the pantry. Why does it even matter? Scott Page, a professor of complex systems at the University of Michigan explains why. If you keep your sauce in the fridge, and you run out of sauce, your alternatives are vastly different from the pantry-storage cohort. You might choose mayonnaise instead of malt vinegar, for example.

In fact, Professor Page went further than just sauce. He compared two sets of algorithms for solving a problem. One set was similar in its makeup and the other set was diverse. The diverse set solved the problems better each time. The non-diverse set kept getting stuck at the same place.

It’s the non-diverse team that needs the bar lowered!

It just makes sense, diversity isn’t necessarily about what you look like… it’s about how you think.

When Mr Miley was interviewed in a podcast, he explains: While sameness will be good for a fast-growing startup – you think the same, there will be less misunderstanding and you can communicate quickly – if you want to grow, you need to have diverse teams. Yes, it will affect efficiency at the beginning, but don’t be lazy… Learn different communication styles, experiment with different internal team structures, adjust your decision making processes and you will reap the rewards. He suggests that one of the best ways to increase this diversity is to try different types of questions at the interview process… it’s almost as if Mr Miley is advocating for Weirdly!

PART TWO – What does your company smell like? And what does that mean for your organisational culture?

Imagine this… you are walking around downtown Kolkata (previously Calcutta) in India. It looks like this.

Downtown Kolkata
Downtown Kolkata

It is 99% humidity. It is 38°C (or roughly 100°F) and you feel the sweat dripping down your face. There are people everywhere, pushing and crowding.

Now imagine this… you are walking around the forests of Fontainebleau in France. It looks like this.

Forest in Fontainbleau
Forest in Fontainbleau

The air is crisp and cool. There is calm in the air. You feel a briskness in your limbs, and you breathe in the sweet smell of forest green.

When Professor Sumantra Ghoshal described these scenes in a speech at the World Economic Forum, he was careful not to disparage either of them and rightly so. There is nothing wrong with Kolkata. It is a vibrant city full of amazing things to see and do, and equally, there is nothing especially magical about the forests of Fontainebleau.

Professor Ghoshal draws an analogy between organisational culture and the ‘smell’. He admits that measuring organisational culture is inherently difficult, but if you imagine, you can almost ‘smell’ it. The key is to make sure the people that work within your organisation (the ones you need to perform well and feel engaged) are attuned, inspired and energised by that “smell” – the distinct culture, values and experience your company offers.

Four requirements for supporting diversity in your own culture

Last week, we talked about what a diverse person could look like. We all agree that we want more diversity in our companies, it is a quantifiably Good thing (with a capital G). But are we prepared to support that diversity? Are we creating the right environment, the right “smell” to allow it to thrive?

He emphasises that in order to build an organisational culture that smells like success, you need to improve in four key areas.

An organisational culture of stretch, and not constraint

An organisational culture of stretch means that all your staff want to do is more. If you asked the question, “Can you think of an instance recently when you saw an opportunity to do something that would be of significant value to your company. Did you take it?” Would the majority of your staff admit to not taking the opportunities because of structural barriers? If we are increasing the diversity in our companies and encouraging many different thought processes into the mix, are you holding some of them back with an organisational culture of constraint?

Encourage discipline, not compliance

An organisational culture of discipline is about embedding self-discipline instead of ensuring compliance. It can manifest in a myriad of ways from simple things like always being on time to meetings through to more complex structures, like being accountable for your project goals without the need for micro-management. Creating a culture of self-discipline fosters the growth and allows diversity to thrive. Instigating an organisational culture of compliance displays lack of trust and alienates diverse thought.

Curate a culture of support, instead of control

The whole role of senior management changes when you are not consistently being seen as the overlords of control but as those who exist with one purpose only, to support your staff to win. You can do this by providing access to resources or coaching and by guidance and not control.

Lean into trust, rather than contracts

Most large companies (and come to think of it, most societies) have become overwhelmingly contractual. The idea that there’s no trust without a legal contract binding you to your word. Of course, we’re not advocating you dissolve all your contracts. But to really encourage your staff to fly in their diverse ways, we need to nudge the pendulum a little closer to the middle – increasing the level of trust we have in each other and in our workforce.

So, do you have a good handle on your culture’s unique “smell”? Whether you’re a forest in France or a busy street in India, a diverse, inclusive environment is better for your organisation – the question is, are your ready to support it?

PART THREE – A Brick in the Wall – Education and a Diverse Workforce

Let’s take you back roughly fifty to sixty years. It is the mid-19th century. The Ivy-League colleges in the USA have become a thing. (For those that don’t know the USA context, the Ivy-League refers to a group of prestigious universities which are often associated with academic excellence and social elitism) In fact, never mind the Ivy-League, Oxford University in England doesn’t even have an origin story, but they think it started somewhere around 1096!

Of course, education as a concept isn’t new, what is new(ish) is this idea that education will ‘get you a job’. In fact, what we have been doing as a society, is using education as a filtration system. When there is a focus on qualification attainment, education becomes a filtering mechanism. Those that cannot achieve the lowest of standards become the ‘unskilled’ workforce and the ones that do become the ‘clerical’, and so on and so forth until we reach the hallowed halls of the nearest tertiary institute. The grand plan being, that once you reach and finish university, then you are ready for the most-skilled of roles in society.

Where do we teach creativity, innovation, teamwork, collaboration, problem solving or communication? Since starting Weirdly, we have been investigating this notion of the ‘Future of Work’, and what that will mean for you. We’ve looked at what diversity could mean regarding personal qualities. We’ve looked at how your companies can be ready (or not) for a more diverse workforce. This week, we take yet another step back and look at society as a whole.

Worldwide, there is an overemphasis on teaching subjects rather than skills. We do not teach children how to learn; rather we are pushing them through assessments to gain qualifications which have no real-world correlation. There is also a disconnect between industry and education. International researchers McKinsey and Company surveyed 8000 employers, providers and young people and examined over 100 programs. Employers consistently rated young people lower than education providers on competencies such as teamwork, spoken and written communication and problem-solving. The industry as a whole is sitting back and merely expecting educational institutions to churn out work-ready people, then complaining when it doesn’t happen.

It isn’t all doom and gloom. Some corporate giants have come to the fore and are working with schools or students directly. Microsoft, for example, has a yearly high school internship program where they pay kids for full-time employment over the Summer and give them real-life skills to take into their future careers. Also, say what you want about charter schools, but corporations like Tesla have put their money where their mouths are and are opening STEM high schools which put emphasis on STEM over other skills. We would argue that these initiatives don’t go far enough. As a society, we are expecting a school structure created in the 1950s to work for the brave new world of 2017. We look at the industry and lament about the lack of diversity, and yet our entire educational system favours the ones that are the same. It is as if our schools are a factory putting out teenaged-widgets.

The ones that are different are deemed defective and often don’t make the cut. Encouragingly, the some of the so-called Big Four of recruitment (Pricewaterhouse Coopers, Deloitte, Ernst & Young and KPMG) have stopped relying on grades entirely. For example, Deloitte contextualises the academic data, looking at the economic background and personal circumstances as well as the scholastic achievements. Pricewaterhouse Coopers’ Director of Student Recruitment, Mr Richard Irwin, admits that figuring out how to measure these ‘soft skills’ is a work in progress for those recruiting young people. “Every year, we take data from the selection process and compare these to their performance in exams and in the business”.While we don’t have all the solutions, we know that the ‘Future of Work’ is already here, and solutions like ours make this transition easier. We have started looking at machine-learning possibilities to feedback the data from your new recruits back into your quizzes, giving you the enterprise-level recruitment experience of Pricewaterhouse Coopers without the need for a multitude of data scientists.

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