The connected conversation in practice


At 10Eighty, we think employers need to take a more employee-orientated perspective in terms of performance appraisal.

The annual tick-box exercise tends to be counterproductive and the best staff want something more personal and tailored to their role and aspirations. Why should employers want this too? Because connected career conversations can accelerate and align your workforce development, with dramatic impacts on engagement and productivity in any organisation.

In our recent successful Connected Conversations events we used values cards and skills cards to show how these two traits can be used in initiating meaningful career conversations with employees. Every employee is entitled to job satisfaction and career success – their employer will benefit from helping them achieve that success. Engaging with employees and committing to providing personal development and opportunities to meet career aspirations is the launchpad for a connected conversation.


An employee whose values don’t resonate with corporate values is unlikely to be engaged or motivated and give some insight from personal experience.

The connected conversation centres on what is really important to people, what motivates them. Values taken in conjunction with an overview of employee strengths provide the basis for reviewing both performance and career trajectory that builds on the reality of their working life.

To manage people well you need to understand what makes them tick; to make the connection between how the organisation can help them to achieve and develop as part of a high-performance team. This is a much more positive experience than the average performance review.

Schedule and track connected conversations

10Eighty’s career path software Fuel 50 offer is a powerful platform for leaders and managers to schedule and track connected conversations with their people throughout the year, with a concomitant impact on overall levels of engagement and performance. It also allows team members to create career plans and track progress towards achieving career objectives for a truly rewarding career.

Regular feedback is important to employees – younger members of the team prefer to work this way and workers on flexible contracts need the input and opportunity to engage with leadership. Employees in some roles will want and need feedback more often than others and managers will soon come to arrangements with each team member as to what works best in each instance.

There is also the obvious advantage that by checking in regularly with employees performance issues are dealt with promptly, problems don’t fester and team members can be more confident that they understand the big picture while feeling they have a voice in the process. In essence performance and productivity improve when feedback is not held back for the annual review and managers deal with issues as they arise.

The connected conversation allows managers to acknowledge where staff are performing well, where they can improve and provide guidance as to how they might build their skills and progress within the organisation.

Quality, relevant feedback improves employee learning and task performance. We think it is really important that all managers learn how to deliver effective and constructive feedback.

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Child’s play

childlike qualities

United Nations Universal Children’s Day was established in 1954 and is celebrated on November 20th each year to promote international togetherness, awareness among children worldwide, and improving children’s welfare.

There are some childlike qualities that we should try to retain – curiosity is one and the ability to find joy in anything and everything is another.

Curiosity as a competency

Curiosity is one of the top five character strengths identified by positive psychology researchers Martin Seligman and Christopher Peterson and is closely linked to fulfilment and happiness.

In terms of employability curiosity is really important, but don’t just learn for the sake of your job learn to enhance your life. Develop curiosity and learn to question more, in a changing world the ability to adapt is increasingly important.

childlike qualities

Curiosity helps us in looking for connections and links; try to be someone who doesn’t just look inward but who looks outward too. Work on being one of those people who is “useful to have about the place”, versatile and flexible.

Remember that employability is not just about where you are now but about staying current in the marketplace. Collaboration is a key skill and curiosity helps us to build relationships and can lead to innovative results because it is predicated on an interest in others’ experiences and their ideas, the basis for meaningful interaction.

The ability to approach people, problems, situations and conversations with curiosity also leads to interest and wonder and enthusiasm for work and life.

Finding joy

What makes you jump for joy, or laugh out loud? I often think we don’t celebrate enough.

When we were little we were given badges in the Cubs and Brownies and we wore them with pride. We proudly pinned certificates and rosettes on the bedroom wall. As we get older we dismiss these achievements. What was once all-consuming, for instance your O and A levels (or GCSEs for our slightly younger readers!), are now a distant memory, though at the time they were mountains you successfully climbed.

At work it’s important to celebrate success, so do please congratulate colleagues on their successes and achievements, acknowledge the contribution others make, call out and show appreciation for devotion to duty and for those who go the extra mile.

Here are some other things that 10Eighty recommend to help you find joy in work and life:

  • Smile
  • Reconnect with someone you haven’t spoken to in a while
  • Be kind – help someone else find joy
  • Disconnect – go outdoors, turn off your phone, stretch your legs and simply enjoy a peaceful lunch break
  • Give some time to charity, do some voluntary work or mentor a colleague
  • Take action towards fulfilling a goal or dream

There’s more to life than work and there’s more to work than shareholder value so remember to take joy too. I firmly believe that work should be fun, work hard and celebrate success.

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Face time makes a difference


The outplacement business has changed out of all recognition in the last decade, increasingly we see one-to-one career support and coaching replaced with online systems. Automated, self-service programmes have advantages from the client’s perspective, providing a reasonably priced solution, but the effectiveness of the one-size fits all e-outplacement option is doubtful.

An off-the-shelf option may please the procurement manager but the online model has devalued outplacement in the eyes of employees and employers. At 10Eighty we believe that face-to-face, tailored career coaching remains the most effective choice for both parties.

The purpose of outplacement coaching is to help clients manage their options, to build their employability not just in terms of finding the next role but for a successful career down the line, in alignment with their values and aspirations for the future. A coach can address specific needs and help the client build their personal brand and leverage their social capital.


A holistic approach

For the employer outplacement is crucial to managing the employer brand, there’s an obvious social and moral case to made for supporting employees who are no longer needed, providing them with the support and skills to move on quickly; it’s also about managing the morale of employees who see their colleagues being made redundant, showing that the organisation takes care of employees is key to employee engagement.

From my point of view, outplacement is not just about the client landing a new job but about launching the next phase of their career. I wrote The Guide to Everlasting Employability with the aim of equipping clients to take charge of their career and proactively work towards clearly articulated goals and ambitions. 10Eighty outplacement is not a job shop, it’s a holistic approach to personal branding and navigating the career path for a rewarding future.

In an outplacement programme, the online career portal has a place, the blended learning approach has enormous value. On-line support provides a range of tools and resources for the client to design and implement a job search strategy, and online apps make career advice portable. Indeed at 10Eighty we have developed an app that audits the extent to which you are managing your career.  It can be downloaded for free from the App Store or Google Play just follow the links or search for ’10Eighty career ladders’.

Personal, professional and proactive

However, to make real progress nothing beats face to face coaching. It’s partly a reflection of how we communicate, 70% of what we take in is what we see, more importantly, though it’s about feedback and dialogue. You can tell someone how to look for a job and how to behave at interview but personal coaching does so much more.

The outplacement consultant or counsellor can push a client to address important issues, assessing their reactions and tailoring coaching to needs. We know that employees prefer personalised, customised advice and that makes particular sense when we’re talking career aspirations. Working with a coach also facilitates practice, it’s not so much a question of perfection but Gary Player’s assertion that “the more I practice the luckier I get” rings true.

For me, career coaching is predicated on a collaborative process aiming to enhance and realise the potential for sustainable personal and professional development.

The emphasis is less on CV writing and job search tactics and more on clarity of purpose and resilience in career management. Looking for a job is hard work, an emotional rollercoaster, and clients need support, especially in the face of rejection, which always feels personal. A good outplacement programme provides support, offers a sounding board, measuring progress while helping clients maintain momentum.

The measure of success is the achievement of a new role that aligns with values, motivations and talents. Much more than that, we aim to enable our clients to manage their career for the long-term and to build their employability.

The world of work has changed and we can no longer rely on our employer to manage our progress, nor is loyalty its own reward, in the modern workplace each of us needs to build skills, stay current with changing technology, nurture our social networks, and proactively manage our employment options.

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Sweep away stress


It’s International Stress Awareness Day today – 1st November – an annual event centred on stress and stress prevention and promoting the importance of wellbeing for individuals and organisations.

Some stress is natural but it’s important to recognise the symptoms and monitor stress levels. Organisations that genuinely promote and value the health and well-being of employees will benefit from improved engagement and retention of employees with consequent gains in performance and productivity.


Measure and monitor

Work-related stress is defined as a harmful reaction people have to undue pressures and demands placed on them at work. Labour Force Surveys show:

  • The total number of cases of work-related stress, depression or anxiety in 2015/16 was 488,000 cases, a prevalence rate of 1510 per 100,000 workers.
  • The number of new cases was 224,000, an incidence rate of 690 per 100,000 workers. The estimated number and rate have remained broadly flat for more than a decade.
  • The total number of working days lost due to this condition in 2015/16 was 11.7 million days. This equated to an average of 23.9 days lost per case. Working days lost per worker showed a generally downward trend up to around 2009/10; since then the rate has been broadly flat.
  • In 2015/16, stress accounted for 37% of all work-related ill health cases and 45% of all working days lost due to ill health.
  • Stress is more prevalent in public service industries, such as education; health and social care; and public administration and defence.
  • By occupation, jobs that are common across public service industries (such as healthcare workers; teaching professionals; business, media and public service professionals) show higher levels of stress as compared to all jobs.
  • The main work factors cited by respondents as causing work-related stress, depression or anxiety (LFS) were workload pressures, including tight deadlines and too much responsibility and a lack of managerial support

Wellbeing at work

Health and safety legislation imposes on employers a duty to undertake risk assessments and manage activities to reduce the incidence of stress at work.

The emotional and physical wellbeing of your workforce is reflected in levels of absenteeism. Well-being at work encompasses general mental health and wellbeing in terms of levels of happiness, trust, engagement and “presenteeism”. Although the financial impact of these aspects of work is difficult to evaluate, there is research that links workplace wellbeing to long-term financial success.

Here are five steps you can take to address stress in your workplace:

  • Ensure you have plan in place to manage stress in the workforce
  • Undertake an audit of the workplace to identify potential stressors, such as unrealistic workloads and schedules
  • Train line managers in mental health awareness
  • Launch a good mental health promotion campaign
  • Audit absences and make sure you understand the reasons for them.
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Values and the connected conversation Part 2


At 10Eighty we focus on a strengths-based approach to employee development issues. This is predicated on an employee-centred approach that helps team members optimise their strengths and identify strategies to improve effectiveness, confidence, engagement, and wellbeing.

Research shows that this approach works:

  • 73% improvement in employee engagement when employees are encouraged to play to their strengths (Rath and Conchie, 2008)
  • Customer retention is 44% higher in companies where people are allowed to do what they do best every day (Harter and Schmidt, 2002)
  • Positive psychology based interventions help reduce stress and burnout (Cotter & Fouad, 2013)

We examined in a previous blog the need to make a meaningful connection with employees in terms of their values. You also need to focus on strengths – what employees are energised by, what they are good at and enjoy, how effectively they are applying their strengths – as this enables engaging performance conversations around those strengths.

It’s obvious that skills and strengths are important and our recent Connected Conversations event looked at aligning personal values and skills with organisational objectives.

We work in a dynamic and volatile environment where change is a constant. When employees are engaged and working in roles that align with their strengths and preferences they are liable to be better placed to deal with challenges. A positive focus on what one does well and the opportunity to use and develop strengths, facilitates motivation and creative, innovative responses to change. This is partly because using strengths is, in itself, motivating and rewarding, those who are operating from their strengths are likely to feel more confident.

The traditional annual appraisal and 360 degree feedback tend to focus on negatives and problem areas. Roberts, et al, in the Harvard Business Review point out that you “may have more to gain by developing your gifts and leveraging your natural skills than by trying to repair your weaknesses”, (How to Play to your Strengths, 2005).

To foster excellence we need to identify and harness the unique strengths of each team member. It is a paradox of human psychology that while people remember criticism, they respond to praise. The idea is to enable employees to draw on their strengths and build on them; building a strategy for personal development. Knowing one’s strengths also affords a better understanding of how to deal with weaknesses.

Needless to say you can’t overlook weaknesses, it would be short-sighted to assume that playing to strengths is enough to offset them; and it would be unrealistic to expect to transform a weakness to a signature strength. Leveraging core strengths to address areas of concern is the best option, armed with self-awareness about strengths we are better able to deal with weaker area and other risks/blockers to performance.

Strengths assessment helps us in building partnerships with others who have strengths in areas where we are weaker which has the added benefit of enabling a strong team culture within the organisation.

The organisation that designs ways to align staff work goals and tasks with strengths will build a workplace is more productive and efficient.

To find out how to keep your employees engaged happy – click here

Emma Mitchell is Leadership and Management Director for 10Eighty

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Conversations to resolve conflict

It’s Conflict Resolution Day today – conflict-resolution-day-201719th October 2017 – a day to promote awareness of mediation, arbitration, conciliation and other creative, peaceful means of resolving conflict.

At 10Eighty we work in a collaborative environment and believe in constructively working on disputes to resolve issues amicably. In any workplace there will sometimes be conflict, it can take many forms; it may be a personal grievance, a problem between employee and manager or conflict between team members, or it may be stress-related, a misunderstanding or sheer temper.

Unresolved conflict gets in the way of work and makes the organisation less effective and productive.

What’s to be done?

ACAS advises that are some key steps an employer can take to help ensure disputes and conflict don’t arise too often, and to enable them to be dealt with when they do:

  • train managers to handle difficult conversations with employees
  • encourage open expression of opinions
  • recognise the importance of feelings
  • listen to what people have to say
  • focus on interests not positions and personalities
  • have clear discipline, grievance and dispute procedures for dealing with conflict
  • write mediation into your contracts of employment and/or individual disciplinary and grievance procedures
  • consider outside help where necessary, for example, using a third party by way of mediation

At 10Eighty we think the first point is key – talk to staff. Disputes and conflict are less likely to arise when you understand your people, their values, beliefs and motivations. Have a conversation about what really matters to each employee, and listen to their concerns and aspirations. If you understand where there is stress or disengagement you may be able to deal with issues before they become problems.

Don’t use the ostrich model

We think this is an area an employer needs to think seriously about. All too often a busy manager will be inclined to hope an issue will resolve itself. If you don’t act promptly you could:

  • mislead an employee by acting as though there is no problem
  • deny an employee the opportunity to improve or put things right
  • damage the productivity and efficiency of the organisation
  • adversely affect morale amongst team members.

Training managers to engage staff in constructive, connected career conversations will pay dividends in terms of employee engagement and enable a platform where issues can be raised and stress defused.

Managers don’t spend enough time talking to staff about career aspirations and development plans it’s a shame because successful career planning requires employer and employee to have mature conversations about ambitions, aspirations, potential, opportunities and growth. It’s about optimising organisational potential so the smart organisation will ensure that managers have the competence and confidence to manage workplace conversations that could also bypass conflict.

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Do you know how to coach employees towards high performance?


That’s what we’re asking in our latest White Paper ‘Coaching Employees for High Performance’.

In a nutshell ‘Employers need to be employee centric’ – a philosophy espoused by LinkedIn’s Reid Hoffman. He believes the role of employers is to make their employees more employable.

White Paper co-authors Anne Fulton CEO of 10Eighty’s Antipodean partners’ Fuel 50 and Natalie Hackbarth Inbound Marketing Manager of Quantum Workplace, an employee feedback software company, collaborated to produce a handy HR guide for implementing manager or peer coaching programmes with a real impact.

Employee engagement experts, Anne and Natalie, provide a raft of insights into learning and development strategies and consider how organisations can create a coaching culture, and how manager coaching and peer coaching can optimise employee engagement and talent management, particularly in conjunction with the powerful career pathing software CareerCENTRE™.White-Paper-Coaching-Employees-for-High-Performance

Forge a thriving coaching culture

The 18-page ‘Coaching Employees for High Performance’ White Paper includes the Top 5 learning and development opportunities and 4 Keys to create a culture of coaching. And how a fusion of these two processes can make a valuable contribution to your talent management strategy.

Understanding the roles of manager coaches and peer coaches and nurturing these two complementary coaching styles is important. But for a coaching culture to truly thrive, a commitment to engagement and employee development is essential.

The White Paper also provides a ‘best practice bundle’ for successful coaching:

  • Set expectations
  • Educate the coaches
  • Create structure
  • Set a frequency
  • Consider attribution
  • Encourage 2-way conversation
  • Track, monitor and measure progress.

Coaching drives engagement

“People will produce more than they think they can if they’re challenged.” Ray Titus, CEO of United Franchise Group.

10Eighty’s CEO Michael Moran, expands: “Employees want to be developed. This is a key driver of engagement. In fact, research tells us that nearly 8 out of 10 employees who said their organisation had a formal development programme were engaged.”

Michael continues: “The connected conversation is at the heart of any developmental intervention. It is a conversation to understand what engages the employee, their values and motivators – what they like doing and what they are good at. This connected conversation is all about coaching.

“Line managers who spend time coaching their employees are rewarded with greater productivity, increased loyalty and a workforce that demonstrates a ‘can do’ attitude.

Research tells us that coaching by your line manager or by your peers is the biggest driver of engagement of any developmental initiative. “

Find out more

To get your copy of ‘Coaching Employees for High Performance’ simply click here and enter your details.

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A fine balance

Work-life balance on National Work Life Week

Work-life balance on National Work Life WeekNational Work Life Week takes place this week – 2nd to 6th October 2017 – and is an opportunity for both employers and employees to focus on well-being at work and work-life balance. Employers can use the week to provide activities for staff and to showcase their flexible working policies and practices.

Half of the people in the UK want to work flexibly but, currently, less than one in ten jobs is advertised flexibly. Apparently, more than 10% of UK employees work over 50 hours a week. Excessive working hours lead to reductions in productivity but flexibility pays dividends in terms of employee engagement, motivation and loyalty.

Here are some things employers might do to help their employees:

  • Highlight good examples of people working flexibly in your workforce, whether it’s because they have caring responsibilities, are pursuing interests outside of work or progressing towards retirement.
  • Hold on a special event for staff like a lunchtime discussion on work-life balance, training for line managers on how to manage flexible staff, or ask a senior manager to share their insights on how they balance their time.
  • Offer guidance to employees about how to use digital devices to support flexibility around when and where they work, rather than as a way to work ‘around the clock’.
  • Showcase family-friendly working policies and practices in staff newsletters and on your intranet.

Support new ways of working

We’ve seen many changes in the workplace in the last ten years from the globalisation of work and demand for 24-hour service to changing demographics and attitudes towards work and the psychological contract.

Making a business case for flexible working is about more than wanting to accommodate certain employee groups – there is plenty of evidence that flexible working is “good for business”, that it enables you to meet customer demand, that it enables retention of skilled and experienced workers and it enhances productivity.

Organisations that are able to develop an agile, flexible approach to work will maximise engagement, wellbeing and on-going high performance, the key to business success. Promote flexible working and support the parents, carers, flexible workers and line managers in your organisation.

Work smart

At 10Eighty we value flexibility and life-work balance is important. There is no better advice than that from 2001 given by the DTI “Work-life balance isn’t only about families and childcare; nor is it about working less. It’s about working ‘smart’, about being fresh enough to give all you need to both work and home, without jeopardising one for the other and it is a necessity for everyone, at whatever stage you are in your life.”

Achieving a good life balance is a continuous process – we need to unwind and feel in control of our lives. It doesn’t necessarily mean a reduction in productivity or working hours, viewed from a lifetime perspective life-work balance should take into account the trade-offs made between work and leisure as interests and commitments change during the course of life. One size does not fit all, it’s important to understand what your team need and what motivates them in order to formulate the best solution for your organisation.

Taking time away from the workplace takes you away from problems and challenges and helps put them in perspective. Albert Einstein had it sussed, saying: “although I have a regular work schedule, I take time to go for long walks on the beach so that I can listen to what is going on inside my head.”

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Values and the connected conversation

Career Conversations

At 10Eighty we think it’s important to be practical and realistic in our thinking around motivation and engagement. The performance review process, in truth, isn’t doing the job – and hasn’t for some time. There needs to be a more employee-centred approach.

We talk about motivation a lot and know that motivation goes well beyond what we pay people. We often talk about ‘you need to know your team’ but it’s plain that if that process doesn’t feel authentic for staff then that constitutes a major stumbling block right from the start! You need a meaningful connection with employees.

Why are values so important? What on paper looks like the perfect job, may not be such a good fit in any real sense. If the values of the organisation don’t resonate with your personal values then the likelihood of success and job satisfaction are compromised, not because you don’t have the skills or motivation, but because values are not aligned.

Career Conversations

Workplace values drive the attitudes and behaviours that make a team member effective or otherwise. Effective organisations seek to attract people who share their key values and the best people look, not just for a job, but for a work environment with values and culture that align with their own.

It’s not a ‘soft’ HR fad. Engaged employees demonstrate higher levels of performance, commitment, and loyalty. Watson Wyatt studies show that an organisation with highly engaged employees typically achieves a financial performance four times greater than a company with poor employee attitudes.

The relationship between employee and manager directly affects engagement levels. If you want effective and productive employees you need a culture based on trust, shared values and open communication. Use the connected conversation to focus on the employee as a means to build their engagement and optimise their potential. Employees who feel valued and understood by their employer are more likely to perform well and to demonstrate loyalty.

Engagement and motivation are increasingly important because we have high levels of employment and serious skill shortages in some sectors. Disruptive technologies, labour market flexibility, globalisation and increased mobility have serious implications for talent managers. The competition for the best candidates isn’t going away anytime soon. A recent survey showed that 67 per cent of HR leaders believe the war for talent will be one of the most pressing issues for their workplace in the near future.1

The challenges we face in terms of recruitment, training and development, employee motivation, and many other aspects of HR, mean we need to be proactive in order to attract and retain talent for competitive advantage.

Employers must focus on their employment brand in order to secure top talent – employees want authentic connection with their organisation and managers. The CIPD reported in June that almost half (47 per cent) of Brits have rejected a job offer, with 41 per cent doing so because they felt the company culture was not right for them.

Making a real connection with your workers, building a realistic picture of their values, drivers and aspirations is the starting point for building real engagement in the workforce.

1HR2020 report, Navigating the future, Eversheds Sutherland with Winmark, 2017

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Michael Moran discusses Engagement and Careers on Engage for Success podcast


Engage-for-Success-Podcast“If video killed the Radio Star, what will a radio podcast do for employee engagement?”

That’s the question 10Eighty CEO Michael Moran asked himself a couple of days ago before he was interviewed on the Engage for Success podcast (or ‘radio show’ in old money).

True to form he made the case for an employee-centric approach to business. Here’s how the song goes, stop us if you’ve heard this one before:

If you know what is important, what motivates, and what it is the employees like doing and consequently does well, and you take this information and sculpted it to the job, you’ll end up with a highly engaged, highly productive workforce. As we all know engaged employees make for profitable businesses.

So Michael duly spoke to Jo Dodds on Show #221 of Engage for Success Radio on the topic of ‘Engagement and Careers’.

We’ve mentioned Engage for Success movement in previous blog posts and took part in one of their conferences in 2015.

Engage for Success are an inclusive organisation committed to the idea that there is a better way to work by releasing people’s potential and capability at work, spreading the word about employee engagement and shining a light on good practice. They are widely supported across the UK by the public, private and 3rd sectors.

You can find out more about Engage for Success by visiting their website, join in the wider conversation using #E4S or you could join their LinkedIn Groups.

Listen to Michael discuss engagement and careers:

Michael puts the case for developing the skills and careers of your people, which he appreciates for some organisations is double-edged because well-developed people may leave. But, he argues, if you don’t develop them, they’re even more likely to leave…

You can also listen to and subscribe to the Engage for Success podcast/radio show on iTunes.

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Connected career conversations = an engaged workforce

Career Conversations

Today’s leaders achieve far more engagement and credibility when they take part in genuine conversations with the people who work for and with them.” 1

Our recent Connected Conversations event was about thinking differently. It’s all too easy to do things because that’s what we’ve always done. Every now and then it takes a little lateral thinking to produce a fundamental shift in our outlook and approach.

In recent years HR professionals have been rethinking the performance review as a measurement of effectiveness. When did you last hear anyone say they were looking forward to their annual appraisal? Everyone dreads them, both manager and those managed and our view at 10Eighty is that we need a more employee-centred approach.

Traditional appraisal uses a carrot and stick approach, which can work in a task-orientated culture, but it’s not appropriate in most jobs in our new work environment. There is evidence that the traditional approach is demotivating and decreases levels of performance. Many successful organisations have dropped the annual appraisal in favour of periodic feedback – Deloitte, Accenture, Microsoft, Gap and Adobe among them.

Career Conversations

People not process

The idea of ‘scientific management’ became popular because it enabled managers to treat staff like widgets, a ‘one size fits all’ approach. But in the modern workplace that approach is counter-productive. Making the most of the values and skills of the team is more like fitting together the pieces of a puzzle to build a great team that works collaboratively and is committed to the aims and values of the organisation.

An annual appraisal that reduces a person’s whole year performance to a number or a rating on a form, is often an artificial, subjective and usually retrospective process. That’s not particularly useful as a basis for future planning. We need to use performance conversations that are based on what matters to the employee and what motivates them to do a good job.

A real career conversation starts with what is important to an employee, in terms of their personal and work values. Alignment between one’s values and the values of the organisation is at issue here. Without that alignment then engagement and job satisfaction are compromised and the likelihood of success in the role is much reduced. Someone with a need for social interaction at work won’t be happy alone in the office all day and, a person who needs a level of autonomy will be unhappy working for someone who tries to micro-manage them.

Positive connections

It’s also important to look at skills and strengths. What do team members love doing, how proficient or competent they are, where they want to improve – and what do they hope to achieve? To manage people well you need to understand what makes them tick, in order to make the connection between how the organisation can help them to achieve and develop as part of a high-performance team. This is a much more positive experience than the average performance review.

These connected career conversations are no soft option. They can be challenging. Sometimes there is no alignment of values – and it may be better for a disengaged employee to move on. Line managers need to be trained in using such conversations to address motivation and engagement with team members and ensure optimum deployment of resources.

A connected conversation centres on the employee as this gives their manager clarity around how to build engagement and optimise their potential. A better understanding of employee values, skills and preferences allows the construction of a framework for sculpting jobs around the right employees in the right roles.

As our recent work with DS Smith shows, if you can initiate connected conversations with all the members of the team, with all the people in the organisation, just think about the huge impact that can have on overall levels of engagement and performance.

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Balance all the options

work-life balance

11 September is the start of Balance Awareness Week, which is about raising awareness about vestibular disorders.

Life-work balance has been a perennial topic on our blog for years. Do you love your work? Work and a career are an important, they help pay the bills and give us a sense of purpose but it’s important to remember that work is just a part of life but we need a balance away from the stress of the office to enjoy other aspects of our personal lives.

“Success is not the key to happiness. Happiness is the key to success. If you love what you are doing, you will be successful”, Albert Schweitzer.

Finding meaning

A career is not enough. Your life should have meaning and ultimately you define your own success. It is only worthwhile if it allows you to enhance your life and the lives of others.

There’s no single formula that works for everyone, as life-work balance is different for each of us because we all have different priorities and different lives.

You need to make deliberate choices about which opportunities to pursue and which to decline, rather than simply reacting to events, so that you can engage meaningfully with work, family, and community.

In our 24/7 economy we still need to unwind and to feel in control of our lives. Think about the demands on your current professional and personal life – deciding when, where, and how to be accessible for work is an ongoing challenge, particularly for those with families.

The highly successful Danish businessman Martin Bjergegaard, interviewed by The Guardian, said that to succeed and be happy it’s not necessary to work extra-long hours that don’t allow family time. He suggests that we need to be more flexible. If working from home is sapping your energy, you should look for cheap shared space or divide your living quarters into work and not-work areas. “If it works, fine – if not, change it. Experiment. Don’t live with it.”

work-life balance

Establishing balance is a good idea, and positive thinking enhances a lifestyle that involves more than just the hours put in at work. But, worries about life balance can create even more stress and pressure it means you feel guilty about not spending quality time with the family.

Flex for engagement

Research by the CIPD into flexible working provisions discovered that seven out of 10 employers who offer flexible working arrangements find that it can have a positive effect, helping to support employee retention and improve motivation and productivity. For employees, being able to work flexibly was found to boost health and wellbeing. Workers who are satisfied with their life-work balance are more likely to be engaged with work and less likely to feel pressurised.

Your time is precious and you need to value that time and negotiate what you consider important. Evaluate your preferences, goals and priorities and list your work and general life priorities and the amount of time you spend on each. Could some of that time be better spent doing something more fulfilling?

If you need to make changes, then bite the bullet and take control – a healthier work-life balance will result in greater productivity and motivation.

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Forgotten heroes and being in the right place at the right time

Grace Hopper forgotten heroes

Grace Hopper was the inventor of the computer language COBOL; she designed the compiler, a remarkable innovation which made modern computing possible. The compiler evolved into COBOL, one of the first computer languages, and led to the distinction between hardware and software. Along the way, Grace single-handedly invented the idea of open source software too.

Grace Hopper forgotten heroes

A compiler sequences code to programme computers. My favourite behavioural economist Tim Harford highlighted this invention as one of the 50 Things That Made the Modern Economy. Click here to listen to the podcast.

Kurt Beyer’s book, Grace Hopper and the Invention of the Information Age is available at all good bookshops and online at that well known virtual store.

Harford introduces Grace Hooper as very much like the heroines of the film Hidden Figures, which is about the female African-American mathematicians at NASA, who were critical in putting a man on the Moon, but not recognised for their input with their work being credited to white, male scientists.

Practice makes perfect

The story of Grace has a parallel in Matthew Syed’s story told in his book Bounce: The Myth of Talent and the Power of Practice.

Matthew had a brother, three years older and their home had a double garage which housed a table tennis table. That meant they got lots of practice at table tennis – remember Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hours of practice required to achieve mastery?

Matthew grew up in Reading and his secondary school employed the UK’s national table tennis coach. When a leading Chinese table tennis player defected to the UK guess where he went to live, Reading, of course.

From an early age Matthew had the opportunity to practice and the best coaching. He went on to become the UK’s No 1 table tennis player and to represent GB at the Olympics. Yes, you need the talent and the passion but sometimes it helps to be in the right place at the right time!

So, back to Grace Hopper. She was born in New York in 1906; a curious child who, at the age of seven, decided to find out how an alarm clock worked, and dismantled seven before her mother realised what she was doing and limited her to one clock.

Unusually for the time Grace’s father believed that his daughter should have as good an education as his son received. Grace’s grandfather was a rear-admiral in the Navy, and she wanted to join but couldn’t as the Navy didn’t take female recruits. A talented mathematician and eventually became an associate professor of mathematics at Vassar.

Seize the moment

Then came World War II and Pearl Harbour, when the US entered the war. The men went to war and that presented a real opportunity for women like Grace. The Navy needed mathematicians to calculate speed, distance and trajectories for missiles, these are not complex calculations, but time-consuming for a human armed only with pen and paper.

Grace Hopper forgotten heroesIn 1943 the Navy accepted Grace. She trained at the Naval Reserve Midshipmen’s School at Smith College in Massachusetts, and graduated first in her class in 1944. At around the same time the Harvard Mark 1 computer was invented and the Navy wanted to exploit the new technology so Grace got to work on the Mark I project. She was instrumental in the development “programming sequences”.

The first computers needed individual programming as they were all set up differently. The men who programmed them liked to be the only ones who could communicate with the computers. Grace called them ’the high priests’; she developed sequences of code that allowed programming not only to be efficient but also accessible to all.

Grace thought that anyone should be able to programme and, now, anyone can.

Learning as we go

Grace Hopper was unknown to me until I read Beyer’s book as part of my holiday reading programme. I learned a lot about the development of computers and also why we de-bug computers – the Harvard Mark 1 fell over once because a moth got into it!

Wonderful things holidays; they say travel broadens the mind and that certainly happened in this instance.

So what does this story tells us apart from the fact that some people don’t get the recognition they deserve?

I think it has a lot to do with creating the right conditions to allow talent to emerge and flourish. Also I think we should recognise the power of education – remember Grace’s father and his encouragement.

In essence, though the lesson is, make the most of your opportunities. In fact Grace herself said just that: “The most important thing I’ve accomplished, other than building the compiler, is training young people. They come to me, you know, and say, ‘Do you think we can do this?’ I say, “Try it” and I back ’em up. They need that. I keep track of them as they get older and I stir ’em up at intervals so they don’t forget to take chances”.

Sadly, there is still a lot of discussion about how to get more women into science and technology and I do wonder whether without WWII the US Navy would have accepted Grace.

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Make a mess, make a breakthrough


On Saturday 19th August the NSPCC are holding a Messathon, a 2.5km obstacle course of messy, muddy fun where families get out and get active together. The event is to raise money for the Childline service which offers help and support to thousands of children and young people whenever they need it.

At 10Eighty we are organised types but making a mess can be a lot of fun and we approve of fun. A tidy desk is generally seen as a positive, but could mess actually be good for the mind? Does it help creativity? One of my favourite broadcasters is Tim Harford who claims that if you want to be creative and resilient, you need a little more disorder in your world.

Messy: How to be Creative and Resilient in a Tidy-Minded World celebrates the benefits that messiness adds to our lives: why it’s important, why we resist it, and why we should embrace it instead. Using research from neuroscience, psychology, social science, as well as tales of inspiring people doing extraordinary things, Harford explains that the human qualities we value – creativity, responsiveness, resilience – are integral to the disorder, confusion, and disarray that produce them.


Stop struggling for success

Guardian columnist Oliver Burkeman says of Harford’s work “His liberating message: you’ll be more successful if you stop struggling so hard to plan or control your success”.

Many people seem to feel threatened by anything vague, unplanned, random or hard to describe. We like a script to rely on, a system to follow, being able to categorise and file stuff. But there’s a lot to be said for a loose and experimental approach in some situations. Try it and see what happens!

Columbia management professor Eric Abrahamson and writer David Freedman present the thesis that organisational efforts tend to close off systems to random, unplanned influences that might lead to breakthroughs. Neatness for its own sake, they say, not only has hidden costs in terms of man-hours that could be spent doing other work but it turns out that the highly touted advantages may not even exist. More loosely defined, moderately disorganised people and businesses seem to be more efficient, more robust, and more creative than the obsessively neat.

This brings to mind two ideas we think are worth considering:

  • Just relax – don’t fret about the untidy aspects of much of life, recognise that clutter and disorganisation can be beneficial
  • Off the wall, contrary, messy spontaneity can lead to exciting personal and professional discoveries.

Stop playing it safe

Studies show that there is no need to be ashamed about being messy; Albert Einstein famously joked “if a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, of what, then, is an empty desk a sign?” Kathleen Vohs of the University of Minnesota says that orderly environments “encourage convention and playing it safe”, while people are subconsciously encouraged to think creatively in a messier setting.

A similar study using cluttered desks and shop fronts by researchers at the University of Groningen, Germany, made similar conclusions. “Messy desks may not be as detrimental as they appear to be, as the problem-solving approaches they seem to cause can boost work efficiency or enhance employees’ creativity in problem solving”.

So, don’t worry too much about decluttering, being able to find stuff when you need it is good but being a neat freak may not be as great as you might imagine.

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Life lessons from our feline friends


International Cat Day, a celebration that takes place on August 8 every year was created in 2002 by the International Fund for Animal Welfare.

Every sensible person knows that cats run the interweb thingy but did you know that cats sleep for 70% of their lives and one ran as mayor of Mexico City? The Downing Street cats are famous and take care of the really serious work at the Treasury, Foreign Office and Cabinet Office, with a cohort of ambassacats around the world.

Cats are good for your mental health. A study, by the charity Cats Protection, of more than 600 cat and non-cat-owners (with half attesting to mental health problems) found that 87% of feline lovers saw looking after a cat as having a positive impact on well-being. It’s true that looking after any pet is good for you but there is something about the frequency at which a cat purrs that is particularly relaxing.

life lessons

The other really noticeable thing about cats is that they are generally very self-sufficient, so 10Eighty decided to draw some life lessons from the feline world:

  • Aim high – cats are not tall but they can jump so high that the most trained athletes would be astonished aback – most domestic cats can typically jump up to 6 times their own height. No excuses, if you put your mind to it you can do If you are serious about career success then you need to step up, take your chance to shine and show management that you are confident and capable.
  • Take care of those who take care of you – cats hold people who feed and take care of them in high regard. Don’t let pressure of work cut you off from your friendships; people with a best friend at work are seven times more likely to engage fully in their work.
  • Live in the moment – a cat lives its life without stress and has mastered the art of simplicity. Connect to the present moment and banish stress from your workspace, try meditation. Aim for 15-20 minutes a day, but try to integrate it into everyday life. You can meditate at your desk, in a meeting or going home on the tube.
  • Learn to let go – move on from mistakes, learn from them but don’t obsess over them. Cats do not dwell on their mistakes. Watch a cat and learn how to delegate, but don’t micro-manage as then you stifle creativity, innovation and the autonomy and courage that allows a team to thrive.
  • Be nimble – in the modern workplace you need to be versatile, resilient, agile and able to adapt quickly to new situations and technological change. Success depends on innovative thinking and knowledge sharing, as employees we need to learn to handle ambiguity so we are able to rise to a challenge and perform effectively and productively.

Power naps

Oh, and have a cat nap – a cat will be so happy if you curl up and snooze the day away with them. Not that what you want is top of the cat’s list of priorities, Higgs who runs this author’s household likes to sleep on the laptop when I’m trying to work; it’s nice and warm and it always gets my full attention.

If you need a break a short nap can be refreshing and set you up to tackle your work with renewed vigour. According to the BBC, in Japan dozing in meetings is apparently a sign of status to show off how hard you work. Some bosses are even said to fake it in order to eavesdrop on indiscreet employees – and the employees fake indiscretions to humour them!

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Michael Moran – CEO 10Eighty

A blog about career and talent management, things that might help you with your career and in your job.