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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 Careers: Why it’s time to have ‘Connected Conversations’

connected conversations

Earlier this month we held a 10Eighty session on the importance of ‘connected’ career conversations. Why connected? Because a sense of connection in the way we talk about careers helps employees feel cared for, listened to, developed and stretched when they discuss career paths with employers.

Let’s face it – everybody hates the annual performance review process. And recently we’ve been seeing a lot of articles about companies who have replaced the annual review with more regular feedback sessions. There are a number of problems with the traditional performance review – managers are not trained to do them well. Many managers prefer to leave well alone, if they don’t mention career progression to the staff perhaps they won’t ask for development opportunities! This is short-sighted at the very least because most staff want development and growth and will leave to find it elsewhere if necessary.

connected conversations

A big issue for many mangers is that they believe staff always want more – either in terms of promotion, salary or power – and when they have more they will still want more. In fact, many employees don’t want any such thing but they do want recognition and to make best use of their skills and talents.

Focus on the person, not the job

Reward and recognition need to be relevant to the individual otherwise it won’t have the desired effect; some employees need regular reassurance and positive reinforcement and some need only the occasional pat on the shoulder and a ‘thank you’.

A sense of a “connected” series of conversations reaps dividends for the employer, as well as the employee. Apart from anything else this is about making effective use of your resources. If you don’t understand the basic motivations of your people you are not likely to be making best use of their talents.

Using a connected conversation to understand what staff want, what motivates and drives them, what values underpin their workstyle and what aspirations and ambitions they nurture is crucial to building an effective team and a collaborative working culture. The aim is to inspire staff to reflect on their role and commit to a career pathway that benefits individual and employer.

We have a serious problem with employee engagement and productivity in the UK so reviewing the nature of your career conversations to ensure effective career pathways and talent management pays dividends long-term.

Our belief is that every employee is entitled to job satisfaction and career success – and every employer will benefit from helping them get there. Talking to employees about the work they enjoy doing and committing to helping them with personal development and opportunities to meet their career aspirations is the starting point of a more connected conversation – and a more connected business.

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Taking work seriously


Matthew Taylor, head of the Royal Society of Arts (RSA), commissioned by Theresa May to undertake a review of modern employment, calls on policymakers and employers to make all work “good work” – which he defines as “fair and decent, with scope for development and fulfilment”.

The review ‘Good Work: The Taylor Review of Modern Working Practices’ is based on the premise that the pace of change in the modern economy, and particularly in technology and the development of new business models, means we need a concerted approach to work which is both up to date and responsive and based on enduring principles of fairness. The labour market is changing, self-employment is rising, and innovative forms of working are leading us to question established norms.


The notion of ‘good work for all’ is one with which I can empathise. While having employment is itself vital to health and well-being, the quality of people’s work is a major factor in helping them to stay healthy and happy, something which benefits the individual and serves the wider public interest.

Taylor’s report examines the factors that are important to working people:

  • People have different motivations at different points in their career and so what represents quality now may not represent quality ten years later;
  • Pay is only one aspect in determining quality work; for many people fulfilment, personal development, work life balance or flexibility are just as important;
  • People are most likely to enjoy what they do when they have a meaningful say at work.

What is good work?

A good job may be characterised as one where the worker feels a sense of stability, has a say in the workplace, knows that their effort is recognised and rewarded, has the skills to do the job but also to develop their potential, and trusts they will be treated fairly. Being able to structure tasks or decide on the approach to delivery can have a significant impact on the sense of fulfilment people have at work. While some are content with work where they do what they are told, for many, being able to shape work is increasingly important.

We know that engaged employees are proud of their role within the organisation; this is facilitated by a line-of-sight to career success and the organisation’s mission and goals. They are energised and committed to using their talents and discretionary effort to achieve sustainable organisational success. A spirit of teamwork and cooperation makes employees feel proud to be working for their organisation and willing to advocate as ambassadors for it; recognition and praise incentivise effective contribution and effective engagement.

I firmly believe that in the workplace and business environment we need to look at job design and organisational structures from the perspective of the employee. Organisations need to provide career management systems that allow employees to look across the organisation for opportunities and to manage their own careers.

Contracts and choice

There has been a lot of focus on the issue of flexible working and zero hour’s contracts. The ‘gig economy’ has been characterised as exploitative by the media but we should not tar all organisations with the same brush. Working with self-employed, freelance and contract staff often means companies can enhance productivity, profitability and wellbeing. Taylor suggests that too many employers and businesses are relying on zero hours, short-hours or agency contracts, when they could be more forward thinking in considering the impact on their workforce and devising fair and responsible models of employment, which strike the right balance between security, flexibility and innovation.

The self-employed make up nearly one in six UK workers, up 25% in the last ten years. This new way of working is here to stay and perhaps the conversation shouldn’t be whether the gig economy is good for workers, but how we can make it work well for all parties.

A lot of workers want flexible hours and choice the work they accept, both employers and staff increasingly look to non-traditional work arrangements. As long as the relationship is understood and has benefits for both parties it can work well. Taylor points out that individuals should be able to decide which aspects of work are more important to them and which elements they are willing to trade-off.

This new way of working does have many benefits for those who have in-demand skills and good contacts. Research by London Business School, carried out with consultancy Eden McCallum, found that 59% of independent consultants saw their freelance status as a deliberate choice, 92% were moderately or very satisfied with their working life, and 50% were making more money than when they had worked for a large firm.

It is particularly noticeable that freelance staff rather than being loyal to a particular company, tend to be loyal to specific people they work with. They choose to work with those with whom they share common values and objectives, while working independently the self-employed make connections that bring them together to feel part of a wider community. As the concept of the employee changes and the fixed office space disappears skills such as effective communication and effective collaboration become more important.

Lifelong learning and employability

I note not much air time has been given to Taylor’s recommendations around training. As the labour market changes and industries come and go, the importance of lifelong learning is growing. In fact, learning opportunities are much more important than guaranteed hours or benefits as they are the key to long-term employability.

The opportunity to develop and progress should be available to all. Those in atypical or freelance work need to obtain, improve and evidence skills and experience over the course of their working life. Taylor advocates more flexibility in the new apprenticeship scheme launched this year and enhanced Government support for lifelong learning, training and retraining alongside the development by employers and the education sector of a consistent strategic approach to employability.

We see a preference for flexible working and alternative forms of employment and in the future, I believe workers will need to be adaptable and able to learn new skills quickly. To stay employable, we will all need to update and enhance skills with lifelong learning and skills development, with employability as the goal rather than employment.

Organisations will need to adapt them to a more flexible style of working and Taylor maintains that most employers already provide fair and decent work, but the best employees demand meaning and purpose in their work; they thrive and perform to full potential in a culture that resonates with their own values and aspirations. Ensuring that all work is fair and decent with realistic scope for development and fulfilment is no easy task.

Taylor concludes his report by pointing out that good work is something for which Government needs to be held accountable but for which we all need to take responsibility. Organisations must be seen to take good work seriously and be open about their practices and ensure that all workers are able to be engaged and heard.


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Good communications


The Samaritans do great work by offering a safe place to talk any time you like, in your own way about whatever’s getting to you. Really listening to people makes them feel valued and understood. Being able to listen well to others helps you to be someone who others can turn to.

Monday 24 July is Samaritans Awareness Day. Please visit their page and think about helping them.


Good communication skills are really important in the modern workplace and learning to deal with challenging conversations at work is a skill that all managers should acquire.

Talking to the staff

At 10Eighty we advocate meaningful career conversations as a route to a more effective workplace. Managers don’t talk often enough to their 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.

We have a serious problem with employee engagement and productivity in the UK so talking about effective career pathways and talent management with employees will pay dividends long-term. Talking to staff about the work they enjoy doing and committing to helping them with personal development and opportunities to meet their career aspirations is the starting point.

Learn how to communicate clearly and effectively. Focus on developing communication skills that enable you to effectively connect with others, build trust and respect, and feel heard and understood. Effective communication allows you to engage your listeners, convey your point of view clearly, and convince your audience of the validity of what you say. Communication is not just about what you say, but also about how you say it and how you present yourself.

Listening to the staff

Effective communication is not only just about how you convey a message so that it is received and understood by someone in exactly the way you intended, it’s also how you listen to gain the full meaning of what’s being said and to make the other person feel heard and understood.

Don’t focus only on what to say, because effective communication is less about talking and more about listening. Listening well means not just understanding the words or the information being communicated, but also understanding the emotions the speaker is trying to communicate.

Active listening involves paying close attention to what the other person says. Ask questions to clarify what you think you heard, and rephrase what the person says to ensure understanding (“So, what you’re saying is…”).

10Eighty’s checklist of communication skills you need in business:

  • Active listening
  • Empathy
  • Reflection
  • Summarising
  • Understanding

Finally remember that Dale Carnegie once said, “When dealing with people, remember you are not dealing with creatures of logic, but creatures of emotion.”

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Apollo 13: a lesson in leadership style

There’s a key moment in the blockbuster film Apollo 13, when Commander Jim Lovell and his crew are asked to perform an essential task to save their lives. They have already suffered an explosion on board, dangerously high levels of CO2, freezing temperatures and sleep deprivation. Finally, they need to fire up the engines to get themselves to the right place and trajectory to attempt re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere.

Under extreme pressure, the team are all able to operate to the true level of their capability. The crew quickly work out, by brainstorming with Mission Control, that if they keep their view of Planet Earth within the frame of a small triangular cockpit window while burning their last drops of fuel, they will stay on track for survival. In spite of the severe turbulence caused by firing the boosters, Lovell’s crew work together to keep the earth firmly in the window – and return safely home.

Leadership Development Leadership Style

Can your organisation keep it’s “earth” destination firmly in the window? The chaos of the powerful engines feels like the turbulent business environment in which we all operate. And leaders in business, as well as in space, have to be able to adapt to the environment in which they find themselves – and adapt their leadership style to suit the occasion. At 10Eighty we love to give examples that bring leadership to life. And in the film, the leadership team in Mission Control shifts decisively from “command-and-control” to trusting its team on both the ground and in space, to create the answers. To save the life of the crew, scientists are asked to improvise a makeshift carbon dioxide filter from a series of objects contained in the spaceship. The programme director spells out the goal, sets the (very short) timeframe before life becomes death, but trusts his team to show their full capabilities to come up with the answer.

Similarly, a successful leadership team in business today needs to adapt its style to suit all circumstances. We have all had work situations, perhaps not quite so dramatic, where we have felt overwhelmed by the pressures, the volatility and the uncertainty of our environment. And there is a strong tendency amongst leaders, when faced with rapid change, to take back control and direct not only what success “looks like” – but also how it is to be achieved. These leaders perhaps fear their team may not be equal to the uncertainty of a stretching task. Yet the only certainty on offer is that they will never, ever know how capable their team is, unless they are stretched.

So the capability of teams to operate as effectively as possible depends crucially on the awareness of the leader to the style required of a given set of circumstances. Sometimes this means a long series of obstacles and opportunities coming at high speed, for which highly collaborative hearts and minds and skill sets are required. In other times, a reversion to command-and-control leadership may be more appropriate. The point is that the modern Everyday Leader’s role is to know the difference. The very best organisations have these leaders – they stay connected to the purpose driving them, are able to assess quickly the changes in their environment and then adapt their leadership style to let the capabilities of their teams flourish.

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Workplace skills for all

World Youth Skills Day

Young people are almost three times more likely to be unemployed than adults and exposed to lower quality jobs, labour market inequality, and long and insecure school-to-work transitions. In addition, women are more likely to be underemployed and under-paid, and to undertake part-time jobs or work under temporary contracts.

July 15 is World Youth Skills Day, a United Nations initiative on the theme of “Skills Development to Improve Youth Employment” aimed at widening understanding as to what works to support young people in today’s and tomorrow’s labour market through training and skills development.

World Youth Skills Day

We think everyone needs to plan their career and ensure they maintain their employability. For young people good career advice and the ability to focus on continuous development are crucial.

Our young people are most employable when they have good general education and training, basic and transferable skills, including teamwork, problem-solving, information and communications technology and communication and language skills. In other words a skillset that allows them to adapt to the changing world of work.

Learning to learn

At 10Eighty we champion continuous learning and curiosity as key drivers for a successful career. Clearly training needs depend on career choice and sector but basic skills are something that our education system should focus on:

  • Good learning habits that empower one to plan and attain learning goals as autonomous learners in a workplace culture where lifelong learning is essential
  • Communication skills – effective listening, observation and literacy skills that facilitate interaction and networking and the ability to explain one’s ideas clearly
  • Teamwork is an obvious workplace skill in a culture where we all need to cooperate and collaborate
  • Problem-solving and analytical skills to assess information and situations in order to as to plan work and address challenges

Securing the right skills are important to our economy and, sadly, skills shortages have long been a problem for British industry and services. In a globalised economy employers seek candidates with good vocational and technical skills. A report by McKinsey (2012), collating survey data from nine countries, found that less than half of employers (43 per cent) were able to find the skills they needed in entry-level workers.

Learning agility

World Youth Skills DayThe best way to acquire and build on good skills is while working. But not all employers are prepared to train their people. In an ideal workplace both individuals and organisational training systems would work on building skills for the future.

It’s smart to remember that we are only as relevant as our current skillset and have a responsibility to connect, share, communicate, and learn so as to be productive in career terms. An employee needs to be able to adapt to market demands and to be innovative in a competitive and rapidly evolving environment.

Learning agility is a crucial skill. Research suggests that “People who are learning agile: Seek out experiences to learn from; enjoy complex problems and challenges associated with new experiences because they have an interest in making sense of them; perform better because they incorporate new skills into their repertoire. A person who is learning agile has more lessons, more tools, and more solutions to draw on when faced with new business challenges.” (Hallenbeck et al, July 2011).

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Here come the Everyday Leaders

Everyday Leaders & Leadership Development

It’s time to bring leadership development to life. As a subject, it can be hard to talk or write about, because every organisation has its own story. It wants its leaders to behave in a certain and unique way, while the leaders themselves will understandably have their own ideas for their development. This brings a sense of complexity, yet it also heralds a new and exciting era for those who get it right. The new utopia is embodied in what we at 10Eighty call Everyday Leaderswe’ve launched a page on it on our website today.

A true Everyday Leader understands what the organisation wants, has clear personal plans that balance the needs of the business and their own careers and, crucially, knows how to embed good leadership habits in themselves and others through what they say and do – not just for today and tomorrow, but for the rest of their working lives.

Here Come The Everyday Leaders

Everyday Leaders are a reflection of the cult of the individual we see in society. As consumers, we are now so used to the personalisation of sales to our specific needs that perhaps we only truly appreciate it on the increasingly rare occasions when it is not on offer – choice is now the expectation, not the aspiration. Yet the personalisation of leadership development has lagged a long way behind, more talked about than practised. This is because the traditional views of leadership development have become bogged down in the premise that there is a single “right” way to lead and succeed – and that this can be applied successfully in a single intervention.

Today’s truth is very different. Leadership development can only be brought to life by understanding the unique context to which it needs to be applied, the personal development that each leader needs and wants and the assurance that leadership learning is becoming fully embedded through daily practice.

To understand the context is essential. There are perfectly good leadership models to work with, as long as the organisation can use them to state clearly what it is that it uniquely wants from its leaders. The resulting customised leadership development programmes need to match strategic needs and be delivered in a style that fits the culture.

Then the successful delivery of leadership development requires a careful balance between business needs and the personal needs of each leader. The latter in turn needs to develop the self-awareness to know how to apply their development productively both to their job and their career.

Finally, the Everyday Leader is only truly born when learning is embedded by daily practice. This means action plans that embed new skills and knowledge – and which encourage organisations to make it easy for them to do so.

Leadership development has never felt so complex – yet neither has it felt so rewarding to us when delivered well. Go and have a look at our website to find out why the potential for those Everyday Leaders who get it right has never been more exciting.

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Not tied to a dress code


Alexis-Charles-Henri Clérel de Tocqueville (1805-1859) the French political thinker and historian said that “In a democracy, the people get the government they deserve”.

One does rather wonder what we’ve done to deserve the current crop of politicians gracing Westminster. Last week there was a small revolution in the House of Commons when Tory MP Peter Bone pointed out to the Speaker that Lib Dem MP Tom Brake was asking a question but not wearing a tie. Mr Bone interviewed on Radio 4 said he was “not really one to talk about dress sense” but he is renowned for his colourful ties and feels that parliamentary traditions should be upheld.

Mr Speaker Bercow, a sensible man, has decreed that MPs should dress in business-like attire but that ties are not necessary. To laughter he declared that there was “absolutely no obligation on female members not to wear ties, if they so choose”.


Blood to the brain

We can only hope that this relaxation of sartorial standards will mean an improved flow of oxygen-rich blood to the brains our politicians. If discarding the necktie leads to better decision-making then we should all be in favour of the decision. Ties are largely obsolete in the average office, still worn in the City, but often only donned for client meetings and formal social events. Our MPs are, as usual, behind the trend in ditching the neckwear during the steamy summer conditions prevailing this year.

The Telegraph suggests that proponents of the tie’s place in the office assert that ties neatly demarcate work and leisure time. The theory is that the presence of the tie serves as a reminder to knuckle down and focus on the job at hand. Conversely, loosening the tie after work signals that one can relax.

Times are changing and Sadiq Khan took his oath of office as the mayor of London in Southwark Cathedral in a navy suit, white shirt and no tie. The previous week, he and his opponent, Zac Goldsmith, were pictured on the cover of The London Evening Standard going to vote in blue suits, white shirts and no ties.

Australia’s Executive Style magazine suggests that the relaxation of dress codes reflects the new economic power structure, one that celebrates the technical entrepreneurial class and the shadow banking sector, both of whose casual style has had an increasing influence on professional dress codes, redefining what success looks like in the popular imagination – think Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg or Richard Branson.

Practicality and standards

I should, perhaps, declare an interest here as I was the author of a one-man campaign to drop the requirement to wear a tie at the Capital Club when I was a member. I notice that the Mayfair clubs have not followed suit, the Carlton Club still warns that gentlemen are expected to wear a tailored jacket and formal trousers together with a collared shirt and tie (no cravats). Exceptions are made for those wearing national costume.

Wikipedia says that the modern necktie spread by Europe traces back to the time of the Thirty Years’ War (1618–1648) when Croatian mercenaries wore traditional small, knotted neckerchiefs to keep the neck of their jacket closed. The old school tie brigade have a lot to answer for!

It’s hard to imagine that a strip of cloth could do much to add to effective or successful performance at work. The key to success is how we make decisions and making the right decisions; what you are wearing has no real bearing on anything, but perception is everything and looking the part is sometimes important.

I would like to point out that doctors are discouraged, by the BMA, from wearing ties on ward rounds as they may spread disease. Studies have found that about a third of doctors’ ties are contaminated with Staphylococcus aureus bacteria – and that up to 70% of physicians admit to never cleaning their ties.

At which point I could put in a plea for the bow tie – some university professors prefer them because they don’t fall into soup bowls or interfere with the use of engineering equipment. National Bow Tie Day is at the end of August should you feel like trying this smaller, neater option. Don’t wear a pre-tied bow though, it’s important to maintain some standards after all!


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When the going gets tough, get your strengths going


Difficult conversations are inevitable – and the workplace is no different from other areas of life. To ask for a pay rise, let someone go or resolve a dispute are tough issues to talk about – and to do so effectively means having the right approach. At 10Eighty, we believe that understanding and playing to your strengths is an essential underpinning to not only surviving, but also thriving through having difficult conversations.

So what is a difficult conversation? We are indebted to the excellent book “Difficult Conversations: How to discuss what matters most” by Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton and Sheila Heen of the Harvard Negotiation Project for the answer. A difficult conversation is basically anything that we find hard to talk about. As the authors put it: “Anytime we feel vulnerable or our self-esteem is implicated, when the issues at stake are important and the outcome uncertain, when we care deeply about what is being discussed or about the people with whom we are discussing it, there is potential for us to experience the conversation as difficult.”


Every difficult conversation is in fact made up of 3 different conversations interweaving simultaneously. These are the:-

The Actual Conversation. This comprises the …

  • Truth assumption: It is tempting for us all to feel that we are right and others are wrong.
  • Intention invention: We believe we already know the other persons’ intention, based on our feelings (i.e. you’ve made me angry).
  • Blame game: The assumption is all about the fault of the other side (i.e. you did something wrong).

The Feelings Conversation. This is because …

  • Feelings are at the core of difficult conversations.
  • How you manage your feelings will define how the conversations go.

The Identity Conversation. This raises 4 key questions …

  • What is the conversation saying about me?
  • Does the conversation match how I see myself?
  • How will this conversation impact on me?
  • How do I feel about myself?

How we use our underlying strengths will define our success in reconciling these 3 strands. This is because playing to our strengths allows a more positive mind-set in the face of difficult conversations, which means more constructive conversations and more positive outcomes. The Strengthscope tool used successfully by 10Eighty with clients shows us that strengths that are directly applicable to having successful difficult conversations. These are:-

  • Thinking: Where we apply your intellect, as well as how we go about gathering and using information to make decisions at work.
  • Emotional: Where we make sense of, express and manage our emotions in the way we perform our work.
  • Relational: Where we establish and maintaining productive relations with others for personal need satisfaction and/or to achieve our work goals.
  • Execution: Where we focus on how we deliver results, including both what is delivered and how it is delivered.

The positive psychology of playing to our strengths in the face of difficult conversations makes for better relationships in work, as well as in life. The research evidence is clear. When employees are encouraged to play to their strengths, an organisation enjoys: a 73% improvement in employee engagement; a 44% increase in customer retention scores; and a 90% of employees feeling more positive and solutions-oriented.

Difficult conversations are inevitable. So when the going gets tough, let’s get our strengths going.

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Rethinking the career experience


We recently took part in an online event run by our New Zealand partners Fuel50 and IBM to consider the disrupted career experience and how we might make work more rewarding for employees.

Career paths have changed and employees expect to take ownership of their career development rather than relying on traditional career models. The career ladder has disappeared and we expect a more flexible and tailored career path. The career landscape has changed and given that 81 percent of employees feel their skills are not put to best use at work the new employment model needs to offer a more rewarding employee experience.

As consumers we demand personalised services and product, tailored to our requirements, not one size fits all. The same applies to the work experience. We want careers that align with our values, talents and passions.

Josh Bersin talks about the ‘Uberization’ of jobs – we work when and for whom we want to work. Similarly, organisations are becoming much more project-focused, applying resources (people and capital) to specific opportunities, where agility is the name of the game. Gone are the traditional career paths, and CEB report that employees are spending more time at the coalface, with steeper rises in responsibility, less frequently and with consequent risks of failure.


Agile career development requires solutions that drive personalisation and implementation of careers that put employees in the driving seat. Business needs a career growth mind-set and to enable career growth should empower managers to become coaches and career champions who can craft an engaging career experience for their teams.

To repeat, this trend echoes the ways we do business now, the employee experience is viewed as being akin to the customer experience as we recognise that in the modern workplace our best staff want individual career propositions that allow them to play to their talents, values and passions.

Recognising employee needs

In the new environment breadth and depth of experience and development are more important than a vertical rise up the old-style career ladder. Employees seek roles that allow them to explore new avenues, to broaden their perspectives and to engage with fresh challenges. Interestingly, Fuel 50’s research shows that 81% of employees feel that they don’t make full use of their talents at work. Employees see lateral moves as facilitating their overall development and in a flatter organisation model they may spend longer runs of time in lateral moves and, from time to time, steeper upward rises where leadership balances a more complex workforce through a changing business environment.

In real terms this means following the advice of the Head of Employee Experience at General Electric and endeavouring to “See[ing] the world through the eyes of our employees”.

An emphasis on employee engagement means a focus on career strategies that work to develop and retain and engage the majority of your workforce.

Traditionally business has put the focus on hiring which is perceived as a bigger issue than a good work experience; it would be smart to refocus on leveraging the talents of what you have got. Research shows there is a much greater chance of success by promoting from within, than hiring externally. It may be dated, but SHL research showed the coefficient of correlation between successful interview and successful job performance 0.3, which is barely better than chance.

The new model is all about personal enablement not performance review. It is about giving employees the power to manage their development. The new workplace is forward looking, seeking out new opportunities rather than a focus on past performance I am minded to draw an analogy from the world of finance, management accounts only tell where you have come from, cash flow forecasts tell you what is going to happen in the future.

Engagement surveys consistently show that key drivers for employees are career opportunities closely followed by learning opportunities. Other engagement drivers such as feeling valued, open and honest communication, and trust in leadership are, it can be argued, about the personal agenda: “What will the organisation to do for me, how will it make me more employable?”

10Eighty and Fuel50 believe that world class career practices empower employees to maintain a career growth mindset, enabling self-directed growth aided by a manager who acts as a career coach.

Essentially, the organisation needs the technological infrastructure that enables employees to identify their values, talents and passions, allowing them to look across the organisation and identify fellow employees who share those traits so as to facilitate career conversations around opportunities and the development required to reach career goals.

Organisations should adopt this approach not just because their employees want it, but because this is how to ensure competitive advantage in today’s economy.

This is perfectly characterised by a quote from Marianne Jackson, CHRO at EBay: “individualised career propositions are for the purpose of business velocity”.

Aim to build a careers framework that provides a better sense of involvement and belonging and offers open and honest two-way communication. It’s a two-sided coin – if we can build career pathways that provide profitable growth for the employee in terms of their career development, and profitable growth for the business then we are getting it right

You can check out how just your organisation compares to these best class career practices. Take a look at the 10Eighty CareerCENTRE

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Building an employee-centred organisation


There is a case to be made for organisations to be more employee-centric; in a rapidly changing workplace and business environment we need to look at job design and organisational structures from the perspective of the employee. Just as consumers increasingly seek tailored, bespoke solutions, so knowledge workers demand just such an approach to their work and career path.

High performance, committed employees want jobs that are sculpted to their particular requirements. Job design, role content, work environment, hours are all areas where people want to have more control and autonomy. Good employees want to map a career path with their chosen organisation; they want managers who give them a voice and they want to see how their contribution fits into the bigger organisational picture.

This is not just the case with regards to high value jobs; the imposition of the living wage will end wage differentiation for many High Street retailers. The gig economy is revolutionising the way services are delivered in hospitality, logistics as well as management consulting; technological development and innovative design are disrupting everything from banking to waste management.


Congruence and connection

Where employees feel that there is a high level of congruence between their professional and personal priorities there is a greater likelihood of success and engagement.

Employer brand is increasingly important as organisations realise the necessity to present well in the marketplace and provide a positive candidate and employee experience. The rise of social media makes it is easier than ever to connect and share online. Social platforms have transformed office life and personal career management. Organisations can’t escape this online scrutiny, and they can’t control it; this means that softer, intangible benefits are more important in attraction and retention. Glassdoor provides an up to minute review of the candidate experience, and human behaviour being what it is former employees are likelier to write a negative review than a good one.

There is a greater focus on employability, partly because individual employees are finding it is much easier to source new opportunities using social media, and because their expectations for personal growth and career development are increasingly important. The best employees are not willing to suffer a poor employer offering. An organisation’s ability to make their employees more employable will increasingly become a point of competitive advantage.

Rather than top down manpower planning the organisation will need to provide career management systems that allow employees to look across the organisation for opportunities. Self-aware employees demand clearly defined and aligned goals, with open and flexible career paths, learning and development plans and the provision of tools that facilitate career planning. Organisations will need to enable their employees to manage their careers.

Empower performance and growth

The organisation will need to focus on talent management strategies that empower employees, inspire high performance, facilitating and rewarding development and skills acquisition, to enhance business outcomes. Your best people want career growth and if those opportunities don’t exist internally, they will look elsewhere and eventually leave.

Skills shortages and talent pipeline are serious issues for organisations in every sector. A robust employer brand attracts staff who are engaged in their work, devoting ‘discretionary effort’ to their role and an organisation that they care about. It’s a fundamental measure of employee engagement – employees who feel proud of the organisation and what it does.

This is the employer brand that allows people to identify with the organisation, and to develop an affinity with organisational values and objectives. Enhanced employability is not sufficient, employees demand meaning and purpose in their work; they thrive and perform to full potential in a culture that resonates with their own values and aspirations.

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Director Liz featured in HR Grapevine article on leadership scandals


We wanted to let you that our Director Liz Sebag-Montefiore is featured in the May edition of HR Grapevine in an article about tackling leadership scandals.

Titled ‘Keep Calm and Call HR: How do you handle a leadership scandal?’ it debunks the ‘any publicity is good publicity’ myth. Sometimes scandals can have a lasting or devastating impact on businesses.


Often it’s not the scandal itself – it’s the way the scandal is managed that can make the difference. And HR is on the front-line of damage control.

Quotes from a number of HR experts are peppered throughout the article including Tim Mitchell, Head of HR at Alliance Automotive Group and Elizabeth Divver, Head of HR at the Big Issue… and our very own Liz who says that employers cannot simply call on HR and expect them to work magic to make the problem go away. She suggests a deep dive into corporate culture could be the way forward.

Read the article in full

If you would like to read ‘Keep Calm and Call HR’ in full just click on this link or on the image above.

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Learning while earning


Last week we took part in a Learning at Work Week (LAWW) event with Disney staff. We’re well aware that it can be really difficult to find time to learn, as well as work. You probably have a host of other commitments, commuting eats into your time and day to day responsibilities are pressing. You may feel you should be doing ‘real’ work and learning may not seem to be a priority.

Two years ago consulting firm CBRE suggested an estimated 50% of jobs would be redundant by 2025 due to technological innovation. Ongoing education and skill development are essential in an environment of economic uncertainty and disruptive technologies. At 10Eighty we firmly believe that continuous learning should be a priority for everyone, the fast pace of technological change and the imperative for creativity and innovation in the workplace make the issue of learning and development a serious matter if you want to keep your career on track.

Aim to learn everything you can at work, as well as investing your own time and commitment to funds to subjects that interest you. Take up offers of training, work with a mentor, volunteer for projects, ask for secondments or shadowing assignments, learn what your co-workers do, and learn how the various parts of the organisation contribute to the end-product. Demonstrate your commitment, willingness to learn and your interest in self-improvement. Review your career regularly, if you find that you haven’t learned anything new at work in the last 18 months you should probably be seeking a new role that will challenge you and enable you to expand your skillset.

Invest in yourself

It’s a question of investment in yourself and your onward progress and development. You may want to undertake a course of study for a specific reason, such as promotion or career change; or, you may pursue learning to broaden your horizons and satisfy your intellectual curiosity. Set yourself a goal, whether it’s a qualification, or a smaller more manageable goal of mastering a new skill or tackling a new subject.

I’m inclined to think that studying anything at all is good for you. In almost any line of work, a term or two spent studying book-keeping or accounting will stand you in good stead. You may never have to balance the books but the knowledge you gain will give you a real insight into the nuts and bolts of business. Commercial awareness and a good grasp of financial basics are invaluable whether you are a creator, a salesperson or a service provider; of course, if you work in accounts it’s probably worth considering a marketing or communications course. A good grounding gives you the basis on which to build success in your chosen career path.learning-while-earning

You may choose to unlock your potential by learning something unrelated to your ‘day’ job. The very act of applying yourself to your study goal is a means to leveraging your motivation and working towards the best you can be. Learning to play guitar, studying archaeology, undertaking a language course or an art class could be fun, frustrating, relaxing or enlightening but as you learn you will open new perspectives on your life and the choices you make. The chances are that, whatever you study, you will learn things about yourself that contribute to your personal development and enhance your performance at work as well as in other areas.

Learning is good for you

Add to that the massive bonus that learning is good for your health – reading reduces stress levels, learning offsets cognitive decline and improves memory function. The habit of learning, of being interested in the world around you, indulging your curiosity and maintaining an open-minded attitude to new ideas and ways of doing things will all enhance your creativity, agility and employability.

Focus on self-investment and find or make the time to learn. Whether you want a qualification or to explore the world it has never been easier to source learning materials. Books, online courses, MOOCs, professional development programs, podcasts, and online resources are often free and accessible at all hours, so you can schedule learning opportunities into the busiest of days in a way that suits you. You can learn almost anything via YouTube and TEDTalks will inform you about an astonishing range of topics and specialist subjects.

Share and enjoy

An important things to remember about learning at work is the value of knowledge sharing. Try to encourage others to learn at work as well. You could do a presentation to your peers about what you’ve learnt, or share your own advice on continuous learning.

Expand your horizons by networking in order to learn more about your industry and competitors and share your own insights with colleagues and peers. Make a commitment to contact others who work in your sector, for a competitor, and meet to share market intelligence and industry knowledge. It’s all part of building your brand as an employee who is serious about improvement and progress. If you are ambitious it’s important to be seen to be making the most of your opportunities, sharing your expertise and exploring new avenues.

Learning is important in the face of changing ideas and new innovations if you want to be in the forefront of organisational change. You can’t rely on what you already know, the workplace is changing and long-term stability is rare, you may need to switch to a new field, so upgrading your skills is imperative in adjusting to new situations. An enlightened employer will help staff with continuous learning but you may have to rely on your own resources and take responsibility for your learning.

Education is not something that ends when you leave college it’s an ongoing adventure.

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Building a culture people love


We wanted to tell you about about a new video created by our partners Strengthscope® called ‘Building a culture people love’.

Why is it when we think about doing something better we focus on those things we don’t do well? There appears to be something in the human psyche that leads us to focus on deficits. All too often feedback at school was pointing out what we didn’t do.

So here’s the thing, we at 10Eighty believe it is all about playing to your strengths. Having a growth mindset is all about what we can do. Positive feedback encourages us to take risks, to try new things.

Playing to your strengths improves your confidence, being confident is much more likely to produce positive outcome which in turns builds confidence. It is a virtuous circle.

So watch the video.

And see what a growth mindset and playing to your strengths can do for you.

Find out more

Strengthscope® is the most comprehensive and innovative cloud-based strengths profiling system to energize peak performance at work and we are working with them to revolutionise culture change across the globe.

Click here to find out how Strengthscope® could support your organisation.

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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.