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How to get ch* done? Workstyle Awareness Part 2

Thank you for all the passionate emails and feedback on Part 1 of this article,where I explored the concept of Workstyle Awareness and how helping employees build an understanding of their workstyle is possibly one of the best levers to engage a workforce and build resilience to change. My proposition is that supporting employees to develop an awareness of their workstyle and that of their team improves a controllable factor of an organization’s performance.

In Part 2, let’s look at how companies can build workstyle awareness into your workforce.

Building workstyle awareness into a workforce is a guided journey. The journey can start at the top, or in one part of the organization, to pollinate other parts. Change is a great catalyst e.g. a new workplace strategy, an office relocation. However, just as you don’t need to wait for change to build resilience to change, you can embed workstyle awareness as best practice.

It is possible to create a workplace and workspace that is both more cost effective and more productive. However, the linchpin to success is to take time for experiencing and let people make their own sense of the space for themselves. The outcomes you should typically aim for:

  • At the individual level: Each member of your workforce becomes aware of the controllable conditions that allow them to give their best

  • At the team level: Each member of the team becomes aware, not only of their own optimal conditions, but also those of their colleagues, to maximize team performance

  • At the organizational level: Leadership understands how their people operate at their best at an aggregate level and put in place the conditions for people and teams to self-organize in an optimal way

Some guidance on how to embed workstyle awareness in the three levels of the organization:

At the individual level, you will need to create the conditions to guide your workforce to self-reflect which simply is pausing and looking from afar at what is happening or happened.

  • Collecting data and building an ‘on the fly’ view of workstyle awareness is a great way to start. You should expect diverse levels of awareness with regards to workstyle and different levels of engagement with the concept. One of my data points is the answer to the question “how much energy do you have at the end of the day when you go home to enjoy the other part of your life?”

  • Asking people to reflect on what they are doing, with who, where and how it is working best for them and how it could be improved, is another good way. The key here is for people to feel empowered to try and iterate new ways of working while maintaining existing best practices. There are techniques we use to get deeper and or quicker on that level.

  • Embedding mindfulness practice in your workplace is a third, and in my opinion, the best way to accelerate the journey. In the project I described in Part 1, we worked with The Potential Project. They have a global presence and tailored their high end suite of experience to the specificities of our project. The discussions and events facilitated by the employees themselves were a gold mine of best practices.

At the team level, the logic at work is similar: when you know your team better, and you understand diversity better within the team, it creates higher potential for collaboration and innovation. The instruments to get to the outcome are different than for individuals:

  • Review each part of the team work and the space, technology it uses (i.e. emailing, meetings, etc.). Ask ‘how does this work for us?’

  • Spend time early educating by showing, and let people see/feel how they operate. Support experimentation by members of the team, with a safe space to reflect on impacts. Ask ‘What is at stake if we don’t build better workstyle awareness?’

  • Facilitate ongoing discussions about how the experiment is working. Agile teams will find that it sits well in the fabric of their day.

At the organizational level, workstyle awareness is the aggregation of the different parts, teams and individuals, It’s how the ‘machine’ behaves. It creates:

  • The cultural opportunity – This is the biggest leverage provided by workstyle awareness, giving your culture true granularity. It’s the ‘way we do things around here’. It will impact everything from the speed with which your talent acquisition works to the resilience of your teams to change. This is alignment through diversity. This is a differentiator than is very hard to replicate by others.

'The company found that when employees have the support to create a work style that best meets their needs,

they are more engaged while working, committed to the company and able to drive results.'

Jeanne Meister, Forbes 2013

  • The growth opportunity – This is the experiential part of the workstyle awareness journey, to allow workforce to see ongoing learning as adaptation, a self-driven controllable condition to manage energy more efficiently, free up cognitive space, increase wellbeing and performance. This is in part answering PwC’s concerns, elaborated in the ‘People worries of US CEO’, around reskilling and employees’ holistic experience.

‘There is an assumption that we define workstyles but the conversation stays at what’s your role versus your workstyle? What’s your department versus your title? Are you an introvert or an extravert?’ says Dr Caroline Burns Founder and Managing Director of Workplace Revolution, a workplace strategy expert based in Singapore, we interviewed for Part 1.

‘Awareness and learning are very much related concepts in the workplace and are the reason why so many times we can’t get workplace change or transformation projects to work because we are not really taking a learning based approach to change. We are assuming that people are aware of their workstyles but they are not. If you want people to be aware of their own workstyles it requires obviously a degree of education, so you have to get them to start learning and thinking about it. And then you also need a certain level of empowerment, they need to be empowered to feel free to experiment and become aware and that requires trust.’

  • The workplace strategy opportunity - workplace transformation is a costly, time consuming event and if we are willing to use this to go beyond bean bags, quiet rooms and project tables, it can be the best opportunity you will ever get to shift your organization to the next level you have been talking about in the board room. Dr. Burns highlights the point, stating

‘you need to have that awareness to have choice, we know that if you give people more choice in their workplace you increase their engagement but how can you choose if you are not aware? The awareness is the linking elements between having top down trust, education and empowerment. This is the virtuous cycle that makes workplace of the future much more than design.’

Reiterating my proposition: every organization and team can raise their workstyle awareness level, and by doing so create a virtuous circle making them fit for a complex environment while maintaining wellbeing and performance.

What would your key points be from this discussion?

  • Ask your people reluctantly ‘how do you do your best work?’

  • Allow for empowerment in an informed system.

  • See your workplace as an ecosystem constantly evolving.

Tips for implementation:

  • Avoid Does and Don’ts

  • Increase conversation between employees, make it fun different, interesting

  • ASK questions to your people and just listen. Don’t forget temp worker and contractors.

  • Train before, during and after on all the new technologies and services people use every day, leverage peer group learning and online training like Linkedin

  • Propose training on performance and resilience (i.e. mindfulness) specifically relevant to your current organizational strategy would see tremendous return on investment

  • Raise change management capability, as the ‘what’s happening through Change’ will help people make sense of their personal experience in the context of the workplace

  • Onboard new people with workstyle awareness as an element of the onboarding journey as not everyone comes from the same type of workplace and the implicit rules were probably very different somewhere else

  • Support team and individual to measure their experiences, get data

  • Ensure you have wellbeing data in managers KPIs, this is now more common in Australia, but I haven’t heard about an organization doing this in Canada yet. If you do know one, please reach out!

  • You don’t have to get the HR team onboard from the start, make it an initiative led by a specific business area, then make HR a VIP client as soon as possible and keep them in the loop

  • There will always be Grinches and data that say otherwise, but the data for organizations that did it are really worth the ride, so align your workstyle awareness journey to your strategic people plan, focus on champions and work with the cynics and the rest will follow

  • Pilot with a permit to explore and iterate. We recommend leaders facilitated but people lead micro projects and intact teams discussions are powerful tools


I would like to thank Caroline for her precious time and expertise, you can contact her here

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