Category Archives: Organisational Culture

The Adaptive Skills and Behaviours Required to Succeed in Future Work Environments

There is a lot being said about the future of work, and what this means for the type of skills, attitudes, and behaviours we will require to succeed.  With this future already upon us, it is important that we pick up our pace  of change, and look to build capability that helps us to adapt, thrive and succeed within an ever changing world.  Best selling author, Jacob Morgan, describes in his latest book ‘The Future of Work’ five trends shaping the future of work;

  1. New behaviours
  2. Technology
  3. Millennials
  4. Mobility
  5. Globalisation

These trends are bringing a dramatic shift in attitudes and ways of working; new behaviours, approaches, and workplace expectations.  Whilst many of us are sensing these rapid changes, we aren’t necessarily sure why these changes are happening, what they mean, or how they will impact us.

As Jacob Morgan says:

“The disruption of every industry is also causing a bit of unrest as people struggle to define where they fit or if they will be obsolete.  It’s forcing us to adapt and change to stay relevant while giving rise to new business models, new products, new companies, new behaviours, and new ways of simply existing in today’s world”.

So, the burning questions are:  what exactly do these changes look like for employees, managers, and organisations?  And, what skills, attitudes, and behaviours do we require to succeed?

What we do know is that modern employees are more self-directed, collaborative in their approach, and want to shape and define their own career paths instead of having them predefined for them.  They are continually seeking out learning opportunities that fit with their personal purpose and professional aspirations, and are looking for development opportunities that benefit them holistically as a ‘whole person’.  They seek the skills, confidence and healthy mind-set to challenge the status quo, to think on their feet, and to continually adapt within highly fluid and ever changing organisational environments.  They are looking to learn and develop emotional and social intelligence;  to work within increasingly networked communities;  to lead, collaborate, innovate and share.

Consistent with the above is five crucial behaviours, identified by Morgan, as being required by employees in the modern workplace;

  1. Self-Direction and Autonomy – to continually learn, and stay on top of important tasks within manager-less organisations
  2. Filter and Focus – to be able to manage the cognitive load associated with increasing amounts of pervasive information
  3. Embracing Change – to continually adapt to new working practices whilst demonstrating resilience and healthy mind-sets
  4. Comprehensive Communication Skills – to support collaborative work practices, and to communicate ideas and provide feedback succinctly
  5. Learning to Learn – to be willing to adopt a pro-learning mind-set; to step outside comfort zones, reflect, and make meaning of experiences.

Organisations also need to adapt to the future of work to support these trends and demands, and ensure they are attracting, developing, and retaining top talent.  A good place to start is by fostering and embracing the principles of organisational learning.  Peter Senge suggested in his book ‘The Fifth Discipline: The Art of the Learning Organisation’ that in order for an organisation to remain competitive within the complex and volatile business environments that we find ourselves operating they must build their capacity for continually transforming.  This involves developing cultures that;

  • Encourage and support employees in their pursuit of personal mastery (the discipline of continually clarifying and deepening our personal vision, and seeing reality objectively)
  • Encourage employees to challenge ingrained assumptions and mental models
  • Foster genuine commitment and enrolment through shared visions.

Here at OPRA we are developing a carefully selected set of best-of-breed, soft skill learning and development programmes to help individuals and organisations embrace these current and future trends. Our programmes are designed to equip professionals with the emotional intelligence, healthy thinking, learning agility, collaborative team behaviours, and motivation required to demonstrate exceptional performance within the modern workplace environment.  We have grounded our programmes on the principles of positive psychology, and an understanding that REAL learning and engagement only occurs when self-awareness, participation, and a tangible sense of progress are present. Therefore, and in light of this, all our programmes are designed to;

  • Develop self-insight and raise awareness of individual and collective strengths
  • Utilise proven research based content, delivered by expert and accredited practitioners
  • Provide access to on-going professional coaching opportunities to further deepen learning
  • Incorporate social learning methodologies to encourage and enable collaboration and sharing
  • Provide applied on-the-job challenges and reflection to embed and sustain behavioural changes.

Watch this space for further announcements about OPRA Develop over the coming months. In the meantime, if you would like to discuss how OPRA can support your learning and development with proven, researched based soft-skill development programmes, then please contact your local OPRA office:

Wellington: 04 499 2884 or

Auckland: 09 358 3233 or

Christchurch: 03 379 7377 or

Australia: +61 2 4044 0450 or

Singapore: +65 3152 5720 or


Welcome Onboard. Tips for Staff Recruitment by Dr. Sarah Burke

I estimate there will be a lot of ‘first days’ for staff in January 2014, if the volume of assessment testing for recruitment that we did leading up to Christmas is anything to go by.  But consider these facts:

•       Half of all senior external hires fail within 18 months in a new position;

•       Almost 1/3 of all new hires employed for less than 6 months are already job searching;

•       According to the US Dept of Labour, a total of 25% of the working population undergoes a career transition each year.

This level of churn comes at a cost. Estimates of direct and indirect costs for a failed executive-level hire can be as high as $2.7 million (Watkins, 2003).  And for each employee who moves on, there is many others in the extended network – peers, bosses, and direct reports whose performance is also influenced.  One of the important ways that HR can positively impact on this level of churn is through the strategic use of a process known as onboarding.

What is Onboarding?

Employee onboarding is the process of getting new hires positively adjusted to the role, social, and cultural aspects of their new jobs as quickly and smoothly as possible. It is a process through which new hires learn the knowledge, skills, and behaviours required to function effectively within an organisation. The bottom line is that the sooner we can bring people up to speed in their roles and wider organisation, the more expediently they will contribute.

Conventional wisdom is that a new hire will take approximately 6 months before they can meaningfully contribute (Watkins, 2003).  I suspect that for most organisations, a 6 month lag time before seeing a return on a new hire is untenable, particularly in the NZ economy when 97.2% of us employ less than 20 staff (MBIE Fact Sheet, 2013).  One of the important ways that HR can accelerate the adjustment process for new hires is by having an onboarding programme that is given a profile inside the business, and supported by key staff.

While the specifics of an onboarding programme can vary organisation to organisation, the below is offered as a guide for HR managers to proactively manage their onboarding efforts.  Please review my presentation Welcome Onboard for more direction in terms of supporting staff in the initial days, weeks, and months of their employment.

 Top Tips for Supporting Staff Onboarding:

  • Make good use of the pre-start to get the workspace organised, to schedule key meetings, and for sharing useful organisational and team information (i.e., team bio’s, blogs, key organisational reading).
  • Give your onboarding programme a brand/logo/tagline that communicates the experience and gives it importance/profile.
  • Customise your onboarding programme to reflect individual need; onboarding is not a one-size fits all.
  • Personalise the first day, including a formal announcement of entry
  • Create an onboarding plan detailing key projects, firsts, objectives, and deliverables that are expected by your new hire.
  • Monitor progress over time using milestones; 30 – 60 – 90 – 120 days up to 1 year post-entry.
  • Identify 2-3 quick wins that your new hire can take responsibility for in order to build credibility and establish momentum (note: a quick win must be a meaningful win, not necessarily a big win).
  • Involve your new hire in projects that will require working cross-functionally.
  • Include organisational role models as mentors and coaches.  Remember a relatively small set of connections is far better than a lot of superficial acquaintances.
  • Be prepared to provide initial structure and direction to your new hire.  Remember, most people if thrown in the deep end to ‘sink or swim’ will sink.
  • Use technology to facilitate the onboarding process, including the flow of information.

Healthy Thinking

According to Wikipedia, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is a psychotherapeutic approach that addresses dysfunctional emotions, maladaptive behaviours and cognitive processes. CBT achieves these outcomes through a number of goal-oriented, explicit systematic procedures. Cognitive behavioural therapy is one of the most widely used clinical interventions. It is thought to be effective for the treatment of a variety of conditions related to mood, anxiety, and personality. Given the success and widespread application of CBT it is surprising that it is rarely referred to as the basis or a component of work-place training or intervention. This is even more so surprising given that so many aspects of various training courses have elements of CBT and in particular the key premise that changing maladaptive thinking leads to change in affect and behaviour.

Many practitioners steer clear of using psychological terms to describe their interventions. This is somewhat of a shame as it leads to a situation where watered-down interventions result. The reality is that there are a range of quality techniques that have their genesis in the CBT movement and have huge application to improving workplace relations and work place productivity.

One workplace intervention that is explicit about links to CBT is Healthy Thinking, as developed by Dr. Tom Mulholland. Healthy thinking, or HT as it is commonly known, is at its core a reframing technique. The programme teaches participants how to become more aware of the impact of their thinking on their emotional state and how this leads to behaviour.  The programme also has a range of simple to remember and simple to use cognitive cues that people can use to evaluate their thinking process and whether it is indeed a help or hindrance.

As with all the products and training that OPRA promote we tend to adopt an approach of trialling internally first. Our motto is that unless we are convinced of a solution’s merits it is unlikely to have value to our clients.

While I had many insights that I could share from my experience with HT the one that I found most salient is that for psychology to have an impact it must be useable. HT works not only because it is in part based on aspects of CBT but that Dr. Tom has packaged it in such an easy to remember framework.  Being able to identify what type of unhealthy thinking I often resort to, and have an antidote at the ready has been invaluable for being able to have a positive impact on my thinking. Being able to TWIG (an mnemonic for processing a thought before allowing it to drive emotion and behaviour) ensures that I now have a process by which to evaluate whether a thought is useful or needs to be replaced. The removal of ‘Moan-Zones’  (places to have a whinge!) in our office has resulted in a much more positive working environment.

While the concepts of CBT may be perceived as the domain of psych professionals I strongly encourage all our clients to take a look Healthy Thinking and identify applications to improving workplace performance. Whether it is a training course, the e-learning or just a book on how to be a healthier thinker I’m confident that there are lessons that all our clients will find enhancing. Click here for more information on Healthy Thinking.

How Does Emotional Intelligence Relate to Teams?

How does emotional intelligence relate to teams?

Emotional intelligence (EI) can be defined as the ability to recognise, understand and manage the emotions of oneself, of others and of groups. The concept of EI and its contribution to the effectiveness of organisations is now well researched and supported. However, as Druskat and Wolff (2001) point out this has generally been discussed in terms of the impact at the individual level and the reality is that most of the work we do and the decisions we make is in teams. Because overall performance relies so much on team cohesiveness and awareness, enhancing emotional intelligence across the team is crucial but what does this look like and how does it differ from strategies aimed at enhancing individual emotional intelligence?

The key differences between the concepts of individual and group emotional intelligence as defined by Daniel Goleman suggest that someone with high emotional intelligence is aware of emotions and able to regulate them both inwardly and outwardly. However, just because a team is made up of emotionally intelligent people does not make for an emotionally intelligent group. A team must not only consider the emotions of the individuals within that group, but they must also be mindful of the emotions of the group as a whole, as well as the emotions of other groups in a broader context. According to Druskat and Wolff, establishing emotionally intelligent group norms where specific attitudes and behaviours become habits that enable trust, group identity and group efficacy is the answer for creating emotionally intelligent groups and ensuring functional team performance.

There are a range of potential strategies for enabling emotionally intelligent behaviour in teams at these three levels. Interpersonal understanding and perspective taking were two strategies that Druskat and Wolff discussed as ways that people can become more aware of their team members’ perspectives and feelings at the individual level. Interpersonal understanding refers to a team’s ability to pick up certain behaviours of its members and recognise the cause of them.  Perspective taking refers to the way teams stop and take the time to consider the perspectives of everyone as opposed to simply going with the majority. An emotionally intelligent team would query if there were any perspectives they had not yet heard or thought through fully. Therefore, a group norm of interpersonal understanding and sensitivity is established and helps to nurture trust and a sense of group identity among its members.

While establishing these norms at the individual level is important, many teams can struggle to recognise emotions at the group level. In a study of effective teams, the authors found that having a group awareness of the team’s strengths and weaknesses and means of interaction were critical in facilitating group efficacy.  Group emotional intelligence is about bringing emotions to the surface and understanding how they impact the performance of the team, then facing them in an open and honest forum. The last type of emotional intelligence that any high performing team should have is the ability to understand emotions outside of their team. Sometimes a team can become so caught up in their objectives and ways of working they can struggle to understand why other groups in the organisation don’t share their viewpoint or enthusiasm. Successful teams are not only aware of others’ perspectives but are capable of influencing outsiders simply by how they frame their own needs and perspectives.

While emotional intelligence at the individual level has been well supported, emotional intelligence at the team level is critical to ensuring the success of a team. Through establishing norms for emotional awareness and understanding at all levels teams can create a culture of trust, group identity and efficacy resulting in high performance. Training courses can be hugely beneficial in increasing emotional awareness and helping people to regulate emotions. Many companies are now choosing to invest in leadership development courses and team building workshops which can inform teams of the importance of establishing emotionally intelligent norms and provide strategies in doing so. What norms exist within your team and what does your team do to encourage a supportive and trusting environment?

Druskat, V., Wolff, S. (2001). Building the Emotional Intelligence of Groups. Harvard Business Review, 81-90.

Why Bother with Employment Branding?

If you were to ask a child which organisation they would most like to work for when they “grow-up” chances are you would get an answer along the lines of “Coke” or “McDonald’s”. However, it’s unlikely that they are cognisant of what has influenced their choice.  As we go through our working lives, it’s not surprising that when we are looking at a potential employer or ask someone what their ideal organisation is, they may still not be fully aware about what has influenced their choice. We will often make a decision based upon an organisation’s reputation, a role/organisation which matches our personal characteristics and organisational values. Ever-increasingly decisions are influenced by an organisation’s employment brand.

Recently I read an article that proposed when an organisation incorporates Sustainable Human Resource Management (Sustainable HRM) with their employment brand, they can differentiate themselves from their competitors and enhance their attractiveness to employees.

Sustainable HRM is described as “the pattern of planned or emerging human resource strategies and practices intended to enable organisational goal achievement while simultaneously reproducing the HR base over a long-lasting calendar time”.   

Now admittedly research around employment branding and Sustainable HRM is relatively new, and at this stage fairly limited.  Nevertheless it made for interesting reading and had some points which resonated with me.

Traditionally an organisation’s employment brand has been a combination of their corporate brand (based upon values and culture) and corporate social responsibility policies.  Many organisations have an employment brand to attract potential employees and then assist the organisation in remaining attractive to, and thereby retaining, current employees.

In order to tie in an organisation’s current employment brand to Sustainable HRM the authors have looked back at existing theory:

  • Signalling theory suggests all communications with an organisation during the recruitment process send out signals, by which a candidate uses to form their opinions of an organisation.  They have suggested that by incorporating Sustainable HRM within the employment brand this sends a positive signal of preparedness to invest in the candidate/employee and an understanding of the employment relationship.
  • Social identity theory suggests that an individual’s self-concept depends on their membership in different social organisations and that an individual’s self-concept is strongly influenced by the reputation of an organisation.  They have proposed that by integrating Sustainable HRM within the employment brand this enhances the self-concept of current employees and candidates.
  • Person-organisation fit suggests that job seekers match their personal characteristics and values with the organisation’s culture and identity. The article has suggested that the perceived fit between employee’s and candidate’s values and Sustainable HRM moderates the relationship between Sustainable HRM and organisation attractiveness i.e. higher fit may mean a stronger positive impact of the Sustainable HRM.

From here they have suggested that integrating Sustainable HRM practices into the employee value proposition enables an organisation to address employees and candidates in different life and career stages.  Additionally the different needs and expectations of its workforce are addressed without compromising its consistent employment brand.

 An organisation’s employment brand and how it’s created varies vastly from organisation to organisation. What is your organisation’s employment brand?

App, S., Merk, J., Büttgen, M. (2012) Employer Branding: Sustainable HRM as a Competitive Advantage in the Market for High-Quality.  Management Revue, 23(3), 262-278

Teams and Diversity

Teams are an interesting concept. On the face of it, the concept of teams makes good sense, or at least sounds nice! The idea of a group of people working together to solve a problem seems like a pleasant and effective way to work. The underlying axiom for teams is that ‘more minds are better than one’ and ‘diversity will bring about the right answer’.

On reviewing teams, both theoretically and as a practitioner I’m not so sure this is the case. Great ideas do not tend to happen in committees but are often the result of a great mind. These ideas are then evolved by other great minds, but it is not so much a team effort as a serial progression. Teams also come with inherent limitations that decrease the likelihood of  ‘the best result’ occurring. These include such things as ego-protection, politicking, and the eventual compromise. In this regard, the whole process by which teams work may not be conducive to the best idea or end product resulting.

As always, there are two sides to an argument. I can clearly see where teams would be valuable. An instance is where diverse opinion must be incorporated into a final decision or where various skill sets are required. However, the idea that teams are a fundamental requirement of work (which is often the case in management speak) is not, in my opinion, true.

I have included two readings which I think are required for those who are interested in the wider concept of teams, and the benefits and limitations of teams.

Mannix, E., and Neale, M. A., (2005).  What Differences Make a Difference? The Promise and Reality of Diverse Teams in Organizations. Psychological Science in the Public Interest. Vol. 6, No. 2.

Abstract:                                                                                                                                          As the workplace has become increasingly diverse, there has been a tension between the promise and the reality of diversity in team process and performance. The optimistic view holds that diversity will lead to an increase in the variety of perspectives and approaches brought to a problem and to opportunities for knowledge sharing, and hence lead to greater creativity and quality of team performance. However, the preponderance of the evidence favors a more pessimistic view: that diversity creates social divisions, which in turn create negative performance outcomes for the group. Why is the reality of diversity less than the promise?
Mathieu, J. M., Maynard, T., Rapp, T., and Gilson, L. (2008).  Team Effectiveness 1997-2007: A Review of Recent Advancements and a Glimpse Into the Future. Journal of Management, 34, 410-476.
The authors review team research that has been conducted over the past 10 years. They discuss the nature of work teams in context and note the substantive differences underlying different types of teams. They then review representative studies that have appeared in the past decade in the context of an enhanced input-process-outcome framework that has evolved into an inputsmediators- outcome time-sensitive approach. They note what has been learned along the way and identify fruitful directions for future research. They close with a reconsideration of the typical team research investigation and call for scholars to embrace the complexity that surrounds modern team-based organizational designs as we move forward.