Why you should send your best talent to the competition.

The increased tension between the ‘fluidity’ on an organizational level and that on an individual level is one of the most challenging evolutions out there. I had a podcast chat with Nexxworks on that very topic – check it out here.

One thing is certain: companies that want to attract and keep the best (innovation) talent, will need a lot of chutzpah: some of the approaches that we talked about might seem like pure madness to a lot of organizations, who would ironically hugely benefit from them.

(If You’ve Got) “Leavin’ On Your Mind”

Can we predict when people will think about leaving the company? In a new study, we discovered a unique behavioral pattern that was predictive of employees’ leaving one year later: A decline in employees seeking feedback from their supervisor.

In a tight labour market, companies are fighting for scarce talent. That means that apart from competitive recruiting, retaining employees is a key challenge. It doesn’t make any sense to invest time and resources in trying to recruit the best people on the market, when at the same time, your current employees are leaving through the backdoor.

With the advent of people analytics, new data and strategies become available for retention management. Probably the Holy Grail in this area is being able to predict who is thinking about leaving the company, so that you can preemptively approach these employees to make sure they stay. Unfortunately, many analytics solutions don’t provide real-time prediction – meaning, identifying behavioral signals upfront that predict up to one year later who will leave and who will stay.

That’s exactly what we did in our latest study. The study, now in press at the leading Journal of Management, was led by Christian Vandenberghe (HEC Montréal). In two samples, we tracked newcomers in organizations during their first year of employment and measured their feedback-seeking behavior at several points in time. Seeking feedback is an important onboarding behavior. When people are new in a company, they need to learn the ropes of the job and figure out how to integrate themselves into their new team and work environment. Seeking feedback from colleagues and their managers has been shown to be very instrumental in doing so.

Most people assume that over time, as newcomers adapt to their new jobs, it is normal that their levels of feedback seeking will decline. After all, they should have adjusted to the job and probably don’t need that much feedback anymore. Or do they? Our findings suggest that a decreasing frequency of feedback interactions with a supervisor may lead to a weakening of social integration and acculturation. We found that when seeking feedback from supervisors declined over time, this led to detectable lower levels of organizational commitment. In turn, this decrease in organizational commitment made people think more about leaving the company and these considerations eventually led to actual higher turnover a year later.

So beware! Don’t lose track of your newcomers in the organization. If you notice a decline in seeking feedback, approach these employees individually. Talk to them and connect on a personal level. Make sure that they still feel part of the company and try to find out what’s bothering them before it’s too late.

Game Of European Thrones: Is there such a thing as a European leader?

Is there a typically European leadership style? Forbes went out to examine the issue and explored different leadership styles across Europe. In this article, I provided some general background and introduction on European leadership (article by Matt Symonds, see link full article https://www.forbes.com/sites/mattsymonds/2019/04/05/game-of-european-thrones-an-essential-guide-to-management-styles-in-europe/) 

Cherry blossom is a glorious announcement of the arrival of spring, but as any Game of Thrones fan can tell you, “Winter is Coming.” As we impatiently wait for this month’s final season to begin, and find out whether the Mother of Dragons or the Night King will unseat Queen Cersei on the Iron Throne in Westeros, I’ve been trying to follow another fantasy epic currently on our screens, “Brexit – A Song of Mice and Liar.”

But the tragi-comic plot line in Westminster, and a perfidious cast of self-interested pretenders who seem immune to the sort of fate dished out by George R.R. Martin in his books has made for frustrating and often incomprehensible viewing. So I’ve turned to a Norwegian series (fortunately for me in English) on Netflix called Norsemen. Set in the Viking era, it starts off feeling like a Game of Thrones wannabee, but quickly develops into a satire on modern Scandinavian society whilst managing to be very clever and very funny, albeit in a rather dark way. These people are Vikings after all, so the back-stop solution to any challenge or problem tends to be a fairly violent one.

Given that business education is never far from my mind, I was particularly taken with the series’ view of the Scandinavian approach to management. I’d heard in a recent interview with Professor Ciara Sutton of the Stockholm School of Economics how Scandinavian leaders are always keen to empower employees, perhaps to a much greater extent than in other areas of the world and how there is an assumption in the business culture that leader and subordinate are fundamentally equal despite differences in formal rank. Consequently, disagreements are rarely addressed head on and unsatisfactory performance is often just met with vague suggestions for improvement. The series parodies this in a sequence where a chieftain asks for 360 degree feedback from one of his people, listens politely and intently and then, because this is set in 8th century, puts a spike through his head. But then they were probably more wedded to the concept of “pour encourager les autres” back in those days than they are now.

Of course, if you put the satire to one side, the Scandinavian approach to business must have something going for it given the success of a wide range of enterprises the region has produced from IKEA and ABBA to Spotify and the Norwegian Sovereign Wealth Fund.

Which got me wondering what lessons other European countries could teach when it comes to the art and science of management.

 

 

Cherry blossom is a glorious announcement of the arrival of spring, but

For a wider European view I began with Frederik Anseel, Professor of Organisational Behaviour and Vice Dean (Research) at King’s Business School. In addition to Anseel’s research expertise, he also has a personal perspective having worked, and been involved in leadership development in Belgium, France, Italy, The Netherlands and the U.K.

 

“No, there are still cultural differences in leadership styles between European countries,” says Anseel. “Some of these differences conform to national stereotypes; Scandinavians and the Dutch are measurably more direct, but some of it doesn’t; there’s actually more autonomy in countries like Switzerland or Germany, which are seen as being very rule-bound, than in the U.K.”

For Professor Anseel it is easy to forget the profound changes seen in Europe in the last 30 years. “For a short while after the fall of the Berlin Wall, there was a tendency to think ‘we are all Europeans,’ but in practice managers quickly saw that there are different cultural identities within Europe.”

He believes that this diversity should be seen as a strength, not a problem to solve. “Leaders learn to adapt instead of demanding their employees adapt to one cultural model. That leads to a personal challenge though – how can you retain your own cultural identity and be versatile and open at the same time? This is an important challenge for leaders and an important focus for business schools.”

European business schools such as King’s Business School are renowned for providing a diverse international study environment. “This is not so that they all end up the same,” explains Anseel, “but so that they learn from each other and see the value of different perspectives. The result is leaders who are grounded and trustworthy, and have the flexibility to navigate a global and sometimes polarized environment.”

Grounded and trustworthy – hardly the character traits that come to mind in Westeros or Westminster. For a country-by-country perspective I asked management experts at some of the continent’s leading business schools for their views on European management style. By no means exhaustive, how do their perspectives compare with your own?

 

 

Addressing the silent pain among us: Unmasking mental health issues faced by scientists

Just as many other people, scientists may struggle with mental health issues. In our ‘Mental health in PhD students’ study (Levecque et al., 2017), we found alarming rates of mental health problems in PhD students. In April 2019, I participated in a video webinar organized by Science Magazine on mental health in the academic world and how to prevent or deal with it. You can find the webinar on the following link:

https://www.sciencemag.org/custom-publishing/webinars/unmasking-mental-health-issues-faced-scientists-addressing-silent-pain

Creativity flourishes when managers listen

Managers listening attentively can boost team creativity, according to research from King’s College London and The Hebrew University of Jerusalem  

(by Rachel Muller-Heyndyk, published at www.hrmagazine.co.uk on Feb 22th, 2019)

The international study of nearly 700 participants showed that employees who felt they were being listened to were more likely to rate themselves as creative, be more prolific in their output in a creative task, and produce higher-quality work. The study found that these positive effects do not occur when managers are distracted while listening to employees.

Previous research on creativity has typically looked at how people can make themselves creative by listening to others and absorbing ideas. This study explored the role of the manager and the importance of one-to-one interactions.

The researchers’ final laboratory test explored the impact of the quality of listening on an employee’s creativity by placing a flickering screen in the listener’s eyeline. The speakers were unaware of the presence of the screen, and were tasked with coming up with as many creative slogans as they could for an imaginary product.

Those speakers who had a listener distracted by the screen gave that listener a poorer score. More importantly, these speakers came up with slogans that were typically rated as less creative by independent judges than those produced by the group with ‘good listeners’.

Speaking to HR magazine, King’s Business School professor of organisational behaviour Frederik Anseel said that while employees typically felt able to discuss their ideas with friends and family members, they were less confident about being creative in the workplace. “People get nervous about coming up with ideas because they are never sure how they will be received – essentially people are afraid of being ridiculed. For this reason we found that brainstorming is never as effective as people think it is,” he said.

Anseel said that encouraging a sense of psychological safety is crucial to creativity: “It’s important for organisations to create an atmosphere that’s non-judgemental, where they feel that they are able to discuss their ideas openly, and that they are given the mental space to do so.”

Creativity is often seen as something abstract in business and out of reach in most workplaces, but this does not have to be the case, he added. “In business the conversation tends to focus on innovation – creativity is seen as something fluffy. We also tend to think of creativity as something reserved for ‘rebels’ and ‘mavericks’,” he said.

“There can also be some hesitation about being the person who is constantly contributing to ideas as – let’s face it – those people can be quite annoying.”

However, we should look at creativity as something more practical and gradual, he said. “Real innovation often starts with one small idea. There is a misconception that this can only happen in certain sectors where there is a lot of money and time to hand. But creativity is important in all sectors. In hospitals, for instance, taking the time to listen to feedback from nurses and other frontline staff can make a difference to the quality of patient care.”

To facilitate a more creative environment HR should look to culture, Anseel added: “You don’t have to send managers on endless training courses. It’s about installing a healthy culture where people feel at ease. Meetings can be a good place to start; sometimes the whole process is far too formal whereas a more relaxed atmosphere can allow ideas to flow more freely.”

The secret to producing high quality research

There’s a lot of pressure on academics these days. Especially if you’re working in a business school, you’re constantly faced with difficult time investment trade-off’s. Building a vibrant research culture in a business school is therefore often a messy business. I was asked to describe the approach I took at King’s College London to develop our research environment. Together with our Research Manager, Suzanne Marcuzzi, I provided the below overview of our vision and beliefs –  this is very much work in progress I should say, but this might give you an idea of what we’re trying to achieve.

Do you want to know the truth? You can’t handle the truth!’ In the famous interrogation scene in the hit film A Few Good Men, Col Jessup (played by Jack Nicholson) paints himself as the last line of defence, allowing citizens to live their lives, rise and sleep under a protective blanket of freedom. This quote encapsulates how we sometimes see our role in leading the research activities at King’s Business School, Kings College London. 

There is a harsh world out there, with tight budgets; students with high expectations; and increasingly competitive ranking systems. We try to sheild our faculty from this truth as much as possible, so they can pursue their research undisturbed and in complete freedom. 

For us, while the external factors matter, high-quality research matters just as much. 

Vision

At the heart of this ideal is our vision of academic research: we have an authentic and deep-lived conviction that is it the intellectual curiosity and intrinsic motivation of researchers that drive scientific progress. The people make the place. 

For us, all the rest – attraction and retention, grant income, publications, citations, business impact – flows from this central principle; a principle that needs to be nurtured, protected and prioritised. 

Most scholars have chosen this career because they aspire to make important contributions to our collective understanding of organisations. This is typically also the reason why they have joined us and why they stay at King’s Business School. And it is the fundament of our research policy: for academics to have the intellectual freedom to pursue their ideas to contribute to – or change – the conversation in their domain. It is the very essence of what we do and it cannot be compromised. 

We are not naive in pursuing this. Our research policies have to accommodate diverging perspectives and to recognise the many pressures that our academics face. On the following pages, we describe how we manage trade-offs and try to develop and maintain a vibrant research culture.

A different type of Business School

Starting a new Business School provides a unique-but-challenging opportunity. While we build upon the strong legacy of the Department of Management and Business at King’s, and while there is a lot enthusiasm around us, we have had to think carefully about our positioning. 

Business and society have undergone profound disruptions, transforming the way we live, work, consume and learn. There is heightened scrutiny of business and societal ethics with consequences for data privacy and security, people management and stakeholder engagement. As a new Business School, we aim to respond to these societal shifts through research.

We aim to address complex problems with fresh perspectives and innovative collaborations that transcend traditional academic boundaries and that employ data in novel ways. 

Embeddedness in the university

King’s Business School is part of King’s College London, one of the oldest universities in the UK and part of the Russell Group of leading research universities. 

While the Business School is a separate faculty, we seek to maintain strong links with the eight other faculty at King’s and to benefit from and contribute to the strong research tradition at King’s. 

These are not mere words. King’s College lives and breathes research. When you walk through London’s city centre, you pass King’s College London buildings with posters of Nobel Prize winners and world-famous researchers. Informal conversations with colleagues from other faculties typically turn towards research interests and the unintended benefits of casual conversations with colleagues from outside your own discipline cannot be underestimated.

Many leading collaborations arise from a chance encounter. 

Faculty and university leaders are all established researchers who stay research-active throughout their leadership mandates. The university research culture is so fundamental that nearly all academic
staff, including our teaching fellows, have doctoral qualifications. 

Within the Business School, we cherish the multi-disciplinary foundations of King’s. When hiring, we often pay specific attention to the backgrounds of candidates and their potential links with other disciplines in our university. We encourage our staff to join multi-disciplinary networks within the university and apply for internal grants in cross-faculty teams.

Research quality

The Business School research landscape is dominated by publications in a small set of elite economics and management journals. We do not believe it would create a healthy research climate to tie direct monetary incentives to such publications. Sometimes excellent research contributions are best served by being published in niche journals and given our multi-disciplinary foundations, we encourage staff also to publish their work in disciplinary journals in psychology, sociology, and other social sciences. 

Of course, we do encourage our staff to pursue excellence in research and to push the frontiers of knowledge, and this often happens in those top journals. Publishing in well-respected journals is not easy. In 2014, US-based academics Christian Terwiesch and Karl Ulrich, estimated that an A-journal publication equates to about $400,000USD of investment in faculty time and research support. 

However, because of the visibility and impact, we value and encourage research published in leading journals and we support our staff to pursue research suitable for publication in this elite set.

Establishing an international reputation of research excellence requires that we embed this focus on conducting world-class research early on in PhD programmes and emphasise this consistently in our research policies, performance management and hiring practices.

We maintain a system with low teaching loads when compared to international benchmarks and focus on quality of publications over quantity. Research into scholarly impact in the strategy field has shown that those who write fewer but high-quality papers earlier in their careers go on to write fewer but high-quality papers later in their careers as well. Research groups organise meetings to discuss manuscript development and help those conducting early career research navigate the sometimes very lengthy revision process. Most of our senior staff hold editor and editorial board appointments at leading journals, which helps us to mentor junior staff and to establish a culture of research excellence. 

We’re also always seeking new ways to enrich our research culture. We have established a Distinguished Visiting Professor programme to bring leading international researchers to King’s Business School for short visits to help build international research networks and to ensure we’re always engaging with fresh perspectives. 

Research with impact

Our goal is to create an environment in which responsible research can thrive. We encourage our staff to produce credible and reliable knowledge which can be used to address, either directly or indirectly, problems of importance to both business and society. This isn’t just about rigorous and relevant research. We aim for academic research that allows for actionable knowledge – ‘science you can use’. It is research that provokes further reading, sharing, discussion, experimentation, and use in practice, aiming ultimately to transform business and society. Our external engagement team actively approaches staff to distil the actionable knowledge from fundamental research and to take initiatives that bring us closer to the business community. 

This sort of connected research takes time and energy. We have introduced a policy that reduces teaching loads for staff members pursuing projects which have the potential to make a significant impact on business and society. We are also working towards greater connectivity with the business community, engaging with stakeholders early on in research projects to co-develop research questions and co-design studies. Our three research centres focus not only on world-leading research but business-driven research with impact. We are also developing a ‘thought-leadership’ seminar series for executives, in which an influential scholar presents research results highly relevant to a specific business community and asks for their input and feedback. This is also a way of continuing to build our networks: asking for advice is often a good way of stimulating interest and involvement. We’re now also encouraging our staff to publish more frequently in practice-orientated outlets such as Harvard Business Review and MIT Sloan Management Review

Research environment

We try to create an environment that supports researchers’ intrinsic motivation, but also provides them with a sense of direction and progress. Each of our subject groups is led by a head of group. The heads of group, along with other senior staff, shape the climate of the group by signalling and modelling specific priorities relative to other competing goals. They are closely involved in developing the strategic direction of the School, as well as setting specific goals for their groups. By coming up with a shared vision and strategy, we try to be consistent and explicit about what we value in the stories we tell, in the decisions we make, and in the achievements we celebrate. Given the strong internal research drive of academics, managing the environment is sometimes more about removing obstacles and making things easier. Key to effective research support is the reduction or removal of administrative burdens, straightforward access to financial resources (for example, personal research allowances and seed-funding schemes), a good research infrastructure and travel opportunities. 

Even more fundamental to our research environment are strong, supportive working relationships, an inclusive climate, clear role expectations, psychological safety, and closeness to partner organisations. 

We know our academic colleagues can ‘handle the truth’: they know the pressures facing modern universities. But we see it as our role to create space and time to allow staff to focus on one of the core reasons they’re here – and one of the main reasons they chose this career path: rigorous research which serves to educate, challenge and change. 

Federik Anseel is Professor of Organisational Behaviour and Vice
Dean of Research, and Suzanne Marcuzzi is Research Development Manager at King’s Business School.

If you want to predict the future, find people who know what they don’t know

 

I recently talked to Lauren Van Elegem from Nexxworks about innovation, superforecasters, network effects, HR tech, the power of SMEs and other future of work related topics. Peter Hinssens’ Nexxworks aims to inspire organizations to act on their ‘day after tomorrow”. As I’m often a bit skeptical about futurologists and trendwatchers, this was a nice opportunity to exchange views. You can read the interview here.

 

Do some leaders put employees at risk for burnout?

 

West-European societies are being confronted with raising numbers of people dropping out due to burnout. Often, it takes weeks to months before these people are able to pick up their roles at work again. The causes of burnout are not easily understood. Given the suffering and costs associated with burnout, policy makers, union leaders and CEOs are frantically seeking ways to address and prevent burnout.

In a new study, we found that the personality of leaders might be an important factor contributing to the risk of burnout. In two separate studies, we found similar results: Leaders characterized by a competitive mindset, inclined to demonstrate their own competence and seeking to  outperform others, were found to push their employees to higher risks for burnout. In contrast, leaders with a learning mindset, inclined to develop themselves and emphasizing learning and progress, were found to buffer the risk for burnout. 

Leaders create work environments that may buffer against or reinforce burnout factors and their own personality may risk pushing them in the wrong direction. Organizations  may need to pay more attention to identifying and developing the type of leaders who nurture and strenghten employees’ mental health.
 

Sijbom, R. B., Lang, J. W. B., & Anseel, F. (2018). Leaders’ achievement goals predict employee burnout above and beyond employees’ own achievement goals. Journal of Personality.

Roy Sijbom

Jonas Lang

Frederik Anseel