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Fresh Thinking Labs has launched in Ireland! On Friday 6th October Peter Totterdill and Rosemary Exton together with Brendan McGinty, MD of Stratis Consulting our Irish partner, welcomed companies to our Symposium and Launch Event on Workplace Innovation for Irish Companies.


Interested to learn more? Fresh Thinking Labs is the international platform for company networking and workplace innovation, On Line  and In Person: www.freshthinkinglabs.com

Please contact us for further information!

A Europe-wide platform for facilitating workplace innovation and knowledge sharing between businesses and organisations is set to launch in Dublin next month with a symposium to be held at IAA Conference Centre.

Fresh Thinking Labs (FTL) is the international open source movement for workplace innovation. It is part of Workplace Innovation Europe Limited and its membership includes both large and small businesses including Aviva, E.ON, GE Transportation, Novozymes, and Saint-Gobain.

Its extensive network provides a pathway for businesses to discover the best workplace practices and latest thinking from across Europe. It is currently facilitating workplace visits and networking events with SAAB Aerospace in Sweden, Leo Pharma in Copenhagen and MBDA Systems in the UK.

The launch follows the appointment of Dublin based Stratis Consulting as the exclusive Irish partner of FTL. Stratis comprises the most experienced and innovative team of practitioners in their field in Ireland working at leadership team, chief executive and board levels to support organisations to lead improvements in critical areas of employee relations, people strategy and workplace innovation.

Brendan McGinty Managing Partner at Stratis Consulting, said: “This launch event will give organisations an early opportunity to understand more about how FTL network could benefit them by combining an online community designed to support shared learning and innovation in the workplace with face-to-face dialogue and relationship building through inter-company visits and workshops at regional, national and international levels.

“Workplace Innovation Europe Limited’s Director, Peter Totterdill, will be speaking at the symposium. He and his team at FTL have an international reputation for bridging the gap between academic theory and practical application. They are inspiring businesses of all types to seek better ways of organising their workplaces, improving productivity and performance and enhancing employee well-being.”


The Symposium and Launch of the FTL Ireland Workplace Innovation Network will take place on Friday October 6th 2017 at the IAA Conference Centre, D’Olier Street, Dublin 2. (8.30am-12.30 pm). Further information and registration are available by contacting Robert O’Neill on 01-2166302/ 085-776 8833 or by e-mail to stratisconsulting@stratis.ie

Background

Mental health problems are a huge issue affecting people and business. Statistics tell us that 1 in 4 people will be affected by a mental health problem at some time in their life with the result that 72 million working days are lost each year, at a cost of around £3.4.9bn to UK employers alone.

In recent years, policy makers and businesses alike have been increasingly engaged in the area of mental health and well-being in the workplace. However, the approach towards dealing with it is not necessarily the same as that for promoting mental health and wellbeing. For far too long the focus has been on treatment of mental disorders, and not on prevention, promotion and well-being. Well-being at work is defined as individuals’ ability to work productively and creatively, to engage in strong and positive relationships, fulfilment of personal and social goals, contribution to community, and a sense of purpose. To promote well-being at work means creating work environments that allow individuals to thrive.

Emerging risks to health and wellbeing include work intensification (high workload and information overload, high speed, increased mechanisation, automation, computerisation, more complexity), emotional demands (linked to more service-based jobs, bullying, harassment and stigmatisation), and job insecurity. These challenges have been found to be linked with work-related stress, mental ill health, sickness absence, productivity loss and early exit from the workforce.

Good work supports mental well-being for everyone. Employers are increasingly recognising the need to identify and support people with mental health problems but the wider task is to identify and address those workplace practices which build or undermine mental well-being such as workload, work schedules, role clarity, communication, rewards, teamwork, problem-solving, and relationships at work.

While many employees are now recognising that good mental health among their employees is both an asset and a source of competitive advantage and are investing in mental health awareness training for managers, there is evidence that much more could be done to address core workplace practices and cultures which have the power to either fundamentally undermine or promote mental wellbeing for all employees.

So, in pursuit of creating healthy and sustainable work environments, what can employers do to become part of the solution rather than part of the problem? To what extent are leaders and managers equipped to identify poor mental health, to provide necessary support for employees, and to take positive and focused action to build positive mental well-being at work?


Let’s talk

Even enlightened employers will be daunted by the mountain of guidelines that have been recently published following the increase in awareness of the impact of mental health at work. Guidelines are helpful and supportive but sometimes do not reflect the reality of the workplace.

To address this Fresh Thinking Labs, the membership-based international platform for workplace innovation, and the NHS-backed Mindful Employer, are facilitating the ‘Good Work and Mental Well-Being Lab’, a closed network of organisations committed to exploring leading edge practice and identifying practical, evidence-based solutions. The Lab provides a platform for employers from public and private sectors to tackle the challenges posed by mental health issues in the workplace by sharing their experiences and insights as ‘critical friends’, and developing a community of best practice from which new and innovative solutions will emerge.

In summary, the Lab:

  • Enables the sharing of good practice and ideas between workplaces.
  • Builds active relationships with your peers in other organisations.
  • Creates a forum for collaborative innovation and problem solving.
  • Bridges the gap between research and practice.
  • Draws on experience from our network of leading companies from across Europe.
  • Develops practical tools and resources for workplace change.
  • Provides access to expert guidance.

It aims to:

Raise Awareness - How can we diagnose the current workplace climate and assess the factors that contribute to, or undermine, positive workplace health? How to build the business case and win support for change? And which policies should be put in place?

Build a Momentum for Change - Once the right policies are in place, how do we raise awareness of mental health and improve the standard of practice throughout the organisation?

Rethink Job Design and Work Organisation – Can we turn line managers from barrier reef or mental health ambassadors? Training managers in mental health awareness and fostering appropriate behaviours is often necessary but what does good practice look like – and is it sufficient? How can management roles, processes and behaviours be rethought to support positive mental health and high performance simultaneously?

Building mental well-being at work requires focused leadership commitment. Senior teams need a full understanding of how the workplace can contribute to positive mental health and, in turn, to business performance. They must align corporate values with evidence-based principles and the needs of individuals throughout the organisation, and ensure their implementation in practice.

There is more information here. Companies, NGOs and public sector organisations wishing to join the ‘Good Work and Mental Well-Being Lab’ can contact Fresh Thinking Labs on 0115 9338321 or by email.

Build Positive Mental Health through Good Work

Tom Francis offers a personal account of the journey that he and his senior team colleagues are undertaking as they make their business ‘fit for the future and fit for people’. Tom is Business Manager at Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics in Bristol

 

The Philosophy

It’s hard to pinpoint a time when our transformation started and when we began to get clarity on what we wanted to achieve, but for the “aha” moment came when I heard the term “fit for future, fit for people”. I think the phrase has been plagiarised from Gary Hamel’s Fit for the Future, and for Human Beings? but for me it sums up what we are trying to do – yes, of course we want to focus on the business (profitability etc.) to ensure that we are here in 350 years (we just had our 350th birthday), but it also puts in equal balance that it has to be a place that is fit for people. By this I mean we want to provide an environment that the whole person can turn up to and contribute, and not just a portion of the person.

We also have our external brand promise which is “making small parts, making a big difference”. When we are talking about transformation we look at it on three different levels – I, We and It:

  1. How do I make a big difference (I)
  2. How do we make a big difference (We)
  3. How does the business make a big difference (It).

I – providing individuals with a safe place where they can understand themselves and their purpose, have balance and fun, and be supported to develop. It’s also about helping to put people in places that make them spark!

We - creating trust and accountability in teams plus open communication and collaboration. We want teams and individuals to have the power to make the right decisions.

It – putting us in the customer’s shoes, understanding what they need and creating innovative products around those needs. It’s also about creating a sustainable future based on the notion that the decisions we make today matter for our tomorrow.

Great in principle, but what about in practice?

Yes, in principle this makes us feel all warm and fuzzy, but what about in practice in the hard light of day? How do we translate this into the business and make changes? The way we use this in our day to day decisions when talking about transformation is more of a check and a guide, plus a way of explaining to people what activities we are doing. For instance, when we are looking at transforming something we can ask – “is this going to impact our business in the future?”, “is this going to positively impact our workplace in making it more fit for people” and “at what level are we looking to make the transformation: I, we or it”.

For instance, in our Bristol site, we recently changed the way we authorise holidays. Now, instead of requesting the day off from your manager, who then has to ask the team and approve, individuals can now book time off with no sign-off. The only stipulation is that they consult the team before doing it. When we look at this example, it has no impact on the business in terms of numbers but it does have a significant, positive impact on making the work place fit for people. It puts trust and accountability in people’s hands, encourages open communication between team members and reduces the bureaucracy associated with a simple request.

It starts with the top . . .

From our experience it is not possible, and unfair to the workforce, to ‘expect’ them to transform without change at the leadership level, so ironically we started our transformation in Bristol in a hierarchical way! I remember Clive Hutchinson from Cougar Automation telling me once (and I am paraphrasing here) – “don’t blame people (especially the dreaded ‘middle management’ group!) for behaving the way they do; blame yourself as a leadership team for creating the environment that creates those behaviours”. I think this is true, and as a leadership team we had to do a lot of development on ourselves before we were able to transform the business.

Although we didn’t know it at the time, we were following the idea of Patrick Lencioni’s The Five Dysfunctions of a Team which suggests that building trust is the foundation for a high performing team. Without this you have fear of conflict (people don’t talk about things and you leave elephants in the room) which leads to lack of commitment, avoidance of accountability and ultimately inattention to results. We worked on this for a number of months involving offsite management meetings that were about team development rather than daily business. These meetings gradually focused on how we can transform and help the business naturally as trust built up.

Some of the techniques we used during this phase included:

  • Personal journeys: each person sketches out their lives, taking in the highs and lows. You explain your life journey (or as much as you are comfortable with) in groups of three (“triads”) and discuss what you learned from each stage. The idea is that you give your team members a deep understanding of what you have been through in your life, and that gives them a perspective on why you may behave in certain ways in certain situations.

  • Feedback: a facilitated session giving feedback using sad/mad/glad or stop/start/continue so that people can see what the team appreciates about you and also what they would like to see change. The format we started with involved talking about your team as a whole (i.e. “what does the business want your team to stop/start/continue) and then, as the trust built up, we moved on to the individual managers. We would each have a stop/start/continue poster and we all rotated round the room every few minutes so that we each had a chance to write on everyone else’s poster. Eventually this feedback became more natural and unforced to the extent that now the management team appraisal is done as a group.

    A big part of this development is providing support for leaders to work on themselves in overcoming barriers to achieving our goal. A common barrier we came across was the inability to relinquish control. The reasons for this differ from person to person, but it usually stems from past experiences. Each individual is able to find help to overcome this (we’ve tried things like NLP and EMDR). We also noticed that we naturally started forming triads or little groups to help and support each other.

  • Competition: A lot of effort was put into removing the need for competition between management team members. Historically we were encouraged to be the loudest, strongest and the best as we competed for the next step up the ladder. Now we don’t compete, we collaborate and this is far more productive, less destructive and creates a much nicer working environment.

After the leadership team, where did we go?

For us it was organic. As managers became comfortable with the techniques that we were using, they started to cascade them down by having their own offsite monthly meetings to develop their teams. What we have done is very incremental and it’s sometimes hard to remember the sequence, so instead of telling the story I have picked some key things out that I think really helped us on the way:

What we did  What level we worked on  Details 
 Feedback WE: communication, accountability, empowerment One of our managers developed a process called Team Speak.  This facilitated process involves providing the team with space to brainstorm all the issues that prevent them from doing a good job.  The team then prioritise the items (using paired comparisons or similar) and agree the top two things to tackle in the next month (we encourage them to start with the small things first).  The items, when resolved, are moved to the ‘done’ section and the next on the list is selected.  No managers are involved unless they are needed for expenditure (even some managers now have agreed a spend limit within which teams can fix problems).
Focus on strengths I: self understanding We also now help people to find their strengths using tools such as i-styles, Belbin, strengths finder etc, and focus them on roles / jobs within their teams that play to their strengths.  
Put people in the right roles I, We: finding your spark, accountability, collaboration Linked to strengths – start moving people to roles that play more to their strengths.  This is a difficult one and takes time to do, but whenever there is the opportunity, do it!  We even have some people working in different departments to where they are costed now. Don’t worry about making it all ‘official’ providing the person is happy to move: in our experience this can complicate things (especially in the beginning).  Try doing trials and secondments to start with -and you will see the amazing results! 
Volunteer for  Projects I, We: working on strengths, trust, open communication Instead of picking teams, let people volunteer for what they are interested in.  You can start with low impact projects, or perhaps one or two volunteers together with selected people.  Eventually you can create completely volunteer based projects.  The last project (for our biggest strategic project at the site this year) we selected some of the leaders for the subprojects, gave an indication of what skills we needed, then let people volunteer to work on them (we had a day where people could come and talk to us to find out about the project, making sure that everyone had the opportunity to do this).  Why do this?  You can match skills (sometimes that you don’t know about) to projects you are working on, plus in general, people who volunteer to work on things are much more committed to it.
Provide clarity on priorities  It Explain to people what the priorities are each year.  We do this in a number of ways:  
1) We have the major projects priority discussion as an open forum (we are lucky enough to have an open space that allows people to sit round), with a few volunteer representatives from the business taking an active role.
2) We have a monthly company meeting to explain and update people about what is going on.  Part of this is an exhibition style session where representatives of the main projects provide stalls where people can find out about the projects that they are interested in.  In the future we would like the priorities to be gathered from the bottom up and not top down, but we are not there yet.
Train Facilitators   As teams began to become more autonomous we saw the need for good quality facilitation.  We started training a group of people (again volunteers) to help teams facilitate meetings (be it creative, team or other).  Good facilitation helps communication and reduces the likelihood of destructive conflict.
 

Summary

We’ve learned that whatever transformation your business is taking, it is a personal one (we even see differences between our sites). There is no one solution that fits all and it really is about finding your own way. Looking at other companies to get inspiration and encouragement through platforms such as Fresh Thinking Labs is a great way to get ideas and helps and to create a support networks, but ultimately it is down to your business and your culture HOW things are done. But I think the biggest bit of advice I can give is just to try stuff and to talk to each other. Experiment with little things, expand what works and kill what doesn’t. Set time aside specifically to talk about development and tackling issues with the whole company.

We know that we have just started the journey; we are still far away from a company that is fit for the future and fit for people, but each little step towards it is better than not doing anything.


This article by Tom Francis, Business Manager at Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics first appeared in the EUWIN bulletin.

For a full list of EUWIN bulletins please visit this page.



Change is inevitable: do you adapt to it or do you lead it?

Organisations of every type need to adapt to an increasingly uncertain future. Reshaping organisations, building new levels of organisational competence, finding new ways to work and future-proofing organisations have become critical factors in determining future competitiveness and performance.

For example we have already witnessed the rapid change in culture, lifestyle and aspirations between the now retiring baby boomers and Generation Y. Gen Y-ers are now the ones starting up businesses and research in the US reveals that as many as 9 out of 10 of them believe that business success should be measured by more than profit.  That’s a change many didn’t see coming, so who’s to say that the businesses that will be built by the following generation won’t be different again with different products, different hierarchies and structures and different ways of working?

Change is inevitable but do you adapt to it or do you lead it?  Are you constrained by a short term focus or energised by a long term vision?  If you have a vision of the future of your organisation and the determination to achieve it, how are you to go about it and overcome the many obstacle and challenges along the way?


There is an overwhelming body of evidence that successfully adapting to change requires the development and full use of the talents and skills of everyone within an organisation.  Sustainable success depends on being able to change attitudes and practices at all levels of a business, completely transforming workplace cultures.

This is no easy task and requires fundamentally fresh thinking to overcome obstacles such as lack of vision at senior management level, middle management intransigence, employee reluctance to accept more responsibility, resistance to real ‘teamworking’ and a lack of will to make innovation and creativity part of the organisational culture.

However, we do know that the mutually-reinforcing impact of workplace partnership, shared learning, high-involvement innovation, enabling organisational structures and systems, self-organised teams and empowering job design can create a tangible effect in workplaces which is hard to quantify. This is embodied within The Fifth Element approach to workplace innovation, creating an enabling culture and levels of workforce engagement which can help an organisation cope with both externally enforced and planned change.

As Tom Francis argues in his article, shared learning between companies is a hugely useful resource in finding ways to change entrenched attitudes and work practices. It highlights tried and tested approaches and avoids reinventing the wheel, while at the same time stimulating new thinking and innovation. Knowledge-sharing forums offer a platform to understand how other businesses do things and how they have resolved dilemmas and challenges in the process of change. For example Fresh Thinking Labs delivers both face-to-face and online access to a Europe-wide pool of experience and knowledge, and providing ideas and practical support for businesses interested in future-proofing their organisations.

Such learning networks engage small, closed groups of companies in exploring a specific issue. They offer a structured approach to identifying good practice and provide participants with a unique portfolio of tools and case study material. 

Meetings may be hosted by an employer with great experiences to share. Other members visit as ‘critical friends’, identifying positive achievements while bringing their own knowledge and experience to bear on current challenges.

Learning networks work because they are practical and dynamic and are built on trust, enabling people to share problems openly and generate new perspectives by viewing problems and opportunities from different bodies of experience.  They also provide a safe environment to test or peer review ideas and concepts before sharing them with colleagues. They can provide opportunities for shared experimentation through action learning where participants each undertake comparable change projects in parallel. And they often lead to long-term collaborative relationships.

Face-to-face networks are powerful because they support trust, openness and long-term relationships but their potential for knowledge sharing and access to wider communities of interest is enhanced massively when linked to an online “network of networks”.

Inter-organisational networking and knowledge exchange will play a vital role in helping businesses build the ability to adapt to major economic, social and cultural change and to create workplaces of the future where innovation and creativity are embedded with high performance and employee well-being.

They may also lead to a more fundamental change in the way we do business, moving away from the a confrontational model based on competition to a collaborative model based on shared goals and what Professor John Bessant describes as ‘collective efficiency’.

Effective knowledge sharing may well assist in coping with whatever change is generated by the aspirational demands by Generation X.  In any event, shared learning clearly demonstrates that confronting change need not be either lonely or haphazard.  It shows that businesses that want to embrace change don’t have to have every creative thought themselves.  They just have to network effectively and recognise a good idea when they see one.


This article by Neil Devons first appeared in the EUWIN bulletin.

For a full list of EUWIN bulletins please visit this page.



Gabriella Eberhardt, HR Leader at GE Mining, shares her impressions after our London event 'Transforming Culture at GE Mining'.


Interested to learn more? Fresh Thinking Labs is the international platform for company networking and workplace innovation, On Line  and In Person: www.freshthinkinglabs.com

Please contact us for further information!

DS Smith Lockerbie believes in open, inclusive and devolved decision-making.

As part of the company’s commitment to workplace innovation, morning meetings in the Operations Room were introduced to improve communication and enable joint planning and problem-solving amongst employees. Front line representatives from each work area take part in these meetings and use a series of visual management boards to record their daily discussions. Participants take turns in leading the meeting and are encouraged to keep the tone optimistic and collaborative.

Meetings are coached and scored by members of the management team, using a standard proforma to measure the quality of factors such as effectiveness, participation, inclusivity, and the avoidance of blame and recrimination. The MD usually coaches the Friday morning meeting and encourages reflection on ‘how to make next week better than this week’.

The change has been welcomed by employees, who are steadily embracing the new culture and are extending more participative ways of working into other areas of the business.

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DS Smith is a European leading packaging company of customer-specific packaging, based in Lockerbie, Scotland. Operations Manager David Murdoch asked Peter and Rosemary from Workplace Innovation Europe, as part of the Scottish Enterprise Workplace Innovation Engagement Programme, to help involve his staff in innovative ways to improve the business.

A facilitated Mini-FabLab session, with front line staff representing each area across the workforce, was a new experience for DS Smith. The group rose to the challenge and modelled and then re-modelled the factory, deep in discussion and sharing experiences and creating solutions… using boxes and paper! They addressed production issues, suggested improvements for team work, and identified where quality improvements could be made. Some were quick wins and some quite radical changes.

They presented the redesigned model to David who was very positive and receptive to their ideas, and will support the group to continue to meet every month to develop improvements. David also welcomed their idea of the teams of operators pausing production to identify and resolve a problem together at the time it is flagged, rather than at the end of the line, which he agreed will reduce waste and improve quality control.

So, plenty of creative improvements to take forward and they had fun and enjoyed the experience!

Want to know more? Get in touch!


Liberty Steel is one of ten companies taking part in the Scottish Enterprise Workplace Innovation Engagement Programme led by Workplace Innovation Europe.

As a market-leading steel plate mill,  Liberty Steel Dalzell  has an established history of engineering outstanding heavy steel plate. Through their action plan, Willie and Peter recognised the need for openness, transparency, team working, visible and supportive leadership, and, above all, engaging the workforce. They designed an ambitious framework of regular meetings and forums involving all levels of the workforce.

Problems with the cutting machine brought the benefits of workplace innovation into focus. Everyone was looking to senior management to find a solution but none was forthcoming until a problem-solving forum was set up, bringing together frontline employees and younger engineers. Re-examining the evidence using problem solving tools and whiteboards, they identified the issue and corrected the machinery, leading to the most efficient 24 hours from the machine and the highest shift production level ever.

“What makes the Workplace Innovation Programme different from others, it’s about resilience, keeping going, don’t give up at the first hurdle. And that’s why we have been at every session and enjoyed every session. We’ve taken the learning and ideas and brought them back and implemented them, and they work. Trust us, if they can work in our environment they can work in any environment” (Willie McWhinnie, Chief Engineer, Liberty Steel).

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