TRULY FLEXIBLE WORKING – PART 2: THE INTERVIEW

by Paula on May 15, 2014

In Part 1 on this series of 3 blogs on Flexible Working, I introduced you to the 13 Guideposts at a Bristol business that shape their way of working.

Consumer Intelligence Logo

Last week I was invited to interview Jane Ginnever, the Head of Talent at Consumer Intelligence and I share with you here some of the main areas that we discussed.

About the Company

Consumer Intelligence provides its financial services clients with data and insight about the market and the client’s position in it. They have been going over 10 years and have approximately 45 permanent staff ‘based’ (I use that term loosely) at their Bristol Head Office. It was as a result of the Chief Executive’s interest and growing knowledge of the American way of working he dubbed “Martini Culture” (as in “Any time, any place anywhere” from the 70’s ad) that Jane was recruited to work alongside the Directors to find a way of working that mirrored these philosophies and would work for them.

When Jane joined the company the rules were very much 9-5.30 at your desk, shoes polished to see a client, time off for a Doctor’s appointment must be approved, type of company. Step 1 was the common move in businesses that pride themselves on flexibility and they moved to a core set of hours between 10 and 4 and flexibility around that. This is where most businesses stop.

“How do you go from 9-5.30 to the current business Guideposts?”

Jane explained the strong change management that had been a part of this process:-

  • Discussion with all staff
  • Asking, listening, learning, winning people over
  • Strong Management Buy-in
  • Relevant Training at all levels
  • Regular evaluation
  • Ability to measure progress / success
  • Quickly dealing with negativity

People needed to feel that they understood what was happening and that they had a say. They needed to know that they would be taught how to work in this new environment and also that if they liked the 9-5 and wanted to continue to be office based 9-5 that was ok too! It was about adapting the business to deliver a great service to clients while getting the best out of employees by allowing them to self-manage work around their other priorities.

“If you’re not seeing people sat at their desk, how do you know they are working?”

Firstly, we have all seen people sat at their desk 9-5.30 and how can we tell they’re working then? The backbone of this way of working is accountability and trust. (Or Mastery, Autonomy and Purpose, the 3 motivators discussed by Daniel Pink in his book ‘Drive)

Staff need to know exactly what’s expected of them, and they are expected to deliver. This is not a “put your feet up and have a jolly” way of working. This is about getting the work done and done well, just at a time and in a place to suit the individual and the task in hand. Each employee understands where the company’s going and decides their own outputs (measurable results with clear deadlines and expectations) and then regularly meets with their manager to discuss progress against the outputs they’re trying to achieve and so that the manager can help them overcome any barriers they are facing. It is then up to the employee to prioritise and manage their lives in order to meet these objectives with as much or as little help as they need.

This is where Training strongly comes into force. Managers need to be trained in:

  • How to support the setting of measurable objectives
  • How to assess an individual’s capability
  • How to know an appropriate quantity of work
  • How to recognise if an employee needs help
  • How to coach for high performance

Employees need to be trained in:

  • How to manage their own time
  • How to prioritise their work
  • How much work is too little or too much
  • How to challenge their managers if the quantity of work is too great
  • When to ask for help

Good Communication is a key skill for all.

“How do you stop the comments and sniping about an employee who is seen coming in late every day?”

The kind of comments we all have come across in the workplace re others people’s work, commitment, pay, hours are named SLUDGE. Jane refers to SLUDGE as “personal judgements” and at Consumer Intelligence they are not allowed! This kind of toxic negativity can bring people down and cause a way of working to fail. Any such comment or judgement is harshly pulled up on by other team members whether that’s a colleague or a Director who utters such a statement and as such, old habits are dropping. People are judged purely on their ability to achieve goals – nothing else.

“How do you ever reach people?”

As Jane explains, people are more reachable now than ever. Technology allows us to communicate wherever we are. If you are in a position not to take a call because you are at a cafe or the beach, then your voicemail can pick up the message. There is however an expectation that these messages will be checked and responded to as soon as is convenient (unless official holiday has been booked).

Each individual has a calendar that they keep updated on their availability (but not where or why they are not available) and there will also always be appointments that they have to schedule and make. The fact that people can’t just expect that their colleague will be just across the office and they can ask them anything at any time, actually makes people assess more carefully if their question is entirely necessary or whether perhaps it’s something they could find out for themselves. This can only be a positive.

“Aren’t outputs still loosely based around 37.5 hours?”

Jane did admit that yes, it’s impossible to let go entirely of the 37.5 hour mentality as still in the back of your mind when you are setting objectives, the quantity of work expected by the individual needs some kind of measure. Yet there is also the recognition that no-one is checking whether this takes 37.5 hours. It is expected that employees will speak up if things are regularly taking much longer, or that their enthusiasm for their work will mean they are asking to take on more if they are regularly working under. And in a company where people are young, creative and ambitious it’s definitely apparent that this is happening.

“So what about part-time? Presumably if there are no set hours there is no part-time?”

At Consumer Intelligence there actually are a couple of part-timers. Without doubt there is a little more thought required in order to ensure that targets are set appropriately and rather than being done by a “number of hours worked” basis it is done on 3/5 or 4/5 of usual expectation with time unavailable for working being clearly communicated – and that seems to work!

Finally I asked for examples of employees where this has failed.

I was expecting a wry smile and some stories of people who just weren’t right for it, people who had taken advantage or had just needed a lot more standing-over supervision. But so far, not one! The business attracts young, energetic, tech-savvy staff and the recruitment process spots these people. All existing staff seem to have adapted well to this new way of working, and with the full backing of all Directors and someone like Jane leading, learning and adapting as they go, one year in it looks like this is proving to be a real blueprint for success.

In Part 3 of this blog I will share my thoughts on this way of working and how it might work for you.

 

{ 8 comments }

Phil Collard May 16, 2014 at 9:26 am

Hi Paula

Great blog, again, and I would tend to echo Richard’s thoughts that it might not work for every industry / every person but who knows.

They certainly seem to be able to manage the situation.

Not that, as an individual, I use this as a measure of success but, in commercial terms, I’d be interested to know who well they are doing from a financial perspective compared to their peers in the same industry who, presumably, don’t adopt a similar approach.

I’d also like to understand the softer things too – staff retention rates, absenteeism through sickness, whether this extreme flexibiility affects the “team mentality” that comes from sitting with the same bunch of people for the same period of time every day.

So many questions, to be honest… none of them with an agenda, I should add – I like the concept and am really intrigued by it!

Paula May 16, 2014 at 9:29 am

Hi Phil

They are really good questions and you’re right, each answer prompts more – I could have quizzed Jane all day! I can’t promise anything but perhaps Jane may like to respond on here to your queries. I’ll have a word.

Thanks again for reading and commenting.

Jane Ginnever May 16, 2014 at 1:09 pm

Hi Phil

We only started working this way last October, but what we have seen is an increase in the employee engagement (and satisfaction) levels and an increase in the focus of people’s energy on what’s most important to the business. For us the regular conversations about performance and focus, plus the motivating effect of the autonomy people now have, are as important as the change to hours and location of work. As a result of all of that, we’re ahead of where we were this time last year in revenue terms.

Employee turnover is down to 25% of what it was in the first half of last year. People are choosing to work at home when they wouldn’t have been well enough to come into the office – their own choice I hasten to add! – so sickness absence rates are down significantly (and they weren’t very high to start with).

Other initiatives mean that the teams feel closer than ever and we’re using Yammer to keep everyone ‘in the loop’ and sharing what they know. It does take a bit more planning sometimes to ensure that things don’t fall down (e.g. we have to have someone come in at a certain time every morning to open the office), but we’ve had no major issues so far as a result of the way we’re working and I believe it’s prevented a number of problems that would have happened if we hadn’t made the change.

We haven’t seen this initiative as something that’s to be implemented and forgotten of course; it’s something that will continue to evolve and grow with the business, but it feels as though we’ve made a good start and are heading in the right direction!

Jane

Phil Collard May 16, 2014 at 2:26 pm

Thanks Jane,

A great response – very interesting stuff indeed.

It’s such a change of mentality and I suspect that I know quite a few people who simply could not get anywhere near that model and make it productive but I suspect that, over time, the numbers of businesses working like it will increase purely by attracting people well suited to it.

I wonder how transferrable it would be across industries / professions.

Thanks again for commenting and thanks, Paula, for blogging about it :-)

Ian Hughes May 16, 2014 at 8:28 am

Hi Paula,

Thanks for writing this piece. Moving towards Output Only was a big risk and it’s a journey. Jane has been amazing in helping the management team come to terms with their own prejudices first. But the truth of the matter is I can’t and don’t work 9-5.30 and never have. My brain is working most of the time and my work is part of who I am. That’s a good thing, not a bad thing. I have a job I love. Is that a good thing or a bad thing? And shouldn’t wanting all your staff to have a job they love also be a good thing?

One thing I might take slight issue with is the description of our team as “young, energetic, tech-savvy staff” although I thank you for the compliment.

I like to think that the team at Consumer Intelligence are alive.

I don’t know the average age but I would GUESS that it’s over 30. We just act young. We are energetic but our work is challenging, it stimulates our minds. It’s tough to be anything but energetic. As for Tech-savvy, maybe. We are an Information business so Information Technology is in our DNA. but we don’t all sit around writing code. Far from it.

Interested to see your summary.

Ian

Paula May 16, 2014 at 9:11 am

Hi Ian

Thank you for reading and your response. Your first paragraph demonstrates why this can work. You were open to new ideas, prepared to work through your prejudices and recognise that it’s a journey. All of these are great foundations to making big and positive change.

Jane came back to me that the average age is in fact 36 – still young :-) – but yes it’s credit to the wide range of people and job roles that by all pulling together you are creating something quite special.

Best wishes.

Richard Bishop May 15, 2014 at 9:03 pm

Excellent stuff. Covers the questions I’d have from blog 1.
Still think it’s not for every industry. But managed on the basis off the above then maybe I’m wrong.

Great blog.

Paula May 16, 2014 at 9:11 am

Hi Richard. Thanks again for reading and commenting. I am going to post my thoughts on it now and I think you’ll find we’re pretty much on the same page. All the best.

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