The case for emoji in the workplace

UK2 Group 2015.

tumblr_nky8knD3kM1qbeqkxo1_540In a world of text, emoji will save our souls

What’s in your list of recently used emoji? My list has the screaming cat, the gun, and the smiley with the hospital mask. Can you tell I’ve been ill? It may be too much information to provide a long description of how many packs of tissues I’ve gone through, but a quick 🙀🔫😷 tells the story succinctly, and probably more gracefully too.

Emoji – the Japanese neologism that means “picture word” – had every marking of a fad in their earliest days, first appearing in Japanese mobile phones in 1999. But as a fresh batch of emoji is are set to see the light of day this year, it looks like the fad is here to stay. Sure, they may seem silly, but they do actually have a use in that they allow subtle nuance to be added to a conversation. We’ve all had misunderstandings because it’s so hard to convey tone in a text message. Emoji solves that. You can be as deadpan sarcastic in a text as you want now, but just add a winking smiley at the end. Or maybe add the monkey cheekily covering its face while laughing – emoji has so many more fun options to choose from than just the regular ‘smileys’.

With so much communication taking place electronically, emoji make an important addition to language, thinks Fred Benenson, who works at crowdfunding platform Kickstarter. But then he would, as he painstakingly translated the whole of Moby-Dick into emoji. “The fact that emoji is available in software legitimises it as a form of human expression,” Benenson told New York Magazine. “And especially now – we’re so intimate with these devices and we’re saying some of our most compelling things to each other in the form of text messages and social media.”.

It’s similar to why we like hitting “like” on Facebook instead of leaving a comment: it lets us signal a feeling without having to commit to words. Having to type something out in full in an email can feel so definitive, whereas the odd emoji thrown in offers the chance to add a nuance or sentiment that normally would have been conveyed via facial expressions.

While the jury is out as to the place of emoji in business, it is worth taking note of this trend, in part because the technologies people like to use with friends have a tendency to seep into the workplace. But as colleagues increasingly work remotely, emoji could be just the ticket to re-introduce some of that non-verbal interaction that is lost when people don’t work in the same room anymore.

If this is your bag, have a look at Emoj.li, an emoji-only communications app that creators Matt Gray and Tom Scott swear is not satire. ‘FastCompany’ asked the founders whether the internet really needs an emoji social network: “It doesn’t. It really doesn’t. But the internet didn’t need Twitter either, and look where we are a few years later…” Devoted emoji fans are creating entire stories using only emoji – just look at this retelling of the storyline of ‘Les Miserables’. Then, go and watch Taylor Swift’s ‘Shake it off’ illustrated by emoji – it’s even catchier this way, if that’s possible. There’s no doubt about it: the future comes with pictographs, and the emoji is written on the wall.

Sir Charlie Mayfield, Chairman of the John Lewis Partnership

Work. – December 2014. Original article.

work coverInterview with Sir Charlie Mayfield, Chairman of the John Lewis Partnership
For an institution so British to its very core, the Partnership inspires feelings in direct opposition to the stiff upper lip. Because who doesn’t love John Lewis? And for anyone on the fence there are those devastatingly charming Christmas campaigns. Of course, the John Lewis Partnership exists to serve much grander ideals than clever marketing. Company man that he is, Sir Charlie Mayfield is distinctly British too, in the sense that he may be clearly proud of the Partnership but he remains tastefully modest about it. Mayfield’s smile when the Partnership’s enviable reputation comes up suggests this matters to him a great deal, but of course, there’s no resting on laurels here:

“Our reputation is both a privilege and a challenge. It’s something we think very carefully about. The last thing I want is to appear as the smuggest retailer on the High Street. We have to work very hard, every single day, at getting things right.”

The first law of the John Lewis Partnership, and also to Mayfield, is to serve “the happiness of its members”. Not once does Mayfield refer to just himself in terms of the work he does – it’s all about the group. Actually that’s not entirely true: Mayfield points out more than once that the partners have the power to sack him if they think he’s not cutting it. We’re sitting in the Chairman’s office at Partnership House in London’s Victoria, on sofas surrounded by green plants and abstract paintings. Mayfield is in a salmon-coloured knit tie and crisp white shirt, his jacket left on the hanger on the unseasonably warm Tuesday afternoon. Glasses dangling from the hand, he’s relaxed yet professional throughout.

The John Lewis Partnership is a story of how an employee-owned business can not only match the performance of its retail sector peers, but also beat it. People-issues are hard-wired into the organisation, but Mayfield is careful to stress how this, above all, is a business. Our conversation swings back and forth between these two elements – people and business – as if ethical practices were the enemy of growth. But as only 2% of British businesses are employee-owned, chances are Mayfield has had to explain more than once how a long-term holistic focus translates to a healthy bottom line.

JL1*** Now in its 150th year, the Partnership delivered a £129.8m profit at September’s results announcement, a healthy rise of 12.1% on the year before in what remains a squeezed market. But it’s something of a chicken-or-the-egg situation regarding what comes first: the desire to run a people-centric company, or to run a profitable business.

“Somewhat unhelpfully I probably won’t be able to separate the two out for you!” Mayfield laughs. “In essence, the focus of the business is the happiness of its members. We are really focused on partners through their worthwhile and satisfying employment – in a successful business. That’s our our ultimate purpose, and from that stems everything else.”

Certainly, this priority will affect how decisions are made: “We won’t say that the most important thing is to make a certain profit, each year. But what we do prioritise is having a sustainable business that’s well-balanced, reflecting the needs of partners, customers, and profit.” This may mean the company won’t slash costs to improve numbers in a single year, unless there is a strong case for long-term benefit: “But what we absolutely will do is take tough business decisions to completely remodel and reshape our business where we think that’s necessary.”

So what happens when these “tough” decisions prove unpopular? “Oh, there will absolutely be controversy!“ Mayfield got plenty of “vocal” feedback after the decision to take out an entire level of management from the John Lewis department stores, making over 360 roles redundant. “We don’t shy away from those issues. But the manner with which we carry out those decisions may differ from other organisations.” In the case of the redundancies, the changes were implemented over the course of a year, encouraging people to find alternative positions within the company, and offering payment cushions.

“What we always do is, we say: ‘Look, we’re not running this business for any one individual partner. We are running it for the totality.’ We’ve always recognised that the greater good will trump the needs of individuals,” says Mayfield. “Though what we will do is try to implement change in a way which respects the needs of individuals.”

jl2*** The financial advantage of being a partner is attractive: people get an average of seven weeks’ pay in shared profits every year. “But the fact that way we share profits is almost as important. It sends a strong message about collective reward for collective effort. It’s not about equality, but fairness.”

The other vital element is how the management is accountable to partners. Throughout our chat, Mayfield brings up numerous examples of what this looks like in practice, as this openness isn’t just culture, it’s structure. Human resources is an important channel for implementing this, but the Partnership is also putting in place a central shared-services team whose job is to make the sure the principles are enacted consistently across the group. Already, there’s an elected body of people in every single shop, distribution centre or office, holding the local management to account. Registrars throughout the organisation ensure the business is run in accordance with its constitution, a document which includes a commitment to sharing knowledge. That means keeping discussions out in the open instead of secret meetings behind closed doors, and keeping facts available for all to see, warts and all.

“We don’t have a referendum on whether we are going to reorganise a particular area of the business, open a shop, or stock green jumpers. But the responsible managers make those decisions in the knowledge they are accountable,” says Mayfield. That includes himself: twice a year he faces a council questioning him on the performance of the business, before they vote on whether they want him to stay: “That is quite a key moment. Now, I have never lost the vote, but it still focuses the mind.” He nods. “It really does focus the mind.”

*** Accountability doesn’t mean the management will never be in the firing line, though. The Partnership caught flack this autumn when CEO Andy Street described France as “sclerotic, hopeless and downbeat”. Street was quick to issue an apology, adding that his comments were meant to be “tongue-in-cheek”. Earlier this year, at July’s council session, Mayfield found himself at the receiving of complaints from partners unhappy about the stress and pressure caused by recent years’ restructuring:

“Fundamentally, the council was not very happy with where we were, and they made that very, very clear. I sat and listened; I didn’t particularly like it, and I didn’t agree with all of it either. But that is the view of the owners of the business, so whatever my views, I listen to those opinions.” The follow-up came in October, after Mayfield commissioned a report on how the changes were progressing: “That was a very good session, and as a consequence, we have decided to make a few adjustments. The direction is still correct – we are very confident of that – but we made some adjustments in-flight.”

A unusually hands-on Chairman, Mayfield took an oath to run the Partnership in accordance with its constitution. He acknowledges he’s probably more focused on people-issues than perhaps the average Chairman: “But I would really encourage you not to separate that from the business. We focus on the business, which happens to be run by 90,000 people. Therefore, the best way to achieve the best results is actually to focus on the people running it.”

Having said that, Mayfield will readily assert that the effects of the Partnership is vital to the success of the business: “There is now a good body of evidence which shows employee-owned firms outperform their PLC company peers in overall performance over the economic cycle. In areas like job creation, productivity improvements, and well-being, many do even better.” Looking at Waitrose, product innovation can often be attributed to long-standing relationships with suppliers: “Don’t get me wrong: we have very commercial relationships with our supplier base. But we try to put them on mutually beneficial footing.”

jl3*** Mayfield became Chairman in 2007, but he first joined the Partnership in 2000 as Head of Business Development. “Before this, I was working in management consulting [at McKinsey & co] which I … enjoyed?” Mayfield laughs. “I say that with a degree of hesitation, because I’m not cut out to be a career consultant. I just don’t think I’m designed to be solely in an advisory role.” Still, the experience of working across retail brands was useful: Mayfield now chairs the UK Commission for Employment and Skills, and was appointed Chairman of the British Retail Consortium this March.

In the rare moments when he’s not working, Mayfield (48) lives in Newbury with his wife, a teacher, and their three teenage children. And yes, the kids have had a taste of the family business, with a bit of work experience at Waitrose before going off to university. “I spend lots of time at work, so when I’m not working I basically want to be at home with family. We have two large dogs that need a lot of walks, so it’s that kind of thing. […] It’s really important to defend the time away from work. My wife would probably tell you I don’t do it very successfully!” He laughs. “But I think I do, reasonably.”

Being in a leadership role within a partnership means potentially exposing yourself to a higher level of internal criticism: “Sometimes people find that hard to take. But I would say it’s a great strength to the business that we do that.” It may also take a little longer to implement change: “But this is not for soft reasons. We think doing so gives us a better long-term outcome. And it’s always the long-term that matters.”

This commitment to playing the long game cost the John Lewis Partnership £47 million last year, as the company discovered a discrepancy in holiday pay going back six years. The company could probably have got away with back-paying just part of the money: “But we decided that was just completely wrong. […] Rather than using the law as a device to avoid payment, we should actually say: ‘Frankly, we should have paid people more.’ These are the people who own our business. We just need to take this on the chin.”

This also goes to the heart of what the company means to Mayfield personally: “It sounds terribly cheesy, but I never cease to be impressed at the level of motivation and commitment [the partners] demonstrate – to each other, and therefore to the Partnership. We’re very fortunate to have an organisation which reinforces and encourages that.” The Chairman is usually recognised when he goes into a shop, where he’ll chat to partners who have been with the company anywhere between a week and 30 years. “They are working hard, are proud of what they do, and they are trying to do their best. That never ceases to be a tonic for me. […] There are thousands of people like that, who are impressive and deserve the best possible leadership we can provide.”

jl4*** Mayfield is careful never to say the employee-ownership model is better than the alternatives, but absolutely, he’d love for Britain to have more partnerships. “I would be delighted if there were more [employee-owned] companies,” he says. “But it’s not everybody’s cup of tea!” In any case, the John Lewis Partnership has been campaigning for five years to ensure employee-ownership is a financially viable alternative for entrepreneurs selling their businesses, as is now the case following October’s Finance Act. Next, the Partnership is running the ‘Inspire EO’ conference in February, aiming to educate company owners about the benefits of this model.

“I think there’s an increasing interest in not just how businesses perform, but in how they behave,“ says Mayfield; he would like to see the number of British employee-owned companies to reach 10%, up from 2% today. “Reputation matters, also in terms of very hard-nosed measures of financial return, and so it’s a key consideration. It’s probably a good thing that more businesses are thinking more seriously about how to preserve that.”

Despite his insistence that the John Lewis way is not for everyone, Mayfield is at his most enthusiastic when talking about his work to spread the word of its benefits: fairness for employees, the stability of a long-term outlook, and the benefit of plurality in a country’s business ownership. Maybe he’d be better suited to consultancy than he thinks? Clearly he has a desire to affect change beyond his own company. Mayfield laughs: “Well, that’s just being an advocate for a form of ownership I think deserves a greater awareness and following.” Again the company man, proud yet tastefully modest always.

What millennials want from work

Published in Businesslife, August 2013. Original article here (p48-50).

BL Aug

What millennials want: Recruiting the next generation

Money cannot buy you love, The Beatles once sang, but it turns out money also cannot buy you the loyalty of the millennials generation. Higher salaries may have been a key driving force for their parents, but for employees in their 20s, a better work-life balance weighs heavier on the scales.

Raised on the internet, the millennials generation – born between 1980 and 1995 – have seen work turn from a place to be, to something to do. And watching their parents climb the career ladder by working all hours of the day, and possibly even night, has failed to persuade millennials it is the road to happiness. This is the conclusion of an extensive study from PwC, which found that employers who want to continue to attract star talent will need to deliver what the millennials want: remote working, overseas consignments, being valued in the office, and opportunities for training.

“As the millennials generation becomes a more important part of the workforce, companies will need to be mindful of their priorities in order to attract top talent,” says Evelyn Brady, partner at PwC Channel Islands in Guernsey. “To attract the best candidates you need to understand what inspires and motivates people. The old mentality of just remuneration is not going to be enough to attract the right people to continue to be a successful business.”

PwC’s global study, polling 44,000 people over two years in conjunction with the London Business School and the University of Southern California, found that millennials are not convinced that work is worth the sacrifice of their personals lives. While the desire for flexible hours is not unique to the younger generation, Brady says she was surprised to what extent the millennials will actually give up money in exchange for freedom. According to the research, nearly 20% would forego some of their pay and slow the pace of promotion if they could work fewer hours.

“The monetary element of the package is important, but not as important as people of my generation would have thought.” says Brady. “Millennials look at life differently in terms of what inspires and motivates them, having seen [older] people work very hard, spending a lot of money and potentially now finding themselves in debt. And for what? Why not use the best years of your life to enjoy yourself, instead of saving for the never-never days?”

This wish for greater freedom does beg the question: is this realistic or just idealism? An executive who got ahead by being the last to leave the office for two decades be forgiven for thinking this attitude smacks of entitlement from spoilt kids out of touch with the real world. But this would be a rash conclusion. Millennials are just as willing to put their noses to the grindstone and work hard – they just want a bit more flexibility in how to go about it. “It used to be that you work really long hours to get up the corporate ladder, but this generation does not see their progression like that,” says Tina Palmer, director of ASL Recruitment in Jersey. “They want to do a good job, but they look for a company that appreciates them and supports them.”

After all, it will be difficult to persuade those who have grown up with web-connected mobiles in their pockets that it is vital to be present in the office for eight hours a day. They know they can just as easily power up a laptop on the train, log into the company network from home at night, or email in a report while spending time abroad. The millennials want to take advantage of these possibilities: nearly 70% of millennials said they would like to shift their work hours, plus occasionally work from home.

“The companies used to have all the power, telling staff: ‘If you want to get up the corporate ladder you have to be here, do this and that, and I need you in on Saturday morning’,” says Palmer. “These youngsters want to work, but they have their ethics about how they want to work, and how the company should treat them.”

This represents a significant cultural challenge for businesses, as a positive team spirit and a sense of social responsibility are all important factors for the millennials. They also want transparency around performance and compensation, and will much more easily share salary details with teammates. 37% of millennials are interested in working abroad, as opposed to just 28% of the previous generation, and they generally want to have a say in how they work rather than being told what to do.

Companies need to take these factors into account when putting together job offers for the younger generation. “People are not just looking at the money, but also at the culture of the organisation, the leadership, and what kind of working life they get. They ask, how much holiday do I get? Do I get medical? Do I get time to study? People are realising they spend a lot of time at work, and they need to be happy there,” says Palmer.

As the Channel Islands are arguably slow to adjust to new trends, a failure to attract the best millennials workers could lead to a wider skills gap, or even the islands becoming insular. While Palmer does not think Jersey companies are slow off the mark on this issue, all the sources interviewed for this article agreed that the change will take time. Evidence of adjusting attitudes are starting to be seen, however; Palmer says Channel Island staff used to job-hop, moving on every few years for the sake of a few grand: “Now people look at the packages, and often they will choose the one with better benefits, even if it is slightly lower money.”

Work-life balance is often short for getting out in time to pick up kids from school, but this is not necessarily the case for the millennials, who are still aged under 33. As 92% of those surveyed did not have children, work-life balance for them also means time for hobbies, travel, personal development, or simply wishing to meet a friend for a drink while the sun is still up.

Channel Island companies are well-positioned to respond to this desire for flexibility, because they are used to catering to working parents, says Sarah Garrood, partner at Maven Partners in Jersey: “The number of working women in the Channel Islands is very high compared to the UK. A lot of the employers here have to be flexible around the working parents situation, so Jersey seems to be very much in tune with those needs.”

Having previously spent 15 years recruiting in London, Garrood points out how Jersey and Guernsey will appeal to millennials’ sense for community and teamwork: “I have been pleasantly surprised at how much community work goes on here. It seems every day you open the local paper and read about employees engaging with the local community, be it sponsored events, sports, or companies donating staff’s time to charities.”

But while the positive examples are there, much work still needs doing before the millennials can have what they want. “We need a cultural shift in order to meet the demands of the new generation. This is happening, but it is a slow burn,” says Shelley Kendrick, managing director of Kendrick Rose in Jersey. Kendrick, who has worked closely with the Association of Graduate Recruiters, explains how the downturn has limited flexible working: “Especially since the recession, companies want a full-time headcount and there is not a great deal of job-sharing going on. Companies want people in place, by their desks, all day long.”

Having said that, Kendrick is seeing a definite change to how organisations listen to what employees want: “There is a cultural change going on among Channel Island companies, in terms of looking for people that will fit. This means looking for an attitude as opposed to just technical skills, and seeking out people who think differently and who can help the business grow.”

Especially smaller companies may find it challenging to cater to millennials’ requests for sabbaticals, volunteer assignments or year-long travel, but PwC’s Brady believes a flexible attitude and keeping an open conversation is the key: “This way it is not a surprise, so when you recruit you understand that this may be part of the career cycle. … It means thinking beyond one or two individuals in favour of a longer-term view.”

The added hassle of managing roaming staff mean corporations may initially bristle against this attitude, acknowledges Brady, but as the millennials age, they will soon make up the bulk of the workforce. In order to hire and retain top talent, companies cannot stick their head in the sand about what drives the new generation: “In order to continue to deliver positively, employees need to be able to relate to what a company is trying to achieve. There is only so much you can do with money – people will only give a certain percent of themselves that way. But if you work with them and allow them to achieve their own goals, they also allow you to achieve yours.”

After all, keeping up with a changing world is central to running a successful business: “Most corporations understand you cannot stand still.” While it will be a slow process, this is also the case for the Channel Islands, concludes Brady: “We have always had a view to the outside world. Obviously we are small islands, but most businesses here have global perspectives and deal with organisations all over the world. We need to make sure we have employees who can understand the challenges of different environments.”

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