April 2017, Central London. During the late afternoon London’s busy streets are packed with traffic, tourists, and the early rush of business people returning home. The sound of hustle and bustle reverberates, motorcycle couriers, hackneys and the famous red double-decker buses make their way through the jammed streets. For silence and privacy, it is a good idea to get inside to one of many flexible co-working spaces. In the heart of London it’s everything a modern business meeting needs to be effective.
Four tough leaders with different backgrounds have met to discuss the future for business organisations. Although the meeting is not ordinary, the surroundings are simple. A black table, brown leather chairs and onlooking deep-sea fish on the wall.
Business Technology Visions 2020 is a bold move to see the near future of knowledge workers and modern business organisations. It will describe how themes such as work life balance, organisational culture, leadership and technology will change in the near future. 2020 seems to be a small step ahead, yet changes across these areas in this time will continue to gather pace and reshape organisations beyond recognition. Specialists and experts from a wide variety of organisations and top companies will be interviewed and together these interviews will shape the Business Technology Visions 2020.
Today Juha Huovinen, the founder and Chairman of the Board of Sofigate and Nick Russell, Director at Sofigate UK, have invited James Hewitt and Harri Sundvik from Hintsa Performance to paint a picture of a more productive, innovative and inspiring organisation. After everyone in the room has introduced themselves, one might expect people to enjoy a cup of coffee or in London, their favourite tea. Instead, it’s glasses of water all-round. Perhaps James recounting a recent presentation, where he mentioned caffeine’s long half-life and sleep disrupting properties have made everyone think twice, this late in the day.
With 20 years of rethinking life, Hintsa is dedicated to the science of human high performance. Clients range from Formula 1 World Champions and top CEO’s to executive teams and wider groups of employees.
Now you might wonder what’s the big buzz about water. The choice of a glass of water is a similarity between four otherwise quite different participants. Juha has built a successful technology business in the Nordics and Nick is leading a growing consulting business in the UK. James, a former elite racing cyclist, is now the Head of Science & Innovation at Hintsa Performance. Harri is pursuing the second half of his career as an Executive Chairman at Hintsa Performance. Previously, he flew an average of 200 flights per year as a global investment banker.
The next similarity is they all know that, to keep up with the fast phase of today’s business life, one can’t just push a miracle button for better productivity.
Productivity is a sum of many small things including job satisfaction, compensation and physical wellbeing. The choice of a glass of water during a day is one of the keys. Even though there have been many business meetings during the day, the gentlemen feel full of energy. The discussion begins with James who reflects on the similarities between Formula 1 drivers, teams and Fortune 500 companies, all Hintsa clients. Margins are tight, pressure is high, and the pace is rapid. Harri agrees, he has seen this throughout his career. Companies expect faster results all the time and there is no room for mistakes. An investment banker making a wrong decision, might cost millions. On an F1 race track, where speeds exceed 300 km/h, braking a few milliseconds too late could have catastrophic consequences.
Harri explains that Hintsa services are based on an integrated wellbeing method first described by Hintsa’s founder Dr Aki Hintsa. Dr Hintsa pioneered his approach in Formula 1, where his philosophy supported eleven Formula 1 World Championship titles, and continues to excel. Over time the method has been proven to resonate in a business context, resulting in the Hintsa team being invited to share their insights at the World Economic Forum in Davos, not only once, but twice.
Nick commented that the knowledge based organisations he is working with are already testing and trialling aspects of this philosophy, from mediation apps to more flexible approaches to working time.
THE CIRCLE OF BETTER LIFE
James explains the concept: “Imagine a wheel constructed of six components. If one component breaks down, the wheel stops spinning.” This model can be used to illustrate the holistic and integrated nature of wellbeing. For the wheel to spin smoothly, all six parts need to be in place and function well individually and with each other.
James continues, our sense of identity, purpose and control is at the heart of the Circle of Better Life, which we see as our ‘Core’. It holds the circle together and provides the motivational backbone to make meaningful, sustainable changes in our lives and achieve our goals. However, before we can address our goals – what we want – we need to begin by considering our identity: Do you know who you are? With a clearly defined identity and a strong sense of what we want, we can take the driver’s seat, assume control and begin the journey.
James goes on to describe the other parts of the wheel. Physical activity; our bodies are built for movement, but both too much and too little can cause problems. However, appropriate training that improves physical fitness has been demonstrated to improve health as well as performance, particularly cognitive performance.
Next to physical activity is nutrition. We all know that food is more than fuel. The food and drinks we consume support all our bodily functions and have a tremendous impact on our health and performance.
As we move clockwise around the Circle of Better Life, we find Sleep and Recovery. Sleep is essential for our health and performance. Our brains and bodies require sufficient rest in order to function and stay healthy. However, sleep and recovery are some of the most undervalued elements in our busy lives. James highlights the fact that “to go fast, you must first learn to go slow”. You may feel that you’re performing well with little sleep, but what if you discovered that your current output only represented a fraction of your full potential?
The fourth part of the circle of better life is Biomechanics. As a high-performing system, our bodies need maintenance to run smoothly. Mental energy is the fifth component in the circle. Imagine your mental energy as a budget that you can use to manage your life and environment. Some activities, people and tasks, drain our budget, others replenish it. It’s impossible to empty our lives of everything that consumes energy, but it’s important to consider how our budget is spent and prioritise time and energy where we find meaning and fulfilment.
The last area in Hintsa’s Performance method, but definitely not the least, is general health. General health is the foundation of our wellbeing. It’s not merely the absence of disease; rather a positive state of complete physical, mental and social well-being. Our general health is important today, but Hintsa also consider our health span; compressing ill-health into as short a period as possible, at the end of life. By taking charge of your health today, you can avoid many negative outcomes in the future.
EXPONENTIAL – BETTER LIFE AND BETTER PERFORMANCE
Next James explains the findings of Exponential, a book written by him and the late Dr Aki Hintsa. Exponential provides a deep dive into the science of human high performance, exploring human potential in both sport and business, in the context of the demands generated by our rapidly changing society, technology and economy.
Economic disruptions such as delayed retirement age, and the high probability that jobs involving routine tasks will be replaced, in whole or in part, by
automation, means that the employee of the future is likely to be an ageing ‘knowledge worker’ – someone who ‘thinks for a living’.
The workforce of tomorrow will require employees to maximise ‘health span’; maintaining health and physical function while compressing ill health into as short a period as possible. Remaining human roles are likely to emphasise sophisticated and effective cognitive functioning, requiring skills and capacities such as convergent, divergent, critical, creative thinking and complex problem solving, compelling employees to enhance and maintain their cognitive function.
We need to cultivate new skills, capacities and the flexibility to meet these demands. We need to reconsider how we live and work today, so that we can pay attention to what is most important and invest our time and energy appropriately for tomorrow. With learnings from top-performers in sport and business, ‘Exponential’ provides new perspectives and tools to address distracted habits, manage your attention more effectively, proactively optimise the distribution of your time and energy, and create the conditions to nurture the skills and capacities that will be crucial for surviving and thriving in the ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’.
Whether we are leading a team of thousands, or driving a Formula 1 car, James’ conclusion is that taking a step back and choosing to focus our attention and energy where we can have the biggest influence can have an exponential positive impact, for us and the people around us. However, he also makes it clear that he believes that productivity without purpose is pointless. Returning to the ‘Core’, he suggests that we would all likely benefit from spending some time reflecting on who we are, what we really want to achieve, and whether we can discover a deeper purpose, before we set out on a journey to enhance our life and performance.
TAKEAWAYS FOR BUSINESS TECHNOLOGY ORGANISATION
Both the circle of better life and the findings of James’ research supports the initial supposition that modern business organisations will look somewhat different than today, and knowledge workers and Formula 1 drivers have more in common than perhaps we thought. After plenty of questions and eager discussion the participants reverse the original questions: What could be takeaways for any business technology organisation?
Everyone in the meeting room agrees that organisations should invest more in personal wellbeing, and that performance is the by-product. For decades, organisations have measured an individual’s results in very narrow business terms and concentrated only on ‘concrete’ impact. The future of work will likely see changes in the typical employer-employee relationship, new models of productivity and increasing complexity. It will become increasingly difficult to describe how individuals create measurable value, and the value they create will depend more on complex capabilities such as creativity, collaboration and problem solving; the optimal expressions of which are predicated on an individual being healthy, energized and inspired.
Of course, the financial value people create will always be vitally important, however the key message is: instead of just measuring the pure financial performance of your organisation, we should measure wellbeing too, optimal performance is built on a foundation of wellbeing.
This raises new questions for leaders, how to measure wellbeing and performance in the new world of knowledge work? Nick explained that traditionally wellbeing has been seen mostly from an organisational point of view. A common example of this activity are yearly wellbeing surveys, which collect data from workers through self-assessment. The survey results show the organisational wellbeing.
The room discussed the idea that an organisation has three ways to measure itself:
• Financial performance – which is of course well understood,
• Organisational wellbeing – for example how happy are employees, how engaged they are, how many are leaving etc, and finally,
• Individual wellbeing – This category is less understood and many organisations have not attempted to measure it.
Individual wellbeing as seen from the circle of better life has six elements which should be measured by the organisation of the future, and considered as part of an integrated system, of which organisational wellbeing and financial performance is a part.
Juha interjects, with the idea that privacy and culture are a concern. Not everyone wants to share their personal wellbeing data with their employer and this issue will need careful handling. There is agreement within the room. Harri expands, more than ever it appears that people must feel secure and have a clear understanding that individual measurements will only be shared based on what the individual is comfortable with, and that this sharing can offer genuine benefits to the individual, with organisation performance representing the fruit of this, as opposed to being its driver.
If organisations are to measure individual wellbeing, organisations need to offer tools to improve personal wellbeing. One very promising mechanism is personal coaching. Maybe future business organisations could provide personalised coaching for every employee, with digital technology, wearables, apps and the connected world being the route to this reality.
Another finding of the vivid discussion is that, even though it is difficult to categorise people, three broad groups can be identified:
• The first group of people are workers who appreciate having information available related to their individual wellbeing, but do not want to be coached or measured by their organisation.
• The second group of people are more interested in the topic and would like to be coached and discuss their private wellbeing, albeit perhaps taking small steps at a time.
• The third group are strongly committed to a healthy life. For them wellbeing is a lifestyle; they are already measuring personal metrics such as sleep and recovery, and are actively collecting data with different gadgets. This group expect their organisation to value and proactively support their wellbeing. Digital personal coaches or mobile applications are likely the most efficient way for organisations to support individual wellbeing for these individuals.
Of course, even though people may not belong to a certain group, it doesn’t mean that they are not willing to improve their wellbeing. Many of us wish to boost our own energy levels and here top management plays a critical role. Top management must support personal growth and give tools, but also lead by personal example. James talked about a Managing Director who took to carrying his gym bag through the office at lunch time, to show that it was ok to take some time for exercise.
As the early evening approached the last topic discussed before closing the meeting and heading to the airport or home, was the value of individual wellbeing for the organisation.
Is it wise, from an investment point of view, for organisations to invest time and money in individual wellbeing? Nick proposed that whilst it may be difficult to value precisely with euros, it is something that future organisations responding to the war on talent will need to think about. Even as the topic was left open for further discussion, participants summarized the meeting with the conclusion “Build personal wellbeing and organisational performance will follow”.
- Use and promote the ‘Circle of Life’ to enhance performance and well-being.
- Promote personal well-being amongst staff and organisational performance will benefit.
- Lead by example on implementing personal well-being.
- The future of work will likely see increasing complexity and competitiveness hence the need for approaches such as the ‘Circle of Life’.
Writer is Nick Russell.