Blog | A Conversation with Andrew Cocks, Assessment Psychologist at Conflux

Udgivet 04.04.2019

Employee Insight
A Conversation with Andrew Cocks, Assessment Psychologist at Conflux

In our latest interview with thought leaders, the tables turned, and we got to pick the brains of an assessment psychologist, Andrew Cocks on his thoughts around big topics such as purpose, gender equality, culture and robots!

 

What’s your guilty pleasure?

Food, although I wouldn’t call it guilty! It’s quite brazen in fact. That together with travel. I'm a big fan of Italy and Italian food. Last year I spent some time in Puglia, and this year I'll be headed to Sicily.

 

Tell us about a day in the life of an assessment psychologist.

We spend a lot of time pondering organizational culture: what it is, how to measure it and how to help organizations understand it and change it.

 

What one megatrend do you see impacting organizations today?

Off the bat, I'd have to say the importance of being a good corporate citizen. People are questioning the role of capitalism in a way they haven't done for a long time: what's its purpose and does it have a malign influence over society? Consider the data privacy spotlight, which is shining brightly on some of the big tech firms at the moment. Before long, those same levels of scrutiny will extend to all organizations who will have to demonstrate that they have broader social ends in mind, not just their own.

 

Is it just millennials that care about the role of business in society?

On one level, millennials have a choice that many of us didn’t have when we came into the workforce. Back then, you didn't necessarily consider whether your new employer was ethical (unless you were adamant that you didn't want to work for a tobacco or ammunition company). Now, social purpose and corporate citizenship are much more on the agenda. I think there’s a middle ground that there wasn't before.

 

How has the working environment changed in recent years?

In the past, you ‘sold’ your time in a way that's less obvious than it is now as a result of remote and flexible working. Today, it's not so much about where you are or how much time you're spending on a task, but more to do with the quality of what you’re working on. This is a good thing, but organizations still have a way to go. Being seen at your desk shouldn’t be a proxy for how busy (or productive) you are.

 

What are your views on the impact of emerging technologies on the workforce?

They can certainly take the drudgery out of very repetitive manual tasks. But, as it stands today, the scope is somewhat limited and humans are still on the hook for some of that drudgery (and will continue to be so). Just because an artificial intelligence system can do something doesn’t mean it can do it well. Take the area of communication. You might be able to fool someone they're having an online conversation with a real person when, in fact, they're not. The whole point of communication is to get something done or someone to do something. That requires judgment and a meaningful two-way exchange that you just can’t have between man and machine.

 

How have you seen feedback evolve over the years?

Looking back, it started with simple ‘suggestion boxes' where people could post ideas, and from there it quickly progressed to paper questionnaires where people told us 'how they felt.'  With online surveys came more data and more rigor. However, it became evident early on, that online surveys also had distinct limitations and were in no way a substitute for an ongoing dialogue between employee and employer or customer and company. Now we're on the cusp of real change: moving from periodic and regimented to organic and continuous ways of gathering and acting on feedback.

 

Doesn’t that mean more work for organizations? What’s the catch?

Here's the catch: the only way continuous feedback will provide more meaningful and actionable insight is the extent to which it increases an individual’s control and influence in how they work and what they do. In other words, are they empowered? Can they safely share ideas that are considered or acted on?

 

The late Peter Drucker, famously once said, "culture eats strategy for breakfast."

First, speculation still clings to whether Drucker ever said that. Regardless, it certainly does eat strategy for breakfast. I'd go further to say, it sneaks up from behind, whacks it on the head and kills it. Culture by its very nature, unless you make a distinct effort for it to be otherwise, is unconscious. The vast majority of how culture influences people and their behavior is not immediately apparent to an organization or the individuals within that organization. That’s important because once you're 'inside' an organization it's difficult to see the culture in which you're operating objectively.

 

What chance do companies ever have of successful business transformation?

It becomes a problem when you consider that most senior leaders within organizations have lived and breathed that organization’s culture for many years. To expect them to drive cultural change, without an objective and or external perspective, is almost impossible. To do so means digging beneath the surface. It's become very fashionable for people to use terms like engagement and feedback and culture almost as interchangeable; they're not. Culture is entirely different and needs to be treated as such.

 

Are you alluding to the cultural integrity of an organization?

Let's start by defining integrity, which is the consonance between what you say you are, what you do and what other people see you as being. So, where there's dissonance between any of those things, your cultural integrity gets called into question. Culture plays an integral part in that. If you’re unaware of how your culture influences the decisions you make and the way you behave, it's hard to have cultural integrity and meritocracy. Integrity radars are turned up to the max these days. The gender pay gap is a perfect case in point with organizations often plastering on their websites their dedication to equal opportunities and how they offer a 'great place for women to work,' while quietly admitting a gender pay gap of 60%. It just doesn't stack up.

 

With equal opportunities regulation, why is that still happening?

It’s important to say that the gender pay gap is not because men and women are being paid differently for doing the same job. That’s illegal, and it doesn't happen very often (and when it does happen, quite rightly, employers are prosecuted). The gap persists at the organizational and sector levels because there are disproportionately more men in senior and higher paying positions than women. And, that’s because women find it more difficult to progress within an organization. When the Office for National Statistics looked at it, they discovered that seemingly obvious reasons like career breaks for maternity leave and flexible working had a small bearing, but that two-thirds was inexplicable. I put my money on cultural factors explaining the majority of that two-thirds.

 

Tell us more.

Together with Questback, Conflux undertook research in both the UK and US financial services sectors. We found that, in many organizations, there's an inherent bias in favor of perceived masculine traits, particularly in leadership roles. In other words, when people are looking to promote and recruit into senior positions, they look for characteristics and behaviors they subconsciously associate with masculinity such as decisiveness, assertiveness or competitiveness. And, that has a very profound effect operating at a subconscious level. So, the way organizations assess candidates, how they write job descriptions or the way they nurture talent ends up skewed towards masculine traits.

 

Are there any industries or companies that are doing a sterling job of tackling the gender pay gap?

Talking about the UK specifically, there are some organizations with a gender pay gap in favor of women, so it's not a universal thing by any means. The next round of reporting will show us who has been successful in closing the gap. That said, early reporting seems to suggest that a good number of organizations have gone in the wrong direction. I passionately believe that will be because they haven't got to it in a meaningful way and addressed the cultural elements of it.

 

How do organizations start to address the cultural elements?

The first step in any of this is to understand what the root cause of it is and to do you need some form of quantifiable mechanism. Organizations are very good at making assumptions about what those are but are not so good on backing those up with fact. Only once you understand the nature of the problem, can you develop a meaningful plan to overcome it. Until that point, we tend to believe in meritocracy, which blurs our objectivity and how we manage decisions and promote talent.

 

What are some of the broader diversity and inclusion challenges within organizations?

The challenges around the gender pay gap extrapolate to different elements of the wider diversity and inclusion agenda. People rarely see the bias in their decision making, but it’s the way they operate. People make assumptions on characteristics, and that includes ethnicity, sexual orientation, disability as well as gender. It’s not to say they're racists or sexists, but we all tend to make generalized assumptions of people based on their most salient characteristics.

It doesn’t take a huge leap of faith to see that if you have diversity in your workforce, good things will follow. While there's a lack of empirical evidence, it seems obvious to conclude that when you have very confident, assertive, competitive, self-assured people making decisions in a homogeneous group, there's very little room for considering new, different exciting ways of approaching familiar problems. And, that really holds organizations back.

 

What would your career advice be to others?

Don't limit yourself in any way. Instead, do the stuff that you're uncomfortable with. Actively make an effort to do that rather than shy away from it. It's not always easy to do, but almost invariably when you do it, you end up realizing it's not half as scary as you thought it was.

 

About the Interviewee

Andrew Cocks | Assessment Psychologist, Conflux 

Andrew has over 20 years of experience in the field of employee engagement, culture and change. Andrew led the European Employee Engagement practice at Watson Wyatt before moving to HSBC where he was Group Head of Engagement and Employer Brand. 


Vil du se, hvordan Questback kan arbejde for din virksomhed?