The new year is a time of renewal, reflection, and refocusing. It is a time where we remind ourselves of what we aim to do and where we want to go, both metaphorically and physically (Bognor Regis here we come). Typically, at the beginning of the year a selection of goals is pulled together varying from specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time bounded (the SMART goal utopia) to unrealistic, improbable and general flights of fantasy (UIP & GF oF goals).
For a few years, one of my more improbable goals was to win an ABP Workforce Experience Award. It was an award that was particularly special, as it was one voted by the great and good of the Business Psychology community, a community that values scientific rigor, organizational impact, collaboration, and innovation. It was an award that was judged by the very top in an industry where objectivity was one of its most important foundations.
Amazingly, in 2017 our team won the Excellence in Assessment Award for our work with the Welsh Fire and Rescue Service, designing a multi-stage selection process aimed at identifying modern firefighters. What was even more incredible was that the same team won the same award in 2018 for our work with the Civil Service, designing a multimedia blended assessment, which has been used to assess over a quarter of a million applicants, across six job role levels (from administrative to leadership roles). For me, winning the award in two consecutive years was not just a realization of an improbable new year’s resolution but it highlighted the true power of collaboration, effort, and hard work to achieve something that our team can be proud of.
When I started to write this blog, I immediately began to regret my decision as the discussion of awards and new year’s resolutions could be perceived as quite indulgent (as it is). However, in my opinion, the act of reflection is one of the greatest mediums for us to learn, formalize our ideas, and grow. In addition, nothing excellent can ever be achieved in a vacuum, it requires many people working together and bringing their best to achieve anything of value. Therefore, taking the time to identify what made the projects successful will hopefully help provide food for thought and opportunity to reflect.
Working in Partnership
Obviously any team working on a shared goal needs to collaborate and work together effectively. However, what made the projects award winning was the fact that there was a strong partnership at the heart of them. Despite the official roles of supplier/client which existed, the true reality was that we were partners and colleagues trying to achieve a shared goal that we all believed in.
Regular meetings, clear project plans, defined activities, planned resources, and all the other activities are obviously all very useful. However, these are necessities rather than differentiators. Arguably, what made the difference was the quality of the relationship between everyone involved, the regular informal communications, and the sense that we were all working together. This approach extended to all the suppliers that we worked with from directors and associates to diversity experts and editors.
By the end of the project, the clients on both projects were not just people who we worked with, they were people that we had experienced a life event together with, they were people who we trusted implicitly and will forever be in the pantheon of our great memories. For example, I will never forget calling my client at 5:30am, just before the launch of the first campaign for the Welsh Fire and Rescue Service, teas in hand, pressing the "launch button," watching the first set of candidates go through successfully. Eventually, over 5,000 candidates went through the process in the first three days.
With all projects there is a need to be flexible and adapt your approach when necessary. Despite building in contingency across both projects, things didn’t always go to plan: critical colleagues fell sick due to horrific illnesses, requirements shifted, significant life events happened, offices were moved, approaches needed to be completely changed, literal fires needed to be dealt with, actors disappeared, and unforeseen challenges arose. There was a need to adapt positively throughout the projects on both sides of the client/supplier partnership. Through this process of flexibility, not only did we deliver what we aimed to do but we were also able to improve upon it, as necessity is the mother of invention.
However, flexibility is not just being willing to adjust but is arguably an ethos. By being flexible, you can ensure that you are meeting the client’s goals and requirements fully. The willingness to flex our approach, systems, and capabilities meant we were able to work together to deliver goals that were ambitious.
This is probably one of the least glamorous of the five ingredients as it basically equates to putting in lots of effort. However, if you want to deliver anything exceptional, sacrifice and going the extra mile are typically a part of it. This dedication may not automatically mean working long-hours, but it does mean that the team working on the project needs to be dedicated to delivering something that they are all proud of.
Dedication pulls a team together and helps them forge ahead as a unit. Without it, the projects would not be possible to deliver in the time frames the clients needed it. For example, one of our lead developers slept on the office sofa, spending most of the night trying to identify a better solution for the feature he was building. His sacrifice was not unique. However, the reason why it sticks in my memory was the fact that he wasn’t concerned by the kudos or the sympathy he deservedly should have garnered, he just wanted to deliver the best solution to the client. Nevertheless, to be fair, not changing one’s clothes whilst sleeping on office-based-furniture doesn’t typically engender much admiration.
For both projects, realism and job relevance were very important elements of the online assessments we designed. To do this, most organizations would follow a rigorous job analysis phase. However, to truly understand our clients and the job roles being recruited for, we felt we needed to go beyond the standard and truly immerse ourselves (to go full method, Daniel Day Lewis style).
This immersion involved a combination of interviews, job shadowing, office visits, task analysis, hanging around fire stations, reviewing hundreds of job descriptions, workshops with experts, watching a slew of reality TV workplace shows, YouTube clips, Backdraft, the Thick of It, and reviews involving thousands of employees. Overall the goal was to appreciate the organizations in a way that meant we truly understood their values, competencies, and culture so that we can reflect them in all the work we delivered.
For example, for the Civil Service project, as it had a multimedia component, we needed to produce 67 videos depicting work-related scenarios and hire 61 actors for over 90 roles. Therefore, this immersion was critical to ensure the direction, actor choices, props, clothes, sets, communication, and situations were all representative of what it is like to work for the Civil Service.
The goal of having a measurable and significant impact on the organization should be the spine of any project. Arguably, this is the most important of all the ingredients and leads to the other award-winning characteristics highlighted. In my mind, having a purposeful desire to positively impact the organization is the foundation by which everything is built.
This overarching goal imbues the team’s actions, deliverables, and decisions with greater meaning and purpose, and ensures the impact is monitored both during and after the project. Therefore, there were some amazing statistics that we were able to highlight to internal and external stakeholders. For example, the Civil Service have estimated that the implementation of the test we designed, as part of a trio of psychometric tests, has saved 3.5 million pounds in resources since going live in January 2017 to October 2018.
We were also lucky that both projects were with fantastic organizations that deliver a discernible difference to UK society. Therefore, the meaningfulness of working with such organizations was very transparent, with the Fire & Rescue Service literally saving lives as a vocation, and the Civil Service being the heartbeat of the UK’s Government.
If you have gotten this far, you deserve an award. I am happy to send an "I read a long blog award" via email for all who achieved this. However, before I go, it should be noted that winning awards is a nice by-product of doing great work and should not be the motivation. A group of individuals all wanting to do the best work on a shared goal is genuinely the true expression of achievement. I have been lucky enough to work with some truly talented and dedicated people, all of whom have not been mentioned directly but you know who you are.
To you, the reader, I hope in 2019, you can achieve whatever goal you have set yourself, just remember that nothing great is achieved without the help of others!
Find out more about our award winning project with The Civil Service by downloading the case study here.