Getting into the groove
Isaac Newton’s first law of motion says a moving object will only change speed or direction if another, new force acts upon it. Once it is on its trajectory, it takes an equal or greater combination of mass and velocity to slow it down.
This power of momentum can also be seen in sports – there’s nothing like a winning streak to make your football team look and feel invincible, as if each subsequent goal or win is a little easier.
And it’s also evident in the world of business.
There, teams and organisations that get “on a roll,” where everyone is aligned and everything seems to work just right, might be seen as lucky. But there is actually nothing random about this momentum – it is something that organisations work hard to build and then maintain over the longer term.
While it might be made to look easy from the outside, the internal culture has been crafted – often by HR – to leverage on every win and milestone so that it helps propel the organisation towards the next.
Part art, part science
The combined art and science of this organisational momentum is the specialty of Australian-based social researcher Michael McQueen. He says the concept in the physical world is easy to quantify – with Newton having proved that force is equal to the product of mass and acceleration.
“In a business context, it’s harder to pin down,” he warns. “We know what it feels like, but we can’t define it as precisely as happens in physics.
“It is very much like inspiration. We don’t necessarily know where it comes from, but we know it’s important.”
Likewise, having momentum and then losing it can have a devastating effect on a business, making everything that much harder to execute. “Momentum is dynamism and vitality. Everyone knows how much that hurts when it disappears.”
McQueen has been tracking social and business trends since 2004. Back then, his first piece of research was on the changing demographics of the Australian workforce. Over three and a half years, he interviewed some 80,000 millennial-age workers to discover the impact they were having on businesses and the national economy.
His first book, The ‘New’ Rules of Engagement, was based on that research and is still considered one of the most comprehensive guides to youth culture and how it impacts the modern workplace.
These days, McQueen says he does more curating of research than direct study himself. But by collating and sorting a wide range of materials from business across the globe, he is able to pinpoint trends and insights taking place on an international scale.
“I’m looking at broad technological marketplace disruptions, trying to understand why some organisations win the battle for change
“There’s such a barrage of research and data available. But businesses need someone who can turn data into information, and then information into insights that can help them get ahead.”
His latest book, Momentum: How to Build it, Keep it, or Get it Back takes in case studies from all over the world and across different time periods to create a working model for momentum in the business world.
“It asks: why do the enduring prevail? What do they do differently?”
“The modern open plan office is almost-purpose built to destroy focus.” Michael McQueen, social researcher and futurist
A natural enemy
Of course, it’s not just about finding the “sweet spot” of alignment. A key part of having momentum is holding on to it, or getting it back if things don’t go to plan.
McQueen says that just as the physical world has a natural tendency to push back against moving objects – typically through friction – so too does business have a natural enemy against momentum: bureaucracy.
Red tape and micro-management reduce effort at the individual level, which then adds up to slow everything down for the larger organisation.
It’s for this reason that he is particularly excited about speaking at HR Summit & Expo Asia 2017 in May, with HR professionals a key part of any bureaucracy-cutting solution.
“For an HR leader – you need to set an environment for people to perform at their peak. That’s when momentum will build,” McQueen says. “How do you reduce the friction between people and between departments?”
Interestingly, he says the modern, open-plan office space can be a dangerous, momentum-killing source of friction. “We need to tackle a really hard look at the structure and the offices that we are creating,” McQueen warns, saying the benefits of increased collaboration is being weighed down by the increase in distractions for workers.
“The data here is compelling. Two out of three people are unhappy with the noise levels at their work.”
“The modern open plan office is almost-purpose built to destroy focus.”
Still, the problem is being recognised by some forward-thinking organisations. Rather than returning to the silent, sterile days of individual offices and closed doors, they are striving for a balance of collaborative spaces with private desks.
“The pendulum has swung too far toward open plan working spaces, but smart organisations are now intelligently creating spaces where both (collaboration and private work) can happen,” McQueen says. “There’s got to be space and clearly defined boundaries.”
Live in Singapore
Michael McQueen will be making the trip to Singapore for HR Summit & Expo Asia 2017 on May 3 and 4.
His presentation, Mastering the Art of Momentum to Future-Proof Your Organisation, is part of the exclusive C-Suite Symposium stream, and will reveal all of McQueen’s insights into gaining, keeping, and even regaining lost momentum for your team or organisation.
“We all love being on a roll, where everything you do just works,” McQueen says.
“But what happens when a groove becomes a rut? When inspiration evaporates?”
Audiences will learn about the five enemies of momentum, as well the daily habits that leaders can adopt to build “unstoppable” energy within their teams.
McQueen also offers a guaranteed “take-away” for delegates attending his presentation.
“Every attendee will leave with a clear game plan to move forward. This will be an action plan for finding your groove; maybe getting it back, but most importantly making sure you keep it.”
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