Just ReleasedParticipants in today’s business ecosystems collaborate in ways that are significantly different than previous collaboration models. This requires a shift in mindset and a new and unique set of management practices.
Just AnnouncedWhat business results are possible when you redesign jobs? In “Job Quality is a Pathway to Alpha,” IRC4HR is funding development of educational materials and an information campaign to raise awareness of the evidence base regarding the power of improving jobs to generate above-market returns (alpha).
Let us know what aspects of human relations in the workplace need to be studied.
What should be next in human resources and organizational research?
Let us know what questions, challenges, and trends you would like to see examined by new research or explored via webcasts and seminars.
Leaders today are struggling to create workplaces that attract and retain employees who feel engaged and empowered. At the same time, leaders face a future defined by agile, interdependent networks of organizations and stakeholders. Both challenges require a shift from traditional top-down, siloed, “ego-system” business practices.
8th August 2022How to solve today’s talent challenges—and prepare for tomorrow’s business opportunities
“Eco-system” mindsets, behaviors, and business structures are needed now and for the future
(Originally posted on SmartBrief, June 2, 2022)
Leaders today are struggling to create workplaces that attract and retain employees who feel engaged and empowered.
At the same time, leaders face a future defined by agile, interdependent networks of organizations and stakeholders.
Both challenges require a shift from traditional top-down, siloed, “ego-system” business practices.
There’s no app for that—no simple magic bullet. But embracing an “eco-system” approach can help you address both near-term talent challenges and long-term business transformation needs.
Customer experiences and employee experiences
What is an “eco-system” approach? Creating and capturing value by connecting across organization capabilities and resources is at the core of a business ecosystem. So, an “eco-system” approach begins with the ability to collaborate and co-create across organizational boundaries to deliver a high-quality experience.
In the case of your customer, no single business function “owns” the entire experience. Product development teams play a role, but so do salespeople, and the customer service reps who provide post-sale support. What’s more, leading organizations are co-creating solutions with their customers, partners, and suppliers through integrated, coordinated ecosystem relationships in which all stakeholders benefit.
This is as true for your employees as it is for your customers. No single function – or organization – owns the entire experience. Creating an attractive, engaging workplace environment requires collaboration across groups including managers, HR, IT, and external suppliers. And it turns out that working collaboratively to co-create their work experience is also what employees are looking for in today’s workplace. So, getting better at “eco-system” practices is good for addressing your talent challenges and for improving your business competitiveness.
The problem is that most organizations function in more of a vertical, hierarchical, self-centered, “ego-system” model.
Cultivating a thriving ecosystem within
How do you foster a healthy ecosystem within your walls? We suggest you focus on three areas: mindsets, behaviors, and business structures.
–Mindsets. In an ecosystem, success is a collective measure. One entity can’t be successful at the expense of the others. Leaders must adopt a view of success that encompasses the wellbeing of all stakeholders, including workers. Pay attention to employees’ needs for fair pay, autonomy, and a sense of purpose.
What’s more, employees should be encouraged to expand their mindsets. It’s important that they develop a big-picture view of your company – from how it serves customers and collaborates with partners to how their role contributes to business results – so they feel aligned with business goals and can contribute better ideas.
Scholar Roland Deiser calls the “ability to step out of an ego-centered frame of reference” and see things from an elevated perspective “decentration competence.”
–Behaviors. Leaders’ day-to-day activities must promote a positive, engaging experience for employees. Building trusting relationships through listening and empathy is vital. So is encouraging employees to build personal networks within and beyond the team. As scholars Rob Cross and Jean Singer have pointed out, such connections are vital to both business performance and personal well-being.
Leaders also need to inspire creativity and experimentation. Encourage your employees to take initiative, collaborate, and learn – in part by providing a safe space for failure. Celebrate healthy risk-taking by telling the stories of individuals and teams that experimented, failed, learned, and iterated their way to success.
–Business structures. Speed, transparency, and flexibility are important for cross-organizational collaboration. Unfortunately, multiple decision layers, vertical silos that don’t talk to each other, and conflicting internal stakeholder interests are frequent obstacles.
Leaders need to reduce organization layers, release some control, and empower managers, teams, and employees to make decisions and act. Leading people who don’t report to you is a challenge to traditional reporting relationships. Leadership in this context is about influencing. This includes aligning people with the purpose of the work and defining measures that reward collective performance, which could require a change in compensation practices.
Solving for today and tomorrow
With these mindsets, behaviors, and business structures, your people will feel more engaged and perform better, individually and collectively. They will learn the skills that will enable your organization to create – and adapt to – market disruptions. And your organization will be better prepared to thrive in a world of agile business networks.
By cultivating an effective internal ecosystem, you can solve today’s talent challenges and prepare for tomorrow’s business opportunities.
22nd July 2022Extending the Good Jobs Movement
How to build on the progress of the past two years
We’ve gone fast. Now let’s go far.
Over the past two years, we’ve transformed how we work at a break-neck pace. Companies that balked at remote work for years suddenly made it the default policy. Executives who bragged about being laser-focused on shareholder returns suddenly pivoted to tout their commitment to multiple stakeholders. Employees who toughed it out at toxic workplaces resigned in droves and demanded flexibility, better pay, and more purposeful, inclusive cultures.
This is all positive progress toward a “Good Jobs” future, where work meets high-level human needs, such as meaningfulness and belonging, and provides for basic needs, like compensation and safety.
But there’s no guarantee that the Good Jobs movement will continue to advance. The lightning-fast changes in the workplace were sparked by crises including a pandemic, a racial reckoning, and climate disasters. As COVID recedes and the news cycle shifts to other matters, as it always does, the momentum toward good jobs could dissipate.
How do we ensure that the Good Jobs movement keeps rolling forward? I believe it boils down to the adage, “if you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”
Applying this to the workplace means extending the movement to more people, organizations, and institutions, as well as coordinating the key players. It involves helping people see their interests converging around a vision of work that is more interconnected, dynamic, and human.
It amounts to a mindset change—and perhaps a change of heart as well. Workers, leaders, and investors must begin optimizing for the good of the entire system, rather than for their own self-interest.
The old: A siloed “ego-system”
For years, the major stakeholders in American business have pursued their self-interest, largely blind to the needs of the wider economic, social, and environmental systems in which they operate.
Investors sought “alpha” – excess returns – often ignoring the “externalities,” such as wages so low they require workers to rely on government aid programs, and environmental damage that contributes to our climate crisis.
Executives aimed to please those investors, seeking to push up stock prices in ways that guaranteed massive payouts for themselves, while skimping on investments in employees – in the form of decent pay or training opportunities – and hurting the long-term health of the organization. Leaders often paid lip service to diversity, inclusion, and belonging.
Workers, too, have had a narrow mindset. Many have viewed their skills as fixed and have been resistant to change. Organized labor has often myopically focused on squeezing higher pay and benefits from employers, failing to help prepare organizations – and workers – for success in fast-changing economic conditions.
The new: A networked “eco-system”
The past two years have exposed the faults of siloed, egocentric mindsets. What’s needed now is ecosystem thinking. A growing body of research is demonstrating the wisdom of viewing work and organizations in this manner. Consider the words of Roland Deiser, of the Center for the Future of Organization at Drucker School of Management:
“The tendency to put our ego-system before the eco-system – which comes with a limited ability to see ourselves as part of a web of connectivity that we continuously co-constitute – is one of the most important barriers that we need to overcome if we want to succeed…”
What does this ecosystem thinking mean for executives? It means taking to heart lessons from the pandemic and other recent challenges. It’s recognizing their reliance on supply chains and front-line staffers who risked the most during COVID to deliver products and services. It’s acknowledging how dehumanizing and unfulfilling work has been for many employees — points driven home by “the great resignation.”.
There are similar implications for investors. They are called to reward companies that demonstrate a commitment to good jobs, social responsibility, and environmental stewardship. This isn’t as hard as it seems. High-road businesses have already demonstrated outsized stock performance — a trend that continued during the pandemic.
Financial services firm Two Sigma Investments is among the pioneers taking a wider view. It launched Two Sigma Impact, a unit focused on broader social impact. “We believe Two Sigma Impact can contribute meaningfully toward a society in which quality jobs underpin better outcomes across many different dimensions, including stronger communities, broader equality and inclusivity, better health, and greater prosperity,” says Warren Valdmanis, Partner at Two Sigma Impact.
Employees, too, have work to do. They need to acknowledge the fast-changing nature of a digital, global economy, and embrace new learning opportunities. And as unions rethink their roles in the 21st-century US economy, they can engage more creatively with management to pursue shared, interdependent interests.
At stake: Our collective wellbeing
The stakes are high that key stakeholders keep the Good Jobs movement going. If organizations, investors, and employees fail to move beyond zero-sum thinking, everyone will lose. Historically high levels of inequality will increase, breeding social discontent and distrust. We’ll continue hurting our planet, which will ultimately reduce the long-term viability of business, not to mention human and other forms of life.
But a different future is possible. The rapid progress of the past two years doesn’t have to be a mere fleeting moment.
We can make work work for all.
After going fast, we can go far.
14th March 2022Five “P”s for Inspiring Employee Commitment and Engagement in Today’s Hybrid World
Plus a “C” for weaving them all together.
Managers, there’s more you can do to help your workforce succeed in today’s hybrid, remote world.
But done right, the approach I outline below won’t just serve your employees and boost your team’s performance—it might just ease your mind and lighten your load.
In my last blog, I talked about three vital practices for managers in this moment. The three were based on the collaborative practices that high-performing leaders use to build agile, successful teams: paying attention to the structure of the team, the quality of relationships on the team, and how the team fits within a wider ecosystem.
Today I offer another view of what effective management looks like.
I’m going to focus more on the ways managers work directly with team members to foster engagement and high performance at a time of remote and hybrid work arrangements.
I’ve read many business articles tackling remote workplace culture, reviewed relevant research funded by IRC4HR, and reflected on my career as a mostly remote employee at several large consulting firms.
Taking it all into account, I see five critical conditions managers can create to engage employees and drive better results. Call them the 5Ps: Psychological Safety, Purpose, Professional Development, Parity, and Power. Here is more on each:
Psychological Safety. This was vital to engagement and high-performing teams pre-pandemic. I’m talking about a climate where employees can bring their full selves to work, they feel included, and they are able to express themselves without fear of being mocked or marginalized. Where it’s safe to share an opinion, to not know something, and to engage in respectful debate. And psychological safety is even more important now. A climate where it is Ok to say you’re not Ok is especially critical, in part because of the stresses that built up for so many people over the past two difficult years.
There’s another facet of psychological safety that applies as companies move to bring at least some employees back to the office: speaking up about physical safety concerns. If your organization doesn’t listen to employees who raise questions about COVID-19 masking protocols or inconsistent application of safety rules, you can count on problems with morale, performance, and attrition.
In short, as Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic shared in a recent Fast Company article, “however (and wherever) people work, it is essential that their voices are heard, and that they feel empowered to speak up, to disagree, and to ask difficult questions.”
Purpose. This is another perennial piece of the engagement puzzle that has become more important during the pandemic. Purpose has been established as a critical driver of individual motivation, and we also have learned that meaningful work is vital for attracting and retaining employees. Over the past two years, people’s attention to purpose has intensified. Nearly two-thirds of US-based employees surveyed by McKinsey said that COVID-19 has caused them to reflect on their purpose in life.
Cultivating a shared vision and mission is challenging when employees are scattered across the city, the country, and the globe. But it can be done. As Rob Cross and Inga Carboni put it in a recent paper: “Use one-on-ones and periodic career discussion to establish drivers of purpose. Allocate up to a third of these meetings to understanding aspirations and priorities. Identify what purpose means to each team member and how it relates to the group’s work.”
Professional Development. It’s easy to skip or skimp on employee development during chaotic, turbulent times like the ones we’re facing today. But it is a big mistake. Learning opportunities have long been an underutilized retention and capacity-building tool—just before the pandemic, 94% of employees said they would stay at a company longer if it invested in their development. Amid the pandemic, employees continue to want to grow. Of the 26% of workers who are reportedly planning to switch jobs post-COVID, most are doing so because they’re concerned about career advancement.
How do you effectively develop employees when they work remotely? Thankfully, virtual learning technologies and online courses are widely available inside and outside organizations. And finding opportunities for your folks to work on assignments where news skills can be developed and/or applied remains a critical vehicle for development. I also suggest a tactic used by a major consulting firm I worked for two decades ago: expect employees to demonstrate their learning progress and their contributions to the learning of others as part of regular performance reviews. Ask employees to develop and share new areas of expertise, and then give them time and space to do it.
Such a policy both enabled and nudged me to build my reputation within the consulting organization and develop thought leadership, while also supporting the development goals of colleagues. It was a true “win” for me, my colleagues, our clients, and our business.
Parity. I’m talking here about paying attention to the fairness of your decisions and an equitable experience for all members of your team. Failing to ensure parity in the workplace has long caused employees to disengage and quit. In the wake of the #MeToo movement, the Black Lives Matter protests after the murder of George Floyd, and heightened awareness of injustice overall, employees are even more attuned to bias in the workplace. To leaders playing favorites. To discrimination. To microaggressions.
Responding effectively when members of your team commit microaggressions takes discernment and courage. And overall, stewarding a culture where everyone is treated equally requires self-awareness and discipline. This is especially true in hybrid work arrangements.
Managers must remember that team members working from home or in other locations may be left out of important conversations. Even impromptu office discussion can lead to major opportunities that will impact someone’s career. At one of my former consulting firms, I had a boss who would walk over to our section of the office when he had a burning idea. If you were present, you got picked for the assignment. If you weren’t there, you missed out. “Proximity bias” is a real thing. In addition to being mindful of this phenomenon, one thing a manager can do is schedule periodic “virtual watercooler” interactions: short video chats to mimic the ones that take place in person.
Power. Employees need a real voice in decision-making. While managers providing direction in terms of defining objectives and purpose – the “what and why of work” – is helpful, people want and need to make decisions about how their work gets done, along with other aspects of their work environment. For too long, many employees have received more “what and how” than “what and why” when it comes to manager direction. That approach makes little sense in the emerging economy, in which human attributes such as creativity, a collaborative spirit, and empathy are differentiators.
What’s more, younger employees, especially, expect to have a say in their organizations. But for all employees, having some authority and autonomy at work is part of a “good job,” as defined by scholars of this topic, including Jen Gresham, whose organization Work for Humanity is helping small businesses generate good jobs.
Work-from-home arrangements and other distributed forms of teams are intensifying the need for organizations to distribute authority more widely. And employees don’t want to give up the greater autonomy many of them experienced while working remotely during the pandemic—during which time much of the workforce demonstrated higher levels of productivity.
Put me in Coach!
If there’s one specific practice that ties the five “P”s together, it is a “C.” I’m talking about coaching—managers evolving from top-down bosses who give directions to guides-on-the-side who encourage, inspire, develop, support, and listen to employees.
This shift in leadership – and employee – mindset is the goal of Jen Gresham and her collaborators in a new program funded by IRC4HR. Together with WORC, Work for Humanity has launched “Bounce Forward: Helping Small Businesses & Workers Thrive Together.”
Jen’s “Bounce Forward” pilot is based on research that shows high-involvement work practices and increased coaching capacity not only result in more engagement, productivity, and satisfaction for workers, they also allow owner-managers to focus on more strategic aspects of the business. The result is that workers have a more fulfilling work experience and the ability to contribute more value to the business, owners are freed up to pursue more value-added tasks, and the business performs better.
As one participant shared, “I’m really grasping that it doesn’t take more time to coach than it does to tell. So, what I’ve been practicing is when somebody brings me a situation or a problem, I’ll ask ‘Okay, well, what do you want to do about that?’ And then listen to what their own problem solving came up with and just give feedback off of that. It’s worked very well because they always have some idea.”
This positive coaching relationship can take place virtually or in person. It leads to employees feeling empowered, developing new skills, and being more engaged in the business. What’s more, anecdotal evidence suggests employees are less likely to leave their “coaches” and their wider team for a different job.
And this gets to the all-around win of the five Ps and the single C. These steps don’t just benefit employees and boost performance. Managers, they also help you. Reduced turnover cuts down on the time you spend filling empty positions and reduces disruptions to team collaboration and productivity. More effective teams and individual employees mean more peace of mind for you. And by distributing decision-making through smart coaching, you free yourself up to focus on other value-creating tasks that support your own development and performance.
Good for your employees, good for your organization…and good for you.
31st January 2022Three Critical Practices for Managers in this Moment
Let’s help them answer today’s call for network-savvy leadership
They say the presidency doesn’t change people so much as reveal who they are.
The same can be said for the pandemic and managers at all levels.
We’ve heard plenty about how COVID and a slew of other crises over the past two years have transformed how we work. That’s certainly true. But when it comes to leadership, the disruption has also exposed and intensified challenges managers have been wrestling with for many years.
In essence, the pandemic has forced organizations and managers to put more attention than ever on questions such as:
- How do we orchestrate distributed teams effectively?
- What role do managers play in the increasingly networked nature of teams and organizations?
- How do managers help their teams become more agile and successful in our more dynamic and interconnected work world?
These are tricky questions. It’s no wonder manager burn-out jumped 78 percent at the start of COVID. But I believe there are good solutions to these problems. Research—some dating to before the pandemic and some hot off the presses—points to wise approaches and best practices.
The new management landscape
For starters, we need to update our notions about work teams and how we regard managers. We are now operating in organizations that are rapidly moving away from traditional, fixed hierarchies centered on functional silos. Instead, work is increasingly done in teams that cross functions and form and dissolve quickly based on rapidly changing goals and needs. As a result, employees are on many more teams―twice as many as they were five years ago.
In effect, organizations are becoming networks of networks. These include connections and affiliations that extend outside the walls of the business to create eco-systems of contractors, vendors, suppliers, and partners. What’s more, even before the pandemic, teams were becoming increasingly distributed—often with members spanning time zones if not countries and continents.
What does all this mean for managers? For decades, top performers were promoted to management roles, where they directed work and served as an expert resource for junior members of their department or team. This top-down boss role is becoming obsolete. Managers in a networked, distributed world are more coaches motivating and developing team members than generals issuing commands to the troops. More facilitators of effective collaboration than masters teaching apprentices.
Another manager metaphor that has fit for the last 5 to 10 years is that of an orchestra leader coordinating talented musicians. This task becomes especially difficult when the different players are spread across the country, stressed out about a deadly pandemic, and reflecting on the meaning of their work more than ever. Nearly two-thirds of US-based employees surveyed by McKinsey said that COVID-19 has caused them to reflect on their purpose in life.
Empathy, transparency, and meaning matter more than ever
So what are managers to do? Much of the guidance and wisdom has to do with leading with compassion, clear communication, and clarity of purpose. As the authors of a recent Harvard Business Review article put it, “it’s less important to see what employees are doing and more important to understand how they feel.”
There’s heightened need for frequent check-ins and ad-hoc meetings, even if they are virtual. “The geographic reality of working with a distributed team necessitates a more intentional approach to communication,” Forbes contributor Geoffrey Michener writes.
It’s even possible to blend communications about the personal and professional to good effect. Giving middle managers themselves space to talk about the range of their burdens can help ease their minds. “Private conversations about your workload plus public conversations about your [company] priorities really help with the stress level,” says Brian Elliott, VP of the Future Forum, a consortium launched by communications tool Slack to help companies reimagine work.
A less-discussed set of management skills that I believe is also vitally important has to do with what scholars Inga Carboni and Rob Cross call “collaborative practices.” In a report that came out in mid-2020, Carboni and Cross identified three critical strategies for leaders seeking to foster agile, successful teams.
The research—funded by my organization, the Innovation Resource Center for Human Resources (IRC4HR)—involved interviews with more than a hundred high-performing leaders. The conclusion? Managers ought to pay attention to internal network structure, relational content, and external ecosystem.
- Optimize Your Team’s lnternal Network Structure. The patterns of interactions in teams matter. A lot. Among the ways to make those patterns healthy and effective are:
- Manage the “center” of the team to prevent cliques, reward collaboration, and identify influential members.
- Integrate the “edge” of the team to incorporate newcomers, engage remote workers, and ensure high-performers are available to help others.
- Minimize silos by facilitating connectivity and preventing subgroups.
- Generate agility by engaging key contributors and reducing workloads.
- Build Quality Relationships Within Your Team. A positive structure is important but not enough. The content of the connections in your team also is vital. To foster high-quality bonds, take these steps:
- Cultivate awareness of team expertise.
- Build up trust, energy, and purpose.
- Discourage difficult team members from undermining morale.
- Combat risk-averse beliefs and behaviors.
- Minimize stressors on team members.
- Proactively Shape Your Team’s External Ecosystem. A striking finding from Rob and Inga is that effective leaders spend up to 60 percent of their time managing external relationships. That’s how vital it is in today’s interconnected work environment. Some key tactics to improve your team’s external stakeholder ties include:
- Shape the nature of the work that comes into the team. Actively “source” and design the team’s tasks, obtain resources, and engage influencers early.
- Drive innovation, efficiency, and engagement. Reach out to leaders in similar roles, stimulate innovation by locating complementary expertise, and help team members connect to others in the enterprise.
If you’re intrigued by any or all of the three critical practices and the steps to achieve them, check out the full paper. It not only offers details on all the points above, but includes compelling stories that breathe life into these vital strategies.
Perhaps most important, though, is that we all move away from old models of teamwork and management. The stakes are high that we notice the new networked nature of teams and work. As Inga and Rob put it in their paper: “people are more dispersed and needing of leadership and guidance more than ever.”
There’s a flip side of that coin. The pandemic has made plain that we need to help managers answer the call of the people they lead. Let’s help leaders at every level gain the skills that will enable their people and organizations to thrive.
19th December 2021Workplace lessons and silver linings
Looking back at 2021 and thinking about what to bring with us into the new year.
It’s been quite a year.
A political insurrection, a continuing pandemic, extreme weather events, and a Great Resignation—something I prefer to call the Great Workplace Reinvention.
That renaming might suggest I’m an optimist (or simply naïve). I think it would be more accurate to say that I often first notice what’s wrong about a situation and then immediately look for a related learning or change opportunity. I see the mass quitting in America as a rejection of an unacceptable status quo and a sign that we’re creating a better future of work. In a similar fashion, I recognize the loss and grief of the past year and also see some hopeful new possibilities.
In short, I see workplace lessons and silver linings. Four major ones.
1. From Fixed to Fluid. As painful and traumatic as the Covid pandemic has been, it has shaken us out of old assumptions about what is possible. Allow most employees to work from home? Invite staff to share their emotions during work calls? Raise wages well above minimum wage for front-line workers? “Out of the question!” is how many business leaders viewed these practices a short three years ago. Or as Stewart Butterfield, CEO of Slack, recently put it in an interview with the Washington Post, “If you asked [me] in February of 2020, could the whole company go remote and maintain the same level of productivity? I would have said no. When something you thought was impossible turns out to be possible, you’ve got to ask yourself, what else do I think is impossible that could actually be possible?”
Covid unfroze many assumptions and beliefs. And not only did ‘fixed’ policies become ‘fluid,’ we saw better ways emerge. People could be trusted to work without bosses watching them. Feelings did not get in the way of work so much as facilitate greater psychological safety, and therefore productivity. And not only did we realize that companies can turn a profit when paying a living wage—but we saw evidence that fair compensation can result in greater retention and resiliency. In fact, today’s tight labor market makes raises all but inevitable.
2. From Ego-system to Eco-System Thinking. Another good thing about a global pandemic: it reminds us that we’re all in this together and our fates are mutually dependent. Our collective failure to vaccinate people in poorer countries helps explain why the new omicron Covid variant surfaced and spread worldwide. It’s a similar story with other worldwide challenges. The supply-chain disruptions pulled back the curtain on our highly interdependent global economy. C-suite leaders historically removed from the reality of their front-line employees realized just how dependent they are on cashiers, delivery truck drivers, and janitors. And amid wildfires, floods, and drought, the perils of global climate change became tangible.
Taken together, these crises related to disease, the economy, organizations, and the climate have awakened us to the shortcomings of what I believe has become an overly self-interested approach. As individuals and as organizations, we can no longer pretend to operate in a vacuum. Instead, we have been prodded to embrace the ideas of thought-leaders like Roland Deiser, head of the Center for the Future of Organization at the Drucker School of Management. In research sponsored in part by IRC4HR, Roland has been highlighting the importance of a shift from ego-driven decision-making to focusing on the collective interests of the wider eco-system and its stakeholders.
“Mindsets that are anchored in zero-sum thinking and that pursue egocentric advantage are incompatible with the win-win attitude that is indispensable for successful ecosystem engagement,” Roland says.
I believe this mindset shift encompasses the growing interest in “stakeholder capitalism.” That is, an economic system where companies recognize they can’t succeed unless all their stakeholders—including employees, customers, and communities—succeed. Eco-system thinking, therefore, has broad application to workplace reinvention and creating the future of work.
3. From Transactions to Relationships. Perhaps more than anything else, the past two years have clarified that when people come together to get things done, the quality of the human bonds are central to our success. While there is much to be learned about optimal ways to structure our organizations and work processes, the painful crises of 2020 and 2021 have highlighted how impoverished a purely transactional approach to work is. We’ve seen that workplaces ultimately are about human beings connecting and collaborating. Organizations that demonstrate care and foster trusting ties find rewards. Those who come off as callous are punished.
The increased attention to relationships dovetails with the recent work of scholar Rob Cross. In research supported by IRC4HR, Rob has discovered that positive social connections in organizations not only boost business results but are critical to individual wellbeing. As communicated in the title of one of his papers, Rob’s research has shown that resilience is a team sport. And this discovery is coming just as business leaders are recognizing the importance of employee wellness to organizational success.
4. From Moment to Movement. The Great Resignation has puzzled economists. How could so many people leave the workforce for so long? It turns out that the disruptions of 2020 and 2021 have prompted a profound reassessment of what works means and how it aligns to life priorities. And it’s not just workers. Companies, public officials, and investors also are refashioning their relationship with work and business. They are actively, in real time, experimenting with the social contract that has governed employment in America for most of the past century.
This is what I mean by the Great Workplace Reinvention. It is a hopeful moment in history. But it could be wasted. It would be easy for organizations and other stakeholders to slip back to old ways of doing things. It would be easy for all the wisdom and the experimentation and the energy to dissipate. After all, all these silver linings have been responses to crises. What’s needed next is intentionality—a commitment to preserve the positive developments and continue evolving them.
That has me wondering how we transform this moment into a movement. One with enough momentum to deliver a better, inclusive future that works for all. How do we create a shared vision, with an affirmative story that captures the imagination and fuels reform? How do we gather the right people together? How do we draft and refine a new social contract around work, one that takes into account major forces such as widening inequality, demographic shifts, evolving automation, and other important trends?
What do you think about the lessons and silver linings I’ve outlined above? Do you see different ones? I’m especially curious about your views on #4. Do you agree a movement is needed now? Are you interested in connecting to discuss or convening with others to explore what we can do together to create lasting change? Please comment here or drop me a note at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In any event, thank you for reading my takeaways from a remarkable year.
I wish you and your loved ones a joyful, restorative holiday season and a healthy, happy, and peaceful New Year.
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