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#101: 7 Ideas For Improving The Workplace For People in 2023
How We Can Improve The State of Work This Year
Happy 2023. I hope everyone had time off to relax and spend time with family and friends. I was on the east coast for a week with some frigid temperatures which was long enough to remind me of why I’ve lived in California for the past 8 years 🙂
That aside, thank you to all the new subscribers who have joined over the last few weeks. If you haven’t said hello, drop me a line and tell me what you’re working on.
This Week’s Newsletter Includes:
Ideas For Exploration in 2023
People You Should Follow
1.Ideas For Exploration in 2023
Because it’s a new year, there’s a lot of reports and predictions for 2023, which means I spent a lot of time over the past two weeks reading all of them. I’m using this week’s edition to highlight a few themes I’m evaluating and thinking about for the year for how leaders can develop and retain talent, as I prepare for another year of work as a consultant, speaker and facilitator.
For context, I spend my days:
Coaching, training and teaching employees and managers how to build effective relationships to do their jobs more effectively
Speaking with organizations, vendors and higher education institutions about how they are seeing the learning and talent marketplace
Speaking, advising and facilitating workshops and speaking with leaders of organizations to think about how they can better attract, develop and grow talent
As a result, I try to balance the art of perspective taking to truly understand what’s happening on the ground in the day to day workflow of the average employee all while looking from the vantage point of a leader or executive. Here’s what I got:
1)Rethinking The Employee Value Proposition
We’ve come on a long journey with our conversation on the employee value proposition, and it’s time to move to the next stage. Having an employer brand is now table stakes, but what companies are learning is that A) simply having a glassdoor page isn’t enough and B) Having an employer brand isn’t a one shot deal. Employer Brand started as an offshoot of a company brand, and the fundamental principles of brand marketing and customer loyalty. The good news is, we can draw upon these principles to shift the conversation as a result of the retention challenges companies are facing today as well as the quickly evolving labor and talent markets.
Talk to any product marketer or brand manager and they will tell you that developing a brand is not a one shot deal, they continuously need to renew a belief with the customer that the product or service is solving a problem the customer wants solved and is delivering value in exchange for what the customer paid. This is the shift that companies will need to make this year - Your Employer Value proposition isn’t just something you do once, but rather, is a framework for how your employee is continuously reminded that they want to come to work for you each and every day.
2)Connection as The Antidote
Humans are prosocial beings, and work has always been a way for people to stay connected. Even in today’s digital and technology driven world, business is fundamentally human, and connection is a critical element of that. We all know what the global pandemic did to connection, and we’re coming out of this looking for answers of how we can use connection to improve our quality of life and engagement in our jobs. Mckinsey found in their research that social capital, or the ability to have relationships that fuel connection, learning and creativity within organizations took a significant hit.
Furthermore, reports of loneliness and isolation are at an all time high. Connection could be an antidote to many of these challenges. Some have taken connection to mean “everyone needs to love our work” or “we need to bring people to the office.” This could be true, but doesn’t have to be. When I think about connection, I think about it in four dimensions. 1) Connection to self, 2) connection to the job 3) connection to my team and 4) connection to my company - Each individual has and wants different levels of connection to each of those, the goal is figuring out where people are, and how do we get them to the level they need to be effective and engaged
3)Lowering The Cost of Work
I think most people go to work each day wanting to do a good job. But there are so many things that get in the way of that happening. That’s what I think about when I think about the cost of work.
One of my frameworks for helping friends and colleagues who come to me for career advice and evaluating their job is something I call the “Give/Get Ratio. In any given job, you give things, and you get things in return. The key is figuring out A) what your current ratio is and B) is it worth it? Given the amount of job changes over the past 2.5 years it seems like many people were saying it wasn’t and were looking for jobs that had better Give/Get Ratios. One of the reasons why comes back to “The Cost of Work.” On the “Give” side of the ratio, people were simply feeling that the cost of the job or role far outweighed the benefits they got in return.
Something that I think working remotely from home for 2.5 years brought to the surface was the invisible costs that some employees have to bear, especially women, parents, and hourly workers. To be clear, these costs were always there, it's just they were never addressed or employees were implicitly expected to deal with them on their own. But when many of us for the first time saw children running around in the background on a Zoom call or when your direct report came to you with a resignation notice because they didn’t want to commute two hours both ways and found another job where they didn’t have to, the costs became more apparent, and real.
The good news is, work culture is evolving, and forward thinking companies are waking up to this as they look to “lower” the cost of work, or at least acknowledge and share it, so they can just let their employees do great work. One example of this is in childcare benefits. Childcare is a huge burden for parents, and often is a reason why employees (namely) women eventually drop out of the workplace.
Companies who want to lower the cost of work are partnering with companies like Vivvi, a company reimagining modern day childcare and providing benefits to help employees stress less about all the nitty gritty of child care so they can just do their job. Another company, Carrot, is doing something similar, for women and families who are going through fertility treatments.
4) A New Map For Hiring
It's hard to not find a company that says they want to attract and retain diverse talent. But if we’re actually going to do this, we need to actually take a hard look at ourselves and ask what we’re willing to commit to in order to make this happen.
I think two quotes from Albert Einstein sum up what I think about this topic:
“You cannot use an old map to explore a new world”
“ We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them”
Companies like Salesforce have picked up on this, and their workforce development team has for years been thinking differently about how they hire and source diverse talent through a combination of internships, apprenticeships, and partnerships with other nonprofits.
Additionally, Forage, a employer recruiting platform, is thinking differently about early career and campus recruiting, focusing less on traditional “core school hiring” approaches and providing digital learning experiences that can be accessed by anyone who wants to learn more about a company or a role. Companies' success in hiring diverse talent will be directly proportional for how willing they are to think differently about how they traditionally have evaluated and sourced talent. The question becomes are they willing to do that?
5)Evaluating Work as a Product
As a former product marketer, I thought a lot about Clayton Christensen’s Jobs to Be Done Framework. Customers buy products to solve problems, and great products solve a specific problem for a customer. As a marketer, your job was to figure out what problem your product solves for the customer, and then to market around that.
If we use this mindset, we can also think about “work” as a product. And if we think about work as a product, I think it can open our eyes up around how we think about employee engagement, role design, and employee purpose and meaning. Said another way, companies know why they hire employees, but do you as a leader, know why your employees “hire” you, or what problem their job solves for them? Similarly, what if each manager were the product manager or the product marketer of their “work” product and treated their employees as the customer.
How could they better align the customer (employees) interests with the “work” product? I’ll admit, this is a bit out there, but I think when it comes to employee engagement, there's a lot more to be done in terms of using role design, job crafting and connection to improve the day to day work of each employee
6)What’s Next For Knowledge Work
The term “knowledge worker” was first coined by Peter Drucker in his book, The Landmarks of Tomorrow (1959). According to the CFA, “He noted that knowledge workers would be the most valuable assets of a 21st-century organization because of their high level of productivity and creativity.”
That was back in the late 1950s, but a lot of that has come true. In today's world of work that is both complex and complicated and often requires creativity and unstructured thinking to solve problems, knowledge workers and their skills have been incredibly important. And as the world moves to include more technology and automation, workers with skills around creativity, problem solving, unstructured thinking and collaboration are poised to succeed.
But the actual underpinnings of knowledge work and how it gets done are falling short, and are in need of a refresh. Drucker argued that in order for these individuals to thrive, they would need autonomy, and that would be the central feature of the new corporate world. And here in fact lies the problem: when you have a bunch of knowledge workers who want to work on their own terms, in their own ways and on their own time, everyone is indexing for himself or herself and it’s really hard to get anything done. Case in point: your calendar, email inbox and collaboration tools, which depending on who you ask, are helping or hindering your ability to get work done. The average IT worker is interrupted every 3 to 11 minutes, 44% are stressed, and people regularly, and it can take up to 23 minutes to get fully back on task after an interruption. Collaboration tools were promised to help with this, but they might actually be making it worse.
Cal Newport has been one of the leading voices on trying to fix knowledge work. One of the things he reminds us of is that knowledge work is still a relatively new phenomenon and invention. The current form isn’t what we’re stuck with. Additionally, he also reminds us that some inventions took decades if not longer to arrive, and certainly evolved over time. If I were to ask you if you’d like to get 5 hours of your week back to work on things that mattered to you, I bet you’d get super excited. My hope is that we can use this time to evolve how we think about how work gets done and bring the next evolution of knowledge working to our workplace.
7)Onramps and Accelerators Across The Career Lifecycle
In almost every major professional sport, people take breaks and make time to rest. NASCAR drivers have pit stops so they can fuel up to win a race, Lebron James sleeps 12 hours a night so he can score 47 a night on his 38th birthday, and NBA teams practice load management to navigate an 82 game season. But for some reason, we don’t take that approach in the workplace and in evaluating talent and people’s careers, and if anything, actually penalize people for it. Even in today’s age, entering, changing, and re-entering jobs or professions can be challenging for people, even if they have the talent, aptitude and interest.
The opportunity here, would be in facilitating and creating A) onramps and B) accelerants, to help more people either start into a job or profession, or return back into a job or profession. SuperMums, an organization started by Heather Black, a working parent and non-profit founder is an example of this. Heather wanted to work part-time but couldn’t find a role, so she created her own, and now helps other working mothers who want to return to the workplace do the same by providing them with salesforce training and career services to land part-time roles. Slack For Good partners with Next Chapter to help incarcerated employees find careers in tech, and The Center For Justice through Code is a Bootcamp dedicated to helping the formerly incarcerated land software engineering jobs.
Life happens to us as humans but that doesn’t mean it defines us or inhibits us from using our talents to contribute. Being more accepting of talent wherever it comes from and embracing more onramps and accelerants can help us find more ways to bring the talent we need into organizations.
Those are the 7 topics I’m thinking about and evaluating. I’d love to hear what you think, what resonates or what is coming up for you in your work!
2.People to Follow
I’m trying this out so please tell me if you like this, but I want to highlight a few people whose work I either am reading or people I know who are producing what I think is interesting and great work with respect to A) leadership B) talent and C) improving the workplace. Make sure to check them out and follow their work if it resonates
Dror Poleg - As a historian and expert in real estate, Dror’s thoughts on the Future of Work are insightful and interesting. Check out his newsletter or podcast
Jen Collins - Jen is a friend I’ve met through the Talent Development Think Tank. She has great thoughts on building learning cultures and organizations that develop talent
Brian Heger - Brian is a wealth of knowledge when it comes to talent management, and regularly shares incredible resources on the topic
Meredith Tozzer - Meredith is a fellow MBA Alum, as well as someone who has extensive knowledge and insights on well-being, people management, and employee engagement. She regularly contributes to the Edge of Work community.
Finally, If you’re looking for some help for your learning and development, team meetings or professional development for next year, I’d love to work with you: Here is how I might be able to assist:
Team Trainings & Professional Development: Happy to facilitate training or professional development opportunity for your team & organization - common topics include: career development, influence without authority, effective relationship building, and stakeholder management
Support Your Offsites & Meetings: Speak or facilitate at your team’s offsite. Need a guide to facilitate or speak at an upcoming offsite, QBR or all hands? Happy to engage here.
Leadership & Learning Programs: Formal training and leadership development in your company, such as new manager or new leader training, or skill-based programs.
Feel free to contact me directly for more details!
That’s all for this week. Have a great week!