Apologies for the radio silence but between having to run around to some keynotes in Europe and finishing the manuscript for “Tech-Led Culture: Unlock the Full Potential of Your Business and People” it has been crazier than usual. It is now sent and the hard work of editing to capture what is basically still history in the live making regarding the future of work begins and the big event for Tech and FinTech influencers is done so I can get my head back down.
First the good news: everyone talks about “culture”, "people”, “well-being at work”, and the “mental health crisis” even if the latter is in a smaller voice. Aside from interviews, panels, podcasts and the like many of these conversations happened live and they all seem to ask one thing really? “What now?”- What I think of the state of the workplace and what will come next. My answer, as always:
“You only need 4 things to be winning like the Valley and start sorting your HumanDebt:
Human Work by the teams and the individual focused on continuous improvement, EQ and Psychological Safety that is supported by closed feedback loops, coaching and teamwork and a data-driven culture;
To make the findings of Google’s Aristotle project your cultural North Star and obsess with enabling, encouraging and rewarding doing any work that leads to these desirable team behaviours;
To eradicate fear, waterfall ways and command and control (but the beauty of this imperative is that it is implicit and we could well not “attack it” heads on or not call them out and they would still be sine qua non conditions to getting any of the other points in order;
Genuine WFAA - Work From Anywhere Any time” - the golden key to navigating the entire new paradigm successfully”
Unsurprisingly the first few of those stringent needs are visibly filed away as “fluffy talk” when dialogue partners openly check out and hastily and dismissively let me know “I know we are already doing some of that but I will look into them properly” but the last one creates immediate panic:
“We can’t do this complete flexibility, work from anywhere any time you like thing”
“Oh? Why is that?”
“Because ….” (Insert any other corporate “computer says no” reason from productivity paranoia to examples of misguided leaders demanding a return to the office to justify some ill-thought-out real estate deal, and assuage uninformed productivity paranoia)
“Well funny you should say that all the recent research shows that…” (Insert reasonable and well documented counterargument for each and every one of the objections)
“Yes but that would mean changing everything about how we work”
“I know! That’s the beauty of it!”
Those objections are mainly paranoid, fearful and from the mouths of command and control leaders who are not best pleased about having to learn to be empathic, vulnerable and a genuinely inspiring leader or having to translate their artificial results goal-post into genuinely workable outcomes that can be seen and measured in lieu of micromanaging people.
And then there are a few of these objections that would prove themselves as valuable discussion points if only we would use them as a dialogue-starter and not a blocker to thinking of change:
“What about the young and the new?!?” - There is incipient research and a general “feeling” out there that the younger and less experienced an office worker is the more they need the connection to the community as it makes them integrate into the work and the company quicker. And to those arguments I can only riposte to say we can’t be seriously considering cajoling a massive amount of adults around who would be better suited to working remotely just to help with that and that they ought to be organising online mentorship and coaching that works and instead focus on fewer but much more collaborative and fun spaces to have for when there is community;
The eternal “People can’t get close to each other online, they need to be together in person for genuine human interactions” - which we can assure you with all the data we have collected at PeopleNotTech, is poppycock, we have often seen teams and individuals get closer and closer and form super strong emotional bonds that then translated straight into performance when they were supported in the right way;
“What about collaboration then?” - The ability and capability to collaborate have much less to do with the environment in which it is delivered (physical or digital) and much more to do with the connection with your teammates. And before you ask how people can work together make sure you start by taking a good look at what part of the work is individual and what part needs the team and have that be clear to each and every employee and each and every team;
“How can we measure productivity and keep an eye on them being efficient?” - By looking at outcomes. Just that. That simple. And if you can’t do that, then you haven’t defined them well enough and you should get back to the drawing board;
“We get it and are all for the new paradigm of work but the board has extreme productivity paranoia, how do we overcome that?” - You keep showing them what Microsoft found, what all others studies after them reiterated - that you can and should do the work to arrive at WHAA and what fantastic results this yields;
“What if we’re not one of those mission-driven organisations” - well then you’ll have to find a quick way to become one and WFAA will be that because every of your new servant leaders will have to reinforce the higher goal, the purpose and the motivation at every opportunity as part of their new non-command-and-control duties;
“Why should we focus on any of this big change - sending people away, making their collaborative spaces awesome meanwhile and rethinking all our KPIs around outcomes when we could do nothing at all and wait for it all to settle and get back to normal?” - As ever, because it's an economic imperative. Not because it would be "nice" or "the right thing to do" but because happy people make you more money. And because that “as it was” that we had is never coming back and no one who hasn’t gotten in shape for this new reality will survive. For anyone doubting that just ask yourself what would it feel to be in an interview telling a valuable candidate that your place is "hybrid, only 3 days in the office a week" and whether or not you can afford to never hire the right talent again as they won't ever give up their newly found performance-enhancing potential ways of work to join your in-the-office-or-else pressed lot.
And it’s understandable there are so many objections, leaders have gone through as anyone else so chances are they are locked into even more insidious patterns of behaviour where they desperately try and control everything within their power while fearing for their livelihood,s so they are far from being in the best of shapes to land our monumental change.
But they’ll have to find the strength to fight for this. And if they fight for one thing and one thing only, let it be WFAA because it happens to be one (admittedly massive) change that has the power to bring in all the others.
Stay tuned this month for the return of the video tomorrow and then talking about the “4 Horses of the Workplace”, “The Employee Unwell-being” and a series of articles to introduce the possible biggest catalyst for change towards a healthy culture: the introduction of ISO 45003 which provisions for psychological safety and what we are doing in response to it to help certify and prepare companies for it.
Meanwhile - how far are you from WFAA? Why is that? How can we move closer?