“If we get AI right it is the last frontier for humanity. Everything beyond AI will invent and create on our behalf beyond that.” ~Mo Gawdat, Former Chief Business Officer of Google X
How does this statement sit with you? Right now, there is a lot of concern about artificial intelligence (AI) will impact work and more importantly our world. A lot of it is cause for concern and yet there is a part of me that remains hopeful that only the very best will come of this next frontier in technology and human civilization.
Last week, I had the pleasure of sitting in a Q&A session with Mo. If I’m honest with myself, I went to his keynote on “moonshot thinking”, his breakout session on “happiness” and then came for more via his Q&A wth the media/analyst crew. His position on AI is palatable and realistic. His perspective on humanity breathtaking. Mo shared that “Technology has never really taken away jobs.” It reminded me of something I have been sharing with HR professionals around our progressive steps towards cognitive technology. Change is inevitable and with every technological advancement there has always been a shift and dropoff. Older less efficient jobs drop off and more efficient ways of operating and living emerge. It isn’t something to be scared of, it is a shift to participate in.
In HR, we have survived just barely by adapting to the changes and shifts in business. This next shift towards smarter technologies is one where we will not simply be able to adapt and survive. We need to be a driving force, steerer of the wheel, participant in a societal shift. That means rather than worry about all of the ways we stand to lose in a world of AI, Augmented Reality, Virtual Reality and Robots that we imagine all of the ways we could be more efficient and valuable.
My friendly advice:
1) Learn more about the emerging technologies so you aren’t blindsided by what’s to come.
2) Offer up time and resources to make it better. There is no HR Tech without the HR community. You should want to improve what is out there for the sake of our industry.
3) Start thinking about new ways to add value. That is to say, if some of your day-to-day duties get delegated to technology tomorrow, what else can you do to serve your respective organizations?
It’s about building capacity and capabilities. Let’s focus less on where we will lack as an industry and make some decisions on where we can increase our value.
Speaking of places where we can increase our value, Mo is no longer with Google X. He left that post on the heels of losing his beloved son, Ali. In return, he made a profound and selfless decision to help people become more happy. In fact, he has a goal of helping one billion people become happy over the next five years.
While we can’t completely own the process of another person’s happiness, I believe we have a huge impact on it in the workplace as HR professionals. His call-to-action of working towards happiness is one you don’t normally find at an HR conference. Nonetheless, it resonated with me, because I have been on a personal mission to focus on happiness in all aspects of my life.
In my Growth on my Terms podcast episode below, you will hear Mo and I sharing about how less is truly more in life. He drives this point by talking about how he was wildly successful in his twenties owning everything a young man could want at the time; yet feeling woefully unfulfilled. I echoed this sentiment in sharing a snippet of the comparison I did of my own happiness when I went from working in Corporate America versus when I went to work in my business full-time.
To the point of “less is more” and speaking to the relativity of having a fortune, great job etc. at your disposaal, Mo said: “It can be harder and better at the same time.” Yes to this! He is and I am evidence that you can go through really difficult times and even within those times; things can be exponentially better than before the struggle.
All in all, Mo Gawdat is brilliant and has heart. Please take the time to listen to his discussion on life, technology and the pursuit of happiness below.
Also, I promised Mo I would get the word out about his “One Billion Happy” initiative. If you are moved after listening to his talk, please head over to: www.onebillionhappy.org. Also, check out his book and free resources on happiness at: solveforhappy.com
Disclosure: I amnot being paid by Mo or anyone on his team to make these statements. I am merely a passionate supporter of his work.
The need for a healthy and satisfying work environment is not up for discussion. Any enlightened manager knows its benefits. The same need extends to remote workgroups, and that is still something of a revelation to many leaders.
Perhaps it’s because of the “environment”. The remote work environment is fleeting; all team members don’t work together. They cannot share the same jokes; they can’t feel each other’s challenges. At least not by default – that’s why building a culture of empathy and team spirit is critical.
As the remote workforce grows bigger, there is a serious concern for remote employees to remain connected to the rest of the team. A vibrant work environment that meets the requirements of remote employees can help reduce that isolation.
What exactly constitutes a healthy online work environment?
It’s a work environment where remote employees feel safe in their roles, an important part of the team and the company, and one where they have the opportunity to learn and grow.
A healthy online work environment encourages unrestricted communication, open discussions, and collaborations. It supports remote employees with educational and technical resources to enable and empower them. It overcomes hurdles like different time zones or different work methods.
A healthy work environment is one that promotes a healthy lifestyle, free of emotional strain. It is a place where employees feel that despite working remotely their work makes a difference, not only to the company’s bottom line but to the community as a whole.
The edicts of a healthy online work environment mirror that of an in-house team. Remote workers have the same need to feel safe and secure in their work. They still need to be challenged and held accountable for their actions. And they definitely need the support of colleagues to flourish in their roles.
A healthy online work environment translates to happy employees. And what is the business decision that underlies employee happiness? Research has shown that happy employees are 12% more productive.
How to cultivate a healthy online work environment
- Trust and faith: Without trust no team will ever reach its full potential. That’s possibly truer for remote teams – who don’t always get to see the full picture and have to rely on other members to fulfill their roles. Likewise, having faith in a colleague, even when mistakes crop up, will go a long way in building an online work environment that is secure and reliable. Both trust and faith underpin the decision-making process and accountability – two qualities remote employees seek to feel part of the company.
- Peer-review and recognition: Sometimes feedback from peers is saved for occasional reviews. But it should be fluid enough to become a part of the daily routine so that remote employees can receive and share feedback without worrying about egos or hurting anyone. Open recognition of achievements is just as important to foster motivation and improve productivity. On the other hand, recognition of problems within the team and swiftly addressing them will also help promote a healthy remote work environment.
- Intellectual challenge and educational resources: Remote work often relies on tools and apps that new hires may not be familiar with. And on top of that, given the flexible nature of online work, help may not always be readily available. A healthy online work environment should have resources in place for employees to rely on not only to fulfill their roles but fire up their intellectual curiosities. Because an intellectually challenging role is one of the best motivators.
- Safety and security: “Remote” doesn’t take issues like discrimination and harassment off the table. In fact, these deadly problems have already migrated to the online work environment. The danger for remote employees is that if they don’t speak up, their pain and the existing problem will continue. Both team members and team leads should be wary of these issues. Victims should be able to speak up and get the support they deserve.
- Work impact and social responsibility: Knowing that their work matters not only to the company but to society is not a vague factor for employees. The new workforce, particularly Millennials, prefer working for companies that have a strong social responsibility program. Giving remote employees the opportunity to participate in a company’s CSR programs will tighten their bond with the company.
- Health and wealth: Companies can’t dictate good health measures to employees. Yet the effect of a healthy lifestyle on the employees’ work and the company’s profit is far from debatable. This is why managers are now actively reinforcing healthy habits. Remote employees shouldn’t miss out on the support of the management or colleagues because they don’t meet face to face. In addition, full-time remote employees have the same needs for time-offs that will help renew them for dedicated work.
Be it fun team-building activities or an open ear to a colleague’s troubles, measures that make the online work environment tangible despite being fleeting will help remote employees perform better, feel supported, and build relationships – and in turn make them feel like an important part of the company.
Perhaps a healthy online work environment is not measured in numbers. But lasting relationships, loyalty towards the company, and a remote employee’s pride in working for the firm is a good gauge for how conducive the environment is to dynamic remote work.
Guest Author Bio
Image courtesy of DistantJob.com
Sharon Koifman believes every company, from the biggest enterprise to the newly-launched garage startup, should have access to world’s top talent. That’s why he used over 10 years of experience in tech industry recruitment & HR to create DistantJob. His unique recruitment model allows DistantJob’s clients to get high-quality IT experts working remotely at a fraction of the usual cost – with no red tape and within two weeks.
There are all of these articles about communication and engagement. I have contributed my thoughts in some of them. They are all useful in some regard if you want to get to the bottom of your engagement and communication issues. Except, we would have to include the one nuisance variable that most leaders and companies won’t cop to and that is: The cloak of silence.
We are working and living in the age of knowledge. We have more data points than we can use and have more information at our finger tips than previous generations. If given a chance, most leaders will cite wanting to understand their employees better. They want to understand things like motivations, propensity to leave, career aspirations etc.
What makes this problematic is leaders and companies want to know these things, but are often times not willing to ingest and digest the answers. Often times, when the answer they receive is unfavorable for them or the company – they react. The reaction is negative and usually sets such a tone that any further or future communication like it will be non-existent, censored and/or stifled.
Around the time of the 9/11 attacks here in NY the MTA came out with this whole campaign that said: ” If you see something, say something.” Many businesses latched onto this saying and started using it as a way to appear as though employees should feel free to share the things they are noticing and should feel safe to do so without fearing retaliation. There are some good eggs that truly stand by having an open, honest and communicative culture.
Others still, prefer a cloak of silence. They prefer for employees to be seen and not heard. These are companies that like when people speak up to praise the organization and its leaders. Companies that prefer a cloak of silence literally squash and black list anyone who dreams of raising a concern or anything deemed unfavorable for the company.
Let us examine through this example:
I worked for a company in a previous life that loved to hold town halls. If you know anything about town halls you know that they are meant to be open forums where people can come to have their ideas and concerns heard by those in power. The goal is that healthy debate and conversation is brought to the table by the constituents and those in power so that amicable solutions can be implemented.
When we had town halls, they spent weeks communicating the importance of our participation. It was even shared that no question was “dumb” or “irrelevant”. Yet, the first town hall I attended at this company was quieter than a church during Sermon. The CHRO spent an hour speaking about projects, opportunities, our organizational scorecard and then asked for questions. One of my co-workers raised her hand and if looks could kill she would have been dead. She continued to ask her question about adding additional members to our team, because of the excessive workload. Her question was answered abruptly and dismissed.
After the town hall, some of my more tenured co-workers spoke among themselves about how this employee who spoke up never learns her lesson. As in, she should have remained quiet instead, because clearly her question was not welcomed.
Every subsequent meeting and town hall was marred by a cloak of silence. We all knew that it wasn’t worth our time to ask questions or raise issues in these meetings despite what leadership was saying. They didn’t really want to know. It was all about faking their way to engagement and open communication – except they were doing a really poor job at it.
If you have noticed the same in your company here are some tips for building trust and getting your employees to communicate with you again:
1) Don’t ask questions, if you don’t want the answers. What people experience in their jobs day-to-day is very real. Don’t ask them to lie to you so your feelings aren’t hurt. Your employees have a right to not work in fear and you deserve to hear the truth so you can improve.
2) If delivery of certain messages are your concern, set a few ground rules for your town halls and meetings. Let’s be honest, sometimes intention doesn’t meet delivery at the finish line when it comes to communication. Having a few ground rules for meetings and town halls will help to set the tone. Be sure that your employees know you will abide by them as well.
3) When they speak, you listen and then take action. What is the point of having all of these data points, if you are going to simply hoard them – only to do nothing with it. When your employees speak up it’s an act of bravery on their part. The way they know that you have heard them is by acknowledging what was said and taking action.
Communicating doesn’t have to be difficult. Once you get over your own fears and needs to control what and how your employees say something – it will be a smoother ride for both parties.
Are you one of those companies that would rather preserve everyone than let them go? Right now, I know of at least one organization -where despite lackluster performance, poor behavior and the disbanding of their team of direct reports- a leader is being salvaged beyond their time because no one has the balls to let go of people who are detracting from the organization.
Let’s be honest employers…
With the exception of a select group of companies, it has been my experience that many of you see your workforces as being dispensable. If business is down over a period of time and tough decisions have to be made- you layoff people without blinking an eye. If one of your employees doesn’t exactly fit the mold or doesn’t flow with the way of the company- get rid of them is what you say. Oh, but there are a select “untouchable” few that get to stay for the ride. They have a certain pedigree these untouchables. If you went around and did a very unofficial survey of your workforce at the moment to find out who people believe are “untouchable” in your organization they would either be reluctant to answer and/or with some further assurance of no retailiation -they would give you at least one name. Note: silence is also an answer.
Sometimes these people are at the staff level. In the eyes of their peers, they are disruptive to an otherwise healthy work environment. They do very little or sometimes they do a lot. Whatever they do, they are not interested in assimilating and working cooperatively, because they don’t have to. Despite any complaints or even visual cues that they are contaminating your ecosystem- you, the employer continue to reward poor behavior by promotions that they aren’t worthy of. You offer these “untouchables” opportunities that your other employees would die for. In fact, they may be dying for said opportunities- as they continue to work painfully hard hoping that it will someday be recognized and rewarded.
What of the untouchable leader?
This is probably the most damaging of all of the untouchables. You all know at least one leader that you have encountered that shouldn’t be allowed to lead anyone- let alone be employed by a company in such a capacity. They are not always the vile characters we often think about. Sometimes they are just cunning, undercutting, always playing and dealing a card at the right time. Everyone on their staff sees them for who they are. Internal and external partners even see it. The trouble is when HR ignores the smoke and the C-Suite is blinded completely by charm and other artificially-sweetened personality trickery. There are usually attempts to dethrone this person, but they are usually thwarted by a lengthy list of reasons why the person cannot be fired.
You may be saying: “this is how it is”. If that is your stance, you should also be made aware of the damage these people cause.
Here are some reasons why you should stop salvaging bad employees now:
1) You are setting a precedent that good performance and showing up everyday in a positive manner has no bearing on an employee’s success in your company.
2) These people disrupt the office environment. People tip-toe around them, avoid them and are sickened by having to share in office events or the presentation of yet more accolades for someone who really isn’t deserving of any of it.
3) It causes a slow and painful deterioration to both employee loyalty and effort. Some will hang in there with you unwavered, but many will see your allegiance to an untouchable as a personal affront to their career aspirations. If the sentiment is the latter, you will either lose people or see people do less, because they will figure working hard isn’t a worthy approach in your company.
It’s important to be cognizant of the messages you send about what success looks like in your organization. It’s fairly easy to write down a mission and values statement, but what does that look like in practice? Be sure that the picture of success that you woo candidates with is the same view they have as they progress through your organization.
More insights on this topic will be on The Aristocracy of HR You Tube Channel tomorrow. Click here to tune in.