We are entering the last year of the 2010s. One year from 2020, a year painted as the poster child of human advancement and something of a sci-fi fantasy. From all I can tell, we haven’t exactly accelerated into a Jetson reality of flying cars, robot maids, and buildings in the clouds, but we do have Sophia the first humanoid robot citizen of Saudi Arabia, the beginnings of currency beyond government-driven assets, and a shift in everyday living, retail, and consumerism as proposed by Faith Popcorn where everything we need and could want is available via our homes and/or our mobile devices (otherwise known as “cocooning”).
As resolutions and grand plans waltz together in the hearts and minds of the collective, I offer a few of my own perspectives on society, work, life and the challenges we ought to be focused on as we approach a new decade.
Here are 10 perspectives for you to digest in 2019 and beyond:
- Lose the notion of “best-in-class”, “best practices”, “best-of-breed”. What seems to be the “best” is in the eye of the beholder. What your company deems a “best practice” is seldom the best set of solutions for your competitor. What works best for you in your life is not likely the blueprint for another human being. We have spent decades trying to be the best and create the best. Scenarios change. People change. Each passing moment diminishes the likelihood that something will be best or even suit the needs of those your practice or product are meant to impact. Focus on making a positive impact. Do your best whether through practice, action, or developing a product. Focusing on positive outcomes on a consistent basis is the best thing you can offer anyone.
- How can we be creating things in the likeness of a human when we have yet to perfect being human? Nobody loves the prospect of the future and technology more than I do (well maybe Elon Musk). My concern is we are creating things in our image when we have yet to perfect what it means to be human. Let’s face it we are failing at humanity currently and have been just passing to borderline failing at being human for some time now. We’re smart enough as a species, but can we honestly say we have lived this human existence to the best of our ability? It is likely that we are creating things like AI and robots in an effort to pass the buck on this human existence thing. There is still time to get it right. The question is are we up for the task?
- Fewer resolutions and more resolving to do a little better every day. Who are you trying to impress with your “new me, new year, who dis” posts? Better yet is this thing you plan to change or you wanted to be accountable to something you’re even passionate about? Most resolutions are baseless. When you resolve to change or accomplish something typically you have either grown tired or weary from the anguish and/or unfortunate outcomes a situation has brought to your life. In other words, those things that really caused you the most suffering in previous years are more likely to be a true catalyst of change rather than social coercion to make a random resolution. Change because it is necessary for you to do so, not because it’s popular.
- There is only so much that can be achieved in a given year, so cut yourself some slack. I am guilty of assuming I could conquer the world in a year and then some. The truth is there have been years when I achieved all goals on the list and years where I achieved everything but what I set out to do. This life is a journey. Some years we are prepping the field. Other years we are planting and yet other years we are reaping from the fruits of our labor. Set goals, but leave some wiggle room for serendipity, failures, and setbacks. They are all a part of the process.
- Are you good? Are you well? Do these questions make you uncomfortable? Wellness and wellbeing aren’t just some new age hippie concepts. People are suffering. Your employees are suffering some in small ways and others in some profound ways. Your pursuit of market domination is largely to blame too. You can’t operate in an industry that employs human beings to perform work and not be concerned with their wellbeing. I mean you could do that, but the road forward is looking disastrous. Prioritize your wellbeing and make sure your people do the same.
- Hippies in HR. Yes, this is a thing. I spoke at an event this year where we got into a debate about the need to do our jobs as HR practitioners in a way that adds to the greater good. In other words, can we be effective at our jobs by being ethical and human-centric while also focusing on impacting the bottom-line? It may seem like an old gripe, but it is front and center for younger practitioners who have yet to be initiated into an HR ecosystem only concerned with being seen as something more than a support function. The younger practitioner I spoke with said Hippie HR needs to be a thing. What do you think?
- Data isn’t our problem, accountability is. According to Forbes Contributor, Bernard Marr we produce 2.5 quintillion bytes of data per day. We have produced 90% of the data we have currently in the past two years. Having more data to equip us with better insights isn’t any longer an issue. The issue we have is we have no clue how to slice and dice the data to get to the crux of some of our more pressing issues. Even more disturbing is the fact that in some cases we are refusing to do the data cleansing and storytelling for fear of what it will reveal about our practices, outcomes, intentions etc. If we were that transparent we would actually have to be accountable to fixing some things rather than parading accolades that make us seem like we are doing the right things. More accountability, please?
- Be careful. Your bias is showing. Diversity, Inclusion, and Equity is either part of the fabric of your company or you are simply looking to skate by on hiring the one or two poster humans that will serve to show how “hard” you are trying not to be diverse and inclusive. At this point, it would be much easier on diverse groups of people if you simply say in your job description that you are intolerant. You should simply have your CEO deliver a personal video message on your career website stating that you see no necessity in promoting the interests of a variety of people. He or she should say they are afraid of reasonable accommodations and have no desire to learn which is why you lack differently-abled people in your workforce. Your bias is showing and you will lose every time. Masking it doesn’t make it any less obvious. We see you.
- Control is a disease. You can’t control anything but yourself. The deafening cry to end hierarchy isn’t because the hippies of the world of work just want to obliterate it; it should be reimagined because it is an old framework that has very little utility in our modern world. Every system we have created through the decades is flawed in some way. Nonetheless, the inherent flaws are ones we can manage so long as there is overall utility in using a particular process or control within a given time and circumstance. The abuses of power have been many and much of it has hinged on these tightly-wound organizational structures that were meant to wield power from the top leaving an unhealthy lack of power further down the food chain. How can we evenly distribute power without relinquishing the necessary order and structure needed for the run of a profitable business?
- Privacy and boundaries take center stage. It’s fair to say there is no such thing as privacy. Every day there are breaches exposing us and our information in ways we couldn’t imagine a decade ago. Platforms like Facebook are busy selling our data to companies unbeknownst to us. Is privacy the new luxury? We started the decade with the message that sharing of information is the new currency. It’s possible that the end of the decade will bring more talk of sharing less and having more boundaries around how much of ourselves we give to the matrix and each other.
I almost gave you 19 perspectives, but I think these 10 perspectives are enough to chew on for now. My hope is that you walk away from this article with a more expansive focus on all of the things impacting the humans we employ, service, and the ecosystems we are all playing in. Increasingly, we have to step outside of our oftentimes narrow focus on executing HR or business strategy to see clearly where we can improve what we do.
Wishing you all a prosperous, balanced, and insightful 2019 ahead!
“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.
“Bureaucracy is a global thing. “ ~ Gary Hamel, Professor at London Business School
I had the opportunity to sit in on a Q&A session Day 1 with Gary Hamel, Professor at London Business School at Unleash 2018 in Vegas. Long before this Q&A, he had wooed me with his words and refreshing perspectives on the disease of bureaucracy as it pertains to the workforce.
One of the reasons why I believe I was unable to flourish in Corporate America was because of my disdain for bureaucracy and politics. “Disdain” is a strong word, but completely applicable here. It wasn’t that I was beyond adhering to the structure or constructs that existed in the organizations that I worked for. It was that those constructs and structures always felt constricting and for all intents and purposes they didn’t appear to have a positive impact on the workforce. To this point, Gary shared in our session that he thought “Very few businesses worry about the environmental costs of bureaucracy and CEO’s only recognize the cost of bureaucracy vaguely.”
The reason why businesses can’t bother to care about these environmental costs is that the function of bureaucracy is to control and maintain order. Gary suggests there are likely really great reasons why bureaucracy existed, to begin with, but maintains it isn’t very useful given the world we live in today.
To some, I may have been pre-maturely seen as an anarchist who wanted things her way and had little respect for rules. The reality is as Gary Hamel asserts: “The pressure on the employees in the US is far more impactful than anywhere else in the world. US companies have an even more transactional lens for people at work.” To put it plainly, those who participate in the US workforce are seen as expendable and a means to an end. It is this line of thinking that ensures that our employee engagement numbers never budge or budge ever so slightly year-to-year. US workers are mere cogs in the wheel and we know it. Not only do we know it, we aren’t collectively empowered to stop it, because of course money.
I was and I am currently one of those people who believe that there are alternatives to bureaucracy. In our Q&A, Gary shared: “You have to believe there are alternatives to bureaucracy. It’s hard to imagine what you haven’t seen.” There is a great conflict in the world at large, but most certainly one at work too. It is the battle of old ways of thinking versus new ways of thinking. In the former example, it is hard for older establishments to wrap their minds around any other work arrangement/relationship that isn’t grounded in having to control how people think, work and show-up. They haven’t been privy to the evidence that suggests an alternative, and even if they had seen the promise of another way of managing people; it is likely a very uncomfortable notion to imagine a workforce where people work autonomously and on their own terms without being infantilized at work.
“Why don’t people have the ability to design their own job or choose their own boss, or approve their own expenses? We are so used to people needing parents or infantilization at work. “~Gary Hamel, Professor at London Business School.
Transparency for what?
Another pet peeve I have had with organizations I have been a part of was the lack of transparency. This goes hand-in-hand with the infantilization that goes on in many companies per Gary Hamel’s keynote on “Humanocracy”. Imagine for a second being an adult in every other aspect of your life. This is probably not a hard vision to conjure. You have a family that relies on you, bills, debts, and a healthy dose of responsibility. Yet, daily you report to a job that doesn’t think you worthy of sharing information that may affect your livelihood. Perhaps the business isn’t performing well financially. In most cases, that company you report to would rather cease to exist than to confide in the very people who make it profitable daily. It’s a ludicrous concept and surely antiquated. People should be trusted to show up and work as the adults that they are. Professor Hamel shared with us that: “Transparency needs to be a core principle for how we do business. Let’s be a little more open and have a little more freedom.”
What is the path forward?
“Evolutionary goals and revolutionary steps is the path forward. “
Gary challenges leaders to “employ radical business models while imagining a radically different workplace”. Questioning old hypothesis is a start as well as challenging your own embedded assumptions. Professor Hamel also maintains that we ought to “find a migration path between the past and the future”. “If you are a traditional company it is a much harder transition to moving from bureaucracy”. Aversive strategies to shifting out of bureaucracy do not work. It is about a gradual migration path”.
Some other sentiments shared by Professor Hamel worth further exploration:
- HR is the fastest growing function of the organization but has the least buy-in and respect within the organization. We need to ask ourselves why we struggle to self-actualize when this premise is true.
- The world is changing too quickly to be tied to hierarchical constructs. Why are you holding onto hierarchical constructs? Is it because it truly works for you or is it about control? It is worthy of some further exploration.
- Technology will be used to disempower more than empower.
- Technology is used to aggregate and exert control.
- Employees come first, customers’ second, shareholders last. If your employees aren’t happy, it is safe to say no one will be happy. Nurture your people first and everything else in business will flourish.
Gary is ingenious in the way he sees the world. He had a lot more to say, so as such I am sharing my Growth on my Terms podcast recording of the Gary Hamel Q&A. Have a listen and reflect on where your organization is and how you can begin to reimagine work while envisioning a gradual migration to less bureaucracy and more trusting professional ties and relationships.
There is nothing but trouble to follow when we believe that we can be all things to all people. We also endanger any good we have the potential of doing by feverishly jumping on every fad. I can remember so many days in HR reading articles about the trends for the year the next year. I would start counting from the day that I read the article (especially if it was published in SHRM, HBR or Forbes) to the few days after-when I would inevitably be asked about the article. The next request was always for me to start sourcing for ways to implement whatever was being touted as the “best-in-class” practice. While it might seem harmless- like we were keeping up with the times; it was indeed harmful. There was seldom any consideration of what we excelled at as a business and why adopting any of these suggestions were worth our time. It was merely a knee-jerk reaction to hearing what seemed like good advice.
Having worked in STEM and Healthcare, every new technology or methodology was not always for us. Composed under these disciplines are an inordinate amount of regulations at the state and federal levels and stringent requirements for doing business that is unlike any other industry. To make sound decisions about how we progressed was a consideration that required a lot of discussion and conceptualization of how to assimilate “the idea” of new ways into the a very rote, and established ecosystem. I repeat, “the idea”. Getting buy-in to potentially purchase was another round of discussion and conceptualization with several layers of approval.
For example, I was with a company that was in dire need of a new ATS and HRIS. I knew they outgrew what they had and all of our internal customers had their complaints about the system as well. To even begin sourcing for a new system, “the idea” was exposed to a six-sigma evaluation which took a few years and only then were we able to present the case to management for why this was needed. What they wanted was something “perfect” with all of the “bells and whistles” that would somehow give others the impression that they were being “innovative”. In striving for perfection and racing towards innovation, they forgot to focus on what they truly needed. What they needed was something with a simple interface, robust reporting features and the ability to streamline what we were doing from a hiring and on-boarding standpoint.
You may ask why were they worried about having “bells and whistles” for the new system? It was because they tuned into the same publications and reports as every other HR department and assumed that because “consulting firm x” says that it is the best then it must be so.
Can we stop with the “best-in-class” or best practices lingo?
What is best for me as a company of 15 is very different if I’m a company of 40,000. Similarly so, the best-in-class mantra does not necessarily work when there are two different companies in the same industry with the same headcount. The differentiating factors between businesses (especially those under the same company umbrella) are endless. Hence why, it is absurd for anyone to assume that every suggestion for innovation, change or disruption should be answered by an obligation to implement.
Disruption shouldn’t be a call-to-action for hasty moves. It is meant to keep us all aware and awake to how the nature of our work is changing. It is up to us to decide what changes make the most sense for the organization.
Consider the following when evaluating the ever-growing list of things to change:
1) How will these changes impact your workforce? In the implementation of the ATS that I spoke about, we actually spent too much time on this aspect. It’s important to understand how change will impact the people that do the work, but you must also be sure that you don’t stifle forward movement in an effort to be a crowd-pleaser.
2) Will these changes benefit you now or in the future? It’s important to consider how you stand to benefit from a short-term and long-term standpoint. If it isn’t clear how these suggestions will benefit you in either regard; it may not be the move for your company.
3) Is leadership prepared and invested in making these changes? It has been my experience that disruptive ideas die a slow and painful death without leadership being invested in the process. The real question is: Are they truly invested in making this change or is this a whim? Many ideas seem novel on paper, but being truly dedicated to the process and willingly traversing the hurdles that inevitably crop-up is something altogether different.
There’s no question that we must always be looking for ways to improve and better serve our customers. The key is not to make moves under duress, but from a place of being informed and prepared to take action.
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I was at IBM Insight last week and as per usual it was an awarding experience. There is a shift going on in business and technology that I find both interesting and exciting. It is a shift that is about partnership over competition. Big name technology companies are partnering with new school app developers and tech startups to provide consumers with better products, experiences and customer service.
Image courtesy of IBM.
You may be thinking: “How will this all be done?” The surge of cognitive technology is leading the way in allowing for better insights that allow for a better understanding of people. Cognitive technology allows us to get to the root of people’s behaviors, motivations, needs, and wants. The compilation of this information around these things allows companies to provide a personalized experience and resolution to some of the most pressing human issues.
For instance, we all know the dreaded unexpected breakdown of appliances. They are costly and unwelcomed. Whirlpool is focused on the connecting everything that is important to us through mobile-optimized appliances. This means that you could receive notification telling us that a part in our machines is going and have that information sent back to Whirlpool for troubleshooting.
Image courtesy of IBM.
Box is working with IBM’s Watson Analytics to synthesize the information you house in Box to provide real-time analytics for end users. I know it frustrates me to have unstructured information and data that is either hidden or lost in the systems I use. To be able, to have insights derived from the files you save with Box is a tremendous capability for individuals and business owners.
Courtesy of IBM.
The Internet of Weather
How about all of these catastrophic weather events we’re experiencing? The Weather Company is on the heels of being acquired by IBM for their Internet of Things division. At the conference, they described an app that could be used during hurricanes not only for timely push notifications based on minute-to-minute news surrounding a weather event; but also the app has the ability to function as a flashlight and alarm to alert authorities to people who may be stranded during a catastrophic weather event.
Partnership > Competition
It is interesting to see the market moving in a direction where being competitive means partnering with a competitor to disrupt the market and provide a better product overall. Companies that you wouldn’t dream of seeing on the same billboard let alone working together realize that innovation in a vacuum is no innovation at all. The reality is: Customers want more. Whether it is quality of customer experience or a better product- very few companies are able to upkeep the supply of new, exciting and efficient products. In return, they are collaborating with other businesses or competitors to leverage their respective market strengths and technology to create new or increased value.
Why Should HR Practitioners Care?
With all these new ways of collaborating and doing business, HR needs to be looking at new and creative ways to deploy individuals and teams to get the work done. Additionally, it is a wake up call to all of us to remain aware of the changing business climate. We need to be aware of shifts in business and be prepared to pivot how we serve in our organizations. You can’t be a part of the conversation, if you don’t know what’s going on. It is equivalent to the moments in which a person comes in on the tail end of a conversation and arrives at an incorrect conclusion because they were otherwise occupied or absent from the majority of the conversation. We have a duty to become knowledgeable not only in the practice of Human Resources, but in business, market shifts, changes in customer behaviors and sentiments. It is near impossible to be a true partner to the C-Suite when you don’t know enough to craft a solution.
How do you see these competitive partnerships impacting what we do in HR?
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