“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.
Before I get to my story, a quote from a 2017 Forbes article titled: “How Empathetic Are You, Really?”. On empathy, the author Liz Guthridge says:
“Being empathetic is similar to cooking. You may know the recipe for how to prepare empathy. But until you actually use the recipe a few times, taste the results, see how everyone reacts and adjust the recipe, you and your guests don’t know how satisfying and nourishing your efforts will be.”
Empathy continues to be a challenge in life and at work. For most people, empathy has conditions and limits. It goes something like this, “if I agree with what you are saying and how you say it pleases me; I will support the breathe with which you are speaking your truth”. If by chance, you share something that fundamentally debunks a point of view or has earth-shattering ramifications for a particular position someone holds, empathy is (more often than not) enqueue to meet an imminent death.
I have both written and spoken about some thorny subjects in the past year. I knew going into it that there would be people who praised me for my bravery and others who would chastise me for sharing my truth. When I speak up on issues, topics or instances that matter to me it is just that — it matters to me. That I have something to say about matters of societal and economic importance as someone who also happens to be an HR professional should not rub people the wrong way in 2018. Working in any industry (and more importantly HR) is not an opportunity to operate as if dumb, deaf and blind nor is it a sentence for being mute when it matters most.
Last month, I had the privilege of attending and speaking at Connections 2018, an annual user-centered event curated by Ultimate Software designed to engage, enlighten and empower their user community. During my Women in Leadership panel, there were two women who questioned why a white man was moderating my panel and moreover why most of the event’s speakers were white males. Admittedly, it was an awkward moment and not one we had solved for in our discussions about managing questions as a panel. A part of me was overjoyed that someone saw the obvious inequity of the panel. The other part of me felt sorry for my moderator, Jason Lauritsen who I personally chose to be the moderator and is someone who I do believe is inherently good despite the gender and race he belongs to. Time stood still, but something had to be said.
Empathy in motion…
I shared the truth and posed a question. I shared that I had been asked to moderate and asked the two women how that made them feel? They perked up and said that would have been much better. In response, I said: “Really? Not for me. Why should I moderate a panel of all white women in 2018?” To which an Asian woman yelled out: “What is wrong with that?”. What I shared with the group is that I wanted the ability to speak my truth as a panelist, not as someone on the periphery of the discussion. I went for what I wanted and chose Jason as a moderator because I admire him as a person and because we cannot exclude men from the discussion of how women are treated in society and in the workplace.
I have my views and strong ones at that. Nonetheless, my views are always rooted in experiences and fact and never devoid of the ability to see how it may affect another human. My panel could have been one big feminist party where we talked about how the patriarchy needs to die and how Ultimate got their programming wrong and how patronizing it must be for me to be the only black woman on the panel. What would have been accomplished by this? Isn’t this part of the problem and what we have always done?
That question was a twist of fate that I ultimately thanked those two women for. It opened us all up to have a more authentic conversation than was possible with my carefully-curated script of questions. We moved on to share openly and listen to one another’s experiences. From that moment on, we weren’t just listening we were feeling every word uttered in that room. Isn’t that the hope and prayer for empathy and also the challenge in exercising it?
The truth we all need to embrace and settle with is we are all right and all wrong at the same time. Life is a continuous cycle of contradictions. For every view you hold, there is at least one instance to debunk the position you hold. Even in a world of contradictions, it still means that what I experience is true for me. My experiences and knowledge of the world cannot be diminished or diluted. You can challenge it, but it cannot be dismissed as a data point. Dismissal is the typical reaction to hearing things we don’t want to accept. Empathy means that even if your individual or collective truths tell you that anything I say is bogus it warrants further investigation or at a minimum your heartfelt consideration if you can muster it.
People are not naturally wired to say or do what is convenient for others to feel good about a situation. This is also a part of the problem we have at the moment. Stop looking for convenient truths and answers to serve your agenda. Instead, ask yourself if what you hear, see or read could have the slightest possibility of being true. If your answer is “yes” (and it should because anything is possible), then it requires extra effort to understand on your part.
We are recalibrating as a human race which means an industry founded upon human relations should be doing the same. I challenge professionals everywhere to do the following:
1) Say less. People are finding their voices again and feeling more and more empowered to speak out. This is not the time for you to debate them and take up space. Instead, say less and hold space for the most vulnerable in our workplaces and society to share their truths.
2) Stay curious. Some of you grew up in towns of 1000 with not a dose of cultural or ethnic difference to color your world, yet others of us have grown up in complex environments with a myriad of influences. In both regards, there is a need for more curiosity, fewer assumptions, less convenient truths and judgments. Be open to learning a new perspective.
3) Exercise your empathy muscles. The road to becoming more empathetic is not linear. You will fail, you will be awkward, you will resist it at times. Still, you ought to try to be more empathetic and willing to endure all of that at the same time. I know it is a tall order, but what if it could shift budding interactions with people you admire or help someone you love feel more heard and understood? Trust me it is worth it.
For the livestream of my Women in Leadership panel click the link below:
Connections 2018 Women in Leadership Panel
Here is Jason’s account of the Women in Leadership Panel and lessons learned:
Gender at Work
May we all rise to the challenge of exercising more empathy.
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.
It must be a hell of a feeling when your skin, ideas, and presence become a golden ticket of Willy Wonka proportions in life. It must be nice to not only create the rules, systems, and standards but to actually be “the standard”. It is utterly astonishing when you can be given the space and grace to be both tone-deaf, ignorant, a disaster, and human all while stumbling towards what seems to most of your counterparts as you “trying to be a better person”. The memo I missed in all of the years I have spent explaining everything from my disposition to why I was worthy of equal treatment is the people; white people in specific did not care. We don’t even penetrate their aura even slightly.
We (people of color) have spent every waking hour of our existence trying to be perfectly-packaged and poised for a people who don’t really care one way or another about us. Yes, there are a few who genuinely care, but at scale, most white people are happily trotting along in their very monochromatic world where they get to choose amnesia daily about the way they choose to participate and show up in the world. This is the same world and society where being a person of color is synonymous with responsibility, accountability and being of moral character 24/7/365 or at least that is the expectation. There was a time that I wished for a single day where I could have white powers, the kind that gave me the license to screw people over, engage boldly in a debate over the black experience and then play the victim when I realize I am in over my head, create laws and systems that enslaved (and currently enslave) people, the ability to appear smarter and more capable (even though on paper I wasn’t worth a damn) and still get ahead anyway, the audacity to tell people how to feel, speak, and present such that they would do anything from applying harmful chemicals to their hair to make it more presentable to suffocating entire cultures of people so their language reverberated in just the right frequency that could only please my senses. I realized after evaluating these “white powers” that there was absolutely no honor in that life, so black power it was for me and it has served me quite well.
I stopped caring what white people thought the day I realized it would serve me better to preserve myself and my community. Why bother teaching or preaching to someone who has a “but” for every story you have about being disenfranchised or oppressed? Why should I bother giving space and grace to someone who would prefer to play the victim every time I challenge their thinking or perspective? What is the point of debating someone who is not only ignorant of my experiences but isn’t humble enough to simply listen and if applicable offer a genuine apology?
Newsflash: White people are not better or greater than anyone else walking this earth. Judging by the past year and a half there are white people along with people of color that will vehemently agree with that assertion. That said, it turns out black people and people of color, in general, are great, strong, resilient, valuable, capable, smarter, and so much more. This is a shift of consciousness, not a perspective meant for you to cry oppression and whine as if someone stole your IRA money. From the boardroom to online, I have experienced white people puffing their chest out to correct me when I was actually right all to make sure I know my place. I have had white people make lame excuses for their bigotry while simultaneously likening me to a bully for merely stating the truth and holding their asses to the fire they lit. How sway!
In business and HR, we speak a lot about ROI, what exactly is my return on investment when I am encountered with unabashed ignorance and bigotry and the expectation in return is that I overextend myself to help shift the other person’s opinion?
As I know it from my background in Psychology, shifts in behaviors and beliefs happen as a result of these examples:
- People shift behavior when they are ready for a change
- Real shifts in behavior and thinking are intrinsic jobs. Extrinsic elements may be catalysts to people shifting, but ultimately the act of shifting is within the individual
- If extrinsic variables are minimal in impact, then it must be true that we are only ever able to change ourselves and never another person.
- It helps to understand that any person who only thinks of themselves and only believes their own perspectives are valid is still and will always be diagnosable as a “narcissist” among other things
Number #3 is what got me thinking. The only thing that I can change is me. If I focus inward and on my family, my people and stop worrying about white people at all maybe then things could change. Just maybe we have given this group of people too much credit for being the smartest, the best, the most ethical, moral, purest evidence of humanity. Isn’t it possible that white people as the shining example of everything we know is a farce or at a minimum a half-truth? Perhaps, there are different perspectives yet to be examined that aren’t grounded in any human developing debilitating and generational hate of themselves, spelling their names a certain way, losing their language, culture, identity, voice to please another human. Just maybe, it is plausible that we were all duped (white people included), into thinking that white people know what’s best in every situation. Maybe they don’t and maybe there is a better way yet to be discovered and tried.
By 2050, the world population is purported to be heavily focused in Asia and Africa. In other words, a quarter of the world’s population will be African. Times up! No one cares if you don’t think we speak the King’s English (especially when you play yourself speaking our slang in our presence). Language is changing every day and has always been a product of the times. No one cares if you don’t like the kinks in our hair, we like it and thank God we are finally wearing them proudly. We don’t care anymore if you don’t invest in us, we will invest in ourselves (just see what Richelieu Dennis did in buying Essence Magazine back). We already know you aren’t mourning the loss of our babies and men and only march when it suits you – we know our lives matter and continue to march and protect ourselves. A peer of mine in the online HR sphere is quoted as saying “For the first time in the history of the United States it’s not very comfortable to be a white dude…I’m seen as a really great replacement of Trump to pounce on”.
To that I say, talk to us in about 300 years after you process what it has meant to endure enslavement, systemic oppression, and racism, censoring, stealing of ideas, livelihoods, being robbed of your essence and life for no other reason than being a living, breathing thing of this planet and without barely a collective of humans with whom to share our woes authentically. Lucky for you no white man or woman will have to live that plight (unless of course aliens of the Independence Day variety finds your way equally disturbing and come for you). You know why you will never meet that very deserving era of reckoning? It is because with all of the hate that has been shown to us through the generations and even currently we always find a little more compassion, a little more empathy within ourselves to extend an olive branch of kindness or at a minimum a very tired ear to listen to you excruciatingly talk about how hard it is to face your privilege. Did I mention we are a compassionate people? It is worth repeating. Breathe in what you see as so-called white oppression and sit with it as we have our own. I trust you will find the answers you need and deserve whether you like them or not. Until then we will be living our best lives in color- happily and free as we were meant to be.