“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.
This is the time of year that predictions are made and data is shared about what the strategic and operational goals are for the upcoming year. Although management firms spend an inordinate amount of time and money collecting this data all year long for these much-coveted reports, there is rarely anything earth-shattering about what CEO’s, business leaders or professionals have to say about where their focus will be in the new year. The usual banter will be about increasing engagement, improving candidate experience, technology, finding the best talent etc. As you can see, nothing really shocking.
However, 2017 has been illuminating. I wanted to say “different”, but that would mean that what I am about to share is new as of this year and it isn’t. In fact, what I will share is the result of something somewhere in the archives of time that started off as a snowball and is now an avalanche of end-of-the-world proportions crushing souls and careers to boot. This thing I speak of is the erosion of integrity and values in business.
2017 is the first year in my existence where just about every month there has been some company, company head or public figure who has come under scrutiny for either illegal or unethical practices. There have been so many “sorry’s” and “apologies flung around this year that it is becoming nauseating and unbelievable. The travesty in it all is that people who knew that all of this unethical and illegal behavior was the very thing that contributed to the fame, fortune and prestige always knew the things we see playing out. They were just waiting and hoping that the rest of the world would see it someday. So what has changed this year? For the first time ever and for reasons unknown to me, people were willing to believe the stories otherwise known over the years as individual gripes, “crazy talk”, imaginary happenings, urban legends and conspiracy theory this year. Suddenly, what was always in the shadows and dark got its much-deserved light via social media, blogs, livestreams, and a lot of bravery on the part of people who chose to break their silence.
In a lot of ways, this year has been one huge coming-out party and not in a good way. Whether it is our government and the corruption of the day or the growing list of sexual harassment and assault charges following the Harvey Weinstein debacle, it has not been a good year for US companies and more specifically humans as a whole. The latest debacle is set at Huffington Post. According to an article published yesterday by Gizmodo, Arianna Huffington ignored sexual harassment claims made by workers in her New York office while she was still running the company. The article goes on to state that one such former managing editor whose sexual misconduct was known to her also garnered a transfer to HuffPost India as a result of an HR investigation. How an investigation that leads to the proof that an employee of yours is engaging in sexual misconduct doesn’t result in a termination is beyond me.
Without diving too deep into this particular story, I prefer to examine the over-arching narrative of CEO’s and leaders, in general, both men and women who consistently overlook, engage in, and embrace unethical and illegal practices as a means to secure opportunities, line their pockets and the pockets of their shareholders and investors. I would be lying if I said I had never encountered leaders or employees behaving unethically who somehow managed to keep their jobs, lives, and lifestyles intact. It has disgusted me. I often spoke up about it only to be met with “Well you know it is John Bae. Yes, he is a jerk and misogynist, but he brings in a shit ton of money for the company, so we have to tread lightly”.
Frankly, I am glad 2017 raised a proverbial mirror to all of the things that make us suck at being human. Now, that we all know and finally see what we all knew was commonplace in business how do we move forward in trust? Can “building trust within my organization” really be on your scorecard when your foundation has been flooded with the truth and is now crumbling as a result? Can you genuinely accept that accolade for best company for women when you have investigations sitting on your desk overlooked and predators collecting checks on your dime? Can you really call your company culture “diverse and inclusive” if you secretly donate operating budget to the KKK or 45’s ongoing campaign? Note: “Diverse” and “inclusive” is maybe not appropriate if the latter applies.
Suddenly, no company, CEO or person is safe from the truth. Your money, prestige, and power are on a timer and the time is nearly up. The only thing leaders should be thinking about going into 2018 is integrity. I’m not sure where along the journey, so many decided that money trumped having values, meant destroying lives and doing it with a smile. Now is a time to ask your employees to blow the whistle internally before the public has its way with you and your brand. It is time, to be honest, and say sorry because you mean it. It is a good time to make amends and provide whatever you must to make it right with the people who show up daily to impact your bottom line.
Everybody needs to take one long hot shower to wash the filth of 2017 and before off and start anew in 2018 with a focus on treating employees, customers, and citizens of this world with the dignity they deserve as a matter of being a fellow human. It may cost you revenue. You may piss off your board of directors and investors, but isn’t it time for “good” to make a comeback?
For some starter tips on cleaning house, revisit an Aristocracy of HR throwback: The Untouchables: Why you should stop salvaging bad employees at every level.
Diversity and Inclusion was not my intended path. It was something that I knew very well at the ground-level being most often the only black woman in the companies, departments, and teams I worked for. Nonetheless, it wasn’t my focus to be a diversity and inclusion professional in the way that some may choose it as a field now. My work in HR brought us together. Whether it was the first D&I training I had in my first job where I spent three hours picking stereotypes out of a hat and affixing them under posterboards labeled “Black” “Hispanic” “Asian” or my long-stretch working for federal contractors who saw diversity as a burden rather than an opportunity; it is safe to say that I should have seen that the course was being set for me to have an impact in this arena.
I had an impact ( and the journey continues). I saw the wayward relationship Talent Acquisition and HR as a whole had with Diversity. The annoyance of bosses of mine when asked about their hiring practices. They never had logical justifications for why they didn’t have a more diverse slate of candidates for jobs and I learned in the long run that they simply didn’t care. Watching the awkwardness of these relations and the contention at meetings, I often offered myself as the lone soldier that would either solely champion diversity efforts inside and out of the company or I became the one ally that Diversity had from Talent Acquisition. I went on to do some good work (never enough in my opinion). I became a regular face with local organizations that served the differently-abled population. I helped to train their people and even created some unique opportunities for internships and regularly paid positions for a few. I spent hours and hours for years combing through curriculum and tailoring it to what the market demanded to help my community organizations best empower their students. I fought for At-Risk Youth and got some of the most diligent and bright young men to work in fields they could never have dreamed of. It was good. I was doing good. That was until I realized that very few cared as much as I did about these people. I saw people. My employers saw these people as “good faith efforts”. Do you see the disconnect?
The Struggle is Real
You know you are in bad shape when you are working for a differently-abled person who doesn’t see the necessity in making a way for other differently-abled people. Add the red-tape of getting budget to move some of my programs ahead, even when I identified state funds that wouldn’t need to put a dent in anyone’s operational budget; the times that white people with no qualifications for the jobs they were being recommended for were dropped on my desk to execute an interview process and sometimes a hire. Perhaps you can start to get a glimpse of where my relationship with diversity went wrong. For whatever reason, there are companies that believe that putting a person of color or a differently-abled person in a diversity role means instantaneous success. Judging by the comments of Apple’s VP of Diversity (who has since apologized for said commentary), that is simply not true. In fact, it has been my experience that often times being a woman of color in diversity is a struggle. I remember being extremely excited to work with the African-American women who held diversity roles at two of my last jobs. In every instance, they all disappointed me and on some level, it wasn’t their fault.
You see, you can’t be a Black person or Latino person and start closing the gap for your own people in a substantial way. This is the trickery and illusion of diversity. Let me be clear, you cannot intentionally and substantially close the gap of employment, upward mobility and all of the other socio-economic factors where Blacks, Latinos, and even Asians are adversely-impacted. Even if all of the numbers around hiring, workforce census, metrics around people of color ascending to leadership or the lack thereof all align and express that there is a problem; in many companies, this will be regarded as you are hiring more Blacks, Latinos or Asians because they are your people. Instead, you have to speak about “diversity for all” white, blue-eyed men included with specific “initiatives” earmarked to attract more diverse groups.
Keep in mind we had a biracial, (but regarded as a black mostly) in President Barack Obama. If he articulated the disparities faced by diverse groups of people — supported by data and then went forward with closing those gaps ( and he did this to the best of his ability), he would be seen as being a president for serving individual interests. In other words, he would be somehow pegged as being discriminatory for eliminating barriers for people who really need it. This was the real and actual reality of his presidency. The same rings true for people of color in diversity and inclusion. Unless we are addressing the whole we can’t have programs for the select few who truly need our efforts and our help.
You may be wondering: Why is it like this? I have an answer for you. Diversity & Inclusion is the American Red Cross of Racism and all other “isms”. Companies have decided that it looks good to be taking an action or actions towards diversity and inclusion except many of us know that there is no real change to the plight of people of color or any other marginalized group being made. It looks nice. It makes the company look attractive to say “they value diversity and inclusion”, but in practice, many do not practice what they preach. It is the reason why Unilever who is the parent company of Dove can be a part of a myriad of diversity-related coalitions and alliances and still have Dove be tone deaf enough to release their recent ad that simulates a white woman removing dirt from her body as a result of using their product that really ends up being a black woman.
Diversity & Inclusion is like getting a band-aid after you get bruised or wounded and suddenly someone says you have healed no need for that band-aid anymore and they rip it off without concern for your pain. So, I have asked myself what does it all matter in the end? If we are going to continue the diversity & inclusion dialogue, conferences and summits all highlighting the star-students of the bunch while being thoroughly-oblivious to how that doesn’t nearly speak to the other 80-90% of companies who couldn’t care less or care, but play helpless, or do just enough to ensure that they don’t jeopardize contracts or possible litigation — ask yourself what good is it all doing?
This my friends is the truth about diversity and inclusion. It stinks. It needs an overhaul and/or dismantling and it is virtually useless if the practitioners who touch it on a day-to-day basis don’t care about the only thing that matters in all of this and that is humans.
I will keep up the good fight, but I prefer to fight for people over lofty concepts like diversity and inclusion.
I have been doing deeper dives on this topic on my weekly livestream show “Ask Czarina Live” if you are interested, feel free to watch the replays here.
HR’s job has always been evolving. We have gone from administrative paper pushers to devising strategy that has operational impact to the organizations we serve. Are we headed for another evolution in this tumultuous political environment? I think so, but like many other human-related issues within organizations it isn’t really something HR can fix with a sweeping policy, focus group, or strategy.
Let’s consider a few factors. Before November 9th of 2016 how much did you think about employees’ or co-workers political ideologies? Probably not much, but when you consider that those ideologies could be tied to human flaws particularly the flaws of intolerance and hatred – what policy of strategy are you going to devise to combat that?
Better yet, if you are an HR professional of color who is now met with an emboldened employee who is anti-anything White, Anglo-Saxon, how motivated are you to work with that person and better yet serve them? How about if they verbalize their disgust for gender-neutral bathrooms despite the current regulations in place and several members of your team are part of the LGBTQ community?
Humans are flawed and messy. That makes our work in HR – flawed and messy.
I’m not suggesting that everybody wear their political ideologies on their sleeves and draw a line in the sand. Obviously, nothing would get done if we did that. However, I think we often paint a pretty picture of how things could and should play out without considering what has a real possibility of happening. That is to say that if people are protesting in the streets and having heated arguments/differences both in real life and online that are starting to reveal some character flaws; there is little if anything that any one-size-fits-all diversity, inclusion or HR program you could do to combat that.
The challenge of our work in HR is anticipating human behavior and balancing it with checks and balances through programs and policies. If we’re honest, we have never been able to control human behavior. All we really have success in is creating the best possible circumstances for our workforces to thrive. We have never truly been in control of the outcomes. If you disagree, I will kindly ask you to go back 5-8 years, search any common HR concern and count how many of the topics are recurring from year-to-year.
Where we get better is in rethinking how we approach the recurring and new issues that crop up, with the understanding that how it all plays out is dependent on something completely out of our control – human intention and behavior.
Back to the initial concern of the political environment, the same old policy and focus groups are not going to cut it. Now, more than ever we need to be sharing our experiences as a collective community and brainstorming better solutions. We need to not be afraid to say to the C-Suite that just-in-time training and reactive policy development will no longer do their company any good. This is a time for every HR practitioner to listen more than they speak. It is time to get comfortable with uncomfortable discussions about racism in the workplace, politics, pay disparity etc. I have met way too many practitioners in my travels that all too often have these items on their yearly HR to-do-list, but consciously put them off because it either doesn’t affect them or they can’t be bothered.
If you think what is going on outside the walls of your company doesn’t have the ability to spill into the day-to-day operation, you are kidding yourself. Your employees need a little more of the “human” out of Human Resources right now.
Here’s how you give them that “human factor”:
- Do not ignore complaints or concerns raised around employee relation concerns. This has always been true, but right now it is even more important. You need to have a handle on any discrimination, bullying or violent behavior that may be brewing in your organization.
- Make sure you are advising your C-Suite leaders regularly about the climate within the organization. It is important that the C-Suite and HR are in alignment on how to deal with sensitive matters. Encourage your leaders to be more visible than perhaps they are accustomed to.
- Communicate with your workforce regularly and let them know you are available. Yes, I know you are swamped and don’t have time for people traipsing in and out of your office all day. However, would you rather that you catch an issue early or when you’re in court? Will you sleep better at night knowing you settled an employees’ concerns or would you rather see them as a number? Regular communication keeps gossip and assumptions at bay. If your employee’s know where you stand they don’t need to wonder or conjure up alternative facts. See what I did there.
- Time to look at your programs and get some real feedback on its effectiveness. Yes, it will sting if you get negative feedback. However, the goal with any program or training is to actually usher in change. If your goal is to keep the organization afloat during these tumultuous times and keep the workforce progressing on an upward trajectory – you ought to evaluate what you are doing and how you are doing it.
- Add some levity to the workday every week. It doesn’t have to cost a lot or be overly time-consuming. What people need is a break from reality. Regardless of what our individual ideologies are, we can all find some commonalities among us. Have a “bring your favorite board game to work day” or an ice cream sundae social. Give people a chance to see the good in their co-workers .
- *Bonus* Watch the HR department carefully. You can’t have people so-called dedicated to making a difference for entire organizations be simultaneously pumping their fist for all muslims to be banned from the US in the breakroom or be rallying for the KKK off-hours. It is a bit of an oxymoron; don’t you think?
Creativity and heart have always been the answer to most of HR’s woes. There is no better time than now, to put both of them to use.