Why the future of organizations is ‘human’ and what to do about it – Harry Meintassis

August 7, 2020

Can you feel that something is really changing? In you? In people around you? In your community? In your organization?

I wanted to write you a quick note to reflect on what we are experiencing, anticipate the dynamic ahead, and think how to ‘find our best’ in this change.

The covid is a big accelerator of megatrends that have been with us for some time, but now everything unfolds very fast and we need to urgently rethink work, organizations and leadership.

So, what is ‘next’ for organizations, and how to create a better future at work?

What are the lessons we are learning?

I believe that the future of organizational evolution will be ‘human’. Here is why:

Purposeful leadership

First, the overwhelming effects of the covid-19 crisis remind us of leadership’s most fundamental element: making a positive difference in people’s lives.

You have a higher chance of being successful and developing to your fullest potential if company and personal values and purpose are aligned.

The (all-too familiar) paradigm of the task-driven, control- oriented leader will be challenged. To be sure, it will not disappear, but a new type of transformative, empowering leader who leads with awareness, vulnerability, empathy, and compassion will emerge. Enter the ‘Altro-centric leader’.

Second – Purpose is the new strategy. The new normal will accelerate the imperative to lead and live by a strong, credible purpose. Companies will be ‘forced’ to ask – and act on- the tough questions: Who are we, what do we stand for, what is our contribution, beyond shareholder value, to our workforce, suppliers, ecosystem, communities, and the environment in which we operate? Are we socially responsive?

Whilst people now prioritize physical, psychological and financial ‘safety’, they also expect organizations to do the right thing, and have a positive impact to the world. Add to this the disappearing distinction between people and job. Life = Work = Meaning = Connecting = Learning =Identity.

In recent studies 65% of Gen Z (ages below 24) listed their ‘employment as a key part of their identity’. In order to align with this eco and politically-conscious generation, companies need to become more value-driven and provide more than just a pay-check.

It is about trust

Which brings me to the third point:

‘Trust’ drives prosperity in social constructs (teams, organizations, nations). We live in a low-trust world. Trust in our institutions, politics, corporations – is on an all-time low. More than 70% of people feel a ‘sense of injustice’ and a ‘strong desire for change’. Regarding ‘trust in business’ , according to the 2020 Edelman Trust Barometer: only 38% believe business is doing a good job at ‘putting people before profits’. This is a moment of reckoning for leaders, in the post-covid world.

Trust is based on three things: competence (doing things well), ethics (living by an ethical value system) and voice (giving people a chance to speak). If you focus on your people in a competent. empathetic and ethical way and you actively listen to their needs, you can drive up trust, engagement and resilience.

Tough times define the ‘character’ and trustworthiness of organizations. As Microsoft’s President recently mentioned: “People want to work for an employer that cares about the bottom line and the wellbeing of its employees.”

Fourth, companies are accelerating the adoption of agile models. They move away from top- down hierarchies and control structures that slow-down decision making, and towards project work, information and innovation flows. Digital tools enable this shift.

However, the thing to watch for will be not just ‘agile work’, but ‘agile mindset’ the deliberate promotion of speed, transparency, collaboration, empowerment and innovation in everyday work. From ‘doing agile’ to ‘being agile’.

Talent wins

Fifth, ‘treating talent as the most precious asset’ will be the smart way to shift to a sustained recovery. Even under spending cuts and cost management (it is hard to imagine any company that is not optimizing costs). Actually, the only way to re-bound and re-grow is to leverage the skills, capabilities, passions, and creativity that people bring to work.

New talent management practices will emerge – such as skills forecasting, internal talent marketplaces, accelerated learnings, ‘talent discoverability’- to match work (demand) with people and skills (supply) and create value in a cost-optimal way.

It will certainly take the right leadership to think and act this way, to help people, teams and organization to weather the crisis and set the stage for growth. Enter ‘Talent Operating System / TOS 2.0’ where ‘individual sits at the heart of talent process’ (TOS 1.0 was configured around standardized systems that treat everyone the same, focused on control and efficiency).

Expect to see a dramatic shift on learning, upskilling and re-skilling. Learning will become a true performance-enabling activity necessary to move beyond survival and recovery. We will see a re-prioritization on digital skills to expand employees’ abilities to operate in a fully digital environment, use data analytics, and AI tools.

Beyond that, talent leaders will double down on developing ‘soft’ skills: such as creativity, learning agility, collaboration, cognitive flexibility, dealing with ambiguity, emotional and social intelligence, engagement and persuasion. Organizations that equip their employees with the meta-skill of learning how to learn and adapt quickly will be able to thrive in the ‘new normal’.

Seventh, there is now a whole new appreciation of how psychology and neuroscience impacts optimal performance. Understanding how to create ‘psychological safety’, build resilience, respond to trauma, deal with extreme uncertainty, or training the mind is becoming part of leadership playbooks.

Leaders who understand these new ‘tools’ can more effectively engage their employees, support collaborative teams, and create an environment that fosters productive change, especially in high stress situations. Indeed, the ability to intentionally address the social brain in the service of optimal performance is becoming a distinguishing leadership capability.

Finding meaning

We now have plenty of evidence that crisis-proof organizations, are relationship-driven organisations. They ‘humanize’ the workplace through compassion and empathy, to become more collaborative, connected, and committed to others. They strike the balance between supportive and challenging leadership, as this encourages people to step up and lead in new ways.

There are great lessons to be learned from sports and arts, on how ‘enhancing relationships’ amongst highly talented individuals supports high performance.

Finally, a culture that fosters a growth mindset, will become the most important source of competitive advantage: Simply put, in a growth mindset people embrace challenges, do not give up, persist in adversity, use feedback to improve and are truly devoted to learn. All of which motivates people to go ‘all-in’ and to explore the edges of their potential.

And there is an additional, deeper, layer here. It is the shifting from an ‘outcome-based’ culture, where people are treated as a ‘means to an end’ to a purpose driven, were people are appreciated and admired for who they are. On-demand will be cultures that encourage people to find their ‘own voice’, and experience love for something that mattes to them.  That encourage authentic self-expression of each individual as a unique human being.

As people, in these tough times, re-appraise the things they value mist in life, this will change forever the ‘employee experience’ discussion.

A utopian vision or a wake-up call?

So, is this the path forward? Is the human corporation the new deal?

Whilst the winds of change are strong, we are still in early stages of the ‘experiment’.

The pandemic has given us an opportunity to re-imagine what is possible. Forward looking organisations will respond to the moment, show leadership and reinvent themselves. They will be the winners, the game changers who will inspire the world and create a better future for their stakeholders and ecosystems.

But for others, this ideal might be lost in the pressure to cut costs or stay alive using familiar tactics from the playbook we saw in previous recessions.

Companies realise that depending on how they will respond to the crisis today, especially relating to people, that will have a lasting effect on their reputations and brands.

The question becomes: how to re-balance the people and profitability metrics, and put the longer term ‘shared success’ above short-term gains or considerations. Despite the pain and adversity experienced, this crisis may be a once-in -a-life chance to re-imagine and re-humanise organisations.

Final words…

If you are a leader, lead with authenticity, humility and compassion.

If you are starting your career now or you are in a career transition, re-think your strategy.

Begin by defining your purpose, your life philosophy, who you want to become not just what you want to achieve, how do you want to show up every day, and what impact you wish to have on others.

Develop skills that are ‘saleable’ in your own personal brand, in the labor market.

Adopt an entrepreneur mentality – and be ready to re-invent yourself.

The road to success will be no easy task, for sure. But it can become a meaningful, liberating and fulfilling journey.

Live your full potential.