As someone who’s been crusading to make work human for many years, I’ve been an admirer of this event since its creation a few years ago and was excited to attend. While the event is hosted by a technology company, it’s not positioned as a customer event but rather as a place to fuel the “movement” for a more human work experience.
The event featured keynotes from Adam Grant, Susan Cain, and Michelle Obama, all of whom were brilliant and inspiring. And while you might argue that this is an HR conference, most of the content here isn’t your typical HR conference fare. Content spanned from sessions about mindfulness and purpose to “connectional intelligence.”
It was a good event to spark the brain and motivate big thoughts about how to make work more human. Here are some of my observations.
1.We have entered the era of “employee experience.”
It seemed that about half of the sessions (including mine) were talking about employee experience. If this concept is new to you, it essentially means designing the work experience from the individual employee’s perspective. This is a massive shift because almost all work processes today are designed as a “one size fits all” for employees, primarily designed to make life easier on management.
Moving forward, the employee experience will need to be individualized and adaptive to each employee’s needs. This will be a particularly disruptive shift for HR. It will demand new thinking, new processes, and technology systems designed in a completely different way.
2. Culture is both the solution and the problem.
As you’d expect, there was a lot of talk of culture and culture fit. There was also a lot of talk about the critical importance of diversity and inclusion, particularly the negative impact on employees when they cannot bring their whole and authentic self to work.
Adam Grant highlighted very powerfully how “culture fit” has become a proxy for groupthink because it essentially promotes homogeneity of talent and thinking. To combat this, he shared how organizations should hire for “cultural contribution” rather than fit if they desire to build a diverse and innovative organization. Essentially, this means scanning you culture regularly for what is missing (demographics, skills, backgrounds, etc.) and then prioritizing the addition of those things to the culture until it feels as if the gap is closed. Then, repeat. Over and over and over.
This approach highlights the truth that we must be more intentional and vigilant about engineering diversity into our culture because the pull towards homogeneity and conformity is powerful. And it’s killing our organizations.
The more dangerous side of culture was discussed a number of times as issues of inequality were raised. The primary reasons that women, LGBTQ, ethnic and other minorities continue to suffer awful treatment in our organizations are rooted in culture. Unfair treatment, harmful bias, and flat out discrimination can only exist when the culture allows it. Creating equality and inclusion requires a reprogramming of culture.
3. We can’t fix performance management without also fixing management.
Traditional performance management processes like the formal appraisal have been proven as ineffective (at best) and potentially harmful to employees (and performance). There was a great deal of content at this event about feedback and continuous conversation. But, the solution isn’t just about process or technology. It’s fundamentally about management philosophy and skill.
As part of an executive panel discussion, Rahul Varma shared some details from their journey to recreate performance management at Accenture. One of the first steps they took in their process was to train their most senior leaders in what he called “the art of conversation.” They realized very early that no technology solution in the world would compensate for a manager’s inability to have a positive conversation with an employee. And, more importantly, they didn’t assume that even a senior leader had these foundational skills. It seems to be paying off for them.
4. The line between work and life is nearly gone.
Thanks mainly to technology, the barriers around what we consider to be “work” have dissolved. In many jobs, work can follow you wherever you go: home, your kid’s soccer game, vacation. One of the perhaps unexpected side-effects of this shift is that employees are wanting to bring more of their life to work.
Globoforce is investing in this trend by launching an expansion of their product called Life Events that is designed specifically to allow employees to showcase and celebrate life events with their coworkers. I think this is a smart move on their part. The best places to work that I’ve studied over the past several years tend to do a great job of inviting employees to bring more of their personal life to work with them.
I think the dissolving of the work-life boundaries is reflective of the fact that work is starting to take on a more significant role in our lives, particularly socially. I’ll write more about that tomorrow.
It’s inspiring to me that 1,600 people signed up to spend three days together exploring how to make work more human. The interest and energy around this movement are a good sign that we are headed in a positive direction.
That said, to actually accomplish this aspiration requires far more that small adjustments to how we design and manage work. It’s a revolution that requires a fundamental rethinking and redesign of work from the ground up.
Progress is being made, but there is far to go. Let’s travel together.