employee experience

Why Work Still Sucks (And Organizational Change Is SLOW)
Why Work Still Sucks (And Organizational Change Is SLOW) 1024 512 Jason Lauritsen

We’ve been working on making work suck less for quite a while now.

Gallup has been measuring employee engagement for nearly 30 years and the results have always been terrible. Most employees are not fully engaged at work.

In other words, work isn’t working very well for the people doing it.

Don’t get me wrong, there are some organizations out there who have figured it out. They’ve redesigned work in a way that the humans love and are reaping the rewards. These are rare examples and proof of what’s possible.

We also have more research and science available to us today than ever before to help us understand people–how we are motivated and how our brains work, etc. In other words, with all this data, creating environments that are optimized for humans should be less mysterious and challenging.

And yet, we are still struggling just as mightily as we have for the past few decades. This riddle is one that I’ve pondered for a long time and while I’d love to tell you I have the answer to breaking through and being one of those rare examples, it’s not that simple.

I do, however, think I can point to one reason that this change is happening so slowly.

Let me take a step back for a moment. If you’ve been working with employee engagement for very long, you’ve probably debated–or at least thought about–whether it’s possible to take a disengaged culture and change it to an engaged culture without a change of leadership at the top.

Most of the stories we hear about an “epic culture change” start with a change of CEO. The old CEO didn’t get it, the new CEO does. And thus marks the beginning of the culture transformation for the organization.

Rarely do you hear a story about leaders who didn’t get it, but after some really compelling meetings with HR, they turned it around and became that leader who can spark a different kind of culture. I’m sure there are some examples of this happening, but it seems to be rare in my experience.

This leads me to an observation I’ve made throughout my career that I find particularly challenging.

Leaders struggle with breaking the system that gives them power, even when they know the system is bad.

It’s not an uncommon story to observe people changing as they rise up higher on the organizational chart. When they were a “high potential” new hire, they probably saw all sorts of issues in the system. They had pages of ideas for how leaders could show up differently and behave differently to make their work experience and their team’s work experience more rewarding.

But with every promotion, that individual moves farther and farther away from that employee perspective they once had. Every new title comes with a bigger paycheck, better perks, and more access to those with the real power.

Over time, that person grows accustomed to the role of the organization leader with all of its associated fringe benefits. The advice coming their way from those who grant the power at the top of the org chart begins to drown out those old ideas rooted in their own experience of leadership.

They become part of the organizational machine. And partially, that’s because there is so much at stake: big title, big paycheck, big office. All created by a system that they know isn’t working the best for most employees.

And so they find themselves, perpetuating the very behaviors and systems that they may have once railed against. It’s a cycle I’ve personally seen play out over and over again.

So what does it take to break out of this common pattern? It takes a rare and courageous leader to climb to the top of the ladder and then go about breaking apart the very ladder they are perched atop. That ladder is what affords them the power in the first place.

Willingness to break or fundamentally challenge the system that gives you power requires true vision, fortitude, and principle. It’s rare because the risks, or at least the perceived risks, are very high.

As I write this, I realize that this is a bit depressing. The system is designed in such a way that there are powerful incentives NOT to change, so what do we do?

I don’t think there are easy answers to this issue. But, here are a few things I’ve learned:

  1. If you have a CEO who gets the importance of engagement and culture, you are incredibly fortunate. Do not squander the opportunity by playing small with small ideas. When you have the CEO as your back, you can accomplish some amazing things for both your employees and your organization.
  2. There is one exception to the rule that leaders won’t break the system that gives them power. That exception is a crisis. When the organization is facing a crisis, leader’s minds open to alternate paths. If the status quo leads to extinction, then change is required. When your organization finds itself in crisis, step forward with bold plans. This may be your moment to truly change the trajectory of the organization.
  3. Don’t lose sight of what it feels like to be a non-management employee. As you succeed, you will get promoted and with that will come all the trappings of corporate success. Stay connected to the experience and challenges that your employees have each day and what matters the most to them. Create rituals or habits where you are in regular conversation with employees about their day-to-day life at work. And, to the extent you can, help the up-and-coming leaders in your organization to do the same.

Regardless of all of this, I don’t want you to take the wrong message. CEOs don’t have to “get it” for you to make some big progress. But, it’s a whole lot easier when they do.

Start with what you can control. Transform your team first. Practice the kind of leadership you expect from others. Your example may help nudge others in the right direction.

feedback, feedforward
Moving From Feedback To Feedforward
Moving From Feedback To Feedforward 1024 512 Jason Lauritsen

I can still remember when I first heard about “feedforward.” It was in a presentation by Marshall Goldsmith at one of the first HCI Summits many years ago.

The concept sounded weird and a little gimmicky. But, it stuck with me.

At its essence, the idea was that while feedback was oriented towards criticism of past performance, feedforward instead provided suggestions for future improvement. People dislike criticism while they tend to more openly embrace suggestions that can be incorporated in the future. Simple enough.

While it seemed like a nice concept, I didn’t really do much with it after this first exposure. I still gave feedback the same way I always had.

Fast forward seven or eight years where I find myself at another conference listening to Marcus Buckingham. He again introduced the idea of feedforward. His approach was slightly different, but the idea was the same.  Suggestions instead of criticism.

The idea again appealed to me and this time I started experimenting with it with my team. And it seemed to work. While I was happy about the positive outcomes, I didn’t really understand why this was supposed to work so much better. I had been told my entire professional career that feedback was vital.

Yes, giving feedback was going to suck and often hurt. But, it IS “the breakfast of champions.” So they said.

To get ahead, you needed to learn to embrace the pain of feedback and try to figure out how to absorb it and learn from it.

I was skeptical that this “softer” feedforward approach might just be a way of softening the experience to feel better while losing the bigger impact. This was in spite of personally seeing the positive short-term results when I used it.

But then I found the neuroscience research that helped me understand why we have such a hard time with feedback.  Here’s a quick excerpt from my book describing one of the most interesting findings:

Recent neuroscience research suggests that our brain reacts to “social” threats similarly to physical threats. Perception of negative social comparison or being treated unfairly have been shown to trigger a brain response similar to physical pain. (Lieberman, Matthew D., Eisenberger, Naomi I. et. all, 2009) This would help explain why we tend to react defensively to critical feedback–particularly when we think it may be unjust or threatening to our social status at work. It’s a natural, biological response to avoid pain.

Our brain appears not to differentiate between social and physical pain. In other words, feedback can feel both psychologically and physically painful. No wonder we want to avoid it.

And to make matters worse, there’s research showing how we tend to overestimate our strengths while overlooking our weaknesses. Thus amplifying how socially threatening any critical feedback can seem. More threat, more pain.

This is why feedback is such an awful experience most of the time.

Work is frequently designed like a big social game of comparison to our peers. It’s a zero sum game if you want to advance. You need to be perceived as better than the people around you. Feedback will rarely feel non-threatening when you are playing such a high-stakes game.

Once I understood these factors, the true magic and power of feedforward finally revealed itself.

Criticism of past performance (which cannot be changed) creates a social threat response. This leads to an immediate defensive reaction as your brain and body try to find their way back to safety. When we are defensive, we can’t hear and process information constructively.

The approach of providing suggestions for improving future performance prescribed by feedforward disarms the social threat response. The exchange is oriented towards providing ideas for how the individual can improve or make a greater impact in the future. Not only does this reduce defensiveness, but it also creates autonomy for the receiver. They are in control and can decide what to do next.

Here are the steps I would recommend if you’d like to start experimenting with it yourself:

  1. Identify an opportunity for improvement. Think specifically about what happened and what kind of actions the individual could take to be better in the future.
  2. Request permission to provide some suggestions. This isn’t a requirement, but I’ve found that this step further enhances the effectiveness of feedforward. When we are asked first if we’d like suggestions, it further disarms any possible defensive response. “Hey Jason, I was thinking about our meeting this morning. I jotted down a few ideas for how I think you could get more traction with your next presentation. Would you be interested in hearing my thoughts?”
  3. Share one to three things that you feel would be helpful to them in the future. Providing some context for how these suggestions can help is good, but avoid any discussion of what they “did wrong” or “messed up.” If they open up and ask specific questions related to their past performance, provide observations but refrain from sharing judgment. Feedforward usually starts something like this, “When you are presenting an idea to a group, one of the approaches I’ve found to be successful is …”
  4. Watch for and reinforce evidence of progress. When you see the individual experimenting with or implementing suggestions in the future, heap on the praise and recognition. Before long, they’ll start coming and asking for more suggestions. Sidenote: when someone asks you for feedback, what they are really asking you for is suggestions for how to be better in the future.

There’s been a lot of focus recently on teaching managers to be coaches. If you have ever had the opportunity to observe a good sports coach working during practice or games, you have probably noticed that most of what they do is provide instruction and suggestions for how to perform better on the next play. They know that spending too much time criticizing past performance will just demoralize the athlete and doesn’t help them improve. Coaching is fundamentally about switching from feedback to feedforward.

Bottomline: Stop criticizing people for past performance that they can’t change and start focusing on giving them the insights they need to be better on the next play.

A Hard Truth about Employee Engagement
A Hard Truth about Employee Engagement 1024 512 Jason Lauritsen

There was a point in my career, probably 18 or 20 years or so ago, that I would have argued vehemently that creating a workplace culture that engages employees was vital to sustaining a profitable business. I believed in my heart that it was an imperative.

At the time, I was an HR leader working at an organization where my CEO really believed (and invested) in the value of people not only as employees but as human beings with lives beyond work.

For me, it was the perfect place to practice HR. While my CEO was pragmatic in how he ran this company of 800+ people, he was always open to considering new ways to help people develop and grow. He came to believe that work was a vehicle for employees to pursue their dreams. And the more we could create an experience of work that supported that, the better we’d do.

And we did well. During my 3 1/2 years working for this organization, we invested heavily in our culture and the development of our people, most of whom worked in call centers. As a result, our turnover began to decrease to nearly half what it had historically been. This along with other efforts, led to us doubling our revenue per employee over those short few years. An astonishing result for a company of this size.

We did so well, in fact, that the company peaked in value and was acquired by a much larger call center company. It was at this point in my career that I was most dogmatic in my belief that the only way to produce sustainable, profitable business results was through an engaged workplace.

But, then I spent the next couple of years working as a VP of HR for the new organization. I took on the support of large legacy call centers where turnover was in the range of 200% annually. Given my mindset at the time, I climbed up on my righteous high horse and started working on how to create a more engaging work environment in these call centers.

And I met resistance at every turn by the local management. Sure, they were interested in decreasing turnover as long as it didn’t require any real change. In reality, they mainly wanted to ensure that my team could keep up with recruiting enough new hires to backfill for the turnover.

I fought this battle for a year and made very little progress. I wanted to talk about culture and engagement, they just wanted to talk about recruiting. Eventually, it hit me.

This company who I now worked for had been in business for several decades. And they had been quite successful by most financial measures. They were 40,000 employees strong at the time.

And, near as I could tell, they did it all without caring at all about employee engagement.

Their business model assumed high employee turnover. So, when they priced business, they built in the cost of supporting 200% annual turnover.  Managers, rather than learning how to engage and develop employees, learned how to churn and burn people the best they could to maintain their minimum performance standards. And, they had gotten good enough at it to keep their customers satisfied.

It was black and white evidence that my belief in employee engagement as the only way to succeed was wrong. You can make money a lot of different ways in business–many of those ways involve exploiting, undervaluing, or otherwise taking advantage of people (employees, customers, etc.).

This was the hard truth I learned.  Employee engagement isn’t an imperative of succeeding in business. You can survive and succeed without caring at all about employees as people. I’ve lived through it (as I’m sure many of you have too).

Knowing this is important when you are trying to convince executives to invest in employee engagement. They know this isn’t a succeed or fail discussion because they’ve spent most of their careers working for successful companies who would sacrifice people for short term financial rewards without hesitating.

Investing in culture and engagement isn’t the ONLY path, but it’s the RIGHT path. Treating people well at work, caring about them as humans, making sure they feel included and appreciated–all of the things we typically roll together under the heading of “employee engagement,” is first and foremost simply the right thing to do.

There’s very little debate in any organization that treating customers with care, respect, appreciation, and intention is critical to succeeding. And yet, some still question the importance of doing the same for our employees.

The work we chose to do to create more human, engaging work experiences isn’t only about better business results, it’s about achieving them in a way that fulfills everyone involved–employees, customers, shareholders, communities. It’s also about creating the opportunity for each person to find their potential both at work and in life.

There are certainly other paths to business results. Some of them may even be easier to travel as business leaders.

Employee engagement isn’t simply about doing what works. It’s also about doing what’s right.

“The time is always right to do what is right.”

Martin Luther King, Jr.

 

An Unexpected Reminder of the Power in Genuine Appreciation
An Unexpected Reminder of the Power in Genuine Appreciation 1024 512 Jason Lauritsen

This week, while staying in Chicago for work, I ventured out to find a nearby sports bar to watch a basketball game and grab some dinner.

In fairness, this wasn’t just any basketball game. I was planning to watch my beloved Duke Blue Devils play. And, I was appropriately dressed in Duke gear to show my allegiance.

The bar I chose based on Yelp reviews was called Theory. When I arrived, I found a spot at the bar in front of a TV with the game and settled in.

My initial impressions of Theory were positive. The bar staff was friendly and helped me choose a good local IPA and a sandwich to enjoy.

At some point early in the game, I heard a voice behind me say, “Thanks so much for coming in to watch the game. Are you a Duke grad?” It was a man a bit younger than me dressed in a gold, Iowa Hawkeye hoodie and a cap whose bill was angled a bit off center. He was the owner.

We chatted for the next few minutes about how I was a life long Duke fan. He shared with me how he went to high school with one of the Duke assistant coaches (and a former player) and how that had made him a fan of the team.

At the end of our conversation, he said “Thank you for your business, I really appreciate that you came in to watch the game tonight.” And he was off.

I watched him work the entire bar over the next couple hours, going out of his way to thank every person who came in for choosing his bar. And the thing that struck me about this was how genuine he seemed to be in his gratitude and appreciation.

He stopped by to check in with me at least two more times while I was there, each time thanking me for being there. And, while I recognize that this may sound excessive as you read it, it didn’t feel that way. It felt like being a guest in the home of someone who is a thoughtful host.

On my way out of the bar, we met one last time and shook hands. He thanked me again for my business and I thanked him for the experience. I can honestly say that I don’t think I’ve ever felt more appreciated leaving a dining experience.

It felt surprisingly good.

I will be back to Theory any time I’m nearby. And I’ll recommend it whenever I have the chance.

As I thought about the experience on my walk back to the hotel, it struck me that this was a lesson in the power of genuine expressions of gratitude and appreciation.

The food at Theory is good. The craft beer selection is also quite good. The bartenders were attentive and friendly. There are a lot of good things about this place. But that could be said about a lot of places.

It was the brief interactions with the owner, a stranger, that set this experience apart from others. A few words and a few minutes of time made the difference between a forgettable meal at a random sports bar and writing a blog post about the experience.

Here’s what I’d invite you to consider.

What if managers and leaders took the same care at work to make every person feel seen, acknowledged, and appreciated?

What if employees left work each day feeling the way I did leaving Theory, as if my presence there actually mattered to someone?

It’s not complicated. A few minutes and a few genuine words of gratitude is all it takes.

I think we can do this.

A “Non-Obvious” Conversation about Employee Engagement with Jamie Notter
A “Non-Obvious” Conversation about Employee Engagement with Jamie Notter 1024 512 Jason Lauritsen

Today, I’m doing something a little different on the blog. My longtime friends Jamie Notter and Maddie Grant have just published a new book titled “The Non-Obvious Guide to Employee Engagement.” They present a unique perspective that I think you’ll find interesting.

What follows is a short interview I did with Jamie over email to give you a flavor of what’s in the book. My questions are in bold. The rest are Jamie’s words. More details about the book and how to find Jamie and Maddie are at the bottom of the post. Enjoy.


Your new book is about employee engagement. In my opinion, one of the foundation issues in most work on this topic is a lack of clear definition of employee engagement. As you also note in your book, there are nearly as many definitions of engagement as there are consultants and technology firms who claim to have the answer.

So, let’s start there. How do you define employee engagement? And what makes your definition more credible and valuable than the countless others out there?

Here’s our definition of engagement:

Employee engagement is the level of emotional connection and commitment employees have to an organization, which is driven by how successful they are at work, both personally and organizationally.

The first half of the definition is really our summary of all the other definitions out there. They all focus on the internal emotional connection/commitment. And that’s a huge problem because if that is what engagement is, then there’s nothing managers can do to improve it. That’s internal to the employee, so it’s not something I can get my hands on.

And that also defines engagement in terms of the result (level of commitment), but says NOTHING about the cause, and that’s where I think we are adding value here. The cause of engagement is fundamentally success. When people are deeply successful at work, then they have that level of commitment/connection. When you start messing with their success–THAT’s when they start to phone it in.

I’m not sure how clear we make it in the book, but we see three levels of success that will impact engagement–personal, role, and enterprise. The personal part is: am I being successful as I define it related to my life goals and destiny. This, by the way, is why I think entrepreneurs are 100% engaged–most of them were born to do it. They just can’t work for other people. So if you stick someone in a job that is not aligned with their values and life goals, they’ll be less engaged.

Role is about being successful in my specific job. If you put me in sales, but your org is so siloed that no one will give me leads, then I can’t be successful in sales and engagement drops. Enterprise is about my work actually contributing to the success of the organization. Imagine working for Kodak as they missed the digital camera revolution. I might be successful in my film processing, but I know it’s a sinking ship.

You align your organization with deep success like that, and you’ll get engagement.

Traditionally, engagement has been seen as the path to results (usually described as discretionary effort). The argument says that when engagement increases, employee output increases. In other words, more engagement leads to more success. Your definition seems to reverse the order making engagement an outcome. A cynic might argue then, why are we even talking about engagement if it’s simply a product of successful performance? I’m guessing there’s more to it than that. Can you explain?

Okay, so while I do think there is “more to it than that” (and I’ll explain in a minute), first I want to say that the cynic might have a point here. A lot of the literature on engagement cites statistics showing all the increased profits, revenue, and productivity that organizations get when they have higher engagement. They specifically imply that if you can somehow get more engagement, you’ll get those great results of profits, revenue, etc.

This really frustrates me, because I don’t think I’ve seen ANY proof of causation in those statistics–it’s simply correlation. Engagement and profits correlate. Fine. So what’s our mental model here? Is it (a) if we cajole people into being engaged, we’ll get more profit? Or (b) if we figure out how to be consistently profitable, people might actually like working here more? B honestly seems more sensible to me.

But, as you say, there’s more to it than that. Part of the bigger picture is what I said in the previous email–I think engagement is a function of DEEP success, which includes the enterprise level, but also role and personal levels. Creating a culture where everyone has success at all those levels goes way beyond simply being profitable. It’s about creating a system that is focused on those different levels of success simultaneously.

But most organizations, frankly, don’t have systems like that. They have cobbled together a culture that manages to generate some enterprise success (or they’d be out of business), but often at the expense of success at the other two levels. We finish the year in the black, but people are frustrated at the red-tape they have to go through just to get resources, or at the missed opportunities for innovation because one department won’t talk to the other.

Most companies today are focused on actions that increase engagement as a means to greater success. You argue for a different approach in the book. What do you believe organizations should do instead if they want to create a more engaging work experience for employees?  

If companies want engagement, then they should focus on finding and fixing the patterns inside their culture that are getting in the way of deep success. Get under the surface to find the patterns in the way you do things that are having the biggest impact on success, and then fix them (or reinforce them if it’s a positive impact).

Don’t just tell me whether or not your people think the organization is good at collaboration (which is what an engagement survey might say). Show me that while people as individuals are keen to help each other out in this culture, we haven’t invested in processes and systems to support the collaboration, so it ends up being ad hoc. And at the end of the year, we can always point back to a long list of missed opportunities to deliver value to the client because we weren’t proactively collaborating. And then suggest to me some new processes or technologies you can employ that will change that pattern.

You start doing that and engagement will increase–without you having to run ONE engagement survey.


For more great insights and practical guidance for how to manage your culture to fuel success and engagement, order a copy of the new book or visit his website.  

Open Offices Suck, Annual Engagement Surveys are Dead, and other Lies
Open Offices Suck, Annual Engagement Surveys are Dead, and other Lies 1024 512 Jason Lauritsen

I love CBS Sunday Morning.

This past Sunday, Faith Salie shared an op-ed monologue about how much she dislikes open offices. I’ve embedded the video at the bottom of the post for you to check out. She makes a pretty compelling argument.

Just a few years ago, open offices were THE ANSWER to the future of workplace design promising more communication, more innovation, and more productivity. Not to mention they are less expensive for the organization (more people in smaller spaces).

But, now a backlash has started. Lately, it’s become more en vogue to make the point that open offices are, as Faith argues, THE WORST.

Which is it? Are open offices THE ANSWER or are they THE WORST?

Arguments like these are everywhere when it comes to what’s best in the workplace.

  • Is performance management good or bad?
  • Is the annual engagement survey critical or dead?
  • Are front line supervisors the problem or the victims of a bad system?
  • Are best friends at work vital or ridiculous?

These arguments between binary choices are assinine at best and harmful at worst.

We’ve become so enamored by best practices that promise THE ANSWER to our problems, we’ve lost sight of the complexity of this work. Our fixation on finding the right choice between two polar opposite choices is causing us to ignore a harder reality.

THE ANSWER is an illusion. No, it’s a lie.

There are never just two answers. And, there are almost always several different right answers.

Personally, I have mixed feelings about open office space designs. If you’ve ever worked in this type of environment, you probably do too. I like the energy of being in open space around other people working. I like that accessibility that it creates. But, I strongly dislike the lack of privacy and constant distractions.

The organizations using workplace design to drive employee engagement have embraced that different people and different kinds of work require different types of workspaces. They recognize that private offices and open office space can be both good and bad depending on the context.

Those leaders not trapped in binary and best practice thinking are creating innovative spaces for work designed to provide options and flexibility. An example that I wrote about in my book is Hudl, whose new headquarters includes a mix of different spaces designed for different types of preferences and needs. Most employees at Hudl don’t have an assigned desk. Instead, they choose their workspace based on their needs that day.

Thinking in binary terms (i.e. Is this is good or bad?) is crippling our ability to innovate and move forward. It’s hard to resist this thinking since it’s everywhere. In politics, you are either with me or against me. In pop culture, a movie is great or it sucks. When we encounter someone, they either agree with us or they are an idiot.

We must resist this thinking. We need to break free of the “this or that” trap.

The path to growth and innovation lives in the messy grey area in the middle. Because here’s the reality, open offices are both great and terrible at the same time. Performance management can be both good and bad.

The choices are false. THE ANSWER is a lie.

Our mandate is to embrace the complexity of working with humans. Each one of us is different and unique. That means that any group of us is almost infinitely complex. There are many right answers. There are many effective solutions. Never just one.

Do the work to find what’s best for your organization and your people. Ask more questions. See all angles. Push back on arbitrary options and dig in.

Not only will you end up having a much greater impact, but you will learn a lot more along the way.

Not sure what questions you should ask? We should talk.

 

 

Before the Resolutions, Work on your Purpose
Before the Resolutions, Work on your Purpose 300 168 Jason Lauritsen

Yesterday, as I was climbing onto the treadmill to start undoing the damage I’d done to my body over the holiday, I noted how few people were at the gym.

Then I thought, “Next week is going to be different.”

It’s resolution time of year. Next week, the gym will be full of new people and those who haven’t been in a while. All of them full of New Year’s inspired resolve.

For someone who goes to the gym regularly, it’s an inconvenience to have so many people packing the gym. But I know it won’t last.  It never does.

Within a month, things will return to normal. New Year’s resolve gone.

Setting resolutions and goals alone is typically not enough to drive the sustainable behavior change needed to see meaningful results. Getting in shape, for example, is really hard. It means changing your diet and giving up foods you probably love. It means doing workouts that you are not good at that leave you feeling the next day as if you got run over by a truck.

It’s hard. And because it’s hard, you are likely to quit.

Unless.

If you want to keep more of your resolutions and meet more of your goals, start by first getting crystal clear on why they are important.

Why do you want to get in better shape? What consequence will it have in your life when you succeed (or fail)?

Is it to feel better and have more energy to play with your kids or spend time with friends?  Is it to avoid suffering from some serious health conditions that could take everything away?

When you are clear on your “why,” it’s harder to quit.

The workouts might suck, but you aren’t quitting on the workouts, you are quitting on your kids (or your future, etc.). Being clear on the purpose behind your goals is where real resolve comes from.

This the same reason that so many projects and goals fall short at work as well.

Organizations often commit themselves to improve employee engagement in the same way we set resolutions to get in better shape. It seems like the right thing to do and it seems like everyone else is doing it.

So we survey our employees. And despite the fact that our leaders think everything is fine, we discover that it’s not so great for the employees. And, making the needed changes is going to be hard.

You will probably quit. Mainly because you (and everyone else) aren’t sure exactly why any of this really matters.

If you want to make an impact at work towards creating a better work experience for your employees, start with purpose. Before you set any goals or make any plans, get really clear on why it matters.

Is it to improve your employees’ lives? Is it to improve organizational performance? Is it to save your organization from going out of business?

There’s a lot of reasons why you can and should care about employees’ experience at work. The important step is to uncover and articulate why it matters for your organization.

Because doing this work, like getting in better shape, is hard work.  And when you (or your leaders) want to quit, you need to remember that you aren’t quitting on a survey or an HR project. You are quitting on the organization or your employees’ future.

Before you start writing out resolutions or making plans for next year, invest some time in thinking about why any of it matters. Goals and intentions built on a solid foundation of purpose are far more powerful and effective.

Make 2019 your best ever by starting with clarity about what really matters.

Happy New Year!

8 Future of Work Trends to Prepare for NOW
8 Future of Work Trends to Prepare for NOW 600 300 Jason Lauritsen

It’s gotten pretty popular to write about the future of work recently. It’s fun to think about the future and what might happen.

Usually, much of what’s written is speculation based on hunches and educated guesses. Because the future is yet to be written, writing about it encourages you to be creative in your predictions.

The problem, of course, is that when we are creating strategic plans and making investments in our organizations, our decisions about the future have real consequences. We need something better than a creative writing exercise to guide our thinking

Fortunately, there are better ways to inform our thinking about the future.

As my Futurist mentor, Rebecca Ryan, has taught me, thinking about the future can and should be grounded in the information we already know from the present. Particularly when thinking about the near future that impacts your organization over the next several years, there’s a lot of data available that paints a picture of what’s most likely to happen.

Over the past two months, I’ve been writing a series of posts for PeopleDoc outlining eight trends that are heavily influencing the (near) future of work and how you can be preparing your organization for them.

I’m also doing a webinar with PeopleDoc tomorrow, Tuesday, December 11, to discuss the eight trends. Register here.

Here are the eight trends and links to each post.

  1. Declining Trust
  2. Growth of the “Gig” Economy
  3. The increasing demand for instant gratification
  4. The increase in mobile technology
  5. Career experiences are replacing career paths
  6. Increasing life expectancies
  7. Automation through artificial intelligence
  8. Increasingly Diverse Workforce

Each post is based on real trends that don’t show any signs of changing. If you employ people, these trends are and will continue to affect you in small and, possibly, large ways over the next several years. Ignore them at your own peril.

As you plan for 2019 and beyond, take some time to step back and look at the story that these (and other) trends are telling you. The future of work is revealing itself to you if you know where to look.

Workforce Logo
Why Performance Management Still Sucks
Why Performance Management Still Sucks 395 120 Jason Lauritsen

I’ve spent a large part of the last year writing a book about performance management.  

One of the big questions I wrestled with was “how did we get this so wrong?” That question isn’t all that hard to answer when you look at the history of management and discover that it was based on a contractual, compliance-based model.

This helps explain how we ended up with compliance-based processes like the annual performance appraisal and performance improvement plans. They make sense in the historical context in which they were created. 

But times have changed. And work has changed. A lot. 

Performance management hasn’t. 

A majority of organizations are still running these same compliance-based processes today. Taken in the context of our climate of work, they make little or no sense.

Employees hate it. Managers cringe at the mention of performance management. And HR keeps running the system despite knowing that it doesn’t really work.  

It’s glaringly obvious that it’s a broken system. It’s been obvious for decades. Why is it taking so long to fix?  

This might be the more important question. 

Performance is the lifeblood of any organization. Without it, the organization withers and dies.  What could be more important than the management of performance?

And yet.

No one owns it.  

Everyone participates. Everyone is impacted.

No one owns it. 

Managers are charged with the day to day responsibility of ensuring employee performance. Leaders are broadly responsible for organizational performance.  And HR is where the formal, compliance-based processes for the appraisal of performance.  

But who is responsible for designing and deploying and maintaining a system for managing performance across the organization? 

Certainly, HR is the assumed answer. 

But, I think I’ve only met a handful of HR professionals in my life who’s primary job role and function was performance management. 

This fall, I facilitated a panel of HR leaders at the HR Tech Conference to discuss the evolution of performance management. I asked each of them how performance management fit into their overall HR structure. Each of the four companies was different. 

In one case it was part of total rewards (i.e. benefit and comp). In another, it was viewed as part of employee engagement. In another, it was under the banner of employee relations (i.e. compliance). 

In two of the four cases, the main reason HR undertook the process of changing performance management was that executive leadership demanded it.  

It’s crazy. 

A well-designed performance management system should be the operating system for your organization. It ensures a sustainable and consistent employee experience that unlocks individual and team performance. Most organizations today are still running a performance management operating system written in the 1920’s.

It’s way past time for an upgrade. But, that upgrade will never happen unless you make it a priority.  

Every organization should have a role or team dedicated to performance management systems. If you don’t like the phrase “performance management,” then call it performance enablement or performance processes.  

It can be in HR or it can be elsewhere. It will depend on your organization. 

We would never let something like sales or financials or technology go without an owner who has the responsibility to ensuring process effectiveness.

Why do we allow it with something as vital as the management of performance?

Let’s change that. 

Technology’s Evolving Role in HR #HRTechConf
Technology’s Evolving Role in HR #HRTechConf Jason Lauritsen

The HR Technology Conference has become one of my favorite events of the year. It’s a great opportunity to get a feel for the broader trends in HR and work.  

Each year, I try to take in a few sessions and spend some time walking the Exhibit Hall. My goal is to try to understand what the technology vendors think is important to the HR community. This comes through loud and clear through their marketing messages and positioning at the event.

Based on my observations, this year’s overarching theme seemed the same as last year. Everything is about AI (artificial intelligence). Apparently, we are all so fascinated by the potential of AI that nearly every vendor is feeling the pressure to show how they are in the AI game.

I personally think that most of the talk about AI is distracting us from what really matters in making work better. That is an argument for another day. The bottom line is that for the second year in a row, AI was the dominant buzzword of the conference.

Another thing I love about this event is the conversation and presentations about the future of work. Technology companies are rightfully interested in understanding how work is evolving and what the future might look like so they can enable that future through their products.

Based on what I heard from Josh Bersin and others, it seems to me that there are some real shifts coming (and needed) in terms of what HR technology looks like and how it works.  There were three big things that I took away from this year’s event.

  1. HR technology tools need to be where the work happens. Almost all of today’s HR technology tools are part of a stand-alone platform or product. This means that the employee has to leave the technology that they primarily use to do their work (email, calendar, CRM, etc.) to find and log into another application before being able to take their desired action. It’s no wonder that we struggle to get employees to consistently engage with these tools. It feels like a hassle. The next generation of HR tech tools will be built into where you do work to make the employee’s experience much more fluid and intuitive. Keep an eye on companies like Microsoft, Google, Salesforce, and Slack as they are already starting to build some of their own integrated tools. It seems like there’s about to be a lot of innovation in this area. 
  2. We need technology to support wellbeing. Earlier this year, Stanford Professor Jeffrey Pfeffer published a new book titled, “Dying for a Paycheck: How Modern Management Harms Employee Health and Company Performance—and What We Can Do About It.” He argues that work is literally killing us. Much of that boils down to the immense stress that people are feeling today from both work and life. I’m convinced that tending to the wellbeing of employees will emerge as a business imperative over the next five or more years. Technology has contributed significantly to this problem in the past by enabling 24/7 connectivity. Now we need new technology to help us begin to fix it.  
  3. The future of work is teams. Bersin stood in front of a room full of HR technology marketers and declared that while more companies are organizing work in teams, today’s HR technology tools are almost exclusively designed around individual work performance. For those who work in a project team or agile environment, you can probably relate to how different it is to manage the performance and engagement of teams compared to individuals. As the way we work and our management approaches shift more and more towards teams and collaboration, we will need new tech tools to support that. And, it doesn’t seem that there are many tools here yet. I expect that to change quickly. 

Those are my takeaways from this year’s HR Tech Conference. If you are interested in technology and the future of work, I highly encourage you to give this conference a look next year. If you decide to go, look me up. I’ll be there.