Employees aren’t holding you back from being agile, but your work design strategies could be. Plus more insights from AHRI’s SHIFT20 event.
We’ve heard the word ‘pivot’ almost as many times as the phrase “you’re on mute” this year. While the word is overused, the concept of moving forward, tweaking processes and shifting expectations is one that will sort the businesses that thrive from those that flounder.
But shifting direction is easier said than done. Where do you start? What do you change? And who do you need to take on the journey? These very topics were covered in AHRI’s SHIFT20 event yesterday with four impressive keynote speakers offering their thoughts on the lay of the land we find ourselves walking on.
If you missed any of these insightful sessions, don’t fret. You can purchase bundles of some speakers’ presentations here to catch up on what you missed. For now, here’s a taste of some highlights of the day.
How to unlock a responsive culture
Gartner’s VP of research and advisory Aaron McEwan FAHRI closed the event, but let’s start with his insights because they created the perfect backdrop for what the other three keynote speakers had to say.
McEwan’s presentation focused on agile businesses and responsive cultures. I know what you’re thinking, the word ‘agile’ is third on the list of things you wish you’d stop hearing about in 2020 (right below “pivot” and “you’re on mute”), but McEwan’s approach was fresh and data-backed, and it peeled back the layers of what ‘agile’ really means and the barriers holding organisations back (spoiler: it’s not employees).
To paint a picture of a truly agile organisation, he points to Netflix – an organisation that went from a DVD delivery service in 1998 to the $194 billion streaming service we know today.
While we can’t compare the demise of the DVD industry to what’s played out with COVID-19, it does act as the perfect example of an organisation that’s taken lemons and made billion-dollar lemonade.
With a mindset like this, imagine where your organisation could be in ten years time. But how do you get there? Or, more importantly, what’s holding you back?
Some might make the assumption that employees don’t have the skills or desire to adapt. After all, change isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. However, Gartner’s research blows that theory out of the water.
When asking a group of over 5,000 employees and HR leaders if they were confident to adopt agile ways of working, only 7 per cent disagreed. When asked if they were excited about the opportunity to do this, only 16 per cent disagreed.
The appetite for agility is there, so why did only 39 per cent of respondents report they were behaving in a responsive manner?
“It comes down to work friction,” says McEwan. “There are friction points in work that actually make it really difficult for employees to be responsive, even when they want to.”
“We want to help people to become more intelligent and active stewards in caring for their wellbeing and resilience.” – Michelle McQuaid
“They’re so buried in their email inbox, for example, that they hardly have a spare moment to think about the bigger picture, the bigger priorities.
They know there’s an issue, they have a solution, but they’re not empowered or able to act.
“This not only creates bottlenecks in our organisation and prevents employees from being responsive, but it frustrates the hell out of them,” he says.
“Even when employees want to do the right thing, they’re struggling to. Not because of their attitude, mindset or capability, but rather because we get in their way.”
Gartner identified many different friction points that it boiled down into four categories: misaligned work design, overwhelmed teams, trapped resources and rigid processes.
Because of all these barriers, around two thirds of employees are wasting time trying to hack their work days, he says. This creates risks such as a loss of institutional knowledge, mismanagement of resources and cyber security risks. It also wastes time.
McEwan says because employees are faced with these barriers, they spend an extra 1.9 hours per day trying to complete routine work.
“Now think about the context we’re in right now. Since COVID, the average remote worker is already working an additional two to three hours per day. On top of that, there’s almost another two hours they’re spending trying… work around our systems in order to deliver on what they need to do. In an organisation with 10,000 employees, that adds up to 62,700 wasted hours per week, and 3.1 million wasted hours per year.”
The more friction points in an organisation, the more likely employees are to quit, McEwan adds.
“About half of employees experienced three or more work friction points and one in eight experienced six or more friction points.
“If we’re looking for a reason why we have catastrophically low engagement levels, maybe it’s because we’re asking our employees to work harder, but waste that additional hard work on pointless effort.”
Hiring and training for agility is only one piece of the pie. Doing this, Gartner’s research suggests, ensures around 53 per cent of the workforce is agile.
“That’s not the tipping point we need. But if we also work on work design, we can get a 1.6 times increase in the percentage of employees who are responsive,” he adds.
“An organisation where 85 per cent of its employees are responding appropriately to changes in the environment and changes with their customers – that’s what an agile organisation looks like.”
To kick start your journey to becoming more agile, McEwan suggests organisations assess their work design processes not in episodic timeframes, but consistently. The second part of the solution is to reduce the overwhelm that teams are experiencing.
“We need to stop designing for maximum capacity. Our teams are overwhelmed, they don’t have the time. We’ve designed work to maximise the capacity of every employee, but running on the smell of an oily rag does not lead to an agile organisation. In fact, that leads to a brittle and fragile one. We learned that the hard way through COVID-19.”
Finally, he says we need to stop designing work for stable situations.
“Here’s the thing, we don’t live in a stable or predictable world anymore. What we need is mobility.”
The post-pandemic workplace
The first speaker to take the (virtual) stage was renowned University of Colorado professor Wayne Cascio FAHRI who spoke about the search for the “next normal” of workplaces.
As you’d expect with such a far-reaching topic, Cascio covered a lot of ground in his allotted time slot. Central to his presentation, however, was the clear message that workplaces can’t rely on the old way of doing things if they want to emerge from this crisis stronger.
“It’s not enough to make tweaks to your [business] model. Many businesses are making changes the whole way they do business,” he says. This means putting softer metrics, such as empathy and resilience, smack bang in the middle of your business strategy. And, as HRM recently wrote about, training your leaders to do the same thing.
“Here’s the thing, we don’t live in a stable or predictable world anymore. What we need is mobility.” – Aaron McEwan
The million dollar question on every delegates’ mind was how to operate successful businesses post COVID-19? To answer this, Cascio quoted famous management consultant Peter Trucker who said “the best way to anticipate the future is to create it”.
“In this current environment, I would modify that slightly to say the best way to anticipate the future is to co-create it with your employees. The businesses that are going to be the most successful are those willing to look at their business models and co-create new ones with their workers.”
“We need to see our people as a source of innovation. That’s probably the best advice I can give you.”
Truly understanding wellbeing
Up next was positive psychology and wellbeing expert Dr Michelle McQuaid FCPHR.
Managing your own wellbeing used to be like wading through a backyard swimming pool, she says. This year, it’s like you’re swimming in the middle of the ocean. So how can leaders help their people navigate these choppy seas and still feel they’re adding value?
McQuaid offers these tips:
Take the time to celebrate the small wins – we have a tendency to skip over the good things we do at work, she says, especially when we’re flat out. By taking time to savour the moment, you’re helping employees to feel more positive about their work.
Engage in an authentic way – Take the time to tell someone when you value their input. Try to go beyond just saying “thanks for your help today”. Instead, identify a specific quality/skill that they brought to the table, i.e. “Your decisiveness today was really helpful in getting that project out the door on time. Thank you for being so on the ball.
Encourage your team to set boundaries (and honour them) – McQuaid says we need to watch out for Passion Fatigue – that is, when our sense of work is so defining to us that we find it hard to switch off. “We don’t want peoples’ sense of meaning to be too anchored in their work.”
An important takeaway from McQuaid’s session was that resilience has to give equal measure to thriving and struggling.
“One of the biggest challenges in HR will be the necessary reskilling and upskilling as jobs change. The pace and scale of it has never been greater.” – Wayne Cascio
If you turned up to work and someone was trying to shove positive messaging down your throat when it took all you had to get out of bed, that’s not going to help you. We need to acknowledge the existence of the tough times – and give employees permission and space to talk about that – if we want to have a well-rounded and effective wellbeing approach.
“We want to help people to become more intelligent and active stewards in caring for their wellbeing and resilience,” she adds.
Technology and belonging
Deloitte’s Rob Scott FCPHR graced our screens after lunch with a thought-provoking session on humans, technology and how the two co-exist.
“How do we remain uniquely human when tech is becoming prolific in our personal and work lives?” Scott asked.
The two aren’t mutually exclusive, he says, and when organisations treat them as such, it can cause inter-organisational conflicts.
For example, Scott says humans have both an innate desire to belong to a larger group while at the same time being seen as individual beings.
A greater sense of belonging drives better organisational outcomes, he says. To make this happen, he says there are three main factors to keep in mind:
- Culture – “Your culture needs to reinforce this sense of belonging. And if your culture was born out of physical presence, that may need to be adapted [due to COVID-19].
- Leadership – “Some of the best leadership models we’ve seen are those focused on creating a connection between the individual and the team.”
- Personal relationships – “How can you use [these relationships] to establish a greater sense of connection?”
Another topic Scott examined was the evolution of the HR profession. Referring to Deloitte’s upcoming Human Capital Trends 2021 report, Scott revealed that 55 per cent of respondents think HR’s role will substaintiatly change in the future.
“HR needs to be positioned to influence what’s happening, both inside and outside the organisation. And in order to make that shift to a new HR, there are [a few] things that I think are really important. We need to increase the capabilities of HR professionals to change [their] organisations to incorporate more agile, and more team-based work. We need to increase efficiency through automation… and expand the expectation and stature of HR leaders.”
Cascio also pointed to a shift in HR professionals roles over the next 5-10 years, suggesting practitioners might soon adopt names such as ‘WFH facilitator’, ‘Director of Wellbeing’, ‘Chief Purpose Planner’ and ‘Employee Enablement Coach’.
Whether you’re called an HR manager or WFH facilitator doesn’t really matter. What does, however, is that your responsibilities are about to be massively expanded – that much is clear from this event alone. So what measures will you implement, today, tomorrow or next week to put your (potentially) new-found influence to good use?
Thanks to event partners ELMO, PageUp, E-Raw and Art of Mentoring for their role in making this event come to life!
These are just some of the fascinating insights that were offered by AHRI’s SHIFT20 speakers. If you missed the event, you can still access some of the presentations on demand. Click here for more details.