On Thursday, June 6th I had the opportunity to attend and speak at the Wellbeing @ Work event in New York. It was an eye-opening day filled with exceptional speakers and interesting perspectives on wellbeing were shared.
Havas was invited to talk about Meaning in the Age of the Employee and how the consumerization of the employee experience is intrinsically linked to your people’s overall wellbeing.
Stay tuned for my next blog post where I’ll highlight some of our top-level thinking around that subject with some key thought starters worth mulling over!
Today, I want to share a few thoughts from the day that I keep coming back to. Things that were mentioned across a few of the different speakers’ topics that I believe are fundamental to employees feeling ‘their whole self’ at work and for employers to concentrate on when looking to build an environment where their employees’ wellness is a priority.
Homogenization isn’t just about looks.
As keynote speakers go, we were extremely fortunate to have Claude Silver, Chief Heart Officer at VaynerMedia kick off the day. Claude shared personal anecdotes about her journey with VaynerMedia and the steps she took to forge a career that matched her principles and allowed her to lead and build in the way she wants.
A lot of great content and advice was shared, but I keep coming back to Claude’s point about a homogenized workforce. It’s natural for a company that was founded by a few friends to grow and employ friends of those friends – then friends of those friends, but as growth increases that friend network can become very harmful to company culture, morale, and ability to innovate.
Now, if we park the inevitability that these employees will all most likely resemble one another and look at some other issues of ‘going with who you know’ we can see that all of a sudden you have a workforce that has a relatively similar profile. They have all the same reference points, they approach opportunities and problems in the same manner, and probably view the purpose, meaning and value of work in a pretty uniform way.
For a current employee, is this environment going to give them the confidence or freedom to shake things up and try something new – to be who they are, not just another version of everyone else? For a candidate, are they going to feel like they can add anything to your company, or that they’ll need to compartmentalize elements of who they are to fit in?
Essentially, it’s another way to look at the move from hiring for cultural fit to cultural add, but I would say we need to go a step further and begin to start hiring for cultural miss. What types of people are you missing in your culture, what types of skills, approaches, ways of working and thinking will unlock your people’s potential further? Every new hire is an opportunity to add a little bit of a change agent to the mix to keep pushing your culture further.
Rethinking indicative proof points for future performance.
I’ll preface this by saying, I’m not sure how many of us are ready to ditch degree requirements from our job roles, but when Annette Alexander of WP Engine and Ann W. Marr of World Wide Technology spoke in their session about removing degree requirements from a large chunk of their jobs, it made me wish that we could!
This is something that’s been on my mind for quite a while. I’ve been talking with friends and colleagues and asking them if they could do it all over would they have gone to their alma maters and studied the same subjects, gone elsewhere to learn something else, or even skipped school and just gone into the workforce sooner. Very unscientific, but these conversations have been interesting. Very few people would have taken the same path they did. Most would have gone to different schools to study different topics, but a few (like me) would have been happy to just get right into the working world.
When I was looking for a job in advertising, the thought of getting an opportunity anywhere without a degree or some internship experience was crazy to me. But in the (relatively) short time I have had a career the whole landscape of advertising/media/content has shifted. Some high-school aged students have a better grasp on branding and forging meaningful connections with people than folks who’ve spent their lives doing that work.
And this is something we’re seeing across industries. There is this massive pool of self-starters out there who are being ushered into a 2-4 year holding pattern before corporations deem them worthy of contributing. This seems like a huge waste to me. Capturing their passion for work, for creating things, for building communities bigger than themselves shouldn’t be put on hold.
Every aspect of the working world is transforming today and will transform again completely in the next decade or so. If how we evaluate people, identify who can contribute, or even where we look for the next big hire doesn’t completely change too – we’re going to be training and hiring people to enter a workforce that no longer exists!
Walking the floor matters so much
Interestingly, this point was mentioned by a handful of speakers at the Wellbeing event – and it’s something I’ve certainly heard at other events and from some of my mentors over the years. Yet, it’s so important when creating a meaningful environment where your employees can feel healthy that it’s always worth mentioning again and clarifying what this is and what it should not be. As a leader, a colleague, a new joiner, or even someone who thinks they are the lowest rung on the ladder ‘walking the floor’ is one of the greatest things you can do. It’s about stepping outside of your work for a moment and appreciating your environment, your coworkers, and your place. It’s a moment to build camaraderie, to check in on a human level, and to celebrate, commiserate and experience all the wonderful emotions that come with being a human being!
It has nothing to do with making sure people are working, are at their desks, are getting their job done. We have other ways to measure and observe that. “Walking the floor” is the opportunity to foster community, to humanize yourself and your teams. To check in and show you care – and maybe get a little care back in return. It’s building that connection between others and yourself. A chance for everyone to show they’re not just automatons working away, but that we’re all people looking for a little extra love in a crazy world.
And this just isn’t about the people you are in the same physical location as. ‘Walking the floor’ with your remote workers is just as, if not more, important. Are you checking in with them in the same way? Are they able to virtually ‘walk the floor’ If needed in other locations or departments?
It only takes a few minutes to check-in with someone and wish them well – to show them you appreciate them. It’ll take much longer to invoke that appreciation if all you’re ever doing is asking them for work or work-related updates.
Agency Director, Havas People USA
Businesses require conflict to function. And conflict takes many shapes and sizes: delegating a task to a colleague, choosing who to promote, etc. These are essential to day-to-day operating functions, yet we often dread and run from conflict. This creates conflict debt.
Like most debts, conflict debt will get paid, but often it’s paid by those who don’t have the context to make an informed decision.
For example, consider that you’re a CEO for a retail company. Your CMO wants to collect demographic data on your shoppers and your CFO wants shoppers to sign up for credit cards. Instead of choosing one, you say yes to both, leaving your sales staff on the front-lines to make an uninformed decision on what to collect – they know your shoppers will not fill out a survey AND apply for a credit card. And all of this was because you didn’t want to tell your CMO or CFO that what they wanted was not a priority at that time.
Conflict debt erodes at organizations, because it erodes the trust your people have in your business. Coworkers count on each other to make hard decisions and deal with conflict. When it isn’t dealt with, it leads to higher burnout rates, greater turnover, lack of innovation, etc.
But conflict gets a bad rep. Many see conflict as the antithesis of teamwork, when in reality conflict is what makes teams. What is the point of a team if everyone is going the same way and there is no diversity of thought?
Think of a team of people pulling a tarp across a tent. They’re all trying to accomplish one thing – keep the tent from getting wet – and everyone is pulling in opposite directions to accomplish this goal. If a team member pulls too hard (e.g. is more powerful, is a loudmouth), then someone will get hurt. And people “let go” of their rope because they’re exhausted, they don’t feel heard, etc.
So how do you create productive conflict? It’s a team effort. Ask everyone on your team to identify what their unique “ropes” are:
Doing this will allow you to experience conflict as a role-based tension instead of a friction (an interpersonal experience).
For more info, read on here: https://hbr.org/2013/12/conflict-strategies-for-nice-people
March was a particularly jam-packed month for us at Havas People, as a whole host of events dropped into our calendar across the globe. And with a multitude of events, comes the opportunity of gaining further, fresh insight into the changing world of work and technology.
Our team in the UK were delighted to experience UNLEASH for the first time, followed by the annual Changeboard Future Talent Conference, while our team in the US attended both Workhuman and HR Transform. Additionally, our Managing Partner Danni Brace flew out to Singapore to complete the final leg of the Havas NextGen course - a year-long leadership journey that brings together 50 of Havas’ high potential leaders from across the globe and challenges them to become more team-centric, strategic and future-focused.
So on reflection of our particularly busy end to Q1, we thought we’d pull together the top insights that got us inspired last month. So without further ado, let’s get into it.
Using technology to embrace humanity
At this year’s Changeboard Future Talent Conference, speakers talked through their methods of using technology to support the growth of their businesses. One speaker who impressed our team was Lucy Winkett, a Rector of St James’s Church. She was inspirational, engaging and funny. During her talk, one of the questions she asked the room to consider was “who are we at work?”. She encouraged everyone to think about who they think they are, and who others perceive them to be. She then spoke about the ways in which human interactions can make our work fairer and explored how technology can help us to build a future which embraces humanity, rather than isolating us.
So what exactly does it mean to embrace humanity? Albeit from different perspectives, both UNLEASH and Changeboard reinforced the fact that we are human beings not human doings. “Who we are” is not defined by our activities but by our beliefs. Not being robots is our gift, our USP. We are not machines. People are not to be optimized but to be experienced. Quite often, we don’t need personalized experiences, we just need personal experiences. Now that we have robots we have to retrain humans how to be humans, to embrace creativity, complexity and empathy – to become less like robots than ever before because we can never be better robots than robots. We need to reinvent the value chain with people being the differentiating factor, and so people working in HR/talent have a real opportunity to be the new meaning-makers.
Vulnerability is not a weakness
Across the globe in the United States, Workhuman keynote speaker Brene Brown built on this idea of ‘being human’ as she outlined how vulnerability is a vital piece of developing a strong workplace culture. “If you set up a culture within your organization where there’s no tolerance for vulnerability, no tolerance for failure - then there’s no room for innovation, productivity, or creativity” she said. When people are in an environment where they feel they can bring their whole selves to work, they feel more connected to their organization and a sense of belonging. This sense of belonging is vital to building successful teams and businesses. It also builds trust among employees, managers and leads to better work outputs.
Engaged employees drive business success
Moreover, at HR Transform we once again heard a spin on how employees are often the determining factor between successful companies and ones that never reach their full potential. Employee engagement is driving business through human capital. Successfully building an employer brand and engagement strategy aligns a company’s culture with its brand. This creates an authentic experience and allows you to easily train employees on brand purpose and what role they play in delivering on that brand. Investing in your people is the key to business success, and if you put a promise out there, it’s vital to ensure your people are ready to deliver on it.
And it seems the final module of NextGen did a pretty great job of raising awareness of all these factors across our wider Havas community.
The module focused on leading through a disruptive and ever-changing environment with a lens on the importance of building your organizational culture and talent to drive your strategy. One quote that particularly resonated with Danni came from Vishnu Mohan; ‘Customers will not love a brand until an employee loves it’ – and at that moment there were a few ‘aha’ moments across the group at the realization of why Havas People’s specialism existed within a comms group such as Havas. If you don’t invest in creating a positive employee experience why would you think your customers are going to have a positive experience themselves – your brand isn’t a thing in isolation it is the sum of every individual you employ – if they enjoy where they work your brand is more likely to succeed.
So what has attending these events taught us? It’s confirmed that building a culture that embraces the true essence of humanity - one that puts trust in people’s strengths and supports them with their flaws - allows them to make meaningful connections with the organizations they work for. And the result of this? Meaningful experiences for your customers too, and an inevitable improvement on your bottom line. Which is exactly why we do the work that we do, across the entire people agenda, here at Havas People.
Every June in the booming “Hipster-Ville” of Brooklyn, New York, an innovative 5-day event called Northside Festival takes place exploring the latest advances in tech, marketing, music, content, politics, etc. (the list goes on and on…). Some even call it the South by Southwest of NYC. Havas People New York had the chance to attend some of the talks, keynotes and networking events throughout the week to learn about emerging tech and media innovations that we could use to improve upon and grow our services. In this 3-part blog series, we’ll summarize the most beneficial takeaways in talent marketing and today’s job market.
First up – a discussion entitled “Tech Policy and Shaping the Workforce of the Future,” featuring speakers from Airbnb, Tech.NYC and Perkins Coie. In a world where freelancers and contract workers are the thriving power of our workforce (35% of U.S. workers*) we have to question what affect this will have on company structures, recruitment practices and our job market. Many employer brands are built with emphasis of growing with a company long-term; steady benefits, corporate community and career development are all pretty big sells. But we have to acknowledge that soon these key values behind an employer brand will change. Organizations will have to update their brand pillars and values to reflect what this new, independent workforce wants: Flexibility, remote opportunities, progressive restructuring etc. These workers will be looking for jobs with companies that are reputable and unified, but still sustainable for short-term or part-time employees.
So what does this freelance-sustaining company look like exactly? For one, their benefits will be portable – imagine a plan tied directly to an employee, NOT their employer. The company will most likely be tied to a modernized union that can bargain and provide new forms of training, wages and working condition laws – if you’ve never heard of Freelancers Union, definitely give their site a quick skim-through. And the trend of freelance-recruitment platforms and co-working spaces will adjust to have stronger partnerships with companies who need to staff and manage their independent workforce. Some are already ahead of the curve, with companies like Spotify and Microsoft renting out space at WeWork offices for certain teams and contingent workers.
Companies won’t be the only ones who have to adapt, so let’s shift gears to focus on these freelance workers a bit. Another talk at the festival featured Kathryn Minshew, co-founder of The Muse and author of The New Rules of Work – a highly recommended read to help you navigate your profession in this ever-changing job market. The weird truth is that traditional “career paths” and planning will die out and people will have the autonomy to pursue temporary jobs focused on skill development. Minshew, however, says there is one part of work that won’t be changing anytime soon… networking. For the first year of The Muse’s life, she says she would do 5 to 8 networking events a week. These events and talent-matching platforms (i.e. Contently) will be the key to success for any freelancer in this economy.
Don’t fret just yet though… the rise of the freelancer is a slow and steady train that is gaining momentum, but still has a long journey ahead. In the next several years, companies should consider revising their brands and policies to be freelance-friendly, and workers should be aware of the benefits of how their roles could become contingent in the future. The freelance boom is coming. It’s coming to liberate all of the creators, disrupters, designers, and go-getters. Get excited, and get ready.
Kelsey Lyon, Account Executive
* Freelancing in America: 2016 survey, released by Freelancers Union in October 2016.