People make Work Awesome
“HR isn’t just about hiring and firing,” Grace Cook, Co-Founder of The Workies, said as she welcomed hundreds of human resources professionals to Midtown Manhattan. With sessions ranging from ‘Reskill, Upskill, Vanish,’ to ‘From A.I. To Ageism’ it was clear that this more holistic view of HR would be echoed throughout Work Awesome, a conference bringing together leaders and innovators to share thoughts around the much-discussed future of work.
When we think about the future of work, typically, tech is the first thing that comes to mind; indisputably, it continues to shape and change the world that we live in. But tech was not the common thread weaving together discussions at Work Awesome. Instead, each session explored the role humans play in the workplace. So, in the spirit of humanity and collaboration, I’m sharing my top three takeaways from the day with you.
Takeaway #1: No surprise, collaboration builds stronger businesses
Lorna Davis, Senior Advisor to the CEO at Danone, is still searching for the right name for her anti-heroic leader. In her keynote talk, “Ditch Your Heroes”, Davis explained that effective leadership is all about radical interdependence. While heroic leaders only announce goals that they know how to achieve, anti-heroic leaders share goals with no defined solution to encourage input from the people they surround themselves with. Heroic leaders are addicted to “applause culture”, where anti-heroic leaders lean on a system of community and support.
Is this important? Rajkumari Neogy, Co-Founder and CEO of iRestart, tells us why in a workshop about epigenetics at work. Scientifically, feelings of appreciation and inclusivity lead to the release of neurochemicals, which make people feel happy and safe; one trigger for this is collaborative leadership. “When we trust our teams and leaders it equates to trust in the organization,” Neogy shares. “People want to be valued for their contributions and appreciation leads to engagement.”
Takeaway #2: Position technology as a lever – not a barrier
Does the future of technology make you feel excited or afraid? On one hand, advancements in technology present more efficient solutions to the way we live, the way we work, and the way we communicate. However, as we become increasingly dependent on technology, we weaken our ability to connect with one another and build personal relationships. The driving question, panelists from the first session agreed, is how organizations can infuse the human essence into their work, while leveraging the innovative technology that is both driving us forward and, simultaneously, holding us back.
Amol Sarva, Co-Founder and CEO of Knotel, argued that technology has the potential to enable the workforce to become more innovative. He explained that many businesses treat their employees like robots, essentially ‘autotuning’ them. “When you ‘autotune’ your employees, you repress their creativity, ideas, and autonomy,” he noted. “There’s no intrinsic reward of actual joy – your people become simply motivated by money. You lose your competitive advantage.” By allowing technology to take over repetitive tasks, your people have the power to expand their thinking and creativity.
Takeaway #3: Purpose is not just a “window dressing”
Since new generations entering the workforce are increasingly focused on ethics (70% of Gen Z say they try to purchase products from companies they consider ethical and 80% refuse to buy goods from companies involved in scandals), purpose is a hot topic among today’s business leaders. Take the recent pledge for purpose by the Business Roundtable, an organization whose members include the chief executives of some of the largest companies in the United States. The pledge, signed by 181 CEOs who have committed to lead their companies for the benefit of all stakeholders – customers, employees, suppliers, communities, and shareholders – was received with cynicism by the public, who believe that purpose means nothing if the organizations don’t act on their commitment.
As Davis puts it, purpose is “a dance between declaration and delivery.” Purpose can be an aspirational journey; and, in fact, purpose should be presented to external and internal audiences as exactly that. Sharing stories and progress will allow internal teams to celebrate the impact of their work and inspire others around them to get involved. And, with the right people on board, the organization will be one step closer to putting the proof behind their promise.
It’s fair to say that I walked away from Work Awesome with more than just a pretty trophy (a not-so-humble nod to our Workies Award win in the Best Internal Communications category). From highlighting the importance of inclusive culture to sharing the power of purpose, Work Awesome encouraged leaders in attendance to put the humanity back in human resources.