Leading the New World of Work

October 28, 2020

Leading the New World of Work

Workplace culture will be paramount in the “next normal,” according to John Reid-Dodick, chief people officer of AlphaSense in New York City. Speaking at the recent Visionaries event from SHRM’s Executive Network, held virtually Oct. 19-21, Reid-Dodick said that leaders need to think about “work as a thing we do, not a place we go.”

Other speakers—leaders from companies around the country—echoed Reid-Dodick’s call for cultural innovation in the workplace, adding in their thoughts on flexibility, integrity, artificial intelligence (AI), resilience, and diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I).

Reid-Dodick emphasized that companies need to stop thinking culture is made of perks like Ping-Pong tables but instead of inputs like connection, talent, purpose and more. Leaders need to learn how to emphasize culture without being physically together at the office. 

Rob Chesnut, former chief ethics officer of AirBnb, based in San Francisco, discussed the critical role of ethics and integrity in today’s world of work. Leaders should set the tone and purpose to help filter ethics through the company at all levels. Transparency is also key to keeping integrity—people assume the worst when they don’t know. 

What’s next for HR was the topic of the discussion with Jacqueline M. Welch, chief HR officer and chief diversity officer of Freddie Mac in McLean, Va., and Angie Wilen, strategic transformation director of Freddie Mac in Washington, D.C. They commented on the need for prioritizing mental health now and how transparency and authenticity have grown recently. Overall, companies need to become more caring with more communicating and listening. 

Welch and Wilen also talked about how Freddie Mac has a built-in focus on equality, but leaders must keep advancing by creating systems to support DE&I goals in areas such as talent sourcing. 

Technology and digitalization have been moving forward and were accelerated by the pandemic. Diane Gherson, senior vice president and former chief HR officer of IBM, based in Ridgefield, Conn., explained how HR leaders can reimagine the future of work. HR must support the new normal with compelling culture, consumer-grade experiences, new ways of working and strategic skill development. HR needs to become cognitive, personalized and transparent—optimized for agility and focused on experience. Much of this is done at IBM, Gherson said, by using AI in support of the employee experience, particularly in internal mobility and learning. 

Josh Bersin, global industry analyst and dean of the Josh Bersin Academy in Oakland, Calif., described how COVID-19 has reset the world of work. Creating resilience in the organization and the individual is the key to success. This includes prioritizing well-being, clarifying goals, cultivating empathy and creating psychological safety. 

Bersin also commented that learning has shifted to be in the flow of work and focused on capabilities. Companies are shifting from a hierarchical structure to a marketplace of projects to continue developing employee skills. 

W. Brad Johnson, U.S. Naval Academy professor and faculty associate at Johns Hopkins University in  Annapolis, Md., and David Smith, author and associate professor of sociology at the Naval War College in Newport, R.I., addressed the missing link in gender equity efforts: allyship. Gender equity is not a women’s issue; it’s a leadership issue, they said. Men often say they believe in equality but are not acting that way—this is the allyship gap. Men need to develop clarity, transparency and accountability to move the needle on equality, according to Johnson and Smith. 

Nigel Travis, chairman of Dunkin’ Brands Group, based in Boston, gave the chief executive officer’s view of the world of work. The world is changing quickly, shaped by social media, flexible work, constant connectivity, big data, growth of mobile, data security, automation and e-commerce. In the face of this change, culture is critical—specifically a challenge culture. Open discussion, listening and authenticity help build this type of culture, according to Travis. 

Monique Herena, chief colleague experience officer at American Express in New York City, described the journey of shifting HR into the colleague experience. The three-year transformation involved growing the best talent and developing new ways of working to unlock enterprise value. With the pandemic, Herena said, American Express had to evolve its processes, shift to remote work, focus on colleague well-being and ensure job security. The company is also working on inclusive leadership by evolving the culture, embracing diverse communities and strengthening the talent pipeline. 

Herena encouraged everyone to look at the various data available about work today and not to assume the old way is the best way. 

Closing the Visionaries event was Jonathan McBride, an executive business advisor from Long Beach, Calif., discussing the current state of DE&I efforts. His talk emphasized that social change takes a long time and he encouraged attendees to keep up inspiration along the way. Start with good data on where your organization is now and set goals and incentives. During the improvement process, leaders need to be kind, show vulnerability and disagree constructively. Leaders need to encourage openness and allow the employees and culture to guide the change, instead of being mandated from above, McBride said. 

The Authors: 

Deborah Stadtler is Managing Editor at SHRM’s Executive Network.