Building Community in a Flexible, Dynamic Organization

I recently appeared on CareerCast, a University of Chicago Booth School of Business podcast. Host Anita Brick, Director, Career Advancement Programs, and I talked about an important topic: how to build community in a flexible, dynamic organization.

We talked about the five steps an organization can follow, as a community, to answer the foundational question “what do we need to do, and how, when and where do we do it best?” together:

Step 1: Start with full C-suite alignment around the organizational why and their need to champion flexibility because the CHRO can only do so much. Real flexibility happens in the business, in the way we work every day.

Step 2: Lead with “what,” not “where.” Bring teams together to answer “what do we need to do?” The answer will vary based on the team’s unique work realities, but the process of coming up with the answer together is a powerful community-building exercise that aligns understanding, attitudes, interests, and goals.

Important note–defining the what is not just a list of job tasks. It’s also about elevated, higher-order considerations like strategic priorities, purpose and the culture you want to build.

Step 3: THEN, answer “where, when and how do we do our work best?”  Where and when are important but also focus on “how” the work gets done: How do our core work processes (e.g. approvals, meeting planning, training, onboarding, etc.) need to adapt? How do we use technology?

Step 4: Train and introduce managers, teams and individual employees to the skills they need to play their respective, and collective, roles in flexible work success.

Step 5: Continue to experiment with and recalibrate the flexible way your team operates as realities change…which they will!


Sadly, I see very few organizations go through all five steps. Most are stuck at the where with a narrow focus on hybrid work, which is just one aspect of flexibility and leaves out about 45% to 60% of the workforce whose jobs require them to be on-site. Everyone must be part of the flexibility conversation for it to work and for the sense of community to happen.

We also talked about:

  • Leading teams – leading communities in flexible organizations will require managers to be more thoughtful and intentional about how they communicate and develop employees regardless of where they’re working and whether they’re in person, or not.
  • Managers need to be clear about how they measure performance, how they set priorities and make sure they’re comfortable communicating and collaborating across technology platforms. These are skills that need practice.
  • A few client examples of how managers connect with their teams regardless of location and how clients intentionally create community-building experiences when bringing employees together onsite, and
  • Considerations to ponder before leaving your current job to seek better flexibility elsewhere. And, if you decide to do so, questions to ask to gauge a prospective employer’s flexibility commitment, and maturity.

And so much more!

What are some of the ways you are building community in your organization across workplaces, spaces and time? I’d love to hear what you are doing and seeing!

Listen to the full episode.


Why Flexibility Matters to Corporate Boards and Governance Execs

As oversight of talent and human capital issues become front and center for corporate boards, I joined KPMG Board Leadership Center’s (BLC) Spring Directors Roundtable as a panelist for a discussion about “What workers want – Understanding the new employee/employer dynamic.” We explored the factors driving employees’ needs and expectations—from personal well-being and work-life fit to alignment with the company’s purpose.

Moderated by KMPG BLC Senior Advisor Stephen L. Brown, the panel also included Columbia Business School’s Todd Jick. Todd is the Reuben Mark Faculty Director of Organizational Character and Leadership and a former independent director of Claire’s Stores, Inc. Our other panelist was Eskalera co-founder and CEO Dane E. Holmes, who is also an independent director of KKR & Co., Inc. and Goldman Sachs’ former global head of human capital management.


We all agreed regardless of how directors structure their oversight of human capital management and talent strategy, it should be part of every board discussion. And as I noted, that includes work flexibility.

When people say, “I want flexibility,” they really want to be able to have some control over how, when, and where they’re going to do their jobs best. That means flexibility is not an HR policy or program that sits outside of the business. But unfortunately, that’s why a lot of organizations are stuck.

Why does this matter now and going forward? Because institutional investors and regulators are increasingly focused on ESG and human-capital metrics, all of which are directly impacted in some way by flexibility in how, when, and where we work.

Read more about our Spring Directors Roundtable in this Insight recap that was published in the July edition of KMPG’s Directors Quarterly publication and is also available at the KMPG Board Leadership Center. Additionally, you can watch webcast replay of the full Roundtable.

Flexibility was also on the agenda at the recent Society for Corporate Governance National Conference where I was a panelist for the general session, “The Modern Workplace” along with Randy Clark, CAO of Sempra Infrastructure, Geralyn Ritter, Head of External Affairs and ESG at Organon, and Adam Kokas, EVP and General Counsel of Atlas Air. We all agreed whether it’s cybersecurity to DEI to pending SEC rules regarding human capital metrics, the flexibility at the core of the modern workplace impacts a variety of management and corporate governance issues.

Lastly, the update of a popular corporate finance textbook reinforces the role strategies such as work flexibility will play in the operational, cultural, and financial success of organizations. The 14th edition of Principles of Corporate Finance (Brealey, Myers, Allen, Edmans) was released earlier this month.

Read more of my thoughts about this.

The days of flexibility as the sole responsibility of HR and thought of as nothing more than an employee perk or policy are long gone. If flexibility isn’t an all-C-suites hands-on-deck issue at your organization, you’re at risk.


“Flexibility was among the top reasons workers quit their jobs.”

To the organizations that had hoped the threat of a recession would cause people to place less value on flexibility, it’s not happening.

Flexibility+Pay+Opportunity remains the value proposition that drives whether people quit or stay in their jobs, per new research from The Conference Board

“Flexibility was among the top reasons workers quit their jobs.”

Reasons people quit: “If you voluntarily left your organization for another job, what were your reasons? Which of the following reasons would influence your decision to stay with your organization?

* 17 percent of workers voluntarily left their company within the last year for a flexible work location, flexible work schedule, or the ability to work from home/anywhere.
* Other top reasons workers left their jobs were higher pay (22 percent) and career advancement (14 percent)—the usual drivers of job change.

Reasons people stay: More flexibility, higher pay, and career advancement were also the top factors that would influence workers’ decision to stay at their company:

* Flexibility: 54 percent
* Higher pay: 53 percent
* Career advancement: 33 percent

However, “Employees are voting with their feet to gain flexibility. But with flexibility must come boundaries,” said Robin Erickson PhD, Vice President of Human Capital, The Conference Board.”

In other words, people want flexibility BUT that flexibility needs to be effective and intentional. This is the next phase for organizations.

 


Why “hybrid” is not working

Why “hybrid” is not working:

–It leads with the wrong question “how many days in the office,” instead of “what do we need to do?” and THEN thinking through “where” that work is done best.

–But “what do we need to do” can’t just focus on the core tasks of people’s jobs because in many cases the argument can be made those tasks were done pretty well remotely. And the “standoff” continues. You need to elevate the analysis to include cultural and strategic priorities, that often do benefit from a purposefully-executed combination of in person and remote work.

–“Hybrid” is too focused on the “where” of work and that focus is usually between the binary “onsite in the office or work from home.” There are also client sites, conferences, restaurants, and co-working spaces. All enabling different work in different ways that need to be considered.

–Executing the flexible “next” of work is not going to happen via a policy, memo from the CEO or an HR webinar.

COVID disrupted the traditional, place-based work model at the foundation. Work”place” is now ONE enabler of work, not THE enabler.

That means the entire organization–not just HR–engaging in a process that puts all of the pieces back together.  Working together to fundamentally reimagine how, when and where your organization flexibly operates, with strategic intention, to achieve its talent, operational and performance goals.

This is the work and it’s ultimately where every organization that wants to thrive post-COVID is going to have to go. Until then, we will continue to read articles like this…hybrid isn’t working, because it’s trying to answer the wrong question.

 


Learn to Be More Flexible When $h*t Happens

Recently, I was on the Flip the Tortilla podcast with the impressive Denice Torres, and I loved our fun and insightful conversation so much that I wanted to share some highlights with you!Denice is a former Fortune 500 executive turned entrepreneur and board member.  During her time at Johnson & Johnson, she rose through the ranks to serve as President and Chief Strategy Officer, and is known for leading one of the most successful turnarounds in the company’s history.  Her podcast is thoughtfully described as, “for the underdog at heart and is about rising up, breaking through, and finding a way to achieve your most audacious goals.” The last few years have truly tested us all, and we talked about ways to better adapt to the unpredictable changes and challenges that surround us, not just in work but in our everyday lives. At the beginning of the pandemic we were all under extraordinary stress working from home, perhaps caring for and helping school children all while trying to keep up with the demands of our job. We had no choice. We had to adapt.  But, what does it mean to be adaptable?  It’s more than just a process or skills and tools, it’s a mindset.  There is a science behind the whole concept of flexibility. At the start of the pandemic, we had to be flexible. Now, as we move forward to what’s next, there is a choice.  A choice to be intentional and strategic with the way we operate our business, perform our work and manage our day-to-day lives…or not.   The companies that had already reimagined how, when and where they worked before the pandemic had the technology and communication guardrails in place that made the transition to 100% remote, as a Senior Leader we worked with said in a one-word email: “SEAMLESS”. I know what the exciting possibilities on the other side of this crisis-driven disruption can look like. I’ve seen the innovation. The engagement. The productivity. The collaboration, and the general sense of happiness and well-being.  That “spark” is what keeps me so passionate and fuels my SPARK for this work after more than two decades.  It’s what I want for every organization and every individual going forward.  I encourage you to listen and learn how to be more adaptable and intentional about work, life and leadership when as Torres say, “$h*t Happens.”Also this past week, I had the opportunity to keynote IN PERSON at the Foundation Financial Officers Group (FFOG) conference in Philadelphia!Like so many leaders, financial executives are having to navigate the “next” of work in ways simply unimaginable two years ago. It was rewarding to draw upon two-decades of experience guiding flexible work transformation to simplify the complexity and help leaders feel more confident to take action knowing,”okay, there’s a path.”Is your organization grappling with how to navigate uncharted waters?  Let’s connect on how I can help you and your team today.  Simply reach out to my colleague, Alison Batten at alison@flexstrategygroup.com today (pictured with me at the FFOG conference!) to help us customize a program for you.


What’s driving the four-day work week movement?

What’s driving the most recent global demand for four-day work weeks (a concept that seems to resurface every couple of years)? I explained in an NBC Nightly News story that aired while I was on vacation, and before four-day work week legislation was introduced in California.

First, there’s the “cry for better boundaries” around work hours that’s only been exacerbated by the pandemic, which eliminated for many any remaining physical boundary between work and life.

Then there’s the documented performance improvements. The two companies NBC profiled have had great success with the shorter work week with one CEO saying the change, “helped boost morale and the company’s bottom line.” It’s noteworthy they are smaller companies which is where four-day work weeks have historically had the most success.

Both of the companies – one an online clothing retailer and the other an RV manufacturer – not only reduced the days worked, but also the hours. Each moved to a 32-hour work week. NBC also reported “a years long trial in Iceland was so successful that now 86% of its workforce is on track to work fewer hours after finding productivity remains the same or improved.”

But, to me, the real story isn’t about working fewer hours or fewer days. It’s about a broader reimagining how, when and where your organization operates given the unique needs of your business, job and clients served. At the end of the NBC segment, they shared key points I had emphasized when they interviewed me, “Some experts caution – no one-size-fits all. It depends on the kind of job you have, the type of equipment involved and your customers calendars.”

The four-day work week is a form of time, or WHEN, flexibility that may work for some organizations and jobs but not others. Remote and hybrid work are about WHERE work is done and are feasible in some instances but not others.  It depends.  As much as Iceland, and now California may push for broad, one-size-fits-all adoption, history and experience show it’s not that cut and dry.

To determine what’s best for your organization and your team, always start by asking, “WHAT work do we need to get done” and then HOW, WHEN, and WHERE can we do it best.

“These experiments with a four-day work week deserve headlines for their innovation and impact. Such changes or pilots acknowledge what many feel –  the traditional model of work is, at least, outdated and at worst, broken.”

That’s what I said in a November 2019 LinkedIn post ,“Beyond 4-Day Work Weeks and 5-Hour Work Days”, the last time four-day workweeks made headlines. That was also pre-pandemic! As you’ll learn while reading the post, most of what I wrote then is even more relevant now.  And it will be interesting to see if this time four-day work weeks gain meaningful traction and staying power.

The pandemic accelerated the trend toward greater work flexibility that was already well underway for years. Work has fundamentally changed. Now, people know they can do their jobs differently and effectively. Flexibility across workplaces, spaces and time is both an expectation and a need.

The challenge now is also the opportunity. How will your organization execute its unique flexible “next” of work with strategic intention that benefits both the business and people?

Learn how you can help identify and close any gaps by trying the Flex+Strategy Group’s High Performance Flexibility Assessment. I encourage you and your fellow leaders to complete together to see where you are on the same page and where you are not.  I can’t wait to hear what you find!


Overcome Skepticism to Hybrid Work

This exchange during a recent LinkedIn Live discussion hosted by Robert Shrimsley of the Financial Times perfectly illustrates the current state of flexible, hybrid execution in organizations.

Leaders are grappling with how to navigate the very real tension between what people want and how to operate their business in a flexible dynamic way that achieves performance AND well-being.

At minute 27, Shrimsley sets up the challenge with this question, “Are we in danger of being a little bit fluffy?…Of course, we want to be as helpful as we can to employees but we actually have business needs and can’t lose sight of that. Thoughts?”

The responses from the panel:

–you need to be human-centric in how you lead or people will not work for you, and that includes giving them the flexibility they expect and want.

–yes, but it has to work for the business too. We have a business to run, customers to service, and salaries to pay.

Finally, an agreement that ultimately it needs to be BOTH.

Yes, but then HOW DO YOU DO THAT? That’s the $64,000 question. This threading of the “both/and” needle will be the next-stage of execution.

Here’s the good news — the process for executing a flexible operating model is NOT NEW.

What’s new is the scale at which it’s happening and a different leader/employee dynamic driving the change:

Pre-pandemic flexible work transformation was led by a visionary leader who had to bring their workforce along and show them they could do it. There weren’t that many of those leaders but we’ve been fortunate enough to work side-by-side with them for years.

Now, it’s the workforce that knows they can do it forcing EVERY leader to be more visionary about how, when and where work can be done.

Again, the good news is, once leaders make the leap, the roadmap to translate that vision into a reality that works for the business AND people exists. And the even better news is the performance, engagement and well-being you will unlock make taking that leap worth it.

#reimaginework #flexiblework #strategy #innovation #leadership #evolution #performance #futureofwork #hybridwork #remotework #wellbeing #talent #worklifefit #business #people #transformation #linkedin #change


Feeding my Soul

I love music. And I love seeing my favorite artists live.

In 2017, U2 (my favorite band) played at the Meadowlands as part of their Joshua Tree tour (my favorite album of theirs). The last three times they played the Meadowlands prior, I had been there and it was amazing. But in 2017, I was “too busy” with work and my life to swing it. I ended up missing what one of the many people I know who did go said was “a magical, perfect night. Best U2 concert I’ve ever seen.”

In 2017, Tom Petty was on tour. I love Tom Petty but again, I was “too busy” with work and life to figure out how to see him live. “Next time” I told myself. Tom Petty died that year. There will be no next time.

Last night we saw Genesis live at Madison Square Garden (below). We booked the tickets on faith months ago that we’d be able to go because Genesis was part of my high school soundtrack and I’ve always wanted to see them live. I am technically “too busy” with work and life now to go but I went anyway even with the omicron variant uncertainty. Because who knows…this may very well be the last time they tour. And it was worth it.

I learned from my research into the secrets of the #worklifefit naturals for my book #tweakit that to make what matters happen, habits are important but so is prioritizing important moments, like seeing the artists who have given you so much joy live. I’d forgotten that in 2017 and regretted what I missed deeply. Now in 2021 I’m doubling down on all of the moments that feed my soul. I will never forget again.

#worklifefit #wellbeing


Coronavirus Could Change How, When and Where We Work

This week, the coronavirus (or COVID-19) took a more serious turn in the U.S. with warnings that it could very well impact how, when, and where we work:

“Disruption to everyday life may be severe,” Nancy Messonnier, director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, cautioned at a news conference Tuesday. “Schools could be closed, mass public gatherings suspended, and businesses forced to have employees work remotely.”

The global spread of the virus may be a moment that reveals whether employers are ready to respond rapidly to unexpected workplace changes. Business travel could decrease or come to a full stop. More employees may need to work outside of local “business hours” and use video conferencing to operate across time zones. And, if it gets bad enough, many could indeed be asked, or request, to work remotely.

Are organizations ready? Chances are probably not. And, for those open to rethinking how the work would get done, are they ready for the inevitable post-crisis question, “Why don’t we do this all the time?”

How do you prepare your organization to not only flexibly respond to this potential disruption but also to use it as an opportunity to re-imagine work broadly?

Here are five steps to get started: 

  • Acknowledge the possibility that all or part of your workforce may need to work remotely. Hoping and praying it doesn’t happen, or simply ignoring it, is not a strategy. Neither is handing everyone a laptop and saying “go work someplace else” on the day they expand wide-scale quarantines. Plan as if the only way to remain operational will be for as many employees as possible to work remotely. Gather a cross-functional team together now that includes business line leaders, IT, HR, Communications, and Facilities to start to plan for different scenarios and optimize execution should circumstances require a rapid response.
  • Map out jobs and tasks that could be affected. Note which roles and duties: 1) Can be done, even partially, without a physical presence in the workplace, 2) Cannot be done, even somewhat, outside of the physical office and 3) Not sure. Challenge any potentially inaccurate default assumptions about specific jobs you may have thought couldn’t be done remotely. And for those in the “not sure” column, be willing to experiment. For example, for years, I’ve been told, “administrative assistants can’t work flexibly.” And, for years, I’ve worked with teams of administrative assistants to prove that is not true. Yes, certain tasks they complete require physical presence, but those can be planned for. The majority of their tasks can happen effectively outside of the traditional model of work AND benefit the business.
  • Audit available IT hardware and software and close any gaps in access and adoption.  Assess the comfort level with using specific applications, such as video conferencing and other collaboration/communication platforms. Where you find gaps, provide training and opportunities for practice before people need to use them. Real-time mastery is not optimal and is inefficient. Identify devices owned by the organization that people could use and clarify acceptable “bring your own” phone and laptop options. Determine if there are any data security issues to consider and how best to address them beforehand.
  • Set up a communications protocol in advance that outlines: how to reach everybody (e.g., all contact information in one place, primary communication channels clarified—email, IM, Slack, etc.); how employees are expected to respond to customers; and how and when teams will coordinate and meet.  
  • Identify ways to measure performance during a flexible response to the coronavirus that could inform broader change. After the flexible response period is over, this data will allow you to reflect on what worked, what didn’t, and why. The data will also prepare you in advance to answer the inevitable question once the crisis has passed, “Why don’t we do this all the time?” Depending upon the outcomes, you may decide to continue certain aspects of the flexible response permanently. For example, perhaps you cut business travel by 25% and substituted video conferencing. You determine afterward that about 80% of those meetings were equally as effective virtually. Therefore, a 20% decrease in business travel will continue, but this time as part of the organization’s sustainability strategy to cut carbon emissions.   

An unpredictable challenge like the coronavirus can be disruptive and confusing; however, it’s also an opportunity to proactively experiment with new ways of working. This can ultimately position the organization for future success after the crisis is over. Approach the experience as an opportunity to re-imagine how, when, and where work can be done differently. Something every organization should be doing anyway.

And if you plan and nothing happens? Then, at minimum, you have an organized, flexible work disaster response ready the next time there’s a challenge to operational continuity, which chances are, there will be!

Does your organization have a strategic response ready to implement? If yes, what does that plan entail? If not, why?


The Hour of Reckoning: Leadership and the Willingness to Reimagine the Way People Can Work (or Not)

My husband, Andy, and I kicked off the new year by co-presenting to 25 college students from our alma mater, Bucknell University, who participated in a week-long leadership intensive over their January break.

This was a hand-picked group of impressive, motivated young people.  All had to apply for acceptance into the program, and most were from the school’s Management College.

The recently-retired business school dean and former Fortune 500 CEO who taught the class asked Andy and me to speak about our leadership experiences and philosophies because we have taken two very different career paths.

Andy’s has been more traditional and corporate.  Mine, less conventional, and more entrepreneurial.  The instructor also thought it would be insightful for the group to hear from a couple that has supported each other’s professional pursuits while managing our ever-changing personal responsibilities and interests.

It’s important to emphasize a couple of points:

  • This was a leadership class.  It was not a discussion about reimagining the way work is done or how to flexibly manage your work+life fit, although the students knew that’s my area of expertise from my bio.
  • This was a diverse group of students, with men and women equally represented, and
  • These are young adults who voluntarily cut their winter break short to participate in a rigorous leadership program led by a former business school dean and Fortune 500 CEO.  They are by no means “slackers.”

Honestly, Andy and I weren’t sure what the group would want to know. Would they be more interested in Andy’s corporate career path or how I changed lanes from commercial banking to being an entrepreneur, author, and workplace strategist? Would the men direct more of their questions to Andy, and the women to me?  What actually happened surprised us and is an urgent “heads up” for senior leaders who want to attract, retain, and develop this next generation of top talent.

The questions were evenly split between us and covered a range of challenges and opportunities we each faced throughout our careers.  But what struck us both were the number of questions from the men in the room about how, when and where they would be able to do their jobs and find “balance” (which of course was the perfect opening for me to share the wisdom and power of work+life “fit” because there is no “balance” which they loved!).

Their questions weren’t about working less or not as hard. These students are clearly willing to give their all to future employers. Their questions reflected a sense that, in many cases, the rigid, traditional model of work was obsolete and needed to be modernized.

They wanted to understand how they, as future leaders, could encourage and contribute to the process of reimagining work.  They valued professional success and were realistic about the level of effort required to achieve it, but they also valued personal well-being.  They saw both as mutually-reinforcing, not mutually exclusive.

Again, this was mostly from the male students.  What their curiosity and passion confirmed to me is we’ve finally reached the hour of reckoning.

Leaders can no longer ignore the strategic imperative to build a culture in which everyone, including this next generation, knows how to flexibly leverage time and tech tools, place, and workspace, as well as process and pace to achieve the goals of the business, get the job done and manage life.

Unfortunately, too often leaders dismiss any challenge to the traditional work model as, “Young people just don’t want to work hard” when, for most, it’s just the opposite. They want to explore how to work differently, but they need guidance.  Leaders that seize the opportunity potentially leave new levels of innovation, productivity, and engagement as their legacy.

As one young man asked, “What do you say to senior leaders to get them to understand how important it is to rethink work?”

My answer, “First, I help them link high performance flexibility and positioning their business for success today…and tomorrow.  Second, I show leaders how to marry the traditional strengths of their organization with new ways of working. But, ultimately, my message is simple—either you adapt, or you aren’t going to make it. And after speaking with all of you, I am even more certain of that.”

The hour of reckoning has indeed arrived.  How is your organization responding when this next generation challenges the traditional ways work has always been done?  Are you dismissing them as “slackers,” or are you listening? Are you using their questions to fuel innovation that will position your organization to thrive now and in the future, or are you doubling down on “business as usual”?