In the Boardroom and Why Values are Foundational to High Performance Flexibility

Produced by BDO’s Center for Corporate Governance, BDO in the Boardroom is a podcast for board of directors and those charged with governance. I joined Amy Rojik, Managing Partner, Corporate Governance, on a recent episode to address whether today’s directors truly comprehend the new reality of work and how it’s fundamentally changed.

We discussed why the successful execution of high performance flexibility requires full C-suite participation, organization-wide training, and a willingness to experiment. I shared how the boards and leadership teams that have instilled a strong set of core values and a culture of innovation have more success evolving and optimizing the flexible way their organization operates. 
 
When organizations align their work with their values and live those values, they’re leading with what they need to do. They lead with the work first and in service of the work, then they determine how, when, and where they do that best. Using your office building is not a value, but it can certainly enable connection and culture – those are values. (Yep — Return to office mandates, I’m talking to you.)
 
Whether it’s supporting colleagues or serving customers or communities, when work and values align, that’s what increases productivity and moves organizations forward.
 
Listen to the full BDO In the Boardroom episode. And for a refresher and further insights into why flexibility matters to corporate boards and governance execs, look to my July 26 newsletter on the topic.
 
A bit about my relationship with BDO. The professional services firm is a long-term Flex+Strategy Group client. High performance flexibility serves as a critical business driver for the firm, which continues to take its flexible work strategy to the next level as an integral part of its culture and operations.  
 
“Together, We Thrive” was the theme of their recent partner meeting where I gave a keynote that included stories and insights from the three partners — Meredith Pilaro, Ayoub Sunna, and Daniel Kramer — who champion the national effort. (That’s us illuminated by the backstage lights after we presented.)

The keynote served as a force multiplier kick-off. The goal was to ensure the firm’s 800 partners are poised to lead from a shared understanding and consistent approach as they continue to optimize how, when, and where their offices and teams are working to meet emerging employee and client needs.

This leveling-up execution includes the launch of a new Flex Success training series to provide professionals at all levels the skills and tools to partner with each other to define and execute the flexibility that will work for the unique needs of the firm and its employees. 
 
What is your organization doing to involve, engage and prepare every level for flex success and how can we help? Let me know.


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.


“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.

 


We need to take action to give Moms support

Yesterday, we honored moms…today, we need to take action to give moms the supports that help them, their children (our future!) and all of us thrive even if we don’t have young children ourselves:

–Consistent, affordable, quality child care
–Paid family leave
–Equal pay, AND
–Flexibility for moms, dads, and grandparents to fit work and life together as a help each other do their jobs and raise the children they love.

What do I mean by “all of us thrive even if we don’t have young children ourselves”?

First, it’s the right thing to do but it’s also the smart thing to do.

–A mom with consistent child care, paid leave and flexibility for herself and others caring for her children is someone who can participate in the workforce which helps the broader economy that is in desperate need of workers.

–She is a colleague who isn’t forced to quit leaving everyone else to do the job she was good at but can no longer do because she doesn’t have the support she needs.


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.


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


Was it ever OK to go camera off?

I’m consistently asked this question: how do we communicate most effectively as we transition to working across different onsite and remote workplaces and spaces?

Many of the default communication norms adopted during the crisis-driven shift to remote work no longer serve us. They need to be reviewed and, possibly, revised.

Thank you to ROY MAURER for asking me to share my thoughts on virtual meetings, video conferencing and the need to intentionally clarify norms like, “cameras on or cameras off?”

Full article can be accessed here


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”?


Beyond 4-Day Workweeks and 5-Hour Workdays: Flexible, Dynamic Guardrails

Last week multiple people have asked me, “What do you think about Microsoft’s 4-Day Workweek.” Whenever this happens, I’m reminded why these stories strike a chord.

People respond enthusiastically to this and other “work reimagined” successes, including one in which a German company instituted 5-Hour Workdays, because it’s inspiring to see an organization try something new, even if it isn’t perfect or doesn’t last forever.

Such changes or pilots acknowledge what many feel — the traditional model of work is, at least, outdated and at worst, broken.

But the answer isn’t to implement another rigid, one-size-fits-all work schedule.  

Before I explain what I mean, let’s look at the highlights of the two resets mentioned above:

Here’s what I think:

It’s less about a shorter workweek or a shorter workday, and more about reimagining work within a new set of flexible, responsive guardrails. 

Those guardrails aren’t just hours and days.

Leveraging time with strategic intention is important (because as the experiments above have shown, less can be more). But it’s also critical to consider how you are optimizing tech tools, space and place, process and pace to get your job done well and manage life. The “how” and “where” get lost if the sole focus in on “when.”

That’s why I’m always fascinated when companies boast how they’ve reframed the traditional model of work, when all they’ve done is implement an equally rigid, albeit different, one-size-fits-all, time-based solution.

Instead, organizations need to reimagine work within a set of guardrails that are based on shared principles and a decision-making process, not rules.

These guardrails provide the structure that helps answer the question, “what do we need to get done and whenwhere, and how do we do it best?”

The principles and process are consistent enough to keep everyone moving in the same direction but broad enough so that the way work flexibility, technology, and workspace are leveraged adapts to the ever-changing needs of a particular job, business, or person.

That’s high performance flexibility.

As Microsoft probably discovered and Digital Enabler found out, everyone may not be able to operate consistently within the same rigid time boundaries. Leaders end up addressing and managing all of the exceptions that don’t fit the rule.

Alternatively, they could have positioned their four-hour workweek or five-hour workday as one of the primary principles, or guardrails, for when work can be done instead of a mandate when work must be done. This supports responsive, real-time flexibility.

It’s about the Work+Work Fit and Work+Life Fit

One of the main drivers for both companies was a better work+life fit for employees.  But leveraging time and tech, space and place, process and pace, also allowed the companies to optimize the work+work fit for the business. They hired and kept the people they needed to do the work.  Meetings were shortened.  More work was done in less time.  Technology was used more effectively.  Utility costs were reduced.

Yes, it’s important and noteworthy that people improved their personal satisfaction and happiness; but, it’s the business results from a more flexible and responsive work+work fit that will ultimately ensure continued support from leadership.

These experiments with a one-size-fits-all 4-Hour Workweek and 5-Hour Workday deserve headlines for their innovation and impact. But the real news is it’s time for companies to reimagine work within a new set of dynamic, flexible guardrails that not only optimize when we work but where and how.

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