The big question surrounding the present and future world of work is “what should we expect?
If we consider a few, rather dismal current truths about life today, we might not be very optimistic for the future of work 10, 15, 20 years out.
- We are living in the most politically polarized time in recent history.
- People’s earnings are flat.
- Costs are rising
- The richest 1% holds about 40% of all wealth in the US, with the bottom 90% holding roughly 70% of all debt.
By far and large, our systems are broken. I am not referring to capitalism or politics, but our workplace systems…our organizations, companies, and corporations.
Overall, the odds are stacked against us, unless we (our society, our communities, our leaders) do a few key things. I want to make the argument that we, as humans, can still thrive and flourish despite our economic climate. However, this is a challenge that will take some effort and it is not for the meek…it requires vision, leadership, and compassion. It will require our leaders to embrace the research and literature on what drives human flourishing, and organizations must prioritize and champion it – operationalizing and executing upon research-backed solutions. The agenda must focus on nurturing human flourishing and motivation. I am afraid, this is one of only a few reasonable paths forward for our society.
WHAT WE KNOW
We know from many years of research that humans flourish when their basic psychological needs are being met. Those needs, according to Ryan and Deci (2017) are competence, autonomy, and relatedness. We also know that money is not a true or sustainable motivator and if we pay people a fair/livable wage, the work, and the work experiences are more important to them.
So how does this address the above? My priority is to help organizations understand how to structure their work so not only do they hit their business objectives, but they bring joy to their people. By embracing the tenants surrounding the psychological needs, we can foster a work environment that facilitates human flourishing and joy. However, companies and organizations must embrace this; they must champion this initiative. By being more purposeful in how organizations lead and manage their people, they can facilitate more joy in their people’s lives.
WHAT WE DO
Consider this, in 2017 companies spent, on average per person, over $1,200 on learning and development ($1,296, ATD State of Industry, 2018), which is part of the $90 billion learning and development industry (TrainingMag.com, 2017) aimed at helping people be more effective,
impactful, and successful. The highest resourced category was not safety or compliance; it was managerial development.
Now consider this, we have an industry that is focused on “change management”. I will argue that through our mis-treatment of people we’ve created the need to build a system that, now, tells our employees to trust us, trust the process…it’s no wonder why people resist change…not because they want to maintain the current structure/status quo, but because we’ve historically treated them so poorly…we’ve trained them not to trust leadership and not to invest themselves into their work. We’ve trained them that their joy and their growth fall far behind profit and mission priorities. I argue that if we would have historically treated people better, then I would be out of a job because we would have no need for this thing we call “change management.” It would have just been the way…
WHAT WE NEED TO CONSIDER
We need to reconsider how we engage and support our workforce and we need our organizations, companies, and corporations to take the lead. They have the resources and capacity to do this. They just need the framework. Where higher wages or a redistribution of wealth is not likely any time soon (and won’t truly address the problem), companies can facilitate a work environment that values the person and their contributions. This IS our path forward. While some corporations are doing this through purposeful design and employee engagement, most aren’t.
I propose that human flourishing is at the heart of organizational success. To do this we need to let go of some of the self-limiting behaviors like the leader must be the expert, or managers must know it all. Just like any change management strategy, we must start with a champion and that champion must come from the executive leadership ranks or we are done before we begin.
Next, we must acknowledge our human capital strategy’s deficiencies and start with nurturing those psychological needs, we build human-centric systems and processes that honor the wisdom and creativity a person brings to work. Once our human system is primed, and our champions are resourcing, supporting, and casting the vision, we are ready to proceed with operationalizing and executing the initiative following these three organizational tenets:
- Safety. The growing body of research on psychological safety reflects that people need to feel supported and able to express themselves, as a contributing player of the greater organizational system without fear of intimidation. Good ideas come from within and grow the more they are vetted with other like-minded generative thinkers.
- Opportunity. People need to feel that they are a part of something. That they are empowered and trusted to be a part of the solution. They need to be optimally challenged, meaning the work is enjoyable and just hard enough that they can immerse themselves in it, that they can find flow.
- Consistency. Potentially the least discussed and arguably the most important and pragmatic leadership item is consistency. I wholeheartedly believe that nurturing a culture of consistency at every leadership level is and will be the secret sauce to organizational success, not to mention be the nutriments (or as my wife calls it, the Miracle Grow®) of human flourishing.
The outlook truly is bleak. Unfortunately, we can no longer rely on business as usual. Unfortunately, our systems ARE broken. However, I have hope! I believe in the human spirit and at times of crisis, the human spirit perseveres. The question we have to ask ourselves is, in terms of the world of work, should we wait for the crisis?
ATD Research. (2018). 2018 State of the industry. ATD press.
Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2017). Self-determination theory: Basic psychological needs in motivation development and wellness. New York, NY: Guilford.
TrainingMag.com. (n.d.) 2017 Training industry report. Retrieved from https://trainingmag.com/trgmag-article/2017-training-industry-report/