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Bring it, 2020, we are ready for you!

Six culture pegs that might stress you out in 2020

My love for culture work never seems to fade and new trends continue to arise in this space. But are they really shiny new truths or are just old common knowledge in new packaging? Whatever the case, there are a couple of areas I predict we will all get tired of hearing about before we do our mental closing of 2020. 

#1: Agile Learning is da shit, or?

Agile Learning is not new, but trust me: in 2020 you will hear that this is the new trend. And you’ll hear it from the same movement within HR that has been proclaiming “Agile HR” for a couple of years now (it shouldn’t be about agile instead of stale HR, it should be about good HR instead of bad. Bad HR is always bad, whether it’s agile or not).   

Agile learning, however, is super key to us for obvious reasons and it’s also been part of the Spotify People Strategy for the past six years. The way we are learning is changing and using software in the same way we experience new technology in the rest of our day-to-day should be a given. Formal learning will also still be in the mix. Why? Because it works, and learning organisations that provide, urge and enable all types of learning to all of their people will always be better off. Enabling on-the-job learning from the skills of peers and managers is also more important than ever. Learning and continuously upskilling will make both the individual and the organisation thrive. It’s as simple as this: Invest in your people and you have invested in your business. 

Is this news to you? No, I didn’t think so but maybe the lingo is; Up-skilling, cross-skilling, re-skilling, and off-skilling being the new black. 

#2: The purpose of work is work with a purpose  

Having a North Star and connecting the dots is nothing new. But. A purpose-driven organisation may be more important now than in a long long time. We need something to hold on to, something that makes sense to us, something relevant that we want to be a part of. Belonging is another of the universal motivators so a purpose or even mission-driven organisation makes sense, having a higher purpose and working towards global sustainable citizenship. 

The need to belong and be seen and acknowledged for what we do and even who we are might be on a strong backswing. This is what happens when change is our only constant ⁠— “the new” may actually be “the old”. You will not have to look very far to read, listen and get reminded of knowledge and experience you already have. 

News to you? No, I don’t think so. Nobody wants to work for an organisation they don’t align with, value-wise. Please take notes, just having a company vision doesn’t cut it. But when the why is clear, the how is easy. 

#3: All of me, why don’t you take all of me ♫♩♫  

Yes, you heard this already during 2019. But this is actually a quite new trend, – the idea of bringing your whole self to work and that needs addressing. Within the fairly new discipline Diversity, Inclusion & Belonging everything is moving, developing and expanding and so it should. Everyone is learning new words and terms. Conversations that were unthinkable just a couple of years ago are now commonplace and at the other end of the spectrum, things that seemed acceptable yesterday are now far from ok. This is all good and not a day too soon, but we need to find ways to measure, better understand, and agree on what it is we would like to accomplish with this shift.

“Bringing my whole self to work” might be a trendy thing to say, but we are perhaps not in the camp thinking that is such a good idea. However, an environment where people feel seen, listened to, safe and like they belong regardless of where they come from, what they look like, or what’s playing in their headphones is something we all should strive for. If we don’t, how can we really expect engagement, performance, productivity, and passionate curiosity to learn new skills and grow? 

In many ways this is new. Few, if any, companies have cracked the code of getting this right. And those who would like to might find it hard to dare challenge the things we are told we need to do and be. By trying to fix everything at once, you might end up being as bad in the end of this year as in the beginning. And if you’re at least getting to a pretty acceptable place, you will  keep finding new areas of microaggressions, lacking equity work unequal opportunities. Please don’t lose hope, if we keep working to improve and dare to question and prioritize we will have a chance of getting it right and tailor the people experience to ensure a longer tenure.

#4: Employee communications should resemble a drunk parrot

Internal communications is hard, it seems like as soon as you are more than two employees you’re bad at it. Still, it’s an area often overlooked in terms of strategic investment due to ‘lack of importance’ and under-invested in terms of number of talent. 

If repetition is the mother of all learning, then hit, re-hit, and remind is at least the sister of employee communication. You (this goes for all teams) need to first understand the why, internalise the messages, and then over-index on information so often you feel like a drunk parrot. 

Too many meetings anyone? To get shit done and have fun does not necessarily include in-group forming and a need to be in a Headquarters to feel included and well informed. The magic-makers who find the formula to truly reduce our meeting culture should be acknowledged as the chief productivity officer of the year. You should treat communication as the most critical way to bring the whole team on the journey with you, but sitting in long meetings will not do the trick. Daring to be mission-led and over-index in the why will most likely help you on the way.

News? Not the slightest. Already Nietsche knew: People don’t have to like your decision, they just need to understand it. 

#5: Output is King

Yes, we are also aware culture eats more or less everything for breakfast. That’s good (and old) news for a culture buff like me. But no amount of believing in the power of we and investing in the right culture will help if you are mistaking outcome for output. If you get a-whole-lot-of-exhausting activity mixed up with relevant performance, you will only end up tired and collectively burned out. 

Many people in most companies have spent hours and hours making strategies and key targets, while very few have spent any or very little time on planned and/or expected output. Even the word itself, how do you define output in your organisation? That’s what we should be looking at, but instead we train and try to develop so many tools and traits as possible to become more efficient and get better in estimating outcome, but oversee the importance to discuss output. 

When outcome is right, left and center of discussions – hard work, efforts and excuses are in focus instead of what was actually achieved. When, on the other hand, output is the main center of attention, all the heat, unnecessary activity and effort will be unimportant and ultimately end. Long hours, hard work, and a whole lot of activity will wear you down, not set you apart. 

News? Maybe, but I don’t think it should be. 

#6: The emperor’s new clothes should not be recycled anymore

Reinventing for the sake of reinventing can be good business. But your promise is only “good” for the people unfit and/or incompetent for their position, those who don’t see or dare call out the invisible clothes. Remember the tale written by Hans Christian Andersen about the two weavers who say that the beautiful outfit is visible only to the wise? Everyone in the crowd either thinks they are too stupid to see it — or are afraid others will think they are — and no one called the bluff until a child finally cried out  “but he isn´t wearing anything at all!”

Culture change only happens when people take action. Don’t start with structural changes, since very few can get behind that type of change from the get-go. There is not one organisation design or one way of working that will do it all for all of us. Start with a snapshot of today; your dynamics, your competitive landscape and what you are trying to accomplish, and then apply a flexible approach over-indexed on communication and Shenzhen speed to the ever-changing pace of work.

Last decade, HR professionals acted like the crowd, not the child. There has been a lot of anxious follow-ship please turn that into leadership instead. Please stop spending time renaming our function and focus on making a difference and building out the business instead. Make no mistake, there is more money and more interest in HR than ever before. This is why we have had a feeling of being at the rodeo for the first time when all possible and impossible test riders been entering the HR Tech arena, or when we have experienced a whole new set of writers and people giving keynotes renaming and “reinventing” what we all already know and do. People who are new to HR, have zero days as practitioners, and no education within behavioral science. It’s time to drive our own development, take the strides and make the investments that are relevant for our work. 

And, please, whenever there’s a new process, system, book, or person claiming to have one magic solution for everything or that they know and can fix your challenges without ever having done it themselves: Call it out like the child in the tale of the emperor’s new clothes. 

Let 2020 be the year when we stop doing stupid things to our customers, our employees and ourselves. 


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