The foundation on which the workplace runs has had two years of disruption, and it’s taking its toll on all of us. Enter Omicron and even more workplace challenges. In finding a more positive angle as we look to the year ahead, alongside all the challenges we can see some great opportunities to design a whole new set of systems – a new way of doing things. The HR of Things.
At the end of last year, HR professionals and businesses had to chart new territories as the reality of the pandemic subsided, as all eyes were on HR. This year, the focus has been on how all forms of management are really about change management.
So, as we continue to grapple with moving beyond COVID-19 and its effects, what new themes will surface during 2022? Or will it be more of what we already invested in the last 2-3 years, but hopefully better?
Work Life Mindfulness
Enter – work life mindfulness. Or post-covid personal growth itch. We’re in a corporate hippie era where the power of ‘we’ is under the spotlight, and at the same time the focus on ‘me’ has never been more manifested. As people have a more profound appreciation for life, they question who they are and what matters most. They demand freedom and flexibility, and want to enable their sense of spirituality. Most will end up desiring to be where the grass has always been greener – on the other side of the fence. Nothing all that new, but what might be a new challenge (or more so, an opportunity) is how to crack the code for those who still want to be a part of something bigger than themselves and have stressed a lack of belonging and community. There are people who do not find value in the current way of the collective or today’s organisational design, with a chosen set of values, ways of working and doing things. The response? If your base colours are care, compassion and empathy – keep knitting. And if your knitting patterns are without any of these colours, take a step back and reconsider. The complexity between the base and pattern colours will have profound implications for your organisation in how to envision, strategise and lead.
Enter talent complexity. The easiest prediction of 2022 is that the coming year(s) will be the toughest recruitment market for talent, ever. Companies are no longer just trying to win the war on talent i.e. competing with each other. From now on (and maybe for a little while already) we are also competing with everything else people want to do with their lives outside, or instead of, formal employment.
In this next stage of the distributed-first era we will see how talent reacts to distributed decision-making where teams are connected by networks and empowered to decide how to organise themselves, asynchronously. How they work, meet common objectives and deliver on the mission while optimising for local performance and purpose.
At Spotify, like most organisations, we are doing our best grappling like in the Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Basics. What is the relevant way to regroup a workforce that’s been physically apart for so long, where the team dynamics are somewhat thrown? We wonder whether it’s just our perception, or whether positive thinking innovation has been affected. The polarity between employees’ growing preference to decide where they want to be, versus wishing to feel cared for and have a true sense of belonging, and all the subsequent questions, will keep us grappling for most of 2022…
There is absolutely nothing new about the need to attract and retain the right talent while acknowledging and accepting that your people are pressure testing themselves against your values, your way of culture knitting and the business. But, it makes sense to take a fresh look at your EVP with a sober eye and with talent complexity in mind.
Trust, Leadership Courage and Culture
Enter – trust leadership. Do you trust your people no matter where they work? And is your leadership courageous and willing to lead? Also, how does your culture hold up in a distributed first era?
You might have to work hard to help individuals see their value and to ensure that employees understand the responsibilities and the benefits of being part of the collective. Business is a team effort, and the power of ‘we’ involves an invisible contract of generous mastering, the greater good of the business as a whole, as well as buddying and mentoring. Your seasoned leaders need to dare to lead, with positivity and emphasising the value of the team. This is crucial for success. Doom and gloom is not what people will follow, look up to, or seek, and pointing out the weakest link is (and has always been) the easy part of any work. Instead, the ability and the importance to engage, innovate and be creative will set you apart.
The need for resilience, compassion, adaptability and learning agility, combined with HR acumen + Business acumen, will be very important for every HR professional. Thinking beyond oneself will be necessary to be able to reinforce trust leadership and dare to lead.
Enter – pruning. There’s a whole generation (and the entire tech/start-up/scale-up world) that’s about to be plunged into an ice bath. In many people’s work lives from within this industry, so far life has been rooted in getting whatever (headcount) they want by just asking for it. Those in the tech, start-up/scale-up industries are the lucky product of abundance thinking. In the last year we all learnt the concept of a semiconductor – or at least what happens when scarcity becomes a feature (for the first time). While scarcity will be seen as a big problem to some, for a lot of us, it’s not new. Climate change has been another key catalyst when most of us are starting to see and understand the impact of abundance thinking on our planet.
So, how you design for the balance between talent scarcity and productivity can be the next big opportunity for your People Strategy. To embrace and master pruning, and to have a better understanding of the required skill sets, should be a focus for your leaders. To do more with more is maybe one of the easiest tricks in the book, so if that is what you do well or excel in, you have left your flanks way too open and become very vulnerable. Only thinking about doing more with more is a one-trick pony issue and will not foster good leaders and a strong culture needed in this constantly changing environment. To make progress on this front, a mindset shift is needed to decouple the way we used to do things, with the way we will do them from now on. And it’s not a question of less is more, but about the noble art of pruning.
Pruning does not mean working harder or longer days, but rather working in a more clever way, in a relevant design and in an impertinent operational system. Pruning also means combining people’s wants, development needs, influence, impact, and learning – in an intentional way. If you think of your talent acquisition pipeline as any other supply chain, accept that it has been disrupted, and then ask: what does this mean for your business? Can you create new-ways-of-working models? It’s often said that people have to change behaviours, but it’s hard to do when the change isn’t initiated by you. Even then, it can be hard. For pruning behaviours to stick, you are going to have to think differently. By excelling in pruning, your people will assume accountability and you will have to manage expectations while making sure to reassure, care for, grow and reward your employees. Innovation does not have to mean new, but it most likely will need the knowledge of pruning.
Enter – The Metaverse. Evolving digital culture and offering people and organisations a new place to interact, create, consume and earn. If we dare to admit it, we might have more questions than answers when it comes to this.
For the last quarter some of my HR leads and I met over lunch and discussed different topics within this realm. From Bitcoin to NFT, and what Web 3 and the technology behind crypto entails, to what the decentralisation means and will enable. Article sharing to prep our lunches means our Slack has been buzzing with metaverse fever, swinging from potential to skepticism, excitement and even more questions.
With Cryptocurrency, we talked about using cryptography to make sure things end up where they should mainly be, like any other currency but still different and behind a curtain. And what about NFT and Minting – are they even HR relevant? We concluded (for now) that maybe they are not a big part of the prediction for early 2022, but we will keep a close eye and continue the talk.
With Blockchain we discussed whether there’s a need or use case for a digital log, where the trust is put into a mathematical system (rather than people), and how that would impact HR as we know it.
Decentralized Autonomous Organisation (DAO) has been the biggest topic of all. Organisations that are not controlled by managers and boards but instead controlled by mathematics and predefined rules. Is this another opportunity, and would it build away arbitrariness to the cost of rigidity? Or, as it’s been said before: the world would become a little more like an engineer had designed it. I do not subscribe to that definition, and it’s hard to argue against the fact that when there’s trust in the system instead of in the individuals, central control disappears – for better or worse. We already know today that mathematical formulas for investments are predictable and fast, but the nuances disappear if we only trust the model. The reviews, experiences, and contrarian beliefs disappear. Questions that are not in a formula are not addressed. Utopian undertones make it sound like this is meritocratic and equal, but in practice, the control lies with the creators of the protocols, to a large extent.
The lunch discussion group and reading club has swung from side to side like a pendulum, and so far we can conclude that the metaverse is a place where people can meet and interact, and where digital assets can be created, bought and sold. The notion of place is important. We all seem to miss going to places due to the pandemic and when asking our people where they would like to work, 60% told us they want to come into the office. The metaverse offers a very different mental model, with consequences. What to debate, rethink and stress test is that people will learn, explore and enhance – but how do you design and organise collective performance and how will you continue to attract and engage.
The metaverse is less about becoming immersed in a fantasy world of unicorns and dragons and more about an opportunity to escape from the limits of four physical walls to spend time in a virtual space that’s a version or extension of real life.
It’s hard to talk about what’s next without talking about ethics, but it would also be wrong to not mention the trend among the young adults who have more integrity on social media than the generation before them, who are the cause of the current internet experience. And, the metaverse gained huge traction during the pandemic when life turned exponentially more digital by force and not by option.
Exit – 2021. Wellbeing moved to center stage, reminding us of the importance of mental health, kindness and compassion. How we designed for all aspects of care set us apart already before 2021, and will be a key component for our future work.
The pandemic has put a bright light on our mental health work at Spotify, and gave us an in real life stress test. It took us almost a year into the pandemic before we appreciated the work we set out to do within this space in 2018. The time and attention devoted to our inclusive and belonging efforts with the Spotify Heart & Soul for the wellbeing of the bandmates has, for obvious reasons, increased. Understanding and grace among colleagues for individual struggles in a stigma free environment have been an important part of the collective compassion shown by all.
As 2021 progressed we added more things to support our people’s mental health by shutting down our work for a week. Taking care of employees is a moral imperative, but telling the truth about their well being is part of a grown up relationship. If and when your people are doing well, this will have a direct impact on long term business performance, operational resiliency and sustainability. We also created Wellness Packages to support people’s need to focus on themselves.
One of the big questions being asked is whether the biggest shift in 2021 happened in people’s approach to and relationship with work, or if it was an even bigger shift to people’s lifestyles? Maybe the answer isn’t relevant, as regardless, there has already been the beginning of a larger shift to how we view work, brands, relationships and how we would like to live our lives.
In 2022, we should define how we knit the social tissue and human connectivity together to create a pattern of life that’s good for both people and work (and while we’re at it – our planet). We should do this collectively, and individually.
This is a moment in time when employee and employer relationships are fragile. There will be a growing momentum towards a more circular approach. This means exploring new practices such as dynamic working, asynchronous working, learning agility, and organisational pruning. But also excelling in the big attraction, talent complexity and work life mindfulness. The choices we make as individuals and professionals will most certainly impact our world and the structures we have come to know in more ways than we can imagine.
So, bring on 2022 and it’s myriad of opportunities and (as we say in Swedish), “Nu kör vi!”.