We’re sharing another fascinating conversation from UNLEASH America in Las Vegas earlier this year.
The Chad and Cheese podcast got some time with Dr. Steven Hunt of SAP, and author of the recent book ‘Talent Tectonics’.
In this podcast, they looked at the powers of automation, the advantages of the gig economy, and busted a few myths, too.
We join the discussion as Steven Hunt explains his job title…
Dr. Steven Hunt: I’m an industrial organizational psychologist, so the psychology of work, all that stuff. And my career is focused on, how do you use technology to create more effective work environments? Like enable better decisions, more inclusive environments, agile environments, high-performing environments. As well as a lot of this is, how is technology changing the environments we need to create?
And so that book, Talent Tectonics, is really based on my experience working with, at this point, thousands of companies. Looking at how do we use technology to create better environments, taking into account the one thing that isn’t changing about work, which is the fundamental psychology of people.
Chad Sowash: It’s all about signals at this point, right? All of what you said is about signals, whether it’s behavioral signals, sales people being able to reach their goals. It’s all signal oriented, is it not?
SH: It’s more than that, it’s job design. What’s happening is the two big shifts, and you guys would know this, is one, the demographics are fundamentally changing our labor markets. There are more people aging out of a lot of labor markets than entering into them.
And it’s not that we don’t have enough people, it’s that we’re not fully utilizing all the people we have in society. The labor participation rates are going down.
Particularly historically, whatever you call, historically disenfranchised communities, wherever you want. How do we go out and how do we more effectively engage the entire workforce? Because just recruiting harder isn’t gonna work.
CS: Companies really aren’t engaging communities in the first place. We used to have training programs where they would work with schools, vocational schools. They would work with community colleges, but they totally pulled back from that because of the incentives weren’t there anymore. But long term, the incentive was always there that they would be building their own talent pipelines and now that has dried up and we’re in the situation we are right now.
SH: Right. And I always get frustrated if you hear people say, “Oh, declining birth rates are bad for economies.” That’s not true. They’re bad for economies that depend on exploiting large amounts of underemployed people.
There’s a quote, I don’t know who said it: “Potential is equally distributed across society. Opportunity is not.” That’s definitely true. A lot of this book’s about how do we reimagine work so that we can bring more people into it through changing… I’ll give a good example on technology; shift scheduling technology.
The reason a lot of people don’t work, particularly people that have primary family care responsibility, which in our society is mainly women, is because of shift schedules. If you’re the one who has to pick up your kids, for example…And also with hybrid work, this is another interesting thing. Within hybrid work, since we’ve moved to that, employment of people with disabilities in the United States is the highest it has ever been.
CS: ‘Cause they can do work from home.
CS: And they can still get it done.
SH: Yeah. So the book talks about, this is an example of job design. But also, how do you staff, how do you hire? But the book also focuses a lot on, the other thing is digitalization has changed the nature of work. We need to hire people to be creative, collaborative, caring as opposed to just productive. You can’t be those things if you feel exhausted, burned out.
Joel Cheeseman: Who do you hope reads this book? Is it the CEO? Is it the head of talent? Who do you hope picks this book up?
SH: Anyone who is focused on creating more effective workforces and work environments. Now, for some companies that is the CEO. To be honest, a lot of CEOs, that’s not where their passion and focus is. They’re like, “People are important…that’s why I hired a CHRO.”
Yeah. But that’s okay. You can love technology and that doesn’t mean you wanna be a CIO, but it’s definitely HR. HR, HR technology, consultants, anyone who… Hey, my job is about helping companies create more effective job design, better staffing, better employee development, more engaged workforces.
And the book starts with talking about how digitalization and demographics are changing labor markets and work, but then it goes in and says, well, what do we do about it? And that… It’s built around, I kind of talk about it, when it comes to HR and you guys have been in this field a long time, the basic challenges of this field never change.
SH: It’s how you design jobs, how do you fill them, how do you develop people and how do you keep them around so they don’t quit?
CS: But we’re still getting it wrong. [chuckle]
SH: And now the book talks about, how do we need to rethink work using technology, but also going back to focusing on the one thing that isn’t changing about work which is, what motivates people? What makes people happy? How we learn, it’s the same now as it’s always been.
What changes is labor markets and people’s expectation.
They can get it, but it’s like your grandparents didn’t want to work in a soul-sucking repetitive job that forced them to an early grave.
They wanted to work in a cool job where they were appreciated and recognized. But it was a different world a hundred years ago.
JC: I’m gonna push back a little bit or just get your insight on this. So what if all the amount of change at the corporate level doesn’t work? What if people are just into the freedom of the gig economy? Flipping the switch whenever I wanna drive a car, punching my ticket whenever I wanna deliver food. What if all the changes you talk about making to get people back into the workforce, keep them at a job, doesn’t work because that is such a huge trend of freedom, independence…
JC: And living the way that I wanna live?
SH: Well, I think part of it is going back to really looking at a couple fundamental myths. One of them is that people don’t want to work. There’s a concept in psychology called ‘need for achievement’, which is that we are wired to want to accomplish meaningful things in our life. It’s why babies crawl when they can. Parents don’t go, “Oh, it’s time for you to crawl.” That’s one of the joys of being a parent. They just figure stuff out. It’s just amazing.
Why? ‘Cause we’re hardwired for it. And there’s a reason why the word ‘meaningless’ is a synonym for depression. People want a reason to get up in the morning. They want to go out and do something that makes them feel valued, they feel like contributors. Now, if they didn’t have to work for money, would they work differently? Absolutely. But would they not work at all? No. Not if you’re psychologically healthy. If you’re clinically depressed, that’s a different issue.
CS: People wanna do stuff.
SH: You want to be valued. You want to make an impact.
JC: Is the achievement of delivering for DoorDash different than the achievement of writing a new program for a corporation?
SH: It’s the reason for why you’re working. People work for different reasons. You guys probably ride in Ubers all the time, or Lyfts or whatever. It’s fascinating to talk to those drivers about why they decided to do it. A lot of them are like, “‘Cause what I wanted from work basically was a paycheck to pay my rent. And this is the easiest way to get it and I’m great with that.”
JC: Or I have a young child and this gives me the flexibility to spend time with them.
CS: We talked to a Uber driver in Scottsdale and she literally, she was head of huge customer service, and they’ve got call centers and whatnot around there, and she got out of that. First off, they were doing layoffs because of COVID-19 and they were trying to pull people back in. And she just got out of it and she started driving Uber because she was stressed, she was burning out. She never got time to spend with her family. None of those things. So it’s kind of like, what do you want as a human?
JC: And I think she made more money. Right?
CS: As much as she needed to be happy and that’s all that mattered.
SH: And that’s the thing. I think what we’re seeing is we are seeing a shift in how people wanna work and companies partially is that we used to hire people just to be productive, which is, show up, shut up and do what you’re told, right?
And now because of digitalization, all this stuff that was show up, shut up, do what you’re told is being automated. It’s being automated away. And I’m a big fan of automation. It’s like most of the stuff that’s automated is repetitive, inhuman tasks that people shouldn’t have to do anyhow.
Anyone who tells you work was better 50 years ago didn’t work 50 years ago.
Chad: They’ve never dug a trench. Yes.
SH: Yeah, exactly. What’s happening though, is now, we are hiring people to do the uniquely human things, like being creative, collaborative, caring. I use caring as a really good example. Technology can never care for a person ’cause caring is, by definition is about a person giving time of their life to you. That’s what to care means.
Technology can do the exact same thing, but part of the caring is, no, somebody’s actually literally thinking of me. And that’s at a deeper, profound level. So as we’re changing the nature of work to do more truly human activities, we need to tap into the things that make people really good at this.
And the other big myth about people is that people fear change. We don’t. We fear poorly managed change…
A massive thank you to SAP SuccessFactors for powering the podcast booth at UNLEASH America 2023. Visit the SAP SuccessFactors hub to listen to more audio content from the show and find out more about their HR solutions too.
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