The relationship between employers and employees have changed forever.
There is no going back to the old ways of working; we are now living in the ‘people age’ and it’s time to adapt or get left behind.
That’s the main thesis of ‘Work Different’ a new book by three leaders at Mercer, the global consulting wing of Fortune 500 professional services giant Marsh McLennan.
The book walks through ten truths to help organizations, and leaders, win in this new people age.
In an exclusive interview at a recent launch event for the book, Kate Bravery, one of the authors and global head of talent advisory at Mercer, tells UNLEASH: “We’ve got choices, and the choices we make now will have a profound effect on how our people, our businesses and our societies thrive”.
Speaking on a panel discussion as part of the event, another of the authors, Ilya Bonic, career president at Mercer, stated:
“The way employees think about work has changed so much – we need to change our workforce strategies if we are going to be successful” – it is time to get proactive, and think ahead of the curve, “otherwise we’ll find ourselves in less competitive positions in the future”.
Empathy, purpose and trust are king in this new people age, according to the book, ‘Work Different’.
As part of the panel, Kai Anderson, the third author of the book and work transformation leader at Mercer, noted: “The new mantra of the new world of working is trust and accountability” – empathy must be a leadership competency and leaders must own up to their mistakes to build psychological safety.
‘Work Different’ also calls on leaders to rethink wellbeing – employees are in a perma-crisis mindset and in firefighting mode, workplace boundaries have gone out of the window with remote working, and all of this is creating a so-called human energy crisis.
Bravery comments: “If you have a workforce that’s distracted, depleted and disengaged, you’re not going to drive any of the transformation you need to stay relevant.”
The need for human-machine synergy in the people age
Of course, technology and AI are also a major topic of discussion for the people age.
‘Work Different’ talks about how the combination of humans and machines leads to “amplified intelligence” – Bravery shares that with the human-machine era upon us, organizations cannot afford to sit still.
The book stated: “The smarter move is adapt and learn” with AI, and to use it to help you redesign work. AI is particularly useful for helping organizations transition into seeing skills (not jobs) as the new workplace currency.
“It is not longer about jobs, it is about skills,” notes Bravery.
But to achieve skills-first organizations, “we’ve got to fundamentally redesign work for continuous learning”.
“If you don’t, people will be like, ‘When do you want me to learn? In my evenings and weekends?’, I’ve already told you I’m at risk of burnout.”
Bravery’s main takeaway for HR leaders is: “We’re living in a people age – don’t get distracted by all the great digital stuff out there. It is humans that will give you the lift, not the tech – we need to redesign work around how they want to work.”
The companies leading the way in the ‘people age’
‘Work Different’ highlights a few standout employers that are really leading the way in this people age – during the panel discussion at the book launch, Bravery shared: “There’s big challenges, but there’s lots of bright spots, fantastic companies that are getting more right than wrong.”
Two examples are Standard Chartered and Ericsson – and for Bravery is largely linked to them getting a return for investment around the HR changes needed in the people age: “If you can’t make the business case for change, it is going to be hard to get support.”
Tanuj Kapilashrami, CHRO at Standard Chartered, and Andrew Pilbeam, global head of total rewards at Ericsson, joined Bravery, Anderson and Bonic on stage at the event – they shared their stories and some secrets to success for HR leaders further behind on this journey.
Pilbeam explained that there a lot of “expectation to go above and beyond” from employees, and there was a desire for more investment, but was that affordable?
So Pilbeam and his team took at look at Ericsson’s vast employee benefit spend, and laid out a proposition to make employee experience the same globally.
Two years into the three-year project, Ericsson has already saved $50 million through this approach, and now is re-investing the savings into its people.
“By being brave, and setting out [how] we think we can save money… It gave us the ability to go way beyond what we could have ever done individual project by individual project,” stated Pilbeam.
Kapilashrami is clear that the key to the people age is seeing employees as a stakeholder group, in a similar way to how businesses think about customers, regulators and shareholders.
It is essential to “recognize that the best ideas don’t come from boardrooms” – instead employees who are on the coal face with customers have a hugely important contribution to make to the future of your company. Of course, executing this requires a “really big mindset shift”.
Another huge mindset shift needed in the people age is around HR not being the custodians of jobs, but the custodian of skills, and making decisions based on that – Bonic notes this; “the future is all about skills”, and that change isn’t easy.
“We had defaulted to ‘we’ve got 70,000 engineers’, but that’s not the answer to how much engineering skill we have in the company,” notes Kapilashrami.
It’s time to think differently about how to bring skills into companies – yes, hiring is part of it, but there is the need to redeploy and reskill existing employees.
“That’s been a big game changer for us” – Kapilashrami estimates that the bank has unlocked $16 million in productivity just from people taking on gigs posted on the marketplace, plus reskilling and redeploying workers (compared to external hiring) has saved the bank $48,000 on average.
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