Leadership

Understanding the Future of Work with Alec Bashinsky

By Adrienne SmithOctober 17, 2017

While no one can predict the future, we can certainly do our part to understand where we’re heading and why. And understanding the evolution of work feels like a particularly relevant, modern day challenge. Technological advancement, the gig economy, and an increasingly overworked population are all contributing to a future that can feel murky.

Understanding the future of work is something Alec Bashinsky has dedicated much of his 30+ year career to. Read on to learn Bashinsky’s perspective on shaping a work environment we can thrive in, from creating high-performance leaders to effectively guiding organizational change and integrating technology into HR practices.

You’ve been a part of a number of global transformations within HR. What are the common threads of success?

There are three common threads of success.

First, you need to make sure the transformation is linked to the business strategy. I see too many HR or talent leaders following the flavor of the month in the industry, rather than systematically creating change with a strong connection to their business strategy.

Second, execute smartly. HR leaders tend to build great strategies and then do the worst thing you could do: fail to execute. They make their transformations too big and don’t chunk it down. They don’t pull together a project plan on how they’ll communicate the change and lead the transformation. The execution piece is critical. Understand the 3-4 elements of a transformation. Plan those and execute on it. You’ll get a lot more impact that way.

Third, the larger the transformation, the more you should consider piloting various aspects across the business. Pilot, build on your success, and then do a phase two.

And a given: you need to have the talent to execute. You can’t do any transformation if you don’t have the team behind you.

What have you observed can hurt the success of transformative HR efforts? What do you think are distractions?

HR, like many different functional pieces, gets caught up in the moment. Distractions are easy to get sidelined by. I use the phrase ‘project plan’ like an engineer: you need to have a clearly communicated plan that connects back to your business strategy. And you need to stick to it. All too often, employees go down a rabbit hole and forget what we’re trying to achieve.

I’ve also seen poor change management derail, slow, or create obstacles in transformation. HR teams shouldn’t underestimate putting the right communications into place.

What are the four pillars of HR innovation that you see as a focus for the future of work?

First, the future of work is about asking questions like: What are the ways we’ll work in 2020? In 2025? What skill sets will we need? Will we need to work the way we do now? Will we still hire full-time employees? Contractors? What role will artificial intelligence play?

Second, understand what the leaders of the future look like. What do they value? What type of leaders will Millennials be? Will they want more control? Will they be more cooperative?

Third, recognize that diversity and inclusion — not just gender, but cultural — will apply more and more in the global view. Ask yourself: How does our organization understand and work with different cultures? How do we bring more diversity of thought into our businesses?

The fourth component is specific to HR: human resources teams should think about how to incorporate talent analytics and technology into their working systems. We’re seeing more and more digitization of transactional and administrative HR work. And we’re getting more and more talent data. So, what does it mean? How can HR leaders provide their business with insights on their teams?

The human element is key to creating leaders for the workforce of the future. How do you identify, train, and empower people to lead?

The answer has always been, and will always be, about identifying high potential. As long as organizations have employees, then pulling the best out of people will continue to be a priority. And once you’ve identified employees with high potential, it’s about providing them with opportunities to develop leadership skills.

Leadership isn’t going to disappear. But what we mean by leadership will change. Is it leading a strategy? A team of people? A business? Organizations each define leadership differently — leading a product versus leading a team, for instance. Identify your requirements and then provide your people opportunities to demonstrate those forms of leadership. As you reach the senior level, then focus on the unique development each leader needs to drive your business forward.

What techniques work well to develop leaders with high potential?

The old way to assess leadership capabilities was to do a gap analysis. Today’s environment is focusing less on fixing the gaps and more on building the strengths.

Gaps are not a fatal flaw. Organizations are focusing on strengths-based development to hone strengths-based leadership. So we focus on the positive.

Think of the executive or leadership team in most current organizations, for example. Each senior leader has strengths and weaknesses. Invariably, what your CEO likely tries to do is pull out the expertise that each leader brings to the table. And if a leader isn’t as strong in one area, they’re compensated by their team and by someone else who is. Sometimes you need to coach or mentor your leaders to get them up to speed in that context. And that’s ok.

Have you had mentors? Who has most impacted your career?

I’ve had two mentors. But I’ve found that the more senior you are in an organization, the more difficult it is to find someone to mentor you. You’re expected to be the wise, experienced, mature individual who can handle anything. Most of us don’t know everything. We need someone to which we can say “I’m not sure about this approach, can you help?”

I can’t emphasize enough the value of future leaders having a great mentor, sponsor, even a great coach. It could be internal but, I think, should be external. You can get objective feedback and commentary that someone internal can’t provide, because they may be biased or stereotyped.

Reverse mentoring is also important. With the advent of technology, a lot of senior leaders aren’t connected or in touch with all the changes. Turning to younger team members helps here. And you’re giving a younger team member an opportunity to shine.

Where are you focusing your energy in the next few years?

I’m particularly interested in understanding what good talent data looks like. Technology, pulse surveys, engagement — what does all that mean to us today? Why are we doing engagement surveys? What is the data telling us?

I’m also interested in the concept of ‘well being.’ It was considered a soft measure by everyone in the business. But with an increasingly technologically enabled world, it’s becoming more directly tied to productivity and achieving results.

Employees are finding it harder to maintain high levels of performance and productivity. We see mental health and stress becoming more of an issue. Employees can be on call 24/7. Notifications are on all the time. Our world of work is becoming more ambiguous. Home environments are merging more with the work environment: flexibility, child care, sabbaticals, running your own business on the side. All this stuff puts pressure on the individual.

So the question becomes: how does an organization put together a wellbeing strategy — whether mental, emotional, physical, or spiritual — that allows the employee to stay engaged? The happier and healthier an employee is, the more engaged and product they are at work, at home, and in their community.  

This is not about bringing your dogs to work, having table tennis or a restaurant in your office. It’s about being focused on the health of your employees.

What advice would you give emerging leaders as the future of work continues to shift?

Understand the impact you have on people, positively and negatively. The world is full of high IQs. But many leaders lack EQ. It’s that emotional intelligence in the world we live in today. Many leaders lack empathy, compassion, reasonability skills. People join organizations and they leave leaders or managers. I believe the broader impact leaders can have in future workplaces will be when leaders can bring EQ to the table.

It’s in our ability as leaders to know when to turn off and connect with our family and our community. Leaders should set that precedent for their team in order to maintain well being. As leaders, we need to say “here’s how we work.” Otherwise, work, home, family all blend together.

 

Adrienne Smith

Adrienne Smith

About the Author

Adrienne is a writer, editor, and content marketer from New York. She's passionate about creating equal opportunity in the workplace.

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