Part of Kathy Caprino’s series “Today’s True Leadership”
Today’s workplaces are facing ever-evolving challenges that are unprecedented—including remote work plans, vaccination mandates, the Great Resignation and more, and these challenges have left many CEOs and leadership teams searching for guidance. How can they support their employees, keep their teams safe and their companies afloat, while responding with resilience and strength to the new challenges that require new types of solutions?
To learn more about effective solutions for CEOs and leaders today, I caught up this month with Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., President and Chief Executive Officer of SHRM, the Society for Human Resource Management and national bestselling author of Reset: A Leader’s Guide to Work in an Age of Upheaval. With over 300,000 members in 165 countries, SHRM is the largest HR professional association in the world, impacting the lives of 115 million workers every day. As a global leader on the future of employment, culture and leadership, Taylor is a sought-after voice on all matters affecting work, workers and the workplace. He is frequently asked to testify before Congress on critical workforce issues and authors the weekly USA Today column, “Ask HR.”
Informed by more than 70 years of SHRM experience and expertise and propelled by extensive original research, Taylor’s book Reset delivers a candid and forward-thinking vision for leaders to reimagine their company cultures in a time of global upheaval and presents data-driven strategies to make the necessary foundational reset of all things work.
Here’s what Taylor shares:
Kathy Caprino: Johnny, from your view, what aspect of the workplace most urgently needs to be reinvented for the reset you’re calling for? What will happen if a reset doesn’t occur?
Johnny C. Taylor: We’re finding that the biggest challenges organizations encounter today aren’t necessarily technology, innovation, or leadership. It’s actually the process of finding, hiring, and engaging with the right talent that will ultimately thrive at your organization now and in the future.
It really boils down to people and culture. Organizations must think differently about their workforce in today’s talent climate. We are realizing now more than ever that work gets done through the effort of people. Employers have to be willing to listen to workers’ needs and formulate a response that works best for business and workers. As we look at leadership under this new lens, it is important to understand that the greatest capital for any organization is their talent. The organization succeeds through a deep examination of how it reinvents itself regularly through effective talent management.
And culture, essentially, is the organization’s will and effectively helps maintain talent. It touches all aspects of the workplace from the C-Suite all the way down to the interns. When you get culture right, it ensures everyone in the organization is moving in concert. Organizations then become more engaged, productive, agile, and self-sustaining.
Crisis times bring an opportunity to assess an organization’s potential. Organizations figure out that they could do more than thought possible or quickly realize they aren’t equipped to take on certain challenges. It dispassionately exposes the good and bad alike.
If we learn to make constant reset our friend, we realize that upheaval brings about opportunities to rethink, reset, and restructure our organization and its culture. And when organizations do not take the opportunity to learn from and build on these critical lessons, they end up more vulnerable than before. In this era, it means being on the losing end of the war for talent. It means being susceptible to losses in flexibility, agility, resourcefulness and eventually productivity and profitability.
Caprino: How do CEOs and boards need to rethink the evolving definitions of a worker, the work week, and the workplace to support today’s evolving workforce and a company’s culture?
Taylor: They need to broaden their perspective on the workforce. Look at types of roles people can play to contribute to that work: full time employment, part-time, contract, project-based temporary or consultant. It calls for tapping underutilized pools of talent to fill the widening skills gap.
There is also an opportunity here for HR to help leadership understand the value of providing flexibility in how—and where—work will be done in a post-pandemic world. The notion of all employees coming into a physical office five days a week has been challenged by our recent experiences. We must be more amenable to the idea that some work can be done effectively remotely.
In many ways the pandemic accelerated talent trends that were already in play in the workplace: Flexible work schedule, remote work, etc. Many employees don’t want to come to work nine-to-five in a traditional way—they want flexibility. I think at first, organizations thought that people were saying ‘we want to work from home’—but we’ve found that people do like to interact with other people in the workplace. Simultaneously, employees do want flexibility. Maybe that’s three days in the office, a couple days at home. They want employers to relax the hard rules of 5 days a week, 8 hours a day, 40 hours expected in the office. They want to have options.
Solutions for a hybrid work week is not a one size fits all, however—and that’s key. Depending on the nature of work and the workplace culture there are a myriad of iterations of workplace flexibility to consider. Flexible workplaces offer benefits, but organizations and HR professionals must create an environment that supports both the overall needs of both the business and the employee.
Important strategic steps for leaders involve thinking about and identifying where you want your organization to go. Hire the talent that fits the culture’s direction. Invest in skills development that anticipates your organization’s future performance demands.
Caprino: How can a CEO assess if their company’s culture needs a reset and how can they reinforce and support that culture so it endures? Again, what will happen if leaders don’t do this?
Taylor: I would ask this: “Are you living your culture?” If there is a disconnect between your stated cultural identity and what is actually happening within the organization, and how the leaders and managers are actually embodying it, it will drive away workers, clients and partners.
Ask these questions of yourself, your leaders, managers and teams:
Is our culture intentional? Are executives, managers, and workers a fit with our culture?
Develop the bravery and strength to hire, develop, and advance talent that align with who you are and who you want to be. Executives create the cultural vision, but the people they hire, retain, and advance are the ones who build, promote and sustain culture.
Culture can’t be the CEOs alone. There first must be buy-in from the entire executive suite about what the cultural principles are going to be. The CEO must first engage the executive team to establish the cultural identity and enforce the living embodiment of it.
Caprino: Where do DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion) initiatives come into play here? How can CEOs rebuild a cultural core that honors DEI initiatives that is permanent and not just performative?
Taylor: We know diversity is an inevitability given the demographics of the nation—including the makeup of the school system. Diverse talent will be showing up to our doors, but what we do with that talent will make all the difference.
First, we need to incorporate equitable treatment, by affording them equal access to opportunity and advancement. Equity focuses on establishing compensation that rewards performance equally.
Inclusion really is the active ingredient in DEI, which is why we at SHRM refer to it as IED. Inclusion activates diverse talent by valuing their skill set and fully engaging them in the work. It takes your diverse workforce and makes them productive.
Empathy invites workers to self-actualize in the workspace, by creating room for them to express their identity. Acceptance makes workers feel valued as individuals and contributors to the work.
For IED to be sustained, it has to be approached like any other business objective. There needs to be a commitment from the C-Suite starting with the CEO and continued performance measurement to hold the organization accountable.
At SHRM, our Together Forward @Work initiative offers a step-by-step guide to help business leaders build inclusive, equitable and empathetic cultures and work environments. We encourage organizations to:
Educate their leaders
Leaders must create an inclusion experience that proves to employees that inclusion is at the core of the organization.
Form an inclusion council
Create a council with 8-12 influential leaders who meet regularly to advocate inclusiveness to their peers and executives.
Celebrate employee differences
Invite all employees to share their backgrounds and traditions in the workplace.
Listen to employees
Provide employees a safe place to voice their opinions and use this information as you create the culture that is authentic to your brand.
Hold more-effective meetings
Facilitate inclusivity for all meetings by making sure all participants have the materials and technology needed and all voices can be heard.
Communicate goals and measure progress
Establish and clearly communicate specific, measurable and time-bound goals.
Caprino: There is so much talked about in leadership circles today about needing to build inclusive cultures, but frankly, from my view as one who coaches hundreds of mid- to high-level professionals a year, many if not most professionals are sharing that their workplaces are far from inclusive. What is “inclusion” and can leaders actually measure it? How can they find out if somebody actually feels like they belong?
Taylor: People managers are uniquely positioned in organizations to impact the workplace experience. Building empathy among people managers is vital to promoting inclusion across the workspace. Training people managers to build their empathy muscles paves the way for more inclusion in the workplace. Empathy builds the trust and credibility required to better understand people and engage them in the work.
The first, and often hardest step, is talking to your employees and having an open, honest conversation about it. Anonymous pulse surveys can give leadership an idea of how their workforce feels and can serve as a launching point for actionable change.
To assess an organization’s inclusiveness, it can also be helpful to have a specified metric. To measure empathy, SHRM created an Empathy Index, designed to be a quick-pulse assessment of inclusion-oriented behaviors within an organization. Using five components we considered the most perceptible elements of empathy-based workplace culture (belonging, conflict management, inclusion, non-discriminatory practices and openness) and a total score of 0 to 100, the index explores the core constructs of DE&I and how best to track them.
The higher your organization’s Empathy Index score, the more committed your organization is to combatting racial inequity. These elements really get at the heart of the question organizations must ask themselves, “Does my organization foster meaningful inclusion?”
Out of the 3, Inclusion certainly is the hardest to measure. That doesn’t mean it is not possible though. Our research shows that the companies that invest the time and energy toward sufficiently measuring inclusion are not only more successful in IED performance, but they also tend to be more productive and profitable overall.
Caprino: What is the most important first step CEOs can take to reset their organization today?
Taylor: Assuming core business objectives are already established, then it goes back to culture. Executive teams need to be clear about how they want to get work done. Culture is essentially how an organization works.
It’s important for an organization to ask themselves: “What is our brand, and what do we aspire for it to be?” When you make those sorts of decisions, the policies and practices that you adopt will naturally follow.
To make any decisions going forward, CEOs must be informed. They should make data their best friend. They need robust, impactful and meaningful data and insights to generate informed decisions and build consensus among stakeholders. Data gives CEOs the credibility they need to wield the leadership mantle.
To learn more, visit at https://reset.shrm.org.
Kathy Caprino, M.A. is a career and leadership coach, speaker, educator, and author of The Most Powerful You: 7 Bravery-Boosting Paths to Career Bliss. She helps professionals build rewarding careers of significance through her Career & Leadership programs, courses, and monthly newsletter.