It’s not surprising that organizations will spend $4 trillion globally on technology. We are still managing the aftermath of a pandemic that upended the entire way businesses traditionally run and operate, and technology continues to offer necessary solutions for digital transformation and connectivity many companies are still lacking.
However, this not-so-recent allure of a transformational tech stack that will magically fix all problems is problematic, especially when we look at the new relationship developing between employer and employee. Facing the current job market, employees are finding themselves in the driver’s seat, owning the power to ask for more and push employers to create better working environments. This has left many business leaders in a precarious position where they may finally be starting to re-evaluate the value of people and their own human capital investment.
In “The trillion-dollar difference,” consulting firm Korn Ferry surveyed 800 c-suite executives globally in an effort to understand how much corporate leaders today value the human side of business. What they found was most leaders have a significant blind spot when it comes to how and why they invest where they do. A majority of respondents indicated that technology would “create greater value in the future than human capital will” and placed a high value on investment in innovation.
Marry this data against the fact that $11.39 is added to GDP for every dollar invested in human capital and my confidence in the future of technology sharply sinks. The old model of work-for-pay has focused on trying to extract the best out of employees, and this abundant investment in technology is backfiring on the workforce. By primarily focusing on staying on top of tech advances, we’re at risk of ignoring the reality of what’s actually driving business today: our people.
So I’m proposing an investment in a new stack: the culture stack, one that prioritizes the full integrated ecosystem of human beliefs and behaviors that can make the difference between good and great business performance. With employee turnover set to be at an all-time high, we need to start inspiring employees to give their best and bring the best out in each other – and that should start at the top with employers and leaders.
So how do we get there? Purpose, meaning, mutual trust, and recognition are built by people one interaction at a time, and it’s up to leaders to build the infrastructure that facilitates these. Just as you expect a comprehensive plan to make your tech stack work smoothly, you need to be strategic about how your culture stack is making the most of that larger investment.
Step one: Obsess over employee, not just customer, feedback
If companies want to better understand the needs of their employees, the easiest solution is to simply ask. As technology leaders, we’re used to a seemingly incessant cycle of feedback loops when it comes to our products and solutions, and we have an obsession with the customer that eclipses most anything else and drives our roadmap. What would happen to our culture if we brought that same obsession internally, too?
When you think about the allure of Silicon Valley, you might think of in-office perks like beer taps and ping pong tables in the communal areas. But is that an accurate reflection of what employees want and need? And how has the pandemic shaped those needs? Are they less concerned with in-office perks and more interested in being closer to home, or being somewhere with a positive work culture? An easy fix is to begin deploying consistent surveys to keep a pulse on sentiment at the company and ask specific questions that get at the heart of any potential concerns or emerging needs. Initiate one-on-one conversations with team members—both peers and junior staff—to build trust.
Step two: Make culture synonymous with humanity
Often at fault for prioritizing the wrong things (like the most expensive sparkling water money can buy), startup culture can quickly come under fire when the hood is lifted, and the utopia isn’t what it seems. This is what happens when we invest more in the things that are driving our business rather than in the people who are driving our business.
The time when it was a sign of success if work didn’t know anything about your personal life is over. It was a ludicrous notion to begin with. In today’s world, we know the value of celebrating the whole human. We must find ways to make sure that we’re seeing our coworkers for who they really are and, in turn, knowing that we are embraced and accepted for who we are. So where should you start? Work with your HR lead to build a plan that prioritizes a culture of openness where talking about things outside of work is acceptable, and accepted. It can be as simple as finding new ways to celebrate milestones with one another—whether it’s a new house, a birthday, or a newborn.
In the wake of all the changes wrought by the pandemic, it has never been more important to help your employees feel confident that their personal lives matter in the workplace. Bringing this level of humanity into the everyday work experience is the best way to be in a position to hear from, listen to, and really get to understand what the humans in your organizations need. And understanding what needs will be a critical priority if we’re going to make it through another year of massive societal and organizational change.
Step three: Prioritize the right technology for your people
Workplace technology is critical, so I’m not advocating for the entire elimination of technology investment, but rather for the investment in the technology that will help employees be the best versions of themselves. After a year of remote work, most organizations have a handle on infrastructures that allow for video conferencing, and that won’t change much when we move to hybrid or entirely in-person settings. Yet, a myriad of research studies, like the Eagle Hill Consulting Employee Experience Survey 2021, show how frustrated workers are with the work technology at their disposal: for 20% of employees, technology is actually making the job harder.
Instead of prioritizing workplace collaboration tools (after more than a year at home, we’re all experts in virtual collaboration now), look to incorporate options for employees to better connect, share honest feedback and feel valued, respected, and heard in the workplace.
As business leaders, we are quickly running out of time to refocus on fostering an inclusive, human workplace that encourages the growth of human qualities that machines can’t replicate. Fortunately, people respond so well to these positive qualities that once you make them possible, they become a self-sustaining cycle. Employees like to live in mutual trust. They like a supportive culture and respond with energy and engagement. Different in outlook but united in purpose, they learn to bring the best of themselves to the fore.
The human workplace is dawning. Are you ready for it?
Eric Mosley is the CEO and cofounder of what began as Globoforce and is now Workhuman.