We’ve Changed How We Work, Now Change How You Lead
“Can we figure it out together?”
That’s a quote from Kristin Gwinner, executive vice president and chief human resources officer at Chico’s FAS, Inc. She’s talking about how to organize the workplace around the new hybrid model (as you’ll read about below), but her idea is actually at the heart of the three main topics covered throughout this article and at the core of every idea shared here.
We lose sight of each person’s individuality – and therefore we start suppressing them – when we forget to include them in decisions that affect the way they work, learn or live.
This article is part three of a six-part series that features a blend of written content and short videos of individuals from across industries (doctors, professors, executives, deans and more). In part one I introduced the primary obstacle underscoring nearly every challenge leaders are facing today—that we’ve been suppressing individuals. In part two I helped us start assessing where we’re suppressing those we teach in our schools, treat in our healthcare settings, and lead in our organizations – by sharing wisdom directly from students, patients and employees.
This time I’ll share insights from leaders who are working to interrupt suppression and start unleashing individuality in the ways their teams, organizations and industries adapt to the moment – with hybrid working, finding new metrics for success, and identifying the skills that will be necessary to thrive in an uncertain future. They shared these stories at the recent 2021 Leadership in the Age of Personalization Summit.
Activating Capacity in a Hybrid Environment
We suppress people by dictating where and how they should do their work. Sometimes there’s no choice: a surgeon certainly can’t decide to do surgery from home. But where there is choice and flexibility, why not let people choose for themselves?
“I can’t imagine going back to a regular office,” said Guilherme Oliveira, a director of marketing and strategy. “One of the best ideas I had, it wasn’t in the office or in a meeting. It was when I was surfing. Traveling is what sparks my thoughts. When I’m traveling and meeting new people, that’s when I can get the best of myself. That works for me, and I know every individual is different.”
It’s no longer about the career defining one’s lifestyle, it’s about the lifestyle defining one’s career. So it’s worth it for leaders to make it easier for talented people to work with you from anywhere. But it will take effort, it will require new ways of leading, and it will require some creativity.
Joe Moscola gives us a great example. He is executive vice president of Northwell Health. Watch this short video to see how he led a redesign of their working environment because, as he put it: “One of the key things to understand is: what are your team members’ needs? Not only in the workplace … but what are their needs physically, emotionally, mentally, socially? When you can get to that level of depth of understanding, then you can unlock the code to the things that are needed to be successful.”
Kristin Gwinner extends that idea beyond the work environment to include the lifecycle of work itself. She is executive vice president and chief human resources officer at Chico’s FAS, Inc., and she said when evaluating remote work, she looked across the entire lifecycle of work to see where the interdependencies are, and then looked at each role to determine if it can stay remote. But she didn’t stop there. Watch and listen to her describe how she approached the decision about remote work. In her words: “Can we figure it out together?”
In this next video, Brad Williams, president of Dallas College El Centro Campus, shares some lessons learned about engaging employees at all levels when they had to suddenly go remote. He also gives us powerful reasons why it pays to work to get this right: “All of us want to lead lives that are filled with purpose and meaning and significance, and have a legacy of some type. When we look at those primary factors of activating capacity, it really begs a leader to create and foster a type of environment that allows that to exist.”
As we all rethink how we work, these four leaders give us important perspectives:
- We all get inspired differently
- We all have many realities that extend beyond work itself, yet still affect our work
- Remote or hybrid working is about more than just our physical location, it also impacts our interconnectivity across the organization
- Putting in the effort to create an environment that unleashes people will help them live lives filled with purpose and meaning
Those are good places to look for possible interruptions in your own thinking and ways of leading.
Another place to look for possible interruptions: what we choose to measure.
Measure Something Meaningful
One of the most important decisions a leader makes is what will be measured to determine success: success of the business, success of a project, success of an individual. Because whatever it is, that is what people will focus on.
If you want customers or patients to know they matter, but you measure and judge employees based on number of people served, speed will eclipse quality. All too often our own metrics hold us back – keeping employees, customers, patients, and students locked into patterns that suppress their individuality. So make sure your metrics create the right incentives.
James Momon is focused on reducing equity gaps. He’s a senior vice president and the first chief equity officer at 3M, based in Minneapolis. He believes we must start to measure and define new metrics and systems to propel equity.
“Equality is a noble aspiration that we’ve been talking about in our society for quite some time,” said Momon. “The distinction I would make between equality and equity is that equity acknowledges the historical context of disparities that exist in our society today. And how do we actually address those disparities?”
He said one of his priorities for 3M, a science-based organization, is to focus on the impact they can have in driving more equitable access to STEM careers. Watch and listen to him talk about the difference in measuring equality compared with equity, and why his role was formed after the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
Momon is addressing some big questions at the societal level. Now let’s look at the level of an industry that has rapidly gone from operating in the background for most people to suddenly front and center: supply chain.
Lou Mercado has reinvented the supply chain function from a cost center approach to a profit center focused on growth. He believes that developing people, upskilling, and challenging outdated metrics are critical to getting the best outcomes. He’s led supply chain for companies within healthcare, retail and technology. Today he is chief global supply chain officer for 99c Only Stores.
He said, “In the past, we were very siloed. [Supply chain executives] weren’t at the table.”
When it comes to metrics and what organizations expect supply chain to contribute, he described how those expectations are starting to evolve from cost and service metrics to include growth: “We looked at cost. We looked at service, which is a key component of supply chain metrics. We weren’t focused as much on growth in the past. But if you think about it, we should be very integrated with our organizations to ensure that we’re providing growth. So that’s starting to shift.” Watch here for more from Mercado.
Another topic that has been front and center during the pandemic is access to health records. Mike Nash is co-founder and CEO of Lumedic, a health information logistics company, where he and his team are working to democratize patient data to shift the balance of power from the institution to the individual.
Healthcare is an industry with many competing metrics – privacy and security of information versus easy access. Standardized levels of care versus personalized levels of service. The list goes on.
Nash describes his work as thinking about the role that patients play in their own personal healthcare journeys, and what do they need to enable that level of individuality? “A big part of that really quickly goes down to something as simple as your health information, and how do you get access to something as simple as your medical history?” Watch here for more.
These three leaders have shown us how metrics can shape things at multiple levels:
- At the level of society – equality versus equity
- At the level of an entire industry – a cost-center approach versus a growth-centered approach
- At the level of our personal health and access to our own medical records
Take a good look at what you choose to measure, and how those metrics are influencing the people you lead.
To make decisions about how we work, and to re-assess what we choose to measure, we will likely need to learn new leadership skills.
When I asked City of Hope chief human resources officer Kety Duron about her priorities for preparing her healthcare organization for the new leadership skills needed, she said leaders need to evolve from being visibility-based (when everyone worked together in one location) to become empathy-based (especially when leading people in various locations) and learn human-centric leadership.
As she put it: “How do we think about each individual, and include every individual we encounter, making sure every individual’s thoughts and ideas are incorporated in everything we do? We must evolve and evolve quickly. Otherwise we will be irrelevant.”
Hearing Duron talk about the importance of empathy makes me think about something shared by Gustavo Canton, analytics leader for Starbucks. He said the one skill that should be top of mind is the skill of being human – to treat others and see them as the unique individuals they are.
But he also acknowledged: “I never got any education in the topic of emotions when I was in school. One of the big issues we have in organizations is sometimes we don’t have empathy or that emotional quality to put ourselves in the shoes of somebody else and treat them in a humane way. So that skill is going to be very critical for us.”
This next story shows us why that skill is so important.
One of the biggest problems facing colleges today is that leadership becomes so focused on sustaining the operation of the institution that they forget about the student, according to Mike McDonough, president of Raritan Valley Community College in New Jersey. He generously shared a personal story about a failure that happened because, in his words, “I didn’t know who my students were.”
He tried a program to accelerate degree completion. “I thought this was a brilliant idea,” he said. “I organized this schedule and put it together and nobody took it. We tried it and we tried it. Finally, a brand new advisor from the community came in and said, ‘You know, Mike, I hate to tell you this, but the last bus leaves campus at 5:00 and you’ve got the class starting at 5:20. I didn’t know who my students were. I didn’t realize they couldn’t even get on campus. I was thinking I solved this, without thinking about who’s actually going to take that program.”
As you consider how you can evolve to meet the challenges of perpetual uncertainty, these leaders have demonstrated three key opportunities to interrupt the habits of the past:
- Re-think the way your team works in this new hybrid environment
- Examine what you choose to measure
- Consider new leadership skills you need to explore
The good news: once you establish a habit of interruption, you create an ongoing cycle of evolution. It becomes easier to see where you might need to interrupt yourself. Next time we’ll explore the next step in the cycle: how to pivot from suppressing individuality to unleashing it.
Pre-order my new book, Unleashing Individuality: the leadership skill that unlocks all others.
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