… Human motivation. Younger generations aspire to personal fulfillment and are more resistant to the compromises made by their elders. They are more willing to leave their organization if their individual needs are not met. The collective mobilizations to which I contribute allow individuals to activate in their work their sense of purpose, their desire to contribute to something greater than themselves. Corporate movements create new human connections and new knowledge at scale, enabling people to grow. This is a phenomenal asset for a company.
When it comes to designing the future of work, one size fits none. Discovering success isn’t about a hybrid model or offering remote work options. Individuals and organizations are looking for more freedom. The freedom to choose the work model that makes the most sense. The freedom to choose their own values. And the freedom to pursue what matters most. We reached out to successful leaders and thought leaders across all industries to glean their insights and predictions about how to create a future that works.
As a part of our interview series called “How Employers and Employees are Reworking Work Together,” we had the pleasure to interview Céline Schillinger.
Céline Schillinger is an award-winning entrepreneur, author, change agent and leadership consultant. She has over 30 years of field experience, working with both small and global organizations across several continents. A blogger since 2013 and an acclaimed public speaker, a Kotter Affiliate, she was knighted in 2017 in her native France for her workplace change efforts; her book Dare to Un-Lead is released in May 2022.
Thank you for making time to visit with us about the topic of our time. Our readers would like to get to know you a bit better. Can you please tell us about one or two life experiences that most shaped who you are today.
In these troubled times, inter-human connection across differences feels more essential than ever. This aspiration cultivated in my family heritage has become a personal value I hold dear since an experience I had shortly before my twenty-third birthday.
I made then the decision to leave France, my native country, and go explore opportunities in Vietnam. A family of thirteen — three generations under the same roof — hosted me for about six months, the time it took me to start mastering Vietnamese and to find a job. I spent four amazing years in Vietnam. This experience gave me a taste for difference, for exploration of what connects across cultural and social barriers. So much so, that I later lived in China and then several years later, with my family, in the United States. Each time, I loved this immersion in the unknown. The familiar feels nice, but I am curious for the otherness. Wherever I settle, I find beauty and joy.
The second defining moment was when I unexpectedly became involved in corporate activism, from 2010. Frustrated by the lack of diversity in the company where I then worked, I started a movement with colleagues to help our organization progress. With the collective knowledge and sense of purpose we all held, we felt we could contribute to changing our organization for the better — in its own interests! The more a company reflects the community it is aiming to serve, the better it is able to understand and to meet its needs. Our employee activist community quickly grew to several thousand people, and taught me some fundamental insights about people engagement, digital amplification, and collective leadership. Since then, I’ve been consistently applying these dynamics to various business issues. I eventually left the corporate world in 2018 and set up a consultancy to help organizations with this approach.
Let’s zoom out. What do you predict will be the same about work, the workforce and the workplace 10–15 years from now? What do you predict will be different?
What will remain the same in my opinion is that every year, talented and good-willed people will join the workforce with a lot of enthusiasm and a desire to make things better for themselves and for the world. Yet many of them will be progressively silenced, forced to conform, or thrown out of the corporate system, by the effect of conservative and potential-limiting organizational cultures.
As for what can be different, there are potentially troubling changes, and others that do offer hope. The efforts required for the transition to a decarbonized economy, the fragmentation of the workforce (with more people working as free-lancers, working remotely…), the development of algorithmic management, in a context of obscene inequalities and identity divisions, all this will be tough for workers. Authoritarian regimes in a large part of the world will prevent people there from getting involved in corporate governance issues.
The positive trend I foresee is that, in Western countries, our traditional management models are so stale that organizations have no choice but to evolve them. To recruit talents, to retain them, to succeed in the marketplace, the corporate world must change. More and more people know that other ways are viable. Evolution is slow, but is now a real possibility.
What advice would you offer to employers who want to future-proof their organizations?
Those whose work involves organizational future-proofing are often located at the higher echelons of their organization. It’s not something to blame them for, it’s just a fact. Having spent nearly three decades in the corporate world, I have seen many of them operate in a homogeneous and privileged social world, with limited awareness of the mental models that shape their actions. These mental models are beliefs in, for example, a separation between thinking and doing, a downward flow of knowledge, a mechanistic management of human collectives, or an engineering approach to change.
To future-proof our organizations, we must start by emancipating ourselves from these models inherited from the past. This does not mean erasing the past: it means paying attention to the patterns of interaction in which we operate, to those we perpetuate, and to those we need to change because they no longer serve us.
What do you predict will be the biggest gaps between what employers are willing to offer and what employees expect as we move forward? And what strategies would you offer about how to reconcile those gaps?
The biggest gap I observe, in large organizations at least, is between our desire for things to change significantly, and what happens effectively: very little change.
I wouldn’t necessarily distinguish here between employers and employees. Whatever our role or our position in the corporate hierarchy, we all end up frustrated at one point or another. It is a consequence of those limiting, traditional thought patterns, which affect us all.
I believe that to overcome these limitations, we need to collectively design new value creation strategies. These strategies combine emancipatory practices, the use of networks — both as technology and as operating principle — and community engagement. I have been involved in the creation of such strategies several times, in different contexts, and they’ve all produced remarkable outcomes. I am convinced that it is through value creation in a different way, not through communication gimmicks or Human Resource fads, that we will manage to close the gap.
We simultaneously joined a global experiment together last year called “Working From Home.” How will this experience influence the future of work?
Working from home was very difficult for some (“I would give anything to commute again”, I heard from one of my clients’ employees), but has also allowed many to realize what work is like when it’s lightened from the burden of surveillance, from a competition-induced unhealthy atmosphere, from unbalanced interactions marked by toxic power relationships. It felt like a real liberation for millions of people. At the same time, it has made things more difficult for team leaders, for managers — at least those who were not accustomed to leading through community engagement.
We need to learn new ways of interacting. It is actually already happening every day, in many organizations. This possibility of creation, and the dialogue that accompanies it, seems to me a precious opportunity that we can’t afford to waste. How can this experience take us all together towards a future that is both more bearable and more efficient than the past?
We’ve all read the headlines about how the pandemic reshaped the workforce. What societal changes do you foresee as necessary to support a future of work that works for everyone?
I don’t think society will change in any way to support a better future of work. Society will continue to evolve under the influence of multiple, contradictory forces, underlying trends and sudden events such as a pandemic or a war. There is obviously a trend toward fragmentation. People follow more and more individual trajectories, as the traditional structures that ensured cultural and social cohesion are becoming less powerful. Our liberal consumer society encourages the individualization of desires and creates winners and losers.
Also, people no longer have the same relationship with authority. Some regret this, while I think we have to deal with it. It even opens up exciting new possibilities. That’s why, to answer your question, I think we shouldn’t long for societal changes to support a better future of work. We should instead strive for an evolution of the world of work. It is the experience of work that should be changed, to support a society that works for everyone. And not in the future, but right now. It is possible, and it is not even difficult.
What is your greatest source of optimism about the future of work?
Our collective mental health and wellbeing are now considered collateral as we consider the future of work. What innovative strategies do you see employers offering to help improve and optimize their employee’s mental health and wellbeing?
Work can be a space where people feel useful and respected, where they are valued for their full humanness rather than treated as robots, where they bond together by acting freely for a common cause. This is not idealism; it is a very pragmatic ambition that combines social and economic interest. I’ve seen it in action several times, it’s perfectly feasible. In an organization focused on this ambition, in which relational leadership gets nurtured, employees do well and customers are happy.
It seems like there’s a new headline every day. ‘The Great Resignation’. ‘The Great Reconfiguration’. And now the ‘Great Reevaluation’. What are the most important messages leaders need to hear from these headlines? How do company cultures need to evolve?
As leaders, we have an important role to play here. When we are able to break free from usual relational norms, we give a symbolic permission to the rest of the organization to change as well. To do so, it helps enormously to step out of our cognitive bubbles, to seek social and perceptual diversity in our surroundings, to value connection and not just alignment.
We should resist the comfort of surrounding ourselves with docile or obsequious people — some of whom are so, not because of their character, but because of the very nature of our relationship. We should consider emotional sensitivity a condition for professional success, instead of relegating it to the private sphere. We may also cultivate curiosity and an explorer’s mindset, which help cross boundaries. By asking good questions, rather than asserting answers; by accepting that our point of view is just a point of view (which only makes sense when connected to others, because reality is relational), then we show we’ve heard the important messages and we’re ready to lead differently.
Let’s get more specific. What are your “Top 5 Trends To Track In the Future of Work?”
- Social fragmentation. While companies need to set human collectives in motion in a coordinated way, they face the challenges posed by the polarization of society, the expansion of “parallel realities” and the erosion of common ground. To overcome them, organizations usually rely on structure, processes and push communication. I have found that the dynamics of activism work much better. For example, the failing industrial quality of a very siloed company was greatly improved by mobilizing people in an activist movement that brought them together across cultures, geography, beliefs and roles.
- Ecological transformation. The changes necessary to preserve a habitable planet are urgent and considerable. The world of work is not spared by these changes in habits, methods and technologies. To succeed, companies must be able to mobilize the knowledge and commitment of their entire ecosystem. To do this, we must move beyond our narrow focus on expertise. I have seen thousands of corporate volunteers contribute to the digital transformation of their company, why not to its ecological transformation?
- Human motivation. Younger generations aspire to personal fulfillment and are more resistant to the compromises made by their elders. They are more willing to leave their organization if their individual needs are not met. The collective mobilizations to which I contribute allow individuals to activate in their work their sense of purpose, their desire to contribute to something greater than themselves. Corporate movements create new human connections and new knowledge at scale, enabling people to grow. This is a phenomenal asset for a company.
- Technological integration. The tremendous advances in computational capabilities, automation, artificial intelligence… mean that our lives and work are increasingly penetrated by technology — and increasingly quantified. Depending on how they approach these changes, employers can make their employees victims or actors of this integration. One example that comes to mind is an airline I worked with that wanted to implement a new pricing technology. The sales force was reluctant. We put together a great team of volunteers, who partnered with leadership to mobilize the staff around the company’s digital transformation. Not only was the technology adopted faster and better than expected, but this movement increased the social capital within the company. This is hugely important for resilience and innovation, which we need more than ever.
- Leadership reinvention. The context in which we now live, trade, and work in the 21st century has little in common with that of Frederick Taylor or Henry Ford. What is revered as leadership today is often nothing more than a destructive set of obsolete behaviors that harm individuals and societies, and that must be reinvented. And yet, opportunities exist to collectively transform leadership from a top-down hierarchical hegemony to one that is based on empowering people to lead together through the concepts of liberty, equality and community. This requires new leadership behaviors. For some, it’s a big change; for others, not so much.
I keep quotes on my desk and on scraps of paper to stay inspired. What’s your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? And how has this quote shaped your perspective?
One of my favorite quotes is: “The way you get to the future is the future you get”. It was coined by Myron Rogers. Myron is an expert in living organizations — the science of living systems applied to human organizations –, also a mentor and a friend. His quote sums up, to me, the essence of change in living systems. This is something that many organizations still don’t understand. They believe it is possible to bring about innovation and agility in a controlled, top-down way. But it can’t work. The only thing a controlled, top-down way produces is average, obedient executants. This doesn’t lead any organization into the future. We must pay much more attention to the process we use, to how we trigger and support change, as it is the real determinant of change.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He, she, or they might just see this if we tag them.
I would love to have a coffee with Brené Brown 😉 You’ve probably noticed that the title of my book is a (respectful) nod to her Dare to Lead. Brené’s work on shame, vulnerability and courage has created new, important conversations at a global scale. She is a prolific role model for many and a rock star marketer. So, fingers crossed for a coffee someday!
Our readers often like to continue the conversation with our featured interviewees. How can they best connect with you and stay current on what you’re discovering?
My book Dare to Un-Lead: The Art of Relational Leadership (Figure 1 Publishing) gets released early May 2022. The book includes many real-life stories and concrete ways to help practice relational leadership. Tenured leaders, young professionals, women leaders, change agents… may all find valuable insights there. I can’t wait to interact with readers! They can reach me easily on
on my website http://weneedsocial.com/
and by email [email protected]
Thank you for sharing your insights and predictions. We appreciate the gift of your time and wish you continued success and good health.