PEOPLE OPERATIONS WILL BECOME A SEPARATE DISCIPLINE. Innovative companies will proactively create executives who specialize in people operations. This will transform the HR function, tying people metrics and KPIs directly to the bottom line performance of the 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 Diane Dye Hansen, the Chief Management Consultant at What Works Consultants (WWC).
Diane Dye Hansen and her firm, What Works Consultants, are leading the way in changing the approach to remote work. She leads a team of nine consultants who are fully remote and able to serve in all US time zones. She is an expert in helping Fortune 500 companies plan successful adoption of large-scale company initiatives by conducting internal research, refining processes, communicating internally, and refining team KPIs.
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.
I will share two life experiences and they are both related to remote work.
In 2008, I began working remote after being laid off from a major gaming company. The funny thing is, I probably wouldn’t have been if remote work was the standard — even then. As a young married woman, I was constantly torn between home life and work life. I wanted to give my best to my employer AND my husband. Unfortunately, the company didn’t make that possible. Long, face to face, hours were required. Although I did have a company laptop, that was to be used only if traveling for the company. I asked my VP if I could work from home after hours and was told my presence was required at the office, often until 8 or 10 pm at night. I began to experience stress induced vertigo. Stretched thin and conflicted, my mood was impacted. I began snapping at co-workers. Ultimately, the position ended with Human Resources showing up at my desk and a lay off. With the recession in full swing, laying me off was an easy choice.
This motivated me to setting WWC up as a parent-friendly, remote, workplace. As a result, I have been able to take extended trips back to Texas, where I was born and raised, to see my mother — who turns 86 this year. I was there for a full month in 2020 and two weeks in 2021. This year, I will likely identify more time where I can work remote from there. I may even get to go see my cousin in Ireland without missing a beat as a leader of WWC.
Family is so important to me. Too often, I see employees, often female, being asked to choose between family needs and work needs. My favorite word is “both.” Why can’t we have both? My experience leading this firm has allowed me to put that belief into practice. This year, our Head of Research and Client Insights had her first child. When she is ready to return to work, we have a workplace that not just tolerates that, but embraces it. That is only made possible with knowing what she needs, putting together accommodations that work for a working mother, clear team communication, and support of her emotional needs. I have no doubt our clients will continue to get the best from her. It’s because we give her the best of us first.
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 be the same is the need for connectedness to those we work alongside. What will be different is how we approach that connectedness. There are four key components to connectedness in the workplace: belonging, wellness, contribution, and purpose. In companies operating solely face-to-face, belonging may be garnered through methods of workforce socialization, wellness is often created through human resources programs requiring a face-to-face commitment (such as free/discounted gym memberships), contribution and purpose are often measured in annual performance reviews.
In 10 to 15 years, this will evolve, whether face-to-face or remote. Our approach to connectedness will become much different, forced by remote, hybrid, and full-face to face formats to go deeper and become what I call an empathetic organization. Empathy will need to be employed in an active way inside the organization, with vendors, and customers. Inside the company, the empathetic organization will create connectedness by creating opportunities for belonging: online and hybrid affinity groups, DE&I groups, and identifying where people can shine in their area of expertise. I call this area of expertise “joy space.” Joy space, working in areas of high competency, energy, and purpose, is key to increasing productivity and employee satisfaction. Working in joy space increases wellness as much as any gym program. And we work way more than one hour a day! Organizations will begin to commit more to emotional, mental, and physical wellness. They will begin to do the research to determine the needs of their workforce in a more proactive way. They will need to — because I predict The Great Resignation will not go away if these needs are neglected. Companies with low turnover costs will be empathetic organizations. Performance reviews will change as well. What Works Consultants has already developed a method based on Management by Objectives (MBO) that turns the annual review process on its head, increases individual performance, increases company morale, and touches all four areas of connectedness. Finally, purpose will become a driver of successful organizations. The deep emotional why of the work will become more important. This will change the way employees are hired, teams are designed, and companies inspire their workforce. We’ve seen the seeds of this with the late Herb Kelleher of Southwest Airlines, Elon Musk of Tesla and SpaceX, and Sir Richard Branson of Virgin. In 10 to 15 years, this communication and practice of purpose will be carried by every leader at every level of the organization. Purpose may be communicated today. However, I believe the practice of it will become much more of a leadership standard.
What advice would you offer to employers who want to future-proof their organizations?
Listen to your team! Future-proofing your organization starts with researching it today. Conduct employee experience and culture surveys. Drill down into what makes employees feel connected to your organization and what actions your organization needs to take to improve. Do not survey and run. Make your employees see the impact of their input. A CEO of a manufacturing company I know once said to me, “I get on the floor. I talk to the teams, not just the leaders but the workers. You may do your work from your office, but you can’t lead from there.” Another CEO I reported to once would come see me and ask for my input. I was a 26-year-old Senior Brand Manager at the time. That impressed me. I only left when the company was purchased by another that did a straight line 10% staff reduction. To future proof your organization, you must let go of business as usual. That means, if there is a merger or acquisition, to conduct it in a strategic and empathetic way. I think we will see straight line lay offs go by the wayside in favor of methods which preserve company integrity.
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?
I believe what is offered and expected will be more clearly communicated. The biggest gaps will be in what a small business can offer versus a large organization. Although, what a small business needs to understand is not all offers cost a lot of money. It costs nothing to add a #watercooler to your Slack channel. It costs nothing to have a company safe space for truth, to dispel rumors. It costs very little, per employee, to invest in a focus tool like CaveDay to improve monotasking skills. Creating a great work environment will help small businesses win in the future. So, you may not be able to offer higher salaries, or all expenses paid benefits. But what you can provide is a quality of life. I would like to think that is why WWC’s consultants work with us versus a big 5 firm. They are just as educated. But as wives, mothers, husbands, fathers, sons, and daughters, they value quality of life. That is how you can reconcile that gap. Commit to empathy and the quality of life of your team. I guarantee the investment will be returned in focus and high performance.
We simultaneously joined a global experiment together last year called “Working From Home.” How will this experience influence the future of work?
I believe this experiment has helped employees see what is possible for their lives. The Great Resignation has shown us employees will draw the line and find a new employer. Even contractors are catch “The Great Resignation Fever.” If you do not treat your teams well, now and in the future, you will consistently find yourself short staffed or with team who is quitting on the job — sitting in a seat but not producing as much.
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?
Societally, we need to begin to break away from strict 8 to 5 work weeks with and hour lunch and business as usual for support services, which rely on workers having those hours. This would necessitate the availability of essential services, such as banks, to shift. Breakfast hours at restaurants could extend. Retail operations might commit to being open later. Societally, we would also need to begin to accept flexible work schedules and demands. This means, as a society, we would need to improve upon boundary setting skills. We would also need to become more flexible and receptive to other people’s work boundaries. I remember the first time I ran into a non-standard remote work dynamic. I had just moved to Carson City and a graphic designer I was using lived in South Lake Tahoe. It was our first engagement together and she announced that she wouldn’t begin working on our project until 4 pm because it was a powder day. She was an avid snowmobiler. I was so upset. It wasn’t until I gained some perspective, over time, that I appreciated her boundary. To recharge and be the amazing graphic designer she is, she needed to ride on a powder day — not be locked into an 8 to 5 construct that would crank up FOMO (fear of missing out) and decrease her attention on her work product. Society will begin to embrace this, as workers come to their own agreements on what equals their time of brilliance and what hours do not. Then, it will be up to companies to decide if that fits their culture and operations strategy.
What is your greatest source of optimism about the future of work?
Experts in organizational change and leadership will look back at this period in history as The Renaissance of Work. It’s changing everything. It’s forcing businesses to create new processes and dig deep into researching their own companies to determine the best new solutions considering the state of our world today. They are more open to change now than ever. Or they are closing their doors and making way for new innovative businesses. Companies are becoming more people-focused and empathetic. They must be that way because of The Great Resignation. I am optimistic these changes are made to stick, and the future of work will be better for it.
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?
I believe mental health will become a new priority as will behavioral evaluation to determine what an employee’s baseline looks like. Tools like Predictive Index will be utilized to determine where an employee is most comfortable in the world of work. I predict HR departments utilizing these tools to help leaders go deeper to serve employees who may experience deep cognitive dissonance due to a position’s misalignment with natural behavioral tendencies. I believe the resources for employees who are experiencing stress, due to workplace or home concerns, will increase. HR Business Partner, a title given to an internal coach, will be a more common title seen in HR departments. Benefits will expand to include access to online counseling resources. Because we are having a shared mental health experience right now. I believe seeking help for mental health and wellbeing will be destigmatized. Simone Biles made great strides in doing this during the Olympics. She is now a spokesperson for Cerebral, a platform for online therapy and medication management.
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?
The message between these headlines is all the same. Employees will find some place else to put their talent to use unless companies reconfigure how they approach people operations. These reconfigurations will play heavily into how employees reevaluate their roles and their place within organizations. Company cultures must go through a process of research, process evaluation, process change, and internal communication about those changes to proactively improve people operations. Not doing this will result in low retention, low company tenure, lost time, and lost revenue. In other words, it’s worth it to pay attention. Pay attention now or pay later.
Let’s get more specific. What are your “Top 5 Trends To Track In the Future of Work?” (Please share a story or example for each.)
- LEADERS WILL PRIORITIZE CONNECTING WITH THEIR EMPLOYEES: Belonging, wellness, contribution, and purpose will begin to drive work conversations. This is already happening within our Fortune 500 client base as they work to create programs that will better retain employees.
- HUMAN RESOURCES DEPARTMENTS WILL BECOME RESEARCH DRIVEN: Employee experience and culture surveys won’t just be for large companies. Small companies will begin to drill down on the experience they provide and their culture to attract and retain the right employees.
- FLEX TIME WILL BECOME THE NEW NORMAL: As empathy increases in the workplace, employers will need to become more sensitive to employee flex time needs to remain competitive. As flex time becomes the new normal, employers will need to become more agile.
- MENTAL HEALTH WILL BE DESTIGMATIZED IN THE WORKPLACE: Mental health was destigmatized in schools with the crisis of school shootings. The pandemic is destigmatizing mental health in the workplace. Crisis has a way of driving change. This crisis has necessitated unprecedented honesty and transparency. As a result of prioritization of connection, research, and accommodation, mental health needs will reach the forefront of consciousness.
- PEOPLE OPERATIONS WILL BECOME A SEPARATE DISCIPLINE. Innovative companies will proactively create executives who specialize in people operations. This will transform the HR function, tying people metrics and KPIs directly to the bottom line performance of the company.
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?
I have quotes all over my home and office. Although I don’t have one favorite, when I looked around the quote about success caught my eye, author unknown. “Success is the predictable result of hard work, patience, sacrifice, and learning put into practice every day.” As a business owner, that’s what it takes. It takes the ability to face challenges, like the pandemic, head on. Regardless of what the world is throwing at us, we must commit to do as Apple says and “think differently.” We must work hard, but not work so hard we have no energy. So self-management is incredibly important. We must have patience, but so much that we stop taking action. We must sacrifice, but not so much we have poor boundaries. And, now more than ever, we must learn and put into practice what we learn. Getting stuck in the learning loop, learning endlessly but never putting into practice, can be detrimental. So we must learn, take action, and repeat that process to innovate.
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.
Honestly, it’s Oprah Winfrey. And I will tell you why. She spoke at my commencement at USC Annenberg, and she completely reframed what I considered to be my legacy. Because of her, I no longer see legacy as what my children do. I now see legacy as what my mentees, clients, and team does. My legacy is my impact on the world. I want to thank her for that. It was exactly what I needed to hear, when I needed to hear it. I have always admired her as a strong woman in business, who has been rejected, judged, and has risen above all of it to change so many lives. One day, I would like to be in her Top 100 — not for ego, but to reach as many companies as I can to help them become the empathetic organizations of the future.
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?
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Thank you for sharing your insights and predictions. We appreciate the gift of your time and wish you continued success and good health.