… Learning and Development as a Strategic Priority. Based on the skill gaps we’re seeing today, coupled with the need to reskill a billion people over the next ten years, learning and development will need a seat at the table in the C-suite of most organizations. As mentioned earlier, learning will need to become a priority, be woven into the flow of work, and be directly connected to organizational goals to ensure its relevance.

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 Dr. Andrew Temte.

Dr. Andrew Temte is Author of “Balancing Act,” Host of the Balancing Act podcast, the former CEO of Kaplan Professional and Founder of Skills Owl LLC.

Andrew Temte’s life and career experience inspires current and future leaders to rethink how they lead, how they design their work environments, and how they motivate and retain their teams. Temte’s perspective and advice on work life balance are unconventional and refreshing, with a focus on trust and accountability and their inseparable tie to an employee’s life outside of work.

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.

Thank you for allowing me to contribute to the conversation. This is a tough question for me to answer as I’ve had many twists and turns throughout my life that provided valuable lessons to learn from. For purposes of this interview, the one that will be most impactful is the divorce my wife and I went through in the early 2000s. The language I used in the previous sentence is purposeful as I am remarried to the same wonderful woman today.

The reason it’s important to tell the story of our divorce is due to the process of exploration and discovery that marriage counseling afforded us. It turns out that many of the tools we used during our journey of rediscovery are equally applicable in the world of business. Human skills like communication, active listening, empathy, collaboration, and teamwork were essential to re-establishing our relationship. If you look at any “top 20” list of skills for the future, you’ll find the aforementioned human skills at or near the top of the list.

The bottom line is that marriage counseling opened my mind to the benefits of human skills (a.k.a., soft skills) in the workplace. If I could get the kind of results we achieved through doing the hard work of marriage counseling, imagine how we could build stronger relationships and more cohesive teams at work by investing in both human skill and technical skill development?

The other “ah ha” moment that came out of this is that human skill development is hard and it takes time. Sending an individual or team through a seminar or two on communication or empathy will not move the needle. When I first agreed to marriage counseling, I went into it kicking and screaming. After all, I had everything figured out, our challenges were someone else’s problem. Boy was I wrong. It was only after sustained effort that the benefits of our “training” became apparent.

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?

Let’s start with what will be different, and I’ll focus on two interrelated issues. First, there will be many jobs that exist 10–15 years from now that no one can conceive of today. Case in point is social media. If you’d have told me in 2007 that the position of social media strategist would be a must-have for most organizations, I’d have looked back at you with a bemused look on my face. The point is that jobs and job roles are changing rapidly — in many cases too rapidly for traditional HR and hiring practices to keep up. Job descriptions are outdated as soon as they’re written and competency maps are akin to air traffic control systems in that they too are outdated as soon as they’re implemented.

As a result, the second thing that will be different is that validated skill portfolios will carry similar weight to that of a university degree. Today and historically, hiring managers have relied on the brand of a higher education institution as a signal of work readiness for new entrants into the professional workforce. We’ve been hearing for years about the disconnect that exists between the C-suite and higher education leaders regarding the work readiness of college graduates with no clear solutions in sight. Instead, we see the continuation of historical norms that saddle students with mountains of debt and corporations with the burden to educate new employees with the information they need to be successful. Hence, solving skill gaps has become a major focus for many organizations.

Fortunately, we’re starting to see movement toward the acceptance of skill portfolios as evidence of work preparedness and as viable alternatives to university degrees. Please don’t misunderstand, the university degree will be alive and well 10–15 years from now, but we’re already seeing movement within more forward-leaning institutions to disaggregate the degree into its component parts and offer educational programs that lead to meaningful employment and don’t necessarily lead to a formal degree.

The bottom line is that we must cultivate alternative educational pathways into the world of work to improve affordability and access, enhance equity across demographic groups, and more rapidly close skill gaps.

Now for what will stay the same. I predict that 10–15 years from now, organizations will still be focused on solving significant human skill challenges. Workplace disengagement will still be prevalent and what I refer to as the “clay layer” or “organizational permafrost” (managers who resist change and yearn for maintaining the status quo) will still make up a significant portion of middle management. Why the grim assessment? Change is hard and human nature is a tough nut to crack.

Although I believe we will have made progress toward the development of skills like communication, empathy, active listening, critical thinking, and teamwork, it’s going to take decades to affect significant change as many of these skills and traits are established early in life. Hence, we need to be firing on all cylinders across the entire spectrum of educational interventions throughout one’s lifetime. Social and emotional learning (SEL) in our primary and secondary schools is a step in the right direction, but we need more of it — a lot more.

What advice would you offer to employers who want to future-proof their organizations?

I have two primary pieces of advice. First, focus on getting the balancing act between trust and accountability right within your organization. Yes, establishing organizational trust is important, but if we trust each other and nothing gets done, then what’s the point? What I’ve done in my career to balance trust with accountability is to adopt the principles of organizational health and continuous improvement as core tenets of my “management operating system.” Organizational health is all about establishing and reinforcing clarity to build trust between individuals and teams. Continuous improvement is the identification/minimization of waste, respect for people, and having a maniacal focus on the needs of the customer. When you blend the two together, it’s possible to create a high trust, high accountability culture. It turns out that smooth, reliable handoffs of work product between individuals and teams (flow), and the use of visual management tools that show the good, bad, and ugly of what’s happening internally are a few of the keys to establishing and maintaining a high trust, high accountability culture. My forthcoming book will lay all this out in detail.

The second piece of advice is to begin thinking about skill portfolios and creating alternative pathways into your workplace that ride alongside the traditional employment signal of the university degree. To solve myriad talent shortages, we need to reduce the cost of education and increase its accessibility. One way to do this is to embrace work-to-learn models like apprenticeships and shorter-form educational models like the bootcamp. Unfortunately, there is no silver bullet to improving access, affordability, and outcomes, but I implore your readers to begin running some experiments to see what works best in your organization. Don’t get caught in the trap of believing that all job descriptions need to be rewritten or that all skills and skill gaps need to be evaluated and codified within your organization. Instead, start small and get some proof points under your belt before trying to boil the ocean.

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’ll answer this by continuing with the previous question on future-proofing advice. One of the most important things that employers can do is to have a learning and development agenda that dovetails with the long- and short-term goals of the business. Unfortunately, many employers don’t see an immediate return on investment from learning and get caught in the mindset that learning should be separated from work, instead making learning something that occurs outside of normal business hours. Moreover, many corporate learning and development agendas are only loosely tied to the goals of the business.

On the other hand, while on the surface many employees resist additional learning opportunities, they do so because they’re asked to engage in learning during their “free time” or they don’t see learning opportunities as directly relevant to their jobs. Let me be clear, most people want to learn and grow, they just don’t want to do it during their precious personal time or engage in learning for learning’s sake. Hence, the gap between the expectations of management and employees when it comes to learning cuts across two primary vectors: when learning is expected to occur, and the relevance of learning agendas.

The answer to solving this gap is to weave learning into the flow of work. This will make learning more experiential and applicable. Weaving learning into the flow of work also forces leadership to make the time for learning.

Nothing says you care more about your people than offering development opportunities that will enhance their relevance in the world of work. Alternatively, nothing says you “care less” than to assign learning activities and expect them to be completed in off hours.

We simultaneously joined a global experiment together last year called “Working From Home.” How will this experience influence the future of work?

The answer to this question relies on the balance between trust and accountability. Managers who fostered low trust, low accountability work environments likely never resolved their trust issues and spent the pandemic yearning for a return to the office so that they could continue legacy behaviors of looking over everyone’s shoulders, micromanaging workflows, and putting out fires. Leaders who had constructed organizations built on a foundation of trust and accountability likely had a very different experience and learned quickly that their team members more rapidly adapted to pandemic-related non-traditional work environments, helped their colleagues adjust, and innovated to ensure productivity and outcomes didn’t suffer.

In my opinion, this division in experiences between these two groups will lead to more distinct differences in corporate cultures. On the plus side, it will likely be more obvious which cultures are built upon a foundation of clarity, compassionate leadership, and a growth mindset versus those that are rooted in the past and legacy ways of working. This will make employee/employer alignment more transparent and will take some of the mystery out of employment decisions on both sides of the equation.

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?

It’s less of a change that I foresee and more of a backsliding that we cannot allow to happen. Specifically, we cannot allow the extreme polarization and partisanship we see in the political arena to make its way into the business sector. We’ve made great strides over the last decade on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in the workplace and research supports the hypothesis that diversity of thought, opinion, and culture yields better business outcomes.

I fear that businesses will splinter along political ideologies and social constructs that promote exclusion and division. If this happens, we’ll have to put back on our emotional suits of armor, keep our private lives completely private, not bring our “whole selves” to work, and watch what we say for fear of retaliation and reprisal.

I wish this wasn’t my answer to this question, but “hope is not a management strategy,” and we all need to actively engage to ensure that my bleak assessment does not become a reality.

What is your greatest source of optimism about the future of work?

Well after my previous answer, some might think that I’m all doom and gloom. Fortunately, my “glass half full” worldview quickly returns. I am optimistic that the momentum we’ve seen to embrace DEI, think differently about skills, and give learning leaders a “seat at the table” will continue. Business leaders have a real opportunity (and a responsibility) to show us the way to a more equitable and sustainable future by embracing a triple bottom line of profits, people, and planet.

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?

Here, I’d like to focus less on innovation and more on the tried and true. As you might expect based on my previous responses, it all comes down to relationships, not free lunch, massages, or a roof-top minigolf course. Time and again, I’ve had conversations with employees at all organizational levels that a significant source of stress is generated by difficult manager-employee and poor colleague-colleague relationships. Therefore, I have three recommendations for senior leaders to improve the mental health and wellbeing of their people (beyond ensuring the availability of mental health services as part of employee benefit plans):

  1. Invest in helping your managers be better managers. The task is daunting, but I recommend you start with building the human skills of communication, active listening, critical thinking, and compassion. Note that compassion is empathy combined with a desire to help make things better — empathy alone is insufficient.
  2. Double down on enhancing organizational clarity. I know goal setting is hard, but make sure organizational goals are clear and consistent across organizational boundaries. Stress is reduced when questions about who’s doing what and why are minimized.
  3. Invest in third-party coaching resources and deploy those resources equitably. Unlike the world of 10 years ago, coaching is no longer reserved for the elite in the organization. You can now contract with coaching networks all over the world that have specialists who are skilled in coaching individuals across multiple organizational levels digitally.

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 headline I’ve already alluded to is that companies should be striving to get their culture into the upper right quadrant of a four-box plot of trust against accountability. However, the question is how to get to that high trust, high accountability state? A critical part of the answer is learning and education.

So my specific answer to this question is to make time for learning and weave it into the flow of work to create a continuous learning foundation for the company culture to stand upon. If the people in your organization become accustomed to learning on a routine basis as part of their work, then mental agility and their willingness/ability to accept change will improve. Their ability to navigate challenging situations and to engage in constructive conflict will also be enhanced. Why? Because the act of learning requires that we become purposefully uncomfortable as we take in new information and create new ways of working based on an expanded set of knowledge and skills.

Improvements in organizational trust and accountability are then a natural offshoot of investment in learning and development. If everyone knows what everyone else is doing, understands how their work affects others downstream, and sees the green, amber, and red lights that blink alongside transparent departmental metrics, it becomes much more difficult to hide and obfuscate poor results or broken processes. As a result, the cultural norm shifts from blame/taking to collaboration/giving.

Let’s get more specific. What are your “Top 5 Trends To Track In the Future of Work?”

  1. The Reskilling Revolution. World Economic Forum estimates that up to a billion people globally will need to be reskilled by the early 2030s. The important thing to note is how reskilling differs from upskilling. Upskilling occurs when an individual must acquire new skills to remain relevant in an existing job. Reskilling is the process of acquiring a portfolio of new skills that are necessary for success in a different job.
  2. Learning and Development as a Strategic Priority. Based on the skill gaps we’re seeing today, coupled with the need to reskill a billion people over the next ten years, learning and development will need a seat at the table in the C-suite of most organizations. As mentioned earlier, learning will need to become a priority, be woven into the flow of work, and be directly connected to organizational goals to ensure its relevance.
  3. Work-to-Learn Gains Traction on Learn-to-Work. Traditional work preparedness models are “learn-to-work,” meaning that an individual takes themselves out of the workforce and learns for an extended period of time in hopes of earning a monolithic credential like a degree. While this model will continue to be relevant for some, to improve access, affordability, and outcomes, we must take the lead from other developed countries and establish more “work-to-learn” pathways such as apprenticeships where learning and work are combined.
  4. A New Normal for Work-Life Balance. New generations are staring at longer lifespans, longer working lives, and upside down demographic characteristics as population growth fails to keep up with the coming deluge of retirees. As a result, the old model of working nonstop from age 22–65 and then retiring cold turkey will be replaced by more episodic stints of employment with meaningful breaks to accommodate for a recharge, or even a reset to a different line of work. Some will opt for continuous work throughout their lifetimes but with greater emphasis on ensuring that work and life are more balanced versus the hard-charging work-then-retire mindset of previous generations.
  5. The Rise of the Compassionate Leader. I think it bears repeating that compassion is empathy combined with a desire/willingness to make a difference. I believe that employees will gravitate towards leaders and cultures that demonstrate compassion. The directive, “my way or the highway” style of leadership will be suffocated by the rise of the compassionate leader.

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?

During my tenure at Kaplan, I had the distinct privilege of getting to know the Chairman of Graham Holdings (Kaplan’s parent), Don Graham. In a speech he gave to company executives, Mr. Graham said: “Companies grow with the money they make.”

What makes this seemingly obvious and simple statement so profound is that it is a reminder of the importance of fiscal responsibility. We live in an age where it seems like money is free. Private equity and venture capital-backed companies appear on the surface to have the luxury of an unending well of capital to fund experiments and expansion plans. Our government (irrespective of which political party is in power) “prints” money like it’s going out of style and the U.S. national debt as a proportion of GDP stands at roughly 130%. Research by the World Bank suggests that debt-to-GDP ratios above 77% lead to a loss of real economic growth.

The point is that in the long run, companies must create economic returns for their shareholders. Yes, debt and leverage can put rocket boosters under a business plan, but there comes a time when a business must “stand on its own two feet” and generate positive cash flow to fund investments that ensure its future sustainability.

With that said, you may be asking, “How does this quote translate into a life lesson?” The lesson of the quote for business also applies to the economic profile of your family unit. Yes, debt can be beneficial to achieve life goals (education, home ownership, etc.), but true sustainability and financial freedom come when income sustainably exceeds expenditure and investments are self-funded.

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’m an educator, businessperson, and musician/performer. Early in my life I tried to separate these personas only to find that they naturally supported one another — making it easy to bring my “whole self” to my work.

My favorite band is the Canadian prog-rock trio Rush. As a vocalist with the range of a tenor, I grew up singing along to their music and emulated the talents of their bassist and vocalist, Geddy Lee. I’d like to sit down with Mr. Lee, not as a gushing fan but to learn more about the secrets to the band’s longevity and to peek behind the veil of secrecy that surrounds the music industry. I’m confident that I could learn a lot from him. At a minimum, I’d like to personally thank Mr. Lee for a lifetime of musical joy.

I’ll leave you with two lines from their 1980 song Freewill (Permanent Waves). “Each of us, a cell of awareness, imperfect and incomplete… I will choose a path that’s clear, I will choose Freewill.”

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?


Twitter: https://twitter.com/AndrewTemte

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LinkedIN: https://www.linkedin.com/in/atemte/

Thank you for sharing your insights and predictions. We appreciate the gift of your time and wish you continued success and good health.