Nurturing Talent Versatility: Organizations will continue to experience significant disruption driven by technology advancements, effects of an ongoing pandemic, and an aging workforce. This will require that business strategies pivot more frequently and dramatically than in previous years.
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. Tim Scudder.
Dr. Tim Scudder is a founder and principal of Core Strengths, a global workplace assessment and training provider specializing in improving team performance by strengthening workplace relationships. He is the author of several books and training programs focused on leadership development, teamwork, conflict management, and communication. He is world’s leading expert on the SDI 2.0 assessment and has contributed to its recent research and development and application to build relationship intelligence.
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.
My doctoral work in Human and Organizational Systems totally changed the way I think and improved my ability to develop evidence-based products. The key moment was when I realized I had the data to validate a previously untested element of Sigmund Freud’s views on normal personality types. My research in that area ended up providing the evidence we needed to improve the SDI assessment and make it the SDI 2.0.
On a personal level, being the father of three girls is a huge part of my identity, so whatever I do professionally, I always want to be “dad.”
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?
With confidence, I predict that in 10–15 years people will still need to get along at work. They will still need to collaborate, to understand each other, and to communicate effectively. And I predict that we will continue to make mistakes and experience a lot of conflict that could have been prevented.
What’s different is how that collaboration and communication will happen. Obviously, we’ve seen huge adoption of technology in response to COVID, and that’s made us realize that we can work in different ways, which I think will make us more receptive to upcoming changes.
I expect that the Internet of Things and Artificial Intelligence will be pervasive in 10–15 years. But the more we rely on artificial intelligence to process information, the more important human relationship intelligence will be. The more we relegate routine processing to machines, the more we are going to need strong interpersonal relationships so we can work well together.
What advice would you offer to employers who want to future-proof their organizations?
First, don’t think you can actually future-proof your organization. You simply cannot anticipate everything.
Second, if you want a more agile organization that can respond to novel threats and opportunities, you need a clear purpose so people can make decisions that are aligned with that purpose. In my own organization, our purpose is simply to improve relationships. So when COVID caught us by surprise and the corporate classroom closed in 2020, we were ready to serve our customers through virtual facilitation and a technology platform that made our assessments and related workplace tips available on-demand. We never confused our purpose with our products.
You have to avoid the temptation of defining your organization by what it does or what it sells. Instead talk about why it does it. Classic example: 100 years ago in the US some of the biggest organizations were railroads. If they had stated their purpose as transporting goods and people, they might have entered the automobile, trucking, airline, or container shipping industries. But they thought of themselves based on what they do: railroad operators, so they missed the proverbial boat.
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?
One gap I see already forming is a debate around normal working hours. With fewer people in the office, the idea of being open between certain hours is being challenged. And when people can work from home, some may prefer to get started at 6 a.m. instead of 8 a.m. — while others want to take their exercise in the morning and extend their working hours into the evening.
Employees will say, “It doesn’t matter when we do our work, so long as we get it done.” And employers will counter, “we need to have some predictability so we can plan and schedule.” I think the solution is going to be flexibility within boundaries. For example, everyone must be available between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.,, and all meetings should be scheduled between those hours to allow people flexibility. But this will get more complicated with a distributed workforce in multiple time zones.
Another gap is whether working remotely is a right to be claimed by employees or a privilege to be granted by employers. We see this starting already, and I think it is going to intensify. You know, if people are comfortable going to restaurants and concerts, they can’t realistically claim health concerns about going to the office. On the other hand, you have to be in a restaurant or in the concert hall to have the full experience, and we’ve seen that many people don’t have to be in the office to do their work. I think the key to this will be clarity around what is required to be in-person, and what is preferable. I think employers will be tempted to require what they prefer, and that some form of compromise will be needed to attract and retain talented people.
We simultaneously joined a global experiment together last year called “Working From Home.” How will this experience influence the future of work?
First off, not everybody got the opportunity to work from home. So a big influence is a division between people whose jobs give them that flexibility and those who had to show up in person despite the increased risk of personal illness. I was fortunate to be able to work from home, but many people didn’t have that option — people in transportation, hospitality, construction, healthcare, emergency services, etc.
So for those in the work-from home group, I hope they are all more tolerant and kind when they receive service from the “still go to work” group.
As for how the work from home experience will influence the future of work for some of us, there are benefits and risks. On the risk side, we have people who only know each other through technology and will never meet in person. Tightly scheduled video interactions and messaging services may not give people the opportunity to develop strong relationships — which means the relationship bonds may not be strong enough for people to stick with their organization through challenging situations.
Working from home, whether 100% or partial, means a lot more time looking at computer screens, and not making real eye-contact. But we still need to connect interpersonally. So I think we will see a lot more services that aim to improve interactions. That’s what our customers appreciate about our digital platform now, and we are aiming to improve the future of work by adding coaching functions to our platform, along with more powerful integrations to existing services like Microsoft Teams.
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?
Taking a long-term view, I’m concerned about education and how it prepares people for future work. We saw a huge difference in the way technology was implemented in schools between rich and poor communities. We have to address this if we want a better future for today’s children. It’s really about access to information and connectivity — access during the formative educational years is a starting point to level the playing field and make working conditions work for everyone.
In the US, specifically, it seems we will need to allow more immigrants or start paying higher wages for some jobs. We have a situation now in many industries, like trucking, food service, and hospitality, where there are shortages of workers. Yet we are turning away potential workers at the border instead of finding a way to employ them. The alternative is to increase the desirability and value of these jobs so more people will want them. But continuing to offer low wages while turning away people who want to work seems like a bad idea.
What is your greatest source of optimism about the future of work?
Human potential. We are remarkably creative and resilient. And we are social creatures. We will find a way to make this work. I know this because we experience conflict when things go wrong, and our intrinsic motives drive us to resolve conflict in such a way that we feel good about ourselves and our relationships again.
The fact that we know we are uncomfortable gives me great hope. So we will try to create a more positive, productive future. Right now, there is a lot of focus on the technology part of the solution. We’re spending less time asking, “Can you hear me?” and, “Is my video working?” Now we can start asking, “Do you understand me?” and, “Do you see what I mean?” That’s the relationship intelligence part.
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?
Well, you know loneliness causes depression — not the other way around. And reconnecting to people and things that matter can cure a lot of the depression that has plagued people as they’ve been more isolated to avoid COVID.
So the two main strategies are to facilitate connections and focus on meaningful work. Remote work makes it easier to connect with people throughout the organization, no matter where they are located. Many employers are also giving greater flexibility so employees can participate in social events outside of work.
The other strategy around more meaningful work also has a relationship component. Many organizations are increasing their focus on the role managers play as coaches. And that’s something we are actively engaged in as well — adding functions to our tech platform to help managers improve their coaching relationships at work and have meaningful conversations that engage people more fully.
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?
I think the most important message is that the changes will never stop. There is no such thing as getting back to normal, because what is normal anyway? Constant change and evolution is normal. And I think cultures need to evolve by helping people connect with purpose. Organizations are systems with a purpose. But human systems are different from, say, mechanical systems, because humans have purposes of their own that are independent of the organization.
So leaders, managers, and team members all need to understand each other more fully. They need to know their underlying motives — and how their personal motives can be fulfilled through work. It’s not a binary approach to engagement — like people are either engaged or not engaged. Instead, we have to ask what, exactly, we are engaging in each person. When we engage the core motives of their personality, we can co-create a more attractive and compelling future.
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.)
- Work-Life Integration (not balance):
I see a lot more focus on integrating work and life — especially with work from home, the lines are blurring. The commute down the hallway at home doesn’t give people the mental transition they used to get in the car or train. Dogs and cats now regularly make guest appearances on video calls. And there is the constant competition of what needs to be done at home as well as the work at hand. But these are superficial examples.
The bigger trend is for employers to start really caring about their employees as whole persons — taking an interest in why they work, learning about their passions, hobbies, interests, etc. Some organizations, my own included, give employees some flexibility in their development — funding any type of training experience, even if it is not directly work related. I’ll be using my “development dollars” to attend a weekend-long motorcycle racing school. And I’ll probably learn something that is relevant to my work — or at least have a good story to tell in my public speaking.
2. Nurturing Talent Versatility:
Organizations will continue to experience significant disruption driven by technology advancements, effects of an ongoing pandemic, and an aging workforce. This will require that business strategies pivot more frequently and dramatically than in previous years.
Through attraction, assimilation, and attrition (not to mention culture fit biases), organizations tend to over-index on certain work styles and undervalue others. This often results in employee populations lacking the talent diversity and versatility to support strategic pivots. For example, innovative, fast-moving companies tend to lack the process-oriented, structure-focused employees they need to drive new initiatives related to tightening up operations, controlling costs, and documenting standard procedures.
In the future of work, organizations will need to nurture a more diverse and versatile talent ecosystem from which to draw upon to support the execution of new strategies.
3. Proactively Managing Bias:
Psychometrics have long been used to understand and classify our values and behaviors. The future of work requires that we also leverage these scientific tools to increase awareness and management of our own unconscious biases. Our values and motives make us who we are. However, they also create lenses that can degrade the fairness and accuracy of talent-related decisions at work.
Rather than using psychometrics to try to eliminate bias, we are using them to highlight areas where bias may exist so it can be managed. We’ve seen that trying to eliminate bias is a fool’s errand; it’s just not possible. But if we can help, for example, a manager with a bias toward action to be more tolerant of an employee with a bias toward research, they will be able to work better together.
Beyond personality, there remains a lot of work to be done in terms of managing bias that is based on racial, gender, religious, or political factors. I think one of the keys to reducing the negative effects of these biases is to acknowledge them, not to simply tell people not to be biased.
4. Empowering the Manager as Coach:
All managers are coaches, whether they want to be or not. Whether they are any good at it or not (or incorrectly think they are great at it). In the future of work, organizations will rely on managers as the most scalable way to drive the growth of employees. Employees, especially the next generation workforce, demand career growth opportunities. Otherwise employees will continue to leave the organizations in record numbers.
The future of coaching is recognizing it for what it is: a relationship. In order for managers to be effective coaches for the modern workforce, they must master the coach mindset, tailor their approach to the coachee, and both parties must co-create the coaching relationship.
I think this idea of manager as coach is gaining importance as more people work from home. Having regularly scheduled coaching conversations with your manager helps you stay connected on a personal level, and helps ensure that your manager knows what you are contributing — since they don’t get to observe you sitting at your desk every day. Whether these coaching conversations are done virtually or in person, they also help with my first trend — work-life integration.
5. Humanizing the Tech Experience:
I think we are going to see a lot more personalization of technology. People want to be known for who they are, not just what they do. Microsoft’s new Viva service is an example of this. What I see with our customers is an increased willingness to collaborate and share some personal information openly within the arena of an organization. We are helping many of our customers make personality and strengths information available within teams. This helps all team members — including the manager — understand what drives each member.
It also facilitates the roll-up of strengths data to get a view into the culture of the team. From there, we can use technology to compare the current culture to the ideal, and help teams co-create a culture that works for them as people, not just as task-doers.
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?
Psychoanalyst Erich Fromm once wrote, “In the art of living, we are both the artist and the object of our art, we are the sculptor and the marble; the physician and the patient.”
I like this quote because it reminds me that we create ourselves through our choices — and that each of us is, ultimately, accountable for the person we become. I also like the fact that he included the physician and patient. It shows that we have the ability to know when we are hurting, and we have the strength within us to find our way back to productive and healthy living, which includes healthy and productive relationships at work.
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.
Just one person? Can I say two names? Breakfast and lunch. Carol Dweck and Daniel Pink. I have long admired, referenced, and used their ideas in my own work. I’d love to just talk with either or both of them to learn how they came to understand the world as they do, what they are working on now, and what they would do differently if given the opportunity. And if they have not met each other, I’d love to be able to make the introduction. Brunch for three. My treat.
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?
Our website, corestrengths.com, is always the best place to stay up to date on what I’m working on. The best way to connect with me is by reaching out via LinkedIn or our Core Strengths contact us page.
Thank you for sharing your insights and predictions. We appreciate the gift of your time and wish you continued success and good health.