Hire for a fit with your culture and your practices and opportunities. Most organizations hire too quickly and fire too slowly. Make sure your employees fit your culture. You can train for skills and capabilities, but it is hard to train for and change values. On the firing front, get rid of employees who violate your values and are disruptive. This sends the message that you will defend your values.

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 William Donaldson.

Dr. William (Willy) Donaldson is an Associate Professor of Management at Christopher Newport University. Dr. Donaldson is the Director of the CNU Luter Business Institute and Director of the Biotechnology and Management Program. Willy has over 35 years of experience as a board member and CEO, has been President of 8 companies, helped start dozens of companies, and has over 30 years of experience in higher education. Willy is the author of Simple_Complexity: A Management Book for the Rest of Us: A Guide to Systems Thinking, and Estimated Time of Departure: How I Talked My Parents to Death: A Love Story.

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.

When I was 26 and a young manager, my father became ill and asked me to join him as President of his two companies and help him transition them to new ownership. So, very early on I was thrust into leadership positions. Knowing that I had a lot to learn, I set out to surround myself with older, experienced mentors from whom I could learn how to be a good leader and President. Fortunately, my father had several very successful individuals on his board who took me under their wing and help me grow. One of these was a very senior director at a national search firm. This individual was instrumental in my growth and after we sold both companies, he had a hand in placing me in several more CEO roles.

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?

The thing that will be the same is that the most successful firms will be those that attract and retain great people by allowing them to grow in place and connect to a rich engaging purpose that inspires them. The only long-term sustainable advantage a business has is its people. Strategies, products, and services can be copied, money can be raised from the same sources, buildings, labs, and factories can be built to suit, but people make the difference.

What will change is how we engage those people and connect them to the purpose. Management must relentlessly view the business through the lens of its people and adjust the way they engage them. In some jobs and industries, this engagement will be very similar to the way it has always been done, but in others, jobs and connections will be transformed. Management must sense these trends and prepare their employees for these new realities. But this will require change. The only way people change is through learning and inspiration, not through pressure and threats.

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

Become more open and transparent and walk the talk. A lot of companies say “employees are our more important asset” but don’t do anything about it. The Gallup poll result reflects this, where upwards of 80% of the respondents say they are “disengaged” or “actively disengaged” at work. They don’t know the real purpose of the firm, how to connect to the purpose, they don’t know how their efforts contribute to the strategy or success. These results are leadership and management failures, not employee failures.

To engage employees you have to be engaging. You have to get to know them and treat them like assets rather than replaceable cogs in a machine. To do this, you have to train your managers to be open and grant real, clear “areas of freedom.”

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 suspect the gap will continue to be management teams that view employee relations as transactional and not developmental. Employees will be looking to connect and most will continue to find barren, atomistic environments that provide a paycheck and little else. The good news is with the bar set so low, any firm that truly embraces their employees as assets and invests in them will stand out.

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

The future of work will vary greatly. For employees and employers who can be flexible, there are new and exciting ways to connect and add value. Time and location are no longer barriers to certain jobs. This will be a frightening reality for some firms and employees, but with creativity and commitment, will be a great opportunity for others.

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?

The biggest changes that I see are for employers to truly embrace the notion that employees are assets and more than just cogs in their machine — to walk the talk. This will require commitment, connection, investment, and transparency. Employees must adopt a mindset of constant learning and growth if they want to connect with and flourish in companies that offer the opportunity.

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

Managers and employees alike are open to changing their mindsets and philosophies. True employee engagement is not prohibitive in any way except philosophically. There is nothing keeping employers from adopting a new mindset that embraces true engagement. We know what it entails, we just need to do 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?

It is not very innovative, in fact, it is more common sense. Treat employees like assets and value them as the same. If you know your employees, you can and will help them in ways large and small — a mindfulness break when needed, redecorating offices to be more inviting, dedicated recharge/zen rooms and times. Rather than focusing on training which is directive, focus on development which is reflexive. Get to know your employees and then you can help them in ways beyond a paycheck.

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?

Given the Gallup findings, I think the great resignation was inevitable. When management doesn’t really value employees — with money but more importantly care, commitment and engagement — they will seek alternative states, be that a job or lifestyle. Company culture is an emergent property of the management system and it reflects leadership’s style and actions. Leaders and managers must evaluate the whole of their hiring, development, and retention practices and create an environment that employees want to stay in and grow in. Absent this, employees will go elsewhere.

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

  1. Create a company culture and management practices that clearly demonstrate to potential employees your commitment to them. Elevate HR to a strategic position reporting to the CEO and charge them with looking holistically at the entire enterprise and asking if it is a place people want to work.
  2. Hire for a fit with your culture and your practices and opportunities. Most organizations hire too quickly and fire too slowly. Make sure your employees fit your culture. You can train for skills and capabilities, but it is hard to train for and change values. On the firing front, get rid of employees who violate your values and are disruptive. This sends the message that you will defend your values.
  3. Convert from a training mindset to a development mindset. Training is usually transactional, designed to be efficient for the employer, and seldom assesses whether the employees learned anything. Development specifically seeks answers and tracks the latter.
  4. Include your employees in and connect them to a rich engaging purpose. Convert your vision into a rich engaging purpose and use language that inspires employees to connect to that purpose. Open up your strategy and action plans to employees throughout the company so they can see where they fit in and how they add value.
  5. Constantly scan for new and creative ways to attract, retain, and enable great employee engagement and contribution. William Gibson, the futurist, said “the future is already here, it is just unevenly distributed.” There are already very effective ways to use new technology and trends in your business being used somewhere in the world. Get outside of your company and go find them.

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?

A mentor of mine, Jim Rohn, told me “don’t just try to get through the day, get from the day. Soak it all in, be alert and curious. Wherever you are BE THERE!” This philosophy really shaped my experiences and made me more present in my life and the lives of my employees. It is easy to get caught up in the drumbeat and mania of work and competition and life and miss the rich information and experiences all around you.

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 share coffee or lunch with Bill Gates. He seems to be using his vast wealth and influence to learn about mankind’s and the planet’s condition and to assemble resources and people to help around the world.

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 work — William Donaldson, Associate Professor, Christopher Newport University

LinkedIn — https://www.linkedin.com/in/willydonaldson/

My Book — Simple_Complexity

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