Leaders must target the outcome, not the process. Leaders need to give people the autonomy to complete work in the way that is most effective for them, as long as it achieves their desired outcome. Then people can continue to work their own way. We tell them, “This is the outcome you need to deliver. You can work out how to get there. We will give you guidelines on how to get there, but we will give you the opportunity to shape your workday.” Focusing on outcomes like this is the way to do things moving forward.
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 Martin Birch.
Martin Birch is the CEO and President of ibml. He has 20 years of experience as an international business leader within the intelligent information management industry. Prior to joining ibml in 2017, he spent 11 years at Kodak-Alaris and Kodak Ltd. as managing director of document imaging in Europe, Africa, the Middle East and Russia, and as general manager and vice president for the United States and Canada. Since 2017, he has served in various roles, including chairman, board member and currently as the treasurer for the Association for Intelligent Information Management (AIIM).
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.
There are really a couple of them that have stayed with me throughout my life. The first one is probably one of the biggest influences in my life — my grandmother. She was one of these ladies who had very interesting philosophies and had many interesting sayings. One of the things she would say that stayed with me was: “treat others, not as you would like to be treated, but as they would like to be treated.”
I didn’t really understand it as a kid, but as I got older, I realized it was a gift to try to see people through their own eyes and treating them as the individuals they are. I’ve really carried that with me throughout my life.
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?
This feels like an impossible question to answer. If anyone tells you that they know what is going to happen in the world in the next 10–15 years, you can pretty much guarantee that they are wrong.
If you look at where we are currently, we are in the middle of this thing called “the Great Resignation.” I prefer the term “the Great Reinvention.” I think people in the last few years have reassessed what is important to them. Is it money? Family? Flexibility? Is it self-improvement? The chance for a career change or promotion? As individuals, people have started to question these things. If you look at studies, you can see the data that shows people’s desire for a new job has increased every quarter since June 2020. It’s not that people are leaving the workforce, but they are open to change. That’s why I call it “the Great Reinvention.”
This has very important ramifications for the future in general and the future of work. People can say millennials want free food and gyms at their offices, but this is overly simplistic. We really can’t say that every person in a particular generation wants the same things (and these things are not benefits as much as they are parts of company culture). The reality is that people in 15–20 years will want the same things they want today, and that is flexibility. It’s up to the workplace to adapt and give the individuals what they need, especially if they want the right people to be working for them. Companies need to focus on and measure outcomes, and where possible, allow individuals the autonomy to work out how to deliver them.
People’s drives and needs will be the same in 10–15 years, but the companies that will succeed and continue to thrive will be the companies that embrace individualism. The companies that allow people to work the way that works for them will be the ones that thrive.
What advice would you offer to employers who want to future-proof their organizations?
Be comfortable with flexibility. Don’t take a one-size-fits-all philosophy. Managers and team leaders have to get to know their people as individuals and genuinely care about them. You can’t fool people because people will always spot a phony. Your managers and leaders must treat people not as resources but as actual people. They must care about them because they are part of the company family and a key part of what makes the company strong.
Make sure you care about each employee. Try and enable people to actually have fun at work. We spend so much time working, whether at home or in the office, that it is important to cultivate relationships with our coworkers and leaders. We need to be interacting with them and connecting with them. The ability to bring people together and enable them to have fun together is very important when it comes to creating workplace bonds and a sense of mutual support.
This is the foundation of company culture. A positive culture is very important, but not something you can impose upon people. Company culture is a living organism that develops itself, and while you cannot impose it, you can help the right one develop. My advice would be to focus on the positive, weed out the naysayers and the narcissists, and encourage those who are positive and genuinely care.
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 companies that will succeed and thrive over the next few years are the ones that will focus on making sure there are no gaps. The companies that aren’t prioritizing flexibility and treating their employees as individuals (versus treating them as cogs within a wheel) will be the ones that don’t succeed. Everything we’ve discussed in the previous few questions applies here. The pace of change is moving faster than ever, and leaders need to move at a similar pace.
We simultaneously joined a global experiment together last year called “Working From Home.” How will this experience influence the future of work?
Once again, this goes back to the concepts we have discussed in previous questions, but I really think we cannot emphasize them enough. Employees (in certain industries, of course) have proven that they can work from home. This is obviously different if you are working in construction or as a nurse. But for the most part, people in tech can work from home. The pace of digital transformation has markedly increased, and people adapted. They’ve proven they are capable. Leaders need to let go of some of the control around how work gets done and focus on the outcomes.
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?
After the pandemic, we’ve been reminded of our own mortality. We’ve been reminded that life is short, and that means that we are less inclined to settle. We want the best for ourselves and our families. If we think about the future of work, we have to keep that flexibility in mind. Give them the chance to do the work their own way.
People also want purpose and to know that what they are doing is important. Companies must understand and communicate the big picture of where the company is going. They need to communicate how departments and people reach the overall goal the company is striving toward. Then they can find their own sense of belonging and purpose within that framework.
This helps employees feel much more engaged and connected to the company. You build a sense of teamwork, of going after something together. If you have this, people will be much more loyal. They feel responsible for a group that is much larger than just themselves. They want to feel like they can make a contribution to the bigger goal and picture.
What is your greatest source of optimism about the future of work?
I am a natural optimist and a positive person, not just about the future of work, but about the future of the human race, even with everything that’s going on right now. We always overcome and move forward. I am a big believer in people, and I truly believe that good will always triumph.
For me, the power of positivity doesn’t mean you are unaware of the negative things that happen on your journey. I’m aware that there are always roadblocks, but being a positive person means taking those roadblocks and working through them. Success is a journey. As long as we have the destination in mind and we know where we are going, we will make it there. Never stop moving forward.
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?
The changes over the last few years have caused a huge amount of stress that clearly affects people’s mental well-being. There have been so many studies that address the levels of stress, and even PTSD, that people have experienced due to the challenges of the last two years. Organizations are responding to this by introducing mental health programs in their benefits packages. To me, that’s table stakes. Nowadays, you must have these benefits. This is one of the fundamental things we must offer as leaders. We must also care about every single person in our companies. We must be open and vulnerable with them. We must acknowledge that we are all experiencing stress and dealing with it in different ways, and it has to go deeper than simply asking perfunctory questions like, “How are you doing?”
Most people are reluctant to discuss their mental health with their employer in case it comes across as a red flag, but we have to accept that everyone is going to experience these challenges at some point in their lives, and we need to talk about it, be vulnerable, and get through it together. Talk to your HR leaders about it, but it is also the responsibility of every leader to care about the well-being of their people. If your employees feel safe enough to share how they are really doing, you know you have created a safe, positive work environment.
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?
This goes back to what I said earlier about “the Great Reinvention” and how companies must move into the future. A big part of this is having the right technologies to adapt to the future. We have to give people a toolset, in terms of tech, to work when, where, and how they can be most effective. We’ve seen the start of this already, where the IT departments of the world spent the first six months of the pandemic basically enabling people to work from home, whether that meant sending them big monitors, giving them a stipend to buy a desk or money to upgrade to a faster bandwidth with their internet provider. This is just going to keep going. Technology will only continue to adapt as our workforce does.
There is also huge flexibility we are seeing in the way people are blending home life and work life. People are now able to go on a beach vacation with their family but take time for work calls. People can take their kids to school, log on around mid-morning, pick their kids up in the afternoon, and continue working after they put them to bed. Companies, and their tech, need to evolve to meet the demands of this more integrated workforce and remove the expectation of people sitting at their desks from 9 to 5.
Employers also must be concerned with retaining their employees as much as they think about attracting new ones. Employers need to be an attractive choice for employees, or no one will want to work for them. We need to adopt this focus of meeting the needs of the individual. You need to start with competitive compensation, but this isn’t why people stay. They stay because of flexibility and because they belong and feel valued and part of something bigger than just a job. We saw this during the pandemic. People worked from home for a while, and they got used to it, so when employers began to call them back to the office, there was resistance there. People had experienced a new way of working and an individual way of working that suited them. They got to do it their own way, and they quite liked it. There was a reluctance to go back to the way things were before. Companies’ rigidity and inability to change with the times is, I believe, a large part of why we’re seeing the Great Resignation playing out now.
Let’s get more specific. What are your “Top 5 Trends To Track In the Future of Work?”
- Focus on personal development and training. We’ve got to create a culture where people aren’t just turning up for work, but they are growing as individuals. Someone once said to me, “What if we spend all of this time and money training someone, and they leave?” I replied, “What if we don’t, and they stay?” We must, as leaders, focus on cultivating employees’ individuality and helping them grow as a person.
- Create the right environment to retain and attract employees. The Great Reinvention is giving both employees and companies a chance to reinvent themselves. If you want to hire a certain type of person, but you simply cannot seem to attract them, ask yourself what you could do better. How can you improve to attract and retain that “ideal” employee? Companies often complain about the workforce without doing any internal evaluation. This needs to change.
- Companies must offer flexibility and competitive pay. This is no longer a perk but a mandatory aspect of the next generation of workers. Flexibility will be key to attracting and retaining top-tier employees as well. I think also that flexibility is seeing that blending of home life and work life, where you’re not working continuously eight to 10 hours a day. Instead, you may take an hour in the morning to take the kids to school or walk the dog, or have lunch outside in the garden. The productivity that the business outcome that you have to create for the company still exists, but you can work your own way toward achieving it. Companies should also link pay to performance and outcomes, not time. Employees want to feel rewarded for their hard work and efforts versus getting wage increases to match inflation year over year (and with the rate inflation is increasing, companies are not truly adhering to this principle anyways). Create understandable roadmaps for employee success and reward them accordingly.
- Leaders must target the outcome, not the process. Leaders need to give people the autonomy to complete work in the way that is most effective for them, as long as it achieves their desired outcome. Then people can continue to work their own way. We tell them, “This is the outcome you need to deliver. You can work out how to get there. We will give you guidelines on how to get there, but we will give you the opportunity to shape your workday.” Focusing on outcomes like this is the way to do things moving forward.
- Supply employees with the tools they need to succeed in a digital workplace. This is one way my company is helping people prepare for the future of work. With our cloud-based technology, we’re enabling people to work remotely and work from anywhere in a secure fashion. Powering our technology with robotic process automation really helps people reduce their workload for mundane, repetitive tasks. We also keep in mind that we will be dealing with multiple generations in the workforce at once, and we must be able to adapt based on people’s needs. We help companies automate and digitize business processes so that they can be more consistent and support people for the future of work.
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?
“We care, we are relentless, and we do the right thing.” These are the values we have developed as a business. That last one is very important to me. If we can answer that question truthfully and be proud of our answer, I know we can’t go wrong.
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 love to talk to anyone with passion and lively wit. If I could have had time to sit down with Robin Williams, that would have been amazing. A close second to him would be Jim Carrey. I love the cheeky, sharp wit and an interesting take on life.
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?
I am on LinkedIn. Feel free to connect with me there!
Thank you for sharing your insights and predictions. We appreciate the gift of your time and wish you continued success and good health.