Quantitative assessments will become increasingly more significant during the hiring process. As companies seek to build more diverse and well-rounded teams while avoiding internal or self-selection biases, they will need to become more data-driven and more quantitative. Smart companies will rely on as much data and objective information about an applicant as possible to make informed decisions about the best candidates to bring on board.
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 Michael Kieran.
Michael Kieran is Tray.io’s Head of Talent, leading the charge to grow the automation leader’s world-class team. Previously, he headed up recruiting for information security leader Duo, scaling the company’s team 10x while building a new C-suite and new generation of V-level hires. He believes strongly that people are a company’s greatest asset and greatest competitive advantage.
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.
One story that continues to come to mind is from a sales job I worked earlier in my career. I can recall having a phone call with an executive customer at a major manufacturing firm. That day, he was as collected and professional as he ever was, and the conversation seemed to be going well until he calmly requested that we reschedule the call. Later I learned that there had been a major accident at his company’s manufacturing plants, which meant that he, as a leader, needed to look after his team members and contact their families. I was lucky enough to later become friends with this executive, who taught me how to remain present in the moment, even when other matters are calling.
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?
We’re currently seeing the impact of “The Great Resignation,” as the pandemic has led employees everywhere to reflect on their self-worth and priorities. As we know, many are choosing to prioritize work-life balance, happiness, and fulfillment in their careers, which will surely have an effect on the workforce of the future.
If there was any kind of “power dynamic” in play between employers and employees, the balance has permanently shifted. Now, employees have a larger say in the conditions they need to stay engaged at their companies. Businesses who ignore the paradigm shift and continue to approach recruiting as nothing more than a numbers game will continue to struggle with churn and retention. As every talent leader has felt in the last year, employee attrition is painful and costly–there’s a real and significant cost associated with hiring just one candidate, across the many hours of sourcing, interviews, candidate tests, and follow-up meetings.
Ten years from now, I think we’ll see that prioritizing employee well-being will become an industry standard, and the companies that do this well will flourish. Companies that cling to the outdated approach of “hire, churn, repeat” will find it harder to succeed in an increasingly competitive market.
I don’t see a future where employees are content with their paychecks alone. We know there are many other factors that determine an employee’s likelihood of staying with a company, like prioritizing employee well-being, work-life balance, and offering professional development opportunities.
I also expect to see increased adoption of productivity-enhancing tools, such as low-code automation, as traditionally non-technical line-of-business employees seek to upskill and streamline their day-to-day tasks. As many roles become more technical and people have more technical skill-sets and use tools like Tray.io, we’ll probably also see more focus on soft skills in the hiring process. Employers are going to want to assess candidates based on more than just technical aptitude. They’re going to want to look for non-technical indicators of success, such as having unique perspectives and problem-solving skills they can use to actively drive innovation.
What will remain unchanged? I’m sure there will always be a need for talented people in the workforce, and having the best team will continue to be an unbeatable competitive advantage.
What advice would you offer to employers who want to future-proof their organizations?
If the Great Resignation has taught us one thing, it is that employees now have a healthy entitlement to choice. They’re looking in the mirror and asking themselves whether they’re happy. And if the answer is no, they’re taking action. Employees want to work for companies where they feel valued and where the work aligns with both their professional development goals and their personal values. Companies that acknowledge and appreciate that employees have a right to being exceptionally happy with their work and passionate about what they’re doing will be able to successfully attract and retain talent going forward.
To do this, employers must do two things. First, to drive a continuous candidate pipeline, focus on what differentiates their company from others. Second, to improve retention, prioritize a workplace culture that uplifts employees and is centered on employee happiness. As we have seen over the past two years, employees at a company that doesn’t prioritize their well-being will seek opportunities at another company that will.
From an HR and recruiting perspective, all stages of the hiring process and employee experience are opportunities to future-proof your organization. Every company focuses on gimmicky perks or the usual line of “great people, great culture, growing like crazy” (who isn’t?). In the long run, when you emphasize what makes your company unique, you’re more likely to attract talent who want to be a part of your organization’s vision and contribute to its growth.
All employers need to be focusing on employee retention now. Retention is not only a necessity for maintaining top talent and preventing brain drain, but a financial necessity for companies that want to minimize wasted time and resources backfilling roles.
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 of the largest gaps between employee expectations and employer offerings will likely be around a flexible approach to work hours and remote work. We’re starting to see larger organizations begin to set plans for a return to the office, but at the same time we’re seeing employee sentiment remain largely opposed to going back to the standard 9–5 in-office work format. Companies of all sizes will need to deal with the opposition to return to work, or they will continue to lose talent — especially technical talent — to smaller, more flexible startups. Employee retention today requires responsiveness and dedication to bettering the employee experience.
Employees are also increasingly asking for options to further their professional development and grow their skill set. To accommodate this, companies should make it a policy to provide employees with non-judgemental opportunities to expand their professional skill sets.
Operationally, companies will see greater retention from employees that aren’t burned out on time-consuming, manual work. It probably isn’t a bad idea to look into process automation and software integration solutions that will mitigate the growing technical challenges of modern knowledge workers relying on so many different software products. Empowering employees to focus on challenging, high-value tasks means more meaningful projects that may help team members feel more fulfilled while working with you. (They’ll also probably get more work done, faster, which isn’t a bad thing either.)
We simultaneously joined a global experiment together last year called “Working From Home.” How will this experience influence the future of work?
Our collective experience of working from home has thrown out the age-old corporate office structure that America — and the world — has been operating in for the last seventy plus years. Productivity is no longer tied to working out of an office, or to a strict 9-to-5 schedule. I think, for the most part, we’re seeing the end of large corporate headquarters. Remote work has proved hugely successful and opened up the hiring market for organizations to recruit and hire regardless of geographical boundaries. Major tech firms such as Twitter and Dropbox have announced that employees can work from home indefinitely. I think we’re only going to see the trend continue.
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?
Personally, I think we’ll look back on the 2020s much like we today look back and remember the 1960s. The pandemic has created a resurgence of liberty as a priority. We’ve seen the prioritization of personal liberty come through in how society processed government policy around the pandemic, how equality and representation from underrepresented groups has made considerable gains, and I believe we will continue to see more and more global, dramatic events take place, much like in the 1960s.
As we are still in the early years of this decade, I personally believe it will continue to be eventful and shape the next 50 years in a significant way.
What is your greatest source of optimism about the future of work?
I am most inspired by the fact that employees are starting to realize the power they’ve always had to shape their work cultures and take charge of their careers. I think this will lead to not only a healthier and happier workforce, but will translate real innovation and company growth for companies that are smart enough to really invest in employee experience.
It’s also inspiring to see so many companies emphasizing the importance of hiring individuals with diverse backgrounds and perspectives and shifting away from performative DEI initiatives. Hiring individuals who bring differing life experiences to the table allows companies to innovate their operations and systems beyond what a totally homogeneous team can do. For sales organizations, a more diverse team can spot hidden opportunities in under-leveraged markets. For talent teams, a more diverse team can track down a wider range of suitable candidates for any given position, opening more opportunities and more likelihood of hiring a strong fit. In the next five years, I think we will see many more companies recognize the full value of diverse teams.
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 way that workplaces look has changed drastically over the past two years. Many employees have come to appreciate the ability to work outside of the office and keep more flexible hours. I think that some degree of workplace flexibility is non-negotiable at this point.
Smart companies are looking into ways to lean into flexibility beyond the dreaded Zoom calls by enabling asynchronous communication via internal chat tools, allowing for flex days, and even looking into operational boosts, such as process automation, to streamline away time-consuming manual tasks so team members can spend those important work hours on the most important stuff.
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?
- Here’s the message: Improve your employee experience and success, and longevity will follow. I still believe that a company’s team is its most valuable asset, which is why companies must prioritize a better full-cycle employee experience, or risk continuing to lose their most valuable resource: the talented people who built something amazing yesterday, but are walking out the door today.
- There are many opportunities to improve the employee experience in the modern workplace. More proactive and attentive outreach from your talent teams make your candidates feel like more than just a number, and will make them more likely to remember you and recommend you to their social circle, even if they decline your offer right this moment. A more inclusive work environment that offers many opportunities to learn and grow professionally and personally incentivizes employees to stick around and not only become better at what they do, but also to become better people.
- Even operational improvements, such as implementing process automation across your organization, can improve employee experience, as well as productivity. Why would anyone invest heavily in searching for and eventually finding the most talented candidate, only to put them in front of a bunch of time-consuming manual work? Your company wants the absolute most from its team members–to have them tackling the most interesting and high-value challenges. Your team members want to be doing the same.
Let’s get more specific. What are your “Top 5 Trends To Track In the Future of Work?”
- Diverse leadership will minimize product and communication shortcomings. What team is more likely to develop products and shape multifaceted communications: A team of people who all come from the same town, all went to the same school, and all look and sound the same, or a team with individuals who have varying expertise, perspectives, and life experiences? Of course, it’s the latter. Diverse teams are the future of successful companies, because it takes a combination of unique perspectives, experiences, and knowledge to develop a complete product or service that meets the needs of an equally diverse end user audience.
- Facilitating employee happiness and work-life balance will become table stakes across industries. We’ve seen a dramatic rise in employee burnout as pandemic-induced remote work blurred the lines between work hours and off hours, particularly for those in technical roles. Increased burnout has significantly contributed to the increase in turnover and the “Great Resignation” over the past 18 months. If companies do not prioritize the well-being of their IT departments, they risk increased attrition and falling behind on innovation initiatives, which can negatively impact business growth. Technology such as low-code automation and integration platforms can play a key role in transforming the future of work by empowering technical and non-technical employees alike to automate manual and repetitive tasks, reducing the strain on employees’ time and ensuring everyone can work more sensible hours.
- Citizen development will gain prominence. With automation and integration demands at an all-time high, there will be a rapid rise in the number of citizen developers, individuals who aren’t software engineers, but are capitalizing on the power of low-code to address the technical challenges they face in their day-to-day operations. Citizen developers can stand up bespoke integrations and automated processes that directly solve their unique business challenges. They also spend less time bashing their heads against a wall over software-related bottlenecks or waiting for IT support on helpdesk tickets, and instead self-service their own tech issues and focus on projects that are meaningful and fulfilling.
- Companies will prioritize new hires who are “culture adds.” Companies have traditionally centered hiring practices around finding candidates that will complement their existing work culture, aka a “culture fit.” New hiring practices should focus on choosing talented candidates with a diverse array of skills and knowledge that lets companies continue to expand their team’s ability to innovate and stand out from competitors. The new hiring perspective will be less about “fit” and more about “culture add.”
- Quantitative assessments will become increasingly more significant during the hiring process. As companies seek to build more diverse and well-rounded teams while avoiding internal or self-selection biases, they will need to become more data-driven and more quantitative. Smart companies will rely on as much data and objective information about an applicant as possible to make informed decisions about the best candidates to bring on board.
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?
The most significant life lesson quote that comes to mind is from Dr. Maya Angelou, “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” This message has been reinforced through the actions and insights of the people who inspire me most — my grandfather, Dug Song (my former CEO at Duo), and Leyla Seka, founder of Black Venture Institute.
When faced with difficult decisions, these role models all took the high road. They carefully weighed their options on what to say and what actions to take and always chose the path that contributed to the greater good of their companies and communities. Throughout my career, they have taught me that short-term gains are fleeting, while living and acting and working from a place of ethics will always yield the best results long term.
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 loved the article you all did with Baron Davis. To me he is what a modern Renaissance man is. He’s excelled in sports, the arts, business, philanthropy and social impact, and as I consider myself somewhat of a serial hobbyist, chasing excellence in anything I take on, I could learn a lot from him, I’m sure.
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?
Please feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/karwani/, where I share hiring updates, posts about the importance of team diversity, and ways that Tray.io is innovating the future of work.
Thank you for sharing your insights and predictions. We appreciate the gift of your time and wish you continued success and good health.
Thank you for the opportunity to speak with you about the future of work.