Employee performance is measured more based on outcomes and business metrics rather than time-related metrics.
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 Mohan Lakhamraju.
Mohan founded Great Learning with a mission to enable career success for professionals everywhere through accessible high quality, transformational learning. Great Learning has to date delivered over 75 million hours of impactful learning to over 3 million learners from over 170 countries. Mohan received a B. Tech in Computer Science from Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Bombay, an MS in Computer Science from the University of California, Berkeley, and an MBA from Stanford Business School. Prior to starting Great Learning, Mohan spent close to 10 years in Silicon Valley, first as an entrepreneur helping build Stratify (now a division of HP) and then as a VC at Draper Fisher Jurvetson (DFJ). He also served as managing director for Tiger Global in India, where he focused on investments in India and other emerging markets.
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 life has been completely shaped and transformed by the educational experiences I’ve had starting with IIT Bombay in India and then Berkeley and Stanford. The learning and exposure that I received through these experiences have impacted every aspect of my life and have resulted in the opportunities that have shaped my career. This is also the reason why I am such a deep believer in the transformational power of high-quality education, and why I chose to focus on impactful education as an entrepreneur for the past 11 years.
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?
I believe that a talented and motivated workforce will continue to be the most significant determinant of a company’s success, as it has been. This requires that organizations will have to always be focused on hiring and retaining the most talented, diverse and driven workforce. Second, while Covid has forced a rapid transformation leading to distributed workforces and working models, there is no substitute for fostering personal connections and creating an emotional connection with the organization through in-person interactions. Remote work is definitely weakening the connection between the workforce, and the employer that needs to be addressed through hybrid models. Lastly, fulfillment for employees comes much more from relating to the mission, purpose and values of a company than from free coffee and gym. Thus, the most successful companies will be those that continue to engage their workforce in their mission and values.
The kind of work, and therefore the nature of the workforce that will drive success for organizations, is changing and will be substantially different 10–15 years from now. Most routine tasks and workflows will get automated, and increasingly so. Therefore, continued success requires that organizations invest in and develop agile workforces — employees who continually learn new things, regularly upskill and reskill themselves, and adapt to new ways of accomplishing tasks that leverage technological advancements. This organizational agility will be a hard but important new capability to be built. Secondly, the past few decades saw companies win in their markets based on execution excellence — how well they did what they did as they scaled. The next few decades will reward a different dimension — how well organizations can embrace creativity and innovation and reward it — new and better ways of doing things rather than doing the same things well.
What advice would you offer to employers who want to future-proof their organizations?
It’s undeniable that the pandemic has had a profound impact on the global workforce, redefining the norms surrounding how people work. The Great Resignation has spanned across all industries and age groups in the US. For employers to future-proof their organizations, their leaders must have employee retention and reskilling at the top of mind. The key is to preserve the institutional knowledge, while engineering changes to adapt to the new opportunities being presented by technological developments and disruptions.
Newly released research from the McKinsey Global Institute is predicting that across the world’s eight largest economies, over 100 million people (or one in every 16 workers) will need to transition to a new role by 2030. Employers who offer their workforce the ability to learn new skills through online development courses, like those offered at Great Learning, will not only prepare employees for a future role or improve a current one, but will also keep employees engaged and make them feel valued. Making a significant investment in the future development of an employee shows a willingness to help them reach their full potential and demonstrates a belief in their ability to continue to grow as the business expands.
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?
Recent trends among employees, particularly millennials, are showing that they value purpose and meaning as much if not more than pay, flexibility and freedom as much or more than job security, diversity and inclusiveness as much or more than company financial performance. The challenge for employers is to balance these expectations with the demands of surviving and succeeding in a dynamic and competitive marketplace. Employers may not be able to meet the expectations of employees on these aspects but have to still compete and survive. The best strategy that I believe in is effective communication with employees and encouraging an active dialog of these aspects, so that decisions are viewed as being inclusive rather than imposed.
We simultaneously joined a global experiment together last year called “Working from Home.” How will this experience influence the future of work?
Because many companies experienced success from adapting to the remote environment during the pandemic, many employers have either started to transition to a hybrid work model or have allowed their employees to exclusively work from home.
Employers who didn’t allow the flexibility of working from home most likely noticed a significant increase in employees resigning for a job that allowed them the opportunity to work in a remote environment. I predict that employers who offer the option of working from home will be more successful in retaining talent, as many employees re-prioritized their work-life balance during the pandemic, which has had a lasting effect on workplace expectations.
So, the biggest impact is an elevated importance of flexibility and work life balance in the employee’s priorities. Organizations that recognize this, enable it and adapt themselves to function effectively with these employee priorities would be well positioned for future success.
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 pandemic has brought more flexibility and convenience to knowledge workers and has brought more risk to physical workers. It has exposed and grown the divide between workers that work with bytes and atoms. One important societal change that is required is a collective will to make things better for folks who have to work on the front lines in terms of upskilling them, developing technologies to make their jobs easier and safer.
As hybrid work becomes more mainstream, the boundaries between professional and personal space may become more blurred. We may all have to be okay with seeing kids, pets, etc. on zoom meetings. In some sense, this makes work life more human and reminds us of the many things outside of work that we have in common. Organizations that have historically had very formal and rigid work cultures may need to adapt to this new reality.
The hybrid work environment will be the biggest necessary societal change for supporting a future of work that benefits everyone. This will manifest itself in how communities develop, which could lead to a dispersion away from the big, crowded cities of today. We all have to get used to having a more diverse, disperse and global workforce.
What is your greatest source of optimism about the future of work?
My greatest source of optimism for the future of work is that professional development has become a cornerstone in advancing workforces across all industries. From technology to healthcare, institutions are investing in easily accessible education programs to provide ample opportunities for employees to grow and develop cutting-edge skills, bridging skills gaps and creating a more robust workforce.
Companies are choosing Great Learning as we offer a unique and personalized high-tech and high-touch model on one of the most advanced online learning platforms today. Paired with a bespoke mentoring program where students get access to seasoned industry experts who provide individualized attention on a weekly basis, Great Learning has some of the highest global completion rates of over 90%, testifying to the success of our approach. Great Learning has delivered impactful professional learning experiences and career outcomes to 3 million students globally across 170 countries. It’s no wonder we’re pioneering a new “future of work” that encompasses professional development for some of the leading industries today.
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?
Over the past couple of years, the dynamics around how we think about work, the nature of being hybrid-remote employees, and how we look at perks and benefits have undergone a massive restructuring. Being cognizant of mental health and wellbeing and acknowledging that as much as we do physical health is the first and most important step towards promoting mental wellbeing. Many companies now offer access to services/platforms that educate employees on mental health and support them with it as per their needs.
Further, even before Covid, benefits like paid time off had already been established as one of the most attractive and sought-after benefits, and one of the top considerations for people in choosing a new employer. But in a post-pandemic world, employees have a newfound understanding of the value of what it means to take appropriate time away from work. This new reality means that employers must start thinking outside of the box; the traditional distinction between office and home, work and life, being “on” and being “off” is no longer relevant, and employees today value flexibility and choice more than ever before.
I’ve seen several businesses attract new talent by offering unlimited paid time off and see that employees with unlimited or flexible PTO policies end up taking less time off. The idea is to empower choice and allow each employee to create their own “time off plans,” while cultivating a culture that incentivizes and legitimizes self-care and wellness.
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?
It’s undeniable that the pandemic has changed the way we live and work, and ultimately the Great Resignation was born out of employees redefining how they want to work. So far in 2021, 34.4 million Americans have quit their jobs, and up to 41% of global workers are considering leaving their jobs. Leaders cannot turn a blind eye to this massive movement. The key messages to hear from this are the workforce’s need for work life balance, flexibility in how to work and finding meaning in their work.
An important shift needed in company cultures, if not already there, is for leadership to have an open and ongoing dialogue with employees. The best run companies have created cultures where employees speak up and are heard regularly. The other shift needed is to think of investing in employee learning and upskilling as an ongoing process of engagement, retention and company development. Upskilling can nurture talent and solve for areas of expertise lacking in your employee base. By undertaking professional development courses through companies like Great Learning, employees of all ages and experience levels can reach new heights within their current job and stay up to speed with current trends in their industry. Digital learning enables people from all backgrounds, generations, and experience levels to dive into a new topic and gain new skills — anytime from anywhere. And courses from Great Learning are far more affordable and flexible than traditional degree programs, while delivering similar impact.
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.)
- Hybrid work in the knowledge economy — many tech companies have already embraced this.
- Increasing automation and elimination of routine jobs with the balance of demands of most jobs shifting towards people interactions, personalization, creativity and innovation and moving away from following checklists and standard operating procedures.
- Flexibility in working hours to allow more work-life balance.
- Employee performance is measured more based on outcomes and business metrics rather than time-related metrics.
- Continuous learning, reskilling and upskilling becoming mainstream and being a part of annual planning and goal setting.
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?
“Character may manifest itself in a few great moments, but is built in the many small moments”
– Philip Brooks
In this quote, character may be substituted with greatness or success too. What this means to me is that it’s the daily little details that matter. What we do every day matters, what everyone in the organization matters, what we do in our family daily matters. This is what we can control and this is what our focus should be on. These little things, focused on daily over long periods of time, can result in great things.
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.
One is Satya Nadella, Chairman and CEO of Microsoft. He and I come from the same city, share our mother tongue and family backgrounds, and he has reached a height of leadership that is quite unimaginable coming from that background. I’d love to learn what went into that and how he does what he does.
The other is Ben Horowitz from Andreessen Horowitz. I read his book, “The Hard Thing About Hard Things,” while I was building my business and could relate to so much of what he said there. I would love to pick his brain on what he is learning about how to deal with today’s challenges of building and running organizations.
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?
Thank you for sharing your insights and predictions. We appreciate the gift of your time and wish you continued success and good health.