Mobility, aside from Agility, is perhaps the most overused and misused word of 2021. I was hesitant to discuss it for that reason. I did skip Globalization as a trend because it’s so obvious. Mobility may be as well. But I think that what many are missing about mobility as a trend concerns the pace of the changes that will impact the way we as a society move around. Certainly, the notion that people can work from almost anywhere is already here.
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 Phillip Kane.
Phillip Kane is a husband, father, businessman and writer. He has had a successful career of more than 30 years in some of the world’s best-known corporations, working for brands like Goodyear, Pirelli, and NAPA, where he proved that it is not necessary to choose between winning and caring for others. Kane lives in Ohio with his wife and three children.
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.
As a young man, my 58 year-old father died in my arms when the CPR I tried didn’t work. This was shortly after my first child was born with a very rare, and often fatal, heart defect called Transposition, which required her to undergo open-heart surgery at five days old. These experiences, as awful as they were, taught me what I was capable of enduring. I came away from them secure in the knowledge that my life in business could never duplicate the agony of either of those weeks. So, my approach to setbacks changed forever. From then on, I’d almost never react to negative news; because I knew that it would be gotten through easily enough.
Then in 2010, I was given full responsibility for a wholly owned sub of the company I was employed by at the time. It was the first time I’d have the chance to prove that my philosophy of treating others with kindness while holding them accountable worked; that it was not necessary to choose between winning and caring for others. I’ll skip to the punch line. It did. And I’ve never looked back.
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 expect that 10–15 years from now, there will still be places of work that people still arrive at, largely, by car, and predominantly during traditional “work” hours. What is likely to change dramatically are the sizes of the spaces organizations of the same size occupy then versus now, the structure of those organizations in regard to the way work gets done, the number of hours per week people actually spend in these buildings and the way that work is distributed geographically, which will change massively.
What advice would you offer to employers who want to future-proof their organizations?
I would never give anyone that advice. Those who try to future proof anything — a company, a marriage, a non-profit — it doesn’t matter, will only ensure that it ceases to exist at some point very soon.
The best way to “future-proof” something is to build into it the capability to react to the inevitable change that comes with the passage of time.
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?
There seems to be emerging pressures on length of work day/week and also on student loan repayment that are moving to the forefront. Clever employers will be those who find ways to address both by shifting the conversation from inputs to outputs. That is, time in chair matters less than the quantity and quality of output produced. Shift potential student loan forgiveness discussions from time/tenure to a trade for completed work scenario; agree to retire $X of loan debt in return for the completion of an assigned project. In shifting the view from input (time) to output (completed work), savvy employers can ensure that they can meet growing associate demand for shorter days and weeks and for loan forgiveness while also meeting their own financial goals.
We simultaneously joined a global experiment together last year called “Working From Home.” How will this experience influence the future of work?
It already has. Simultaneous to the massive shift to remote work that accompanied COVID-19, many pundits declared it, “The Future of Work.” The trouble was, most organizations made two fatal errors: (1) they sent their folks home with scant warning and almost no information about what to expect. Initial and ongoing communication was awful. (2) They provided little or no training for managers (who weren’t terribly effective face-to-face) for how to manage human beings in a remote set-up. As a result, a train wreck ensued for most. These mistakes and the deaf ears that met associate pushback against them largely fueled the “Great Resignation.” Folks were given a glimpse of what their employers called, “The Future of Work,” and said, “no thank you.”
The true future of work will, then, inevitably, be formed by greater collaboration between workers and their organizations. In my view, the ultimate model will be a highly hybridized set-up with workers splitting time between work and home, smaller, less personalized workspaces, and shorter work weeks.
But the key point is this: businesses that work collaboratively, via trial and error, with employees to define this future state stand a tremendous chance of winning the hearts and minds of those self-displaced workers who are looking for something better, something different … something resembling the future of work they had in mind when they were sent home in the first place, some 18 months ago.
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?
I think as much as anything, the pandemic, and the greater visibility it brought to manager-employee relationships in all types of businesses, not just where businesses went remote, caused a dramatic shift in the way that workers thought about these relationships and the degree to which they would continue to accept the unacceptable.
So, to me, the pandemic less reshaped the workforce than the worker-manager relationship. Boomers and early Gen-Xers are finding themselves under extraordinary pressure right now. The youngest Boomers are now 57–58 years old. They are going to be presented, in increasing numbers, with a decision to change or leave, as now-wise young workers refuse to work under the autocratic, micromanaging style which is the hallmark of these earlier generations.
So societally, I am watching for a greater number of CEO and executive leadership reshufflings as these old dogs prove incapable of learning new tricks.
What is your greatest source of optimism about the future of work?
The thing that makes me most optimistic about the future is that in the Great Realization, workers recognized both the transferability of their value and the unacceptability of continuing to participate in the one-sided relationships their parents had. As a result, they have both the confidence and conviction to never return to the awful conditions that existed in many organizations pre-pandemic.
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?
Both Millenials (Gen Y) and Gen Z are prioritizing mental health benefits to a far greater extent than their Gen X and Boomer counterparts had and are, in fact, making employment decisions based on mental health considerations. As a result, employers who prioritize emotional wellness and who offer enhanced mental health benefits — like access to counseling, mental health days, meditation spaces, allowances for self-care, just to name a few — will win vs. those who do not. I recently wrote a piece for Inc. about this very topic.
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?
The key and central theme running through all of these labels — which all attempt to describe a massive voluntary departure from the workforce — is one of caring. Employers who express care for their associates are not suffering massive turn-over. These resignations have been (or should be) a loud wake up call for organizations that still rely on outdated leadership hiring models that prioritize things like extroversion, excessive self-confidence, and high-control management styles that people no longer want to work in organizations run by the sort of people their model attracts. People want to feel valued, that their input matters, and that they are contributing to something bigger than themselves. They want to work for people who care about them and their physical, emotional, and financial wellness … not autocratic, desk-pounding narcissists who are principally in it for themselves.
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.)
- Shift away from traditional recruiting firms. In a very short period of time, Millennials, already the majority of the U.S. workforce, will be in charge. This generation tends to eschew much of what Boomers and to some extent Gen Xers had previously prescribed, including traditional recruiting firm relationships. Millennials view these firms as old, stodgy, slow and rife with both patriarchy and patronage. Too, advancements in AI will easily obviate much of the service that these firms are providing. So, I expect that as Millennials assume greater control of businesses, they will shift away from these firms as a primary mode of hiring mid-level and higher talent — particularly as Gen Z makes up a greater percentage of their target group, a demographic that has proved particularly elusive to these large white shoe firms, mostly because they don’t swim where these firms fish. This trend will be hastened as the recruiting firms themselves become havens of embedded Boomer control with partnership and managing executives staying on well into their 70s and even 80s, ensuring a lack of alignment with the Millennials running the accounts they used to rely upon for their own existence. Evidence even now a growing use of social media and alternate technology by Millennials and Zs for hiring and job search. Too, firms like Nike, Guess, Ralph Lauren and Nerf are already using channels like TikTok to a greater and greater extent for HR outreach and recruiting. As a result of these trends, there has been, already, an accelerated P.E. led consolidation occurring in the search and recruiting space as larger firms acquire smaller firms in the pursuit of a market that according to IBIS World has declined 9.1% per year on average between 2016 and 2021.
- Emotional & Financial Wellness Matter. Younger workers are placing greater emphasis and value on both their emotional and financial wellness. Unlike their parents, they are far more open to talking about both in the workplace. They want their employers to offer enhanced benefits in regard to both dimensions, things like on-site emotional and financial counseling, mental health days, meditation spaces, employee sponsored 529 plans, and help with student debt, just to name a few. Young workers are prioritizing these benefits ahead of traditional bennies, even things like vacation. As evidence, 74% of those asked in a recent study by Betterment for Business said that they’d be likely to leave their job for an employer that offered better financial benefits. Regarding emotional wellness support, expert on all things Millennial, YPulse, found that 75% of employed Millennials, those born between 1981 and 1996, want mental health support from their employers. These are issues that will only grow in importance as the future unfolds.
- Mobility. Mobility, aside from Agility, is perhaps the most overused and misused word of 2021. I was hesitant to discuss it for that reason. I did skip Globalization as a trend because it’s so obvious. Mobility may be as well. But I think that what many are missing about mobility as a trend concerns the pace of the changes that will impact the way we as a society move around. Certainly, the notion that people can work from almost anywhere is already here. It’s a trend I see expanding mostly to the extent that more people will choose to start working from more untraditional places more often, pressuring employers to more quickly expand their own thinking around what constitutes both the workplace and the work week. But beyond that, notions that great changes to the U.S. car parc are coming in the next 10–15 years are dramatically overstated. Here’s why. There are some 279 million cars being driven by Americans today. Typically, the annual rate of new vehicle sales in the U.S. is around 12–13 million. Even if starting tomorrow, every new car and truck sold in America was a fully electric, fully autonomous vehicle, we are more than 20 years away from achieving full autonomy or full electrification of the fleet. That’s even IF the traffic control, charging and grid infrastuctures existed to support the change — and that’s a very BIG if. Too, I see little, if any expansion of mass transit, which could add worker productivity. I do though see more rapid advancements by automakers and by municipalities which will improve traffic flow, reduce collisions, and ultimately improve productivity by enabling people to get where they are going faster. So, my expectations around mobility are that changes in what and how we drive are a very long way off, changes around work from new and different places will continue, and finally, that other mobility-related changes will most impact productivity by reducing overall travel times between point A and point B.
- Growth of crowd sourcing, freelancing and 3rd party collaborators. Firms led by younger leaders are turning, increasingly, to alternative means of getting work done — things like crowd-sourcing, freelancers and 3rd party collaborators. These options give businesses tremendous flexibility in getting specific work done without having to hire full-time resources to do it. Likewise, more and more workers are choosing these options because they love the flexibility they provide them as well as the opportunity to do what they love for a wide variety of organizations. As work becomes more complex and more global, I expect the use of these resource options to only increase. I recently spoke to Ashmita Das, CEO of Kolabtree, a business that connects high-level scientific resources with companies and academics. Ms. Das has seen significant growth both in the demand for their service and in the number of resources she’s able to pair with her customers. This trend toward alternative ways of solving problems versus hiring full-time heads is only going to continue, particularly as the incredible leaps in AI, cloud, workflow automation, and teleconferencing technology continue to advance at the tremendous pace initiated by the pandemic.
- Greater focus on what I do versus where or for who. Ask any Baby Boomer or Gen Xer what they do for a living and, chances are, they will respond by telling you where they work. On an increasing basis, driven in no small part by the “Great Resignation” and their own proclivity to move around, Gens Y and Z are more likely to answer by telling you what they do, e.g. I’m a product manager or I write software for video games versus who they do it for. In the future, people will more and more identify with what they do rather than who they are employed by, particularly as other trends like crowdsourcing, freelancing and 3rd party collaboration grow in prominence. The implications of this for employers are great as the emphasis for them will shift to ensuring that employees have the tools they need to be excellent in their jobs and to continue to learn. The company’s logo matters only insofar as it has a net positive interpretation in the mind of the associate. But ever waning are the days when associates will factor in salary reductions in exchange for a chance to work for some great logo. In fact, a recent study by Payscale found that younger workers, by a large majority, prefer start-ups and small businesses to large, well-known corporations. This is because young people are increasingly more concerned with what they do than for whom they do it. I expect this trend to continue.
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?
My favorite “Life Lesson Quote” is the first line of a longer Thomas Merton admonishment around caring that goes like this,
“Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy.”
The ultimate currency in the human economy is love. As leaders, we will win more when we effect a condition of love for and among those we have the privilege to lead. Daily, we will be presented with opportunities to choose to do otherwise, often because we judge others as being less worthy of our care, our time, and our love. I don’t always do as Merton prescribes. But I try to do so more than I don’t — and because I do, I’m better at what I do and the teams I’ve led have been more successful; driven primarily by the fact that the perspective changes — from finding reasons to withhold care from others to more often loving the one you’re looking at.
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 like to spend some time with Harold Ford Jr., former U.S. House Rep from Tennessee. I very much appreciate his ability to see around all sides of an issue and to formulate rational and reasonable positions on complex, often emotional issues. He’s the sort of kind, calm-headed and caring individual I want to associate with and learn from.
If Rep. Ford was busy, I’d like to meet Enes Kanter. I talk and write a lot about courage. The courage Kanter has shown in standing up for what he believes in has been breathtaking. I want to learn from that experience.
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?
Readers can follow me on Twitter at @ThePhillipKane and learn more about me at phillipkaneauthor.com. I contribute regularly to Inc. about issues related to leadership and the future of work as well. Plus, at least once a week, I share random thoughts on a better, more caring way to lead on my blog, AndWin.net.
If you’ll endulge me, my book on care-centered leadership, from John Hunt Publishing, London, The Not So Subtle Art of Caring: Letters on Leadership will be released June, 2022. It’s available for pre-order now, as they say, wherever quality books are sold.
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 so much for having me.