Create a career pathway through mentorship: In any industry, employees want to grow and employers should take the time to get to know each employees’ goals and set out a road map to help them move from an intern to a junior staff member, into a manager.
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 Randy Scott.
Randy Scott, Ph.D., Executive Co-Chair of Genomic Life, is a scientist, entrepreneur and co-founder of multiple biotechnology companies. Randy is also CEO of Thinking Bench Capital, LLC and Chair and Co-founder of Genome Medical, a nationwide tele-genetics medical practice founded in 2016. He previously co-founded Invitae (NASDAQ:NVTA) where he served as CEO from 2012 to 2017 and Executive Chair from 2017 to 2019.
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?
Early in my career, I learned that life is not just about science and technology, it is about the people that you know. I always go back to my dad as my hero and experiences within my own family.
My father was a pastor in a small town in Kansas and on Mondays, he used to take me downtown to visit every store. His goal was not to preach to residents, but instead to get to know them. I remember the smile on people’s faces when we walked into those places, and it taught me a really important lesson: life is about people and everyone has a story to tell. One of the most important things I’ve learned in business is how to draw out people’s stories and find out who they are. Historically, managers were just business-driven and they never really took the time to get to know what drives their employees. If you understand who they are as individuals, what their strengths and weaknesses are, you will do a significantly better job at managing them — and your employees will feel more fulfilled.
My career in genetics has been largely driven by observing the health of my family over time. My sister’s adopted son tragically passed away at 17 years old on a tennis court due to cardiomyopathy, a type of heart disease that makes it harder for the heart to pump blood throughout the rest of the body. After he passed away, my sister learned that all of the men in his biological family had early-onset severe cardiovascular problems. For a few hundred dollars–or a couple of months worth of Starbucks–we could have screened my sister’s son for the genetic issue and possibly prevented his passing.
Two years prior, that same sister’s granddaughter was born with a rare genetic disease called galactosemia, which can result in life-threatening health problems unless lactose is removed from the diet shortly after birth. Fortunately, she was diagnosed after receiving a neonatal screen and we were able to catch a doctor who immediately placed her on a galactose-free diet for the rest of her life. That seems dramatic, but as a result of this change, she now leads a healthy and fruitful life at 20 years old. These events led me to undergo screening, and it turns out that I am also a carrier for galactosemia and hemochromatosis. As a result, all of my children are now screened for galactosemia. Those combined experiences gave me a first-hand perspective that genetics matter for all of us.
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?
Innovation is increasingly important to all businesses. If you are not innovating, your business will die because the world is changing, the software is changing and the workplace is changing. What we have seen with the accelerated changes in the workplace really reflects giving talented people more freedom. We now have more mechanisms for accountability in place than ever before.
As a result, I think we’re going to see a lot more data that indicates who’s actually getting work done in ways that we can monitor much more unobtrusively. People are going to make sure that they get their work done and they’ll understand that if their work is not done, they let their team down.
What advice would you offer to employers who want to future-proof their organizations?
I don’t believe there’s a way to truly future-proof your organization. Every employer has to be humble and know that their organization is never too big or strong that it couldn’t go away. Even Jeff Bezos has acknowledged in his own words that, “Amazon will probably go bankrupt one day.” He is a smart leader who understands that nobody remains on top of the world forever. I want to work with the kind of leaders who are staying up late at night thinking about all the things that could go wrong and how they can solve those problems.
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 see significant gaps in how management views themselves versus how employees view them. At Invitae, a company I co-founded in 2012, we used to redraw our organization’s chart upside down and put the CEO at the bottom. This way, the team would be able to see that the CEO actually has all of the weight of everyone else on their shoulders and they could understand the true dynamics of the organization’s workflow.
In a modern workplace, people want to be valued. Early in my career, I read an article in New York Times Magazine about a famous high school football coach who sent about a dozen football players to the NFL. During practice, the coach would ask his team, “What is my job?”
“To love us,” the players would respond.
“And what is your job?” he’d ask.
“To love each other,” they shouted back in unison.
I’ve always told my managers that their number one job in life is to love their employees and get to know them as individuals to understand where they come from. If your employees sense that you really care about them, they will run through walls for you. If somebody really knows that you care about them but you have to lay them off, they are more understanding when they go. In an increasingly migratory workforce, you go where you feel love, which is at the heart of all great management.
We simultaneously joined a global experiment together last year called “Working From Home.” How will this experience influence the future of work?
In the Western world, the population is no longer growing at the pace it used to. As a result, there is greater demand for high-quality workers and they are going to be able to migrate into more flexible work environments and systems.
The flexible office work environment is here to stay and COVID-19 has only accelerated the development of technology that was already in the works. As early as 2013, we had video systems in every conference room to allow people to work from home and dial in as necessary at my former company. At Genomic Life, we didn’t have to change much during the pandemic and working from home just became a more permanent facet of life. But, people still enjoy genuine connections and often come into workplaces to collaborate and have lunch together.
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?
We have to shift from the well-established mentality that work has to be managed because there are people who want to avoid it. I’ve actually observed evidence that proves the contrary — thanks to the information age, many people actually very much enjoy the work that they do. In the biotech world especially, we have an incredibly motivated workforce that sometimes works too much. I have to really encourage my employees to take advantage of their vacation time which, by the way, is unlimited.
It comes back to the freedom and accountability I referenced earlier: people will work harder if they have more freedom and trust from their employers.
What is your greatest source of optimism about the future of work?
Artificial Intelligence (AI) technology, often known as powerful statistics in our world, is dramatically going to change how business is conducted as it relates to optimizing processes.
On the biotechnology front, we have seen incredible innovation in our knowledge and understanding of predicting disease and I think it is going to have a dramatic impact on the future of healthcare that will only improve our quality of life. It is going to help us determine the things that work and reject the things that don’t. What it won’t be is a big magical system that thinks for you; but what it will provide is valuable insights and incremental improvements in every single facet of your life over time.
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 starts with people having more freedom and flexibility in the workforce. A person’s mental health is shaped by their environment as well as their biochemistry. Much of our workforce often come from home environments that result in severe health issues such as depression and anxiety. As a leader, you have to think about how to support people that have come out of these adverse conditions in ways that enable them to perform optimally in the workplace.
In addition to the environmental challenges, we also know that a lot of people are often prescribed the wrong medications. How many times have you heard a physician say, “Let’s try this drug and if it doesn’t work, we’ll try something else?” Most drugs only work in 50 percent of the people to whom they are given, and in cancer patients, only about 25 percent of cancer drugs are considered to be effective for the people who take them.
The nation is spending an enormous amount of money on cancer drugs, but the field of pharmacogenetics could help practitioners and researchers around the world dial in their approach and offer their patients the best treatments in a significantly faster amount of time. At Genomic Life, we provide pharmacogenetic (PGx) screens that provide employers with significant insights on how to make their workforce healthier, which aids them in missing fewer work days due to illness.
Whether their future benefit strategies include pharmacogenetic screenings or not, employers would be wise to begin managing both the behavioral and the biochemical drivers of adverse mental health conditions within their workforce. This is especially important in managing mental health because people should get the right medication for their genetic makeup.
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 biggest factor in retaining employees long-term is to make them happy and pay attention to what fulfills them. We have seen a trend of people transitioning from higher-paying industries into fields such as healthcare because they didn’t find their former jobs to be as compelling as they once did, or they had their own stories to tell through their work due to personal experiences. COVID-19 has compelled many people to engage in serious soul-searching and ask themselves what resources they truly need to remain happy and self-sufficient while also taking advantage of all that life has to offer outside of the workplace. For example, many people in their late fifties and sixties are beginning to retire much earlier than they previously would have to lead lives that are more flexible with their families. But that comes with a cost — a burden is placed on the rest of the system because businesses need to replace those retired workers. The consequences of that in this new culture is that new employees will migrate to where they have the most freedom and the most compelling benefits. Fortunately, most people are willing to be held accountable within these new systems.
Let’s get more specific. What are your “Top 5 Trends To Track In the Future of Work?”
1 . Flexible work conditions: People will migrate to where they have the most freedom and I believe that most people are willing to be held accountable. Employers are just now catching up with implementing the proper mechanisms to enforce that accountability in ways that are measured and unobtrusive.
The old adage of “show up and work from nine to five” is certainly still true, but only in narrow spots within an industry. For every one factory that currently exists, you’re going to have at least ten software engineers optimizing everything about how that factory operates. Those people typically don’t want to work within a traditional “nine to five” structure.
I’ve long managed with the principle that I don’t care where you work from or the times at which you decide to work. It’s fine if you want to work from midnight until 10 a.m. at Starbucks, just don’t let your team down. In return, I’ll give you as much freedom with accountability as possible.
Using myself as an example, I live in the Bay Area and have worked in San Francisco for most of the last ten years, but I live down in the Peninsula. That meant that, up until two years ago, I spent at least two hours a day in traffic — an incredibly unproductive use of my time, which is one of life’s most valuable resources. I can only imagine how that reallocation of time can benefit someone like a working mother with a similar commute, who now has the ability to get her work done while still being present for her family. It opens up a whole world of new possibilities, and workers will migrate to the organizations that embrace that.
2. Stronger benefits to be competitive: In an increasingly competitive employee market, employers have a moral obligation to do the best they can in providing adequate benefits to their workforce. As a result, many are having to rethink the way they present their benefits packages as employers and employees alike will assess what is most important to them.
At Genomic Life, we’re looking to revitalize employee benefits by emphasizing the value that genetic testing can have for an entire organization — from the CEO to the most junior-level person on the staff. We work directly with employers to provide them access to affordable genetic testing services that will enable them to seek better medical care and fill in the technology, innovation and healthcare gaps missed by most, if not all, health insurance companies.
3. People-centric culture: As important as benefits are, they don’t always make employees happy. There are a number of studies which assert that most of the unsolved issues that make people unhappy do not always dissipate when they are finally resolved. Such is the case with employee benefits.
An employee may be very unhappy if they realize someone else is being paid more than them to do the same job. However, that same employee remains unhappy when their benefits and compensation are abundant because they’re working in an environment where they feel undervalued in other ways previously thought to be insignificant. That is not a sustainable way of doing business. Employers have to be willing to honestly answer important questions such as, “Am I truly creating a workplace that makes someone want to stay? How are my managers treating their staff? Are they being provided with adequate professional development opportunities? Do they feel challenged?”
In the current climate, more workers are saying, “I’m a valuable asset and I want to know that my organization and managers care about me.” Managers have to be much smarter about cultivating a supportive workplace because today’s workforce will walk away from you and find somewhere else to go.
4. Create a career pathway through mentorship: In any industry, employees want to grow and employers should take the time to get to know each employees’ goals and set out a road map to help them move from an intern to a junior staff member, into a manager.
5. Champion networking and development opportunities: Even in a hybrid work environment, people still want to network and meet other peers in the same industry. Encourage employees to find networking opportunities and related events that speak to their career interests. Invite your employees to an industry networking session, workshop or panel discussion so that they can connect to other individuals in their field. For a personal touch, try hosting a company party and invite individuals in your network, friends and family members.
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?
“Always have a backup plan.” I see so many people running their company who never think about a backup strategy or a backup plan. What if your investors don’t want to invest in your company anymore? What are you going to do next? How are you going to survive? You must have multiple strategies for moving forward.
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.
If we are talking about a historical figure, I think it would be really interesting to talk to Abraham Lincoln, given the current political divide in the country. It’d be interesting to learn more about how he personally navigated the issues of his era such as Reconstruction, human rights and amnesty.
It’d be particularly interesting to learn his perspectives when they’re put into present day context. Many people often lament the current state of the world, but if you look back over the last 30 years, the world is a better place today. For example, abject poverty has decreased globally from about 5 billion to about 1 billion in the last 30 years.
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Thank you for sharing your insights and predictions. We appreciate the gift of your time and wish you continued success and good health.