A major trend is marrying consumer experience with the internal team experience. This is a business issue because it’s related to trust — we humans intuitively trust people and groups who clearly operate in line with the image they try to project. The same way we feel let down by a celebrity who projects a crafted image and then acts completely different when they’re off the clock, a business that projects one image and then is outed for totally different internal practices loses their credibility.

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 Dr. Sara Murdock.

Dr. Sara Murdock is a globally renowned expert in power dynamics and leadership. Founder of The Moirai Group, Dr. Murdock serves as a pioneer in the fields of Environmental Social Governance (ESG) and DEI&B (Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging) with a 20+ year track record in catalyzing profound and necessary cultural shifts in the workplace. With a Ph.D. in Social Impact from the University of California Los Angeles and an MA in Organizational Development from Seattle University, Sara is frequently sought after as a keynote speaker, author, and panelist for leading international conferences, publications, and podcasts.

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.

I began leading dialogues between business owners and recent immigrants when I was quite young. Because I was so passionate about inclusion and finding solutions instead of dwelling on problems, it never occurred to be to be nervous that I was facilitating people two or three times my age and with 10x more money. I learned that being focused on my craft — instead of what other people thought of me — was the best way to do great work.

I was raised in part by a Jewish, Yiddish-speaking grandma who grew up during the Great Depression. She was so vibrant and a great example of someone who had very little but was just so happy with life. Don’t get me wrong, I like nice things, but she was a great example of how happiness is always more internal than external.

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?

Higher education credentials won’t be prioritized at all. We already see that hands-on experience and the ability to explore challenging questions are more valuable to team functionality than a traditional degree. In parallel, executive education and employee development will be much more common. I would even say that companies that don’t have robust learning and development — whether in-house or externally — will be considered “blue collar” jobs, regardless of industry or sector. In other words, a tech job that doesn’t prioritize learning would be considered rudimentary and a construction job that involves ongoing education will be considered more advanced. This is because the popularity of industries come and go while leadership behaviors are what truly influence society and create history-making products and services.

What advice would you offer to employers who want to future-proof their organizations?

Worry less about trendy terms and more about integrity. In another 20 years we’ll have a whole other set of terms for social impact work, so don’t get caught up in the hype, but do fall in love with the ample ways you can lead starting tomorrow. These days we see companies tripping over themselves to talk about DEI&B (Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging) and ESG (Environmental Social Governance), but I’ve been leading projects in these fields for 20 years, and to be honest, we haven’t seen much improvement. This isn’t because people are selfish, it’s because people are afraid of being publicly embarrassed; it’s not “I’m greedy and don’t want to help,” it’s “I want to help but I’m scared I’ll use the wrong term.” Fear is emotionally constipating. Frankly, the only way to lead is to work through the fear instead of letting it own you.

Consider this — we all know that person who talks about being healthy and gets a trainer and buys fresh food — but then they don’t actually change their behavior. A lot of companies are similar when it comes to social impact with their workforce, supply chain, and relationship to their market. So I suggest, focus on incremental learning for the long haul, rather than trying to look as impressive as possible overnight. Move away from the fear that others will accuse you of something, and focus on one or two things each quarter for as long as it takes. Also, we know that how changes happen is as important as the change. The key is to have conversations, involve everyone, and back everything you say with consistent action over time. You don’t need to be the most supportive company on the planet in one day, but you also don’t get to rest on your laurels — have to show up fiercely for your people every day, not just when it’s convenient for you.

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 biggest gap between employees and employers is the desire for honest, open, transparent communication. Simple perks are relatively easy to give because they just require cash and time. But transparency requires vulnerability and the dedication to showing how and why you’re making decisions. We can’t please everyone all the time, but honesty — instead of defensiveness or secrecy — is one of the only things builds meaningful trust.

I suggest investing in an unlikely resource: professionally curated dialogues and brave conversations approximately once every other month. Dialogue is a cousin to mediation, when two people are in an acute disagreement. But think of dialogue as preventative team therapy, where you’re airing out confusions and embracing productive disagreements. Expertly led dialogues smooth out unproductive disagreements before they escalate and enhance trust and camaraderie. They can also double as a team offsite or all-hands convening. Most people get that productive dialogue is an investment in risk mitigation and trust-building, but it’s also the fastest way to enhance focus, productivity, mental health, and psychological safety. And to be clear — these benefits aren’t just for the team. Most bosses and executives understand our teams in ways we never dreamed of, and go on to crush our goals and eliminate our burnout, too.

We simultaneously joined a global experiment together last year called “Working From Home.” How will this experience influence the future of work?

Suits and briefcases do not help us get more done, while sweatpants do not make us less productive. I anticipate that formal attire and dress wear will continue to be more about specific events or occasions, not about being in a specific field.

Where inclusion is concerned, we know that many women — particularly low income women — quit their jobs or reduced their hours during the pandemic lockdown to accommodate childcare from home. I anticipate that only companies who take childcare and flexible hours for working parents seriously will be able to attract and retain women with children over the long run.

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’ve seen improvements in inclusive cultures for offices in North America or Western Europe, but we haven’t seen the same inclusion extended to our colleagues in developing nations. I don’t see much evidence of nefariousness, but I do see the usual obliviousness. For example, a tech company based in Seattle might have an office of coders in Mumbai or customer service in Manila who don’t experience the same level of conscientiousness and afforded to “outpost” offices in, say, Atlanta. Before the pandemic we often thought that high speed wifi was enough to include someone, but now there’s a heightened realization that hiring someone is not the same as human-centered working conditions that offer dignity and respect. Companies that learn to de-center the usual hubs and instead see ourselves as part of a complex global network will succeed faster — and hold onto that success. A future of work that works for everyone requires seeing global inter-connection.

What is your greatest source of optimism about the future of work?

We’re collectively asking, “What are companies for, anyways?” Across sectors and regions we’re seeing a paradigm shift in expectations about how organizations and bosses behave. We’re realizing that work is about creating something better, adding value, and bringing heart to the table… not just grinding from dawn until dusk.

Businesses that are just trying to squeak out more profit on a per quarter basis but aren’t trying to lead in a more impactful way are going to be left in the dust. And generic PR statements about “doing good” are no longer sufficient — consumers, investors, and the general public want evidence and consistent action.

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?

I’ll be honest, I see a lot of employers talking about mental health and wellbeing, but not having a clue how to support it. Nor should a busy CEO or CTO spend time on employee wellness since they have other duties. That’s why many companies end up outsourcing mental health, like a subscription to a meditation app or therapy in benefits packages. These are great steps that I applaud, but they’re not a substitute for doing the work as a leader as well. When we have an executive team who talks about supporting mental health but doesn’t take care of our own, it’s sort of like the doctor who tells you to quit smoking but then keeps puffing away. It’s not about being perfect, but leading by example is imperative, not only because prime mental health makes us better decision makers, but because walking the talk earns trust with our teams.

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 secret to leading great teams — creating a place that people are excited to work, or as I put it, “a place you can’t pay people to leave” — is understanding that culture is like gravity; culture exists whether we realize it or not. “Culture” is another word for how we’ve acclimated to doing things, how we interact with one another, how we recognize, nurture, and compensate for value creation. We are building culture every day by how we behave, speak, relate, plan, and make decisions. And, just like gravity, it’s constant. We don’t create culture during a meeting and then pause it during lunch.

To recognize the culture that we’re creating, consider thoughts, senses, behaviors and tone of relating with others. Our thoughts and senses lead to our behaviors, which are mostly habit until we’ve trained ourselves to be more intentional. Behavior is our greatest asset because what we do signals to others whether it’s safe to connect and relate with us, or whether they have to perform to meet our pre-conceived expectations. And relating is where culture flourishes or degrades. Internally, companies excel or fade with the quality of relating amongst our people, teams, departments, and functions. Externally, it’s the relationship of our companies with vendors, investors, customers, and markets.

Let’s get more specific. What are your “Top 5 Trends To Track In the Future of Work?”

  1. The single biggest trend is a move away from unnecessary non-compete expectations. Supporting employees to take on additional projects is a game-changer for companies that require product innovation. The best talent should be encouraged to broaden their portfolio of projects because all of that hands-on experience and cutting edge work keeps people sharp and enhances skill. Limiting who employees can work with and what they can do is very old fashioned and very controlling. Of course having a specific non-complete makes sense (you can’t have the same exact position with a direct competitor company) but beyond role duplication, there’s no good reason to limit what employees do. Think of it like a jealous lover — employers who expect to control their people are operating from a place of insecurity and paternalism. Future-proof companies provide vibrant structures to support their people, including ample opportunities to hone and apply skills out in the world. And, yes, make great money while doing it. The university structure has a long track record of this and is a great place to learn about equipping in-house subject matter experts to stretch their wings across the globe.
  2. One imperative trend is a move away from policy-centered management and toward human-centered management. One 400+ person company based in San Diego hadn’t trained their executives to assess and accommodate team needs in real-time. Instead, they did a generic policy audit every few years to ensure legal compliance. By the time they reached the next scheduled policy review, employees were so dejected and the company had missed so many opportunities to support their people that employee attrition jumped from 2% to 12%, and just as importantly, eroded trust with those who remained.
  3. A major trend is marrying consumer experience with the internal team experience. This is a business issue because it’s related to trust — we humans intuitively trust people and groups who clearly operate in line with the image they try to project. The same way we feel let down by a celebrity who projects a crafted image and then acts completely different when they’re off the clock, a business that projects one image and then is outed for totally different internal practices loses their credibility.
  4. Companies have learned to rely on surface level perks to boost employee morale, like snacks in the kitchen or a lone volunteer day each year. It’s not that these types of perks are bad by any means — they’re a good idea — but employees now expect deeper meaning and deeper forms of care. Especially now that the office is distributed and much of work is remote, we have a good reason to stop clinging to little perks like these. Most people would rather have deep meaning and true wellness than a snack bar or a photo op. The statistics on resignation back this up — first people thought it was perks like shoulder massages at work, then we thought it was fat paychecks. It turns out that employees want quality of life, spanning both a healthy working environment and the opportunity to contribute to meaningful products and services.
  5. Thought leadership is now one of the most required elements of company footprint. There’s so much noise on the internet and so many people are attaining degrees and credentials, that “knowing” something is no longer a differentiator. Companies that distinguish ourselves will be run by leaders who take a true stand, put ourselves out there, and back up what we say in public with deep, hands-on and artfully crafted expertise. We see more companies teaming up with university centers or commissioning our own R & D in-house because consumers are getting more discerning and just blasting out claims is now seen as a relic of the past. We’ll also see more documentaries and video storytelling versions of thought leadership which actually pioneer new ideas in service of global markets.

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?

“You can learn or you can look good in public.” Like many women, I used to internalize messages about being perfect. For a little while I thought it was good for me because I’m always game to level up and push myself in the name of excellence. Then I realized this was a trap — whose version of perfect? I’d much rather make meaningful contributions and feel the full-throated power of my leadership than try to “look good” to others.

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.

More than one! I’d love to partner with Ariana Huffington, who consistently nails the pulse of the global workforce in a way that’s rare, even among business leaders and management professionals. I’d ideally collaborate with her on a video docs-series on the future of inclusive work featuring women and people of color pioneering innovative business models. Speaking of, I’d love to co-create a film with Arlan Hamilton about exceeding others’ expectations and how leaders develop our voices. Finally, I’d love to team up with Peter Thiel to create the world’s first “working-lab” degree. Thiel and I agree that many university models are out-dated and that the science of adult learning is about hands-on experience. Where I’d challenge him is, why not harness the experience of real people learning real things at real jobs. Perhaps INSEAD Business School or Minerva Project would team up to offer a first of its kind Lab-MBA!

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 just started touring a new speech that’s perfect for execs who want to lead teams you can’t pay people to leave. Of course, feel free to reach out with media inquiries or thought leadership proposals:

www.drsaramurdock.com / [email protected]

(IG) drsaramurdock


Thank you for sharing your insights and predictions. We appreciate the gift of your time and wish you continued success and good health.