Every leader recognizes that the world of work is changing, and we must change with it to keep amazing talent and avoid obsolescence. What that change looks like in your organization will differ, but the saying “change or die” is the result.

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 Sondra Sutton Phung.

Sondra Sutton Phung; led a team that delivered over $1B of profit for Ford Motor Company’s iconic SUV portfolio. Recently named Marketing General Manager for Electric Vehicles, she leveraged her STEM & HBCU education to create her transformational, data-driven marketing approach. Her perspective impacts millions in the Automotive Tech Industry. Sutton Phung is reducing the learning curve and sharing how leaders can accelerate their results.To learn more follow Sondra on Linkedin.

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?

Thank you for having me as your guest today. I love your question as it’s one that I have given a great deal of thought to lately. My first major life experience was receiving a full academic STEM scholarship to attend Clark Atlanta University, a prominent HBCU in Atlanta, GA. CAU taught me that my dreams were achievable. My second life experience was saying yes to my first international service assignment in Hiroshima, Japan, with Ford in 1999. For a girl from a small town in Georgia to be able to work, live, and learn about the unique culture of that island nation was life-changing. It prepared me to say yes to future opportunities abroad and provided me with unique perspectives on how to connect with the customers that we aim to bring into our brand.

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?

Well, first, I must admit that 10 to 15 years from now, I expect to be drinking a mai-tai on a Hawaiian island. That point aside, the future of work is a complex topic because, as we are all seeing, it is changing so rapidly. Technology and the Covid-19 pandemic have accelerated the pace of change. I expect to see a significant reduction in the full-time workforce and the need to re-skill and upskill employees. Also, I expect to see fewer people staying with a company for the bulk of their career. Moving roles and companies every 2 to 3 years will become more normalized.

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

I recently had a chat with a former colleague about talent, and we both agreed that to be prepared for the future of work, we have to both anticipate and prepare for it by re-skilling and upskilling our high-performing employees. Also, employers have to be willing to secure the best talent by being more flexible in their policies (flexible work options, remote work, advanced education support). Most important of all, we must digitize our workplaces, ensuring the digital customer experience our organization delivers is a superlative one.

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 think we all recognize the world has changed and will continue to change. And with this realization, there will be some hard truths. Employees expect more consideration in the workplace and our human resource policies must evolve to meet that expectation. More companies are offering policies that focus on mental and physical well being. Flexibility with work locations has become the norm in many industries and to secure the best talent, employers have to be flexible. For employees, a reassessment of the skills they need to be successful will be required. Highly sought-after skills will include digital literacy, emotional intelligence, problem-solving, analytical thinking, innovation, creativity, and above all else, resilience. Employees unwilling to up-skill or re-skill may find themselves obsolete..

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! Talented employees are no longer willing to uproot their lives for a dream job. So employers had to adjust. Employees also realized just how depleted they were emotionally (pre-Covid) and vowed never to get to that stage again. If companies demand it, many have chosen to quit. The relationship between non-management and management employees has also evolved, with younger employees being given a larger platform to showcase their skills/knowledge, reducing bureaucracy and increasing efficiency within the business.

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?

For me, the single biggest change is the transition to a knowledge economy. Look at any job board these days and you will see an increased demand for strategists and other specialized skills. Conversely, routine labor jobs are on the decline due to digitization of workplaces.

Also, the people doing the work have changed in significant ways. Women and minorities have made substantial gains in terms of representation in the workforce. Challenges around equity and inclusion still exist, but I am hopeful of progress in these areas as well. Why? Because in my 25 year career at Ford, I am the closest to my authentic self as I’ve ever been.

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

When I reflect on my professional career, I could not have imagined the amount of change that the world would undergo. We are connected socially and digitally in a way we have never been before. However, my optimism for the future sits squarely with Gen Zers…they are more socially and racially diverse than previous generations of the workforce and, as a result, are more accepting and open-minded. They have optimism in their belief to “right a wrong” in a way that I’ve not seen or read about since the civil rights movement.

Our collective mental health and well-being 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 well-being?

Mental well-being is finally getting the attention it deserves. To be our best at work, we really need to practice self-care to our mind and body. Companies now offer benefits ranging from free counseling to gym memberships. Companies have also embraced apps to support employee health. I highly recommend the Castlight Mobile app. It has become my personalized healthcare assistant, reminding me of healthcare check-ups and engaging me in programs that support my overall health (fitness challenges with co-workers, etc.)

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?

Every leader recognizes that the world of work is changing, and we must change with it to keep amazing talent and avoid obsolescence. What that change looks like in your organization will differ, but the saying “change or die” is the result.

It is not just reorganizing or restructuring priorities; it’s about challenging, inspiring, and helping your team to make the dramatic transformations necessary for your business to survive.

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