Many organisations are currently navigating unprecedented levels of complexity, and can’t help but feel paralysed or wish that things will return to normal in a few months. When circumstances are uncertain, it’s natural to delay action or downplay the implications. But what if we use this time to explore what’s possible and redesign our systems for the better? Rather than constantly making small tweaks, we could rebuild comprehensively, putting joy back into work and building up the resilience needed for sustainable transformation and to embrace what’s next.
As we’re reflecting on the incoming Swiss polls in this year’s Workforce Preference Study (make sure you’ve participated!), we are leaning into this moment, not only to meet our Swiss workforce’s expectations in a proactive way, but also to discover opportunities to redesign the employee experience and the conditions needed for people to thrive over time. Having advised business leaders on many aspects of managing their national and global human capital, we know it requires us to step back from all the details and stats and ask ourselves what is the essential point and the story that builds it up.
We all know that happy people make a profitable business and that the most basic building block of happiness is joy – which in turn is a key influencer of people’s ability to continually strengthen their resilience and mental wellbeing. So, thinking about workforce preferences and their expectations also means thinking about how to create the conditions that stimulate and triggers people’s joy. A critical change in perspective, considering that many organisations need to re- or upskill their workforce now in order to be relevant enough to be successful in the future.
Research shows that feeling joy at work not only increases our wellbeing and resilience, but also our performance across the spectrum. Joy increases our working memory and cognitive flexibility, which in turn leads to better problem-solving. Take doctors, for instance: those who have been primed to feel joyful make a correct diagnosis earlier than those in a neutral mindset.
Joyful businesspeople consider a wider range of scenarios, are more inclusive with others and make more accurate decisions. Joyful negotiators are more likely to achieve win-win agreements. And it turns out it’s infectious: joyful people spread positivity and motivate their teams, increasing effort, engagement and collaboration; and when salespeople, for instance, exhibit joy, customers respond by spending more time with the business, giving higher satisfaction ratings and increasing the likelihood of reoccurring revenue streams.
While the advantages of emphasising the needs of employees are obvious, truly checking in with them and asking what makes them tick and triggers their joy at work is a key leadership responsibility to be widely adapted and developed. And while many recognise that it is not about delivering what people want, but what they need, we have not yet made this knowledge transfer to the management and leadership of human capital, despite it being an organisation’s biggest annual investment. Our polls of CEOs and employees demonstrate this: we have observed large disconnects in perception, between what leaders believe has been done and the employees’ real perception of it. This complicated relationship is one of the key reasons why organisations fail to move faster and why they tend rather to survive than to operate with resilience and thrive in a true human-centered manner, with great results for their stakeholders.
It also highlights that truly emphasising employee needs goes much deeper than acting on what can be observed on the surface. As it is in design thinking, there’s always something below, creating the outward need. While going deeper is much more difficult and requires a winning mindset, it is far more valuable. Reframing your employees’ articulated needs and pain points into the behaviours, structures and human drivers that make the articulated happen opens new perspectives and, with that, new opportunities and insights regarding how certain measurements might need to be implemented. It also shows that building the right conditions is an iterative process. Not only because people are irrational – and expectations and preferences change over time (as shown by the current structural changes accelerated by the global pandemic) – but also because organisations should aim for continuous improvement and get better as they grow.
When we designed our Workforce Preference Survey, we were aware that collecting only absolute values – the “what” – would not serve the purpose. This is why we collaborated with data champions in customer research, and implemented algorithms within our survey, to generate insights that enable us to go beyond what simply appear to be expectations and preferences. Although more iterations will be needed to truly find the right fit, the results of the study (to be published in early spring 2021) will provide a first look below the tip of the iceberg and we’re looking forward to collaborating on these results with our people, clients and those who are ready to step across the threshold to make their people their true superpower.
Most businesses have focused on either business excellence, service and product design or technological prowess to get where they are. But the victors of tomorrow will be the leaders who focus on all three: the strategic human insight that transforms businesses and builds resilience, their people’s ability and imagination that creates human-centered outcomes and experiences, and the technological expertise to bring it all to life.
To make this possible, we need to look out for signals for what people truly care about. And as strategy is about building an organisation that can win both now and in the future, we must appreciate the journey regardless of where it takes us: progress always revolves around people and their joy is the direct expression of progress towards a successful future.
Want to continue the conversation? We’d love to schedule some time with you to discuss how you can empower your workforce.